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Ukraine : A Nationalist Dead-End (Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency)

Introduction of the IGCL

The conflict between the pro-Russian and pro-European factions of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie is a dead-end and horrible trap for workers lured into it in the name of the struggle against corruption and dictatorship. This democratic mystification serves to mask imperialist rivalries pitting Russia against Germany with the European Union rallying around it. For Ukraine is, in turn, the object of a fierce struggle between the main imperialist powers. And they won’t hesitate to provoke and wage a ’civil’ war in the defence of their interests.

Above all, democratic mystification serves as an attempt to enlist workers into a conflict where they have everything to lose. They ’should include no support for any of the bourgeois factions who represent only different aspects of the spectrum of exploitation and oppression’ our ICT comrades write. But this is not enough to escape the trap, or to stop the slaughter that has already begun. Much less the threat of a bloodier massacre. As our comrades say, the only way for the working class to avoid this trap is by regrouping in workplaces, defending living conditions and fighting against capitalist exploitation, that is, engaging in the struggle against bourgeois political forces and against the state, regardless of whether it’s ’dictatorial’ or ’democratic’, pro-Russian or pro-European.

Which way forward for the workers in Ukraine? By the same path taken by their class brothers from Bosnia and former Yugoslavia who, themselves, had known very well the monumental powerlessness evident when faced with the bloody massacres provoked by the Yugoslav nationalist war in the 1990s. Today, they rise up and fight, united, across all nationalities, as a united working class, against capitalist exploitation and misery, in facing the devastation of the crisis, and against the ’democratic’ and nationalist governments! This is the only way forward!

The IGCL, February 23rd, 2014.

Ukraine : A Nationalist Dead-End
(Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency)

Ukraine : a Nationalist Dead-End (ICT)

It is now over two months since the political crisis erupted in the Ukraine. A demonstration in favour of the EU? Nigel Farage would never believe it (nor for that matter many in Southern Europe). Are people really occupying and rioting because their government failed to sign an article of association and trade agreement with the European Union? It might have started as a protest at the failure of President Yanukovich to agree to a deal that had been in the making for a decade. But it has become more than this. It is now seen as a sign that nothing in crisis-ridden, oligarch-dominated, corrupt Ukraine was going to change. Resentment that has been building up for some time over a whole range of issues has found a cause and an outlet.

The Failure of the Orange Revolution

When the US-backed Orange Revolution kicked out Yanukovich the last time (2004) many Ukrainians thought that it would be an end of all the political sins of the corrupt post-Stalinist regime. Yanukovich’s fradulent election victory was overturned and the new regime headed by Yushchenko, with the “gas princess” Yulia Timoshenko as Prime Minister, took over. But it did not last. Whilst Yushchenko remained fixed on taking Ukraine into NATO and was more pro-Western, Timoshenko saw that Ukraine’s continued 60% dependence on Russian energy meant that a deal with Putin was inevitable. After the 2006 crisis when Russia cut off the gas supply in the depths of winter Timoshenko began to negotiate a deal with Putin [1].

The deal she did sign in 2009 was secret and designed to keep Yushchenko (then President) in the dark. With the two main branches of the former Orange movement at loggerheads, and the economy in a massive downward slide (a 15% fall in GDP in 2009) [2] after the bursting of the global speculative bubble in 2007-8, Yanukovich won power in what were considered “fair” elections in 2010. After the misery inflicted on the working class by the restructuring of the Yushchenko era, Yanukovich posed as the man to bring back “equality”. It was an unlikely claim as Yanukovich is part of the Donetsk clan headed by Ukraine’s richest oligarch Rinat Akhmetov who has a fortune of $12 billion. Needless to say workers, like workers everywhere, are worse now than they were 4 years ago.

One problem for the Ukraine is that it is dominated by such oligarchic clans (of which 4 are dominant). The top 50 oligarchs control two thirds of the country’s wealth. With the powerful backing of Akhmetov, Yanukovich (who in his youth was a convicted thug) lost no time in settling scores after the election. After creating a government dominated by the Donetsk clan he put Timoshenko on trial. She herself is an oligarch of great wealth acquired after the collapse of the USSR and in association with convicted criminals now in the US [3]. The deal with Putin that Timoshenko signed was deemed illegal [4] by the regime who imprisoned her two years ago. Her release was one of 6 EU conditions that Yanukovich, and his coalition of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party refused to meet last November. He has also altered the constitution to give himself as President more powers whilst the arrest and harassment of political opponents increased. If you look at how the Putin regime operates you get the picture for the Ukraine.

In the Vice of Imperialism

Ukraine is in fact stewing in an imperialist pressure cooker. Since 2007 its economy has been one of the worst performing in the world with the value of its biggest export earner, steel, being drastically cut. IMF loans have dried up as the regime has been incapable of carrying out the reforms they demanded. With $15 billion of its loans due for repayment next year and a continuing budget deficit Yanukovich (who seeks re-election in 2015) was in a desperate hole. The deal with the EU offered more money (€27 billion) but hedged with so many conditions and was so long term that Yanukovich was easy pickings for a bit of instant Russian pressure.

And the Russians, smarting over so many humiliations at the hands of NATO [5] and the EU, are pressuring many of their former satellites into economic agreements rather than look to the West. Armenia, dependent on Russia for its security, was also recently browbeaten back into the Russian camp and Ukraine has followed. Putin only had to offer to reduce the price Ukraine paid for its gas from $400 per 1000 cubic metres to $268.5 and offered a loan of 15 bn dollars with $3 billion paid up front (and another $2 billion by the end of January) to win over Yanukovich. Putin’s pay day loans are for the really desperate but he is only charging 5%, no questions asked and no EU conditions to be met.

The Protests

At first protest after November 21 was relatively muted. Students, and other young people (overwhelming middle class), who realised that the opening to the EU (and better job prospects) was now blocked, were amongst the first to protest and occupy the streets. This included Independence Square where the “Euromaidan” (Euro Square) camp was set up. However on November 30, the sight of the Berkut (riot police), and their allied paramilitary titushky (thugs), attacking peaceful demonstrators unleashed even bigger protests which started in the West of the country but has since even spread to Yanukovich’s own heartlands in the East and South. Local government offices have been taken over in many towns and attempts at alternative municipal structures have been made.

Every political opposition political grouping became involved and Putin is certainly right to say that there is foreign interference in the movement. He though was criticising the very public visits of EU top officials and US Senator John McCain to give solidarity to the demonstrators but there is a deeper involvement. Yulia Timoshenko’s Homeland Party was not slow to give their backing to the protests (since her release had been one condition of the EU deal). The party is now led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former foreign minister who strongly backs the EU’s proposed austerity reforms. Allied with Homeland are parties like ex-boxer Vitali Klitschko’s Udar which was originally set up with funding assistance from Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and is very close to Angela Merkel’s CDU. Klitschko is also thought to be close to Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the neo-fascist anti-semitic Svoboda (Freedom) Movement which has MPs in parliament and is in the same reactionary group as the BNP in the UK, Jobbik in Hungary and the Front National in France.

Svoboda and the far right have so far been the main gainers. Tyahnybok calls for “revolution” and his supporters are the most dominant in policing the occupations (even evicting other groups they don’t like the Splina Sprana (Common Cause group which represent the petty bourgeois of West Ukraine).

However many are increasingly suspicious of all the political parties. Many of the West Ukrainians, not all of them pro-EU contribute money, materials and time as individuals to the opposition. The resolution and organisation of the demonstrators has astounded the regime as they have dug in for 2 months in Independence Square (the so-called “Euromaidan” in sub-zero temperatures. Even the Christmas/New Year break only led to a temporary drop in their numbers.

The Regime’s Response

The regime’s initial response was to try to tough it out but by the end of November it thought it could intimidate the demonstrators with brutal repression (in which at least 7 have been killed and many have been tortured). After the New Year it then decided to introduce more repressive legal measures. The law passed by Parliament on January 16 basically restored outright dictatorship and banned any form of protest. They were assisted in passing this by the thugs of the Right Sector, a motley collection of ultra-nationalist neo-fascists largely made up of football hooligans. They despise the official neo-fascist group of Svoboda as liberals. They are not interested in the EU or Russia but in a racially pure Ukraine which they think is run by Jews who want to give gays rights. They had been accepted by the more liberal demonstrators because they have fought back most violently against the riot police (Berkut). However according to the AST (Autonomous Workers’ Union, an anarcho-syndicalist group in the Ukraine), the same anti-semitism and anti-gay material can be found on the social media of the titushky who line up with the Berkut. These groups are often led by ex-police officers and they operate like Latin American death squads. The removal of injured protestors from hospital to be tortured and, on a couple of occasions killed, is put down to them [6].

In short there are vicious ugly elements on both sides of this conflict. It is thus quite laughable to read accounts on Trotskyist websites describing the protests as “right wing” as though Yanukovich’s regime was any different. What we have in a Ukraine saturated in nationalist ideology are two Rights who are equally wrong. However the Right Sector may have made the headlines until January 16 they have now seen their influence reduced as more protestors have joined the demonstrations against the attempt to increase authoritarian control. Many of these are indifferent to nationalism and are not interested in the EU. Some have of these begun to suggest that the Right Sector is actually a tool of the regime as its provocations provide an excuse for more repression.

Since January 16 too the demonstrations and occupations have begun to really spread to the Donetsk clan’s heartland in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. This has given Yanukovich pause for thought. The regime is now backing down and seeking a negotiated way out. The January 16 laws have been rescinded, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have resigned and Yanukovich has made several offers of deals to the opposition to calm things. Even the oligarchs who back Yanukovich have warned of the danger of civil war and call for more dialogue. Yanukovich has now tried to buy time by sending in a sickie. He claims he has an “acute respiratory disorder” (otherwise know as a touch of the cold) but is still running the country. It is a good way to postpone any further discussion with the Opposition who might splinter over who controls the government buildings that have been occupied. In fact the opposition are only united around one demand – the overthrow of Yanukovich.

A Working Class Perspective

Throughout all this the working class has been largely absent. It has certainly been missing as a class force. Under the formal control of the Ukrainian trades union federation it has been quiescent. It has good reason to be. None of the factions in the current struggle offer it the slightest comfort. In the immediate term they are better off with Yanukovich since any deal with the EU (and the IMF for that matter) means “reforms” and workers all over the world now know what that means today. It means greater job insecurity, lower wages, less social security and diminished pensions. The longer term though is of a global capitalism in crisis with Ukraine as one of its basket cases. The “reforms” that are needed to keep capitalism functioning in the Ukraine are all about attacking workers’ living standards as they are throughout the world. And the Ukraine is not the only place which is seeing the rise of the radical and even neo-fascist Right. One dodge of the capitalists has always been divide and rule and in a crisis how easy is it to blame it on the “other” immigrants, the unemployed other ethnic groupings. It is a story older than capitalism but it has never been more needed by our exploiters than today. But the world working class is a class of migrants. We have no country but we do have a world to win.

In the Ukraine the task looks daunting. Forming a politically independent and autonomous working class movement in current circumstances is not easy. However the few revolutionary working class elements that do exist should seek to cooperate on the ground around some common aims. Above all else these should include no support for any of the bourgeois factions who represent only different aspects of the spectrum of exploitation and oppression. At the same time it should also include support in the workplace, in neighbourhoods, and in the occupations for any initiative which bolsters working class solidarity and confidence. Alongside this we have to spread political propaganda against all bourgeois factions and the recognition that the fight of the workers in the Ukraine is not unique but part of a global resistance to capitalist exploitation. The path is not a short one but this would at provide a starting point. Ultimately the workers of the Ukraine have to join the battalions of the world working class in an international and internationalist political movement to get rid of a system which has long outlived its usefulness.

Jock CWO/TCI, 23 February 2014.

(Published on : 23 February 2014)



[3Pavel Lazarenko also a former Prime minister under President Kuchma. The UN says he stole $200,000,000 and was sentenced in the US in 2006 to 9 years for money laundering, wire fraud and extortion. In 2004 Transparency International put him at number 11 on the world’s most corrupt list.

[4In fact by agreeing to pay world market prices Timoshenko hamstrung the Ukrainian gas company Naftohaz which gives an 80% discount to customers as they cannot pay Putin’s price. Ending this subsidy is one of the “reforms” demanded by the IMF and more quietly the EU. It would be political suicide for any Ukraine government to agree to it. See