Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


ICL Inaccuracies

Dear Comrades,

At the risk of trying the patience of Revolutionary History readers, it is necessary to state that the ICL’s letter in the last issue gives an entirely inaccurate account of proceedings on the Editorial Board, when material on the Ukrainian national movement was considered for inclusion in the journal.

The facts are as follows. Only one proposal with regard to the Ukrainian material was put to the vote, and that was the ICL’s proposal that the material should be rejected. This proposal was agreed, with myself and Bob Archer voting against. Charlie Pottins, who is accused of voting to publish the material, in fact voted with the ICL. I made it clear that I supported Al Richardson’s proposal that a decision should be postponed. However, as the ICL insisted that the vote on their proposal should be taken first, and this was passed by a large majority, Comrade Richardson’s proposal was never voted on.

The reason why I favoured postponing a decision was, quite simply, my own ignorance on the subject. I was not at all convinced that the authors of the articles the ICL objected to were “proponents of a Fascistic Ukrainian nationalist group”. A translation of the article which allegedly refers to Fascistic influence on the Ukrainian national movement as “admissible” had not in fact been presented to the Editorial Board, and we were dependent on a summary of that article. This seemed to me to be an inadequate basis on which to reach a decision.

Since then I have been able to discover some information on the Ukrainian group, none of which gives any support to the ICL’s contention that the group was sympathetic to Fascism. Take the following excerpts from a 1969 speech by Pierre Lambert, which recounts a meeting with Ivan Majstrenko (Babenko), one of the authors of the articles rejected by the editorial board:

I remember that in 1947, in the course of an international congress in Paris, an old Russian militant called Babenko came and took part in the preparatory sessions. Babenko was no longer a revolutionary, no longer a Trotskyist, no longer even a Marxist. He was a man who had belonged to the Central Committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party during the Civil War. In 1923 he had supported Trotsky. In 1927 he had capitulated like many others. He became a teacher at Kiev. In 1937 he was arrested and questioned. His good luck, if you can call it that, his unheard-of good luck, was to be interrogated by an investigator who had been appointed at this time, I believe, by Yezhov. It so happens that Stalin wanted to liquidate Yezhov, and as Stalin never did anything by halves, he liquidated all the investigators, including the man at Kiev, and, what is more, put them all in jail with Babenko. The new investigator, who knew nothing of all this, gave Babenko 10 years, and he went off into a labour camp.

Then in 1941 the Red Army was in retreat: it had been beheaded by Stalin, whose disastrous role in this field has been condemned and explained in a whole series of books and articles from the Soviet press. The armies of Hitler were at the gates of Moscow. The October Revolution and the country of October were being trodden underfoot by the armies of the Nazi imperialists. At this moment Stalin appealed to those who remained of the old generation, to the Bolsheviks, to those who had not capitulated, and to those who had capitulated but who had not been shot. He called upon them to defend the Socialist fatherland. And, knowing that Stalin would once again break his word, this old generation joined the army and took up its rifle, and, before Moscow, it took the heaviest and most decisive blows of the highly-equipped Germany army. They fought for the country of October, for the revolution of 1917. Babenko was a Ukrainian, but he too joined the Red Army. He told me:

When the Hitlerite armies entered the Ukraine, without doubt they were not received as enemies. The forced collectivisation had led in the Ukraine to hundreds of thousands of deaths, and the national oppression exerted by the Soviet bureaucracy likewise was intolerable to hundreds of thousands of people. The people of the Ukraine received the Hitlerite armies without cheering, without complaining ... and a few weeks later it was in the Ukraine that the partisan bands were first formed. Why were they first formed there? Because the German invasion of the Soviet Union intended to restore private property in the means of production, and hundreds of thousands of men, two hundred million men, tens of millions of peasants on collective farms and of workers drew their livelihood and their possibilities of existence from the conquests of October, from state property in industry and from collectivised agriculture. To reintroduce private property in the means of production in the Ukraine meant physically exterminating hundreds of thousands of men, women and youth. It really meant exterminating the Ukrainians. And this was the reason the Ukrainians took up arms.
(Translated by John Archer)

Lambert presented this as evidence in support of Trotsky’s claim, in The Revolution Betrayed, that “the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses”.

No doubt the ICL will point to Lambert’s statement that Babenko was “no longer a revolutionary”, etc. But it is worth noting that this was not the view of the US Socialist Workers Party, who in 1951 published an interview with Babenko and another leader of the Ukrainian Revolutionary Democratic Party, introducing them as members of “a group of revolutionary socialists” (Fourth International, September-October). Indeed, in March that year Ernest Mandel had established relations with the URDP on behalf of the Fourth International, and Babenko himself was invited to attend the FI’s Third World Congress in August (Les Congres de la Quatrième Internationale, volume 4, p.130). Presenting the resolution on the class nature of the ‘glacis’ at the World Congress, Pierre Frank made the point – later borrowed without acknowledgement by Lambert – that the Ukrainian nationalists’ support for the nationalised property relations demonstrated Trotsky’s thesis that the October Revolution lived in the consciousness of the masses (ibid., p.243).

All of this suggests that a serious study of the Ukrainian Revolutionary Democratic Party would be of considerable political interest, particularly in view of the importance of the national question in the Soviet Union today. Revolutionary History could have made a useful contribution by publishing some of the relevant material. It is a pity that the knee-jerk Stalinophilia of the ICL, and the failure of the Editorial Board to take a stand against this, prevented the inclusion of such material in the journal.

Bob Pitt
WIL representative
Revolutionary History Editorial Board

Updated by ETOL: 23.7.2003