EDITORIAL: In the Ukrainian cauldron

From the July-August 2014 issue of News & Letters

The Ukrainian cauldron is white hot and threatening to boil over:

With his June inauguration, the newest Ukrainian oligarch head of state, billionaire candy maker President Petro Poroshenko, proclaimed the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Russian military-occupied Crimea, sending Ukrainian security forces to the eastern region to battle separatists.

This was followed days later by reports of Russia’s introduction of tanks, multiple rocket launchers and other military equipment to fighters in eastern Ukraine. There are indications that many fighters have migrated into the east across the porous Russian border. This followed Russia’s late February military occupation of Crimea after Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych was ousted through mass demonstrations.

U.S. AND EUROPE VIE FOR UKRAINE

Both the U.S. and Europe have worked hard to pull Ukraine into the West’s orbit with promises of financial assistance and with economic sanctions against Russia after its occupation of Crimea.

In eastern Ukraine the wildcard of armed militias and separatists, particularly in Donetsk and Luhansk, Russian-speaking provinces of southeast Ukraine, is being played out. Most recently, separatists shot down a Ukrainian military plane killing 49 people on board.

These facts on the ground threaten to spin further out of control, increasing the danger of a full regional war in the eastern region, the possibility of dismemberment of Ukraine, and an intensification of U.S.-Europe vs. Russia saber-rattling. However, these are only the latest moments of the “pseudo-concrete”—the false alternatives that have arisen, seeking to usurp the movement of self-determination that was manifest in the Maidan Nezaleznosti (Independence Square) occupation in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.

We need to return to Maidan to examine the profound though contradictory occupation that arose in late November, developed against extensive government repression in December, January, and February, resulting in the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych on Feb. 21. As we noted in the March-April issue of News & Letters: “The Ukraine that began to hear and speak for itself in the Maidan was made up of both Ukrainian and Russian speakers; it included historic Jewish and Muslim minorities; and significant parts were played by feminists and LGBT activists—examples of new human relations that must be expanded further.”

This is not to say that that movement was without contradictory elements. Bourgeois politicians were attempting to co-opt the occupation for narrow electoral politics (and in some senses have succeeded in the election of Poroshenko). As well, we pointed to the danger of a nationalist, anti-emancipatory right representing a serious threat to the movement. 

Yet what much of the so-called Left in the West and elsewhere have been blind to, is the seeds of self-determination born in Maidan and which continue to struggle to grow amidst the obfuscating big power occupations and maneuvers, the oligarchs’ consolidation of power, and fascist rhetoric of the right.

THOSE IN MAIDAN SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

In April progressive Maidan occupiers in Kiev organized a conference, The Left and the Maidan, to discuss their experiences. (See report on page 5.) Participants included independent trade union activists and miners who had participated in Maidans where they lived. One of the organizers, Denis Pilas, said in part:

“The international Left should not succumb to any kind of geopolitics or support of ‘lesser-evil’ imperialism. Instead, it should campaign against both the militaristic and adventurous policy of both the U.S. and Russia. It should be a genuine anti-war movement, against a possible civil war in Ukraine as well. It should oppose the conservative, authoritarian and oligarchic regime of Putin in Russia, and be in solidarity with leftists persecuted by it.” (http://rs21.org.uk/2014/04/24/the-left-and-maidan-interview-with-ukrainian-socialist-denis-pilas/)

One group within the Ukrainian Left, “Left Opposition,” published “Manifesto: 10 Theses of the Leftist Opposition in Ukraine.” Their introduction said in part:

“Our hope is that the protest movement, spurred to action by social injustice (the average salary in Ukraine is 2 to 2.5 times lower than in Russia and Belarus, and much lower than in the EU), might ultimately eradicate the root causes of this injustice. We believe that the cause of most social problems is the oligarchy that formed as a result of unbridled capitalism and corruption. It is important to limit the egotistic interests of our oligarchs, instead of relying on the help of Russia or the IMF, with the consequent national dependence. We believe that it is harmful to add our voices to the demands for Euro-integration; instead, we need to clearly delineate the changes necessary to support the interests of ordinary citizens, especially hired laborers.” (http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/manifesto-left-opposition-in-ukraine/)

Ousting Yanukovych certainly did not produce any meaningful new beginning for Ukraine. However, within a conflicted Maidan, there was a crucial minority who strove to plant seeds for such a new beginning. We cannot allow that to be lost in a rush to “take sides” with false alternatives that lead nowhere but to the continuation of class rule, with its racist, sexist, homophobic expressions.

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