Opposing Russian imperialism, fighting neo-liberalism: voices from the Ukrainian and Russian left

Submitted by AWL on 5 April, 2014 - 12:30

We reprint below, in abridged form, a range of different (and sometimes conflicting) opinions about recent and current events in Ukraine, expressed by Ukrainian and Russian left activists.

When the writers refer to “imperialism”, they mean Russian imperialism.

The original articles were published by: Otkrytaya Leva (Open Left), Avtonomna Spilka Trudyashchikh (Autonomus Workers Union) and “Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal”

Dmitry Mrachnik (member of Ukrainian Autonomous Workers Union)

The Maidan resulted in a neo-liberal coup which has untied the hands of broad layers of the bourgeoisie. The ultra-right which has penetrated into the corridors of power is not in any rush to start wearing a brown uniform and is trying to behave like any other politician.

Overall, the character of the new government is right-liberal [i.e. ‘liberal’ in its economic policies]. People are unhappy that nothing has changed. You often hear conversations such as “we did not fight for this on the Maidan”. But for the time being there is no sign of any radical protests against the government.

Members of Svoboda who are in the government present themselves as respectable politicians and try to demarcate themselves from aggressive fascism. But it is well-known that within the party and its paramilitary youth wing, “S14”, fascist tendencies are as strong as before.

For the time being the other ultra-right bloc, Right Sector, has not been given its promised places in the government. It looks like the plan is to marginalize them. With their fascist declarations and aggressive behaviour, they damage the image of the Maidan in the eyes of Europe.

In the east of Ukraine a section of the population is frightened due to the propaganda of Yanukovich (in the past) and of Putin (in the present). Many are afraid that armed fascists will come to their region and ban the Russian language, etc.

Those who are the most active there co-operate with pro-Putin forces. Others protest against such attitudes and support the (socially) liberal or (Ukrainian-)nationalist values of the Maidan in Kiev.

Thanks to support from the separatists in the south-east, pro-Putin forces freely carry out their coercive acts against the placemen of the new government and supporters of the Maidan. This is not because they are dissatisfied with the politics of the new government but because they finally have the opportunity to act like this.

The claim that fascists control Ukraine is propaganda by Putin. To those anarchists and left-wingers who believe Putin’s propaganda about a fascist regime in Ukraine and who support Russia I say:

Take a deep breath, gormless half-wits. For many years Russia has already had something like the kind of fascism which Ukraine is accused of. Anyone who supports fascists who save a neighbouring country from fascists must be either pretty stupid or completely devoid of any conscience.

‘Anarchists’ who support a state and its war? You can’t beat that!

Aleksey Sakhnin (Ukrainian activist)

I think that a united front of the Left is needed like never before. In my opinion, it must be built around three theses:

- Imperialist aggression, military blackmail and wars triggered by provocation – these are a crime for which there can be no justification.

- This does not mean support for the government in Kiev. The people who have come to power in Kiev remain our opponents. We will not accept their nationalism and their oligarchic nature. All efforts of the Left must be directed at isolating the government of Turchinov-Yatsenyuk-Tyagnibok and Kolomoysky.

- The mass protests in the south-east of Ukraine are a natural and legitimate continuation of the revolution which began in Kiev. In spite of the outward differences and contradictions between them, the Left must attempt to ensure that these two currents of the revolution – the western and the eastern – come together, above and in spite of Kolomoysky, Yarosh and co.

In this sense, our task is to give all possible support to the movement in the south-eastern regions, whilst simultaneously opposing the pro-Putin and Russian-chauvinist forces in it.

Vladimir Plotnikov (Russian trade union and left activist)

The key issues (for the Russian Left) are:

- Complete withdrawal of all Russian forces from the territory of Ukraine and from de facto non-Ukrainian Crimea (I balk at using the word “independent” to describe this strange political entity). It is obvious that the Kremlin needs Crimea as a means of putting pressure on Kiev, and the presence of Russian troops in Crimea will further escalate the conflict.

- An end to the pressure being exerted by the Kremlin on the Ukrainian authorities and the opening of a peaceful dialogue between Russia and Ukraine. This is the most important factor: Putin’s government is conducting a media and diplomatic war against Kiev.

However low our opinion is of the new authorities in Kiev, this factor is encouraging a belligerent outlook and a strengthening of nationalism on both sides, and strengthening the aggressive hurrah-patriotism of the Kremlin.

- And very importantly, even if only a few on the Russian Left take account of this, a complete cessation of the military blackmail and the provocations by the Russian authorities and secret services (in the south-east of Ukraine).

For us, Russian leftists, it would be very odd if we were to demand the unconditional overthrow of the “Kiev junta” and pose this demand as an ultimatum. What forces are capable of achieving this overthrow? Who can replace the “pro-Maidan” authorities from one day to the next?

The answer is obvious and we hear it everyday from television screens: a military intervention into Ukraine, and Yanukovich returning to Kiev under the (Russian) tricolor.

This means that we must appeal to the citizens of Ukraine: to turn their attention to the reactionary nature of the right-wing government and propose a distinct socio-political alternative which only the citizens of Ukraine themselves can achieve.

What we must not do is give any credit to Lavrov and Putin by waving a red flag, which is what many of our national-Stalinists are doing.

Elena Galkina (Ukrainian activist)

The actions of the Putin government in Crimea and in the south-east of Ukraine are dictated by its fear of the export of the revolution and by imperialist interests. They are a danger for Ukraine as a whole and for these regions in particular, as well as for the Russian Federation.

The need to mobilize in order to repulse the external enemy allows the oligarchic group which has replaced the Yanukovich clan to strengthen its grip on power, and cuts across the perspective of deepening the democratic revolution and implementing a social agenda.

In Crimea, instead of the emergence of grassroots self-organisation which formulated its own demands on the government in Kiev, a snap referendum has taken place – with many electoral breaches, and under the barrel of a gun.

In reality, Crimeans did not achieve liberation from ‘Banderists’ but a double enslavement – by the nomenklatura-oligarchic Russian regime in Moscow, and by the local authorities and their criminal associates in Simferopol.

If we were to approve of the “reunification of Russia with Crimea” and the separatism in the south-east of Ukraine, then we would support the chauvinist hysteria of Russian propaganda and the propagation in Russia of a totalitarian ideology aimed at distracting its inhabitants from the unavoidable economic crisis and the final dismantling of the welfare state.

In the eyes of Ukrainians, including many on the left who took an active part in the Maidan, we would be part of the propaganda machine of the aggressor.

In the current situation the correct course of action is:

- Condemn imperialist aggression, including the illegitimate referendum.

- Demand withdrawal of paramilitary groups (from Crimea) and troops to return to barracks.

- For non-intervention in the integrity of Ukraine and its forms of state structures – this is an internal matter for Ukrainians.

- Solidarity with the Ukrainian people in its struggle against the comprador nomenklatura and bourgeoisie.

- Support for the democratic and socialist forces of the Maidan, fighting for a continuation of the revolution, for workers’ rights, and local self-government and for popular control over the structures of power.

Boris Kagarlitsky (Russian socialist academic and writer)

When a certain number of leftists, repeating century-old slogans, speak of “a war unleashed in the interests of large-scale capital”, they once again get things wrong. The truth is that large-scale capital, both private and bureaucratic, has no need at present for a war.

The Russian economy is highly dependent on the gas pipeline that passes through Ukraine. Of course, the investments made by “our” oligarchs in Ukrainian enterprises need defending, but military action would sooner exacerbate the problems here than solve them.

The cynicism and avarice of our present-day rulers are the best guarantee that there will not be a major war.

The authorities in Kiev are also satisfied. They are able to employ the “Russian threat” to consolidate the new regime, to explain away economic difficulties as the result of external pressure, and in retrospect, to justify their own steps that have brought Ukraine to collapse.

The present situation of “neither peace nor war” thus suits both governments perfectly, at least for the moment.

In Crimea, Russian forces have restricted themselves to “polite intervention”. Of course, this was a violation of sovereignty, but let’s be honest: in an analogous situation the French, Americans and British would have done the same.

So far, Russian forces have acted in a far more restrained fashion than the French and Americans in similar situations. Perhaps this is not because of the government but despite it.

Neither Maidan nor the demonstrations in the east have had the character of a spontaneous popular revolution. In both cases, outside forces have been involved. The only cause for optimism is the fact that from the beginning, the ideological vector of the protests in the east has been different from that in the west.

Left activists were driven from the Maidan in Kiev and beaten up (that is not to mention what happened to left-wing symbols and monuments).

In Kharkov and Odessa, by contrast, Soviet monuments were defended, and here and there people even raised red flags. But there should be no illusions here: what is involved for the present is cultural differences rather than class positions.

Members of the left need to work in the protest movement in the eastern regions, strengthening their influence and helping to shape a positive program. In this case, there is a real chance that the entire movement can be shifted to more progressive positions, and that the left can win hegemony within it.

This is no more than a potential opening, but with the Maidan movement no such chance existed.

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