Ukraine: 'Socialist prospects in south-eastern Ukraine'

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

May 25, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal is translating and posting the following article in the interests of providing information and promoting discussion. It is provides an important contribution to understanding the character and direction of the popular rebellion against austerity that has arisen in eastern Ukraine following the overthrow of the Ukraine government and President Viktor Yanukovych in late February 2014.

A rightist governing regime came into power in Kyiv [Kiev] following that overthrow. The regime includes significant representation from fascist and other far-right groups. It has launched a civil war against eastern Ukraine and is severely curtailing political freedom in the rest of the country, including through the use of violence against left and progressive political movement. The regime is wholly committed to a pro-austerity program that the US and European powers are seeking to impose on the people of Ukraine.

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal does not share the author's entirely negative assessment of the "Maidan" political movement. We recognise that a large part of the movement arose out of legitimate protest against the economic policies and anti-democratic practices of government led by Yanukovych. We agree with the author's assessment that the movement came to be dominated by pro-capitalist and even far-right forces and demands.

Socialist prospects in south-eastern Ukraine

By Viktor Shapinov, translated by Renfrey Clarke

From the Ukrainian site Liva (“Left”),

The people’s mayor of Slavyansk Vyacheslav Ponomarev has declared that the city’s industries will be nationalised.

“So that no-one should be under any illusions, I want to say that all the industry in the city will be nationalised”, Ponomarev stated. “We can’t leave the city’s industrial potential in the hands of crooked businessmen.”

There is nothing surprising about this anti-capitalist trend which has appeared, to a large extent spontaneously, among the activists of the anti-Maidan who were among the founders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. The people who commissioned and sponsored the Euromaidan are the oligarchic owners of big capital, and these are also its main beneficiaries. Such capitalist oligarchs as Igor Kolomoysky, Dmitry Firtash, Sergey Taruta, and to a lesser degree Rinat Akhmetov shared in financing the Euromaidan, plugging the movement in the mass media they control. Then when the Euromaidan triumphed these people, who earlier had ruled the country indirectly through the Yanukovich administration, were given direct control, including as governors of key provinces.

Moreover, and as is becoming apparent, the oligarchy not only brought about the victory the Euromaidan under the ultraliberals and nationalists, but also sought to prevent the development of the movement of resistance to the new government – the so-called anti-Maidan.

As the people’s governor of Donetsk Province Pavel Gubarev stated recently, Rinat Akhmetov paid a number of activists of the anti-Maidan to “sit quietly” and to “divert” the protest. “The entire activity of Akhmetov and his crowd boiled down to diverting popular anger”, Gubarev stated in an interview with [the Moscow newspaper] Rossiyskaya Gazeta, “and this worked fine in Dnepropetrovsk. The oligarch Kolomoysky was doing it, and we can see this from the way pro-Ukrainian moods are a bit stronger in Dnepropetrovsk than in the Donbass.”

It was oligarchs who sponsored the growth of various neo-Nazi groups and their unification under the brand of the Right Sector. The fact that the Right Sector was financed by oligarchs was admitted indirectly by Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh when he told the media, “We are not opposed to (oligarchs) financing the army.” A particular zeal in this area is being shown by the billionaire Igor Kolomoysky, who met publicly with Yarosh and announced a “head-hunt” against members of the south-eastern militias, offering $10,000 for each captured “saboteur”.

The very logic of the struggle is thus driving activists in the south-east into the camp of the enemies of capitalism. While taking part in the anti-Maidan movement in Kharkov and Odessa, I personally saw how popular anti-oligarchic slogans were among the awakened masses.

Sergey Kirichuk, one of the leaders of the Kharkov anti-Maidan and of the socialist movement Borotba, also lays stress on the social agenda of the movement in the south-east. “People here in the south-east are rising up in defence of their social and economic rights”, says Kirichuk, who is now in enforced exile. “There is a very serious anti-oligarchic, anti-capitalist component in these protests.”

Describing the financing of the anti-Maidan, Kirichuk states: “In terms of its technical provision and financing, the movement in the south-east bears no comparison with the Maidan. Victoria Nuland spoke of the US spending $5 billion on advancing democracy in Ukraine. Meanwhile in eastern Ukraine it’s clear that the protest movement doesn’t benefit from powerful financial support. At least in the cities where we used to be active, Kharkov and Odessa, I didn’t see any financing by Russia or the Putin administration. And there’s no sign on the political landscape of people who might aid and finance this movement.”

I can only confirm Sergey’s words here – In Kharkov my comrades and I used our own money to put out leaflets, with an overall print-run of around 100,000 copies. There were small private donations. We pasted up ten thousand posters with an appeal to boycott the elections called by the Kiev junta. At the monument to Lenin there was a box for donations to the Kharkov Defenders brigade and for the wounded. The headquarters of the anti-Maidan was the small basement office of Borotba, and we had an old Gazel van. That was the whole extent of the “financing” of the anti-Maidan. I don’t exclude the possibility that various swindlers collected large sums to meet the needs of the anti-Maidan, but we activists never saw them.

Gubarev paints a similar picture in relation to the Donetsk anti-Maidan. “The popular militia contains a broad spread of people. There are miners, state-sector workers, and advertising workers, my former companions… But what unites them is the fact that they honestly serve the cause. They’ve sold bits of their property and put in money at a time when we’ve had financial difficulties. They’ve spent their own money. For my own ‘ten-day benefit performance’, I’ve also put in money.”

There’s a contrast here as well, between the ultra-right warriors with their generous financing and first-rate equipment, and the popular activists from among workers, students and unemployed. When our comrades in Borotba seized documents from Right Sector militants who had been installed in the Kharkov provincial administration, these documents turned out to include bank statements and cheques. They showed that a young lad from the country studying in an institute of physical culture had at his disposal sums amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.

Once again I stress that the Euromaidan voiced no anti-oligarchic or even socially oriented slogans. The few left activists who wanted to “be with the people” and who were foolish enough to go to the Euromaidan were beaten up and driven off in humiliation by the ultra-rightists who were dominant there. The neo-Nazis, as soon as they started receiving oligarchic financing, immediately forgot their demagogic “anti-capitalism”.

This alliance of oligarchs and Nazis, something that might have been straight out of the history books, was met with an understandable combination of anti-fascist and anti-capitalist slogans from the opponents of the Kiev junta.

“Fascism”, in the classical definition by Georgy Dimitrov, “is the openly terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most imperialistic elements of financial capital… Fascism is not a supra-class power, and it does not represent the power of the petty bourgeoisie or of the lumpenproletariat over financial capitalism. Fascism is the power of financial capital itself. It is the organising of terrorist reprisals against the working class and the revolutionary sector of the peasantry and intelligentsia. Fascism in foreign policy is chauvinism in its crudest form, cultivating a zoological hatred of other peoples.”

What is happening in Ukraine today fits that definition perfectly. Kolomoysky, the owner of Privatbank, is a living symbol of just this kind of financial capital. Everyone has seen in the media the terrorist revenge exacted by Kolomoysky’s private armies, hurriedly put together from bands of ultra-right thugs.

It is thus no accident that supporters of the Maidan are demolishing monuments to Lenin, while opponents of the Maidan are defending them. There is a profound class significance in this. If we are to look for fresh shoots of socialism anywhere in Ukraine today, this has to be in the movements of the south-east.

Needless to say, the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk will not be socialist. Sectors of large and middle business will most likely retain their positions. Russian corporations too will try to grab what they can. But the founding of popular republics “from below”, and the experience of anti-fascist, anti-imperialist and anti-oligarchic struggle that is gained by the masses, will undoubtedly move not only south-eastern Ukraine but also the entire post-Soviet space in a leftward direction.

When Lenin wrote the passages that follow, he might have been addressing the people who today see nothing revolutionary or even progressive in the events taking place in the south-east:

“To suppose that a social revolution is conceivable without uprisings by small nations in the colonies and in Europe; without revolutionary explosions among a section of the petty bourgeoisie, with all its prejudices; without a movement of the proletarian and semi-proletarian masses, lacking as they are in consciousness…is to renounce social revolution. Supposedly, one army will draw itself up in a particular place and say ‘We are for socialism!”, while another assembles elsewhere and says, ‘We are for imperialism’, and this will be the social revolution! …Anyone who waits for a ‘pure’ social revolution will be kept waiting for ever. Such a person is a revolutionary merely in words, and understands nothing about real revolution.

“The Russian revolution of 1905 was bourgeois-democratic in character. It consisted of a series of battles involving all the discontented classes, groups and elements within the population. These included masses of people with the most barbaric prejudices, and the most ill-thought-out or fantastic goals. There were groups who accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and adventurists, and so forth…

“The socialist revolution in Europe cannot take any other form apart from an explosion of mass struggle involving all the oppressed and discontented, of every variety. Sections of the petty bourgeoisie and backward elements of the working class will inevitably take part in itwithout such participation a mass struggle will be impossible, as will a revolutionand will just as inevitably bring with them into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses and their errors.”


It seems Mr. Shapinov thinks the Donbass is somewhere on the moon inhabited by some kind of unspecified “peoples” rather than a territory within Ukraine inhabited by a distinct ethnic Ukrainian majority – except for the major cities where, as a result of tsarist and soviet settler-colonialism and the 1933 famine, Russians constitute a large majority.

Had he realized this basic fact, he would have realized that the socialization of the means of production especially as developed under Stalin,did not end the domination of one nation over another. This means that in the Donbass, for as long as the Russian minority there rules and dominates the Ukrainian majority, there will be no socialism even if the means of production are re- socialized. This simple fact was pointed out to Lenin by Muslim Polish and Lettish communists during the revolution.

It seems Mr Shapinov is also unaware that Marx specified it was up to each nation's proletariat to deal with its own bourgeoisie -- which in the Donbass means it is up to the Ukrainians there and not pro Kremlin Russians organized in neo Nazi Eurasianist parties like: Slavic Unity, the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, the Social-Patriotic Assembly of Slavs, Motherland and the Russian Bloc.

Nor does Mr Shapinov seem to be aware of the progressive nature of the central Ukrainian state. He should be reminded of Lenin’s 1914 dictum on centralized states:
“Marxists will never, under any circumstances, advocate either the federal principle or decentralisation. The great centralised state is a tremendous historical step forward from medieval disunity to the future socialist unity of the whole world, and only via such a state (inseparably connected with capitalism), can there be any road to socialism.”

What you have in Donetsk and Lugansk today is not the old scenario of Ukrainian peasants and Russian urban settlers. Even if we forget that those settlers are there in the place since the 18th. Century and the workers there were not rejected by the Ukrainians, even though we can recognize that similar "Soviet republics in S.E. Ukraine" during the heroic age of Russian Revolution were, yes, a sign of Great Russian chauvinism and were treated like that by Lenin, the FACT, the sheer FACT, is that urban citizens in S.E. Ukraine, today, are "ethnic Ukrainian" for the most part. In some places, they constitute 70% of the total population. All of them side with the People's Republics, and of course they rise up to history full of all their prejudices. But either they start walking or they will never get to the conclusion that they must offer ALL OF UKRAINE that which the pro West Kaganate in Kiyev can not. Nation building is not a matter of keeping old ethnic divisions alive but of creating new nations up from ethnic sectarianism. A unified Ukraine where the policy is to weld together, down to the lowest level of everyday life, citizens of every origin with the common goal of setting them free of Western imperialism is more or less what you can expect to be the best outcome of the struggles in S.E. Ukraine. Nothing of the sort can arise from the "struggles" of oligarch-sponsored (and thus chauvinist) gangs of "pure Ukrainians" from the West. Truly revolutionary nations look into a future of fusion of their original roots, not into a past of separate development, that is, of apartheid.