Independence Square: a popular revolution, or...?

By Aleksandr Buzgalin

The tent city on Independence Square

The context

Popular enthusiasm or political manipulation and big money?

The lessons of Independence Square


January 2005 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people who came from all over Ukraine to blockade the centre of Kiev have shaken not just this country but the entire world, which has watched the unfolding events with astonishment and alarm. These notes were prepared following a journey to Kiev, where together with comrades from various left organisations and currents in Kiev, our journal held a roundtable seminar on the topic, "Ukraine: Lessons for Russia". The writing was done in a single day, while my impressions were still fresh; I hope the resulting faults of style and structure will be forgiven. Before the seminar took place, I participated in extremely important meetings and discussions with dozens of activists in the tent city on Independence Square.1

The tent city on Independence Square

Kiev greets you with a huge expanse of orange, the colour of the opposition; there are orange scarves and caps, ribbons on bags and sleeves, flags on vehicles (and on the most diverse vehicles, from fashionable SUVs to ancient Zhiguli sedans). Everywhere, small business outlets are selling orange-coloured goods (German and Ukrainian fascist uniforms together with Soviet military dress and cavalry jackets—the mixture made me sick).

Quite by chance, the first person I talked to in the tent city was a thirty-year-old maintenance fitter from the Donetsk Metal-Rolling Combine (on the square I encountered quite a few comrades from Donetsk, supposed to be a region 100 per cent behind Yanukovich, the candidate of the established authorities). When I asked what had brought him to the square, this worker replied, "We don't trust the old pack of thieves, who openly lied to us. We want real changes, a human existence, reasonable wages. And an end to the appalling poverty there's so much of in Ukraine." When I enquired whether Yushchenko might trick them, the reply was straight to the point: "If he tries to fool us, we'll come back to the square."

Next came a detailed discussion with a business entrepreneur who had spent many days in the tent city. He expressed a view that many were later to repeat: "We didn't come here to get anything in particular. We came here to be able to live like human beings, to be able to choose the president we want, not the one the authorities impose on us. We're sick of living by the dictates of a regime intertwined with criminal gangs."

Several young men and women joined in the conversation and related two curious tales. The first concerned the seventy-year-old grandfather Zinovich, who had come from the village of Morozovka with instructions from his fellow villagers not to leave the square until victory had been won. The old man was so passionate that every time violence or confrontations threatened, the activists had almost forcefully to put him in the rear ranks. Five minutes later I met the hero of the second story, an attractive young woman from Donetsk province who described herself as a housewife. She had met her destiny on the square, she said, getting married to one of the participants in the resistance.

Then there were conversations with students from Kiev and Chernigov, with unemployed people from Vinnitsa, and with a number of prosperous-looking men who worked in marketing and computer technology. Practically all of them voiced the same thought: "We want an honest government that expresses our interests." Most of them trusted Yushchenko and held out hopes in him, but the comments of some were much more harsh: "The square has woken people up. We don't believe any more in a `good tsar', and we'll do for ourselves what we think is needed. If Yushchenko won't do what we want, we'll get rid of him too!"

Different people—and different views. Most of those I talked to did not hold to any clear political or socioeconomic positions. Most wanted at the same time to have honest business and definite guarantees of social welfare. As a rule, these people could not formulate their views clearly on what they wanted the future of Ukraine to be like, but they were quite clear and unanimous in wanting a government that was honest and under popular control. Meanwhile, most of them had confidence in Yushchenko. Some understood that behind Yushchenko there were also oligarchs ("And how could he do without them?" was a typical attitude), but did not see this as the main thing. Virtually all of them felt a stake in what was happening in their country.

All of them smiled wearily when asked whether anyone was paying them; they had obviously grown tired of answering "No!" to the queries of curious onlookers. Most of the people on the square were tired, cold, suffering from lack of sleep and not well clad, but they were full of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, standing about next to the tent city were numerous unkempt-looking young people with orange armbands.

Such was the tent city. This was not the square—it was the people who had come to say a serious, heartfelt "No" to the regime. On the square were many people, including those who had simply come to charge themselves with energy, to dance (concerts and discotheques were constantly under way, alternating with the meetings) and to socialise with one another.

Outward impressions can of course be deceptive, but they nevertheless convey the mood and tone of events. This tone was optimistic: enthusiasm and a carnival atmosphere in both the everyday and scholarly senses (I was reminded of the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin's interpretation of the medieval carnival as an elemental festival-protest of the "low" against the "high").

As for the analysis of events—this was the business of the round-table seminar I mentioned earlier. More than fifty people took part, from solid-looking professors of political science and leaders of various left parties to young activists from the square. In the course of the discussion, three basic views of the December events were put forward:

1. A revolt by citizens against the bureaucratic-criminal regime, a popular democratic revolution—if not socio-economic in character, then at least political. This view was put forward by young activists of the Socialist Party who were living and working constantly on the square.

2. A redivision of power between oligarchic clans, with opposition oligarchs deciding to make use of the discontent of the population for their own ends, and for this purpose applying the techniques of modern political campaigning. Espousing this view were several leftwing professors of political science and activists of the Communist Party of Ukraine.

3. A conflict between Ukraine's pro-US west, supported by money and experts from the European Union and the US, and the pro-Russian east, traditionally linked to Russia by economic and cultural bonds both before and during Soviet times. This was the line put forward by representatives of the Russophile intelligentsia and a section of the Stalinist-Communists.

So who was right? Let us begin with a brief overview of the situation in Ukraine on the eve of the elections (since I am not a specialist in this field, I will rely on information provided by colleagues, especially Professor V.V. Kizima. For the views and conclusions that follow, however, I take exclusive responsibility.)

The context

What was the socioeconomic and politicocultural situation in Ukraine on the eve of the presidential elections?

As a result of the so-called market reforms and privatisation (as in other countries of the former Soviet Union), a highly peculiar social and economic system has come into being. At its centre are clan-corporate groups, each of which consists of a complex, informally linked totality of several (in some cases, several dozen) privatised enterprises and financial institutions, along with the lobbying structures that represent them in the organs of state power. Within these clans the channels of authority are as a rule informal (involving semi-legal financial and personnel control, corruption, criminal-mafioso ties and so forth), but very strong.

Because of the intermingling that has occurred between the top levels of the clans, state officials (both in Kiev and at the local level) and criminal gangs, an oligarchic-bureaucratic system has arisen. This system is dominated by informal institutions, operating not according to the law, but according to "understandings" reached between the authorities and the oligarchs with help from criminal elements. Virtually all the participants in the tent city with whom I met stressed that they came to the square to protest against this model of criminal-bureaucratic power.

This system gradually began imposing the power of the oligarchic-bureaucratic clans on all the main social structures of society: from workers and the rank-and-file intelligentsia to the small and middle bourgeoisie. For these and others, life in reality has depended on the whims of the authorities and the oligarchs, who have paid or neglected to pay workers their wages, persecuted activists in protest movements, determined the scale of the bribes and protection money extracted from business entrepreneurs and in some cases (I was told this by a former student of Moscow State University who now lives in Donetsk and who came to the square) even held auctions in which tertiary students were sold marks for their courses. Naturally, the most influential clans have been those which became intertwined with the former executive power (that is, with President Kuchma and Prime Minister Yanukovich), and which in regional terms have been centred on the southeast and Kiev.

In Ukraine as in Russia, opposition clans could not fail to arise. As most of the activists on the square understood, several of these opposition clans directly supported Yushchenko's election campaign and most likely financed it. To a degree, but by no means completely, these groups are linked to the economy of the western regions.

Alongside the clan-corporate groups, the social and class structure in Ukraine (as in other parts of the former Soviet Union) includes strata of small and middle bourgeois (primarily in the commercial sphere), along with a narrow but active layer of "professionals". The latter are "advanced" employees of large commercial structures, owning computers (which is far from usual in Ukraine), and with a command of the English and Ukrainian languages, something not possessed by everyone in Ukraine either. The professionals have qualifications in economics, law or computer science, and their salaries are high by Ukrainian standards.

The layer of the intelligentsia, as in every other country of the former Soviet Union, is extremely diverse. In most cases the members of the "rank-and-file" intelligentsia, consisting of teachers, doctors, engineers and so forth, are very poor; for both economic and cultural reasons, these people are hostile to the power of the bureaucracy and the associated clans. As well as the rank-and-file intelligentsia, there is also a layer of "elite" intelligentsia, which to a significant degree has become intermingled with the authorities, but which is ready at any moment to abandon the regime and to rush over to a new feed-trough. Meanwhile, Ukraine has seen the gradual rise of a pro-Western intelligentsia current, which has emerged in part as a result of sincere sympathy for the democratic forms of government in Europe (democratic, that is, compared to the regimes of Kuchma and Putin), and in part due to relatively prosperous lives resulting from US and western European grants, fellowships and so on. This section of the intelligentsia is to a marked degree Ukrainian-speaking.

The working class is also highly differentiated, depending on the type of enterprise. More importantly, it is still a long way off emerging from the semi-feudal, semi-criminal entanglements of extra-economic coercion and paternalist survivals; it has not become fully aware of the contradictions between its interests and the interests of its bosses (one of the lines of argument which still prevails involves joint action by management and workers to save "our" crisis-ridden enterprise—an enterprise which long ago became completely alien so far as the workers are concerned). It appears that Ukrainian workers have not yet been transformed completely into a class of hired workers even objectively; they are wedded to their places of residence and to their dachas, displaying a post-Soviet attachment to "their" factories. It is this that accounts for the weakness of the workers' class consciousness.

Then there is the macroeconomic dynamic. In the last few years, the economy has begun a gradual climb out of the appalling depression to which "liberal" reforms had consigned it (this depression featured a decline of more than 50 per cent in GDP, an even greater fall in industrial output, a drop of more than 40 per cent in the incomes of most of the population and the formation of a massive layer of impoverished and lumpen elements. The economic recovery began above all in those sectors of industry directly tied to Russia; the improvement in these sectors was partly a reflection of Russian economic growth, almost half of which was in turn due to high energy prices.

In regional terms, most of the growth of industry has taken place in the south and east (the Donbass), with their metallurgy and other resourceintensive sectors. In the centre and west, the only real competition has come from a few enterprises, notably in the field of mobile telephone communications; the reviving military-industrial complex of central Ukraine has made only an insignificant contribution. Not by chance, the beginning of economic growth has coincided with a powerful influx of Russian capital; again, this influx has been uneven, with various Russian oligarchic groups linked to particular Ukrainian clans.

Apart from Yanukovich (representing the party of the authorities, with its centrist bourgeois program and underlying clanbureaucratic character) and Yushchenko (heading a moderately liberal, pro-Western political current with strong democratic rhetoric reminiscent of the Russian "democrats" of the early 1990s), the disposition of political forces in Ukraine also includes right-wing nationalists and even open neo-fascists (mainly in western Ukraine), rightwing populists (Timoshenko) and also a left and left-centrist opposition of various stripes. As well as social democrats (some of them supporting the regime, others oriented toward Yushchenko), this left opposition includes socialists (with their leader Moroz) and various communist organisations. Of the latter, the largest is the Communist Party of Ukraine, with a parliamentary fraction and strong regional structures.

During the December conflict the socialists, consisting mainly of Ukrainian-speaking members of the intelligentsia, threw their support behind Yushchenko. They justified this on the basis of the need to fight for democracy against the oligarchic-bureaucratic regime. On the whole, the Socialist Party of Ukraine is now reminiscent of the Western European social democrats of the first half of the twentieth century. The Communist Party of Ukraine took a position of "a plague on both your houses", while a number of Stalinist groups came out (with massive reservations) in favour of Yanukovich.

The small number of Trotskyist and anarchist organisations and the independent democratic-left intelligentsia (standing to the left of the social democrats) generally made very little impact. On the whole, they supported the democratic slogans of the square, without giving their backing to Yushchenko.

All of the above-noted contradictions of Ukraine's socio-economic life are markedly complicated by the struggle between the West (with certain differences between the US, pursuing an actively expansionist geopolitical course, and western Europe, with a more moderate position) and Russia for influence on Ukraine.

The West promises Ukraine a road into NATO and the European Union, with all the consequent opportunities for "joining civilisation", and also promises economic aid. Western Ukraine, the Ukrainian-speaking intelligentsia and significant elements of small and middle business clearly support this orientation, along with some of the clans, though not the strongest ones. An additional "ace" for supporters of this line has been the weakening of Russia's cultural influence as a result of both objective causes and the diminished attractiveness of the Russian model of development (both in its criminal-oligarchic guise and, more recently, in its increasingly bureaucratic one). Finally, a certain number of Ukrainians retain a fear, encouraged by the opposition and the West, of Russian expansionism and the loss of Ukrainian independence if the pro-Russian line prevails. Yushchenko is seen as leading the cause of rapprochement with the West and as a guarantee against these dangers.

Russia provides deliveries of cheap oil and gas and also orders for an important part of the industrial production of Ukraine's southeast. In addition, the overwhelming majority of the population of the eastern regions and the south (about half of Ukraine's citizens) are Russian-speakers, and are tired of the subordinate position held by the Russian language and culture in Ukraine. Outwardly, Yanukovich in the election campaign appeared as a supporter of closer relations with Russia and of the defence of the rights of the Russian-speaking population. Often, these people do not believe Yushchenko's promises to preserve their rights and are afraid of suffering the fate of the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic countries, where the civil rights of Russian-speakers have been severely limited.

This, in short, is the context behind the December events, when Ukraine faced a situation in which approximately equal numbers voted for Yanukovich and Yushchenko. Yanukovich, the current prime minister and candidate of the authorities, was supported by overwhelming majorities in southeastern Ukraine and also by Russia, in the persons both of President Putin and of Communist Party leader Zyuganov. Yushchenko, who little more than five years ago also held high posts in the government, drew support from Ukraine's western provinces, as well as from the European Union, the US, and Poland.

Popular enthusiasm or political manipulation and big money?

In this setting, a vast political crisis erupted when the opposition (Yushchenko) refused to accept the results of the second round. According to the official figures, Yanukovich had won with a margin of 3 per cent of the votes. Claiming that the elections had been rigged, the opposition called on people to come into the streets of Kiev and above all to gather in the city centre—that is, on Independence Square. So began the most powerful act of mass civil disobedience in the history of the former Soviet Union, lasting more than two weeks. Some 1.5 to 2 million people were involved, coming from every province (mainly, of course, from the western regions), from cities, towns and even villages.

The purpose of this article is not to provide a detailed description of all the events that took place during this standoff, or an analysis of all the political and ideological conflicts that occurred at the elite level. I would like to address two main questions: who came to the square and why? The answer to these questions contains the key to resolving the main issue: just what did this represent?

Let's start with the facts.

Among these facts is that pro-Yushchenko political forces took part directly in organising the demonstrations, bringing with them an arsenal that included considerable sums of money, a professional apparatus, skilled political campaign specialists, public relations experts, journalists and so forth. Virtually all analysts, including highly qualified professionals who took part in the round-table seminar organised by our journal, stressed the high level of professional organisation of all the opposition protests during these two weeks. This was evident in the choice of speakers, the press work, the image of the main leaders, the organisation of concerts, the setting up of the tent city and the transport and accommodation of participants from other regions.

Undoubtedly, these forces were supported by a number of oligarchs (and also members of the middle bourgeoisie) who had actively financed Yushchenko's election campaign and who evidently helped fund the action on the square.

It is just as obvious that not only were the sympathies of the West on the side of Yushchenko, but that the West also provided direct media assistance and political help, including constant representation by Western emissaries. Sections of the Western media also carried reports of financial support.

There is, however, another side to the coin. Professional political scientists are all aware that no public relations apparatus and no political campaign experts are able to bring such masses of people onto the streets. Nor can they force these people to spend long hours in the cold over a two-week period, and to do all this with sincere enthusiasm.

As a digression, I will note that the Russian "democrats" in the Union of Right-Wing Forces and Yabloko have patrons in the West who are no less active; that not only oligarchs, but also much broader layers of the bourgeoisie give these parties their backing; that world-class political experts and journalists work in their organisations, and ... and nothing.

The square came to represent a socio-economic shift far more massive and profound than a mere protest action carried out in support of an opposition candidate by clans outside the ruling group.

In my view, the nature of these events can be revealed only through the analysis of a contradiction in the position of the masses, a contradiction that is painful for our countries.

On the one hand, most of the workers and a section of the petty and even middle bourgeoisie, after being oppressed and robbed by the oligarchic-bureaucratic authorities, are now tired of living on promises and have an objective interest in smashing this type of capitalism. Moreover, and even while lacking a clearly thoughtout, positive program of even a bourgeois-democratic type, they are subjectively ready to participate in changing the state of affairs.

On the other hand, these oppressed layers are incapable of carrying out such actions independently. They lack confidence in their strength and are without structures of self-organisation that they can see in practice are sufficiently strong, honest and un-self-interested for the masses, with their help, to have a real chance of victory. (Why the masses lack these structures is a different though fundamentally important question, which the author has already addressed in other works.)

This painful contradiction means that in Russia the masses for the most part grumble vaguely, with no opportunity to realise their potential for protest (although the strikes and occupations carried out by labour collectives in Russia in the years from 1998 to 2001 showed that this potential exists.2)

In Ukraine a different situation has arisen. The contradictions between two rival ruling groups of approximately equal strength have sharpened dramatically (the temporary oppositional stance of Yushchenko, who only a short time ago was one of the leaders of the regime, should not fool anyone). Meanwhile, the conflict between two geopolitical forces of more or less equal weight (the West and Russia) has correspondingly grown more acute. In this situation, an objective chance has appeared for the masses to take their own independent action. At the point where the opposition decided to turn to the people, the people came to believe (in many cases this was on the level of "social instinct") that their time had come—that they were capable of exercising real power. They came to believe that they could smash the power of the oligarchs, bureaucrats and criminals, if not carrying out a popular-democratic political revolution, then at least forcing the government which they raised to power to carry out radical democratic reforms.

As a minor digression, I would note that the events on the square were dialectical in their form as well. They bore certain features of political revolution (though not of social revolution: no-one was threatening a change of system). The legitimacy of the existing system had been shattered by a sort of "extra-legal" outburst. The force carrying out the changes was of a truly massive character. Also present were demands for a radical change in the model of political power, and an atmosphere of the "festival of the oppressed" (more could be written on this in particular). Meanwhile, in terms of their results and objective content, the December events will most likely be remembered as precipitating a number of political reforms.

The people who went to the square (and here is another painful paradox) went there initially because they believed, not in their own strength, but in the strength and potential of Yushchenko and his backers. Some of the demonstrators understood that he could betray them, and some did not. It was only after two weeks on the square that many of the protesters (but not, it seems, the majority) came to believe in their own strength, and like some of the heroes of my interviews, were able to say: if Yushchenko does not fulfil our wishes, we'll come back to the square.

Will they come? Will we come?

So far there is no answer, since the main question remains unresolved: what will be the real result of these popular actions, who will ultimately come to power, and will the people who came onto the streets obtain what they were ready to fight for, and fought for, on the square?

There is no need to be a prophet in order to predict that if Yushchenko and Company come to power, they will quickly betray the interests of those who propelled them to office. More than likely, the outcome of the mass actions will consist of limited bourgeois-democratic reforms (these have already begun with the adoption of a package of laws transforming Ukraine from a presidential to a parliamentary republic) and a redistribution of power among the clans. Why? Because the citizens who came out onto the streets and squares did not create their own effective forms of self-organisation, while the political and social organisations that were supposed to defend the interests of the workers behaved extremely passively during these events. Exceptions included a number of activists, mainly young, from the Socialist Party and several other organisations; most, however, took the half-squeamish view that these were not their supporters and there was nothing there for them to do.

Independence Square, however, gave a great deal to the Ukrainian people, and to us all. What, precisely? I will not be hasty in trying to answer this. First let us see who it was that came to the square, and with what aims.

Despite being a Marxist, I seemingly forgot earlier about the methodology of social and class analysis, and as a rule used the abstract terms "people", "citizens" and "masses"; these categories were used almost as synonyms, even though they are not identical. However, I had serious reasons for this "forgetfulness". Almost all the social groupings in post-Soviet countries have an objective interest in anti-oligarchic movements, whether of a revolutionary or reformist character. The exceptions are the authorities, the oligarchs in collusion with them and supporters of these oligarchs, layers of the petty bourgeoisie who have been incorporated into the oligarchic structures, criminals and lumpen elements fostered by the regime and the oligarchs. To a degree, the oligarchs may also draw support from managers and hired workers of privileged enterprises associated with the ruling clans.

All the rest—no. Hired workers, the rank-and-file intelligentsia, the majority of professionals and the small and even middle bourgeoisie in our countries have a far greater objective interest in a democratic bourgeois system than in a semi-feudal oligarchic model of peripheral capitalism. The former provides the bourgeoisie and the layers serving it with great opportunities for enrichment amid guarantees of stability, order and property rights. Democracy in general (and freedom of speech in particular) is vital to the existence and functioning of the intelligentsia. For the working class, breaking the power of the oligarchs opens up possibilities for self-organisation and for using democratic methods to engage in legal struggle for better pay and working conditions, social welfare and so on—that is, for the goals traditionally advanced by leftists as a minimum program and by social democrats and labourists as their maximum program.

My observations, along with analysis based on dialogue with Ukrainian colleagues, and also arguments that will follow, lead me to conclude that the force which lent its specific aims to this struggle and which provided the political leadership on the square was the small and middle national bourgeoisie (its national character explains its somewhat anti-Russian cast). Also making a contribution were layers with similar basic interests, notably professionals and the more prosperous intelligentsia.

At the same time, the most active, enthusiastic and hard-working fighters for the victory on the square were the rank and file intelligentsia, young people (above all students) and workers. It is on their shoulders, through their sweat and energy, that the bourgeois and "opposition" elements in Ukraine are coming to power, sidelining (but not definitively defeating) the old oligarchic-bureaucratic regime.

Why? Above all because in the concrete circumstances of the post-Soviet countries, the class of hired workers and the rank-and-file intelligentsia (as has been stressed above) lag considerably in the formation of their consciousness and lack developed, active forms of political representation (this is not even to speak of modern forms of network self-organisation). Unlike the workers and rank-and-file intelligentsia, the bourgeoisie and the layers joined to it in their objective interests have proceeded much further in developing a consciousness of their interests and self-organisation. In Leninist terms, the Ukrainian bourgeoisie is actively transforming itself into a "class for itself", unlike the workers, who for the present remain principally a "class in themselves".

At the same time, the bourgeois strata have never been and will never be a sufficient force in themselves for the carrying out of mass actions. They transfer the main burden of popular struggle to the "lower orders". This is what determined the disposition of forces that became a reality on Independence Square.

Once again I will stress that the main winners from the mass actions on the square will be other oligarchs and powerful elites, together with various elements of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie. The intelligentsia and workers will at best receive a certain expansion of their general democratic freedoms.

The rank and file activists of the square, however, have also acquired something far greater—a priceless experience of real self-organisation and political struggle, an experience showing that they are a force able in principle to defeat the authorities and to change the social system.

To sum up, this is why we can say that Independence Square was not just a massive democratic act of civil disobedience. It became the prototype of peaceful popular-democratic (anti-oligarchic) revolution that is so necessary to the Ukrainian people.

Now to a problem which must not be ignored in our analysis: if the events on the square corresponded to the interests of almost all strata of Ukrainian society, why did these actions receive so little support in eastern Ukraine, where the majority of the population (even if possible vote-rigging is taken into account) voted against Yushchenko?

To answer this vital question, one needs first of all to remember what the consciousness of most workers in our countries is like. Earlier, I pointed to one of the most important of these traits, not yet examined in our analysis of the Ukrainian events—passivity and habituation to paternalist tutelage from the authorities (starting with enterprise management and the mayor, and extending to the president). This feature of post-Soviet social being has also been one of the most important reasons for the votes received by the authorities. If the reader keeps in mind that under Kuchma (and under Yanukovich as his prime minister) economic growth has taken place in Ukraine in recent years and incomes have risen, and that not long before the elections pensions and several other social benefits were increased, it will be clear why the candidate from the regime received the support of significant numbers of Ukrainians.

Secondly, we should recall the geopolitical and sociocultural aspects of the Ukrainian crisis, analysed earlier. The questions of the Russian language, of Russian culture and of friendship for Russians are of fundamental importance for a significant proportion (about half) of Ukrainians, especially the population of the eastern regions. Partly as a result of Yushchenko's pro-Western orientation, and partly because of an active propaganda campaign mounted by the authorities and by Yanukovich as their candidate, the section of the Russian population that is Russian-speaking and is oriented to Russia rather than to the West was genuinely afraid that the rise to power of Yushchenko and his associates would cause them real problems.

These fears have a certain basis. Large numbers of residents of the eastern regions are bound quite tightly to Russia in economic terms; they make frequent trips to earn money in Russia, work in enterprises that depend on Russian orders for their products and so on. It is highly doubtful that Yushchenko will give Russian the status of a second state language (more likely, the role of the Russian language and culture will diminish, with English increasingly taking over as the second language in schools and at work). Among Yushchenko's supporters, including those who were on the square, there are more than a few Ukrainian nationalists, and in western Ukraine Yushchenko was supported even by semi-fascist organisations, from which the opposition did not decisively distance itself. This could not help but repel large numbers of people, including genuine democrats who loathe nationalism and fascism no less than they detest oligarchs. It is not hard to add to this list.

Meanwhile there is a question, at first glance obvious, that presents itself to any supporter of social liberation and democracy, including this writer: why could the supporters of anti-oligarchic change on both sides not unite on the basis of a common democratic platform and begin a struggle against both sets of oligarchs and bureaucrats, the pro-Western and the pro-Russian? I have already indicated why I think this is: because the workers have been unable (yet?) to act within the context of the present crisis as an independent socio-political force. In many ways, they have acted to implement an alien will; only in part have they become independent agents of social change.

As a small digression, I would note that the Communist Party of Ukraine and a number of small left groups acted quite logically in denouncing both candidates. The left, however, should have gone all out in aiding the work on the square, lending its support not to Yushchenko but to the real actions of the citizens there, and explaining to them how and why Yushchenko would most likely sell them out if they were not independent in their activism. By doing this, the activists of the left, working from below in the thick of the civil resistance, could have earned considerable authority (and earned it in the real sense, through hard, genuine work, helping people to struggle for their interests through all available methods, from the organising of the tent city to the producing of leaflets, agitating not for Yushchenko but for the square).

Third and finally, the support for Yanukovich was created in an artificial manner; most of Ukraine's mass media outlets and political experts (with help from Russia) were thrown along with vast sums of money into a propaganda campaign on behalf of the candidate of the authorities (the score between Yanukovich and Yushchenko in terms of political experts and public relations specialists, and also of their financial backers, was roughly equal).

Now, let us draw a few conclusions.

The lessons of Independence Square

It is obviously too soon to define the character and draw definitive conclusions about the nature of the events in Ukraine. However, certain "lessons" (let us acknowledge that the very idea of extracting lessons on the basis of a preliminary analysis has a thoroughly conditional character) can be extracted.

Here is the first lesson. Mass acts of civil disobedience, arousing the real enthusiasm of the people, powerful, embracing at least half the country, possessing certain traits of political revolution and aimed at the smashing of oligarchic-bureaucratic power, are possible in the post-Soviet context.

Second lesson. The class consciousness and organisation of various layers of the national bourgeoisie in our countries are developing faster than those of the working class, and in terms of their class content, the mass actions of citizens have been exclusively bourgeois. As a result, their democratic nature is not consistent enough. There are objective and subjective reasons for this (the weakness, inertia and patriarchal character of most of the left parties), but so long as the rank-and-file intelligentsia and the workers (the class of hired workers) remain weak, the medium and small bourgeoisie will always lose out to the oligarchs, and ultimately, consistent democratic reforms (even bourgeois-democratic ones) will not be implemented. This will require unity between hired workers and other strata on the basis of combining the struggle of the left (within the framework of a minimum program) and the left-centre (for them, this will represent a maximum program) in the struggle for a consistently democratic and socially oriented system.

Lesson three. For mass action by citizens against the authorities to take place, a crisis of the regime itself is needed, along with the presence of a powerful alternative force able to arouse and support civic action (and in part, to organise it as well). But unless this force is consistently democratic, unless it rests on the self-organisation of the oppressed layers of the population, the action of the masses will ultimately be used by a different ("opposition") layer of the same elite. Meanwhile, any abandonment of common democratic slogans, or the incompleteness of these demands, will bring about a dramatic weakening of the movement (note, for example, how the presence of nationalists among Yushchenko's supporters repelled an important section of the Russian-speaking population). Any genuine mass action, however, will yield invaluable experience of self-organisation, showing that citizens are capable of solidarity, social enthusiasm, and the independent forging of history.

One last thing. Independence Square, for all its painful contradictions (and they constitute the very essence of these events), was a festival of the Ukrainian people and of all its friends. Whatever happens now, this experience will not vanish without trace.

[Aleksandr Buzgalin is a professor and chief editor of the Moscow social and political journal Alternativy.]


1. Independence Square is the central plaza in Kiev, and it was on this space that the main opposition demonstrations took place. The tent city was situated on the Kreshchatik, a central street that directly adjoins the square. In Ukraine in the first week of December the very word "square" (maydan) became a symbol of popular resistance.

2. An analysis of these actions is provided in L. Bulavka, Nonkonformizm. Sotsiokul'turnyy portret protestnogo dvizheniya v Rossii, Moscow, 2003.