Translated Notes

Translated Notes


Insurgent Notes has recently published a translated article from ak (analyse & kritik) which details a meeting of international ‘leftists’ of various stripes held in Lviv, Ukraine in early May. We appreciate that Insurgent Notes has translated this for us, and presume, by their lack of commentary, that they are transitioning to a translation service for which I would be remiss to fail to request that they also take it upon themselves to translate Bordiga’s Strutture economica e sociale de la della Russia d’oggi, and Storia delta sinistra comunista, Broue’s biography of Leon Trotsky, as well as our first reader request, August Bebel’s book on the Islamic golden age in to English. By way of payment I offer the suggestion that Insurgent Notes rebrand themselves to Translated Notes to avoid confusion about what their purpose is. I’ll also help out by soliciting requests for translations in the comments section of this article, please leave a comment to let us know which works you would like Translated Notes to begin translating next.

As for the article itself, all I can wonder is “What did these people think a revolution looked like? A dinner party? Even Mao knew better than that.” Just to anticipate, yes, I am a white male writing from the relatively stable State of the USA so this criticism from the article is directed at me.

“Some foreign leftists thought we should rather turn our arms against our rulers and start the revolution,” says Serhii Movchan with a weary smile. “Yeah, how about you guys get started?”

Abso-fucking-lutely we will start organizing for the revolution the moment that the question of State power is posed. But that’s the trouble, the question of State power is not being posed in America. It is being posed in Ukraine. The question posed there is, Ukrainian capitalist rule or Russian capitalist rule? Just as the question was posed in Russia 1917, German capitalist rule or Russian capitalist rule? Luckily for the millions of soldiers who were able to go home after the Russian workers and peasants single-handedly ended World War One, the Soviets were capable of posing an additional option, world revolution. Make no mistake, world revolution, or world war, is what is on the table in Ukraine right now. The failure to grasp this guarantees that world war is the outcome. So how do we get to the point where world revolution is a viable alternative to rule by one capitalist or another? The article in question gives us some very strong hints.

“The war has turned the lives of everyone present upside down and determines their political work. This becomes clear when trade unionists report on the first day: Engine drivers like Aleksandr Skiba from Kyiv are now transporting refugees or humanitarian aid across the country. However, the aid supplies that come to Ukraine in large quantities do not always end up with the people, but often on the shelves of large supermarkets. “We have not yet been able to prove that the aid got there illegally, we contacted the local authorities but received no answer,” says Skiba.”

These engine drivers are organized in to unions and are transporting the aid supplies that, apparently, wind up on the shelves of supermarkets. Why are there no efforts within the union to seize these aid supplies which are already physically under their control, right up until the point where they’re on the supermarket shelves, and open distribution centers? These could easily form the basis of a proto-soviet organization. When the West Virginia teachers went on a statewide strike, they were capable of organizing a food distribution campaign to ensure that students who relied on free and reduced breakfast/lunch programs at school were still fed, why should Ukrainian workers not be capable of organizing such a distribution campaign using aid supplies which were donated for the explicit purpose of meeting human need?

“It’s not the only problem Skiba and his union, the Free Union of Railway Workers (vpzu), are currently struggling with. Many colleagues have lost their homes due to bombs and shelling. Getting aid payments is difficult: “The state pushes everything onto local authorities, but they probably don’t have the money for it. So the government will say they did everything and the local authorities will say they have no money because the government didn’t give them any.” Skiba wants to fight the authorities to get support for his colleagues. Myroslava Kaftan from the Independent Miners’ Union of Ukraine from Chervonograd near Lviv also reports on the assumption of state tasks in caring for refugees, some of whom trusted the union more than the state.”

The slogan that the Petrograd garrison said in response to the Provisional Government speaking of evacuating Petrograd during 1917 should again be raised and altered to fit the next context. “If you are not capable of defending the capital, conclude peace; if you cannot conclude peace, go away and make room for a People’s Government which can do both.”

So we must say now “If Zelensky is not capable of meeting the needs of Ukrainian people in wartime conditions, conclude peace; if you cannot conclude peace, be overthrown by our soviets which will do both.”

Concretely, those who have lost their homes and jobs make up the potential human architecture for the new soviet-type organizations which can begin seizing and distributing aid supplies and housing. These organizations can be set-up, initially, with the help of the unions which already have a great deal of popular trust. A justification for these actions, as if meeting the needs of human beings needs more justification, is readily produced by the article.

“Vitaliy Dudin reports that employees are often not paid their wages, which are often very low anyway; employers owe a total of 4 billion hryvnia (around 140 million euros) to “their” employees, with half of these wage debts affecting the public sector and state-owned companies. The previously miserable conditions would of course have been drastically worsened by the new war, explains Dudin.”

These seizures can simply be passed off as a collection of unpaid wages which will serve as a political smokescreen long enough for the soviets to begin accumulating real power and no longer need to rely on such deceptions.

Instead of attempting to build real soviet power in an environment which is practically begging for a third-option to emerge and begin meeting the needs of Ukrainian people, what are these ‘leftists’ up to?

“If Ukraine were defeated militarily, all other forms of activism would no longer make sense, and political life as before would no longer be possible,” says Movchan. He stresses that some Ukrainian anarchists were opposed to the military, but now you have to adapt your practice to reality.”

Political life before Trump was no longer possible after his election either, but you didn’t see us calling for support to the Democrats during the 2016 election campaign. What you did see us doing was organizing hotlines to report police locations so that non-citizens could avoid arrest, physically blocking the removal of non-citizens by obstructing the passage of an ICE van, refusing to ship shooting-range targets which depicted black people to police shooting-ranges, all of which improved the lives of people immeasurably more than a vote for Clinton would have.

So Ukrainian ‘leftists,’ rather than trying to find a path toward independent working-class mobilization, have chosen the classic capitulatory road of pledging allegiance to their national bourgeoisie, which begs the question. What’s the point of ‘opposing’ the military if you’re just going to kowtow, join, and support them the moment such ‘opposition’ can actually become concrete? The answer, of course, lay in the fact that these ‘leftists’ are the left-wing of capital, and use their theoretical ‘opposition’ to capitalism to be able to better mobilize the working-class in defense of their own national bourgeoisie.

“Yuri Chernata, also part of Operation Solidarity, adds: “We currently don’t have the luxury of being 100 percent pacifists.”

I am truly sorry that the opportunity for a genuinely independent workers movement leading up to world revolution has presented itself in Ukraine. Revolutions are not pretty affairs, and are very difficult to accomplish. Many a Bolshevik revolutionary laid down their life in either the Russian Civil War, executed by the Tsarist secret police, or simply starved to death in post-1917 Russian conditions. What you no longer have the ‘luxury’ of being is a theoretical leftist, now its time for theory to meet practice, and I am, and the rest of the world will be, truly sorry that the task of kicking off world revolution has fallen on to the shoulders of those that would retreat so easily beneath that immense and important task.

“The theoretically correct motto “The main enemy is in your own country” seems to serve as an excuse for some people not to have to enter into exchanges—even disputes—with comrades in Ukraine, whose demands for military defense and arms deliveries are not entirely comfortable.”

It’s not ‘uncomfortable’ to offer arms deliveries to the bourgeois armies, it’s class treason. If there was an independently constituted workers movement, then by all means we should be ready to be ‘uncomfortable’ and support that class struggle. Unfortunately what we have instead of an independent working-class movement is the Ukrainian ‘left.’ But not all is lost simply due to the poverty of the ‘left’ in Ukraine, but first a quick diversion.

“Of course, there is discrimination against us [Roma] in Ukraine. For example, it is much more difficult for us to travel to the west of the country,” says Kondur. At the same time, he emphasizes that thousands of Roma fought in Territorial Defense on the side of Ukraine against the Russian invaders. “I therefore hope that our position in this country will be better after the war.”

More than a million African Americans that fought in WW2 and came back home to Jim Crow would be happy to tell you that the capitalists do not give a single solitary fuck that you sacrificed for their profits, and your payment for risking life and limb for the status quo will be a return to that status quo.

This strong contrast between a political ‘leftist’ and a unionist who has real roots in the working-class reveals a glimmer of hope for Ukraine, and the world.

“Yana Wolf [member of a feminist group], with a patch of the Ukrainian national colors on her jacket, answered no when asked during the conference whether her group had contact with Russian feminists. At the moment she has no desire for it. Railway union leader Aleksandr Skiba has a different perspective. “As soon as we start declaring the Russian and Ukrainian people enemies, that will bind the Russians together more for the war,” believes the train driver. There were also people among the Russian occupation soldiers who behaved decently. In addition, many are disappointed that they are being burned as cannon fodder, according to acquaintances who have spoken to Russian soldiers. If the demoralized soldiers could be more “roused up” and the truth revealed to them, there might be a way to end the war more quickly.”

The scent of 1917 Bolshevism is coming off of this Railway union leader, we can only hope that they can make a clean break with the traitorous ‘leftists’ and begin constructing genuine organs of working-class rule.

June 1st, 2022

One thought on “Translated Notes”

  1. It’s a sad end to the “promise” of Insurgent Notes– but it’s an end that happened years ago. Full disclosure, I was one of the original three “editors” at Insurgent Notes, present at the beginning along with L. Goldner and J. Garvey. Unlike them, I was gone after issue #4, having insisted that IN produce and adopt a schedule for submission, review, and return of first drafts, then the second drafts, and the final product, knowing from other endeavors that without an established schedule, the publication was doomed to irrelevance. Even with an established schedule, relevance would have been hard to achieve, but without it? NFW.

    The last “full issue” of IN appeared in April 2021 a “special issue”- consisting of two articles reproduced from the AWW collective. Since then, a letter from a comrade in France, a book review, and then this muddled, equivocating, reprint and translation of a meeting of leftists in Ukraine, where class-collaboration is more than debated; it’s put forward as a tactic. The problem of course that in critical moments, like war, like the growing breakdown of what once WAS, tactics are more than tactics. They become anti-strategies, and anti-programs for anti-revolutions.

    IN’s editors have moved from “Luxemburgism,” and anti-Leninism, identifying national self-determination as a cover for the reconstitution of capitalism, to reproducing the appeals for and to “national defense” in Ukraine, complete with the swinging dick challenges of “yeah sure, you make your revolution from the safety of you home, while we do actual battle with the Russians.”

    What a long, delayed, and twisted journey it has been from Goldner’s “Anti-Capitalism or Anti-Imperialism” to “In the Grinder of Geopolitics.” What’s been lost? In a word, CLASS. The arguments come complete with their own version of TINA– “there is no alternative” to supporting a class-collaboration national defense.

    What IN gives voice to is but another iteration of the “greater evil, lesser evil” calculation that is always so realistic, so pragmatic, it goes nowhere. Greater evil, lesser evil or good cop, bad cop. Same same. The cops hold the cards and the knouts.

    Back in the day, our ultra-lefts couldn’t be troubled to associate themselves with those calling for the victory of the NLF in Vietnam. Sophisticated arguments were unspooled to explain such reticence.

    Once upon a time, these types couldn’t even bring themselves to support the government of Cuba against a military invasion by the US. State!Bureaucratic!Collectivist! Capitalism!

    Now? It’s rally around the blue and yellow.

    So much for Zimmerwald. Too bad for you Vladimir, you authoritarian anti-democratic centralist you.
    Things have changed.” Maybe things have changed. But the class relations remain the same.

    Here’s a simple way to sort this out: Suppose you are a communist member of Ukraine’s parliament. You’ve opposed the Zelensky government’s policies; it’s acceptance if IMF programs, EU programs as fundamentally anti-working class. Russia invades. Do you now vote to fund Ukraine’s military? Do you, to put it in more historic terms, vote the war credits?

    Suppose you are a communist member of the Russian Duma. You’ve opposed Putin’s consistent payment of international debt obligations; you’ve opposed the privatization, or the piratization of the Russian economy since 1992. Now, do you vote to fund the war against Ukraine?

    Suppose you are a communist member of the US Congress. Do you vote to fund the shipment of weapons to Ukraine?

    If you said “No” three times, we want to talk to you.

    No one doubts the barbaric results of the Russian invasion. No one can react with anything but horror to the destruction of lives. But this barbarism, this destruction is not simply the product of a madman or a single “mad” economy. It is the product of the disintegration of the existing international pathways for capital accumulation. It is the product of competition for markets, for increments of surplus value. It cannot be remedied by picking a “good bourgeoisie” over a bad “oligarchy.” The destruction can only be halted by social revolution, international in scope and resonance, where working class solidarity means defeat for the ruling classes within and beyond national boundaries.

    S. Artesian

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