The perspective on events in Ukraine provided by this article, written by Kirill Medvedev and published on the Russian socialist website Open Left, is very different from that of the July 2014 Yalta conference. This conference (organised around "The Manifesto of the Popular Front for the National Liberation of Ukraine, Novorossiya and Transcarpathian Rus'") was attended by leftists and Russian nationalists (including the most virulent).
Unlike the "Yalta Manifesto", for example, it confronts the issue of Russian imperialism and the fascistic elements within the leadership of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
While not agreeing with the article in its entirely, we publish a translation of it in order to illustrate the real nature of the discussion about Ukraine among Russian socialists.
The need for a “third way”, distinct from blind support for one of the sides in the Ukrainian crisis, a ‘third way’ which some of us have already been discussing in recent months, is particularly clear today — because this is the only chance to re-establish the almost totally disintegrated democratic opposition in Russia.
The Maidan, the loudest and most stubborn mobilization on the territories of the ex-USSR, was undoubtedly a chance to achieve a unique democratic breakthrough, capable of serving as an example for eastern Europe, for the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States [loose federation of nine ex-USSR states] and for many other countries.
The Anti-Maidan, the unrest in the south-east of Ukraine, was undoubtedly a chance to “break the chains”, it represented the possibility of conceiving of the development of eastern Europe along a different road from that guaranteed by the leaders of the European Union and the IMF: de-industrialisation, privatisation and neo-liberalism.
From all the available evidence, both chances have been missed.
A revolution is made by an active minority, but its fate depends on its ability to attract the majority to its side and to convince it that they have the same interests.
Even before its victory the Maidan was unable to appeal to the south-east with a clear message: we are one nation, we have the same interests, in the new Ukraine there will be a place for different cultural-historical traditions and economic-political orientations.
Instead, there was at best the certainty that the inhabitants of the south-east would accept everything achieved by the revolutionaries in Kiev. At worst, there was the most repulsive social racism and chauvinism, which subsequently became the ideological basis of the ATO [ATO: Anti-Terrorist Operation; Kiev government’s name for military conflict in south-east.]
Without doubt, the republics which emerged in the south-east of Ukraine are the result of a foreign-policy adventure by the Russian authorities. Although they took a chance and vacillated, they attempted to turn to their advantage the well-founded dissatisfaction of a large proportion of the inhabitants of the south-east with the new Kiev establishment and its policies.
Throughout this period many left-wingers (including me) very much wanted the Donbas protestors (and the Maidan protestors as well) to create and carry out their own common social and democratic programme.
This could have either brought the two movements closer together and brought to the fore the progressive elements of both, or it could have it could have pushed into the background the question of the territorial integrity of Ukraine (and of Russia, and of any other country in a similar situation).
Indeed, it goes without saying, that every socialist and democrat must support without hesitation the revolutionary self-determination of the inhabitants of this or that territory.
Apart from the problems of self-organisation and political initiative which really do exist in the south-east of Ukraine (just as they do in Russia and many other places) what is also important is the fact that the “angry people” of the Donbas initially had no more or less defined political goals.
It was therefore completely logical that at the head of the mobilisation there appeared a small number of cadres, first and foremost from Russia, who had military or leadership experience, who enjoyed a certain degree of support (even if uncertain and unstable) from Moscow, and who were driven by a clearly defined political goal — the renaissance and the extension of the “Russian World”.
That rudimentary Soviet anti-fascism and egalitarianism which are characteristic of the majority of the population of the Donbas are certainly not the worst, to put it mildly, of the values now prevalent on the territories of the former Soviet Union.
But it is impossible to seriously regard as a sign of left-wing and democratic policies the “anti-fascism” of the right-wing reconstructors [of the Russian Empire] and of former members of Russian Popular Unity1, the throwaway comments about nationalisation which are only the tip of the iceberg of their politics, and the anti-western and anti-European rhetoric which plays on unconditionally reactionary sentiments among the masses2.
And there is nothing left-wing about even the anti-oligarchic declarations per se. In their entirety, they could be part of a right-left programme, right up to a national-socialist programme.
Any comparison with the Cuban or Bolivarian revolutions is also impossible, unless we refrain from speaking of Russia as a local imperialist, sending into neighbouring republics its cadres armed with the following ideas:
“The borders of the Russian World are significantly wider than the borders of the Russian Federation. I am fulfilling a historic mission in the name of the Russian nation, a super-ethnos, bonded together by Russian-Orthodox Christianity.
“Just as in the Caucasus, I am fighting in Ukraine against separatists, but this time not Chechen ones but Ukrainian ones. Because Russia exists, the great Russia, the Russian empire. And now the Ukrainian separatists in Kiev are fighting against the Russian Empire.” (Alexander Borodai 3)
It is completely obvious that the majority of the Donbas’s inhabitants do not live off reconstructionist fantasies. In their everyday lives and work they have their own problems and their own interests. These diverge from the interests of the visiting fighters and commanders, whatever hopes they may have had in them at first.
Another thing is equally obvious: even if a left-wing radical-democratic agenda suddenly began to clear a way for itself from below, it would instantly end up being either appropriated or simply crushed by the builders of the “Russian World”, with the support of Moscow.
Therefore: the only chance of the Ukrainian “breaking of the chains”, which began to appear as a result of the Anti-Maidan, actually becoming reality is radical change in Russia.
Not change which takes place under the banner of the struggle for the “Russian World”, against a separate judicial system for juveniles4, against Euro-Sodom and the like.
But change under the banner of radical democratic and social changes within the country, and a re-orientation of the economy: away from guaranteeing the needs of the army, bureaucrats, the police, the security services and small groups of big businessmen; instead, in the direction of social needs, science and industry.
Of course, it is difficult to imagine such changes today.
On the one hand, events in Ukraine have almost completely demoralised and split the Russian opposition, and have split the different wings (first and foremost, the left wing) within the opposition.
On the other hand, they have confronted the authorities with a new problem: what to do with those emotions which have been unendingly whipped up by Russian propaganda, and what to do with the leaders and fighters in the south-east who have built up their authority against the background of the “anti-fascist” hysteria in the mass media
There is clearly nothing left other than the question of how to co-opt into the authorities, in one form or another and to one degree or another, those leaders and the emotions which lie behind them.
And here we come to the theme of fascism. The expression “Kiev junta” which is bandied around by Russian propagandists does not in any way help clarify the situation, although definite elements of fascism are visible in post-revolutionary Ukraine.
First and foremost, there are the military formations which guarantee the position of the oligarchs, consisting of fighters motivated by ultra-nationalist politics who have basically been recruited from extremely right-wing organisations.
Attempts by the authorities (which are not per se fascist) to support and use such structures often lead to a loss of control or to a renunciation of control as the only chance of survival — historically, the intrigue of the relationship between bourgeois authorities and fascism resides precisely in this.
It is therefore hardly appropriate to call the regime of Poroshenko or that of Putin “fascist” for the sake of current propagandistic advantage.
One way or another, there is a need for a proper discussion about fascism in Ukraine, including in the context of the general European situation regarding the ultra-right. There must be a discussion about the link between the particularly brutal activities of pro-Kiev soldiers/fighters and ultra-nationalist ideology.
But it must be clear that racist hatred, torture and violence against peaceful inhabitants are in no way less criminal when they take place under a Russian, a black-and-orange5 or Soviet flag.
And if we believe that a humanitarian catastrophe is occurring in the south-east of Ukraine, then we must demand an end to the ATO and a resolution of the situation under international supervision, not a resolution which is based on military aid from the Russian right-wing-authoritarian regime to its “brothers”.
Of course, the question of fascism must be discussed even more seriously in relation to Russia, insofar as the further logic of events in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), and the example of Kolomoisky and his private battalions (6), gives an impulse to the formation of similar elements of classical fascism in Russia as well.
It has already been said on more than one occasion that in the immediate future — however events in the Donbas may turn out — what most likely awaits us is: the infiltration of certain “heroes of the DPR” into the ruling authorities; the formation of some form or other of paramilitary structures consisting of militia fighters who have returned to Russia, which will be under the patronage of patriotically minded big businessmen and groups belonging to the elite.
Along with their newly recruited co-thinkers, leaders of the DPR who have become cult figures can be fully used in any conflict or repression and can serve as proof of the “national-patriotic” character of the ruling authorities. In the event of a crisis they can be promoted to the prominent positions, and in the case of extreme danger — to the highest positions.
In parallel, of course, the forces of “anti-liberalism” will become stronger, but without any deviations from the general neo-liberal course in the economy. They will become stronger only in the form of finding a liberal “national traitor” to serve as the representative bogeyman of oppositionists of any type.
Judging by all the available evidence, certain left-wingers are also ready to play a major role in this work — some of them simply out of hatred of the “libers”, and some of them wanting to find their own small but safe position in the new situation.
What awaits them is the complete fusion with a trash-conservative agenda7, covered by an overall anti-western and “anti-liberal” sauce. Take a glance, for example, at the report of the “Yalta Conference of Resistance” on the rabkor.ru website:
“In his contribution Vasily Koltashov, leader of the Institute for Global Research and Social Movements, emphasised:
‘The struggle against the new Kiev authorities is really a struggle against the EU, only not just in the form of a rejection of the politics of the destruction of the family and heterosexual relationships but in the form of a rejection of the entire anti-social neo-liberal policies of the western elites.’”
All those who do not agree with this renovated consensus, all those who desire really democratic and really progressive social change in Russia, all those who hope that our country can be an example of democracy, justice and education for all rather than a small regional predator — all those people need a new opposition.
But for that to be possible, what is needed, however difficult it may be, is to put to one side differences about Ukraine.
Of course, it is impossible to overcome differences with those who have spent their entire time in recent months gnashing their teeth in front of a computer screen, backing the troops of the ATO, and laying into the “colorados” (slang for separatists).
It is equally impossible to overcome differences with those who have been hysterically calling for a march on Kiev and Lviv in order to eliminate the “Banderists” and “Ukra-fascism”.
But it is entirely possible to empathise with those Ukrainians who do not want to live with the current and increasingly anti-democratic Kiev regime, and entirely possible to empathise with those Ukrainians who want to defend their state from any Russian intervention.
This is not our war. But those fighting in it — on both sides — are our people, apart from a minority of ultra-right-wing thugs, their ideological and military leaders, patrons, and cheerleaders in the central television channels.
Such a position is perfectly capable of being understood and can be shared by a large number of people from the most varied layers of society. And they can bring that position to the majority.
What we need is a programme of radical change, oriented to the majority. A programme which unites democratic and social demands. A programme which proceeds from the fact that replacing one group of businessmen in power by another, more “democratic”, group does not lead to anything positive.
A programme which simultaneously orients to decentralisation and to the unity of the country, because the experience of Ukraine has once again shown to everyone what the dream of “unitary national states” leads to when the historical and cultural conditions are inappropriate for such a state.
We must orient to the trade unions, which fight every day for workers’ rights, without which no democratic change is possible. We must orient to the intelligentsia and to all those who do not want to “flood out” of the country but want to work in their own country in normal conditions.
We must orient to youth, which sooner or later will begin to rise up in revolt against debilitating conservative bans.
These people are entirely capable of forming a real majority in opposition to the current — and in fact, ephemeral — ideology of “For Putin, For Stalin, For the RussianWorld.”
And we must demand that those who manipulated with particular cynicism the psyche of millions of television viewers in recent months be put on trial. We must demand free access to the central television channels for different political forces (apart from those which propagandise ethnic and religious strife), social movement and trade unions.
Our enemy is in the Kremlin.
1. A reference to Pavel Gubarev, People’s Governor of the DPR.
2. Presumably a reference to the prominence of attacks on gay rights in separatist propaganda.
3. Prime Minister of the DPR.
4. Russian ultra-nationalists are very hostile to a separate judicial system for young offenders. For example: “Juvenile justice is the sharpest weapon used against mankind. Our irreconcilable enemies — the Zionist mafia — stop at nothing to turn our children into animals and to enslave them forever.” At: http://www.1-sovetnik.com/articles/article-915.html
5. Colours of the Ribbon of St. George, worn by the separatists.
6. Kolomoisky is a Ukrainian oligarch who created, and finances, the Dnipro Battalion.
7. Presumably a reference to Eduard Limonov, who once sought to create a punk version of Russian fascism.