Donbass separatist republics provide model for what American post-colonial confederalism could look like 

After U.S. imperialism carried out a coup in Ukraine eight years ago, the masses of the Donbass region became inflamed with a desire to respond with a separatist war. And they had good reason to take this action. Washington had not only deprived those in Ukraine of self-determination by imposing a far-right pro-NATO regime onto them, but placed Ukraine’s Russian speakers in particular under threat of persecution. The new regime’s officials began threatening to forcibly relocate the Russian-tied people in the Donbass. And their genocidal desires were consistent with the racially motivated atrocities they and their paramilitary forces orchestrated. The fascist militias, in tandem with the National Guard, began a campaign to inflict terror upon all who opposed the regime’s ethnic cleansing agenda.

When this culminated in the Odessa Massacre of May 2014, in which a crowd of anti-fascist demonstrators got targeted by the regime’s brutality, civil war became unavoidable. The Russian speakers, Jews, Romas, LGBT people, and communists who were being terrorized knew that their only hope was for the establishment of a new government. And in Ukraine’s east, where historic ties to Russia and popular support for communism are strongest, the people managed to accomplish this task of creating a refuge from fascist violence.

The Jamestown Foundation, which has the kind of pro-NATO bias that’s banal among western intellectual institutions, described this revolt as if it were the product of some neo-imperial Russian propaganda effort: “There is a powerful Russian social phenomenon behind the flow of volunteers to fight in Ukraine, potentially repeatable elsewhere. Russia, uniquely, is home to many hundreds of thousands of military veterans of fighting age, with combat experience from several wars, with unrewarding, often marginal civilian lives, easily mobile due to weak societal attachments, energized by the official propaganda, and disposed (as they have been over generations in Russia) for some liberation war abroad. This social phenomenon sets Russia starkly apart from European societies. It provides Russia’s leadership with a large manpower reservoir to tap into, and literally to inflict on potential target countries across the border.” The context that these kinds of analyses on the Donbass insurgency leave out is that the insurgents are not fighting a falsely characterized liberation war. This war is justified by U.S. imperialism’s meddling in Ukraine, which has revived Banderism and its genocidal agenda.

All the people who the ruling Ukrainian fascists seek to inflict harm against won’t be liberated until Operation Z completes its denazification goal, and Kiev itself gets broken away from Washington’s control. Which, despite the recent Ukrainian counteroffensive, looks increasingly likely. But for now, the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic stand as safe spaces from the fascist menace. They aren’t socialist states, but they’ve adopted the Soviet Union’s exceptionally progressive Stalin-era constitution. They’ve officially become independent from Russia as of February of this year, though they may one day hold a referendum to join the Russian Federation. And by practical necessity, wherein Kiev has been shelling the Donbass for eight years, they’ve adopted a cooperative model of armed self-defense. A model that the U.S. empire’s internal colonies can learn from.

Under this model, the two republics have self-determination rather than existing as one entity, but that doesn’t mean they don’t act in unison when they both need to defend themselves. In spite of rivalrous dynamics among the separatist factions that the Jamestown article portrays as harmful to their legitimacy, they’re overall effectively working together to beat back Ukraine. This is shown by how Kiev’s recent recapturing of one section of territory was only a pyrrhic “victory,” one that’s allowed Russia to ultimately gain a new strategic advantage. The republics, by extension, have gained this advantage as well. Their existing separately from one another hasn’t stopped them from protecting themselves.

The conditions that produced this situation parallel the conditions of the U.S. empire’s internal colonies, which also are under perpetual threat from a supremacist government. The big difference between their conditions is that whereas the Donbass republics have a superpower to militarily back them, the occupied nations in the U.S. will be on their own during the revolution. What makes the liberation of the latter viable is that history has shown these nations are capable of defending themselves from fascist backlash, even without a conventional army to help them. The Black Panther Party preemptively ensured itself and the communities it operated within against a scenario where white supremacists would carry out a wave of violence. The Panthers armed and trained themselves, and worked to defend their people from not just the Klan’s violence but the state’s violence. 

If today’s U.S. communist cadres engage in militancy (while accounting for the ways conditions have evolved since the time of the Panthers), they’ll be able to prevent America’s Azov equivalents from orchestrating their own terror campaign. The people won’t be rendered fearful and demobilized, like the Ukrainian people were after Odessa.

If the people are defended from reactionary terror, they won’t be stopped from mobilizing towards proletarian revolution. And because decolonial revolution is inseparable from proletarian revolution under our conditions of settler-colonialism, the dismantling of colonial land relations won’t be stopped either. The minority of whites who own the stolen land, and who have a material stake in settlerism’s perpetuation, will continue to mobilize towards fascist paramilitarism as they already are. But these petty bourgeois and labor aristocrat elements are greatly outnumbered by those whose interests primarily lie in revolution. The tribes regaining jurisdiction over their lands, and the land question on the Republic of New Afrika getting addressed, would not conflict with the interests of the working class in general. And the U.S. working class is soon to become minority white anyhow. Restorative justice is coming for the internal colonies.

When it comes, the continent will look like a big version of what the Donbass has become. The model for tribal sovereignty in America that has historical precedent is confederalism, an arrangement where the liberated nations govern themselves separately while collaborating when needed for mutual goals like defense. (The Donbass isn’t a confederacy per se, but it acts congruent to how one would.) This is the model laid down by the social practice of the indigenous sovereignty fighter Tecumseh. And the fact that the 21st century Donbass has formed into that kind of structure upon gaining self-determination shows confederalism still relevant. Confederalism hasn’t been adopted by China because China’s conditions are best suited for plurinationalism, but in a place like America, confederalism is what’s optimal. There are hundreds of nations under occupation here, many of them not even recognized as tribes by the occupier government. And the way in which they functioned prior to colonization was closer to confederalism than to plurinationalism.

To protect the post-colonial workers’ democracy we’ll build on this continent from invasion by the remaining capitalist states, we need to construct confederalism. To protect this democracy from internal counterrevolution by the fascist militias, we need to construct armed communist cadres. Cadres whose militancy projects begin well before the revolution. I don’t claim to know everything about how revolution on this continent will unfold, because no one knows everything about a given revolution’s logistics until after it happens. What I do know is that national liberation is key to the liberation of the overall proletariat. And that there are both historical and current examples pointing to confederalism as the instrument for attaining this liberation.—————————————————————————

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