The ‘Orange revolution’ in the mirror of history, by Chris Ford
The role played by the young Ukrainian socialist movement is most significant. This movement has connected the national liberation question to all the problems of the liberation of the working class: it has raised this question to the level of those political problems which can be solved by no other means but democratic struggle, by the development of class conflict in Ukrainian society. Thus has progressed Ukrainian socialism always following the same route, confirmed by the undoubted truth that in all present day liberation movements, political or national, both being the result of the same evolution which has transformed feudal states into modern capitalist states, the working class appears as the sole revolutionary and democratic power.
Lev Yurkevych, Ukraine and The War 1916
Over the winter months of 2004 the dynamics of politics were displaced by the dynamics revolution as thousands took to the streets of Ukraine to carry through the ‘Orange Revolution’. These events wrote a new chapter in the history of the Ukrainian people’s struggle for greater freedom and independence. At the culmination of the revolution the new President Viktor Yushchenko declared: “We are free. The old era is over. We are a new country now.” As if to emphasize this closure of the revolution it is to be placed in a ‘museum of the Orange Revolution’ being opened for the 2005 Eurovision song contest.
Is Ukraine free and the old era over? Arrays of politicians, academics and commentators have been assessing this question. Mostly in the same vein as Yushchenko, typical is Taras Kuzio who concludes it is “the second and final stage in the Ukrainian revolution that began toward the end of the Soviet era.” (Pro blems of Post-Communism, no. 2, 2005) But before we assess whether or not the Ukrainian Revolution is complete it is necessary to define the meaning of Ukrainian Revolution. Volodymyr Vynnychenko one of the most well known Ukrainian leaders in the 20th century coined the phrase “omnilateral liberation” to describe the historical logic of the Ukrainian Revolution. By this he meant the striving of the workers and peasants for “universal (social, national, political, moral cultural etc) liberation”. These are key questions for socialists. To get to grips with them it is necessary to take the recent resurgence as a new vantage point from which to investigate the history of the revolutionary struggle in Ukraine.
An outline of the revolutionary history of Ukraine
Ukraine, an area the size of France, with a populace of just under 48 million, is one of the richest country’s in Europe in terms of natural resources, agriculture and minerals. Yet its tragedy is that it has been the object of plunder over the centuries by neighbouring powers that denied the country self-determination. Its current problems are the legacy stemming from these feudal, capitalist and USSR (state-capitalist) periods.
Thought by some — including Engels for a time — as a "non-historic" people Ukrainians crystallized as a nation in the revolution of 1648 led by the community Marx called the “Christian Cossack Republic. They overthrew the Polish state, church and overlords, but neither the Ukrainian nobility nor in fant bourgeoisie enjoyed the strength to maintain this independent course. In a lesson for future generations the state headed by Bohdan Khmelnytsky was weakened by the betrayal of the anti-feudal aspirations of the masses. Squeezed by neighbouring powers, Khmelnytsky allied with Moscow in 1654, but once within this ‘protectorate’ its autonomy was eroded to the point of its abolition. Ukraine was partitioned, the bulk falling under Russia and the western provinces under Austria-Hungary.
For over 250 years Ukraine was oppressed as a colony of Russia, its ingestation being the step that transformed Muscovite into the Russian Empire — a factor of no small importance in the mind of Russian nationalism to this day. Re-branded ‘Little Russia’ the Ukrainian language was suppressed by Tsarist policies of Russification. Ukrainian was synomomous with agriculture and the subjugated status of the overwhelmingly Ukrainian peasants ensured that as the urban centres at the heart of the Imperial administration developed they were dominated by Russians.
Karl Kautsky summed up well when he said “capitalism reveals to Ukrainians only its negative, revolutionising dimension...It does not lead to an increase in their wealth”. Its development saw the economy strangled in favour of Russian interests, the very transportation system was initially constructed on a north — south axis to suit Russian business. The intervention of European capital accelerating capitalist growth did not negate but accentuated this colonial servitude. The working class constituted some 3.6 million by 1917; almost half of which was Ukrainian. It was marked by the institutional discrimination of Russification which resulted in stratification along a national/cultural division of labour. A significant section of migrant Russians acquired the higher paid, skilled positions, whilst Ukrainians constituted the low wage, flexible labor layer of the economy. At the point of production Russian was literally the language of the bosses. Like the Irish in England Ukrainians constituted a reservoir of cheap labor for capital, with one difference, it was in their own country.
The dialectic of the Ukrainian question was such that of national liberation was intimately tied to the social emancipation of labor. A situation sharpened by the absence of a national bourgeoisie, the common description being ‘bezburzhaunist’, literally ‘bourgeoislessness’. In his study On Autonomy of Ukraine Porsh argued that a priori: “Thus only the proletariat can assume leadership in the struggle for autonomy…the Ukrainian national movement will not be a bourgeois movement of triumphant capitalism as in the case of the Czechs. It will be more like the Irish case, a proletarian and semi-proletarianised peasant movement”.
The labouring masses were the carriers of the national idea, far from being a dead nation; the economic development which was the cause of their exploitation was also the means for its rebirth and their liberty. The revival began in the 19th century with a movement led by radical figures such as Shevchenko and Drahomanov. By 1905 the Ukrainian Revolution was already differentiated in class and national terms. The Ukrainian socialist movement traces its roots to the time of the First International led by Marx; it reached its maturity in the founding of the Marxist Ukrainian Social Democratic Workers Party [USDRP] in 1905.
The Ukrainian Revolution 1917-1920
The historic conjuncture of modern Ukrainian history is the 1917 revolution; which is a point of reference to this day. The Ukrainian Revolution began to diverge from the road of the general Russian Revolution in its anti-colonial nature, few of the Bolsheviks appreciated its importance, of the few was Lenin who did see its importance and revolutionary potential.
The revolution was expressed in a bloc of the petty-bourgeoisie, the peasantry and the Ukrainian section of the working class centered in the Central Rada [Council] the embryonic government. Today’s epigones in the Ukrainian movement who claim the heritage of the Revolution do so whilst one-sidedly promoting Centre and Right wings leaders like Hrushevsky and Petliura. Yet at the forefront of the revolution were socialists, and indeed Marxists organized in the USDRP and the Ukrainian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries [UP SR]. The ‘rebirth of the nation’ culminated in the Ukrainian Peoples Republic; initially it had mass support not only amongst Ukrainians, but the national minorities. Its contradictions were many an d the petty-bourgeoisie who founded the Rada selfishly clung to the helm. Nevertheless contemporary leaders pale in comparison compared to the founding declaration of the Republic: ‘with representatives of the workers…establishment of state control over industry”, an “eight-hour workday”, “transfer of land without compensation to the working people”, “instead of a standing army, a peoples militia”, “state-people’s control over all banks” abolition of “exploitations by the banks and or for profiteering”.
The Bolsheviks in Ukraine never appreciated the importance of national liberation resulting in the most militant section of the Russian workers excluding themselves from the Ukrainian Revolution. In so doing they weakened those saying: “We are Bolsheviks, but we are Ukrainian Bolsheviks and we do not want to be ruled by Moscow”. The Rada, though radical, showed its policies were more easily proclaimed than endowed with substance. It sought to limit the revolutionary process within a national (bourgeois)-democratic boundaries. To the detriment of the solution to the social problems being demanded from below, the distribution of land, end to the war and workers self-management.
The USDRP’s Vynnychenko a leader of the Rada recalled: “The very name of the Central Rada began to be unpopular…We needed to change ourselves radically…. Such a radical change among us was advocated by the Bolsheviks and by some of us as well. We needed to re-elect the Central Rada. Let all the local workers’ peasants’, and soldiers councils hold congresses and elect new people instead of the old ones” (The Rebirth of a Nation). There was a popular movement in this direction in October 1917, a synthesis of the Russian and the Ukrainian revolutions. But the organic evolution towards a Ukrainian socialist revolution was retarded by the wrecking role Ukrainian and Russian leaders in the Rada hostile to the Russian workers republic. In the supposed defence of sovereignty Hrushevsky and Petliura handed Ukraine over to German, Austrian and Polish occup ations. This was coupled by tragic errors of the Bolsheviks who tried to mechanically transplant what had been done in Russia to Ukraine, internally from below then externally from above by force.
Nationalist historiography presents the demise of the Rada as a Russian invasion but this not the lesson for today or the historical truth. In reality the Rada had so departed from the aspirations of the Ukrainian people that it had lost its base of support before its dispersal by the Red Army. Vynnychenko stated the Rada had “changed nothing of substance” and “in place of the blue, white and red tsarist tricolour we substituted our yellow and azure banner”, support evaporated when it” failed to liberate its toiling masses from social oppression which was inimical to the nation and the toiling cl ass”. This cycle of the revolutionary process repeated itself throughout 1917-1920. A forgotten historic opportunity existed in 1919 when a bloc with Soviet Hungary was brokered by Vynnychenko with Bela Kun. They called for an independent Ukraine headed by a coalition government of the revolutionary socialists in alliance with Soviet Russia. However to their dismay Christian Rakovsky head of the Soviet government in Ukraine shunned this opportunity. If this united front had formed Soviet Hungary wouldn’t have fallen and the soviet government in Bavaria saved! Thus the Ukrainian question proved pivotal to the success of the socialist revolution in Europe and subsequent isolation of Russia.
The domestic Ukrainian forces in this period contrary to later histories clearly supported a radical socialist development, confirmed by the existence of two independent Ukrainian Communist Party’s at this time. One called the Ukapisty, emerged from the USDRP led by, Tkachenko, Richytsky and Vynnychenko, it was “aiming at a permanent revolution” for an “Independent Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic”. Another Borotbists, with wide peasant support merged with the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Ukraine (CP(b)U) and was key to their final victory in Ukraine. There was also a strong tendency of Ukrainian Bolsheviks in the CP(b)U led by Vasyl Shakrai, Serhii Mazlakh and Georg Lapchinksii. These Ukrainian Marxists were further confirmed in their belief in the success of national liberty being dependent on a socialist path of development by the support for a ‘one and indivisible Russia’ by the Western powers, a policy which lasted until the 1990s!
Ukraine under Stalinism
The new Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic sought to reverse the legacy of Tsarism with an energetic policy of Ukrainization. This national renaissance under the slogan “away from Moscow” became the engine of efforts by Ukrainian Communist dissidents, led by Mykola Khvylovy, to protect "the young working class of the young nation" against the degeneration of the Russian revolution. In reality Ukrainization did not rest on a self-governing Ukraine with the rise of Stalinism and its inherent partner Great Russian Chauvinism, the dynamics of centralism destroyed the last vestiges of national equality.
In the 1930s the combined nature of the rapid industrialisation and forced collectivisation also took the form of national oppression, seen as mass plundering of Ukraine by and for Russia. The intensity of the struggle was such that over seven million died in famine in 1932-33 caused by collectivization; another million were deported to Siberia. The famine could have been avoided, instead Stalin decided to requisition Ukrainians to their deaths. The consequences of the famine were far reaching, for it is the case that this tragedy was a core component of the final triumph of the Stalinist regime. Whilst Stalin’s heir Khrushchev recorded in his memoirs that “Perhaps we’ll never know how many people perished” neither during his ‘de-Stalinization’, nor under his successors did the perpetrators of this crime ever face justice. Indeed for decades the regime suppressed this event from ‘official’ history. Those who sought to commemorate, analyse or protest this tragedy risked imprisonment or worse. These falsifications of history mirror in scale that of the holocaust revisionists yet its advocates who often reside in the labour movement escape any similar vilification.
The policy of Russification was resurrected. This was a ccompanied by a reign of terror that lasted for nearly a decade. According to Khrushchev, the only reason the Ukrainians did not suffer the fate of smaller nationalities deported en-masse was that “there was too many of them and there was no place to deport them”. The aftermath of the famine, created in the name of “socialism” saw a generation turn to revolutionary nationalism.
UPA the anti-capitalist partisans
The Ukrainian Revolution saw a fresh resurgence in the course of the Second World War; it was expressed through a movement which remains a subject of heated controversy to this day. In the initial phase of the German invasion the mass of the populace did not fight, on the contrary, the Nazis were surprised by their welcome and the number of soldiers surrendering. However, the experience of Nazi rule soon saw an armed resistance movement develop against both Hitler and Stalin. It was led by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN], previously OUN had been a rightist organisation based in Western Ukraine, outside of the USSR. Its politics were symptomatic of the ‘turn to the right’ in reaction to the Stalinist terror. The experience of the Nazis and influence of the working masses in Soviet Ukraine transformed OUN and a new resistance coalesced into the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)which grew to half a million. The old leadership was replaced in 1943 by Roman Shukhevych; the new radicalism was expressed in the writings of figures such as Petro Poltava and Osyp Hornovy,
The UPA fought “against the German and Russian imperialistic invaders”, for “an Independent Unified Ukrainian State”, and a “new just order in Ukraine without any landlords, capitalists or Soviet commissars”. The new program called for a classless society based on democracy and socialisation of production, for complete equality of a man and a woman, and equality of nations. “By abolishing the exploitation of class by class, we will create a just social order in Ukraine”. Stalinism they said: “is not a socialist order, since classes of exploited and exploiters exist in it. The workers of the USSR want neither capitalism nor Stalinist pseudo-socialism. They aspire to a truly classless society, to a true popular democracy, to a free life in free and independent states. Today Soviet society, more than any other, is pregnant with social revolution. In the USSR, the social revolution is strengthened by the national revolutions of the oppressed nationalities.”
In one of their most timely commentaries Petro Poltava responded in 1950 to the broadcasts of Voice of America writing to the US State Department: “The Soviet people in the absolute majority are clearly against the restoration of capitalism…We, the participants in the liberation struggle in Ukraine, who are inside the Soviet Union and have connections with the broad Soviet masses, know only too well that they have no admiration for capitalism — neither the old European kind nor the modern American kind”. They tried to keep it ultra-secret but it was published by Ukrainian Marxists in Labour Action.)
Whilst the insurgency lasted into the early 1950s its back was broken in 1947 when in Action Vistula the Russian and Polish Stalinists ethnically cleansed areas of Western Ukraine, deporting over 150,000 people. The final act of mass resistance coincided with the first anti-Stalinist uprising in the USSR; in 1953-54 former UPA fighters led mass strikes by Gulag prisoners, from Kara-ganda in Kazakhstan to Norilsk and Vor-kuta in the far north.
There are two myths about UPA which complement each other. The Stalinists portrayed UPA as fascists, a distortion echoed parrot fashion by the Western Communist Parties and their sympathizers in the wider labour movement. This myth is complemented by right wing Ukrainian émigrés who also portray UPA as anti-socialist. Thus the radical ideas of these Ukrainian revolutionaries are buried under falsehood. In fact many of those who dominated the Ukrainian Diaspora after the war did not participate in this struggle; they were in prison camps, taken as slave labor or collaborators such as the SS Galicia Division. The old leadership of Bandera reasserted itself amongst the émigrés as the “Foreign Section of OUN”, hostile to the revolutionary democratic views of UPA in Ukraine accusing them of conceding to the prevailing ideology in the USSR.
Turning point of the 20th century
In the two periods of revolutionary resurgence in 20th century Ukraine, 1917-20 and 1942-47 we can see that the goals shared similar characteristics. Recognition that the national question was simultaneously a social question whose solution is not separate or counterposed to the emancipation of labor, they articulated a vision of a free Ukraine was anti-capitalist and egalitarian.
If at the mid-twentieth century we can pinpoint these goals of the Ukrainian Revolution we can also say that by this point in time the Ukrainian socialist movement had been eradicated from Ukrainian soil. It had survived in the areas of Western Ukraine, those the Nazis never killed, the Stalinists finished off. All who emerged after this point did so without access to the Ukrainian socialist tradition, more was known of the nationalists who survived in caricature for Stalinist attacks, not so the left it was written out of history.
From the dissidents to the new resurgence
The defeat of the insurgency and consolidation of the Stalinist system sealed off the mass liberation struggle for over forty years under the totalitarian monolith. This is not to say there was no opposition – there were repeated efforts of courageous workers and intellectuals to mount a challenge to the regime. The changes in the political climate after Stalin’s death with Khrushchev’s ‘thaw’ saw opposition expressed in a revival of national cultural activities under the relatively "liberal" Party leadership of Petro Shelest. A careerist and avowed Stalinist apparatchik Shelest used Ukrainian nationalism as leverage with the Kremlin. CPSU leader Leonid Brezhnev responded with a fresh campaign of Great Russian chauvinism. In 1972 Moscow attacked “national deviations” and launched wave of arrests of Ukrainian dissidents, to neutralize any potential “Titoist” ambitions Shelest was ousted by the hard-liner Volodymyr Shcherbytsky.
The breathing space that had been created allowed a new generation of Ukrainian opposition to re-emerge and despite the repressions it was recurrent throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The majority of them opposed the regime from a socialist, humanist and working class standpoint. Figures such as Leonid Plyu shch and Yuri Badzio’s, efforts by Vladimir Klebanov’s Free Trade Union Association and Lev Lukyanenko’s Ukrainian Workers' and Peasants' Union. The most famous was Ivan Dzyuba calling for a return to Lenin’s policies in Internationalism or Russification? Dzyuba attacked Russification with its “state-controlled levelling, amalgamation and swallowing-up of nations” as a “crime before communism, and future generations will not forgive us such a bankrupted heritage”.
The continuity between the Tsarist nationality policies and those of Stalin and his successors had a striking similarity. In Soviet Ukraine the CPU was the most important institution, in the state-cap talist economy the largest and most important section of the ruling class were the industrial managers, dubbed the ‘red bourgeoisie’.
Yet they were managers of a subsidiary strictly controlled from Moscow, and they themselves were the most loyal advocates of the interests of Great Russia.
Ukraine throughout the 1970s and 1980s was a time of increased Russification and repression; once again Ukrainian dissidents began to fill the gulag. Well into the period of Gorbachev’s glasnost Ukraine was a bastion of hard-line conservatism.
The new resurgence and the pull of retrogression
Led by veteran dissidents like Vyacheslav Chornovil the new Ukrainian movement appeared in the summer 1988 in Western Ukraine, the catalyst for a wider resurgence with the formation of the People's Movement of Ukraine, [Rukh] headed by the writer Ivan Drach. The Rukh came out for a republic based on “self-management” with “peasants becoming owners of the land, and workers of the industrial enterprises”. This social and democratic content was soon withering as more neo-liberal ideas gained hegemony. The vision of this movement narrowed to one of a ‘free market’ economy, EU integration and parliamentary democracy. It is necessary to recognise that this resurgence was both continuity and also a break from the best traditions of the Ukrainian liberation struggle. Why did this happen?
The red flag hoisted over the gulag was never going to make it easy for authentic socialism to gain the upper hand in the revolts against totalitarian ‘communism’, nevertheless even in the early 1980s the concepts of a radical working class alternative still permeated the opposition movements in the Eastern Bloc. What happened? The ideas of the Ukrainian born Marxist-Humanist Raya Dunayevskaya provides a key, she identified as a feature of the current era of capitalism as the ‘administrative mentality’ of the intellectuals, during the Afro-Asian anti colonial struggles:
“The greatest obstacle to the further development of these national liberation movements comes from the intellectual bureaucracy which has emerged to ‘lead’ them. In the same manner the greatest obstacle in the way of the working class overcoming capitalism comes from the La bour bureaucracy that leads it”. (Nationalism. Communism, Marxist Humanism and the Afro-Asian Revolutions)
The tragedy that unfolded in the former colonies was due not only due to the dead hand of world capital, but also the role of the new leaders turned rulers who abandoned the masses as the basis for creating an alternative not only to the rival imperialist blocs but the capitalist system they rested upon.
This retrogression took on a new momentum with the new cold war of Reagan and Thatcher with the dominance of the idea that ‘there is no alternative’. The stagnation in Eastern Europe, impoverished Third world was evidence of failed state control — branded as “socialism”. Throughout the 1980s neo-liberal ideas, permeated swathes of the official economists, planners, advisors and acade mics of the Eastern Bloc. From their vulgar defence of the state-capitalist tyranny as “actually existing socialism”, they moved to “market socialism”, to outright neo-liberalism. These ideas cascaded through the very dissident intellectuals and opposition movements the regimes had persecuted.
A good example was how the intellectuals advisors of Solidarnosc and those who sat on the regimes shoulders found they had a great deal in common, as participant Jadwiga Staniszkis recalled, “we could very easily have changed places”. The argument presented to justify the break from a socialist perspective by the democratic opposition was that Stalinism was evidence of the absolute failure of socialism. This situation was exacerbated by the decline of the socialist project in the western labour movements and compounded by the absence of a significant solidarity movement with the anti-Stalinist struggles.
In Ukraine early efforts by more socialist tendencies were too weak for their ideas to gain hegemony. As s oon as the intellectuals emblazoned capitalism on the bann er of the movement then their actual rulers could slee p more easily. Far from the introduction of an alien social system as the national-democrat’s believed, the restoration of private-capitalism brought no threat to that 20% of the population who made up the class of exploiters. Thus the struggle for an independence based on such a narrow concept of freedom, that coupled democracy with private ow nership and freedom with the free market was the path to a new morass.
Independence without emancipation
The root then of the current complexities culminating in the ‘orange revolution’ can be found in the nature of the revolution of 1989-91, it is crystallized in the national-democratic oppositions acceptance of the “Grand Bargain”, an unofficial, unspoken deal between the opposition and ruling bureaucracy. his was made possible by a change in direction on the part of the bureaucracy; which began to fracture under pressure from below.
A reformist wing, led by Leonid Kravchuk, took up the demand for sovereignty of the republic. This fraction realized it could only retain power if it controlled the passage from the command state-capitalist economy to a privatised ‘free-market’ economy. Previously its hallmark had been its conservatism now it did the unthinkable; it set a course of its own independent of Russia.
A now forgotten factor was the threat represented by the newly emerged independent workers movement in eastern Ukraine. The workers raised militant demands, yet their national consciousness remained low, owing to the historical legacy of Russification. Although reluctant to join the national movement, unlike workers in western Ukraine, they did bloc with them against the authorities. In spring 1991 miners strengthened the push to independence demanding that the republic take over ownership and management of industry.
Everything reached its peak after the failed Moscow coup in August 1991, the former overlords of Russia confident of the support of the Rukh members in the semi-democratic Parliament secured support for a declaration of independence by the Verhovna Rada on 24 August 1991. It sounded the death knell of the second Russian Empire — the USSR. The achievement of independence was not however a conspiracy, independence was massively endorsed, despite Russian threats, in a referendum on 1 December 1991 in which 84% of the population participated and 90% voted ‘yes’. It was the culmination of what the Ukrainian Bolsheviks, Mazlakh and Shakhrai concluded in 1919: “Only a blind man can fail to see the basic trend of this movement – to form an independent sovereign state”.
The question was now posed, as to the nature of this Ukraine which had broken from the grip of Russian imperialism? Where the bureaucracy had recognised its own weakness and had the imagination and ambition to reorientation itself as a class to preserve its position, the democratic opposition saw only its own weakness and lacked the ambition or ideas of a social revolution to dislodge the old rulers. The socialist Yurii Badzio epitomised the disorientation when he said it was “historical good fortune” that when the “imperial-totalitarian system collapsed” it was “completely natural” power fall into the hands of the ‘nomenklatura’. Justified he said by the fact that there was no other “political milieu which sufficiently advanced in both quantity and quality, and therefore capable of building a state”. Only a handful of national-democrats like Volodymyr Hrynov protested the need for independence to be linked to “measures by which totalitarian society in Ukraine will be demolished”, similarly Viachaslav Chornovil bemoaned the need to remove the “re-painted party nomenklatura”. But to truly achieve this required something more than the democratic gains of a limited political revolution; it required a social revolution that uprooted the social-economic relations, a form of capitalism; that allowed this bureaucratic class to exist.