“May 9, Victory Day”: the cynical opposition of bourgeois elites in Russia and Ukraine

Oleg VERNIK, Leader of the Independent Trade Union of Ukraine “Zahist Pratsi” Socialist League of Ukraine

This year “spears were broken” around the Victory over fascism as never before and more than ever the main bourgeois actors tried to score extra points in the scandal and confrontation. Putin tried once again to use the Victory Day on May 9 to demonstrate the strength and power of Russian imperialism; and Zelensky preferred to cancel the May 9 celebration in Ukraine altogether, declaring that day an obscure “Europe Day”. At the same time, he abandoned the celebration of May 8, “Victory over Nazism Day”. Let’s elaborate on that.

Leon Trotsky, faced with the situation of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, put forward the slogan of defending the USSR in war against imperialism. It is important to emphasize that he was not talking about the “defense of the Soviet homeland” and neither about similar semantic constructions of Stalinism. He analyzed the situation solely on the basis of the aims and objectives of the world revolutionary process. He wrote in 1939: “The defense of the USSR coincides for us with the preparation of an international revolution. The only admissible methods are those that do not contradict the interests of the revolution. The defense of the USSR is related to the international socialist revolution as a tactical task related to a strategic one. The tactic is subordinate to the strategic objective and in no case can the former contradict the later”.

As we can see, Trotsky supposed that a new world war would provoke a new turn of the world revolutionary process. However, this prediction was aborted by the expansion of Stalinism to several Eastern European countries and another betrayal to the working class by Stalin’s clique in Greece, France and Italy.

However, the victory of the USSR and the Western Allies over Nazism is, of course, an important and significant event for us. German Nazism is the most reactionary version of state monopoly capitalism, which threatened the whole world with a planetary catastrophe. And we, of course, salute its defeat. In 1945, Stalin introduced the “Victory Day of the Soviet people” celebration of May 9 in the USSR as the and this day was declared a day off. However, already in 1947, the day off was canceled and for many years it was an ordinary working day. After Brezhnev’s party grouping came to power in the USSR, May 9 was again declared a non-working holiday in 1965. However, military parades on this day, as a rule, were not held.

After the collapse of the USSR, and especially after Putin came to power, the rapidly emerging Russian imperialism introduced a new tradition. The May 9 holiday began to be accompanied by pompous military parades each year, all branches of the army and aviation participate on Moscow’s Red Square. Russian state propaganda began to intensify the high-powered patriotic and chauvinistic mythology surrounding Victory Day. Year after year, it was emphasized that it was Russia and its people who were the winners of that war, while other peoples of the former USSR played a secondary role. Allied assistance in the war was not even mentioned.

In the same years, opposite tendencies developed in Ukraine. After the pro-Russian grouping of the bourgeoisie was ousted from power during the Maidan in 2014 and a pro-Western grouping came to power, Victory Day also underwent a transformation. In 2015, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the law “On perpetuating the victory over Nazism in the Second World War of 1939-1945.” And in accordance with this law, the annual celebration of the victory over Nazism on May 8 was introduced on the model of Western Europe and the United States. The celebration of May 9 as “Victory Day” was also abandoned.

In May 1945 there were two signings of the German Surrender Act. The first one was signed in the French city of Rheims on May 7 and came into force on May 8, 1945. However, Stalin insisted that it was necessary to sign another “Deed of Surrender of Germany” already in the capital of Germany, in the city of Berlin. Consequently, the second Act was signed on May 8 in Berlin and entered into force on May 9, 1945. The Cold War era exaggerated this contradiction. Since then, the USSR and its allies celebrated the “Day of Victory of the Soviet People” on May 9, and Western European countries, the United States and its allies celebrated the “Day of Victory over Nazism” on May 8.

From 2015 to 2022 Ukraine celebrated May 8 and May 9 at the same time. However, by his Decree of May 8, 2023, President Zelensky cancelled the celebration of Victory Day on May 9, celebrating only May 8, Remembrance Day for those killed by Nazism. May 9 was opportunistically declared “Europe Day” to emphasize the geopolitical “European choice of Ukraine”.

We acknowledge that this decision provoked practically no resistance among the Ukrainian people. Putin and the Russian imperialist aggression against Ukraine, in fact, leveled in the mass consciousness of Ukrainians any difference between the holidays of May 8 and May 9. Moreover, “Victory Day of May 9” was in fact strongly discredited by Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. This holiday itself was privatized by the Russian Federation and Putin’s regime. We see that the most reactionary and campist sectors are now trying to celebrate this holiday all over the world, openly declaring their support for the Russian imperialist aggression against Ukraine.

Every Ukrainian has at least one relative who was a victim of World War II. From 1941 to 1945, more than 10 million Ukrainians died during the “Great Patriotic War” (Soviet term). Tens of millions more Ukrainians fought in this war. One of my grandfathers disappeared in the war, my second grandfather took Berlin and Prague as part of the Red Army. This is a great sorrow for all Ukrainian people, but also our common joy for the victory over the “brown plague of the 20th century”. Sadness and joy go hand in hand here. This is our history, this is our life.

Stalinism aborted our victory with massive repressions of Ukrainian workers, and modern bourgeois politicians continue to play this issue of our memory in their own selfish interests. We are convinced that the time will come when the Russian workers will sweep away Putin’s reactionary regime, and the Ukrainian working class will have the last word on the anti-working-class government of Zelensky and his “Servants of the People.” We are also convinced that the working class will finally stop the cynical use of aspects of popular memory by the bourgeois elites of our countries in their capitalist interests. Happy VICTORY day! We remember all of those whose lives were taken.