On September 17, 2022, the Ukrainian socialist NGO Social Movement (Соціальний рух—Social Movement, SR) held a national conference in Kyiv. The main aims of the meeting were to have a first collective assessment of SR`s involvement and specific political presence after more than six months of wartime resistance, and to discuss how to improve its functioning after that period of improvisation and adaptation to a radically new and difficult situation.
SR also wanted to elect a new Rada (council or governing body) adapted to its main tasks, adopt a programmatic statement, and provide members with an opportunity to discuss the group's main priorities and goals for the next period. For practical and political reasons (obviously bad conditions of preparation and organisation in the context of war) the conference was not broadly publicised and was envisaged as a step towards a more prepared conference or congress.
Some SR`s members who could not be in Kyiv were able to take part through Zoom links. In agreement with the European Network in Solidarity with Ukraine (ENSU) the conference was organised as a mixed gathering with the possibility of broadcasting part of it on Zoom in English and French translation (to members of the network). In total about 40 members of SR physically attended the conference, with between five and ten others online via Zoom from outside Kyiv or even outside Ukraine (e.g., in the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden), or from the frontline.
Altogether, taking into account non-SR members of ENSU, over a hundred people attended the event in person or and via computer link, including our delegation of four ENSU members (from Catalonia, France, Italy, and Poland), who were able to come to Kyiv.
In opening the conference, SR Chairman Vitaliy Dudin, a lawyer involved in the defence of social rights, reported on the practical, matter-of-fact and political way SR had reacted to the war. “We had no right and no time to be passive in the face of war”, he said, stressing SR’s effort to promote “mass solidarity” through radical democracy and fight for human dignity linked to socialist ideals.
Dudin listed SR’s activities—around political, social, and humanitarian issues—done with trade unions and feminist groups; the organisation of online “events“ and also conferences with international networks (like the May meeting with supporters in Lviv); and interventions through media, social networks, audio and TV broadcasts. He stressed SR’s involvement in some specific street actions, but also the limitation on such actions due to martial law.
As a result of its activities and statements SR’s profile could be identified as that of a left current involved in the concrete defence of workers’ rights (in particular, against the new labour laws, alongside the trade unions) while fully taking part in popular resistance to the invasion. Some of its members are involved in the Territorial Defence and the Army and a few are outside Ukraine, mainly for studies, but maintaining close ties and involvement in its activities (such as writings and participation in public/video debates on behalf of SR).
Dudin indicated the main regions where the organisation has branches (in Kyiv, Lviv, Krivih Rih and Dnipró) and its obvious difficulties in the occupied territories. He specified that as a result of its activities and statements SR had almost doubled its membership (from about 40 to about 80 members or closely related activists) and had acquired new political responsibilities. His report emphasised the effort to create a climate of confidence and consolidate both the internal and external political profile of SR, inside Ukraine and abroad.
Overall, Dudin stressed the need for the organisation to adequately formulate and concretise its left objectives, considering the nature of Ukrainian society and people and their past and recent experiences. Within that context, he added, that one important task for SR should be to ascertain the outlook and opinions of the oppressed and exploited and seek to organise and express their demands within a broader progressive struggle.
Dudin also underlined the importance of international ties and solidarity in concretising SR’s global orientation. This included material and financial aid with their accompanying political and humanitarian aspects. Linked to this issue, he also stressed the importance of transparency and confidence and the need to work out a new way of functioning for SR. Even if—he concluded--it is not (yet) a “mass organisation” its scale (in terms of membership and responsibilities) is changing rapidly, creating new organisational and political commitments.
After Vitaliy Dudin, building industry trade union leader Vasily Andreyev, with involvement in an experience of party building, was asked to intervene. Andreyev talked of an ongoing process of trade union activities shared with SR and of common concerns about the representation of Ukrainian workers at a political level, a commitment to be explored through debates and experiences in the coming period.
The next agenda item was dedicated to greetings from foreign guests. Two members of ENSU intervened. Alfons Bech, from Catalonia, expressed ENSU’s collective concerns and involvement in trade union solidarity. He stressed after the common action taken against labour law reforms the wish to “explore the possibilities for actions and collaboration we can take with the Ukrainian labour movement in the future”. Catherine Samary, from France, stressed ENSU’s solidarity with the Ukrainian feminist manifesto and actions, also looking for further common activities. She also brought greetings from the Fourth International’s leading bodies, and stated that, on a global scale, all those who fight against all forms of colonialism “need the Ukrainian popular resistance to win against Russian imperial aggression”. That means “fighting for dignity and workers’ rights” and against all reactionary forces who oppose that “in Ukraine, Europe and in the world”.
The other foreign greetings were expressed through Zoom links. They included Maciej Konieczny (MP for the Razem [“Together”] party in the Polish parliament), Mikael Hertoft of Denmark's Red-Green Alliance, Chris Ford of the UK Ukraine Solidarity Campaign and Ignacy Jóźwiak from Polish trade union Ogólnopolski Związek Zawodowy Inicjatywa Pracownicza [All-Poland Workers Trade Union Initiative].
All praised the actions of SR and its attempts to rebuild the left in Ukraine in the difficult situation of the war, the anti-worker actions of the authorities and the anti-socialist public sentiment associated with the history of the Soviet Union.
A lot of information was dedicated to the activities that groups from Europe and around the world have been and will be undertaking on the ground in Ukraine, including a visit by Ukraine Solidarity Campaign representatives on Ukrainian Independence Day (August 24) and the second Workers` Aid Convoy, which will take place by the end of September.
International greetings were mentioned (the final list will be published) among which those sent by the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles, Syllepse Publishing from France, SAP - Antikapitalisten / Gauche Anticapitaliste from Belgium, the Aplutsoc Political Centre and Ensemble! (both from France), the British Another Europe is Possible, the Swedes from Ukraine-Solidarittet and the Germans from Linke Ukraine-Solidarität Berlin.
Balance-sheets, priorities, and new council
After a coffee break, the balance-sheet of SR’s work was discussed through questions from the audience and interventions made by members responsible for SR’s different “departments”—specific areas of intervention--who were also on SR’s Rada. These covered issues from the trade unions to feminist work, from education to media.
The main task of the conference was to elect of a new SR Rada, linked to these tasks and to adopt a programmatic statement.
All nine candidates (for a body of seven persons) presented their main concerns and proposed tasks for the next period, from the need for internal clarification of the political identity of SR to the difficulty of expressing left and socialist concerns in Ukraine’s concrete historical and ideological context. Also the need for greater financial transparency (especially with the SR getting money from foreign groups who want to help them in war situation). Interventions also stressed the need for more women to become part of the group’s all-round functioning and of the Rada itself.
Seven candidates who received the most votes and represented the whole range of SR’s activities were elected, among whom Vitaliy Dudin, with his important profile of lawyer defending labour rights, was overwhelmingly elected as chairman. Two other members whose central experience and work is in the trade union were also elected: Olexandre Skyba and Artëm Tidva. Three women were elected, involved in feminist, humanitarian activities and education: Katerina Kostrova, Natalia Lomonosova (residing in Germany) and Viktoria Pigul. Finally, Maxim Shumakov was elected for his involvement in the student branch of the organisation. The average age of the team is probably around 30 years old and it is diverse in terms of the political culture and “background” of the activists concerned.
A particular striking moment came when the young historian and member of the previous SR’s council, Taras Bilous, who is well known for his impressive articles debating with the Western left published in the Commons magazine, gave greetings to everyone from within the army (via Zoom). The delegates thanked him for fighting for their freedom.
The program document authored by Zakhar Popovych (the most detailed of three variants presented) gained the largest amount of votes (the full text will be translated and published soon). It presents elements of an alternative vision of Ukraine—a democratic, social and socialist Ukraine. The text stresses that to achieve this goal a party is needed, a party that should protect the vast majority of the working population from the dictates of the employer. The resolution recalls that workers are the main force in the resistance against Russian imperial aggression and criticises the anti-social decisions taken by the Ukrainian authorities during the war. It acknowledges positive signs of international cooperation, pointing out as examples the broad support for the demand to write off Ukraine's foreign debt, which led to its freezing, and the support of the world's largest trade unions and democratic left parties for the demand to supply arms to Ukraine and to fight against anti-labour laws.
There was no time for long discussion on that resolution, which is considered as a basis for further debates and elaboration within SR. With such a perspective, in the final part of the conference the delegates and newly elected leaders were involved in two groups for “brainstorming”, trying to elaborate what should be the main strategical issues and aims for Social Movement.
After the conference the ENSU delegate Alfons Bech met with the leaders of the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) with the aim of hearing what Ukrainian trade unions expect from their Western colleagues: both regarding concrete humanitarian aid and struggles around labour laws and worker rights. For the moment, both union federations put emphasis on the war situation as obstacle for struggles: they are still assessing the attitude of the government towards the implementation of the new neoliberal law reforms. Contact will be maintained among them (and, for us, with them) in order to carry out possible joint work.
All four of us were very convinced of the importance of this conference—as a step in building a left, social and political organisation/movement so essential for Ukraine’s future. Coming to Kyiv and attending the conference allowed us to become more aware of all the difficulties: those both specific to post-Soviet and post-Maidan Ukraine and those also shared by the international left.
Above all, we were grateful and moved by the availability, the fraternal warmth, and the time that the SR comrades who welcomed us showed us. The richness of the exchanges before, during and after the conference can hardly be summarised in a short factual report. But it includes, in our eyes, open discussions on many complex issues not discussed at the conference itself. - among which the political context, the trade union situation, the occupied territories, the climate of “derussification” and its excesses, etc…
But our exchanges also included the musical evening where guitar, songs and drinks brought us closer together and where we discovered one of the facets of the personality of Vitaliy Dudin, as a composer of popular political songs…
Many thanks to all SR comrades. We come back more convinced than ever of the crucial importance of direct internationalist links.
 Their interventions are attached