Industry Outpost

Excursion into the history of the Donetsk coal basin

NEW – July 26, 2022

Donbass and its image can, of course, be derived from images of extreme antiquity and linked to the reflections of the estuaries of the Tethys, the ancient great sea of the eastern half of European Russia and western Asia. It would have been romantic, but it was too long ago. Although this sea, or ocean, separated two ancient continents: Laurasia and Gondwana – and the image of the boundary separating the parts of the world can be linked to this.

Only since then, both those continents have disappeared, and that sea has gone, leaving artefacts in the form of the Black, Azov, Caspian and Aral Seas. Pyotr I was the first to speak about the industrial development of the then sparsely populated areas of the future Donbass 300 years ago, when at the end of 1722 he issued a decree “On the mining of coal and ores on the Don and in the Voronezh Province”. So, on the one hand, on December 7, 2022, Donbass can celebrate its 300th anniversary, on the other hand, it is the same age as the Russian Empire, since it appeared a year after its formation.

Nevertheless, as an industrial region and a subject of economic and political activity, Donbass appeared when the industry was born and rapidly developed — at the end of the 19th century. When first the industrialists of the region raised the question of its “economic indivisibility” and the administrative unification of the Ekaterinoslav, Kharkov provinces and the Don Army region. The new era – the era of industrial society – required new forms of administrative and political life. And created new societies.

New actors and subjects of political life were being born in Donbass, and the mainstay of the Bolshevik Party was Donbass because it was based on people of industrial labour.

When on January 30 (February 12 according to the old-style calendar), 1918, at the IV Regional Congress of Soviets of Workers’ Deputies of the Donetsk and Krivoy Rog basins in Kharkov, the Bolshevik leader Semyon Vasilchenko justified in his report the idea of proclaiming the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog republic, he was not talking about the isolation of Donbass, he was talking about a new principle of state organisation of the country: “As the Soviet power is strengthened locally, the federations of the Russian Socialist Republics will be built not according to national characteristics, but according to the peculiarities of economic and economic life. Such a self-sufficient economic unit is the Donetsk and Krivoy Rog basin. The Donetsk Republic can become a model of socialist economy for other republics.”

He saw the republic as part of Russia, not Ukraine, not because he was an opponent of Ukraine and a supporter of Russia, but because, considering the Russian Soviet Federation as a shell similar to what the Soviet Union would later become, he saw it as a supranational framework encompassing large economic regions populated by people with a common professional and economic background. employment status. With common interests, habits, and everyday life.

In fact, the then proclaimed Ukrainian People’s Republic of Soviets, which opposed itself to what was called the “Ukrainian People’s Republic“, then headed by the Central Rada, homogeneous to the deposed Kerensky Government, was constituted, unlike the UPR, not as a republic separated from Russia, but as part of the RSFSR.

It was supposed to unite Ekaterinoslav, Kharkov, part of the territory of the Kherson province, as well as the territory of the Rostov region with Rostov-on-Don, Taganrog, Novocherkassk.

And when the republic of Donbass was established, some local councils, cities and districts supported this decision — some did not support it. But on February 18, the Central Committee of the RSDLP (b) sent a telegram to the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic signed by Stasova expressing support: “Dear comrades… We welcome you for the consistent line that you have drawn during the formation of the Council of People’s Commissars”; Lenin knew about the preparation of such a decision and did not object to it: in his articles on the national question, he noted that the Donbass region becomes a zone of formation of new, international communities based on the general employment of people with factory industrial labour, and becomes a kind of core for the formation of new human, cultural and interethnic relations.

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All this happened after and against the background of the fact that on the night of January 9 (22), 1918, the Central Rada, under pressure from the Social Revolutionaries, adopted the Fourth Universal, declaring the UPR a “separate, independent, free” power and calling for “the cleansing of Ukraine from the hired invaders sent from Petrograd…” It was instructed as a matter of priority “from this day on, to conduct the negotiations it had already begun on peace with the Central Powers completely independently and bring them to the end, regardless of any obstacles from any other parts of the former Russian Empire, and establish peace …”

The Bolsheviks responded with an uprising in Kiev on January 16 (29). Prime Minister Vinnichenko summoned the radical nationalist detachments of Petliura, who had previously been dismissed for extremism, to the capital, and on January 18 (31), 1918, dissolved the Social Democratic Council of Ministers of the UPR, transferring the formation of the government to nationalist-oriented social Revolutionaries. On January 22 (February 4), the uprising was suppressed.

But on the same day, troops sent by Soviet Russia entered Kiev, gained a foothold in Darnitsa, and on January 27 (February 9) liberated the city from the nationalists. The government fled, and the government of Soviet Ukraine moved to Kiev.

The fled nationalist government of the Central Rada rushed to the Austrians and Germans for protection and on January 27 (February 9) signed a separate peace treaty with them — also Brest. And then, on January 31 (February 13), the UPR delegation demanded that Germany and Austria-Hungary send their troops to the territory of Ukraine and help against the Soviet troops.

Soviet Russia and its delegation at the negotiations with the Quadruple Alliance found themselves in a situation where part of its Southwestern and Romanian fronts came under the control of the UPR, and those parts that did not recognise this subordination received detachments of nationalists and “Ukrainised” units in their rear , and also – Austrian and German units entering at the invitation of the UPR.

Forced to sign the Brest Treaty under these circumstances, the Leninist Government tried to respond; given that the treaty referred specifically to the UPR, whose borders were not specified, and that there were at least three other state entities on the territory of Ukraine: the Ukrainian People’s Republic of Soviets with its capital in Kharkov, the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic, and the Odessa Soviet Republic, on March 17-19, at the Second All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets held in Ekaterinoslav, they were united into one Ukrainian Soviet Republic, which received the status of independent within Russia. The reason for the merger was that:

1. All three republics have a common political structure — Soviets;

2. all three republics are united by the common tasks of combating nationalism and German occupation;

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3. All three republics, united, are part of Soviet Russia.

It was meant that the newly created republic by definition has no relation to the UPR, and therefore it is not subject to recognition of the occupation of the UPR by Austro-German troops, but, being recognised as independent, they can defend their independence from occupation with their combined forces. In other words, it was a form of circumventing the provisions of the Brest Peace Treaty without its formal violation by Russia. The Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Republic joined forces with the Ukrainian one to consolidate forces in the fight against the enemy. However, in general, the balance of forces turned out to be such that the military potential of the united republics was not enough to confront both the UPR and the Austro-German occupation… In fact, by May, the united republic had fallen, although a part of it-the workers’ detachments-continued their partisan struggle.

But Donbass and the workers of Donbass became one of the main pillars of Soviet Russia in the fight against intervention, against Petliura’s Ukrainian nationalists, and against the white movement armed by Western countries. It is also a pillar of the country’s industrial revival and industrialisation.

In February 1919, the question of the fate of Donbass again arose, and indeed, Lenin now supported its entry into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic: Vladimir Ilyich was in principle a supporter of larger state entities. This will probably have to be discussed separately, but he considered it necessary to create conditions for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to be a strong, Soviet and friendly republic of Soviet Russia. It is true that by defending the inclusion of Donbass in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Lenin strengthened the “proletarian component” of the social structure of Ukraine. What they don’t say is that by doing this, he also strengthened the pro-Russian component of the Ukrainian population, hindering attempts by bourgeois-nationalist forces to tear Ukraine away from Russia.

Even before that, he wrote: “And we are not necessarily in favour of small nations; we are certainly, all other things being equal, in favour of centralisation and against the philistine ideal of federal relations.” And more: “But as long as and insofar as different nations form a single state, Marxists will in no case preach either the federal principle or decentralisation. A centralised large-scale state is a huge historical step forward from medieval fragmentation to the future socialist unity of the whole world, and there can be no other way to socialism than through such a state (which is inextricably linked with capitalism).”

To preserve Ukraine, it was necessary to move the confrontation from the plane of “independence — dependence” to another, meaningful plane: “What independence? Filled with what? Allied to Russia or hostile? Friendly or nationalistic?”

Therefore, Lenin transferred the question from form to substance and, recognising Ukraine’s right to independence, created the conditions for this legally formal independence to be in fact fraternal and friendly in the full sense of the word. And including Donbass (and a number of other regions) into the composition – not Ukraine, no – the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, he introduced into its composition a powerful component, both class-close to the Soviet government, and pro-Russian, and Russian-speaking, but also international, given the historically international composition of the population of Donbass. A powerful anchor was being created, a component opposing the bourgeois-nationalist threats of secession.

As he wrote: “A right is nothing without a force that can compel the observance of this right.” He recognised the right to self-determination, but in the person of Donbass, he created a force capable of resisting the thoughtless use of this right by nationalists.

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Why this anchor didn’t work in 1991 is a separate question. But it worked 20 years later, and the mission began to be fulfilled: the industrial and working Donbass became an obstacle to the fascisisation of bourgeois-nationalist Ukraine.

Donbass turned out to be a kind of undefeated territory of the Soviet world. A world where people lived by work and dreams, and most importantly – by creation and construction.

No matter how much someone blames Lenin today for the destruction of the Soviet Union, Donbass has become the foundation of opposition to the further disintegration and enslavement of the country — the whole country. For more than two decades, from 1991 to 2014, it held back Ukraine’s drift toward both nationalism and the West. It held this back, no matter how it was betrayed by local leaders and its bourgeoisie during these two decades. And for eight years it stood like a rampart in the path of Western aggression against Russia, protecting it from the approach of NATO bases and their rocket launchers, and when Russia launched a counteroffensive, it went ahead, liberating Ukraine, restoring monuments to Lenin, restoring Soviet names to streets and cities, and carrying forward all the same red banners that it raised speaking out against the Central Rada, against the Hetman, against the white armies armed by the same Western countries, and against Hitler’s invasion.

The question now is what’s next. Because Donbass and its fight gave the country another chance for revival. To realise its mistakes of the late 1980s and to understand what it lost by giving up itself of that era, and most importantly, from the state in which it was constantly striving forward and into the future, creating the New World.

Donbass gave this chance both because it survived and because it preserved its former essence, and because it showed what people who are used to working, not trading, are capable of.

And it’s not about a clash of “civilisations”. Not that the West has always hated a “faithful-to-spiritual-precepts Russia”. All this is not a battle between Catholics and Protestants against Orthodox Christians, “demons” against “believers”.

It’s just that the Western, primarily American, economy has for some time been built on the need to constantly feed itself with external resources — to maintain an internal balance between its rich and “poor”. Capturing and robbing Ukraine, and then, as they would like, Russia, is a matter of replenishing resources that have long been lacking. Like a hundred years ago, the proletarian (in the modern sense of the word) Donbass stood in the way of this new imperialist robbery. The industrial society stood up against the trade-deindustrialised one.

And the question is who will have the courage to draw conclusions from this, and what will they be? And where will the world be lead to: again to the lagoons of the trade-market economy with its financial imitations of development, or to the world of a new industry.

And also — whether the idea of uniting people “according to the peculiarities of economic and economic life”, that is, uniting in joint creatively interested activities, will find a place in the 21st century. And whether interesting productive work and the joy that this meaningful work can bring will be the most important thing for them. Because if comfort is considered the highest joy, as in the West, it will be bitter and unworthy of the blood that was shed by Donbass when it defended Russia for eight years, and by those who came to its aid.

Sergey Chernyakhovsky

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