Borotba (“Struggle”) is a disputed Ukrainian organization, which, while officially calling itself “revolutionary Marxist-Leninist and anti-fascist,” has in fact joined ranks with the pro-Russian nationalist movement. The organisation was involved in the failed attempt to create a Kharkiv People’s Republic and the escalation of events which led to the “Odesa tragedy.” Borotba is currently playing an active role in spreading the Kremlin’s narrative about the “persecution of the Ukrainian left by the junta in Kyiv” within the structures of the European left, and in particularly the German left-wing party “Die Linke.” Most Ukrainian left-wing organisations have since distanced themselves from Borotba.
The Borotba organization was put on record in May 2011. However, one of the authors of this article had been present at its conception which took place in April, 2010. The Kyiv Marxist Organization (MO) was celebrating its anniversary and Serhiy Kirichuk was speaking a lot about the importance of creating a left political party. Borotba’s chief had not yet sprouted a Third World revolutionary’s-like beard and looked more like a second-rate marketer whom he actually was (he had been busy selling chicken by the time). Sergey and his MO allies were inspired by ‘Svoboda’ nationalists and their success; thus they were willing to go into party construction after the same plot to take on Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) on the left flank. This was when the name Borotba was spoken out at first. About a year after Kirichuk’s speech, the organization split, though there had been a certain schism from the very beginning as it was impossible to hold Stalinists, Trozkists, former party nomenclature, Komsomol leaders, and libertarians together for a long time. The very fact of MO’s existence showed how immature the left-wing politics were in Ukraine. Such a political Frankenstein could keep up the façade and pretend he was alive only during a period of deep apathy and stagnation. The very fact that the authors and dozens of other ‘lefties’ had not noticed the rotting smell of this organization in time is a shame for all of us.
After the split some of the OM members had quit activism, some had formed the Left Opposition, some had joined the libertarians, and some had become our enemies. Yes, enemies, without any rhetorical stress. The division of Borotba is neither a question of doctrines, nor historic reenactment games, nor an anecdotic ‘Kronshtadt anarchist revenge,’ — nothing of what the authoritarians have been trying to accuse us of. At the beginning, the reasons for conflict were systematic lies and fraud. This was not a secret for anybody though many pretended to ignore these facts, saying that everybody had a right to build up his career the way he wanted to. But today, their shallow political ambitions, dishonesty, and readiness to spread any lies or manipulations have led to bloodshed. That was not the abstract ‘working class treachery’ but real deaths and injuries of people unlucky to believe Borotba or stray in their way.
Borotba was formed by the fraction of the Marxist Organization usually described as Stalinist. Surely, they have never been noticed carrying Stalin’s portraits and always called themselves Marxists-Leninists, showing their love to the moustached chief openly only in the drunk company. However, any ideology is proved not by declarations but through political practice. Borotbists are true Soviet political school followers. Borotba leaders originated from the Komsomol organization and some were active CPU members. This has been reflected not only in their USSR-nostalgic attitudes being actively exploited in their agitation, not only in positive esteems of Soviet regime but in their organization culture, tactics, strategies, and aims as well.
Borotba has always been active trying to parasite on non-authoritarian left activism where anarchists were used as a striking force. Ukrainian Stalinists were trying to take merits from activities of Direct Action, a student syndicalist trade union, by squatting its campaigns. Unfortunately, Direct Action had been loose change for Stalinists, Trozkists, liberals, and national-democrats in their political games due to the lack of ideological platform and unwillingness to take a firm line in political questions. When the attempts to jockey anarchists into supporting authoritarians failed, it would be time to use lies, intrigues along with threats and violence reaching the new scales recently. During the clashes in Kharkiv, Borotbists together with Russian nationalists stormed the administration building and beat people being inside, among them anarchists and anti-authoritarian leftwings. To legalize their violence, they accused all their victims of Right Sectormembership just like Spanish Stalinists had been naming ‘fascists’ both anarchists and POUM Marxists opposing them.
Leninism itself is a radical and authoritarian version the of social-democratic, movement while Stalinism is even a more radical evolvement. It is hard, though, to tell Stalinists from social-democrats today, they talk of revolution on holiday aiming to participate in bourgeois politics on weekdays at the same time. Bourgeois politics equal populism in Ukrainian reality. Borotba has been successful adapting their rhetoric to the audience. This is what helps them to find common both with Russian nationalists, naïve Western leftists and their back-alley Ukrainian colleagues. When Serhiy Kirichuk has spoken out for the libertarians at the ‘Hedonist International’ conference (a meeting of left activists and artists where he got by trick) he has criticized ‘far-rights and monarchists’ in the Eastern republics and told Borotba was fighting two fronts, both against ‘Ukrainian and Russian nazi’.
With a less critical audience, like Die Linke or anti-Imperialists, he appealed to support ‘anti-Fascist people republics’ while Russian nazi in his interpretation had turned into ‘somewhat mistaken but conceptually and socially allied anti-Fascists’. Borotba has been successful turning into ‘peace advocates‘ or ‘Fascist junta fighters’, depending on situation. Addressing to both sides of the conflict demanding to lay their weapons down but celebrating every micro-victory of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DNR) at the same time, publishing texts with ‘people republics’ support and their ‘conservative shift’ critics, celebrating Maidan slaughter in Kharkiv and publishing a resolution condemning violent actions in some weeks, moreover, participating in organization of even more cruel attack on Maidan in Odessa, criticizing Putin of ‘not providing enough help to separatists’ and demanding introduction of troops! Borotba would hypocritically condemn sexism and homophobia in order to impress left-wing intellectuals and use homophobic, sexist and anti-Semitic rhetoric to engage more conservatives. This is what should be described in details.
One of the first loud scandals actually letting Borotba’s history begin was the fact of violence committed by one of its activists, Vladimir Gurov, to female anarchist K. P. (name omitted by her request) in spring 2011. Gurov had never been an official Borotba member although he had been noticed attending all their campaigns and living at their activists’ flats, later in their office; also his photo was on some of the party stickers. He had beaten the girl shortly before the organization was officially established. The motivation was both sexist and political at the same time (Gurov had been going after her but unrequited; he had also been outraged by the woman being so bold to argue back in a political conversation). After the accident gained publicity within the left-wing community, Borotbists rhetorically withdrawn from Gurov and told he ‘was not their member’ being so cynic to advice victim to report to police.
Soon after, he returned to their office continuing to attend all the meetings and campaigns. Borotbists have even pushed him as a ‘talking head’ to a journalist taking an interview with working activists protesting against salary delays during construction of a bridge for Euro 2012. ‘Feministychna Ofenzyva’, a leftwing-liberal feminist organization had declared a boycott to Gurov and anybody who would cooperate with him, however the boycott was not observed even by some of his initiators as Ofenzyva participants would continue to write articles for Liva, website controlled by Borotba, take part in collective actions and campaigns with Borotbists and maintain political and friendly contacts with ‘non-sectant lefts’.
Later on, a scandalous sexist episode occurred within Borotba. Activist Dariia Dushechkina had been baited by her colleagues, threatened with violent punishment. As a result, she had filed a report to police. This issue has always been hushed up and fudged, any talks on the topic would not be welcome. Victor Shapinov promised to ‘unsubscribe anyone taking that drunk nonsense seriously from the organization newsletter’. The conflict ended with Dushechkina having quit the organization.
Homophobia is rather one of the ‘left conservative’ attributes for Borotba than a priority. However, there are exclusions like Alexey Albu, a Borotba activist from Odesa and local deputy elected by the CPU who appealed to expel LGBT activists from left campaigns and attack them and expressed his readiness to work together with far-rights for these aims. Recently, Borotba has been noticed spreading homophobic agitprop. To get themselves into Antimaidan favour they have been spreading texts and jokes about ‘gay Lyashko.‘
Racism and anti-Semitism would make the picture complete, and they are also present in Borotba’s record. Alexey Albu, mentioned above, when criticizing Mikhail Shtokalo, Odesa Left Opposition activist for his ‘liberal inclinations,’ would always mention his opponent’s skin color, consistently addressing Shtokalo as ‘Negro’ in the organization newsletters. Later he attacked Mikhail and no steps were taken by the organization, as Albu has stayed one of its leaders. A few years later, the Odesa Borotbists successfully cooperate with Russian Nazis from the Slavic Union and ultra-conservatives from Rodina, information on this cooperating is published on the the party’s website , and Albu publicly calls on to Russian armed forces to enter Odessa.
Surely, Borotba has never made any anti-Semitist appeals and has even held some populist ‘anti-anti-Semitist’ campaigns. However, a notorious anti-Semit Oleksiy Blyuminov, ex-chief editor of Vecherniy Luhansk, a newspaper having published extractions from antisemitic ‘Zion protocols,’ had been their member for a long time. A professional ‘political girouette’ has quit Borotba after voicing support for Maidan but now has returned home, supporting LNR, and is into renewing contacts with his ex-comrades. Borotba leaders have even dropped so low as to make friends with Israel Shamir, a well-known Orthodox fanatic supporting myths about Jews holding bloody sacrifices of Christians. There have been some anti-Semitist pictures at Borotba’s official website and social network pages. While they are usually deleted after some angry comments, the trend is obvious. Whether it is a ‘Zionist conspirator’ with an Israeli flag as a background or ‘bloody president Poroshenko’ with a menorah on his head, Borotba is steady reproducing the most antisemitic images and symbols.
Borotbists, having spoken much of their ‘Anti-fascism’ in fact have extensively cooperated with Nationalist organizations, going beyond pro-Russian ones. They had lobbied participation of Nationalist-loyal groups like ‘Communa’ and ‘Storm Committee’ in the 2012 First May parade in Kyiv. Today, ‘Communa’ activists have joined the ‘Right Sector,’ while former Borotba friends from the Storm Committee attack Borotba activities, according to Borotba participant Denis Levin. In Odesa, Borotba has cooperated with Avtonomnyi Opir. For Borotba, Support for both ‘Anti-Fascism’ and ‘nationalism’ are just instruments for political manipulations. They are trying to involve masses by any means while the political views do not matter at all for these parliament populists. Borotbists can call themselves ‘anti-Nationalists’ in one case and appeal to the National aspect in ‘Ukrainian bolshevism’ in another, turning the legacy of Skrypnyk and Khvylyovyi’s legacy to their advantage [members of the Executed Rennaissance nationalist revival in the 1920’s that favored communism].
This is not surprising for one who understands Borotba’s political genesis and their target audience. The remaining left alternative to CPU aims to take away the conservative and xenophobic electorate from that political party. They have given up the clericalism and Russian Nationalism of their Russian counterparts, but cannot give up tolerating Nationalists and conservatives. Victor Shapinov, one of Borotba’s leading ideologists, besides working on his own political projects, has been a political strategist for different political forces. The story of elections in Russian city Gus’-Khrustalnyi where Shapinov had been working for ‘Yedinaya Rossiya’ was a hit among post-Soviet left activists. These are not the only elections where Borotbists have made their mark using the organization resource: they had been into smear campaigns in Pridnestrovye working against Evgenii Shevchuk whom they accused of being too much ‘pro-European’. A little time before, Shapinov had been working in Crimea for Leonid Grach, one of the CPU leaders, having selled him ‘new-leftist’ slogans like ‘Power to millions, not millionaires’. We have to mention here that Grach although having dissociated himself from Symonenko accusing one of ‘Marxism withdrawal‘, was no difference from CPU mainstream both in clericalism and pro-Russian attitudes.
As we have already mentioned, Borotba’s history should be counted from spring, 2010. By that time Kirichuk had gained career success in ‘Myronivsky Khlibproduct’ and joined Marxist Organization. Before, he had only been registered along with many other ghost voters. However, membership in a political circle did not fit the scale of Kirichuk’s ambitions. So the idea to create a political party appeared. Mandelist fraction was seduced by Kirichuk’s prompts of creating ‘wide left party’ and ‘involving left-liberal allies‘.
However, you need much money for establishing a political party, and the money was found due to contacts within the alterglobalist movement. MO had participated in some events including 2008 European social forum in Malmo where the contacts with Sweden Left party activists and functionaries were established, as well as International Left forum, a foundation connected with Left party like Rosa Luxembourg foundation was connected with German Die Linke.
Summer 2010 at the Coordination council elections Stalinists achieved one voice advantage in the executive board. As a result of next journey to Malmo Shapinov succeeded in getting a 250,000 Swedish crones grant from International Left Forum for MO. The money was received formally for holding conferences concerning actual political problems. There were certain restrictions and demands for financial reporting written in the treat which would not let the money just be spent on some extra purposes.
However, there have been still legal ways left to tap the bank from trust fund to the organization pool as the contract allowed fees for the project members. Nobody would forbid the MO members involved to deposit most of the fee amount to the organization cash fund. But to make this scheme successful all of the members should understand what was being done and what for. That means, the fact of receiving the money, amounts and terms should have become public for every member of the organization.
This was what the Stalinist wished the least. The information on Swedish grant was concealed even from the Trozkist fraction as Kirichuk and Co had a majority in the leadership and the perspective to rule organization by making guidelines was too seducing. However, the realization of their instructions had stalled as most of the members could not figure out what was going on and why should the events like feminist conference in Crimea be held. Besides, a Stalinist-Trozkist conflict beraged so the latter would not be so eager to heed the Stalinist chiefs and their commands.
As a result, some of the events were messed up.
In autumn 2010, MO called non-parliament lefts to unite into the political subject. This caused a quite surprising response from Kyiv Mohyla ‘left intellectuals’. Trozkists believed it was a chance to create wide organization with stable anti-Stalinist majority. This is how ‘KPD Platform’ appeared, a predecessor of future Left Opposition. However, at the moment Trozkists aimed only to voice their independent position in the consolidation process using MO by-laws allowing to create ideological platforms.
However, Kirichuk and other Stalinists did not see themselves as a minority within the new organization, so a 1920-s tradition battle against KPD platform started within MO. This battle was ideologically marked as ‘true-Marxist’. Any orientation on left-liberals approach was thrown away. Stalinists have created their own secret fraction (need to mention that therefore they have flaunted the MO regulations allowing only platforms but not fractions) and started to search for approach with CPU-close Stalinist groups.
Winter passed together with this battle. March, 2011 International Left Forum’s internal profit and loss statement deadlines were coming close so the Swedes became to be more concerned about the fate of money given to Shapinov. The emissaries were sent to Kyiv for investigations. The question about money and statement was raised in front of MO’s Control committee consisting of Anti-Stalinist Marxists totally ignorant about the subject. The worst was the shock of the news about organization running up a 30,000$ bill to the Swedes, and all the money gone missing.
A scandal burst. Stalinists were desperately trying to cheat everybody including the Swedes who received a false report signed by ‘Erman, the MO auditor’ (there was no such vacancy at all and Georgiy Erman, having no connection with the Control committee was payed by Kirichuk).
It turned out that Shapinov could not provide a statement as he was in Gus’-Khrustalny at the moment working for Yedinaya Rossiya.
Surely it became impossible for anyone to stay with Stalinists within one organization. A question was raised: if Shapinov had been working for Yedinaya Rossiya and signing secret contracts by the organization’s name at the same time, would it be possible for Shapinov one day to sign a contract for MO to execute any political orders for Yedinaya Rossiya?
Today, Borotba is actually fighting for Putin’s interests in Ukraine; Shapinov must have found it an intriguing business project.
And now about the money. Almost all the sum stayed on the accounts so, after all, the money was not sacked. The Stalinists have not succeeded even in using that budget, mostly because of the efforts to hoax their own organization. A loud scandal with trials and media coverage could be avoided only because the Swedes themselves were eager to hush the case and just cop out from their own higher controlling organs. Taking into consideration the Stalinist routs of Left Party, the Swedes saw Borotbists having transmutated from Stalinists as their soul mates and re-established seminal cooperation.
It was clear that no left-wing union would appear. Some microscopical Stalinist groups have joined Borotba and this finally defined it as another CPU-clone. Also, cult newsletter left_unia appeared where left-wings of different political views had been throwing dirt and accusations at each other.
Later on Borotba has achieved new sources of funds all of which were quite murky. The contacts with ‘regionals’ were established. For example, Borotba regional office in Kherson was led by regional party deputy Ihor Poddubchenko. His membership has never been made too much public and he must have Borotba as an extra actually unwilling to risk his reputation through contacts with ‘radicals’. Borotbists would become nervous and start threatening after being in their cooperation with non-proletarian politician.
It is still not clear who had sponsored Serhiy Kirichuk’s 2012 elections campaign ‘Comrade, not oligarch’. However, it is interesting that almost all Borotba leader’s activities as a candidate ended in attacking one of his opponents, ‘oligarch’ Lev Partskhaladze. Other ‘oligarchs’ like Alexander Tretyakov balloting on the same district were mysteriously lucky to avoid critics which proves purely technical participation in the elections. Getting a result, Kirichuk has soon forgotten about his native Svyatoshynskyi district which he promised to take care of. After Borotba got a chance to join the self-proclaimed ‘Kharkiv People’s republic’, Kirichuk turned to be a Kharkiv resident and after the ‘Kharkiv Republic’ failed — a Berlin one.
Investigating the financial side of Borotba’s activities, we should mention the anecdotic ‘anti-Fascist’ campaign December 2012 rhetorically preceding the Yanukovych Party of Regions’ similar campaigns and having given a net meme about red zeppelin. There were hardly 30 Borotbists in Kyiv at the moment so the origin of the crowd scene at the meeting was not clear. However, hundreds of red scarves and flags would not come from the middle of nowhere.
Borotba railing against the while walls of the Ukrainian parlament
Soon after the zeppelin ‘anti-Fascist’ march through Mariinsky park under snow the organization received capital for scheduled journeys across Ukraine and the ability to take regional activists to Kyiv. Their family members and friends willing to see the capital were also welcome. Borotba had enough money to at least two full-time workers. Georgiy Erman besides doing his office duties was also active defending the organization’s reputation in web newsletters and trying to spread his influence on ‘Direct Action’. However, in the meantime he grew ashamed of his bosses and departed from them after the Maidan attitudes. Second worker, former CPU member and Komsomol leader Evgeniy Golyshkin was more committed and he was imitating ‘trade union organizing’ and political work with subcultural anti-Fascists. The job concluded in alcohol and psychoactive substances heavy use at the party office accompanied with talks on ‘motherfuckers from other organizations’. However, the Borotbist experience of creating trade unions failed as none of their satellite organization survived (it could have been counted ‘Kyiv junta’s repressions’ if the organizations had not ceased showing any signs of life long before Maidan) while most of the Antifa-subculture would at least stop any contacts with Borotba and at worst would threat its members.
One of Borotba’s loud achievements was ‘defending’ Razvozzhaev, a political refugee from Russia after the May 6th case. Shortly before the repressions began, Borotbists together with Left front had been giving interviews and holding press-conferences. They had pathetically opened the ‘Left front foreign bureau’ in Kyiv. Borotba’s activities had been facing a certain crisis in Ukraine so they decided to stick to white-ribbon Russian protest providing support and protection to their red-flag comrades. The support was overly pathetic. They were almost shouting in every corner that it was them who would welcome Left Front political refugees. No wonder that when Razvozzhaev had really arrived in Ukraine, the Borotba leaders were the ones spiked in the first place. Surely, the guest was accompanied with prominent activists well-known for the secret services in different countries.
There can be no rational excuse for such irresponsibility, any wishes to make a photo report ‘How we saved our comrade from Putin’s regime’ would not make an excuse for such a risk. They could as well send a direct e-mail to [email protected] telling ‘We have Razvozzhaev here, come and get him’. Surely Borotbists did not do that on purpose. Their treason rather went in a natural way. The lack of principles does not exclude mere idiotism. For comparison, any Russian refugee appealing to anarchists or liberal human rights activists, or just taking care of himself, was not kidnapped from Ukraine, though there were efforts.
After Razvozhaev’s kidnapping, the evil mistake was turned into a PR instrument. Kirichuk was busy giving dozens of interviews telling how they had been batting for the refugees. Borotba’s first serious media success was created by their irresponsibility having crossed their colleague and, indirectly, many other people named in a May 6th case, up. By the way, ‘Ukrainian Left Front bureau’ has never since. Looks like Russian Bolshevists estimated freedom and safety over such cooperation although they continue friendly bounds with Borotba when it concerns Ukraine’s internal politics. This is where they trust their Stalinist brothers.
Long before Maidan began, Borotba had shyly assumed pro-Russian attitudes. When their leaders came to writing articles on the topic of economical integration, there usually would be three pages on EU critics and about a couple sentences on Customs union critics. There were Lukashenko and Asad’s apologists within Borotba (including abovementioned Blyuminov being not just an ordinary member but one of the organization ideologists). Support of authoritarian leftists opposing Putin would fit well with friendly attitudes to ‘red putinists’. As recent scenario has shown, there was nothing contradictory about that as notwithstanding with repressions from Russian regime, many Left front members have voiced open support regarding both the annexation of Crimea and Putin’s aggressive politics addressed on Ukraine. Borotbists were close to pro-Russian far-rights as well, such as journalists Alexey Chalenko and Myroslava Berdnyk as well. The presentation of Oles Buzyna’s book and meeting with Novorossiya’s ideologist Vladimir Kornilov took place in their office.
As the conflict escalated, any sentiments flew off. Borotba forgot even any ritual criticism of Russian imperialism to fall in its arms. Pro-Kremlin and ultrapatriotic Russian media published interviews with their leaders telling about cruel Maidan Fascists tormenting poor unarmed Berkut soldiers. The overly conservative position was excused with concerns about ‘territorial entity’ and ‘preventing the civil war’. However, after Yanukovych’s defeat Borotba turned into one of the most active hate preachers, having consolidated with ‘Oplot’ and their mercenaries.
The Kharkiv and Donetsk Republics supported separatists’ (some of the Borotbists in Kharkiv even claimed themselves ‘people’s deputies’), appeals for Russian invasion, collaboration with Putinists from Russia and West, recognizing the ‘referendum’ results, appeals for legalization of ultra-right ‘militants’ and recognizing them as a Southeast army. Participated in beating Maidan activists in Kharkiv in the administration building, among them the leftist poet Serhiy Zhadan and anarchists (borotbist Alexey Fedorenko is clearly seen on the video kicking unarmed people with legs).
Demonstrators beating Maidan activists and forming a “corridor of shame”
Their support of Maidan attack in Odesa led to the bloody tragedy at the Trade Unions building. Note that ‘left leader’ Alexey Albu responsive for this now is in Simferopol accompanied by ‘Rodina’ and ‘Slavic Unity’ activists and continuing his fight against the ‘junta’ which will obviously lead to new deaths. However, Albu himself is not likely to be harmed seriously as young left leaders tend to keep themselves safe.
All of this could have been prevented easily if the left-wing swamp had not provided a kindly soil for Borotba growth. If Stalinists had received full boycott in 2011 after the assault on female anarchist. If they had rallied on the First of May alone, without Trozkist and quasi-anarchist support. If Direct Action had banned them from participating in their campaigns not in 2013, but two years earlier, and had obeyed the ban. Unfortunately, we have done none of this and have let the monster be born, a dumb and clumsy, but deadly dangerous monster. We have written this text to help ones coming later not to repeat our mistakes. Today, tomorrow, 20 or 100 years later, authoritarians will NEVER cease to be your enemies. No matter what words they may say, how fine and sane they may seem, the ones willing to seize political power will never be the allies for ones willing to destroy it.
- Avtonomia.net: Statement of Left and Anarchist Organizations about “Borotba” organization
- Nihilist.li: “Red outside, white inside – More about Borot’ba and its partners” A follow-up on the article above: Russian and German
- Links.org.au: Ukraine dominates discussion at Party of the European Left’s summer university
- German Indymedia: Von Borot’ba vermittelte Nazi-Veranstaltung abgesagt – wann distanziert sich DIE LINKE?