The Problem of Nationalism and the GKM (Group of Communist Maximalists), Russia/Ukraine

Internationalist Communist Tendency (ICT) Statement

At the end of November 2012 we received a document in English with the title "Platform of the Group of Communist Maximalists“. The text was largely orientated within the political framework of the internationalist communist left. But only "largely“. In the document a strange position with regard to "ethnicities“ or ethnicity was taken, which did not match the rest of the Platform. The GKM informed us when we asked about it that they had already decided to alter the Platform in regard to this point, or rather they had changed the text at the relevant point. Consequently, we decided to publish the text as altered in this way in several languages. It is our well-established policy to publish the documents of new revolutionary groups, in order to encourage an international process of discussion.

At the start of 2013 we learnt that Vlad Bugera, one of the driving forces behind the Russian internet blog "Eretik“, had vehemently criticised the GKM. He accused the GKM of being nationalist and wanting to hide this from us. In doing this, he also indicated to us that there were differences between the version of the GKM Platform on our website and the Russian version. When we spoke to the GKM about this, they apologised and claimed they had simply forgotten to make the changes to the document that they had decided to make on their Russian website. We communicated this to Vlad Bugera and proposed that he monitor the events on the GKM website more closely. Following this, Vlad Bugera published a further document, under the title "Brown Masquerade“, without informing us beforehand. In this text, he attacked the GKM (and, in a certain sense, us too) once again, and declared that a founding member of the GKM, Marlen Insarov, was a national-Bolshevist. However, he undermined his credibility by publically insinuating that we had changed the original Platform of the GKM on our website. This in spite of our telling him how things stood and expressly informing him that we took no political responsibility for the GKM. The well-nigh hysterical tone of his critique did not make things any simpler. We confronted the GKM with Vlad Bugera’s allegations. The GKM claimed that he was a liar in every sense, and had depicted both their positions and the events in distorted fashion. Moreover, the GKM sent us video material which was intended to prove that they would in no way work with nationalists but with anarchists and anti-fascists in Moscow.

In order to obtain an objective view of the position, we also asked neutral observers of political events in Russia for their opinion. For example, a sympathiser of the communist left living in Moscow informed us that there was no proof whatsoever for Vlad Bugera’s accusations. Of course, we did not let the matter rest there, but asked a further comrade sympathetic to the communist left to grapple more deeply with the accusations against the GKM. This comrade then said the following to us:

I don't think the members of the GKM are either nationalists or homophobic, but they are opportunistically trying to defend an overestimated unity of action on the "left" by defending the worst elements of it (especially the openly racist and ethnocentric Volniza). Moreover, they often seek to court the nationalist and homophobic majority of the Russian proletariat by maintaining a sort of purposeful ambiguity in their texts. I am certainly not an admirer of Lenin, but I'll use now an expression of his: they are tailists to a certain extent.

Eventually we held a meeting with the GKM which took place in Parma on March 23 2013. At the meeting (which was recorded) we put the various charges made by Vlad Bugera and the comrade quoted above to the GKM directly. Comrade A for the GKM again denied that they worked with nationalists and argued that when they spoke of culture and ethnicity they were speaking only of working class culture. The meeting with the GKM (which was conducted in English) lasted several hours and the following extract is from the transcript.

The CWO then turned to the accusations of Vlad Bugera. The most damaging of these was the quotation from the magazine Komuna where it showed that Marlen Insarov had spoken of an alliance between communists and social-nationalists with the racist Volnitsa group.
A replied that Marlen Insarov did not mean the whole group but only those who were leaving it to join the internationalists (but who have since done nothing and not joined them). We know we cannot have any union with nationalists.
The CWO then drew attention to the articles written on the gay question on their site where there were some articles which, at the very least, were just as questionable. The worst article was written by Marlen Insarov and talked of homophobia and homophilia as if they were of the same order. They are not. The GKM replied that they criticised the gay movement as inter-classist. Alexander then began to explain why Vlad Bugera and KRAS were hostile to the GKM but the CWO replied the ICT was not interested in these other groups. We only want to understand the positions of the GKM. We are only interested in the evidence and in this respect documents are the most powerful because everyone in the world can read them on the internet. We need proof that you are not using homophobic and nationalist prejudices to opportunistically exploit them and try to win adherents in the working class. This was the tactic of Wolfheim and Laufenburg in 1919 as they tried to use the national outrage at the Treaty of Versailles in Germany (1). But this is not just a tactical error. It is a dereliction of internationalist duty.
The GIS asked what was the response of the Moscow section to the publication of Marlen Insarov’s article in the “Comune” where he openly talks of internationalists and revolutionary social nationalist being able to work together. The GKM replied that the article was written when the comrade belonged to a previous group, which was a forerunner of the GKM. Insarov had defended himself by saying he was trying to split off some of the nationalists. However, if it happens again we will get rid of him because to have relations with social nationalist is to kill yourself.
The GIS then said that there was no such thing as social-nationalists but national-socialists, i.e fascists. It is not a question of opportunism but something completely different. The author of the article must be politically confused but the GKM as communists must resolve the problem in one way or another.
The GKM repeated that Insarov had been openly criticised but he did not think he was a nationalist although he tended in the past to mix up socialism and nationalism but as you say this isn’t socialism. When some sympathisers had suggested that they should make some concessions to “patriotic ideas” everyone, including Marlen Insarov, had rejected this. A Trotskyist group had tried to involve them in an initiative with national bolsheviks but they had also rejected it.
The GKM denied that it was homophobic and that they were only against identity politics in the Russian context. The GIS said that there were identity politics all over the world. There is a new law coming in against gays and lesbians in Russia. We have to stand with the oppressed. It is an acid test for communists. [...]
The GKM said they were preparing articles on the anti-gay laws (and other laws) but the criticism was that these people are ignoring the class war. The GIS agreed but added that we first can criticise these groups but make it clear that one reason for their rise is because of our weaknesses in not winning over more gays and lesbians (and women, the CWO added) to the proletarian cause.
The GKM then offered to send their responses to the ICT to be followed up in emails or on Skype. The CWO welcomed this and said that the GKM is free to say what it likes, openly and honestly. However, any future discussion will obviously have to deal with this issue first. The GIS added that Vlad Bugera has published his criticisms of the GKM (and ICT) everywhere but what we missed was their response. A said that he knew that the ICT had stood up for the GKM therefore they would have to reply. The GIS disagreed and said it was the GKM that needed to defend itself and that this was not a Russian affair but an internationalist one. They pointed out that the Nazis in Germany were pursuing similar policies by promoting alliances of the "left" and right wing nationalists. The GKM protested that none of the GKM wrote any of these things now and everyone in Russia knew it. They proposed that they would prepare an article in reply to Vlad Bugera and then hold a conference on it. The draft would be sent to the ICT first. They added that they have to solve the problem of the texts by Insarov to avoid confusion and ambiguity.
The PCInt said the GKM needed to discuss to ensure that everyone agreed with the positions of the group and they need to have a collective approach as well as greater centralisation to avoid confusion. They had made some mistakes in forming the group and in allowing this approach towards nationalists. They emphasised that the ICT would have expelled (after discussion) any comrade who wrote like Marlen Insarov.

The recording of this discussion shows clearly that we had doubts and concerns about the GKM. As, however, the GKM vehemently defended itself against the reproach of entertaining links with nationalist circles, we decided to await the GKM‘s written answer or rather refutation of these accusations. It was clear to us that this would have to take same time (not least because of language and translation problems). Today, we have to confess that it was a mistake that we did not give the GKM a firm deadline. We are still waiting. After several empty promises from the GKM, we finally asked for an appropriate clarification by October 2013. There was no answer to this and we have heard nothing from the GKM since. This was and is remarkable and revealing in many ways, as the heavy reproach of collaboration with nationalists still remains. After the outbreak of the political crisis in the Ukraine we wrote once more to the GKM and asked for their perspective and positiion. Once again, we got no reply. Instead, we have to declare that strange things are being played out on the GKM’s website and, amongst other things, texts from reactionary nationalist organisations are being published. For example, there is the openly fascist group Narodnaj Wolja (People’s Will), which declares itself for the "defence of ethnic and racial identity“ against immigrants, and otherwise makes no secret of its way of thinking, through the display of fascist symbols like the Celtic cross. Moreover, a text of the so-called "National-Communist Front of the Euro-maidan“ is advertised, which openly puts itself in the tradition of national bolshevism and Stepan Bandera‘s UPA [Ukrainian Insurgeant Army], which, during the Second World War, was responsible for the murder of a hundred thousand Jews and a similar number of ethnically Polish Ukrainians. It is true that these groups are more or less clearly criticised in the GKM’s introductions, but, at the same time, the impression is conveyed that they stand on the side of the working class, and are part of the "left camp“ and so are partners for discussion or collaboration.

There can only be two reasons for this. Either the GKM (despite all assurances they have given us) are pursuing a policy of collaboration with reactionary and nationalist groups, or they seem to fail to understand that, merely by publishing such texts containing the reactionary ideology of these groups, they are offering them a way in.

No matter how one looks at it, the damage that has been done is enormous. We are conscious of the exceptional problems in Eastern Europe. Nationalist ideas are widespread and political confusion (in particular, amongst the young) is as great, now as it was in the past (2). Communists are confronted by the difficult task of driving forward processes of political clarification. The resolute defence of internationalist positions as well as the opposition without compromise against all forms of racist and sexual oppression is a basic precondition for this. In this respect, the GKM has failed miserably. The GKM’s way of going about things is a clear break with internationalist principles and not least with the revolutionary tradition of Maximalism(3), which it claims to represent.

International Bureau of the ICT March 2014

(1) Wolffheim and Laufenberg were founding members of the KPD and later of the left communist KAPD. Under the influence of the Treaty of Versailles they developed increasingly nationalist politics and were promptly expelled from the KAPD.

(2) For example, an anarchist comrade in an interview with a leftwing radio station reported the following over the Ukrainian situation:

Asheville Fm radio: “I came across the website of Dimitrov Kutchinsky, that guy is crazy. There are also references to national-anarchism.”

Denys: “Are you familiar with that concept at all?”

Asheville Fm radio: “Yeah there are some idiots claiming to be that in the United States. In San Francisco, and New York and Chicago. Are they much of a thing in the Ukraine?”

Denys: “Yes, actually yes. Because unfortunately this is a very popular trend – to mix with the leftist things, like (in adopting an) anticapitalism (narrative). The anarchist (position) is very trendy, cool and gives you some points immediately, but people mix it with national things, which also look very trendy and cool with the youth, mainly with teenagers who just don’t see any problem in trying to combine these things. And it’s especially funny in Ukraine because we have a very big myth about Makhno.
Today he’s an integral part of the national myth, he’s considered a nationalist, actually, because, well, he fought the Bolsheviks, therefore he must be for Ukraine, for independent Ukraine, and for the rule of the nation and so on. Obviously this is total bullshit, but this mythology is very popular and it adds to the popularity of that left-right synthesis, the third position actually, like Terza Posizione, (which is) the Italian fascist tradition.”

(3) The Maximalists emerged as a left split of the Social Revolutionary Party (SR) in 1906. They rejected the SR stages theory and ideas of reform and stood for a "maximal programme“, that is, the comprehensive socialisation of the land and the means of production. The Maximalists had a strict anti-parliamentarian orientation and made a name for themselves through militant direct action (assassinations and expropriations). Outside Russia, this current is scarcely known today. A first introduction to them is offered by Manfred Hildermeier: Die sozialrevolutionäre Partei Russlands: Agrarsozialismus und Modernisierung im Zarenreich (1900-1914) [The Russian Social Revolutionary Party: Agrarian Socialism and Modernisation in the Tsarist Empire (1900-14)] Köln, Wien 1978 and by Roman Danyluk: Freiheit und Gerechtigkeit. Die Geschichte der Ukraine aus libertärer Sicht [Freedom and Justice: the History of the Ukraine from a Libertarian Viewpoint], Lich 2010.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014