Return to Recent Articles menu
The significance of the Ukrainian crisis
6 March 2014
The great revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky once remarked that individual workers might not be interested in the distant war, but the war was most definitely interested in them.
And that is the immediate significance of the Ukrainian crisis. The drumbeat of war has rung louder and louder over recent decades. Now yet again, it is on the frontier of Europe, with contending powers having access to nuclear weapons. It is clear that no-one intends that the crisis escalate into a full-blown conflict, but there is enormous instability in the situation.
At the moment the working class is on the sidelines and largely helpless. A clear socialist analysis would be a first step towards a defence.
In the background is another issue. Only a tiny minority refuse to see the Euromaidan demonstrations, at least initially, as consistent with the range of mobilizations, exemplified by the Arab spring, which have swept around the world. It is also clear that, as with other mobilizations, initial surprise has been followed by successful counter-attack. The annexation of Crimea on the one hand and the influence of the far right and the intervention of the International Monetary Fund on the other are major barriers to the mobilization of the workers.
It possible to overcome the counter-revolutionary forces that arise within and without these mobilizations? Can they be transformed into mechanisms through which the working class can take power?
Socialist Democracy is discussing these questions and will publish the results of our discussion. In the meantime we present the following resources:
eyewitness account from a socialist
An interview conducted with Denis Pilash, of the socialist organisation Left Opposition in Ukraine, for SYRIZA, Greece.
The European Union has started a game that it is not able to finish. It (EU) couldn't predict the reaction of Moscow?
People of Ukraine are trapped between Western and Russian imperialism but Ukrainian elite is itself an enough cynical player at this chessboard. And I’m not sure whether the EU started this game on its own. The ousted president Yanukovich, just as president Kuchma a decade ago, hesitated between pro-Western and pro-Russian orientation, but generally was convenient to both sides (for instance, his legacy includes endorsing Shell for eco-dangerous shale gas drilling in Ukraine). His Party of Regions went on elections with slogans oriented on pro-Russian electorate, but in 2013 his government switched to an official campaign in favour of the free trade / association agreement with the EU (). While finances and debt were deteriorating, Ukraine found itself under pressure of both IMF and Kremlin. Its leadership (Yanukovich and prime minister Azarov) canceled the prepared signing of the EU agreement hoping to get money from Russia.
This is the point when the so-called ‘Euro-Maidan’ protests started. Two decades of brainwashing about the ‘paradise in the EU’ created in many clusters of Ukrainian society an idealized view of European integration as a solution to all problems (but some support it from a quite pragmatic point – huge amount of unemployed Ukrainians work in the EU). It was paradoxical how protestors, many of whom were driven by rage caused by social injustice and economic inequality, manifested under EU banners while throughout the EU people protesting for similar reasons burn these flags! However, it seemed like the Euro-Maidan would decline and disseminate on its own until the government showed itself foolish enough to disperse it with brutal force thus shifting the main message of anti-government protests from enthusiasm for EU association to condemnation of police violence and Yanukovich’s arbitrary rule. So this stage of protests was apparently less ‘pro-EU’ though different political actors from EU (be it Rebecca Harms, Carl Bildt, or Baroness Ashton) tried to intervene and use the situation to push their own interests. Vut However, there wasn’t some steady ‘EU plan’ behind the events, and their proposals were rather moderate compared with the final outcome. And since the protests turned to violent clashes with riot police after the adoption of repressive 16 January laws limiting freedom of speech and protest then, events in Ukraine were surely out of control of EU, Russia, US, or any other. Russian TV channels can be full of commentaries from Western fascists and conspiracy theorists (from Marine Le Pen to Lindon LaRouche) claiming contrary but people on Maidan weren’t mobilized and controlled by the EU.
As to the reaction of Moscow, it wasn’t predictable at all. A transparent approach from Russia would require joining its European counterparts, Ukrainian government, opposition and civil society in early tackling the crisis at round tables; instead Moscow chose to broker behind-the-scenes agreements with unclear provisions.
Even if the EU was able to “play stronger,” it seems to be trapped between its geopolitical and economic interests? (= because of its economic relations with Russia, the EU is not willing to oppose harder to Putin)
Exactly. The reason why the EU (especially its main powers, Germany and France) is delaying the moment to impose economic sanctions is because they will affect its economic ties with Russia. Russia may be not the main trade partner but it’s important in supplying gas and oil. Ironically, it’s precisely Gazprom that makes the most obvious gains in Crimea – it’s going to privatize the local petroleum resources.
How does Washington see its role in Ukraine (and the region in general) at this moment? What are the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats (concerning the US policy towards Ukraine)?
Being a staunch opponent of the US foreign policy, especially of their intervention to Latin American affairs, I have to notice that Washington didn’t play any important role in Ukrainian regime change, contrary to widespread cliché.
Obama and Kerry seem to combine seeking for diplomatic resolution with play on oil prices and other economic parameters sensitive to Russia. I’d attribute this not only to less aggressive politics of Democratic administration but also to the crisis of the US global hegemony. In the 2008 Russian offensive, Republicans were unable to effectively back their Georgian clients, so Democrats try to be less belligerent in their speeches but more clever in actions. Ultimately, the main points of the 2 parties are pretty the same. Lots of observers, in Ukraine and abroad, spoke extensively on John McCain visit to Maidan in December; however, few noticed that the old Republican warmonger was, in full accord, accompanied by another US senator - Chris Murphy - who is considered one of the most liberal Democrats. In more general approach towards the region, that Republicans are eager to rely exclusively at pro-American East European governments to counterweight both Russia and Germany/France while Democrats agree at more complex solutions satisfying interests of multiply powers. Therefore during ongoing crisis even Brzezinski, the hawkish advisor to Democrats, warned Ukrainians from joining NATO and proposed Finland-style neutrality instead. I’m afraid, however, that new Ukrainian establishment facing Russian military threat will intensively pull Ukraine towards NATO membership. So it’s an important task for anti-war activists to prevent Ukraine’s submission to any military bloc.
How important for Russia are Crimea and eastern Ukraine? How far do you believe that Putin will go?
Putin is quite hypocritical when claims Russian troops in Crimea are defending Russian-speakers, compatriots etc. It’s an open intervention, and a very adventurous one. Yes, Ukrainian ultranationalists’ activity and failures of new Kyiv leadership (like revoking the almost nonfunctional bill on regional languages – but not ‘banning Russian’ as is reported in pro-Kremlin sources) contributed to counter-protests in the (Russian-speaking) Southern and Eastern Ukraine.
But the formal pretext of Russian invasion was forged and it’s a clear violation of international law. I support the right of self-determination but I can’t support a referendum carried out in a rush and at the point of bayonets.
Previously, many saw a war between Russians and Ukrainians less possible than, say, US and Canada. We used to be fraternal peoples but these actions seriously raise the menace of a war. In my opinion, the unanimous voting in the Federation Council providing President Putin the right to deploy Russian forces in Ukraine, was the major step towards this disaster. What’s even worse, nobody can predict how far the situation will deteriorate; violent clashes between Russia’s supporters and opponents occur in eastern regions of Ukraine.
On the other hand, interests of Russia’s ruling class correspond with a relatively smooth capture of Crimea (with its Russian community and Sevastopol naval base) not a full-scale war for eastern Ukraine. Industrial cities of Kharkov, Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk located there still have lots of Soviet-era factories (owned mainly by Ukrainian bourgeoisie) but, in reality, Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe, isn’t too economically attractive for any foreign power. Russian intervention in Crimea seeks rather symbolic and irrational long-term aims of ‘re-establishing Russian empire’, and leads to dangerous race of nationalisms in both states: in Ukraine it gives even more legitimacy to the far right and its paramilitaries, in Russia thousands are forcefully driven to pro-intervention rallies while socialists and pacifists (even an old Leningrad siege survivor) are attacked and arrested for attending anti-war rallies. That’s why we need an international anti-war solidarity campaign like in 2003 against US-led invasion to Iraq.
What are the latest reactions of the people in Kyiv towards the temporary government? Who is winning in Ukraine: one group of oligarchs, fascists, EU, USA, Russia...?
Ordinary people in Kyiv who overwhelmingly supported the Maidan protests against the corrupt and increasingly authoritarian Yanukovich are divided in relation to the temporary government. Some succumb to the patriotic hysteria and turn blind eye on the misdoings of the new authorities; but others feel betrayed by the politicians who used their uprising and death of more than 100 people (including an anarchist) killed by snipers to get into power. Many are definitely discontent with the composition of the government: they demanded it not to include the wealthiest or unprofessional people but it did. They say, at the core of the system, little has changed. Under Yanukovich, neoliberal reforms were launched in pension system, healthcare and education. Now Yatsenyuk, the new premier, calls for austerity and agrees to all IMF demands regarding increasing fees and cutting pensions in order to get the credit. Under Yanukovich, the political system was under the control of the wealthiest oligarchs like Akhmetov, Firtash, Pinchuk, and the ruling Party of Regions represented their interests. Now the oligarchs just switched their allegiance and remained; two of them, Kolomoysky and Tatuta, were appointed governors to Dnepropetrovsk and Donetsk respectively and use restrictive measures to suppress discontent. Only one oligarch, Firtash, was detained – interestingly, not by Ukrainian authorities but by FBI in Vienna.
So, in fact, groups of oligarchs still are the main force dominating in Ukraine. Contrary to Bosnian protests, even grassroots movements in Ukraine weren’t ready to demand recall of privatization protests.
Maidan was a contradictory mass movement not a ‘fascist coup’; but it really included strong far right elements (Svoboda, a party with 10% vote on last national elections, and Right Sector, a coalition of barely known fascist movements). Their militants still patrol some streets; Svoboda got several secondary posts in the mainly Batkivshchyna (Timoshenko-led party without clear ideology) government (now it’s an ‘EU-tolerant fascist party with ministers’ like LAOS was) - but it’s surely not the dominant force there. They joined the protest though being hostile to almost all proclaimed aims of the movement – political democracy, parliamentary republic, European integration (Svoboda even opportunistically started endorsing joining EU though its notorious foreign partners - National Front in France, National Democratic Party in Germany, Golden Dawn in Greece – are very Eurosceptical). At the other hand, they shared anti-Russian sentiment and tried to impose on the movement their own agenda and symbols: red and black banner of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, chants ‘Glory to Ukraine’ and (more extreme and rejected by Maidan majority) ‘Death to enemies’, fierce anti-communism leading to destruction of monuments dedicated to Lenin. These dubious actions triggered by the Nazis naturally alienated the population of Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine. Polls show that popular support of the two far right presidential candidates, Tyahnybok and Yarosh, is now below 2-3% each. But open neo-Nazis, namely C14 (affiliated with Svoboda) and SNA (part of Right Sector), remain a real threat. Nazis have repeatedly attacked left-wing activists and venues in last years, the previous government turned blind eye on their violence and even promoted Svoboda as a counterweight to mainstream opposition; in fact, nothing has changed dramatically for anti-fascists.
Should the Ukrainian people choose a side in this imperial game? (Is Putin really protecting the interests of the Russian speaking Ukrainians or...)
Certainly not. Ukrainian people shouldn’t side with governments neither in the West nor in the East; instead, they have to find their own way. But first, they need to overcome the vicious circle of oligarchs and fascists (both Ukrainian and pro-Russian). All Ukrainian parties are on the right; they are economically pro-capitalist, socially conservative and try to draw the social unrest away from the enormous cleavage between the narrow group of oligarchs and the working majority to different identity conflicts on the ground of language, ethnicity or historical memory. The trade unions are weak, and there is no genuine left force to represent the working class. Parliamentary ‘Communist’ party, a recent loyal satellite of the bourgeois Party of Regions, is communist in name only. It’s time for small new left initiatives like Left Opposition, Direct Action student union or Commons journal to propose a clear socialist alternative so that Ukrainians could join SYRIZA and other left movements throughout Europe against neoliberal austerity and nationalist prejudice; after all, Ukraine is not only Bandera’s birthplace but also Makhno’s and Trotsky’s.
As to the international support, as Nikolas Kozloff, a progressive expert on Latin America, pointed out: ‘The left must continue to critique U.S. foreign policy while seeking out, identifying, and providing solidarity for progressive elements which are resisting Putin in both Russia and Ukraine’.
And this is the point where Greeks could
give Ukrainians a good lesson of class solidarity and struggle.
Obama’s interest in the region is dictated by US strategy for curbing Russian power
Thu, Mar 20, 2014
Vladimir Putin may run a vicious regime but the people of Crimea have a right to be accepted as Russian if that’s what they want, which evidently they do.
Last Sunday’s poll can be said to have fallen short of the shifting norms of democratic propriety, but none of the Western leaders who have been blustering about “making Putin pay” has challenged the reliability of the outcome as a measure of majority feeling in the region.
The people have spoken, perhaps in tones that fall harshly on Western ears, but making their wishes clear enough. Who is Barack Obama to tell them that their opinion don’t count? If we have to take sides, we should take the democratic approach and side with the Crimean majority. That is to say that on this specific matter, Ireland should side with the Russians.
True, Russia has behaved provocatively throughout, manipulating fears, stoking tensions, manoeuvring for strategic advantage. Same as the West, same as ever. When it comes to double-talk, however, there is no contest. Putin is never going to be a match for Obama at talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time.
After six years in office, Obama believes he has a right to invade anywhere, bomb anything, kill anybody whose jib the CIA doesn’t like the cut of, irrespective of national or international law or, indeed, of the provisions of the US constitution. And now he lectures Putin on the necessity of “respecting international law”. He has a nerve. I suppose it comes with the job.
Obama’s interest in Crimea has to do with US strategy for curbing Russian power and influence. In the perspective of Washington – the same can be said of Moscow – democracy and human rights are marginal matters, if they figure in calculations at all.
One of Julian Assange’s many gifts to democracy was a cable summarising a discussion in Paris in September 2009 involving Philip Gordon, assistant US secretary of state for EU and Eurasian affairs and a group of French diplomats, including Jean-David Levitte, French ambassador to the US from 2002 to 2007.
Under “Nato’s Enlargement and Strategic Concept”, Levitte declared president Nicolas Sarkozy’s position was that Ukraine’s destiny lay within Nato but that it would be unwise to push the case just then for fear of antagonising Russia – and because a majority of the Ukrainian people appeared to be against the idea.
Threat to sovereignty
A Nato summit in Bucharest in April the previous year had cleared the way for Romania, Croatia and Albania to join the alliance but postponed a vote on Georgia and Ukraine until December. In the interim, in August, Georgia and Russia went briefly to war over the status of South Ossetia. The December vote was shelved. Around the same time, a Gallup poll suggested that 40 per cent of all Ukrainians saw Nato as a threat to national sovereignty, against 17 per cent taking this view of Russia.
The context for these political manoeuvres had been set in the early 1990s by Nato-Soviet Union negotiations over Germany. German reunification in the wake of the demolition of the Berlin Wall required the withdrawal of the 400,000 Soviet troops stationed in East Germany under the terms of the treaty that had ended the second World War.
On February 9th, 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, US secretary of state James Baker and German chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed that the Red Army would withdraw from Germany, in return for which Nato troops would not move eastward – “even by an inch”, pledged Baker.
Shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union began
to implode and Nato forces swept across eastern Germany.
It has virtually been ignored in the Western media that the EU offer of economic assistance to Ukraine last December included a condition that Kiev align its forces with Nato – a halfway-house staging post on the road to full Nato membership. It was this provision that deeply alarmed the Putin regime, which in turn sparked angry demonstrations in Kiev against the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovich and its US-assisted replacement by a mixum-gatherum of groups, including anti-Semitic neo-fascists.
What emerges from this narrative is that neither Washington nor Moscow has had genuine concern for the interests of any section of the Ukrainian people but have been engaged in an exercise of self-interested Great Power politics.
Putin is right that the main motivation
of the US and Nato has been to encircle and enfeeble his country. It might
be a close run thing, but in this instance Russia has more right on its
side than the West – which is the same thing as saying, more simply, that
Putin and Russia are right.
by the IC of the Fourth International
Sunday 2 March 2014,
Statement adopted by the International Committee of the Fourth International on 25 February 2014.
1. The political crisis in Ukraine began in November 2013 when the President Yanukovich decided, under strong Russian pressure, not to sign the free trade association with the EU. The Party of Regions had been running an official campaign in favour of such an agreement for some months. It occurred in the context of a deep social and debt crisis that put the country under pressure from the IMF. The way the decision was taken, by the personal power of the president, increased popular fear that a new integration of Ukraine within a great Russian regional project was being decided and could increase the repressive oligarchic and presidential trend of the regime evident since 2010.
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).
A week of bloody violence imposed the protesters’ view for the immediate departure of the president Yanukovych. He has not been overthrown by a “coup d’Etat”: his growing unpopularity became absolute rejection after the horror of some 80 deaths, victims of his snipers shooting demonstrators with real bullets. After months of hesitation of the president between repression and dialogue, this led to his profound isolation within his own camp – the Parliament voted for him to be dismissed while a part of the police and probably the army declared in Kiev, as in other regions, that they were “on the side of the people”, and his flight to Russia was stopped in Donetsk, in the very heart of his bastion.
2. 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).
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.
We support the right of the Ukrainian people as a whole to decide and control international agreements signed – or broken – on its behalf, be it with Russia or with the EU, with full transparency about their political and socio-economic effects.
We denounce all the institutions, international or national political forces, whatever their labels, which limit the full and free determination of these choices by the population, either by economic and financial diktats, by draconian laws and security forces, or by physical aggression that prevents full and pluralist expression of choices and disagreements. From that point of view we denounce equally the far right currents and the security forces, which often share the same reactionary, anti-semitic and violently exclusive nationalist ideology.
While the main organized political forces are, for now, from the right and the far right, we support the social and political forces which are trying to build a left opposition within that movement. In so doing, they have refused to stay outside the movement and to identify the whole movement with its far-right component. Such an autonomous orientation has meant a difficult confrontation with fascist groups and a focus against 25 years of privatisations suppressing social rights whatever political party was in power since independence.
3. Since the end of the Yanukovich 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. The alternative left has to respond to these popular hopes and illusions through its own proposals on social, linguistic, democratic issues against parties of the right of different kinds.
We hope that the Ukrainian population will
find its own forms of self-organized expression of its concrete demands
and distrust of the dominant parties, in all the regions of the country.
(Statement of the Organization of Communists Internationalists of Greece – “Spartakos”, 4/3/2014)
At the end of 2013 we witnessed many anti-governmental demonstrations in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, and in other cities. The center of this movement was the Square of Independence (Maidan) in Kiev and the central squares of other cities. The movement was against the government of Victor Yanukovych and his U-turn regarding the pro-EU policy after the political pressure of Russia. This movement, due to the pro-EU elements and the name of the square Maidan, took the name Euromaidan.
In the West, the media presented those demonstrations as a people's movement for freedom and stronger ties with the EU. There is no question that the government of Yanukovych was corrupted and unpopular after 3 years of imposed neoliberal policies. The main aim of most protesters was the fight against poverty, state corruption and oppression from Russian imperialism. The leadership of this movement was at the beginning in the hands of neoliberal right opposition, who falsely claimed that the stronger ties with the EU will bring democratization. Later, the far right and the fascists groups took the leadership. As a consequence, the demands had not the slightest relation with the acute social problems in Ukraine.
The demands and the political groups
The demand for "freedom", under the flag of EU, was directly related to the Ukrainian-EU commercial treaty, which is not going to solve the crisis. On the contrary, this type of deal is against the Ukrainian economy. The treaty stipulates lifting of tariffs and barriers for the EU products and will destroy the Ukrainian heavy industry. That is the reason why many oligarchs are in dilemma. Those who control the industry, which is located on the east side of the country are looking for stronger ties with Russia, but those who control the commercial trade, the agriculture and the telecommunications are pro-West.
This division on the ranks of oligarchs is in constant mobility. The political parties that control the leadership of Euromaidan are pro-West, like the party "Motherland" of Yulia Tymoshenko, an oligarch herself and an ex-prime minister of the country. Tymoshenko was until recently in prison for corruption. The other party, UDAR ("Punch"), of the former boxer Vitali Klitschko, is considered to be a creation of the German Chancellor Merkel. The third party that played the main role in the events is the fascist. “Svoboda” (“Freedom”) whose leader is Oleh Tyahnybok. “Svoboda” is in coalition with the new-born "Pravy-Sektor” (“Right Sector"). "Right Sector" is the main force of the violent events with the police, and is controlling the paramilitary groups of "self-defence" who use pistols and rifles. Their slogans, such as "Ukraine above all", "One race, one nation, one motherland", "Down with the Jewish-Moscovite mafia”, eventually prevailed.
The reasons that enabled the fascists to assume the leadership of the massive social movement are the following: the absence of a strong left movement, the coalition of the Communist Party with the government that makes left look like an undemocratic force with a neoliberal agenda supporting Russian imperialism. At the same time, Tymoshenko and Klitschko were trying to compromise with Yanukovych. The far right appeared to be the only militant and uncompromising force. By the time Yanukovych tried to have an agreement with the opposition by giving away the position of prime minister it was too late. The fascist paramilitary groups were in control of the streets. After a week of clashes with at least 80 dead, Yanukovych escaped in helicopter.
A new transitional government took place,
with Yatseniouk, Tymoshenko’s “lieutenant”, and fascists hold key
positions, namely the vice prime minister, the prosecutor-general
and the ministries of National Security and Defense, Anticorruption, Education,
Agriculture, and Ecology
Because of the fascistic terrorism, the ethnic minority groups in the south and east regions reacted with an "against Maidan" social movement with pro-Russia rhetoric. This movement already assumed control in the areas of Crimea, Harkovo, Donetsk and other cities. The Russian Duma voted unanimously to support the intervention of the Russian army in order to protect the Russian speaking minority in Ukraine. The situation is very tense. The US, EU and NATO are supporting the pro-West government and they are threatening Russia. So far the military conflict is not between Russia and the West but an internal conflict in Ukraine with the participation of Russian troops. This development is particularly negative for all Ukrainians regardless of the outcome. Many Ukrainians hate the pro-West government and their fascists' alliances, but Putin is only interested in promoting Russian imperialist plans in the region. A possible outcome is the independence of Crimea and some eastern Ukrainian regions and the unification with Russia. The rest of the Ukraine will be under the total control of the fascist groups that overthrew Yanukovych and they parade like heroes in the streets of Kiev. Even if they don't wrest full control (have total autonomy) from old corrupted politicians like Timoshenko, they will strongly influence the governmental policy and with their “storm troops” they will violently crush any social criticism. As for the national question, the problems will not only remain unsolved, but will deteriorate, since large minority groups will trapped I the "wrong side" of the border, in a similar way as we have seen in the former Yugoslavia.
Left and anarchist groups in Ukraine are
quite small. Notwithstanding this fact, since the beginning of the mobilizations
they tried to influence the situation. Left trade unionist and activists
of "Borotba" camped in the square and distributed leaflets. Unfortunately,
they have been violently attacked by the fascists. Similarly, anarchists
have been attacked and repelled from the center of events. It is our duty
to promote the internationalist solidarity of the working class against
all oligarchs (pro-West and pro-Russian), against USA, EU, and NATO. The
Greek left should be on the side of the Ukrainian people and support the
28 March 2014
Unilateral decrees of mass layoffs and deep austerity measures by the unelected, Western-backed regime in Kiev underscore the mortal dangers confronting Ukrainian workers, in the west and in the majority Russian-speaking east of the country. The reactionary character of last month’s putsch, financed and directed by the United States and Germany, is becoming ever clearer.
Based on discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said yesterday that he would lay off 10 percent of Ukraine’s civil service—24,000 workers—and impose a 50 percent increase in natural gas prices. This price hike, dismantling subsidies that survived the restoration of capitalism in the USSR, will have a devastating impact on the living conditions of millions of Ukrainians.
These measures are only a foretaste of the offensive being prepared by European and US finance capital. After elections are held, the puppet government in Kiev will implement even more onerous austerity measures.
The EU and especially German imperialism view Ukraine not only as a critical staging ground for future operations against Russia, but also as an important source of cheap labor. In a revealing comment, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said yesterday: “If we were ever to reach a situation in which we had to stabilize Ukraine, we would have many experiences in Greece [to draw on].”
Workers are being brought face to face with the disastrous social and geo-strategic consequences of the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The policy of the imperialist powers is to transform Ukraine and the other ex-Soviet republics into impoverished, neo-colonial outposts for reckless diplomatic and military provocations against Russia that threaten war.
Yesterday’s UN General Assembly resolution, drawn up by the new Ukrainian government, condemning the referendum in Crimea, which voted for secession from Ukraine and annexation by Russia, is a masterpiece of cynicism and hypocrisy. Denouncing the referendum as having “no validity,” it calls upon all parties to pursue peaceful dialogue and refrain from “inflammatory rhetoric that may increase tensions.”
What hypocritical rubbish! The Kiev regime came to power based on the clubs and Molotov cocktails of fascist groups like the Right Sector, supported by the EU and the United States—which reserves, as a matter of policy, the right to attack any country, from Iraq to Libya, which it declares to be a threat.
The Western powers continued to back the Kiev regime after it named six ministers from the fascist Svoboda party, whose inflammatory rhetoric includes calls on the Internet to “physically liquidate” all Russian intellectuals and persons Svoboda deems to be “Ukrainophobes.”
Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a leading Western-backed oligarch, yesterday announced her candidacy for president. In a leaked phone conversation, Tymoshenko called for the annihilation of Russians in Ukraine. “I will use all of my means to make the entire world rise up, so that there wouldn’t be even a scorched field left in Russia,” she declared.
The regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, for its part, has reacted by threatening to withhold or compel higher payments by Ukraine for Russian natural gas—a measure that would only deepen the financial burden on Ukrainian workers.
The working class of Ukraine is caught between the reactionary politics of the pro-Western puppet regime in Kiev and their fascist gunmen, on the one hand, and the bankrupt Russian nationalist politics of Putin, reflecting the interests of Russia’s capitalist oligarchs, on the other.
This outcome confirms the correctness of the perspective and analysis laid out by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) on the eve of the dissolution of the USSR. The only progressive path for workers in the former USSR, as in Western Europe and the United States, is a unified struggle against both finance capital and the post-Soviet capitalist ruling class.
On October 3, 1991, in a lecture delivered less than three months before the dissolution of the USSR at a workers club in Kiev, David North, now the chairman of the World Socialist Web Site International Editorial Board, warned of the consequences of the nationalist policies of the Soviet bureaucracy and the pro-capitalist nationalists in the republics, including Ukraine. “The conflict between the Stalinists and the democrats,” he stated, “resembles that between rival mafia gangs.”
North continued: “In the republics, the nationalists proclaim that the solution to all problems lies in the creation of new ‘independent’ states. Allow us to ask, independent of whom? Declaring ‘independence’ from Moscow, the nationalists can do nothing more than place all the vital decisions relating to the future of their new states in the hands of Germany, Britain, France, Japan and the United States. [Leonid] Kravchuk [then the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament, soon to be Ukrainian president] goes to Washington and squirms in his seat like a schoolboy while he is lectured by President Bush.
“The Fourth International has always defended the right of nations to self-determination, and Trotsky spoke eloquently in 1939 of the right of the Ukraine to secede from a Soviet state dominated by the Kremlin oligarchy. This remains the political position of the Fourth International. However, we do not pretend that secession can, of itself, provide an answer to the grave problems which confront the Ukraine and other republics. Indeed, even after achieving formal independence, the independent republics would confront, in a concentrated form, all the same problems which they formerly faced within the framework of the USSR—but without any of the advantages conferred by the existence of a large state with an ‘economy of scale’…
“What path, then, should the working people of the USSR follow? What is the alternative? The only solution which can be found is that which is based on the program of revolutionary internationalism. The return to capitalism, for which the chauvinist agitation of the nationalists is only one guise, can only lead to a new form of oppression. Rather than each of the Soviet nationalities approaching the imperialists separately with their heads bowed and their knees bent, begging for alms and favors, the Soviet workers of all nationalities should forge a new relationship, based on the principles of real social equality and democracy, and on this basis undertake the revolutionary defense of all that is worth preserving of the heritage of 1917.”
The ruthless offensive of imperialism in the countries of the former Soviet Union invests these remarks with renewed significance.
Return to top of page