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Boris Kagarlitsky on Ukraine: From the Maidan to the revolution?

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal has published a range of views from the left on developments in Ukraine HERE.

By Boris Kagarlitsky, translated by Renfrey Clarke, for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

April 13, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- In Ukraine, a genuine revolution is unfolding. This may seem strange, but it is something very characteristic of the history of that country.

In Ukraine in 1918, workers’ protests by the “Reds” took place solely in response to actions by the nationalist authorities that had installed themselves in Kiev. The question of how progressive the regime established by the supporters of the Donetsk Peoples Republic and other movements in Ukraine’s south-east will prove remains unanswered for the present simply for the reason that the very survival of these movements is far from guaranteed. But it can already be said with assurance that there is no road back. The point of no return has been passed, not only in in the political but above all in the social sense.

The Kiev and Moscow intelligentsia are sincerely incapable of believing that workers and the lower orders of urban society could not only have emerged suddenly onto the streets, but also begun acting independently, organising themselves and making history. These are the people whom the intelligentsia describe contemptuously as “lumpens”, middle-aged family men and women who only yesterday were typical apolitical residents, Russian-speaking toilers who took no interest in the political intrigues of the capital. Behind the backs of the people who are seizing administration buildings and police stations, the intelligentsia as in the past are looking for political manipulators, hirelings of the oligarchs, and even foreign agents, including Russians. The intelligentsia are convinced that simple Donetsk citizens, even after watching on television as several dozen analogous seizures were carried out two months ago by chance-comers from the Right Sector, could never have contrived to do something of the sort themselves.

And it is true: until now, such people have not taken part in politics. This has been the case not just in south-eastern Ukraine, but also in Kiev, and of course in Russia. I suspect it is true of western Ukraine as well. A video from Donetsk shows very graphically the radically changing sociology and demography of the protest. In place of the young middle-class residents of the capital whom we grew used to seeing in earlier Maidan demonstrations, we are confronted with quite different people -- people who a few weeks ago were preoccupied with earning money to support their families, and who would have considered participating in any kind of street protest a pointless waste of time. Now, these people have not just come onto the streets, but they are blockading trucks full of soldiers, organising themselves and taking decisions. A genuine revolutionary transformation is taking place in the consciousness of the masses. In the consciousness of the masses, not in the notorious “public opinion” that is shaped by the privileged intelligentsia, by those who have never got around to understanding the point and significance of the events now under way.

Russia's role

In their significance, the changes occurring in the Ukrainian south-east extend far across the borders of the neighbouring state. They directly affect Russia, providing us with images of our own potential future. It is no accident that our own ruling elites are becoming less and less enamoured of the famous “Russian spring”. Official Moscow has let it be understood, in no uncertain terms, that it makes no claim to Ukraine’s rebellious provinces. This is not a diplomatic move, and not a concession to the West; more correctly, it is a step dictated, among other causes, by a desire to avoid any escalation of a conflict that has far exceeded the bounds of anything the Kremlin finds convenient or manageable. Unlike Crimea, where everything was controlled and where, after two or three demonstrations, the transfer of power was carried out by the local elite, in Donetsk and Lugansk we are witnessing the elemental force of a popular movement, which it is simply impossible to manage from outside.

This movement is decentralised and thrusting forward its own leaders from among people who only yesterday were unknown, it is formulating and developing its agenda as events unfold. For our Russian authorities, accepting into the Russian Federation several provinces with such a population and with such mass organisations, at a time when there is a growing social crisis in our own country, would be like shooting themselves in the foot. It can thus be said with confidence that the activists of the Donetsk People’s Republic will have to rely solely on their own resources. No “polite people” are going to approach them, and no little green men are going to descend from a spacecraft. Official Russia has left the Ukrainian south-east to its own fate, and will try to fence itself off from the region as far as possible. This manoeuvre, meanwhile, is being rendered more difficult by the patriotic moods which our authorities have whipped up, and which in the course of events could turn against the Kremlin as well.

The developments of the past few days nevertheless show that the popular movements in Donetsk, Lugansk, Odessa and Kharkov have a chance of succeeding even without serious support from Russia. In such a case, the possibility will open up for them of expanding their influence into other regions, with the majority of whose population they have far more interests in common than with the leaderships in Moscow or Kiev.

Right Sector

The new Ukrainian authorities in turn are faced with an extremely unpleasant dilemma. The disturbances in the south-east can only be crushed with the help of the far-right Right Sector organisation, and only at the cost of large-scale bloodshed. The police and army are unreliable, and the rank and file of the forces of state repression, for perfectly natural social reasons, are more likely to identify with the rebels than with the people trying to issue orders. As a result, the authorities will have to bring the warriors of the radical right into play. The problem here is not with the ideology of the Right Sector fighters, or even with their psychological peculiarities. Police units are specially trained to disperse mass protests, while avoiding bloodshed as far as possible. The Right Sector thugs lack this training, and hence will immediately set about breaking bones and killing people. This is, unfortunately, a standard situation, and one well known from the experience of other countries. The bloodshed in turn will not only harm the reputation of the Kiev authorities (they are not too concerned at this, concluding rightly enough that the Western press and the liberal intelligentsia of Moscow and Kiev will approve any actions they undertake, even mass terror), but will also risk provoking a still more powerful wave of protests, and even mutinies within the army.

Understanding the dangers, the more reasonable members of the new government in Kiev are prepared to compromise with the protesters -- and, we should surmise, more or less sincerely. Of course, this is not because they have suddenly become infused with respect for the insurgent populace. It is because they have witnessed the might of the people, and have realised that it is now useless to make agreements behind the backs of the protesters with one or another “serious player”, whether the Kremlin, the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov or the European Union. None of these controls the situation any longer.

But if official Kiev makes serious concessions and tries to pacify the south-east, accepting the demands for autonomy, a referendum, free election of governors and so forth, conflict will automatically erupt between the moderate wing of the government and the Right Sector. And while the fighters of the Right Sector have not shown themselves to be particularly effective in struggle against the rebellious masses of eastern Ukraine, in the capital they are a very real force. Amid the confusion and demoralisation of the forces of law and order, the Right Sector are capable of overthrowing the regime, or at least of causing it very serious difficulties. Here we find the real challenge before the Ukrainian revolution: the future of Kiev, and of the country as a whole, depends on whether the masses of ordinary citizens, the everyday folk who shortly before were alien to the passions and problems of the Maidan, are able to move into political action.

If the masses rise up, neither the Right Sector nor the political adventurers who rode to power on the preceding wave of street protests will stand a chance. This will mark the beginning of a new, democratic politics -- not only in Ukraine, but in Russia as well.


Rather Too Optimistic

Boris Kagarlitsky has taken a very optimistic standpoint here, as I feel that there are two competing agendas afoot in Eastern Ukraine, one, a class-based one, which we would support, and another, a Russian nationalist one, which I hope we would reject. There will inevitably be fears, quite justified, that the austerity measures that the new Kiev government is promising on behalf of Western financial organisations, will hit hard in Eastern Ukraine, and will threaten jobs as the industries there are exposed to the world market. The sight of the Ukrainian far-right providing the muscle that deposed Yanukovich's government, their growing infiltration into the police and militia and their prominent inclusion in the Cabinet cannot be a happy one, particularly with their strong anti-Russian chauvinism.

However, Kagarlitsky downplays the impact of Russian chauvinism that is evident in Eastern Ukraine, and was evident in the Crimea for some time before the referendum and secession. Unless class politics come to the fore, the fears and concerns of people in Eastern Ukraine can be pushed into a chauvinist, anti-Ukrainian direction, and reports I have seen indicate that anti-fascist and anti-Western slogans can be deployed by Russian nationalists for their own purposes. The call for autonomy of Eastern regions of Ukraine could, and will if the Russian nationalists make the running, lead to discrimination against Ukrainians, reports from the Crimea about the treatment of Tartars do not augur well in this respect.

Altogether, Kagarlitsky is taking the sort of romantic view of events in Eastern Ukraine as some people did with the Maidan protests: presenting the positive aspects as the predominant tendency whilst downplaying the negative and dangerous sides. And just as the Maidan protests ended up with the Ukrainian far-right making considerable gains and with a government pledged to austerity, the positive aspects of current developments in Eastern Ukraine might be submerged by a wave of very nasty Russian nationalism.

Not Optimistic Enough?

I think the events unfolding in the past several days are proving Kagarlitsky right. The disarming of the Ukrainian troops, not by force of arms, but by mass action; the seizure of more and more administrative infrastructure and now the declaration of the People's Republic of Odessa; the way in which broader and broader layers of the working class are being brought into the struggle, underlines the thesis that a revolutionary transformation in consciousness is underway.

Many of the people involved in the growing mass movement were raised in a milieu where the dominant ideology gave lip service, at least, to the elementary notions of Marxism; things like workers of the world united, the working class is the historical agent of change in the capitalist era, and so forth.

I saw the same phenomenon at work in 1968 in Prague, where history seemed compressed, mass consciousness at the political level exploded beyond anyone's wildest guesses, and where the staid and ossified slogans of the Stalinist version of Marxism were seen in a new light as the workers began to seize their workplaces and throw the bureaucrats out.

This is not to say that there will not be advances and retreats with the greatest threat coming not from the Right Sector, but from Putin, who is really not all that interested in having a mass, revolutionary workers uprising next door.


1) Putin will definitely step in if the Russians in the East start getting pounded. He will supply plenty of weapons and ammo first and troops if it comes to that. He will not stand idly by while ethnic Russians in Ukraine are clobbered.

2) Putin is more popular than ever in Russia.

Myopia or ignorance?

75-80% of the population in Ukraine's SE want to remain in a Ukrainian state. They see no "oppression" of Russian. Polls taken in early 2014 show that had presidential elections occurred then, no more than 15% would have voted for clearly neo soviet Russophile candidates. 12% supported full integration with Russia. In the most heavily colonized and Russified provinces where most of the population tune-in to Russian rather than Ukrainian media, 24 percent in Luhansk and Odessa, 33 percent in Donetsk, and 41 percent in Crimea, supported political union with Russia.

Photos and videos show Russian FSB special ops teams organizing pro-Russian supporters -- whose class structure remains unknown. Did Karglitsky look at Luhansk province with its 3.5 million inhabitants where some 1500 were in the pro- Russian demonstration last week to conclude there was "an elemental force of a popular movement" a "grass roots" pro Russian movement in Ukraine? Has he talked with residents in these places most of whom do not know who the participants in these small demonstrators are?

Even assuming there is some "spontaneity" in the pro- Russian assemblies, why should a professed leftist be celebrating them if their main local organizers are publically self proclaimed Nazis like Gubarev - not "fascists" but Nazis complete with swastikas with links to the FSB. By such logic leftists should also celebrate and praise the "elemental popular movement" of French settlers in 1950s Algeria and the OAS. By such logic leftists should also have supported the protestants in Northern Ireland or whites in South Africa.

But instead of analyzing and condemning the imperialist role of Russian neo Nazi's in Ukraine who exploit the Russian settler population for a social base, we see Karglitsky instead repeating the standard Kremlin denunciation of Ukrainian liberals and conservatives as right-wing extremists. Why is it leftists are more concerned by a relatively weak “Ukrainian fascism” than a very powerful Russian imperialism and its neo-Nazi activists in Ukraine. Why is it when we look at left sites that are not financed by the kremlin do we not see analysis of Russian colonialism, Russian imperialism, Russian militarism, Russian neo-nazis, or linguistic/cultural russification of non Russians. Where is the condemnation of the Dugins and Surkovs and “eurasianism” — the obnoxious counterparts to the equally obnoxious Cheney’s Rumsfelds and US neo cons? Where is the analysis of Putin’s ties to and sponsorship of the pro- Russian EU neo Nazi’s? Does Svoboda or Russia have nuclear weapons? Does Svoboda or Russia have the third largest military in the world? Are the victims of Russian imperialism less significant than the victims of US imperialism? Even if Putin does not actually intend to annex parts Ukraine, his policy to destabilize and create chaos in this de facto neo colonial country in order to maintain Russian hegemony over it cannot be ignored.

Instead of advising Ukrainian leftists to organize a left-led anti Russian national-liberation struggle, in the tradition of the Ukrainian left SDs and UKP-isty in 1919-1920,Karglitsly makes vague references about "masses rising up."

Given the very real threat to Ukrainian independence posed by Putin's imperialism Ukrainian leftists must face the prospect of a temporary alliance with what indeed is a "bourgeois government." If Karglitsky was as much of an "internationalist" as he makes himself out to be, should he not be pointing out that there a difference between socialists who rally around an imperialist government and socialists who ally with an anti-colonialist national bourgeoisie for national liberation? Marx in his manifesto condoned such temporary alliances. Trotsky pointed out in 1929 the key difference between the pre 1917 Chinese and Russian bourgeoisie was that the former was a colonized bourgeoisie in an oppressed country while the latter was an imperialist bourgeoisie of an oppressor state. Should not all leftists realize Ukrainian leftists supporting their anti imperialist Kyiv government
is rather different from their Russian counterparts supporting Putin's imperialist government?
By ignoring such vital issues Karglitsky and the democratic anti Stalinist left in general reflect the interests of the Russian ruling class — the “Putinist Bonapartist clique” as Trotsky would have called them.

Kagarlitsky's report was

Kagarlitsky's report was blindly optimistic but most of the replies are even worse in that they attribute evil intentions to Putin vis-à-vis the Ukraine putschist govt.

Don't socialists see that now Western capitalism is failing profits have to be kept up by attacking and subjugating the remaining areas free of Anglo-American domination i.e. Russia, China & Iran! The West, in collusion with Russian non-nationalistic 'liberal intelligentsia' (if there are any) wants to set up a comprador bourgeoisie in Russia as it is now trying to do in Ukraine.

Those who complain of Russian nationalism forget that it was the Ukrainian putschist regime, put there by the West that provided Right Sector with weapons and support, which started the conflict. As for the masses, they will think first & foremost on ethnic lines, not 'working class' abstractions.

All progressive forces need to support Putin despite Russian nationalism since if the three nations mentioned fall, Anglo-American will crush the world into permanent debt-stricken poverty since they will drain the hydrocarbon and even nuclear resources from those and all other nations, these resources required to set up a sustainable economic system e.g. where will Saudi Arabia be without oil and without sustainable solar energy production?

These issues take priority over working-class fantasies of mass uprising against Putin, which situation would only play into the hands of Western capitalists. Kagarlitsky and those who have replied seem blithely unaware of these horrific implications, obsessed as they are with Leftist egalitarian mass mumbo-jumbo.

Some history for those who watch too much RUSSIA TODAY

Russian Socialists who fail to demand freedom of secession for Finland, Poland, the Ukraine, etc., etc.—are behaving like chauvinists, like lackeys of the blood-and-mud-stained imperialist monarchies and the imperialist bourgeoisie.

Lenin 1916

The genuine emancipation of the Ukrainian people is inconceivable without a revolution or a series of revolutions in the West which must lead in the end to the creation of the Soviet United States of Europe. An independent Ukraine could and undoubtedly will join this federation as an equal member. The proletarian revolution in Europe, in turn, would not leave one stone standing of the revolting structure of Stalinist [today Putinist –SV] Bonapartism.

Leon Trotsky 1939.

Pointless quotations

Pointless quotations concerning past history does not justify the Ukrainian putschist regime which has discriminated against Russian-speakers in Ukraine, reducing Russian Ukrainians to 2nd class citizens. For this reason, Russian-dominated regions of Ukraine have the right to secede.

IOW the Ukrainian coup against Russians in Ukraine means that Ukraine forfeits its territorial integrity, as the Crimean secession has demonstrated.

Khrushchev had attached these majority Russian regions to Ukraine - but evidently had not counted on the present mess ever occurring.

No revolution in West possible if Putin's Russia, China & Iran toppled because West will merely seize all the resources through a COMPRADOR BOURGEOISIE instituted in each country, leaving the people of the three countries a helpless broken mass without control of energy resources or even land - just like the Zionist filth have already reduced the Palestinians to, and the USA are doing to Iraq.

More power to Putin!


We're complaining about Russian *imperialism*, not nationalism. Apparently some "leftists" don't want to recognize the existence of Russian imperialsim, or the deeply reactionary political character of Duginist "Eurasian" ideology as a Russian neo-con mirror, in order to bloc with both.

I agree with the general

I agree with the general thrust of the argument here concerning Russian imperialist oppression of Ukrainian nationalities, "Eurasianism" as a Russian version of neocon politics, and the role of the Russian Far Right (and the Euro Far Right, Putin's new admirers). However the argument is in danger of mirroring the reductions of its opponents made in regard to the Maidan, with respect to Donbass, mentioning only Luhansk and a poll taken before present developments. The "Donetsk People's Republic" may have garnered more mass support since then, and that would explain its staying power.

More seriously, the argument characterizes the present Kiev "government" as if it were really an independent bourgeois nationalist government. The old Chinese KMT regimes were independent, but the present Kiev group was installed by US imperialism (who spent $5 billion to arrive at this goal, according to Nuland), riding into power on the shoulders of the fascists.

The result is to install a neo-liberal/fascist austerity government backed by Western, and especially US, imperialism. The Kiev Rada had no space to act independently, especially as it was a rump body.

These are the political facts in Kiev right now.

So it is not so simple as applying a abstract formula for siding temporarily with a bourgeois nationalist government of an oppressed nationality. To do so with the present Kiev coup government is to objectively side with US imperialism and its policy of imposing a savage neoliberal austerity and trying to provoke a Russian intervention. None of that has any resemblance to the existence of an "independent Ukraine bourgeoisie". There effectively is none, right now.

That leaves socialists to directly intervene in the Maidan. That's been attempted, but these are forcibly excluded by the fascists. That's the "beauty" of the US imperialist-neoliberal-fascist bloc, it keeps the left out of Maidan.

That leave us with the Donbass movement as the only movement *independent* of BOTH US and Russian imperialism, where also any Russian ultra-nationalist or fascists could not so easily exclude socialists for tactical reasons.

And the Donbass surely has the right to national self-determination like anybody else. And surely we do not make the same mistake of certain "leftists" who reduced the Maidan to a "gang of fascists", by doing the same to Dombass - a region that is moreover a significant historical working class district.

One can talk all one wants about past history: What about the history unfolding right before our eyes?

Nationalism and Class Struggle

The way in which most of the European left tries to analyze the complexity of the Ukrainian situation is with a muddle-headed methodology resting on a "geo-political" viewpoint, trying to determine right from wrong from an impressionistic and non-dialectic approach. That is, political lines are being put forward which refuse to take the historical tendencies of development as the framework for analysis.

Lets start with the issue of nationalism. On the one hand you have the people like SV above, who insist that Ukraine is a colony of Russia and that Ukrainian nationalism is a progressive force. This nationalism of his however, is nothing more than a reactionary remnant of a an embittered petite bourgeoisie, a nationalism which has no progressive content, from the perspective of the working class struggle whatsoever.

The reason the revolt of the Maidan was easily led by the fascists of Svoboda and the Right Sektor was due to its class composition. It was a revolt of the middle class which felt itself sinking into the morass which is the destiny of the capitalist Ukraine, and they desired to find a way forward which they saw as an idealist conception of Europe.

The left found no echo in Maidan because there was no proletarian component to this revolt, despite the presence of this or that worker who may have been there as a result of a personal ideological commitment to nationalism.

On the other hand, there are European lefts like Tspiras of Syriza who while taking their distance from the ultranationalists in Kiev, remained trapped in seeing the events unfolding in Ukraine purely from the perspective of big power politics, coached in the language of aggressor and aggrieved.

Meanwhile, in all the endless battle of quotations which the left has engaged in, the real concrete conditions of the actuality of the revolution has been, with rare exceptions, has been lost. Boris Kagarlitsky is one of those exceptions. The comrades of the Russian Socialist Movement, which were instrumental in organising the No War with Ukraine demonstration in Moscow is another. The comrades of Borotba, in the Ukraine is another.

The exceptional nature of their analysis is based on the rejection of all nationalisms, Ukrainian and Russian, as the reactionary ideology which it is.
Like the workers of Bosnia, struggling to throw off the effects of the ethno-divisions of the former Yugoslavia, and who raised the slogan "Away with all nationalisms", the revolutionary Marxists start with the class struggle and its developments as the framework for political activity.

Now, in direct response to Matt above, the issue for the working class of the Donbas is not which nationality is going to rule: Ukraine or Russian: but which class is going to exercise hegemony over the future development of Ukraine and its environs. The working class of the Donbas are not "pro-Russian seperatists" as both the Western bourgeois media AND the fascists of Kiev would like to portray.

One does not have to rely on the propaganda numbers of the International Republican Institute (a US State Department front) being pedalled by one of the previous commentators. One just has to look at the present political demands, the programme if you like, of the proletarian heart of the Ukraine: election of regional governors, regional autonomy, the disarming of the Svoboda and Right Sektor fascists, a guarantee of their pensions, and so on.

It is only those Ukrainian nationalists, those tied hand and foot to western imperialism and their servile media, joined I am sad to say by sections of the western Left who label "Russians as the agressors", who try to depict the motor force of the rebellion of the masses of the Donbas, and the Crimea before it, as a Putinian master plan.

Class struggle vs. bourgeois nationalism are the historic forces at play here. The struggle of a working class trying to emerge from the long night of Stalinism, a working class undergoing the process of transformation to a class for itself, a struggle of real, living proletarians filled with all the prejudices and vices of its recent history, but a class nonetheless which sees in the rise of Ukrainian nationalism and its political expressions like Svoboda, a vile goblet of reactionary poison from which it is refusing to drink.

Revolutionary Marxists stand with the proletarians of Ukraine against their enemies: imperialism, nationalism and the real threat of fascism. To build a material solidarity movement with the workers of Ukraine is the burning task of today. Arms to help create the workers militias, internet access and social networks which can popularise the struggle, solidarity coalitions demanding the withdrawal of the fascists and the imperialisms of the west and the east, from the South and South East so that the Ukrainian working class and its allies can determine the national fate.

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