Every international conflict also got a regional or local dimension – this is true also for Ukraine. Quickly, too quickly geopolitics moves into the centre of attention. But without understanding and considering the socio-political underpinnings a social revolutionary solution in the interest of the majority cannot be devised.
The abandonment of the association treaty with the EU last autumn sparked the street protests. This alone bears witness of the social illusions into the EU and western capitalism in general on one hand and the political power of anti-Russian sentiments on the other hand. Both from an economic as well as from a political point of view the treaty, which implied severing the close relations to Russia, would not have served the interests of the popular masses. In return the EU has only to offer austerity along the IMF adjustment programmes as exercised in southern Europe further pushing Ukraine into poverty and periphery.
The intensity of the protests can, however, only explained by taking the social aspects into consideration. The pro-Russian elites commanded a brachial capitalism similar to the Russian one but without its natural riches. Apart from its geo-political orientation the difference to its orange-coloured predecessor is small. A good example is the gas princess Timoshenko herself who made their huge fortunes by dealing with Russia. The people were taking to the streets against the social decay following the crisis of 2008 led by Yanukovych & Co. Even his Russophile clientele has considerably shrunk.
From the very start rightist, nationalist and pro-fascist forces were part of the movement which gradually could build influence and conquer the leadership. Reportedly they enjoyed also the support (including the material one) of anti-Russian big capitalists. The national overwhelmed the social. It displays the strength of Ukrainian nationalism and anti-Russian sentiments.
The left, which initially has been present on the Maidan, has been marginalised and chased away. We do not refer to the CP which is an appendix of the capitalist regime of Putin-Yanukovych, but to independent forces like Borotba, which left the Maidan soon.
2. Western anti-Russian stance
The EU and especially the US have been siding with the Maidan movement and the overthrow. The West is motivated by a general anti-Russian stance and the hope to enlarge its sphere of influence eastwards. Only Germany and its closest allies, which got vested economic interests in Russia, have displayed more caution but without wanting to confront the US.
The nonchalance, by which the decisive role of the ultra-nationalist and rightist forces is being ignored, is revealing. One has just to look at how easy opposition movements against the global order are regularly labelled as “ultra-nationalist” while the Ukrainian right is being handled with great care. This becomes even clearer with regard to the widespread anti-Semitism of the movement which is being overlooked. Not even Zionists seem eager to stage a campaign as they usually would do facing much minor incidents.
3. Russian reactions
Western corporate media and official policy focus on Russian involvement. They suppose as given that the Kremlin has been the driving force behind the events. Doubtlessly the political as well as (potentially) also military support offered by Russia does play an important role. But obviously there is also a popular sentiment, and a mass movement based on it, opposing the rightist nationalist government in Kiev. Without that factor Russian political action would not have been possible – although there is a decisive difference between Crimea and Donbass. The eastern popular movement is based on a democratic and also social momentum which is, however, mixed with Russian nationalism being used by the Kremlin for his own ends. Therefore the independent political articulation by the popular movement is limited.
The Crimea was an easy game for Russia as its armed forces have been present anyway. They just had to declare their rule. They could be sure of the endorsement by the Russian majority as the results of the referendum showed. Defections of ranking Ukrainian officers are evidence of the fact that there was not only the military pressure at play.
On Crimea the support to the Russian military coup essentially remained passive. In contrast in eastern Ukraine an outright popular movement sprang up – which does, however, not exclude Russian intelligence and even military involvement.
Big pro-Russian capital tries to reach a settlement with the new Kiev regime and the pro-western fraction of big capitalists. They do not want secession and would probably accept a compromise including power sharing as well as a reversal of the militantly anti-Russian line. Ukraine as a market and sphere of influence remains important to them.
It has to be taken into account that Russians live among Ukrainians and are completely mixed up. There is no clear line of demarcation as many do use both languages. Russian influence and cultural hegemony reaches far beyond language use. It is not by accident that Yanukovych wielded influence not only among those considering themselves Russians.
A majority of the eastern Ukrainian population seems to prefer a far-reaching autonomy from Kiev including the activist movement. But there are signs and reports indicating that this could change rapidly towards secession.
Much depends on the line being taken by the new Ukrainian government. If they maintain their hard nationalist stance further escalation up to secession is indeed possible. For the time being no substantial compromise offer towards the east has been recorded. Only some attempts to change the tune. Prime minister Yatsenyuk floated the proposal of a referendum on autonomy. But it is the entire Ukrainian population which is supposed to vote on the status of the east. This is ridiculous as the result is already established from the very beginning – as if one would ask the entire Turkish population to vote on Kurdish rights. To the contrary there are the ongoing military attempts to crack down on the Donbass revolt by military means. So from the side of the local population there is no reason to believe in the readiness of the rightist and nationalist Kiev government to at least partially cede to the popular demands.
5. Support the Donbass popular movement
The resistance of the eastern population against the reactionary pro-western government in Kiev has to be supported both from a democratic as well as an anti-imperialist point of view. Why the people should bow to neo-fascist right-wingers, pro-western nationalists as well as anti-Russian capitalists? It is incorrect to automatically suppose that the revolt would want to restore the rule of Yanukovych and its capitalist clique which are responsible for social misery also in the Donbass region.
At the same time one should be aware that the line between the legitimate Russian right to self-determination and Russian imperial claims as well as greater Russian chauvinism is thin, given Moscow’s involvement.
6. Ambiguous Kremlin
We do support the attempts to hinder western and especially NATO’s expansive drive towards Russia’s borders.
By now even Washington has understood that a line too aggressive could eventually backfire helping Russia to expand. Launching the idea of Ukrainian neutrality could be read as an attempt to maintain what has been achieved without further provoking Russia. In this sense Moscow’s political and military action and threat has been effective.
But the Russian policy must be judged within a larger context. Yanukovych is a product of Russian-European capitalist co-operation. His regime reflects Russian authoritarian capitalism being part of the global system. In this sense the Kremlin does bear its share for the protest movement against Yanukovych and offered a fertile soil to Ukrainian nationalism.
In terms of international law Russia’s hint to Kosovo in order to justify the annexation of Crimea is appropriate while western reference to “genocide” remains ridiculous. But it is not only the west to use double standards but also Russia. Why then Chechens are not entitled to the very same right of self-determination? The answer is obvious: It is neither about law nor democracy but all about geo-politics both for the White House as well as for the Kremlin.
7. Russia’s chauvinist tradition
Russia looks back to a secular colonial and imperial past not less anti-democratic than the west’s. Even the Soviet Union – with the short interruption by Lenin’s democratic national policy being a pre-condition for the Russian revolution – did continue this chauvinist tradition.
Russian nationalism acquired democratic anti-fascist and anti-imperialist credentials by defeating Nazi Germany (“Great Patriotic War”). Along the ensuing Cold War the Kremlin kept dominant US imperialism in check though also being criticised to follow an imperial momentum as well. Chauvinism has been always of part of Russian nationalism.
Putin is drawing on these traditions with the critical difference that today’s Russia is integral part of the world capitalist system while the USSR was not.
It is legitimate and to be supported when Russia is stopping the west and thus helps to pave the way towards a more multi-polar world. At the same time it should not be ignored that Russian geo-political ambitions violate the rights of smaller nations and nationalities sometimes by bloody means.
By doing so they are pushing them politically into the arms of the west (or also radical Islamism). Rightist Ukrainian nationalism is also – but not only – reaction to secular Russian imperial claims.
Furthermore it is not to be neglected that Putin by cultivating Russian nationalism tries to cover the social wounds being inflicted on Russian society by his extreme capitalism.
Democratic and social demands are being libelled as western decadence and thwarting the Russian popular soul. Actually Russia is moving towards a new form of Tsarism.
From a democratic, social revolutionary and in the long run also anti-imperialist perspective it is key to return to a policy which was crucial for Lenin’s revolutionary success: to unconditionally grant freedom to the oppressed nations and nationalities (even if momentarily and temporarily reactionary forces would gain leadership) in order convince the popular masses to ally with the forces of social revolution und build a union on voluntary base. This has nothing to do with Yeltsinism which, in a situation of extreme weakness, tried to sell off Russia to the capitalist predators.
The outcome of the contemporary conflict over Ukraine is not given. Even the most extreme variant, the very split of the country, is possible.
If the Kiev regime with its radical rightist component insists on its hard line and the west continues its support, a larger military attack on the Donbass revolt could prompt a bold military reaction by the Kremlin. And there cannot by any doubt that, if Moscow wants to win, it will win. Even the US cannot chance this unless they intervene militarily – something highly improbable. But certainly the US would drive the global spiral of escalation moving closer towards something reminiscent of the Cold War.
But it is also possible that Washington turns in and brings Kiev back to reason. The oligarchs and the orange-coloured decay products would follow suit but would have to get rid of the radical right. This would be a challenge they are not up to and which they do not want to face. Possibly a kind of second coup d’état would be required as Svoboda and the militias of the Right Sector took control of parts of the state apparatus and can draw on the credit of the Maidan movement. Maybe a coalition of the large capitalists of both sides is possible?
If western pressure on their allies is strong enough that cannot be excluded. In the last instance the US and Russia, let alone Germany and several other EU countries, have economic and geopolitical interests to limit the confrontation to a certain level – as otherwise it could endanger the entire global system.
Also from our point of view a larger military conflict splitting the country is not desirable, as the social conflict would be buried under the clash between rightist Ukrainian and imperial Russian nationalism. Substantial autonomy instead would help the eastern parts of the country to gain democratic rights against the Kiev rulers but would not destroy the bridge to Ukrainian lower classes. Calling for autonomy does not bring the movement into a situation of dependency on Putin’s military machine totally unacceptable for the Ukrainian lower classes.
This could be combined to a status of neutrality in foreign relations allowing more margin of manoeuvre. Close relations to Russia could be re-established on more equal base.
10. People’s government
Strategic aim is to bring down the Kiev regime allied with the west without coalescing with the pro-Russian capitalist elite (system Putin-Yanukovych). Given the acute social crisis it is not impossible to decompose the hegemony of the bloc between the radical rightist nationalists and the big oligarchs.
A social revolutionary answer could become plausible as the new regime will soon prove to be unable to address the deep troubles of the country.
But popular democratic and social demands can only be moved against the Kiev regime if the social revolutionary forces cannot be taken as an appendix of the Kremlin.
See Democracy and Class Struggle Critique of Aleksandr. Dugin and Eurasianism here :
On the Ukraine here :