Fourth International statement on Ukraine: 'Popular movement and imperialisms'
Maidan square, Keiv, December 2013.
International Viewpoint -- This resolution was adopted at the meeting of the Fourth International Bureau on June 7, 2014.
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The very deep political crisis experienced by the Ukraine since November 2013 is far from being over. In this country, following a very long national oppression (basically Polish and Russian), the process of national formation is incomplete, the nation-state is still fragile. This is all the more the case that the country is taken in hostage between Russian imperialist pressure and that of the Euro-Atlantic powers, and subject to the socially fragmenting impact of neo-liberalism.
1. From Maidan to the provisional government: a powerful popular mobilization
For three months (November 21, 2013–February 22, 2014) tens of thousands (and on some days hundreds of thousands) of people gathered in the centre of Kiev, on the Place (“Maidan”) of Independence. It was the suppression of the first protesters (“pro-European” and defending national independence) which gave the movement its massive size by late 2013, combined with a hope -- ideally associated with “Europe” -- of well-being, rejection of corruption, democracy and national sovereignty.
We stressed in February (IC resolution) the characteristics of this movement which has “presented a combination of revolutionary (democratic, anti-elitist, self- organized) and reactionary elements -- the overall outcome was and remains a question of political and social struggle. Those features are also deeply rooted in the current character of the present post-soviet Ukrainian society (atomized, without any class identity, with degradation of education and hegemony of reactionary nationalist ideas in society, combined with a legitimate commitment to national independence and the dramatic legacy of Stalinism).”
We can specify the weaknesses and limitations of Maidan:
- Despite its length, the main forms of self-organization which emerged remained limited: above all the construction, the maintenance, the defence of this rebel city of tents and barricades in the middle of winter, the organization of supplies and of health services ... teams occupied administrative buildings, a student assembly imposed notably transparency of the budget for education. “Sotnia” (companies) for self-defence were formed, of which a minority were controlled by political organizations present in the Maidan.
- The movement never had any “representation” or elected spokespersons. This has facilitated its exploitation by the political parties of the opposition, including the far right party Svoboda, ranked among the “pro-Europeans” -- speaking in the name of “Euromaidan”, particularly abroad.
- The small groups of the extreme nationalist right (Pravyi Sektor and so on) vying with Svoboda played a role in the self-defence of the movement. Their evident “visibility” and their attacks against left-wing activists have been used to discredit the whole of Maidan, notably by the Russian government and media, or later by anti-Maidan components identifying with the left.
- Finally, although very diverse and sensitive to social issues (against the confiscation of public goods, corruption, inequality), the movement has not expressed social demands; it has done very little to mobilize the industrial working class, and therefore also the regions in the east and the south-east (despite a few exceptions). If strike calls (launched by the independent trade unions) have not been supported, the same is true of attempts at workers’ mobilizations against Maidan.
- Taking into account the initial themes (“pro-EU”), of the predominant organized forces of the right and fascist aggression, the very weak Ukrainian left has been very divided faced with Maidan and in Maidan: in addition to the various anarchist groups, the Socialist Movement -- Left Opposition has chosen to intervene there opposing right and extreme right ideas as a result of the social and mass democratic aspirations of the movement. By way of contrast, the organization “Borotba” (Struggle) remained outside the movement, denouncing it globally as reactionary. Located on the “left” by its label, and its social discourse, the Ukrainian CP, very much involved in the oligarchic privatizations, has sought to distinguish itself from the Party of Regions by proposing a referendum regarding the agreement with the EU; but it was discredited by its vote for the February laws criminalizing all protesters. It has propagated, like Borotba, the thesis of the “Nazi putsch”.
- In total, while taking more distance from the parties than was the case in the “Orange Revolution” of 2004, Maidan especially mobilized in the regions of the west and the centre of the country, more oriented to the EU; if it was expressing social and democratic aspirations shared across the entire country, its only “program” was the fall of Yanukovych.
2. The fall of Yanukovych: a popular victory confiscated and a right wing government, not a 'fascist putsch'
The fall of Yanukovych has dismembered the Party of the Regions, which had become under his presidency the main instrument of the power of the oligarchy, and whose base was located in eastern Ukraine -- where the Ukrainian oligarchy emerged and developed in the great industrial corporations privatized fraudulently during the capitalist restoration in the early 1990s. This party had a strong electoral support because of social relations of domination. The implosion of the Party of the Regions, which became in the course of the presidency of Yanukovych the structural instrument of his regime, as well as the dissolution of the special forces of repression, “Berkout”, weakened the Ukrainian state, depriving it of an important part of its structures of domination.
Although all the ministers of the new government had been accepted by the crowd of Maidan, the movement was largely demobilized after the establishment of the provisional government.
The fall of Yanukovych was the victory of a quasi-insurrectionary movement, and not the deed of a “fascist anti-Russian putsch supported by the west”. Even if Yanukovych came to power in 2010 through elections recognized as legitimate, he was himself responsible for his own downfall: he is deeply discredited, including in his region of origin, the Donbas, by years of oligarchic personal and familial enrichment while the country is impoverished; and even his unexpected refusal in November to sign the agreement with the EU has been the illustration of the presidentialist drift of a regime less and less controlled even by his own party and parliament. His fall was catalyzed by the repression and the dead of Maidan. In view of the disputes on the responsibility for these deaths, the government in Kiev has appealed to the International Criminal Court (ICC), on April 25; it is investigating events ranging from November 21, 2013 to February 22, 2014.
It was the parliament itself which voted for the dismissal of the president after his escape, with a very strong majority, and which designated the provisional government. The latter largely reflects the compromise, supported by Western diplomats, which had been negotiated with Yanukovych, before he fled. After having explicitly supported all “pro-European” parties, including Svoboda, the European governments have been embarrassed by the extreme right. The latter has sought to make itself more “respectable” (Svoboda has toned down its anti-Semitic matrix and its celebration of the SS Galizien Division). In parallel, the minister of the interior (who has been asked by the European Parliament to disarm the private militias) is in a tense relationship with Pravyi Sektor.
If the government is not “neo-Nazi” it is true -- and non-trivial -- that the party of the extreme right “Svoboda” has multiple positions of power within it: 4 ministries (3 since, March 25, its Minister of Defence, Admiral Ihor Tenyukh, regarded as “inactive” in the face of the events in the Crimea, was “dismissed”) as well as the post of attorney general. Andriy Parubiy, secretary of the National Security Council and of defence, is sometimes also catalogued as a member of Svoboda. It is true that he was one of the founders, in 1991, of the “Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine” which took the name of Svoboda in 2004. But he left this organization 10 years ago and has since 2012 been a member of “Batkivshchyna” (“Homeland”) led by Yulia Tymoshenko.
It is this formation that dominates this neo-liberal government which has appointed oligarchs to posts as governors of regions and has put in place the measures required by the IMF: including an increase in the price of gas (50%), a freeze on wages and hiring in the public sector, reduction of pensions, reduction of social expenditure, VAT increases and so on. The first measure taken by the new parliamentary majority, repealing the act of 2012 on languages, has not been ratified by the acting president. But in the context of a denunciation of the new regime as “anti –Russian” including by Moscow, the effect has been disastrous in the Russian-speaking regions. The Russian aggression in the Crimea is presented as a response to such a policy.
The 25 May election carried the oligarch Petro Poroshenkoto the presidency of the Republic – by 54.7% of the voters, with a participation of 60.3% (this latter figure is undoubtedly over-estimated).  This election, taking place against a background of tensions that diverted the social questions, nevertheless expresses a popular desire to give Ukraine a sovereign representation. It buries at the same time the fundamental political demands expressed by Maidan – a radical cleansing of the police and State apparatus, the fight against corruption, the separation of big capital from direct political power. Never in the modern history of Ukraine has big business been so directly involved in the management of the country: almost all those who figure in the Forbes list of the richest Ukrainians are today in high-ranking posts in the executive.
3. Annexation of the Crimea
The Crimea (12% of whose population includes Tatars formerly deported by Stalin and having returned since 1991), the gift of Khrushchev to Ukraine in 1954, had acquired a special status as an autonomous republic within the independent Ukraine, since 1993. Its main city, Sevastopol, had a separate status, as a naval base which houses the former Russian Black Sea fleet, according to a treaty of “peace and friendship” in 1997.
Moscow had obtained from Viktor Yanukovych an extension of the lease, under which it leased the basis to the Ukraine, in return for the agreement on energy tariffs and the debt specified in December 2014. Putin exploited the fall of Yanukovych to unilaterally challenge all these agreements, by annexing the Crimea. But it was the argument of the “Russian minorities” threatened by a “fascist putsch” which was put forward in the vote by the Duma in favour of the employment of Russian armed forces in Ukraine. That is why this thesis plays an essential role in the propaganda. In the posters for the plebiscite that was held under military deployment and without access to Ukrainian media, Ukraine was marked with a swastika.
Moscow has stated that 97% of voters voted yes, with a participation of 86% -- figures very far from those provided by the Russian Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights: “According to various sources, in Crimea 50-60% voted for joining Russia, with the total turnout of 30-50 per cent”). The exodus of Tatars out of Crimea has resumed -- their fate is in no way assured. But on 20 March the treaty incorporating the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in the Federal Republic of Russia was ratified by the Russian Duma.
Behaving like a great power, Putin has stifled has domestic critics by encouraging a nostalgic Great Russian chauvinism for all of “little Russia” -- at the risk of a conflagration in the Ukraine. As was long the practice in Stalinist propaganda, to be Ukrainian (or Tatar) now means being (pro) Nazi and “anti –Russian”. This finds its counterpart in the ultra-nationalist propaganda where to be “Russian” means being “anti-Ukrainian” or “Bolshevik”. The real political, social and geo-strategic conflicts are thus hidden.
4. The 'Anti-Maidan' faced with an unpopular government
In any event, the eastern and south-eastern regions of Ukraine are not the Crimea. Unlike the latter, they had voted massively for the independence of Ukraine in 1991; and the public opinion polls showed (until recently) that they remained predominantly attached to this, in spite of their political mistrust of Kiev. Favouring linguistic pluralism, and even a form of decentralization, or again wanting to keep the links with Russia (hoping notably for better energy prices), or being nostalgic for the USSR does not involve a secessionist logic: the Putinian political regime is not attractive (even if it is presented as a protector) and the policies applied in Russia near Donbas have removed much of the state aid which still remain massive in Ukrainian industry. But the policies conducted by Kiev cause concern, even if jobs are as much threatened by insertion into Russia than into the EU or submission to the IMF. The popular choices are therefore uncertain and concerns are quickly exploited.
The “popular republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk, self-proclaimed, exploit mistrust of Kiev. But they have broadly been reduced to para-military apparatuses or bring together former members of the Ukrainian state apparatus, criminals of all sorts, military personnel from Chechnya, members of the Russian security forces, or ordinary Ukrainians. Nothing that promotes a real popular mobilization, in a situation which is increasingly chaotic after clashes of which it is difficult to make an assessment.
The tragedy in Odessa on May 2 -- the fire at the trade union centre which cost the lives of 40 so-called “pro-Russian” activists who were barricaded within, including a Borotba activist, as a result of the armed aggression against a demonstration in favour of “unity of Ukraine| leaving 4 dead -- marked a radicalization of the “anti-Maidan” propaganda: according to the latter it would be a “new Orator” protected by a “Nazi state” in Kiev -- which is accompanied by an indictment of “callous indifference” if one challenges these interpretations.
The anti-Maidan has not known any mass mobilisations beyond a few thousand protesters, in a highly populated area. It is difficult to clearly include there the thousands of voters in the plebiscites of May 11 in favour of the “popular republics” which have been without doubt at the same time in part a protest demonstration against Kiev and a vote forced by the militias -- the same ones who on May 25 banned participation in the presidential election. Massive strikes have taken place, especially in Krasnodon, but they were on wage claims and the workers have rejected the political manipulation of the “pro” or “anti” Maidan candidates. Other s more recent strikes among the miners, are against the “anti-terrorist” actions taken by Kiev (denouncing the risks of the bombing for the mines).
Even if we can denounce the hypocrisy of Putin calling for dialogs that he rarely practices at home, or denying any external intervention, the latter does not take the form of a military invasion. The violence of the armed “anti-Kiev” militias, blocking any dialog, certainly requires an adequate response. But the latter could rely on the democratic and peaceful aspirations of the peoples. And the defence of the unity of the country implies answers other than military ones. Even if it is difficult to accept all the false propaganda, it is certainly true that the operations launched by Kiev were ineffective in ending the chaos and unable to earn the trust of the people. Which Putin intends to exploit.
5. Russia’s imperial policy
Since 2008 and playing on imperialist contradictions, Russia has sought to reaffirm itself as a great power, after its marginalization since 1989.
The dismantling of the USSR and the restoration of capitalism in Russia was reflected in the Yeltsinian phase of 1990 by a plundering of wealth dominated by oligarchic quasi-feudal fiefdoms controlling the state. The Community of Independent States (CIS) had little of substance in this phase. Yeltsin’s Russian state lost its internal (including the capacity to have taxes paid) and external power, in spite of its dirty war in Chechnya. The integration of Russia in the “G8” did not kid anyone with regard to its actual weight.
The Putin era initially resulted, in 2000, in the restoration of a strong internal state, incorporating the control of oligarchs and exports -- after the payments crisis of 1998 -- especially in the oil and gas sector. This was accompanied by a “managed democracy”, framing the elections and the major media and suppressing protests at the same time the old social protections were dismantled. The resumption of strong growth has been accompanied by the internationalization of the economic and financial presence of the Russian oligarchs, and several attempts by Moscow to create around Russia a more integrated economic “space” than the CIS.
The Russian regime has tried, especially since 2011, to transform the Customs Union already put in place with Belarus and Kazakhstan (which Armenia has joined), in a project of “Eurasia” for 2015 directed also at Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and even Georgia and Moldova: it concerns, by playing notably on the weapon of the gas tariffs, offering them an alternative to the “Eastern Partnership” with the EU: the challenge is for Russia to compete with China and Western capital but also to counter attempts at incorporation of its “close neighbours” in the Euro-Atlantic institutions (EU and NATO).
Russia also exploits the dependencies and “partnerships” that the big imperialist powers have established with it, such as in the “fight against terrorism” or the management of the Syrian crisis. It takes advantage of the crisis of these powers, but it suffers also because of its own dependencies, which it is endeavouring to mitigate by the deployment of its relations with China.
Its coup in Crimea rests on the apparatus of Yanukovych and on the extreme “Eurasian” right to mark a new relationship of forces in international negotiations. But it is not certain that Putin controls the separatist forces of Ukraine and the dynamic carries dangers, beyond the short-term gains: Azerbaijan has joined the criticism against the annexation of the Crimea which is not reassuring for the neighbours with which Moscow would like to associate.
6. Western imperialisms
The fall of the Berlin Wall, was accepted by Gorbachev in the context of “Soviet disengagement”: lowering the cost of the arms race and winning Western credits were his priority. In the negotiations undertaken in Germany, he had advocated the dissolution of the two military blocs; and then he had to accept the entry of the reunited Germany into NATO, in return for the commitment by the United States that no foreign troops or weapons would be stationed in the East and that NATO would not extend further.
But US imperialism made the choice to expand NATO to Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic in 1999, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia in 2004, as well as Albania and Croatia in 2009.
And the “pro-Western” forces of “coloured revolutions” in Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004), heavily supported by the United States, had called for their integration into NATO and the EU. The latter was however divided with regard to relations with Russia. As can be seen by the direct links that Germany (or Italy) had preferred to build with Moscow for oil supply.
In 2009, the Polish leaders, supported by Sweden, advocated an “Eastern Partnership” of the EU -- in the absence of new enlargements, this amounted to a “thorough and comprehensive free-trade” agreement with all the former countries of the ex-USSR bordering the EU -- including Ukraine. Russia reacted by the Eurasia project offered to the same countries with the objective of a redefinition of continental relations, where Russia would be a dominant pole, but also a counter-weight to the demands of the EU.
Yanukovych, facing the risk of cessation of payments, negotiated the agreements with the EU until 2013, under pressure from Russia and the IMF. He asked for tripartite meetings (Ukraine, Russia and the EU) then refused by the latter. Today, the Western imperialist states seek an agreement with Russia -- in spite of all the big speeches. None of them, no more than the government in Kiev, can control the clashes on the ground which can degenerate into a real civil war.
7. Sovereignty of Ukraine
The unity of Ukraine requires military neutrality, the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the rejection of anti-social policies.
Only an anti-war and anti-fascist front (Ukrainian and international) against the reactionary forces of every kind, rooted in the peoples, can impose it, against the Russian and Western imperialist diktats, in defence of social and national rights, against violence.
These are the objectives that the progressive forces of Russia and the EU will defend against the IMF and the “free trade” agreements -- by recognizing the right of the Ukrainian people to decide on its international links.
The national question is at the centre of political activity in Ukraine. As the Left Opposition put it: “the national and cultural renaissance of the Ukrainian nation and other nations of our country is not possible without the social problems being resolved". In Ukraine, a left that left the national dimension to the nationalists would condemn itself in advance to failure. In the nationalist camp there are already emerging currents that, taking advantage of the marginality of the socialist left, wish to appear in the eyes of workers as an alternative to capitalism.
 Tadeusz A. Olszanski and Agata Wierzbowska-Miazga, Osrodek Studiow Wschodnich im. Marka Karpia, Warsaw note that in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, where the pro-Russian “militia” did everything to prevent the vote, it takes into account only the registered voters in polling stations that opened, that is to say respectively 668 000 out of 3.3 million and 216 000 out of 1.8 million, the participation is 15.4% in the region of Donetsk and 38.9% in that of Lugansk, whereas if all registered voters are taken into account participation undoubtedly did not exceed 3% and 10% in these two Eastern regions.
Published on behalf of Bob Lyons
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Which Camp Are You In? The Split in the Global Left on the Question of Ukraine.
By Bob Lyons
By now there is a general recognition that the global left is badly split on the issues surrounding the events in Ukraine. I would suggest that there are three primary camps holding greatly differing views not only on the facts of what has happened, and in turn determining what is happening, but on two distinct methods of analysing and framing the practical and theoretical questions emerging from this crisis of separate viewpoints.
The debate, and the growing crisis surrounding it, can be summarised as a profound and diametrically opposing views to the following statement by Ilya Budkraitis, an ideological supporter of the Ukrainian left nationalist group, “Left Opposition”. In speaking of what he sees as the contradictory nature of the Maidan, he says: “The incredibly sickening dissonance between the revolutionary content of the process and its reactionary form represents circumstances demanding not squeamish ethical evaluations, but action aimed at changing such an ugly equation. “ (1)
Those on the revolutionary Marxist left think Budkraitis has stood reality on its head: the Maidan, while having a revolutionary ‘form’ (mass rallies, occupations, barricades,etc), had from the start a reactionary content, both at the level of class composition, and at the political level in the content and intent of its demands and aims.
The Camp of the Ukrainian State: Class Struggle Deniers
Those who occupy this camp, those who deny that there is a class struggle in Ukraine, are those who have abstracted the recent events, particularly the EuroMaidan and the Crimea, from the living history of Ukraine, from its vote on independence in 1991 to the present, and who as well deny the realities of the geography, class and nation in Ukraine, preferring instead abstract concepts such as “emerging masses”, “the right of the modern Ukrainian state to exist”, the“ right of Ukrainians to enjoy a decent life in a democratic state”, and so forth. (2)
Additionally, and most importantly, this camp puts the “Ukrainian National Question” at the center of its analysis, as expressed in the 7 June statement entitled “Popular Movement and Imperialism”, issued by the Bureau of the FI.
The theoretical errors these comrades make is that they leave out of their analytical tool kit a few important instruments: normative and common Marxist concepts such as: the insertion of the class struggle in Ukraine within the international context, the class nature of those participating in the events, and any empirical data to back up their claims upon which they make what is essentially an empiricist analysis framed by bourgeois political science, essentially a “geo-political” narrative.
The heart of that narrative is crystallised by the headline in the website of Socialist Resistance, the British section of the Fourth International, which loudly, if somewhat crudely declares “The Russians are the Aggressors”,(3) thereby echoing the line of the imperialists and oligarchs in Washington, London and Kiev.
Since the Maidan, those in this camp primarily include the present leadership of the FI grouped around the International Viewpoint website; groups either part of or emerging from the state capitalist tendencies,such as rs21 in Britain; and an eclectic group of former or peripheral Trotskyists like the post-1917 neo-Kautskyite Murray Smith, presently employed by the Eurocommunists of the European Left party, or Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski, the deputy editor of the Polish edition of LeMonde Diplomatique, a leader of the Lodz branch of Solidarity in 1980-81, a present member of the Polish Labour Party, and the progenitor of the theory of national liberation struggle as the driving force of political events in Ukraine, a theory seemingly adopted by the editors of International Viewpoint. These latter two have appeared recently with articles on the International Viewpoint website.
The primary efforts of these people has been to spend their time defending their analysis from questions, concerns and attacks held by sections of the Fourth International who have opposed this analysis, and have resorted to quite frankly bizarre means to insulate themselves from opposing viewpoints within the FI itself. I will below deal with the foundational errors in analysis which the FI has promoted, and this in turn has led it to deny the existence of easily obtained empirical date which disproves their analysis both of the Maidan and subsequent events.
A large part of this article will dissect their statements from the above outlined point of view.
The Camp of Putin: The Bloc of Anti-Imperialist States
In some ways, those who stand in the camp of Putin are the mirror image of those in the camp of the Ukrainian state. They both are guided by the same bourgeois method, that of geo-political science, that is, they remove the class struggle and the movement of working people as the primary actors in the global struggle against imperialism, and instead substitute States as the principle subject in defending regimes, some of which are of really the most appalling sort, against the machinations of US imperialism as the guardian of world capitalist order.
While I label it the camp of Putin, this label could just as easily apply to the camp of Assad, of Kim Jong Ill, of whatever repressive or (non-repressive) regime as might be showing some national independence from the aims of imperialism. This is not to downplay by any means the role played by some states like Cuba or Nicaragua in defending themselves and building alliances to try and ties the hands of the beast. But unfortunately for this camp, the temporary necessity of building alliance with bourgeois regimes has in many instances been elevated to the level of principle.
This political current has not accidentally appeared, but has its origins to a great extent in South and Central America by those advocating on the one hand the absolutely correct principle of national independence without interference by imperialism, while on the other hand remaining silent to the crushing of civil and workers’ rights in Putin’s Russia; in Iran and North Korea; even in instances in South and Central America like the criminalizing of dissent now taking place in Argentina and Brasil by the supposedly anti-imperialist fighters Kirchner and Roussoff.
While there might be sections of the Left outside Latin America who are in this camp, and I can think of some of the more retrograde Communist Parties like those of Portugal and Greece, and maybe a few sects elsewhere; however, the main disagreements at the global level are between those in the Camp of the Ukraine state, and the next camp.
The Camp of Class Struggle: For a Federation of Workers’ Communes
The third camp in this debate is composed primarily of the majority of the world’s Trotskyists and Trotskyist parties, broadly defined, both inside and outside the current organisational structures of the Fourth International, and many revolutionary organisations of a less well defined character, such as Borotba (Struggle), the leading revolutionary left organisation active throughout all of Ukraine, and who has, among its aims, the construction of a federated Ukraine workers’ state as the starting point for a regional workers’ revolution against the oligarchs of Russia, Belarus, Moldava. (4)
The viewpoint of the class struggle camp can broadly be defined as the following:
The events in Ukraine didn’t start with the Maidan, but are a part of an ongoing process of social and political recomposition of a working class movement which is distributed unevenly throughout Ukraine, because of its class and linguistic make up, but includes the struggles on a national scale, both by the workers and intermediary layers, and on the other side by the oligarchs and their imperialist backers as well.
Ukraine has, like Poland, an historically split cultural and political history where the divisions between the nationalists and the socialists are reflections of the class struggle stretching backwards to the time of the Russian revolution, the armies of the Red, White and Black, the antecedents of today’s armed struggle; the confederal nature of the early soviet states,( there were five which emerged at the time of the October revolution) now replicated by the struggle for regional autonomy in Donestsk, Luhansk, Crimea, Kryivy Rih and Odessa, and so forth. In other words, despite the self-delusions of the Ukrainian petit bourgeois, Ukraine cannot escape the clutches of its own history.
The analysis of the camp of the Ukraine state is partial, erroneous and theoretically incompatible with revolutionary Marxism in that it is wrong on the meaning of the Maidan; it fails to do any class analysis of the participants; it’s stated political objective is not the destruction of the Ukrainian bourgeois state but its maintenance; and its discourse (the Russians are the aggressors) is nothing more than the echo of the imperialist media.
The armed struggle in Ukraine, while led in some instances, but certainly not all, by Russian nationalist, and ultranationalist elements, is part and parcel of a mass resistance movement by the heart of the Ukrainian working class to the attacks by the oligarchs and Anglo-European imperialism against its living standards, and represents ,even if in a grossly distorted form, the rejection of the government of the oligarchs and of the plans of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund as expressed in the Agreement of Association.
The camp of class struggle insists that, despite the counter-revolutionary role which is being played by Putin and the Russian oligarchs; the main enemy of the Ukrainian working class, a class which for historical reasons stretching back to the time of Catherine the Great and the industrialization of that part of the Tsarist empire, speaks Russian and has a significant Russian ethnic composition, again distributed unevenly thoughout the Ukrainian state; that the main enemy is the Ukrainian oligarchs, its Euro-American imperialist masters, and the Ukrainian state which is being used to batter the workers and protect the oppressors.. Anything which weakens, rips apart, tears asunder, and contributes to the destruction of the bourgeois Ukrainian state is a step forward in the emancipation of the Ukrainian and international working class, and despite its present leaderships which no Marxist could support politically, the establishment of transitional state structures standing in opposition to the bourgeois Ukrainian state has the potential to become filled with proletarian and internationalist, not nationalist content.
Those who stand for the maintenance of the Ukraine bourgeois state, stand with the oligarchs and the imperialists against the mass resistance movement of the Ukrainian working class.
Comparing Realities: The Two Maidans
In the Fourth International’s “Statement on Ukraine”, adopted on 25 February, 2014, we read the following analysis:
“Therefore, within the crisis there were not two clear-cut camps or programmes opposing each other but rather splits and hesitations within the oligarchs and elites, even within the Party of Regions itself. And – despite cultural, social and political differences between historical regions of the country – the emergence of the masses as an independent factor expressing “indignation” and distrust in political parties – whether expressed through direct involvement in the Maidan movement (more in the West and centre) or through passivity (dominating in the Eastern Russian-speaking part of the country).
“This movement from the beginning presented a combination of revolutionary (democratic, anti-elitist, self- organized) and reactionary elements – the overall outcome was and remains a question of political and social struggle. Those features are also deeply rooted in the current character of the present post-soviet Ukranian society (atomized, without any class identity, with degradation of education and hegemony of reactionary nationalist ideas in society, combined with a legitimate commitment to national independence and the dramatic legacy of Stalinism).”
The assumptions underlying all the statements made above are empirically not true, in so far as they attempt to paint a picture of these “emerging masses” as a social force with a program of democratic and social demands.
The first question a Marxist would ask is: who are these “masses” emerging as a political force? What is their class background? What is their geographic origin? Are they representative of historically progressive forces?
Thanks to the work done by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, who tracked these questions and more through the rise and fall of Maidan, and who provided invaluable sociological investigations during this process, we can say that:
Maidan was a revolt, not of the “masses” but of a layer of the Ukrainian bourgeois and petit bourgeois with a definite political program, which was not that of workers power and socialism.
At its height, in February, workers’ represented just 15%of Maidan participants. This compares with entrepreneurs who represented 17.4% of participants, and specialists (professionals) who represented 26.7% of the participants.
As to origins of the participants, 54.8% of the participants were from western Ukraine, 23% from central Ukraine, and only 21% were from the most populous areas of the South and East.
Interestingly, as the Maidan unfolded, the number of participants from Kiev dropped from about 50% to a little over 12%, while the number of participants from small towns (under 100,000) and villages rose from 45% to 63%.
What were the aims of these participants? According to the research, the primary reasons for being at the Maidan was to protest the repression of Yanukovych (61%); the wish to “change life in the country” (51%) and the refusal of Yanukovych to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union(50%). (All participants surveyed were asked to identify their top three reasons for being there).
As for the claim that the Maidan represented a democratic movement, the reality is that only 18% of participants identified “the rollback in democracy and the threat of dictatorship” as their reason for participating. (6)
The concrete content of the Maidan movement is clearly one in which the class make up of the participants, overwhelmingly the bourgeoisie and petite bourgeois of small town western Ukraine, the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism and ultra-nationalism, prefigured and predetermined the political content of the movement, one which far from having revolutionary democratic and anti-elitist notions, was intent on tying Ukraine to European imperialism. This is the reality which undermines the abstract notions of “the masses” in their “indignations”.
Both because of its class content, and its political aims, there was no possibility of building a “Left Sector”, and these two facts explain why and how the ultranationalists and fascists were able to quickly win the leadership of this movement.
The FI statement attempts to somehow tie the emergence of this revolt of the petit bourgeois “as an independent factor” with a presumed passivity of the working class,as being part of this “emergence ofthe masses with their indignation”. This is just pure nonsense.
In an attempt to paint a scenario where the Maidan is depicted as a progressive political event with a national (nation-wide) character, the authors of the document are forced to try and leave the impression that the “passivity” of the proletarian forces of the Donbass and the South is its preferred method of expressing its indignation at the Yanukovitch government and its distrust in political parties.
It is this presumed passivity which plays an important role in defending an increasingly untenable analysis in later statements and International Viewpoint articles.
Was this in fact the case? Did the Russian speaking working class support the Maidan by its passivity, as the authors of the document suggest? By now we all know (or should know), what the response of the working class to the “emergence” of these” masses” was. The response of the Ukraine working class to the Maidan, the demands of its participants, and the politics of its visible leadership, was one of fright and disgust.
Was the Working Class Passive?
In its attempt to portray the events in Ukraine as one of a democratic uprising of “the masses”, the Maidan versus activities of agents of the Russian state, it is necessary to deny the activities of the working class any independent role, and to paint it as a “passive” onlooker.
The empirical evidence stands in the way of these fantasies . In a report released at the end of April, the Center for Society Research released its findings for the year 2013. The Center has been tracking protests, repressions and social initiatives since 2009. I will below quote the summary of its finding in full as they challenge the whole edifice upon which the declarations of the IV editors is built.
“The main results of the research are the following:
At least 4822 protests occurred in 2013. This number is 33% higher than the number of protests in 2012 (3636) and is more than twice as large compared to the number of protests in 2010 and 2011 (2305 and 2277 respectively). The increase in the number of protests is caused not only by Euromaidan (although during the month of December alone, more than 1000 protests were documented). Even before the beginning of Maidan, during the period from January 1st to November 20th, 2013, 3419 protests occurred, which demonstrated the tendency towards an increase in protest activity.
The protests of 2013 were unprecedentedly massive. At least 249 protests occurred with more than one thousand participants, which is 2.5 times higher than in 2012 and more than 1.5 times higher than in 2010 during Tax Code Maidan. Among them, at least 29 protests in 2013 had tens of thousands participants and five rallies had hundreds of thousands. The phenomenon of mass protests was not exclusive to Kyiv. At least 16 protests with more than ten thousand people took place outside of Kyiv – in Simferopol, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Lviv, Odesa, Rivne, Ternopil, Zaporizhia.
The absolute number of protests in 2013 increased in all regions of Ukraine, and in relative measurements – in the Central region saw the largest increase (by 47% comparing to 2012). A smaller number of protests compared to 2012 occurred in Lviv and Kharkiv oblasts. A relatively larger part of the protests traditionally took place in the Western region. Thirty-three percent of all protests in Ukraine took place in Western oblasts after the beginning of Maidan, from November, 21st till December 31st, 2013. However, considering unequal populations in different regions, the Western region is not the most remonstrative in Ukraine. The largest number of protests per 1 million of de facto population in 2013 was documented in Kyiv (282), and the second largest – in the Southern region (167), reflecting intensive protest campaigns in Odesa (in particular by small entrepreneurs) and in Mykolaiv oblasts (Vardiivka rape case). The number of protests in the Western regions is only the third largest – 106. And the smallest number of protests per 1 million of de facto population was documented in the Eastern region – 63.
As expected, because of Maidan beginning in 2013, there was a rapid growth of protests combining demands of political and ideological natures as well as civic rights demands. The number of ideological protests grew by almost 50% (up to 1740, 36% of all protests), the number of political protests – by 40% (up to 1727, 36% of all protests), the number of protests of civil rights protection – by 170% (up to 1644, 34% of all protests). However, the most frequent demands in Ukraine for four consecutive years were demands of a socioeconomic nature (at least 2062 protests in 2013). Their absolute number increased by 33% and the relative portion among all protests remained invariably high – 43%. In Central, Eastern and Southern regions socioeconomic protests prevailed, and in the Western region, their number was equal to the number of ideological protests, and in Kyiv and the Crimea they were the second most frequent (however, in 2011-2012 in Kyiv, the Crimea and the West, socioeconomic protests prevailed as well). Specific problems that brought people to the streets for socioeconomic protests most frequently in 2013 were illegal development projects, public utilities, environment, unpaid wages, small business rights.
In 2013 socioeconomic protests were more frequently combined with demands of a different nature, particularly political (in 13% of socioeconomic protests compared to 9% in 2012). Also, political parties or individual politicians took part in them slightly more frequently (in 23% of protests compared to 19% in 2012). However, the absolute majority of socioeconomic protests (52%) kept taking place with the participation of exclusively informal non-political initiatives and were ignored both by political parties and non-governmental organizations. It’s important to note that after the beginning of Maidan and during the period from November, 21st till December, 31st, 2013, the relative proportion of all socioeconomic protests among all the protests in Ukraine decreased to 10%, which depicts a weakness of the articulation of socioeconomic demands on Maidan.
One of the most important types of socioeconomic protests are workers’ protests, which occurred in record-breaking numbers in 2013. There were 389 protests documented in defense of labor rights (including 40 strikes), which included 8% of all protests during the previous year. The increase of the number of protests in defense of labor happened because of the increase of local actions of workers’ collectives against local problems. Similarly to previous years, the most urgent issues for wage workers in Ukraine remain the issues of unpaid wages (45% of workers’ protests), working conditions (30%), and closing enterprises (19%). These data demonstrate the lack of improvement of the economic conditions of wage workers and the probable decline of their conditions in the future. In 2013, the indifference of virtually all organized street protest actors to labor problems remained unaltered. Only trade unions demonstrated solid activity in workers’ protests (22% of protests) as well as left-wing organizations (17% of protests), and at the same time, in 56% of cases, wage workers had to fight for their rights on their own.
2013 will likely be the last year of mostly peaceful protests in the near future. During the previous year peaceful conventional forms of protest (gatherings, picketing, demonstrations, etc.) were still most common, comprising 75% of all protests. The relative portion of nonviolent but confrontational protests (for example, strikes, streets blocking) remained the same – 18%. The number of violent protests decreased both in absolute and relative parameters (from 10% in 2012 to 7% in 2013). Similarly, the number of events with participation of “groups of uknowns” (“titushkas/thugs”) was not as high as was expected during the last year. They were much more active in the dirty election campaigns during the latest parliamentary elections in 2012. The portion of protests with their participation went down from 10% in 2012 to 4% in 2013. However, the actions of protesters and the government during the Maidan, and, especially during Antimaidan, may radically change the protest repertoire in Ukraine by raising the bar of accepted violence.
The results of last year’s monitoring also indicate that the participation of far right Ukrainian nationalists (21% of all protests) dominates the participation of Russian nationalists (2%) tenfold. Until recently Russian nationalists were a very marginal and local phenomenon and probably would have remained as such without external support and inspiration in the form of the Crimea annexation. The Ukrainian far right nationalists (the all-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda”, for example) have actively and incomparably more successfully interfered with protests movements with the connivance of liberal opposition.
This background of the growing social discontent should be taken into consideration while analyzing the outflow of an unprecedented spike in street confrontations during Maidan and further confrontation in Southeastern oblasts of Ukraine. Maidan partially channeled discontent with the socioeconomic situation by those who were against Yanukovych’s government, while Antimaidan is obviously channeling the discontent of those who don’t expect any improvement in socioeconomic conditions from the actions of the new government. Considering bad economic forecasts for Ukraine, we should not expect a decrease in this wave of protest. Now the main question is whether there will be a political force or social movement which would be able to articulate and foreground socioeconomic demands shared in both the West and the East and unite Ukrainians in the struggle for social justice.
You can find complete results of the research in the “Protests, victories and repressions: monitoring results of 2013” report on the Centre for Society Research website: http://www.cedos.org.ua/uk/protests/protests-repressions-and-concessions-in-ukraine-2013 “ (6)
To date, and to my knowledge, there have been no criticisms of these research efforts, either as to its findings or methodological approach.
What is crystal clear however, is these findings are in sharp contrast to the analysis by the leadership of the FI and in particular, the editors of IV.
The facts point out the following:
Not only was there a workers’ movement existing at the time of the Maidan, it was moving into action in record numbers.
Not only were there massive protests in the South and East prior to and at the time of the Maidan (and afterwards as well), these were demonstrations in which the social demands predominated, unlike the Maidan which, as this research points out:
“It’s important to note that after the beginning of Maidan and during the period from November, 21st till December, 31st, 2013, the relative proportion of all socioeconomic protests among all the protests in Ukraine decreased to 10%, which depicts a weakness of the articulation of socioeconomic demands on Maidan.”
In other words, not only did the Maidan down play the articulation of social demands, it acted as a brake or block on the articulation of these demands by the rest of the mass movement in November and December!
Finally, and in contradistinction to the reactionary narrative pursued by leaders of Socialist Resistance like those of Liam MacUaid, author of “The Russians are the Aggressors”; the editors of International Viewpoint; or neo-Kautskyites like Murray Smith; the role of Russian nationalists in the protests in the Donbass, was negligible (2%) compared with that of the Ukrainian nationalists generally(21%). That is, their role was non-existent until after the overthrow of the Yanukovych government by the bourgeois and petite bourgeois forces of the Maidan, backed by the direct actions of the fascists and ultra-nationalists.
This has changed as a direct resultof the Maidan, and the obvious and well predicted response by the Russian-speaking Ukrainian working class. As the report highlights, and as should be obvious to even the most ardent left Ukrainian nationalist:
“Maidan partially channeled discontent with the socioeconomic situation by those who were against Yanukovych’s government, while Antimaidan is obviously channeling the discontent of those who don’t expect any improvement in socioeconomic conditions from the actions of the new government. “
To put it in plain political terms, the movement to dump Yanukovych was lead by the bourgeois and followed by a petit bourgoisie with dreams of becoming just like the rest of “Europe a la monde”. It had nothing to do with the building of a social Ukraine, as the facts show.
After the Maidan: Is there a Workers’ Resistance Movement
There are those who might challenge the notion of an active and organized working class resistance, after the Maidan. Indeed, the editors of International Viewpoint have printed a number of articles trying to bolster this argument. One such article, by Zbigniew Kowalewski entitled “Russian White Guards in the Donbass” ,starts off with the following assertions:
“There is no revolution in the Donbass, not even a mass movement. They exist only in the propaganda of the supporters of an armed separatist movement, led by far-right nationalists. Imported from Russia, they seek the restoration of the Tsarist Empire. The Kremlin supports this reincarnation of the White Guards and the Black Hundreds who are destabilizing Ukraine; but it seems that it is also afraid of them.”
He then goes on a tear and a rant, attacking the Left generally for not knowing Russian, attacking Russian Marxist Boris Kagarlitsky as a social imperialist, attacking the website www.links.org.au for carrying Kagarlitsky’s views; and then proceeds to carry us into the swamp of the Russian nationalists, ultranationalists, neo-fascist ultranationalists, and others, pointing out the backgrounds and foregrounds of each.
Kowalewski is a good writer, a knowledgeable journalist and translator respected for his work in bring Spanish fiction to the Polish language. Unfortunately, while an entertaining read, his article doesn’t quite meet any kind of research standards as to his thesis, bringing instead pure Ukrainian fiction to English.
Nowhere do we find a shred of empirical evidence produced by Kowalewski as to his assertions. Having participated in the Polish workers’ movements in the 1980’s, Kowalewski should remember that the forms of mass resistance by the proletariat finding its way forward are as varied as they are experimental. He should also perhaps have consulted those who hold the same left nationalist positions on Ukraine, like the editors of l’Anticapitaliste, media organ of the French maybe quasi-Trotskyist organisation, the New Anti-capitalist Party, to check on the accuracy of his assertions.
Here is Jean-Phillipe Dives, author of the article “Ukraine: The Drums of War are Beating in the East of the Country” (l’Hebdo Anticapitalists, 252, 24 /7/2014) proclaiming” (7)
“Dans les deux camps prédomine une idéologie nationaliste, de part et d’autre des réactionnaires ont la main et des fascistes sont actifs. Quant aux populations, elles restent dans leur grande majorité passives face à un affrontement qui les dépassent mais dont elles sont les principales victimes.”
Forgoing the urge to ask comrade Dives what he thinks has been happening in the east of Ukraine for the past four months, here we find the same formula depicting two nationalist entities, both reactionary, fighting it out while a passive population, in its great majority, will be the principal victims of a an attack which is not of their choosing.
There is, of course not two but three nationalisms in this fight. The reactionary nationalism of bourgeois Ukraine, a particularly virulent form which has historical precedents in the armies of the Whites like Denikin and the nationalist army of the Ukraine National republic, and carried around to this day by the admirers of Bandera and the Galicia Division of the SS, is the ideology of the political castes around Tymeshenko and Yukovich.
There is the nationalism of the Great Russian chauvinists, a nationalism which Putin quite readily stokes the fires, but will in the end devour him.
But there is the nationalism of the oppressed Russian speaking working masses, who make up as an ethnic group 17% of the overall population, but who make up less than 3% in the western oblasts, while in Crimea, make up 57% of the population.
The attacks by the government lifted by the Maidan and installed as a provisional organism, until sanctified by the presidential election farce, on the linguistic and cultural rights of the Russian speaking minority, is an integral part of the mass resistance movement, and which provides cover to the activities of the Great Russian nationalists.
But the question remains, is the population passive? Are the workers just sitting there doing nothing while all hell breaks loose about them? Posing the question this way gives the answer. Would you?
Let’s look at the same edition of Hebdo l’Anticapitaliste, number 252, where we find an article entitled:
“Pour un movement social et ouvrier independent! Pour une Ukraine Libre”, originally reproduced in the June edition of the Anticapitalist Revue. In this article we find example after example of documentary evidence taking the exact opposite position of both Kowalewski and Dives.
This article was a declaration of the Ukrainian Left nationalist group, the Left Opposition, whose position is that the working class is the only guarantor of the unity and preservation of what they refer to as “the contemporary Ukrainian state”. However, in order to give their position any credibility in Ukraine, they have to come clean and show the world that yes, there is an active and organised and militant working class movement in Ukraine, and that it is based for the most part in the east of the country. Here are several of the relevant passages in the article:
Les potentialités du mouvement ouvrier
En même temps, il ne fait pas de doute qu’il existe un mouvement ouvrier de masse organisé en Ukraine. Il s’est exprimé à Kryvoï Rog, quand la brigade d’autodéfense des mineurs a empêché l’escalade de la violence dans cette ville lors des tentatives des titushky [des voyous recrutés par les autorités et les patrons, NdT] pour attaquer le Maïdan local. Les travailleurs se sont également exprimés eux-mêmes à Chervonograd, dans la région de Lvov, où ils sont intervenus dans le processus politique et ont de facto nationalisé la centrale électrique locale, qui appartient à l’oligarque Rinat Akhmetov.
Le mouvement ouvrier s’est exprimé avec encore plus de force à Krasnodon, dans la région de Lougansk. Là, au cours d’une grève générale, les mineurs ont pris la ville sous leur contrôle. Il est important de souligner qu’ils ne veulent pas s’allier avec les séparatistes « anti-Maidan » de Lougansk, tout en déclarant qu’ils ne soutiennent pas non plus les dirigeants oligarchiques bourgeois du Maïdan de Kiev. Ils ont leur propre Maïdan à eux, celui des travailleurs armés de mots d’ordres pour la justice sociale et, contrairement au Maïdan de Kiev, ils ont, quant à eux, la sérieuse intention de réaliser ces mots d’ordre.
Ces travailleurs exigent non seulement une augmentation de leurs salaires, mais aussi la fin du recours à la sous-traitance dans les mines. Il ne s’agissait pas ainsi d’une grève pour de seules raisons économiques, mais d’un mouvement qui a soulevé la nécessité d’une solidarité entre les travailleurs des différents secteurs, un mouvement suffisamment puissant pour prendre toute la ville sous son contrôle. Et cela sans violence, sans blessés, ni tués ! La ville a non seulement été prise sans un seul coup de feu, mais aussi sans que personne n’offre la moindre résistance, même partielle.
Naturellement, le mouvement organisé des travailleurs est encore très faible à l’échelle nationale. Les syndicats de classe conscients et vraiment actifs ne sont concentrés que dans quelques centres de l’industrie minière. Mais il est clair cependant que c’est seulement lorsque les travailleurs interviennent vraiment dans une confrontation qu’il devient possible d’éviter de nombreuses victimes et de calmer l’hystérie chauvine. (8)
Firstly, they say that without doubt there is a mass , organised workers’ movement in Ukraine. They point to several examples to prove their point: the miners self-defense force of Kryvoi Rog who prevented the thugs of the local oligarchs from attacking a local Maidan; the workers of Chervonograd who seized and de facto nationalized the electrical plant owned by the oligarch Rinhat Ahkmetov; the general strike at Krasnodon in the Luhansk region, where the mine workers took control of the town and acted as the forces of security, neither aligning with the Maidan of the bourgeois oligarchs nor anti-Maidan , but building a workers’ Maidan where the demands of social justice would be realized, not like that of the Maidan of Kiev.
According to the declaration, these examples show the way forward for a working class not fighting just for its own wage demands, as important as that may be, but also shows the potential for sector and regional co-ordination in the fight against the oligarchs. Certainly a much different picture than the one painted by either Kowalewski or Dives.
Add to this picture of a working class moving actively in its own defense, the interventions at the political level in the massive votes for independence-annexation by the people of Crimea; the massive turnouts for the vote on the autonomists projects of the self-proclaimed “Peoples Republics”, understood by the mass of the population of the oblasts as a political rejection of the pro-EU project of the puppet government of the oligarchs and imperialists in Kiev; the workers’ militia of the Independent Miners Union of Donetsk; the creation at the village level of women’s self-defence forces; the movement of those rejecting the conscription of their sons and daughters, making its appearance in the west and south of Ukraine; the mass desertions by sections of the Ukraine army who refuse to kill other Ukrainians, Russian speaking or not: all this is clearly not the world as depicted by the campists of the Ukrainian state, of a passive mass manipulated by the Russians.
Is This A National Liberation Struggle ?
By denying the existence of a mass resistance movement in South and Eastern Ukraine, the campists of the Ukrainian state attempt to empty the class struggle of its proletarian content, abstracting it as solely a struggle between nationalisms. That nationalists and ultranationalists exist is undeniable. The campists of the Ukrainian state consistently and for reactionary reasons have downplayed the political content of this nationalism, for it leads to the heart of their political position which is the maintenance, not the destruction, of the Ukrainian bourgeois state.
Those in the camp of the Ukrainian state see this struggle not as one of class against class, but of the striving of the Ukrainian people for its national liberation. The statements of both the Fourth International, and of the “Left Opposition” of Ukraine are littered with this notion. For example, in the article of the “Left Opposition” referenced above, written after the murder of 48 people by the ultra-nationalists and fascists of the Right Sector in the Trade Union House in Odessa, we read:
“Les affrontements et le massacre d’Odessa ont mis en évidence les dangers de guerre et de démembrement de l’Ukraine, que seul le développement d’un mouvement ouvrier indépendant peut être en mesure de conjurer1.” (9)
“Ces militants de gauche se sont retrouvés dans le piège du soutien inconditionnel à un mouvement relativement large mais qui, ces derniers temps, s’est presque totalement débarrassé de tout objectif socio-économique pour se transformer en un mouvement nationaliste. A ce moment, pour les protestataires à Odessa, la capacité ou l’incapacité – ou, en dernière instance le droit même – de l’Etat ukrainien à exister a malheureusement pris plus de poids que les droits des travailleurs en Ukraine, quelle que soit leur nationalité.
Au lieu d’élaborer une stratégie visant à éliminer les oligarchies capitalistes du pouvoir en Ukraine et en Russie, on débat actuellement pour savoir si la création d’un Etat ukrainien était un « malentendu » ou « une erreur historique”.
These two excerpts show clearly the political concerns of the Left Ukrainian nationalists: that the brewing civil war will lead to the dismembering of the Ukrainian state, and the derailing of the large workers’ movement.
They however, are not the only ones holding onto this sacred notion of the “modern Ukrainian state”. The Statement on Ukraine of 25 February from the Fourth International is replete with formulations approaching this position.
For example, we read the following declarations:
“We support the popular discontent and aspiration to live freely and decently, in a democratic state and to get rid of an oligarchic and criminal regime, expressed in the so-called Euro Maidan movement and throughout the country – while we are convinced that the EU is unable to satisfy such aspirations, and we say so.”
“Since the end of the Yanukovych regime, the mass movement itself has no progressive programme on democratic, national and social issues and lacks a workers’ movement (independent trade union and political force implanted among the workers) - while being full of hopes for real democratic political and social changes. Whatever the result of the next elections, popular disillusionment will follow. And whatever the agreements with the EU, the new ruling parties will continue social attacks with possible internal confrontation leading to the disintegration of the country.”
That the “mass movement” referred to here (the Maidan) has no progressive program should come as no surprise. The Ukrainian oligarchs and its allies in the petite bourgeois layers have no historically progressive role to play.
And what exactly is the class content of this “democratic state” where Ukrainians can live freely and decently? Surely, a bourgeois democratic state is not being suggested here!
But, where is any reference in this statement that only the creation of a workers’ state, and the destruction of the Ukrainian bourgeois and its corrupt apparatus , the contemporary Ukrainian state, is able to satisfy the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. Of this, not a word.
The reverence for the unity of the Ukrainian state and bourgeois democracy makes its grotesque presence felt in the statement of 6 June, 2014 by the Political Bureau of the FI in a more open form: This resolution was adopted at the meeting of the FI Bureau on 7June 2014.
“The very deep political crisis experienced by the Ukraine since November 2013 is far from being over. In this country, following a very long national oppression (basically Polish and Russian), the process of national formation is incomplete, the nation-state is still fragile. This is all the more the case that the country is taken in hostage between Russian imperialist pressure and that of the Euro-Atlantic powers, and subject to the socially fragmenting impact of neo-liberalism...”
And then, to the guts of the issue:
“7. Sovereignty of Ukraine
The unity of Ukraine requires military neutrality, the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the rejection of anti-social policies.
Only an anti-war and anti-fascist front (Ukrainian and international) against the reactionary forces of every kind, rooted in the peoples, can impose it, against the Russian and Western imperialist diktats, in defence of social and national rights, against violence.
These are the objectives that the progressive forces of Russia and the EU will defend against the IMF and the “free trade” agreements - by recognizing the right of the Ukrainian people to decide on its international links.
The national question is at the centre of political activity in Ukraine. As the Left Opposition put it: “the national and cultural renaissance of the Ukrainian nation and other nations of our country is not possible without the social problems being resolved". In Ukraine, a left that left the national dimension to the nationalists would condemn itself in advance to failure. In the nationalist camp there are already emerging currents that, taking advantage of the marginality of the socialist left, wish to appear in the eyes of workers as an alternative to capitalism.” (10)
I urge all comrades to read this section extremely carefully and extremely critically, for it is not just the heart of the differences between the camps, it is the theoretical heart of the difference between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.
Here the leaders of the Political Bureau define the key problem as the “national question”. Despite the fact that Ukraine has existed as a state since 1917, and as a capitalist state since 1991, the program put forward is not one of organizing the Ukrainian proletariat to defeat the plans of the oligarchs and the imperialists by a revolutionary movement sweeping aside the rickety structures of a weak and corrupt bourgeois state. This “fragile nation-state” is a bourgeois nation-state! And the program of revolutionary Marxism is to smash that type of state and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Mensheviks, later joined by Karl Kautsky, argued that the Russian revolution was a bourgeois democratic one, and that the tasks of the proletariat was to “help” the national bourgeois overthrow the despotic political superstructure and replace it with a modern bourgeois state. Here, the leaders of the FI are calling for the same thing, limiting the program of the working class to one which is reduced to “...recognizing the right of the Ukrainian people to decide on its international links.”
“The Ukrainian people....!” Who are they? Which people are you talking about? The puppet regime of the oligarchs and the imperialists acting through their “modern state”? Those people?
Or the revolutionary proletariat?
A Weak Link: Break It!
In 1938 Trotsky predicted that the revolutionary upsurges would occur in the weakest links in the chain of imperialism: China, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Cuba proved him right. Today, the Ukraine is one of the weakest links in that chain.
Dominated by a weak capitalist class in formation, an oligarchy which enriched itself through the theft of national assets, but with little of the bonds built up by centuries of development which characterize the more mature capitalist classes; a weak state structure rife with corruption, and with a repressive structure damaged by desertions, and not only in the army; with a working class in the process of arming itself against the attacks, both economic and military, of a state acting under the orders of the IMF to pacify the South and the East prior to the granting of the “program”-the loans which kill.
This is the situation from a revolutionary Marxist perspective. While those around the International Viewpoint editorial board argue for military neutrality (and one has to ask of whom, and by whom, for they are ashamed to say it) and the withdrawal of Russian troops, in order to preserve the unity of this “fragile nation-state”, the camp of class struggle calls for the withdrawal of Ukrainian army and the fascist National Guard from the Donbass; the creation of workers’ militias to ensure the peace; the reorganisation of the Donetsk and Luhansk “peoples republics” through direct elections of the officials, with the right of instant recall; the creation of a workers’ and popular assembly to oversee the work of the officials; and an appeal to the workers’ of the rest of Ukraine to help take back the national assets, stolen by the oligarchs,and to rip up the Association Agreement of the EU and IMF.
Furthermore, while they call for the maintenance of the Ukrainian and state and its army, we call for the soldiers to disobey their officers, to refuse to kill fellow Ukrainians. In addition we stand with the families of the conscripts who throughout Ukraine have been physically blocking the conscription process, and appeal to the Ukrainian working class to join this movement.
Let us be crystal clear to those comrades wallowing around in the swamp of Ukrainian nationalism. You are in a vile place. It is as vile as Russian nationalism, as Polish nationalism, as Serbian and Bosnian, as Greek and as Canadian, as Spanish, as French and as British nationalisms.
They call for the revolutionary Marxists of Ukraine to become nationalists:
“In Ukraine, a left that left the national dimension to the nationalists would condemn itself in advance to failure. In the nationalist camp there are already emerging currents that, taking advantage of the marginality of the socialist left, wish to appear in the eyes of workers as an alternative to capitalism.”
On what planet have these comrades been living comrades? Do they think that Ukrainian, or Russian nationalism is something new? The history of this planet has been the struggle between the classes. The struggle between the dominant ideology of the ruling class, and the ideology of the dominated classes. In this epoch of wars, more wars, and some revolutions, the struggle is between the dominant ideology of the capitalist class, which is nationalism, and the ideology of the oppressed class, of the proletariat, which is proletarian internationalism.
So while the campists of Ukrainian nationalism call for the Marxists to become nationalists, that is to adopt the ideology of the dominant class, those in the camp of class struggle call for the workers to reject the ideology of their oppressors.
We stand on the side of the workers of the modern Bosnian and Herzogovian state who some short months ago rose against the corrupt regime of nationalists of all stripes, inscribing on their banner of proletarian internationalism: “Away with All Nationalisms.”
Ukraine is one of the weakest links in the relays of imperialism. Its potential to act as a massive detonator of working class revolt throughout the region is enormous. Its destiny will be decided very soon.
Either the working class arises and arms itself on a multi-national basis, from the Crimea to Moldava, from Odessa to Irkutsk ,and sweeps away the impotent, corrupt and criminal regimes and their imperialist backstops there, or the plans of the oligarchs and imperialists will prevail, first and foremost in Ukraine, in a blood bath aided by a campist, nationalist left whose priority is not the development of the capacity of the working class to overthrow their oppressors and destroy its state, but whose aim is the development of bourgeois democracy and the maintenance of the contemporary bourgeois Ukraine state.
In 1939, in “Problems of the Ukraine”, Trotsky had this to say about the national question and Ukrainian nationalism ( this quote was added as a rejoinder to a comrade who took exception to this article, and immediately quoted Trotsky at me. I would have preferred to let the living speak first, but this is so apropos…)
“The Ukraine is especially rich and experienced in false paths of struggle for national emancipation. Here everything has been tried: the petty-bourgeois Rada, and Skoropadski, and Petlura, and “alliance” with the Hohenzollerns and combinations with the Entente. After all these experiments, only political cadavers can continue to place hope in party one of the fractions of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie as the leader of the national struggle for emancipation. The Ukrainian proletariat alone is capable not only of solving the task – which is revolutionary in its very essence – but also of taking the initiative for its solution. The proletariat and only the proletariat can rally around itself the peasant masses and the genuinely revolutionary national intelligentsia.
At the beginning of the last imperialist war the Ukrainians, Melenevski (“Basok”) and Skoropis-Yeltukhovski, attempted to place the Ukrainian liberation movement under the wing of the Hohenzollern general, Ludendorff. They covered themselves in so doing with left phrases. With one kick the revolutionary Marxists booted these people out. That is how revolutionists must continue to behave in the future. The impending war will create a favorable atmosphere for all sorts of adventurers, miracle-hunters and seekers of the golden fleece. These gentlemen, who especially love to warm their hands in the vicinity of the national question, must not be allowed within artillery range of the labor movement. Not the slightest compromise with imperialism, either fascist or democratic! Not the slightest concession to the Ukrainian nationalists, either clerical-reactionary or liberal-pacifist! No “People’s Fronts”! The complete independence of the proletarian party as the vanguard of the toilers!”
1. Budraitskis, Ilya; “Ukraine’s Protest Movement: Is a Left Sector Possible?, International Viewpoint (hereinafter IV).
2. “Statement on Ukraine”, International Executive Committee, 25 February, 2014, IV
3. MacUaid, Liam; “The Russians Are the Aggressors”, www.socialistresistance.org
4. For the positions of this political organisation on a number of questions, see their website www.borotba.org, and at www.liva.org.ua. Because of their opposition to Maidan, at which several small, anarcho-nationalist groups took part along side the Right Sector as self-defence, some anarchists have labelled Borotba as Stalinist. The anarcho-nationalists are generally the followers of Nestor Makno, leader of the anarchist Black Army which had its base in the western and southern peasantry during the civil war years following the October revolution of 1917. They are fanatical anti-communists.
5. See “.“Maidan December-Maidan March: what has changed?”www.dif.org.ua/en/publications
6. The Center for Society Research receives its funding in part from the US -based National Endowment for Democracy, an organ of the US Department of State. It is one of a number of civil society organisations and NGO’s created to “build democratic capacities”.
7. Found at www.npa2009.org
8. Ibid. The English language version of this article is found at IV.
9. Ibid. The article tries to blame the resistance Left as being partly responsible for the events at the Odessa House of Trade Unions, a position shown to be demonstrably wrong by subsequent video documentary evidence.
10. “Popular Movements and Imperialisms”; statement by the Political Bureau of the FI, as printed at IV.
11. Trotsky, L.D.; “Problems of Ukraine”. Originally printed in Socialist Appeal, 1939. Found at Trotsky Internet Archive. Contrast this strong denunciation of Ukrainian nationalism, with the position of the FI leadership who want the revolutionary Marxists to become Ukrainian nationalists.