I would assert that understanding the class forces at work in Ukraine is critical. To do otherwise leaves socialists susceptible to campism- either knee-jerk pro-Russian imperialism or, failing to see the reactionary character of the political leadership of the movement and tailing after “democratic” imperialism because of distaste for Russian imperialism.
Ukraine has been trapped between Great Russian chauvinism and European imperialism led by Germany and also US imperialism, which supports the center-right opposition as a counterweight to Russia. Inter-imperialist rivalries drive the situation in Ukraine.
Ukraine has long suffered under outside domination- either German or Russian. The Russian empire exploited Ukraine, which was freed briefly from this domination in the wake of the Bolshevik-led revolution. Lenin’s party guaranteed oppressed nationalities the right to self-determination.
The Declaration of the Rights of the People of Russia issued November 15, 1917 was signed by both Lenin and the Commissar on Nationality Affairs, Joseph Stalin. It read:
“The united will of this Congress, The Councils of the People’s Commissars, resolved to base of their activity upon the question of the nationalities of Russia, as expressed in the following principles:
- The equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia.
- The right of the peoples of Russia to free self-determination, even to the point of separation and the formation of an independent state.
- The abolition of any and all national and national-religious privileges and disabilities.
- The free development of national minorities and ethnographic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia”
The Leninist policy was reversed under Stalin. Stalin purged the Ukrainian CP and millions of Ukrainians died during the forced collectivization of agriculture. It’s in this context that many Ukrainians greeted the German invasion as a liberation from oppression. Thousands of Ukrainians served in the Nazi military during the Second World War. (It’s no coincidence that many of the current ultraright forces in Ukraine use imagery of the Third Reich.) Stalin’s criminal policy of repression against national minorities included the mass deportation to Siberia of Ukrainians, Chechens and other non-Russian groups. Non-Russian languages were suppressed in favor of Russian.
The break-up of the USSR and the Stalinist bureaucracy in both Russia and former soviet republics. Has led to the rule of an oligarchy that has its origins partly in elements of the old Stalinist bureaucracy. The abrupt transition from created a class of “Gangster capitalists” that enriched themselves on the backs of the working masses of the former USSR. This is true in Russia as well as in former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan, Belarus, and in Ukraine.
“…there was no time for a native capitalist class of small entrepreneurs to grow up over decades or centuries into large corporations. This class had to be hothoused, virtually overnight. And it was. In the end, a combination of elements of underground mafiosa, the nomenklatura, especially the top managers of certain industries, and segments of the intelligentsia —these people were essentially drafted to privatize the economy criminally.” The Necessity of Gangster Capitalism, Holmstrom and Smith, Monthly Review
The character of the mass movement. The Maidan occupation movement represents a mass social explosion driven by rejection of austerity and the ruination of the middle classes while oligarchs continue to line their pockets. The center-right opposition parties have placed themselves at the head of this movement in collusion with ultraright forces represented by neo-Nazis and other nationalist-fascist forces. This includes clubs of rightist soccer hooligans.
“Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat — all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.” Trotsky, Fascism, What It Is and How To Fight It
Lacking a class pole, a mass social upheaval with a multi-class character will follow reactionary and center right politicians. The mass movement itself is not fascist but fascists have played a decisive role in the struggle. Certainly, the majority of the movement itself do not support the ultraright, but the physical force character of this element has been decisive in suppressing any left alternative being raised. Early on, neo-Nazi hooligans attacked trade unionists at the urging of a leader of the right wing Svoboda party. Ultraright goons also physically attacked any trend that they identified as socialist or anarchist.
The fallout from the overthrow of Yanukovich, after his failed attempt to form a government of national unity, is the banning of the pro-Russian Communist Party, as well as Yanukovich’s ruling Party of Regions. Anti-Russian language laws have passed and rightist gangs have toppled statues of Lenin and memorials to the Soviet defeat of German imperialism in WWII.
The Ukrainian people are caught between a rock and a hard place. The economic crisis in Ukraine is deep with the economy in a state of near collapse. Unemployment is high and the suffering of the Ukrainian people in contrast to the wealth of the oligarchs is clear. It is this suffering that has driven hundreds of thousands into motion against the regime.
The spark was Yanukovich’s rejection of deal with the EU that included austerity measures. Yanukovich accepted Putin’s offer of aid which pushed forward the mass pro-EU movement. In truth, neither deal- either with the EU or with Russia offers a real solution to Ukraine’s woes. The oligarchy has enriched itself at the expense of the workers and other social classes. The EU means austerity and attacks on the working class.
The Yanukovich government’s use of state repression against the demonstrations tipped the situation into open rebellion with a decisive role in street battles being played by rightist and fascist militias.
The composition of the new Ukrainian government is cause for concern. The post of Deputy Prime Minister has gone to Oleksandr Sych, a leader of the far right Svoboda party, a party which maintains international relations with the British National Party, the French National Front, and the fascist Jobbik Party in Hungary. The majority of posts in the new government have gone to members of Svoboda and also to the Fatherland Party. (Svoboda -Freedom- was formerly called the Social-National Party. The party changed its name and got rid of the “wolfs angel” logo. The wolfs angel was the symbol of German Nazi resistance to allied occupation after WWII.)
Andriy Parubiy, a Svoboda Party MP with a neo-Nazi background, has been nominated for the post of head the national security council. Also nominated as Parubiy’s Deputy is Dmytro Yarosh, a leader of the fascist Right Sector hooligans. Also nominated to lead anti-corruption efforts is Right Sector neo-Nazi, Tetyana Chornovol.
Do the EU and US imperialism want the break-up of Ukraine? The East-West division of Ukraine is a product of history. The western section of Ukraine is the base for the anti-Russian nationalist parties, while the eastern section of the country is made up of a majority of ethnic Russians and a smaller Turkish minority. With the enactment of reactionary anti-Russian laws, the state is set for the breakup of Ukraine, with the eastern half of the country orienting to Russia.
What is necessary is the defense of independent working class institutions. The trade unions could play a decisive role in providing an alternative to reaction. Also crucial is class-struggle oriented working class political party.
Relentless class struggle is the best defense against fascism. This requires not only political struggle but also the building of defense guards that can defend the movement by any means necessary. The Ukrainian working class needs unity against both the gangster capitalists and the contending (Russian and Euro-American) imperialisms. Essential to this is the recognition of the right of Ukraine to self-determination and the building of solidarity amongst the working classes of the former Soviet republics in defense of their rights against the oligarchs.
- No to national chauvinism! Working class unity against imperialism and the oligarchs!
- Self-determination for all peoples and an internationalist working class politics! No break-up of Ukraine!
- For a return to the Leninist policy on national self-determination!
- Defend the Ukrainian labor movement against repression and fight austerity!
- Make the rich pay for the crisis they created! For an independent working class party!
Ukraine has not experienced a genuine revolution, merely a change of elites Volodymyr Ishchenko
Russia: Stop intervention to stop the war! (CWI Russia)
Yanukovich Deposed, Niall Mulholland, CWI
Bloodshed in Kiev Rob Jones, CWI
Whither Ukraine? Marilyn Vogt-Downey
A Time to Mourn, a Time to Act: an Open Letter to the Ukrainian Left LeftEast Editorial Collective
Yanukovich leaves Kiev but what remains? Peter Mikhailenko IMT
Where is Ukraine Going? Alan Woods IMT
A political earthquake strikes Ukraine, Sean Larson and Alan Maass, Socialist Worker, US
Political uprising shakes Ukraine to its foundation, Roger Annis, Links
Problem of the Ukraine, Leon Trotsky, 1939
Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads, Leon Trotsky, 1939