Counterrevolution and Mass Resistance in the Ukraine
Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 17.4.2014, www.thecommunists.net
1. The looming civil war in the east of the Ukraine, the result of the popular uprising in the region, opens a new facet to the deep political crisis which is shaking the country since November 2013. These new developments can only be understood, and accurate tactical conclusions can only be drawn, if one recognizes the overall context. Thus, the RCIT reaffirms its analysis of exacerbation of inter-imperialist rivalry between the great imperialist powers: the US/EU on the one hand and Russia (and China) on the other. The Maidan movement was, and the new regime in Kiev is, a proxy of US and EU imperialism in order to expand its influence to the east. At the same time, the Yanukovych government was an instrument of Russian imperialism. We also reaffirm our refusal to give any support to the reactionary Maidan Movement while, at the same time, giving no support to the reactionary Yanukovych government. After the overthrow of Yanukovych’s government, the RCIT stated its defense of the national rights of the Russian-speaking population in the east and south, without giving any support to Russian imperialism. While the mass uprising of sectors of the Russian-speaking population in the east contains contradictory elements, its democratic resistance against the looming oppression by the pro-Western, pro-IMF, Russophobic and right-wing and fascist regime in Kiev is its dominant character. Therefore, the RCIT supports the popular rebellion in the east and calls for its victory against the Kiev-loyalist military forces. At the same time, revolutionaries should fight inside this movement against reactionary, pro-Russian imperialist and chauvinist forces. The overall perspective has to be the formation of democratically controlled action councils and workers militias in order to advance the struggle for a workers’ government.
The Offensive of US/EU Imperialism and the Counter-Offensive of Russian Imperialism
2. The general background to the developments in the Ukraine in the last half year is the heightening of inter-imperialist rivalry between the great imperialist powers, the US/EU on the one hand and Russia (and China) on the other. Both the US/EU and Russia are struggling for hegemony in the Ukraine. After the overthrow of the Yanukovych government and the imposition of a right-wing regime, US and EU imperialism gained an advantage. In its countermove, the Putin regime struck back by annexing Crimea and placing immense pressure on the Ukraine via its debt obligations to Russia and the natural gas it imports from her.
3. Western governments and media portray Russia as an aggressive Great Power that wants to subjugate the Ukraine. Indeed, Russia is an emerging great imperialist power which has clearly demonstrated its own reactionary character, for example, by its war of extermination against the Chechen people. Nevertheless the Western governments and media are a model of imperialist hypocrisy. Wasn’t it the West that continued to collaborate closely with Russia during and following its Chechen wars from 1994?! Furthermore, haven’t US and EU imperialism been waging classic colonial wars in Afghanistan since 2001 (with the help of Russia) let alone the more devastating one in Iraq (2003–2011), wars in which hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed?! And is it not obvious that it is precisely NATO and the EU which are permanently trying to expand their areas of influence towards the East?! A particular bizarre case of Western hypocrisy is NATO’s protest about Russian troops stationed … in Russia of all places, along its own eastern border! On the other hand, it is quite natural for these Western hypocrites that US and EU warships, combat aircraft, and ground troops operate thousands of kilometers away from their home countries in Central Europe, the Baltic States, and the Black Sea, close to Russia’s border! It is a central task for socialists living in the Western and Eastern imperialist countries to counter the reactionary and chauvinist offensive of their respective ruling classes.
A Balance Sheet of the Maidan Movement
4. From the beginning of the political crisis in the Ukraine, the RCIT has closely followed developments there and has expressed its views in a number of statements. Here, we will only elaborate the main conclusions about this key theatre of political events during the past few months. As we have pointed out from the start, the political crisis of the Ukraine originated as a conflict between different factions of oligarchs, whose respective orientations reflected the ongoing rivalry between US/EU imperialism on the one hand and Russian imperialism on the other for influence in the country. This is why the RCIT supported neither side in this conflict, but instead called for independent, working class mobilizations.
5. Obviously the Yanukovych government represented the interests of a group of oligarchs with a pro-Russian orientation. However, at no time did the Maidan movement display a progressive, democratic nature. Rather, the movement was founded, top-down by pro-Western parties, on the very day that President Yanukovych refused to sign the association agreement with the EU. While undoubtedly the movement contained some liberal, middle class elements hoping for more democracy, as a whole it was dominated from start to finish by an unstable coalition of two right-wing conservative parties (Fatherland and UDAR), the fascist Svoboda party, and the Neo-Nazis of the Pravy Sektor. These reactionary elements attacked progressive and trade union forces as soon as the latter openly intervened with flags and banners.
6. In sum, the Maidan movement differed in a number of ways from a democratic mass movement with a non-revolutionary leadership like those which have arisen in other countries: (1) it came into being as a movement supporting a reactionary goal (joining the imperialist EU) instead of, for example, one fighting for democratic rights against a dictatorship; (2) from its emergence until its accession to power, the movement was tightly controlled by a small group of reactionary leaders (including fascists); and (3) the only time the masses identifying with the movement refused to follow its leadership was when the Pravy Sektor Nazis called for the cancellation of the compromise with the Yanukovych government. For these reasons, the RCIT maintains that the dominant character of the Maidan movement was not the desire for democratic rights (while this certainly played an important role among some sectors of the movement); rather we see this movement as having been a reactionary tool which fought for a reactionary goal (joining the EU) and for the interests of a pro-Western sector of the ruling class as well as those of Western imperialism.
7. For these reasons, we consider as politically criminal the support exhibited for the Maidan movement, as a kind of legitimate democratic struggle, by most of the larger centrist organizations (e.g., the Mandelite Fourth International, Peter Taffee’s CWI, the Cliffite SWP/IST, the ISO [USA], and the Morenoite LIT-FI). These centrists have again demonstrated their capitulation to Western imperialism and have to be characterized as pro-Western social-imperialist Leftists. Once again, we witness how the lack of coherent Marxist methodology and analysis inevitably leads to centrist confusion and vacillations and ultimately into the camp of counter-revolution.
On the Overthrow in Kiev and the New Right-Wing Regime
8. The overthrow itself was the result of the Pravy Sektor’s military initiative following their rejection of the compromise which the other three parties of the Maidan movement signed with the Yanukovych government. The rapid growth of fascist forces should serve as an alarm for workers’ movements both in the Ukraine and throughout Europe in general. For the first time since 1945, fascists entered a European government. However, it would be inaccurate to denounce the present government in Kiev as a “fascist government.” Rather, it is a pro-Western coalition government composed of right-wing conservative parties and fascists, the latter being a minority: Svoboda and Pravy Sektor hold eight out of the twenty-seven governmental portfolios, and account for four out of twenty-four regional governorships.
The Mass Resistance against the Right-Wing Regime in the East
9. By threatening to abolish Russian as an official language in the Ukraine, the new right-wing government immediately demonstrated that it constitutes a threat for the large portion of the Ukrainian population whose native language is Russian. (According to recent polls, this includes about 43–46% of the country’s total population, who actually are the majority of the population in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine.) In addition, following the overthrow, the Communist Party was outlawed in several regions, and left-wing and trade union organizations were attacked by the fascists. Under these conditions, the RCIT called for mass mobilizations and the formation of armed self-defense units to fight back against the fascist threat. We call for the right of self-determination for national minorities, including the right of secession. The RCIT supported from the beginning the resistance of the Russian-speaking population and the formation of self-defense movements in the south and east of the Ukraine against the fascists and the new right-wing government.
10. We therefore support the popular rebellion of the workers and poor in the east. Activists have occupied a number of buildings in nine cities in the Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv Oblast. This movement has a contradictory nature but, overall, it is predominantly democratic, which becomes obvious if one compares it with the Maidan movement:
i) The uprising in the east is overwhelmingly proletarian in its class composition in contrast to the Maidan movement. The latter was dominated by the middle class, university students, and rural people from the western Ukraine. The current uprising in the east, on the other hand, is dominated by workers and working class youth. They are now receiving support from organized contingents of the Donbass miners – the heart of the Ukrainian working class.
ii) The uprising in the east is much more spontaneous than the Maidan movement was, and is thus a more authentic expression of the popular will. While the Maidan movement was tightly controlled by the Fatherland party, UDAR, the fascist Svoboda, and the Neo-Nazi Pravy Sector, the current uprising in the east is not controlled by any party. The parties which have traditionally been strong in the affected regions – the Party of the Regions and the Communist Party – have hardly any influence in the movement.
iii) The uprising in the east was launched as a struggle for democratic rights – against the discrimination of the Russian language and against the dominance by the right-wing regime in Kiev, which included fascists. By contrast, the Maidan movement began based on the demand that the Ukraine join the imperialist European Union.
iv) The powerful influence of fascist forces in the Maidan movement ensured that socialist and progressive forces were beaten and expelled as soon as they openly intervened. Contrary to this, socialist forces like Borotba and others are openly intervening in the proletarian uprising in the east and have achieved an influential in the movement. In addition, demands raised in several declarations include anti-capitalist demands, like the nationalization of the industry.
11. Recognizing the fundamentally democratic and progressive character of the uprising in the east must not cause socialists to overlook the contradictory and reactionary elements participating in this movement (in contrast to various Stalinists and pro-Russian social-imperialist leftists). The spontaneous nature of the movement also has the negative consequence that the working class cannot democratically control the movement and its local leaders. As a result, various adventurer and chauvinist bonsai warlords are able to take leading positions in the movement. The movement also contains Great Russian chauvinist and semi-fascist elements, albeit they do not dominate the movement as was the case in the Maidan movement. In addition, openly pro-Russian imperialist forces and agents are trying to influence the movement. The RCIT repeats that Ukraine’s subjugation to Russia is in no way better than its subjugation to Western imperialism.
12. The democratic uprising in the east is another validation of RCIT’s position that every democratic and national movement has to be thoroughly studied, and must not automatically be viewed simply as a proxy in the intensifying inter-imperialist rivalry. In a world dominated by imperialist monopolies and states, it is unavoidable that these great powers will try to utilize national and democratic struggles to advance their influence. However, one has to analyze concretely whether or not a given movement has become totally subordinate to and a proxy of an imperialist power. Given that the development of movements is determined by the living laws of class struggle, they can naturally also change their character. If, for example, Russian troops would invade the Eastern Ukraine, the local uprising would lose its popular character and become a proxy of Russian imperialism. In such a situation, revolutionaries could no longer support the rebellion.
Crimea, Russians and the Tatars
13. Applying the Leninist policy on national self-determination, the RCIT defends the right of the people of Crimea to secede from the Ukraine and join Russia. While, given the presence of Russian soldiers, the referendum which was held was certainly not conducted under democratic conditions, there is no doubt that it reflected the authentic desire of the Russian majority of the Crimea to join Russia.
14. At the same time, Marxists must defend the right of self-determination for the national minority of the Crimean Tatars. The Tatars were formerly the majority in Crimea, but suffered systematic oppression and expulsion by the Tsarist Empire. For example, about 100,000 Tatars were expelled after the Crimean War (1853–56). At the same time, the Tsarist regime encouraged systematic settlement of Russian colonialists in the Crimea. As a result, the Tatars became a minority in Crimea in the later 19th century. In 1897, they constituted 34.1% of the Crimean population and, by 1921, only 25.9%. In 1944, the Stalin regime collectively deported the Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. Today, about 300,000 Tatars live in the Crimea.
15. Following the recent Russian annexation of the Crimea, the Tatars can once again expect new oppressive measures against them. According to the Moscow Times, Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev wants the “Tatars to vacate part of the land where they now live in exchange for new territory elsewhere in the region” (The Moscow Times 19 March 2014). This is understandably perceived by the Tatars as a threat for new expulsions, to which the official leaders of the Crimean Tatars have responded with demands for full autonomy and a referendum on this issue. Not surprisingly, these demands have already been rejected by the pro-Russian Crimean government. The RCIT unconditionally supports the struggle for full and equal national rights for the Crimean Tatars, without giving the slightest political support to their bourgeois leadership.
Perspectives and Tasks
16. The focus of the class struggle is currently in the eastern part of the Ukraine. Revolutionaries should support the popular rebellion in the east and call for its victory against the Kiev-loyalist military forces. The central task is to transform the movement from one which is focused on the occupation and defense of buildings to regular mass assemblies in places of work and neighborhoods. From these assemblies, action councils should be formed which will elect and control delegates. On such a basis, the movement should call a democratic congress to coordinate the resistance and to form the basis for a workers’ government. Equally, such democratic mass organs should control the workers’ and popular militias.
17. It is equally central that revolutionaries fight inside this movement against reactionary, pro-Russian imperialist and chauvinist forces. These forces are reactionary henchmen of Russian imperialism. While the Maidan slogan “Glory to the Ukraine” is reactionary, hailing Russian imperialism and its President Putin is no more progressive. This is particularly true given the history of the Ukrainian nation which for centuries has been characterized by systematic oppression by Greater Russian chauvinism – first under Tsarism until 1917 and subsequently, from the early 1930s onwards, by Stalinism. The popular uprising in the east must be transformed into an independent working class movement which expels all chauvinist and semi-fascist elements.
18. Socialists should advocate complete equality for the Russian-language in the Ukraine and full autonomy and the right of self-government for the Russian-speaking provinces. While we defend the right of self-determination, including the right of secession, all indicators show that the huge majority of the population in the eastern part of the country does not desire such separation but rather more autonomous rights. Hence, revolutionaries should oppose the breaking up of the Ukraine and the annexation of its eastern provinces to Russia. Under current conditions, calling for the annexation of the east to Russia is simply propaganda for Russian imperialism. It is equally important that socialists struggle against Greater Russian animosity against the population of western Ukraine – even when such animosity disguises itself as “anti-fascism.”
19. The democratic and national struggle in the east of the Ukraine has to be combined with the social struggle against the oligarchs and the Kiev regime. The Ukrainian working class will face continuous attacks by the new right-wing government, which has already announced a 50% rise in the price of gasoline effective as of 1 May, as dictated by the IMF. The government is also planning to lay off many public sector workers. These economic attacks against the workers will be exacerbated by Russia’s decision to raise the price of natural gas exported to the Ukraine. All this demonstrates how vital it is that the struggle against the looming fascist threat and for the defense of the rights of the Russian-speaking population of the Ukraine must be combined with mobilizations against these social attacks. Ukrainian socialists must link this struggle with a call for an immediate break with the IMF, NATO, and the EU as well as the nationalization of the country’s industry and financial sector under workers’ control. The goal has to be the overthrow of the present government and the formation of a workers’ government. To fight for the implementation of such a program, it is absolutely incumbent upon Ukrainian workers to establish an independent, revolutionary workers’ party.
* Victory to the popular uprising in the eastern Ukraine! For full autonomy rights for the Russian-speaking regions!
* Build workers’ and popular councils and militias to defeat the reactionary regime and its armed forces!
* Down with the reactionary, pro-Western imperialist regime in Kiev which includes fascist forces!
* Down with US/EU imperialist expansion towards the East! No to Russian imperialism!
* Expropriate all oligarchs! For the nationalization of industry and the banks under workers’ control!
* Neither Brussels nor Moscow! For an independent workers’ republic in the Ukraine which guarantees full and equal rights to all national groups!
International Secretariat of the RCIT
We refer readers also to the RCIT’s past statements on the Ukraine crisis:
Joint Statement of the RCIT and the Movement to Socialism (MAS, Russia): Ukraine: Rivalry between Imperialist Powers escalates after Right-Wing Coup: Stop the Imperialist Saber-Rattling! 2.3.2014
MAS: Ukraine/Russia: The victory over the imperialist colonialism is impossible without the proletarian revolution! http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/mas-declaration-5-3-2014/
RCIT and MAS: Right-Wing Forces Take Power in the Ukraine: Mobilize the Working Class against the New Government! 25.2.2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/right-wing-coup-in-ukraine/
MAS: No to the Terror of the Bandera-Fascists! Stop the Repression against the Communists of Ukraine!, 22.2.2014 http://www.nuevomas.blogspot.co.at/2014/02/no-to-terror-of-bandera-fascists-stop.html
RCIT: “Ukraine: Neither Brussels nor Moscow! For an independent Workers’ Republic!” 18.12.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/ukraine-neither-brussels-nor-moscow/
For an outline of our approach to the complex issues of progressive struggles and imperialist interference see:
Michael Pröbsting: Liberation struggles and imperialist interference. The failure of sectarian “anti-imperialism” in the West: Some general considerations from the Marxist point of view and the example of the democratic revolution in Libya in 2011, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/liberation-struggle-and-imperialism/
On imperialism in general and Western imperialism in particular we refer readers to:
Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South – Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism (The book has 448 pages and includes 139 Tables and Figures.). You can find more details about the book and how to order it on our website www.great-robberyof-the-south.net. The RCIT has published a summary of the book on its website at http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-summary/
On Russian imperialism:
Michael Pröbsting: Russia as a Great Imperialist Power. The formation of Russian Monopoly Capital and its Empire – A Reply to our Critics, 18 March 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 21, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-russia/
Michael Pröbsting: Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Summary of the RCIT’s Analysis, 28 March 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-china-and-russia/