Ukraine, interview with Oleg Vernyk: “Russian workers are our brothers in the anti-capitalist struggle”

Interview with our comrade Oleg Vernyk, president of the independent Union of Labor Protection “Zahist Pratsi” and leader of the Ukrainian Socialist League (USL), section of the International Socialist League in that country.

Oleg, how does the USL position itself in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?

The Ukrainian Socialist League has always, and consistently, taken the position of fighting against all the imperialisms that dispute in our country. Against both Western and Russian imperialism. If Western imperialism implements in Ukraine, first of all, the policy of economic strangulation and seizure of control of the country’s economy; then Russian imperialism simply implements a form of armed aggression against Ukraine. In 2014, Russia occupied Crimea and then an operetta “referendum to join Russia” was held. At the same time, the Russian military and Russian “private military companies” participated in the civil conflict in eastern Ukraine and played a decisive role in the creation of such quasi-states as the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Lugansk People’s Republic”. In other words, the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been going on for many years and its current escalation is not unexpected for us.

Our position in this conflict proceeds from the interests of the working class of Ukraine, Russia and the whole world. Our statements for this moment are very simple and clear: No to Russian imperialist aggression against Ukraine! Down with NATO and Western imperialism in Eastern Europe! For the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine, as well as from Crimea, to start a genuine process of self-determination of these regions! Ukrainian workers, unite to resist Russian aggression and get rid of the capitalist puppets of Western imperialism who rule us! Let us strengthen the international solidarity of the working class all over the world with the Ukrainian brothers and sisters of the proletarian class! Let us condemn the shedding of proletarian blood in the service of the imperialists!

What do you think about the government of Volodymir Zelensk and his friendship with NATO and the U.S.?

We rightly call the present Ukrainian government a puppet of Western imperialist capital. This category reflects very accurately its essence, mainly in the international arena. But in domestic politics, the situation is somewhat more complicated. The current political agenda in the country is marked by the struggle of the supporters of “external control of Ukraine” by Western capital, and the supporters of the large Ukrainian financial and industrial groups. In our country, the supporters of complete subordination of the economy to the interests of Western capital have received the name of Soros, alluding to George Soros, the largest transnational capitalist. And the local big business also received a name: oligarchs.

President Zelenski and his government are balancing between these two contending bourgeois camps, periodically scaring one or the other with the fact that they will eventually side with their opponents. Moreover, this unstable balancing act itself shows the obvious weakness of the corrupt Ukrainian bourgeois state apparatus.

Our organization, the Ukrainian Socialist League, categorically opposes the participation of Ukraine in any imperialist military bloc. Be it NATO (military bloc of Western imperialism), be it CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) which is the military bloc under the auspices of Russian imperialism. The problem of protecting Ukraine from external aggression must be solved by the Ukrainian working people themselves, and not by aggressive military imperialist blocs.

At this moment, what are the concerns of the Ukrainian working class and youth?

For 30 years in Ukraine capitalism has been being restored. The working class and youth suffer all kinds of hardships, in the framework of a peripheral, extremely dependent and economically weak capitalist model. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated that the government is incapable of dealing with the serious challenges of the present times. The current energy crisis and rising world gas prices have hit Ukraine’s already weak economy hard. The bourgeois government is trying to shift the entire burden of Ukraine’s financial and economic problems onto the shoulders of the working class. Pensioners’ pensions are no longer even enough to pay for gas heating in winter. Wages are still the lowest in Europe, and for many years there has been a massive outflow of labor to Eastern and Western European countries and to Russia. There, migrant workers are paid much less than local workers, but much more than in Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainian workers work in Poland, Russia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Greece and other countries.

In such a situation, Ukrainian youth also have no prospects. Even if they receive a salary, the level of which will not even allow them to pay utility bills, or leave the country in search of work. More than half of the students in the field of exact, physical and mathematical sciences concentrate on finding a job abroad.

In these conditions, Zelenski’s ruling party, “People’s Servant”, is trying to introduce a series of anti-worker and anti-union innovations in the labor legislation. They intend, in particular, to deprive trade unions of the opportunity to protect workers in the event of mass layoffs. For Ukrainian labor and socialist organizations, it is essential to maintain the ability of trade unions to block the dismissal of their activists by company administrations. It is also important to prevent enterprises with fewer than 250 employees from being excluded from the scope of application of the Labor Code, which will automatically deprive workers in these “small enterprises” of the opportunity to form their own trade union organizations. There is currently a whole series of labor and trade union rights under attack by the “servants of the people”.

Social resistance is also growing. The union protest action of October 7, 2021 clearly showed the potential and possibilities of the labor movement. For the first time in many years it was possible to unite in a single front almost all the main trade union organizations in the country. And, first of all, we are talking about the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FTU) and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KSPU). The Committee of the Verkhovna Rada – Parliament – of Ukraine on Social Policy and Veterans, under the leadership of ultra-liberal “servant of the people” Galina Tretyakova, managed to prepare such blatant bills that destroy trade unions at the root. That is why the trade union federations, which are not even very different from each other, united in a united front of struggle. More than 15,000 participants gathered at the demonstration that broke all records for street mobilization between 2020-2021. Almost all media ignored this action. However, it had an extremely important meaning, success and resonance, which can stop the approval in second reading of completely unhealthy anti-social and anti-union bills of the presidential party.

What is your message to the workers of the world and Russia in particular?

We call on our brothers and sisters all over the world to strengthen the international solidarity of the working class with the Ukrainian brothers and sisters of the proletarian class. Our Ukrainian Socialist League, as part of the International Socialist League, calls on the workers of the world and especially the working class of Russia, to oppose the idea of occupation of Ukraine promoted by its government and not to allow it to become a battlefield for the imperialist powers!

We are well aware that Ukraine has become hostage to the game and competition of the main imperialisms of the world. We fully understand all the cynicism and sleaze of U.S. and Western imperialism, which now plays at being the “defender of Ukraine” in the eyes of the world community, fearing to lose decisive control over the economy of a weak country of dependent peripheral capitalism.

We are well aware that both imperialist camps do not defend the interests of the Ukrainian people, but exclusively their own geopolitical interests. The Ukrainian working class should have no illusions about these “friendly” imperialisms and their real intentions, but should demand the withdrawal of NATO troops from the whole of Eastern Europe. Likewise, Russian imperialism should not use the troops of its imperialist bloc, the CSTO, to suppress popular uprisings, as happened recently in Kazakhstan. Proletarians of all countries, unite!

Some debates

Every revolution, war or great political event always opens debates, also on the left. The same goes for the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Here we polemicize with those who, at different levels, mistakenly yield to US imperialism or to their Russian counterparts.

By Pablo Vasco

We have a strong debate with the Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International, the Mandelist current of Trotskyism. According to their group, for Ukrainian Socialists, “the first step should be the introduction of a UN peacekeeping contingent in Donbass”(1).

It is shameful. The UN is an international body where the US and its allies still call the shots. To ask for the sending to Ukraine of a UN armed force benefits US imperialism and leaves the conflict in its hands.

Of course, the USFI group cannot omit to say “we are aware of the problems with the existing peacekeeping missions and we recall that sometimes the blue helmets did not prevent massive violence”. Of course: of the 14 current UN missions, eight do nothing to stop the oppressors(2) and in the other six there are serious allegations of violence and sexual abuse against the local population(3). Still, according to the USFI, “under the current circumstances in Ukraine, this is a necessary forced step.”

Lies. Neither is it “a forced step” in Ukraine nor have UN missions ever brought peace to any country. They only act as a cover for some military intervention of imperialism or to favor it politically and/or economically, against the peoples. This position of the USFI is right-wing, a total capitulation.

Russia: neither support nor concessions

In politics it is false and dangerous to say that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. The anti-Yankee feeling we all have here cannot make us minimize the oppressive role of the other imperialist power involved in this conflict: Russia, which has been ruled for 23 years by the authoritarian Putin. Apart from Peronism and other populists, all Stalinists and even in the Trotskyist left there are parties which, to varying degrees, capitulate or yield to Russia.

A pro-Moscow exponent is Atilio Borón, leader of the PC, a party that is part of the Argentine ruling coalition Frente de Todos, and columnist of the daily Página 12. According to him, the central issue is “Russian national security”, the “Ukrainian crisis is an invention of the ‘Western democracies'” and “the only statesman is Putin”(4). He rejects the extension of NATO, but thus justifies the complete position of Russia, which for him is just a victim. Not a word against the Russian threat to invade Ukraine, of whose people he does not speak either.

The reality on the ground is different. Russia is the great power that maintains troops in the Ukrainian zone of the Donbas, violating clause 10 of the Minsk-2 treaty that Putin’s own government signed(5). Russia is the one occupying Crimea, in southern Ukraine. Russia intervened politically and militarily in support of dictators of Belarus and Kazakhstan, which were shaken by popular uprisings. And now Russia is threatening to invade Ukraine, a backward capitalist country. Russia is an imperialist power seeking to dominate in its “zone of influence” and beyond. But it is in no way a victim.

In turn, PO and PTS first reject U.S. imperialism and only in the background criticize Russia. “Down with the warlike escalation of the U.S. and NATO in Eastern Europe. Neither imperialist intervention nor Russian military interference in Ukraine,” says PTS(6). And PO is even more unilateral: it titles its article “Imperialist escalation in Eastern Europe. Nato out of the former Soviet space”(7), omitting any mention of Russia and its threats.

Unlike our ISL and the MST, neither PO nor PTS place as a starting point in their policy the rejection of a possible Russian military invasion of Ukraine. This is completely wrong. Russia is a capitalist country, not semi-colonial but imperialist. Behind the US and China, but imperialist nonetheless. Both parties, in a Westernist approach, only call to mobilize in NATO countries, but without saying what to do in Russia and Ukraine. Moreover, they do not propose any solution for the Ukrainian areas of Russian population, while on the other hand, from the ISL we propose that the Russian troops leave and those peoples self-determine themselves.

It is evident that when there you lack of any political presence in Eastern Europe, your politics end up falling into abstract and mistaken propagandism.

1. Ukraine. It is time for international anti-war solidarity, 20/1/22 (at

2. Middle East, Lebanon, Golan, Cyprus, Cyprus, Kosovo, India-Pakistan, South Sudan and Abyei.

3. Haiti, Western Sahara, Mali, Central African Republic, Congo and Darfur.

4. What Russia Claims, 5/2/22 (at

5. “The withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under the supervision of the OSCE. Disarmament of all illegal groups.”

6. (30/1/22).

7. (27/1/22).