Communist commander Alexei Markov: ‘We are part of an anti-fascist front’

Interview with Alexei Markov, commander of the communist unit of the Ghost Brigade, by Sergey Artemov in Junge Welt.

Formed in November 2014, the Ghost Brigade’s Communist unit had 18 volunteers. Since then, the unit has grown to more than 100 volunteers. It has also been part of the forces of the Lugansk People’s Republic that have recently managed to capture the strategic town of Debaltsevo. Junge Welt interviewed its commander, Alexei Markov.
Alexei Markov (middle) is the commander of a communist volunteer unit in the Donbass.
Many communists fight in the armed forces of the Lugansk People’s Republic. They have established a separate unit. How did this happen?
AM: We had hoped for a time that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) or another similar force would create a unit of this type. We waited until October 2014 and then we realized we had to act ourselves. Other people were also interested in this idea. 
Our unit is part of the Ghost (Prizrak) Brigade of Alexei Mozgovoi. We have joined it because it represents a fully independent position. At the beginning, no one would accept us, as many volunteers come and go very quickly. Step by step, our reputation improved: a unit of fighters formed, in which no one drinks and there is good discipline — this is something special. More people joined us from other units.With the beginning of the active phase of the war, the number of fighters in our unit doubled, despite supply problems. Without these we would have even more people. We now have almost a battalion.
There are some things we make clear to all who want to join us. We do not pay any salary, there are no military ranks among us, we are not integrated into the formal structures of the Lugansk People’s Republic and it does not offer us any official aid or safety.
The strength of our unit is that we are not organized according to allegiance to one or another communist party. No particular ideological control is enforced. We explain our position thusly: We fight against fascism, for the power of the people. And anyone who accepts can join us. Accepting the discipline of the troops is important: strict prohibition of alcohol, military discipline and proper behavior. Inside the unit we have ideological education. It turns out that there is a wider audience interested in our educational programs. Since then we have also included other units. When working with others, we alsoengage in political propaganda. But no ideological disputes occur.
Why are you fighting this war?
The answer may be easier than on questions of political philosophy. I cannot accept the fact that women and children are killed – cynically, for pleasure. No matter who is on the other side — Nazis, nationalists, imperialists. In our opinion, the fascists have taken power in Kiev. Any attempt to demonstrate that there is no fascism in Ukraine is a joke. The attempt to present it as if it were a war between Russia and Ukraine is absurd. I think there are more Ukrainians on our side. Ideology is an important point here. People with different ideologies are fighting on our side. On the opposite side there is only a single ideological component dominated by the armed forces of fascism. The rest are poorly mobilized people.
Why isn’t the unit integrated into the official armed forces of the Lugansk People’s Republic? How do you work with them?
Last summer, the Kremlin set out to enforce a vertical system of government power in the Lugansk and Donetsk People’sRepublics. It is very similar to that of Russia, but weaker, more corrupt, more controlled. Political influence here depends more on the number of armed fighters you have and how good your access to supplies is. If you don’t have your own troops and supplies, you’re nobody, even if you are well-known. Those who were able to join the official structures received supplies and ammunition. Those who opposed them instead, somehow, were excluded from the provisions, including humanitarian aid. But the structures could not exist effectively without supplies. It is for this reason that the Ghost Brigade is the only major independent military unit.
It’s not that we don’t want to fall under any formal structure. This is what we have offered very often: we have a subunit with experience, we are ready to integrate as a regiment in the official structures of the army, to cooperate, to execute orders. Officially we have not received any response, but unofficially they have informed us that they cannot use us. Our unit could develop alone at first and then into various units of the regular armed forces in small groups of 10 to 20 fighters.
We cannot say, you fight your war, we‘ll fight ours. We need to cooperate and follow the instructions in the LuganskPeople’s Republic. We try to act wisely. But we still do not receive weapons from the Lugansk People’s Republic, we have only recently received some ammunition. Humanitarian aid is received from the KPRF.
Aren’t you concerned that your unit may be seen as a counterforce?
That‘s to be expected … It is said that the authorities of the Lugansk People’s Republic want to use the attack on Debaltsevo to crush all opposition forces of the republic: Pavel Dremov‘s Cossaks, Mozgovoi‘s Brigade …
I was in on the planning of some military operations in Debaltsevo, that’s why I think that stupidity and incompetence are a good excuse for all these errors. I’m not sure who is really more dangerous for us — the Ukrainian army on the enemy side or commanders of the Lugansk People’s Republic behind us.
We fight for ideological reasons, we are not messengers carrying ministerial instructions stuffed in our backpacks. Our goal is to help the Ukrainian people to free themselves from the Nazi military junta in Kiev, which has usurped power. And we will do the best we can. Then we‘ll go home.
Don’t you think there should be a progressive political force that opposes the “Peace for Lugansk” organizationof Igor Plotnitsky, prime minister of the People’s Republic?
Plotnitsky’s organization is of the same type as United Russia, only smaller. We have to realize that in the Lugansk People’s Republic, those who won the elections are those who have the power in the state. Even if we had achieved 90 percent of the vote, “Peace for Lugansk” would have come in first and won the election, as Boris Yeltsin did in 1996 in Russia, with his five percent. In addition, the Communist Party has not yet been registered, despite all documents having been submitted. So we have neither the resources nor the time for such political struggles that, in any case, we cannot win now.
The ideas of popular power and nationalization are very popular in Lugansk. Isn’t Russia going to block all these attempts at socialist change?
I think the idea of ​​popular power in Novorossiya is frightening to Russian officials. It would be a very bad example for Russian workers. I’m sure all efforts to acheive popular power in Novorossiya will be censored there. People power also makes it difficult for Russia to control this area.
It seems that all local opposition forces can be suppressed very quickly, just by cutting of the replenishment of suppliesIn this case, isn’t what the masses think decisive?
There is a risk of being arrested for propaganda against the state, if one reflects the thinking of the masses. To be honest, theopinions of ordinary soldiers on the local authorities are not much better than they have for the Ukrainian authorities. However, it is difficult to describe the mood among the civilian population. Many of them simply do not understand what happened. They want the war to end, no matter what. Most civilians behave passively as always, we cannot count on them at this time. People who are socially active are already in the milita.
Aren’t you concerned that they are only going to use you? And that the old order will be rebuilt with almost the same oligarchs when it’s over?     
That is possible. This is actually the most likely scenario for future development. But if the killing of people can be stopped, if people are no longer burned alive as in Odessa and if fascist propaganda can be stopped, I see that this is precisely our task,and we will have implemented our minimum program. We are part of a common anti-fascist front. Bourgeois democracy of the old regime in Ukraine was not positive, but at least there were not mass killings and bombings.
We realize that the ultimate cause of the problem — capitalism — will continue. But I’m a practical humanist. I know the world cannot be changed completely in our lifetime or that of our children. I’m just doing what I can, confident that the next generations will continue the fight, and we will change the world for the better. It is my firm belief that the only meaning of life is to change the world for the better. If one dies without having contributed anything to these changes, your life will have been meaningless. I cannot do much, but I do what I can.
Has the working class shown itself as an independent force? Are they aware of their class interests?
Unfortunately no, because nothing has changed compared to the pre-war period. The communists have lost too much time. Last summer, the communists here were an important force, representing almost a majority in the first Soviet of theLugansk People’s Republic. At that time it would have been possible to do something serious, even in Congress, the Soviets of People’s Representatives, or by creating communist military units. The communists, however, fought each other, instead of participating in state formation. And so, the new state was built without them — and Plotnitsky defines political life.
What‘s happening now with the International Brigades in Mozgovoi’s Ghost Brigade? Some people had to leave because there were problems with supplies…
I do not know exactly what happened. Four Spanish soldiers joined our unit. Very nice people, they were glad to be here in a communist unit. Unfortunately, they came into conflict with Spanish law after arriving here. If you do not fight here officially or on contract, then the state considers your actions as illegal. Therefore, they had to return to Spain, but promised to return. We still expect some people from Spain.
Did you also need civilian experts?
Certainly, we need doctors. We must take care of not only the wounded of our unit, we also support the evacuation of the wounded from the region of Debaltsevo. We also need good construction workers, electricians – we lack support staff.
Real war is totally different from what is shown in movies and in reports. Here there is dirt, blood, fatigue and nothing interesting. Here it is less about courage than patience, restraint and the ability to overcome difficulties.
If we got some more weapons and ammunition, some food, then we could beat anyone. We could reallycreate. Unfortunately, for political reasons, we do not get weapons, only some food from our Russian comrades, ammunition in exchange for food and uniforms. The reality on the ground is different than expected. But we all stay here until victory, no matter how this occurs. If the killing can be stopped, then our fight here will have had meaning.
[Translators note: I was unable to track down the original publication of this interview. Therefore I relied on theGerman and Spanish translations.]

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