“The survival of Ukraine depends on a left turn of its politics”
Interview with Andriy Manchuk, editor of the Ukrainian web journal Liva ('The Left') and activist of the Ukrainian Asscociation Borotba.
E.Tkhor: What are the prospects for a left turn of politics in Ukraine?
A. Manchuk: Actually, the survival of Ukraine as a state depends on it. The political-economic crisis of recent years that led to the present war and socio-economic disaster was an outcome of the drift - or it would be better to say ‘degradation’ – towards a right-wing political paradigm. This is the price paid by Ukraine for the exclusion of the left from politics. Left ideology has been deliberately demonized and marginalized in the public consciousness. That’s how the social slogans were able to be hijacked by the extreme right. Now, the situation has only deteriorated – left ideology may soon be outright banned officially.
The left-wing political groups that have rejected a pro-government position now face repression. In the absence of the left in the political spectrum, protests against the right-wing government can only be staged by far-right competitors and according to ever- more far-right slogans. People are made desperate by crisis and war but unless they fight against the real causes of the crisis and war, we may become trapped in a vicious circle of national disaster.
- Parliamentary parties (in the classical sense of this notion) have experienced the evident crisis. They have been replaced by blocs (the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and the Opposition Bloc), Fronts (Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s) and Associations (Batkivshchyna of Yulia Tymoshenko or Samopomich of Lviv mayor Sadoviy). Their programs are very similar and differ only over the personalities of the leaders and figures on the electoral lists. It seems that the emergence of traditional political parties - with firm and clear ideas, programs and party units – is impossible…
- These formal characteristics are not so significant. The so-called "activists", for example, are completely dependent on sponsors who include them on electoral lists and finance their campaigns, or who use celebrities for advertising their political forces. All modern political forces in Ukraine are the puppets of big business that controls politics.
Real opposition is absent. Representatives of the governing coalition in parliament actually don’t have significant differences. They could change their places in the electoral lists of the different parties (blocs) and nobody would notice. They have no clear political programs. They are just situational political projects; mere leverages in the hands of oligarchs and foreign forces.
This situation is, of course, completely abnormal. But it's even worse than that - the elections in 2014 were boycotted by millions, whose interests are, in fact, not represented in the political realm. These citizens didn’t see anyone for whom to cast their vote because opposition to the government forces has actually been expelled from formal politics. Naturally, they do not consider the current government as ‘their power’, as representing them in any way.
- The principle of party blocs and associations in Ukraine is not based on the principle of "bottom-up", but, rather, by –a "top-down" principle. That is, "those who pay give the orders". How could a left project gain a lasting foothold if it does not develop an extensive network of local party cells?
- Through the formal prohibition of left-wing ideology, the right-wing authorities of Ukraine try to exclude the left from political life. They allow into politics only those toothless, "rosy-pink" projects which are loyal and safe to the dominant power. But this is utterly unappealing to opposing voters. In fact, with the deepening crisis, desperate people will demand policies of the left. This can lead to real, radical struggle -- not just imitatations -- against the anti-social policies of the authorities, against censorship, war, illegal military conscription, persecution for political views, etc.
I don't think business interests will attempt to invest in radical, left politics. They never did so in Ukraine. The representatives of oligarchic circles are aware of their class interests. They understand that the left is their enemy, whereas in their pockets there is no more space for various bought and "tame" right-wing "radicals". The left should rely exclusively on the support of the protesting masses. The struggle for such support will be waged under quite difficult conditions because the right to peaceful protest is being violated in Ukraine.
- At the last parliamentary election on October 26 last year, the extreme flanks - Svoboda and the Communist Party – were tossed overboard, failing to win the five per cent threshold for seats.
So the parties with a clear political niche traditionally offering to voters a coherent alternative are gone. Is this an indication of the final death of "extreme" and "ideological" projects in Ukrainian electoral space?
- Of course not. Svoboda is actually represented in the Parliament and have own MPs. Moreover, other, more odious, far-right politicians with criminal backgrounds and openly neo-Nazi views won election to parliament. The fact is that the political agenda in the country has moved so far to the right after Euromaidan that the entire political elite transmits into society the far-right ideological dogmas. Lyashko (the leader of the Radical Party) now makes statements that even Tahnybok (leader of far-right Svoboda party) would not have dared make a year and a half ago.
Regarding the Communist Party, it was a left party in name only and a kind of ‘privatised brand’. The leaders of the Communist party rejected a left agenda, preferring to do business with Batkivschina and the Party of Regions, to whom they used to sell their votes in Parliament. Ideological, committed leftist projects were marginalized or excluded from politics by repressive actions of the authorities.
- Are demands of Ukrainian society on such issues as social justice and a fight against inequality and growing total poverty still relevant? Around what kind of ideas (Communist, socialist or social democratic) could a new left movement arise?
- Such demands will only increase with the deepening of the crisis and the escalation of the civil war in the East. However, the right-wing, which completely controls the political life of the country and the mainstream media will do everything possible so that the left remains marginalized and excluded from political life. Varieties of right-wing politicians will use the slogans of social justice in their internal competition between each other.
But demands of the radical left opposition are going to grow in popularity nevertheless. And ideological disputes in the left environment do not have to divide the left because they will have to respond the basic task – the struggle for elementary, basic civil and social rights of Ukrainians, the rights brutally violated now by the so-called "democratic" but in fact, authoritarian power.
- 2014 may become the last year in the history of the Communist party of Ukraine. Will that put an end to the history of the left in our country, or is there a possibility for the emergence of a new left alliance?
- Capitalism and its terrible consequences - poverty, war, social inequality - always create demands for left-wing ideas and left-wing political forces, despite all the oppression and terror. So yes, a new left movement will rise in Ukraine.
Another issue is what will be the price for the hegemony of far-right? How many people will be lost as a result of war and poverty in the country? How many regions will secede from Ukraine, due to the adventurous and aggressive policies of the rightwing government? How long before society realizes the consequences of the exclusion of the left from political life?
- Traditionally in Ukraine, nostalgia for communism was associated with the Soviet past, with the Kremlin and the ideas of the "Russian world". Will the left project find its place in the Ukrainian electoral sphere to be a pro-Kremlin, pro-Russian project, which will be clearly on demand for some time among the voters of Eastern regions, despite the results of the Anti-Terrorist Operation? Or will the introduction of so-called European values and the prospect of EU membership make the Left a part of the political life of Europe. Will a new left in Ukraine be integrated with European left-wing parties and organizations?
- We should get used to the fact that any left-wing or even a simple, opposition-democratic project in Ukraine will inevitably be labeled as "pro-Kremlin" or "pro-Russian". This is just propaganda, and increasing numbers of people will begin to understand that. Our officials want to equate any criticism of their policies, of their anti-social reforms and their war with "pro-Russian propaganda". Those who oppose the authorities are blamed as "the Kremlin's agents”. Of course, it's a lie. As a matter of fact, the Russian lefts are in opposition to their government. Our comrades from the Russian Left Front are in prison or in exile. The Ukrainian left for many years opposed the policies of the Russian government and stood against the wars in Chechnya and Ossetia (we traveled there during those conflicts) etc.
Regarding the Soviet past: you need to approach it with more balanced and objective assessments, without either idealization or demonization. It is foolish to deny that Ukraine (at least, in boundaries of early 2014) was formed in Soviet times. And attempts to impose nationalist and anti-communist agendas on the regions of the southeast have naturally led to the disintegration of this essentially internationalist and “Soviet" project. It is foolish to deny that during the past 24 years, the Ukrainian elite devoured and plundered what was built and established in the Soviet time. Despite the rabid anti-Communist propaganda in the media, people remember not just hunger or repression from Soviet times but also social security and their rights to free education and health care.
In Ukraine, the media do not like to mention that the vast majority of the European left shows a clearly negative attitude toward the current Ukrainian authorities. What's more, the Euopean left is very critical of the policies of the European Union and its future prospects. According to them, European elites under the auspices of the United States use Ukraine as a bargaining chip or as a battlefield against Putin's regime. They impose on our country anti-social reforms that will be a catastrophe for millions of Ukrainians.
In the EU, we see the expected victory of the left in the elections in Greece. That is the country where joining the European community had powerful, negative consequences, namely, a deep economic crisis and the destruction of the economy. It is protest against European integration that led to the massive popularity of the left coalition in Greece. Europe needs another sort of integration - not an imperialist market inegration but, rather, an integration based on democratic and socialist principles. Such an integration would not plunder and push away countries that are peripheral such as Ukraine or Russia.
- What could contribute to the emergence of a left flank in parliament – a kind of alliance of the existing left-wing projects or the emergence of a charismatic leader? Or is the Left doomed to be a failing project that is unable to enter the Parliament and only serve as a tool in the game of mainstream parties?
- A necessary condition for the emergence of a left is the democratization of the political life of Ukraine. We need to get rid of attempts to demonize and ban left ideas and persecute left-wing activists, such as when the far-right is able with total impunity to disperse anti-war rallies, smash the offices of left organizations etc. The left should have the opportunity to speak to the media and freely declare their program and agenda. In the struggle for such aims, the new leaders will appear and the left forces will become stronger.
Translation by Dmitriy Kolesnik