Note: The follow was submitted as a reader comment on the Socialist Worker article, The threat of war hangs over Ukraine.
Ukraine- Needed, an independent working-class political leadership — J Leslie (thanks to W DeLuca for suggestions)
In their article, “The threat of war hangs over Ukraine,” Alan Maass and Lee Sustar correctly support the right of the Ukrainian people to self-determination. In my opinion, socialists should oppose both Russian and US/EU imperialist intervention in Ukraine.
What concerns me is the perspective put forward in the article regarding the nature of the Maidan movement. They write:
“The Maidan occupation was, in fact, sparked by anger at Yanukovich’s decision, under pressure from Russia, to abandon plans to sign an agreement for greater cooperation with the European Union (EU) in favor of a trade alliance led by Russia.”
It is true that the mobilization in Maidan was driven to an extent by anti-Russian nationalism, but the article doesn’t note that Yanukovich rejected the EU agreement mainly because the austerity measures required were too extreme. This doesn’t mean that Yanukovich was concerned for the well-being of ordinary Ukrainians, but that he understood the potential destabilizing effect on Ukrainian society of such measures.
Further down, the authors write:
“Hostility to Russia’s historic power over Ukraine was a driving factor throughout the protests. But other issues also came to the fore, including demands for genuine democratic institutions and opposition to the widespread corruption endemic to every faction of Ukraine’s elite, pro-Russian or not. The mass protest movement was a volatile uprising from below, not easily controlled by the pro-Western parties that claimed to lead it, nor the far-right organizations with a high profile among the Maidan occupiers.”
I think this statement seriously underestimates the impact of the fascists and neo-Nazis on the protest movement. Not every protest movement is intrinsically progressive. It is important for socialists to be able to determine the class nature of mass mobilizations in a world that is increasingly unstable. In many of the world’s poorer nations the petty bourgeoisie has been whipped into a frenzy by deteriorating economic conditions, and without leadership by the working class this can be led toward fascism or ultra-nationalism, as has been the case with the Maidan movement.
The majority of the protesters at the Maidan were from the petty bourgeoisie, economically ruined and driven to a breaking point by the oligarchs who have enriched themselves at the expense of the Ukrainian people. As we know, this class is the natural social base for fascism. This is not to say that the movement itself was fascist. The vast majority of the protesters were motivated by a genuine desire for democracy. Through boldness in street fighting, and the physical suppression of any left or labor intervention in the protest movement, the far right made it impossible for a “left” sector to emerge.
The overthrow of the Yanukovich gangster regime led to the formation of a government that includes both center-right opposition parties, who will enact austerity at the behest of the IMF, and fascists, who have positioned themselves in various ministries of the new government. Such a government will necessarily be unstable, strengthening the potential social power of the fascists. The Russian war moves have the same effect, since many Ukrainians will perceive the fascist forces as the best defense of Ukrainian independence against Russia.
What is necessary on the ground in Ukraine is a workers’ political organization with an anti-capitalist, internationalist, and anti-nationalist orientation. Such a movement should be able to raise clear slogans against the oligarchs and in favor of workers power. Also necessary is the building of working class fighting formations capable of challenging the fascists in the streets.
Of course, it’s easy for activists in the US to make pronouncements about what comrades in other countries should do in the course of struggle. It seems to me that our primary obligation, as socialists in the US, is to oppose any war moves by our own imperialism.
In closing, I offer a statement from the Ukrainian Marxist organization Borotba (Struggle)
“The tragic events of the last few days we have held steadfast internationalist and anti-fascist stance. We also do not support interference in the internal affairs of our country (by) any other powers, including RUSSIA. We believe that the entry of the Russian armies into Crimea, albeit positively perceived by local people, carries a great danger because it raises a wave of chauvinism…”