Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 4


Fighting Back in Ukraine

Oleg Dubrovskii with Simon Pirani,
Fighting Back in Ukraine
Index Books, London 1996, pp. 67, £2.00

THIS BOOKLET is based around a series of tape-recorded interviews with Oleg Dubrovskii conducted by Simon Pirani in September 1995. Although much of the material it discusses falls outside the time-span with which Revolutionary History concerns itself, Dubrovskii’s account of political developments within the Stalinist regimes and the Former Soviet Union illustrates the power of Trotskyist ideas and analyses to a remarkable degree, and consequently it is not inappropriate to review it here.

Dubrovskii is a prime example of a militant worker whose experience spans the period from the Stalinist regime to Yeltsin’s attempts to introduce market capitalism, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. As such, he is of great interest to us in attempting to understand the present state of the workers’ movement in the countries of the FSU.

Dubrovskii’s political learning began when he studied the reports of the congresses of the CPSU, as part of his preparation for joining the party, during military service in the early 1970s. Here he read the original speeches of Trotsky and the Left Opposition, and, at later congresses, of Bukharin and the Right Opposition. This is very interesting; he became aware of revolutionary positions from material available during the Brezhnev regime. We can reasonably ask ourselves then, why does Dubrovskii seem to be so unusual in responding to it?

By 1975 he had concluded that the Workers Opposition of 1920 best represented the interests of the workers, and he arrived at a position that trade unionism was the form through which the workers could best organise. The ‘party’, as manifest in the CPSU, was something he rejected.

In the early 1980s Dubrovskii adopted Solidarnosc as the model form of workers’ organisation against Stalinism, and moved from the Workers Opposition to a more clearly defined Anarcho-Syndicalist programme. His agitation in the major factories of Dnipropetrovsk (for example, against unpaid Sunday working) through the Andropov period attracted the attention of the KGB, but he was not arrested.

After 1987 it was possible to state open political disagreements with the regime, and Dubrovskii was able to force his programme onto the agenda of the factory political education class. He was elected to the union committee against party candidates.

After a series of attempts to establish independent trade unions, he and his Anarcho-Syndicalist comrades concluded that the key strategy was to work in the official unions, to transform them from tools of management into being weapons of working class struggle. Whatever the logic of this shift, it put Dubrovskii in a position where he was elected Chairman of a strike committee to protest against price increases after 1991 and the independence of Ukraine.

By 1994 Dubrovskii shifted to a Trotskyist position, after being able to read The Revolution Betrayed and other books previously unavailable in Russia.

The final sections of the booklet describe another wave of strikes against the failure of the employers to pay wages. In the course of this struggle, new movements to democratise the unions and other workers’ organisations began to develop. Dubrovskii concludes with a discussion of the possibilities of a new working class party emerging from such movements, and from the wider circulation of Trotskyist ideas amongst the workers. He sees educating workers in the history of the Russian Revolution as a key part in this process, making clear what were its ideas, and showing how they were perverted by the Stalinists.

Simon Pirani is a man who takes his internationalism seriously, and conducts it with practical determination. He has previously contributed substantially to our knowledge of the revolutionary movement in Vietnam (through his own publications and his preparation of Ngo Van’s book). His reports from Russia and the FSU, especially from the mining districts, have provided important source material, and this booklet adds more.

J.J. Plant

Updated by ETOL: 30.9.2011