Interview with Russell Bentley, an American military veteran and communist who went to fight for Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014.
This interview was conducted by Comrade Jacobin aka “Raven”. You can also read it on Russell’s blog:
Also check out the skype interview with Russell Bentley:
Question 1: What is the immediate military situation for Novorussia? We know the military battle lines have stabilized to a certain degree, as Novorussia has held onto the territories of Lughansk, and Donetsk, who’s borders extend all the way south to the Sea of Azov, east of Mariupol. Are there still constant border skirmishes like there were in the earlier years of the war, or has the fighting calmed down somewhat?
The military situation is currently stable, which means the center of the city is relatively safe, but there is still shooting on the front line positions every day. Civilian areas near the front are also still shelled on a regular (almost daily) basis. The threat of a major ukrop offensive is still very real. Most people here believe that the war will not end without one more major battle. That battle will begin with a major military offensive by the ukrop army against the entire Novorussian Front, and it will end only with the liberation and
de-nazification of all of Ukraine. And the USA.
Question 2: Have the people of Donbass adjusted to the current borders, or are they still focused on gaining most of eastern Ukraine back, like when the war first started in 2014
We have friends and family in the cities of Eastern Ukraine now under nazi control. They suffer.
Our ultimate goal is to de-nazify all of Ukraine, one way or another.
Question 3: What would you say would be the percentage of the population in Novorussia who want to their territory to become part of the Russian Federation? Is it higher than the percentage of people who want to stay strictly independent from both Ukraine and Russia? Are there also people there who want to remain part of Ukraine but without the current government?
I believe most people here would like to see Ukraine return to it’s historic place as a strong independent ally of Russia. Ukrainians are rightly proud of their history and culture, which is closely intertwined with Russia’s. The goal is to drive the nazis from power, liberate all of Ukraine, punish the war criminals, and return to being a democratic nation closely allied with Russia, as Ukraine has been for the last 1,000 years.
Question 4: The Ukrainian nationalists have recently released a video of them harassing gypsies, destroying their homes and tents, and it seems like Azov Battalion and Praviy Sektor are ramping up their ethnic cleansing. Is it also your view that the ethnic cleansing is increasing, or have these crimes been occurring at the same rate the whole time and it just hasn’t been exposed until recently? Do you have any stories of more things like this happening?
The crimes of nazis like Pravy Sektor and Azov are ongoing. And they are truly horrific. Human trafficking and organ trafficking are rampant in areas under their control. Kiev is now the child prostitution capitol of Europe. Hardcore nazis from Western Ukraine consider the people of Donbass to be Russians, and sub-human, and act accordingly. NAF prisoners held by nazis are tortured and murdered on a regular basis.
It should be duly noted that ukrop nazis, and nazis in general, prefer to attack unarmed people.
Question 5: You have espoused that you are a communist in many of your previous interviews. What do you personally, and your organization, Essence of Time, define Communism and Socialism as, and how does this apply to Novorussia? Many communists in the west have the criticism that private property and most normal apparatuses of the capitalist mode of production still function in Donbass. How would you reply to or reconcile with this criticism?
To be honest, I laugh at most “Communists” in the West. The vast majority are cowards, hypocrites and poseurs, whose “communism” goes no further than buying a Che Guevara T-shirt from Amazon, and maybe reading a book or two from which to endlessly quote. The fact that they sit in the West, doing nothing but criticizing us here is a perfect example. They spend more time criticizing their comrades than actually fighting real fascists. Ask any group of “Communists” in the West how many have actually killed a nazi. I have.
People whose “contribution” is nothing more than criticizing those who have done a thousandfold more than they ever will are beneath contempt. When I was in Cuba in 1995, I had a very enlightening discussion with a Cuban Army captain. I said I was a Socialist, and she said she was a Communist. I asked what the difference was, and she replied, “A Communist is someone who is willing to fight for Socialism.” Being willing to fight means being willing to die. By this measure, there are very, very few Communists in the West. But I and my comrades in Essence of Time have earned the right to call ourselves Communists.
It’s high time those who call themselves “Communists” in the West, especially the US, do the same.
Medical care and education are free in the DPR. Food, energy, housing, transportation and communication are a fraction of the cost of what they are in the West, but are as good or better in quality. It’s a good start. This is the Socialism we have fought for, and won. Those who have done the same or better are perhaps qualified to criticize or advise us. Those who have not should shut the fuck up and get to work, unless, as is too often the case, they are too stupid to learn from our example. Then they should just shut the fuck up.
Question 6: When one researches the war in Donbass via conventional sources on the internet such as Wikipedia, there are listed a number of military units fighting on the side of the Novorussian army which are very right wing, such as National Bolsheviks, Russian National Unity, and Serbian Chetniks, all groups which most socialists and communists are vehemently opposed to. For many leftists in the west, this is something which turns them off to supporting the struggle in Donetsk and Lughansk. Many of them (western marxists) admit that there are indeed Nazis on the side of the Ukrainians, but also claim there are Nazis and ultranationalists on the Novorussian side as well. To what degree do these right wing military units operate, and what comments do you have about this? Many will see this as the most important question in the interview.
There have been a few (perhaps 2 dozen, total, out of an army of 60,000) “nationalists” in the ranks of the NAF, all foreigners, mostly in the early days of the war, but they are all gone now. No one I served with at the Front would ever serve beside someone with a nazi tattoo or point of view. We would probably have killed them. There are Cossacks and even Monarchists in the NAF, but they are in no way fascist or ultra-nationalist. And they stand beside real Communists here, in battle, against real nazis, as brothers in arms.
Anyone who claims there are nazis or ultra-nationalists fighting for the Donbass Republics is an idiot, a liar, or both. It is as stupid a saying “Communism is as bad as nazism.” They use this as their excuse for their failure to support one of the most communist and progressive revolutionary movements in the world today. Again, cowardice and hypocrisy, and again, unwarranted and unqualified criticism from people who not only have never done shit, but don’t even know what the fuck they are talking about, criticizing those who have actually fought fascism and won.
Question 7. The Donbass region has a rich history of socialist ideals and anti fascist mentalities. The Stakhanovite movement was birthed there, Donbass put up a heroic resistance against the German Nazis during WWII, and up until recently, Odessa was known as a heavily multicultural city where hundreds of different nationalities could live among each other in peace. To what degree do you think the Novorussian population is enthusiastic about socialism past the point of nostalgia or national pride from the USSR days?
Donetsk too, is one of the most multi-cultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world. When John Hughes founded his steel mill and coal mines here in 1869, he sent out advertisements all over the world for people to come get a good job with fair pay. People from over 100 nations responded and moved to Donetsk, then called “Yuzovka”. The Donbass region has historically been one of the most staunchly Communist areas of the entire USSR. The people here have what it takes to be real Communists – a deep understanding of the theory and history, their own history of struggle, sacrifice, and victory, and real world experience of the rewards of Socialism as well as the evils of Capitalism and fascism. And they are willing to fight when they have to. I would say that even with its imperfections, the Donbass Republics are the vanguard and best example of what Communist people can do in the world today.
Question 8: We know that some factories in Donbass have been nationalized. How widespread is this nationalization, and do you see this spreading to all other sectors of the economy?
Some factories and businesses have been expropriated from oligarchs and nationalized. The DPR economy in general is geared towards benefiting society rather than enriching the wealthy class. It is an ongoing process. I will say that the quality of life is better here for the average worker than it is anywhere in the US or even most of the EU. This is because the government is responsive to the will of the people.
Question 9: How do you reconcile Donbass having a state religion (Eastern Orthodoxy) with communist principles? In the Soviet Union and in most Eastern Bloc countries during the cold war, religion was discouraged. Do you feel that this was a mistake? What are your views on liberation theology?
Jesus Christ was the first Communist. He shared what he had equally with others, drove the money changers from the temple with a whip, and gave his life for what he believed in. I have three close personal friends here who are Orthodox priests. All have served in the DPR Army, as soldiers. As the saying goes, “There are no atheists in foxholes”. Some of the greatest anti-fascists in modern history have been men of God – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero, the Berrigan brothers, and above all, Hassan Nasrallah. Soldiers.
Essence of Time considers the anti-religious aspect of the USSR to have been one of its biggest mistakes. I see no contradiction between Communism and religion. Although I do look at organized religion with some suspicion, I consider the Russian Orthodox Church to be the most trustworthy and least corrupt of any major sect of Christianity. And it is NOT the “state religion”. We don’t have one. There are Jews, Muslims, Catholic and Protestant worshipers and places of worship in Donetsk.
Question 10: You have mentioned in a video you made for people who want to come to Donbass that jobs there are scarce. If people are unemployed in Donbass does that mean that they are forced out onto the street like they are in the United States and other capitalist countries? Do you have a right to a job in Donbass, and, if not, does the state take adequate care of you until you find one? To what extent does homelessness exist in Donbass?
There is no homelessness in the Donbass Republics. None. Everyone here has a place to live, given by the state. If they can’t pay their electric bill, the electricity is not turned off. Many people are employed by the state doing work such as cleaning streets or tending public gardens. It is not necessary work, but it improves the quality of life for everybody here, and the salary, while small, is enough to live on. I will say it again – the quality of life for the average worker here is better than anywhere in the West, and it continues to improve. And doing so under siege conditions.
Question 11: How active are labor unions in Donetsk and Lughansk? The Ukrainian nationalists burned down the trade unions house in the famous Odessa massacre, do you think this was incidental, or do you think it corresponds with Nazi ideology and how the NSDAP historically crushed union power in Germany?
I do not really know what the status of labor unions is in the Donbass Republics is, but I know they exist and have political and economic power. Particularly among the coal miners.
Question 12: What rights do citizens living in Donbass have? We know that Aleksey Mozgovoy professed a stated goal for Novorussia that included the right to education and healthcare. What progress towards this goal has been achieved in the region?
Education and medical care are free and of excellent quality. Sometimes people must buy their own medicine, but it costs a small fraction of what it would cost in the West.
Question 13: How would you respond to the claim that rebel control of the Donbass region is evidence of Russian imperialism? Also, what is your view of Russia generally? It is known that Russia is a capitalist state since the early 1990’s, but do you view them as imperialist? Why or why not?
Again, only idiots and liars speak of “Russian imperialism”. The people of Donbass are defending themselves against a foreign installed fascist regime. Russia helps us. Russia has many imperfections, but imperialism is not one of them. The USSR improved the quality of life in every single place where they exerted influence, they did not colonize these places and extract profits or resources. Just as in Donbass today, where the Russian Federation gives much more to support Donbass than they receive in return. Certainly the same can be said of Russia’s support for Syria. While Russia does have serious problems, I would say the quality of life overall is better there than in the West, and while the quality of life continues to improve in Russia, it continues to decline in the West.
Question 14: What are the differences between the Lughansk and Donetsk governments? Do they have differing views on what rights their citizens should have? Are there different laws in each respective region? Is the political and military structure between the two united?
Although the two Republics are separate entities, they are united militarily, politically and economically. The legal and social structures are very similar, if not identical.
Question 15: It has been 3 years since you conducted the interview with Vice correspondent Simon Ostrovsky. How do you reflect on this interview? What is your view of Vice’s portrayal of the Ukrainian situation? Have you watched the Russian Roulette series on Vice, and what do you think of it?
Ostrovsky is a textbook example of a “presstitute” – a professional liar whose job is to conceal and obscure the truth, which he does for money. Vice News is a disinfo and propaganda machine funded by George Soros. There is not a single major Western “news” agency that can be trusted. Not one. But Ostrovsky’s interview of me has been viewed over 400,000 times, with an almost 10 to 1 ratio of thumbs up to thumbs down. In spite of his best (or worst) efforts, the video was a big success for me and the DPR.
Question 16: Events in the United States have been heating up for a number of years now, and today it is normal for the “Alt Right” to gather in the streets with the Ku Klux Klan and hold torchlight rallies like Azov and Praviy Sektor do in Ukraine. Many socialists and anti fascists here have been starting a new socialist gun culture in the United States with the Socialist Rifle Association, Redneck Revolt, and The John Brown Gun Club. Do you feel that this is an appropriate response to events? Should the left be prepared for the worst, or do you think the government will eventually solve these contradictions in American politics and culture? Furthermore, is it appropriate for leftists to trust that the government will quell the fascist flame if it begins to burn?
The fascist flame has been burning in the USA since before you or I or anyone reading this article were born. And the US government and the people who own it are the ones who lit it and keep it burning. They are the mortal enemies of the American people, and of Humanity at large. It is long past time for a revolution in the USA. The oligarchy and government are corrupt beyond any hope of redemption. It is time to tear it down and start over. As for guns – yes, everyone should own and know how to use one, but there is a HUGE difference between having one and actually using one for what the 2nd Amendment intended. But again, the poseur problem – a coward with a gun is worse than useless. Many say they are ready to “fight”, but in practice, they don’t like danger. I would estimate that the number of US gun owners from the Left or the Right who would ever do more than talk, who would actually challenge the government’s monopoly on violence, who would do in the US what we have actually done here, is probably about one in a thousand. If the truth hurts, prove me wrong.
The Essence of Time combat unit had about 50 soldiers when I joined it in December 2014. We have suffered 11 killed in action, and 15 seriously (permanently) wounded since then. That is a 50% casualty rate. We fought at some of the hottest positions on the entire Donbass Front, including the airport, Spartak and Avdeevka. We have never retreated or lost a position, even in the face of 20 to 1 odds. That is exactly what it means to be a real Communist.
And I will also give some gun advice – The US government will not enact wide scale gun confiscation. They don’t have to. When the time comes, and it will, the government will simply shut off the supply of ammunition. Ammo is much, much more difficult to produce at home than a firearm is. A firearm without ammo is just a club. Stock up while you still can.
Question 17: What are your views on communist gun ownership generally? Did you own a gun while you lived in the US? Are there laws restricting firearm ownership in Donbass where you live/do you have to be in the army or militia to own one?
Only fools and cowards are against the 2nd Amendment. They are willing to be disarmed, defenseless, against the US military and police, the most corrupt and genuinely fascist organizations on Earth.
They are nothing more than willing slaves, unworthy to be called Communists.
I am a strong proponent of the right to bear arms. It is simply the right to self-defense. I owned and carried guns most of my adult life, regardless of the law. Again, carrying a gun is just a pose unless you’re ready and willing to use it, and I mean use it against armed enemies who will be shooting at you. It is legal and possible for people to own guns here, even outside the police and Army. I myself have a Makarov and AK (and plenty of ammo for both.) The requirements are simply common sense – you must have a clean criminal record, pass a psychological exam, and have a secure place to store your guns. There is still a very real threat of a major ukrop offensive, so the percentage of people here who own guns is probably as high or higher than in the US.
Question 18: What is your opinion on censorship? Do you think that leftists should be against the censoring of Alex Jones because it will eventually come around to the left like in the McCarthy era? In this current moment, in terms of realpolitik, is it better to censor the right wingers using the government, or just allow them to be seen out in the open, and prepare to fight them?
Only fools, cowards and those with something to hide advocate or support censorship, of Alex Jones or anyone else, because it ALWAYS eventually comes around. Who is qualified to decide what people should be “allowed” to hear, see or read? Nobody is, and I say fuck anybody that says they are. Yes, Alex Jones is a charlatan, but he has also been correct on many issues. I’d say he’s more correct, well intentioned and respectable than ANY of the stupid scumbags, from the Right or the Left, who advocate or support censorship. Censorship is, always has been and always will be, the tool of the oppressor. Anyone who supports it also, wittingly or not, also a tool of the oppressor. Period.
Russian mass media has political TV programs airing daily, and they often allow open fascists to debate normal people and even try to sell their ideas. To allow fascists, fools, liars and various assholes to have their say is actually the best way to fight them, by allowing them to discredit themselves. Even if the general public is stupid enough to fall for fascist ideas (as is the case in the USA, but not Russia) education is the remedy, and censorship is the exact opposite of education.
Question 19: You once mentioned that you had spent time in prison in America, for what were you incarcerated and for how long? Did you find that you grew as a person during this time/did you learn anything about yourself or humanity while you were locked up?
I plead guilty to possession of 500 kilograms of cannabis in 1996. I was the only one of the defendants who did not “co-operate” with the Feds, so I got more time than anyone, even the “kingpin”. I got 63 months, 5 years, 3 months. I escaped on August 31st, 1999 for 2,848 days, almost 8 years. I was eventually snitched out and was returned to finish my bit in a maximum security prison. I finished my prison sentence in 2008, and did 4 years parole.
I was a professional cannabis smuggler for about 7 years. I would move loads from Mexico to the northern USA, Minnesota, Kansas City, Seattle. I made about a quarter of a million dollars per year, and gave about 30% of it away to worthy causes. I was also one of the leading activists in the marijuana legalization movement, and used quite a bit of my money to further that cause. I would also say that the legalization of cannabis is the best, if not the only, way that life in the USA has improved in the last 30 years. I am proud to have played a part in that.
I learned a lot in prison. I learned that people like me, who refused to snitch for a sentence reduction are about 1 in 100. I read hundreds of books and studied Sociology in an inmate college education program. In the maximum security prison I was in (SEA-TAC FDC) I actually got along better with the Blacks, Latinos, Muslims and Native Americans than I did with the Whites. It was a culturally enriching experience, though I personally do not recommend going just for the culture. But if you have to go, make the most of it.
Question 20: What cultural aspects does the United States share with Donbass? Do people there like the same type of music, movies, and so on? Do people there like to drink and smoke like they do here in America?
I’d say that people here actually drink and smoke a bit more than in the US. It is a traditional Eastern European cultural thing, as well as a reaction to the stress of being in a war zone. The GOOD people in the USA are the same as the good people here, they work towards a better world for all, and they actually WORK towards the goal, not just talk. But among the populations as a whole, the people of Donbass, are much smarter, braver, better educated and better mannered, and have much higher moral and cultural standards than people in the US or the West.
The people here also have a much better grasp of politics and history, and many more of my Russian friends have read Jack London, Fennimore Cooper and other American literary classics than have my friends in the US. And while not perfect, the cultural and political solidarity here is far, far stronger and more advanced than anything in the West. I consider identity politics to be THE major cause of this critical failure of solidarity in what passes for progressive forces in the West.
Question 21: What are your views on identity politics in leftist circles? Should class struggle against the capitalists be the primary duty of communists and socialists, or should they spend an equal amount of time on various other social issues, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia?
Identity politics is an excellent way to identify idiots and provocateurs. It is the single biggest failure of “the Left” in modern history. There is only one war, the class war. Fuck every single selfish piece of shit who advocates rights only for their own sub-group of Humanity. That some groups have genuinely been more oppressed than others is beyond dispute, but giving them special privileges is as stupid as it is immoral and counter-productive. Yes, Black lives matter, but it is a fact that more White people are murdered by police than Blacks, and their lives matter every bit as much. Women, Gays, and racial minorities who are only interested in their own rights are no better than corporations that are only interested in their own profits. There can be no question that Native Americans are the most oppressed and aggrieved minority in the US today. Anyone who doesn’t stand up for their rights at least as much as their own is a hypocrite. The only way to fight for your rights is to fight for everyone’s rights, along with anyone brave and dedicated enough to stand beside you for the same cause. It is the ONLY way.
People get, and deserve, only the rights they fight for themselves, and it is rankest hypocrisy to demand rights for yourself that you do not support for others. The robber baron Jay Gould once said “I can hire half the working class to kill the other half.” Identity politics is people doing exactly that filthy job for free. Class solidarity is the most important weapon in the fight against modern fascism. It is the ONLY weapon that can win this war for the future of humanity, and identity politics is solidarity’s worst enemy.
Identity politics is just another form of “me first” racism, censorship,oppression, and even worse, it is a form of infantilism, in that oppressed people are asking their oppressors to make things right for them, usually at the expense of some other oppressed sub-group. The last time I had any hope for politics in the USA was when there was some talk of a Ralph Nader/Ron Paul coalition. It never happened. The Right has balls, but no brains, the Left has brains but no balls. Until the Right and Left unite, there will be no progress whatsoever. Communism means above all, egalitarianism. Anyone who advocates identity politics and calls themselves a Communist should be bitch-slapped.
Question 22: What are your views on confederate statues being down, since you are from a state that was part of the confederacy (Texas)? Do you think the act of taking down the statues in effect masks the fact that the US is still a racist country, with or without the statues being there?
I think it is a meaningless distraction, a waste, a symbolic circle jerk, done by poseurs whom pretend to be tough and pretend to be doing something by fighting inanimate objects. If it wasn’t so stupid and wasteful, it would be laughable. What kind of clowns fight a symbol when they could and should be fighting the real thing? Take a look at who tears down statues in the 21st Century – US soldiers in Iraq, neo-nazis in Kiev and Poland, and ISIS in Iraq and Syria. All misguided dipshits trying to re-write history. Who wants to be like them?
Question 23: Do you think people spend too much time ruminating about the Soviet Union in the west? Should people spend more of their time trying to build a new socialist project?
People must understand the theory and history of Communism and the USSR. They need to understand the mistakes and successes, in order to re-build Communism and a new USSR 2.0. The Essence of Time Movement is doing both, exactly, today. In fact, I consider EoT to be the most important Communist organization in Russia today. The KPRF and even KPDPR are both deeply marginalized by their own internal contradictions and shortcomings. (As are ALL the Communist Parties in the US.) EoT’s plan is the best I have seen. Everyone who calls themselves a Communist should be familiar with it. It is the real deal. You can learn about it here – http://eu.eot.su/language/en/
Question 24: Who is your favorite Marxist philosopher, and who is your favorite Marxist pragmatist/strategist?
It is hard to pick a favorite. Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara were two of my earliest influences. Big Bill Haywood, Eugene Debs, James Connolly were (and still are) some of my early heroes, and if not strictly “Marxist”, they were true Communists, willing to fight for Socialism and justice. I read Antonio Gramsci’s “Prison Notebooks” when I was in prison. Mao and Fidel, of course, Lenin and Stalin. Lenny Wulff’s “Science of Revolution” was also influential (free PDF here.)
The greatest living Marxist writer in the USA today is undoubtedly Michael Parenti. I especially recommend “Blackshirts and Reds” (free pdf download here.) and “Dirty Truths”. As I have often said about Parenti, he’s like Noam Chomsky, but smarter, a much better writer, and he has some balls.
Question 25: Why do you think fascism was able to arise in such an open fashion in Kiev?
It must be understood that the Maidan coup was not a spontaneous event. Beyond Victoria Newland’s $5 billion, beyond the “Orange Revolution” of 2004-2005, beyond operation Gladio, the roots of the Maidan coup are in Bandera’s OUN-B and UPA, pro-nazi armies during the German occupation of Ukraine in WW2. These were (and are) hardcore nazis, mass murderers, war criminals and rabid anti-communists. They form the central core of Ukraine’s military and political structure today. The original members of Bandera’s organizations have had generations to brainwash their offspring and to prepare for the moment when they could seize power.
These groups have been (and still are) supported, directed and manipulated by US and NATO, with financing, training, arms and instruction. The Maidan coup is in line with the “rebellions” in Libya and Syria.
Real Communists can learn a lot from what we have done in the Donetsk Republics. We have defended our homes and our families against a national military power using every weapon at their disposal – tanks, artillery, rockets, aviation, terrorism. And we have fought them to a standstill. Four years later, the Republics still exist, and we are still free. But this war is not just in Donbass, it is global, and it is not finished.
The greatest enemy of the American People, and of the future of Humanity itself, is the US government and the genuinely fascist kleptocrats who own and control it. They are right now, today, implementing a plan to rule the world, enslave those who are profitable or useful to them, and exterminate the rest of us. There is no escape, and the time for talking is over. You will not defeat your mortal enemy by voting, or writing letters to your government “representatives”, by lively and deep conversations in the local pub, or by hitting the “Like” button on Facebook. You have only 2 options – Fight or die. Victory or Death. Get busy.