Lugansk communist: ‘Donbass is in great need of international solidarity’

Workers World interviewed Maxim Chalenko, Secretary of the Communist Party, Lugansk Regional Committee in the Lugansk People’s Republic (LC). Chalenko is a founder of the Forum of Communist, Socialist, Workers’, Environmental and Anti-Fascist Forces. He helped to organize the Donbass International Forum titled “Anti-Fascism, Internationalism, Solidarity” held on May 8 in Alchevsk.

Workers World: Where did you grow up and go to school? How did you become involved in the communist movement?

Maxim Chalenko

Maxim Chalenko

Maxim Chalenko: I was born on June 30, 1980, in Severodonetsk, in the Lugansk region [then part of Soviet Ukraine]. I spent most of my youth in Lugansk city, where my family moved in 1990. I graduated from Lugansk School Number 57, then East Ukrainian State University, with a degree in history and archiving.

I’ve been active in the communist movement for 17 years. In 1997, I joined the Leninist Communist Youth Union of Ukraine (the youth organization of the Communist Party of Ukraine). I organized protests for the restoration of students’ rights in 2000-03 and became a member of the Communist Party of Ukraine in 2000.

In Kiev, I was active in the movement “Ukraine without Kuchma” in 2002, when police violently broke up our tent camp. Later I organized a series of protests of workers and miners in the Lugansk region.

I was elected secretary of the Zhovtnevy District Committee of the Communist Party in Lugansk, then secretary of the Communist Party, Lugansk Regional Committee, Secretary of the Lugansk Municipal Committee of the Communist Party, and as a deputy to the Lugansk Regional Council.

WW: As a young person, what was it like to live through the collapse of the Soviet Union?

MC: As the son of a Soviet soldier, the collapse of the USSR hit me very hard. The destruction of this great country, whose cornerstone was to protect the workers’ interests, made many in the military burn with a desire to defend the Soviet Union. But unfortunately, after the collapse, those actively serving in the military were forbidden to speak of the USSR.

Many communists began to focus their efforts and energy on trying to build a just, socialist society within the framework of the national states formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including us in Ukraine. Perhaps this was one of the main reasons for our failures.

In my opinion, the disintegration of the Soviet Union into national states, where each went into its own sociopolitical process, only sped up the transition from the socialist to the capitalist path. A powerful, ideologically cohesive communist movement was then split and disorganized.

WW: Tell us about the activity of the communists in Lugansk following the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev in February 2014.

MC: After the anti-people coup in Kiev — and even during it, at the end of 2013 — we organized the first militia squadron to protect the civilian population of Lugansk from fascism. Our goals were to protect the population from aggression, provocations and attacks by neo-fascists and to protect monuments related to our history and culture. We worked to block the arrival of neo-Nazi militants from the West.

We also took on the important task of opposing attempts by the Lugansk authorities to negotiate the conditions for their surrender to the Kiev junta. After all, capitalists in power are indifferent to the problems of the people; all that is important is to preserve and increase their capital. We understood this and moreover, saw it happening in practice.

Powerful politicians, dominated by members of the Party of Regions, were negotiating the surrender of Lugansk to the neo-fascists. With the tacit consent of the Kiev junta, they appointed new regional heads of the Interior Ministry, Prosecutor’s Office and Security Service of Ukraine, whose purpose was to suppress the anti-fascist resistance in Lugansk.

We proposed to organize a broad anti-fascist front to stop the spread of fascism to the East and also raised the issue of geopolitical choice. At that time the issue of the restoration of the USSR came to the fore.

In the face of resurgent fascist ideology, including aggressive nationalism, we must intensify international work to demand the restoration of the USSR. We believe that now more than ever we have the basis to do it.

WW: What organizing and activities have you conducted since the start of the war?

MC: In April and May 2014, Lugansk residents were very worried about Slavyansk [in neighboring Donetsk] and its inhabitants, who were subjected to Ukrainian military aggression. We organized the first collection and shipment of humanitarian aid from Lugansk to the defenders of Slavyansk. No one realized that in a month we ourselves would need help.

Later, when the war came to our door, we actively engaged in the collection and transfer of humanitarian aid to Lugansk from Russia. We were really helped by the Communist Party committees of Rostov and Voronezh. These two areas border Lugansk, and even before the war we had established a wonderful comradeship with them. We appealed for help and they immediately responded, organizing the collection of food, medicine and clothing through their party structures. Almost every week throughout the summer, we brought this assistance into the Lugansk People’s Republic.

Then, in early September, when the ceasefire agreement was signed in Minsk, we held a re-registration of the party ranks and started to restore our party structures. Some people had left, some had disappeared and did not respond to phone calls. Several communists were killed. The secretaries of the party committees were scattered, mainly engaged in solving problems in their cities. At that time communication and transportation were restored, and within a few months, we restored ties with all local organizations.

WW: Why did you decide to organize an international solidarity forum this spring?

MC: There were two reasons: First, it was the landmark 70th anniversary of the victory of socialism over fascism [the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II]; second, and most important, today the left-wing in Donbass is in great need of international support and assistance from allied organizations.

In spite of high ideals, including our own, the movement of the People’s Republics along the socialist path has not been simple and unambiguous. Yes, at the initial stage, all the revolutionary movements of the streets and squares were associated with anti-fascism and the desire of the majority of the population to take the socialist path of development. But no one really voiced the slogans “factories to the workers” and “land to the peasants,” and the socialistic character of the republics remained only in form but not in essence.

The forum was significant in that it gave youth of Europe and the world an understanding of the conditions in which we are fighting today.

WW: The Donbass International Forum was hosted by the Ghost Brigade, anti-fascist militia in Alchevsk. How did that come about?

MC: Originally, we planned to hold the forum in Lugansk city, but due to the worsening military confrontation and internal political situation, we decided to hold it in Alchevsk, the second-largest city in the region. An invitation was extended by Brigade Commander Alexei Mozgovoi, who was ideologically a communist though not a member of the party, and he played an important role. I think the decision was correct; we not only held the forum, but also supported our ideological comrades in Alchevsk.

[Mozgovoi and four other Ghost Brigade members were assassinated on May 23. (Workers World, May 26)]

One of the main objectives was to consolidate the efforts of leftist and anti-war organizations of the world on the issue of Donbass. This goal must seem very romantic, given current geopolitical realities, but we have already achieved some important steps.

The forum brought together a large number of left-wing organizations that are interested in the situation of the anti-fascist resistance in the Donbass. Generally, our situation is quite unusual, and I’m aware of the many contradictions and disputes among leftists around the world in relation to our assessment of events, and most importantly, how communists, internationalists and anti-fascists should operate in these conditions.

Even during the forum, on a par with the wishes for victories in the struggle against fascism in Ukraine, there were questions about the role of the left in the events in Ukraine and Donbass. What position should we take in a situation where the main question is which side to take in a geopolitical confrontation? The answer is very complex and the opinion of one person or national organization is not enough.

By and large, this was the second key objective of the forum: to begin a dialogue about the role of the left in events spurred by the geopolitical confrontation in southeastern Ukraine.

WW: The forum also announced the creation of an international solidarity committee. What will this body do?

MC: We are working for the creation of an international solidarity movement with Donbass, which we hope will be a platform to define a unified ideological position on the situation in Donbass and the forms and methods of work for left-wing political forces in these conditions.

To that end, we have initiated these projects:

  1. Assisting in the formation of a Committee for Solidarity with Donbass in every country of Europe and the world.
  1. Analysis of the situation in the Donbass, preparation of reports, information, and messages about the social and political environment.
  1. Preparation and holding of international seminars, round tables, presentations, conferences and meetings related to the current situation in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics of Donbass.
  1. Organization of solidarity actions, like those which took place following the death of Brigade Commander Mozgovoi.
  1. Publication of newspapers, pamphlets and books.
  1. Struggle against political repression in Ukraine; informational pickets in support of demands to release political prisoners in Ukraine. Creating a list of repressions in Ukraine. Picketing of Ukrainian embassies in Europe. Protest rallies in Kiev.
  1. Promoting media that openly and honestly cover the events taking place in Donbass.
  1. Creation of online media resources to disseminate accurate information about the situation in the struggling republics.

WW: How do you see the role of communists in Lugansk today?

MC: Today the communists in Lugansk, as well as in Ukraine, are experiencing a serious systemic crisis. We were not prepared for a serious geopolitical confrontation here, could not give an ideological assessment as the events were occurring, or answers on how to proceed.

In fact, this problem is not unique to Lugansk. Here the issues were thrust to the forefront by the acute confrontation and war on our territory. But a similar trend is weakening leftist movements with repression and splits throughout the former Soviet Union. I’m afraid that we may soon witness the failure of the last bastion of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Russia.

It must be understood that the potential for progress envisioned by communists after the collapse of the USSR has already completely exhausted itself. If we do not find adequate answers and develop new ways of working, we will be excluded from the country’s political life for many years to come.

Therefore, in Lugansk, it is necessary to consolidate all communists around a unified organization, and then develop a new strategy and methods of work for its realization. We must search for new social bases for the party among the working class to enhance its capacity and size. And most importantly, develop a clear position on where we are going and what is the role of the left in the modern realities of the young Lugansk and Donetsk republics.

Another important issue is establishing an international left movement that will develop a concept of a fighting left in the new “post-unipolar” world that is today being built by the actions we have actively participated in.

WW: What is your vision for the future of socialism in Donbass?

MC: In many respects, it depends on whether we communists find successful ways of working to ensure the movement of the republics along the path of socialism, rather than something that may appear socialist in form, but is essentially a neoliberal state.

We are developing an organization to unite all supporters of socialism-communism under the name “Union of the Left of Donbass,” and to the extent possible, to influence the political development of the republic.

Respect and revolutionary greetings to all comrades!