by Mick Brooks, 11th August 2014
The essential background to the crisis in Ukraine is the deep impoverishment of the population caused by the restoration of capitalism. Ever since then politics have been dominated by oligarchic cliques of capitalists who stole the publicly owned means of production. Capitalism has also been restored in Russia and Putin (an oligarch) is its representative. Why should socialists support one gang of capitalists against another?
The Maidan movement that overthrew Yanukovich in February is sometimes described as a fascist movement and the resulting regime in Kiev as ?far right?. In fact the movement in Maidan was complex and contradictory. Fascists (the Right Sector and Svoboda) were prominently involved in Maidan Square. Some in western Ukraine were anxious to tilt the country towards an orientation towards the EU and western imperialism. Many followed along, unrealistically believing this would generate prosperity in Ukraine. But Yanukovich was corrupt with dictatorial tendencies. Many activists in Maidan believed themselves to be fighting for freedom and democracy. It is an insult to many that risked their lives against his snipers? bullets to deny that they were believed they were fighting for a better Ukraine.
The Maidan movement was not a fascist movement as a whole and the new regime is not fascist, though there are fascists in the government. There have also been attacks on civil liberties and democratic rights since February from the Kiev government, and repression against sections of the labour movement.
Part of the south and east have attempted to break away to form separatist republics. These movements, like all Ukrainian politics, have partly been the playthings of oligarchs. For instance billionaire Akhmetov was initially in favour of the Donetsk People?s Republic, though he has since switched sides. Meanwhile oligarch Poroshenko was elected as president in Kiev in May. Virtually nobody in the separatist areas voted for Poroshenko. Likewise the elections in the breakaway provinces in the east were a farce, with the ballots dominated by men with guns.
The movement in the east has not been simple to analyse. There has been a regional dimension of east versus west in Ukrainian politics for decades. Many in eastern Ukraine are Russian speakers and regard themselves as Russian. One of the first acts of the post-Yanukovich government in Kiev was to try to ban Russian as an official language of Ukraine. There has been a genuine and well-founded fear in the south and east of the far right movements based in Kiev. But if you think the title of the Donetsk People?s Republic sounds left wing, bear in mind that the government declares itself to be ?guided by the Orthodox faith.?
On both sides the tensions within the country have been exploited by the great powers. This is now a proxy conflict between western imperialism and Russian capitalism, rather than a civil war.
Poroshenko has declared war on the breakaway provinces. At first he relied on the fascist thugs as auxiliaries in the east. Now he is also relying on the Ukrainian armed forces, which uses tanks, rockets and military aircraft against militias mainly armed with hand-held weapons.
The Ukrainian army is receiving logistical support from western imperialism. According to the Financial Times (07.07.2014) the US is ?providing millions of dollars worth of food packages, body armour and night-vision goggles. Ukrainian officials say the US has also provided crucial intelligence on advice and strategy.? At the end of July David Baldwin, Commander of the California National Guard, was in Ukraine ?consulting? with local military chiefs. Ukraine is nowhere near California! Clearly the Ukrainian army is a puppet of western imperialism.
So the US is being hypocritical when it accuses Putin of arming the separatist. All the same this accusation is completely true. You cannot buy AK-47s or rocket launchers in the shops in eastern Ukraine. The weapons come from Russia.
Putin has infiltrated some sinister figures into the region to pursue Russian interests. Igor Strelkov (meaning ?Rifleman?) is regarded as the military leader of the Donetsk People?s Republic. He is a Russian monarchist (!). He hates homosexuality and favours the death penalty. Until recently (hmm?) he admitted to being a reserve colonel in the FSB (KGB) and has done Putin?s bidding in Chechnya and elsewhere. Is this really an anti-fascist movement?
Then Igor Bezler (known as Bes, ?Demon?) runs the town of Horlivka, apparently with an iron fist. Also fighting in the region, Nikolai Kozitsyn commands a group of Cossacks. These people are warlords and gangsters. The idea that they are motivated by fighting against fascism is far-fetched. But these are the people who have the guns in the breakaway oblasts.
They are also Russian, not Ukrainian. Borodai, the former prime minister of the Donetsk breakaway statelet, who resigned very recently, is also a Muscovite. He tries to bat off allegations that he is working for the Russian security services. ?Even if I were, do you think I?d answer?? he once told reporters.
Inevitably the separatists in the east have been outgunned and they are losing the war. Lugansk and Donetsk are blockaded and running short of food, water and electricity. Refugees are flooding out of the area. A humanitarian disaster is in the making. There could be worse to come. Donetsk is a city of a million people. Any attempt by the Ukrainian army to take it could produce scenes like the battle of Stalingrad.
Both sides lie to us all the time. Western imperialism pretends it is not involved when really it is pulling Poroshenko?s strings. Their pressures on the Kiev government are taking its toll. The economy is a basket case. Delivering the country into the grip of western imperialism inevitably makes things worse for the common people.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has the country in its grip. In return for desperately needed loans the IMF is imposing a vicious austerity programme on the hapless people of Ukraine. It has refused to lend more money till the Ukrainian Rada (parliament) in Kiev passes the budgetary laws they demand. So much for democracy!
The IMF wants vicious cuts in social spending at the same time as they demand more military spending to pound the breakaway provinces. Secondly it is demanding that Ukraine build storage facilities for natural gas so that the country becomes less dependent on Russian supplies. The IMF makes no secret of the fact that it is an agent of western imperialism.
Confronted with this pressure the Kiev government is disintegrating. The Prime Minister in Kiev resigned on July 24th admitting his government?s bankruptcy.
What about the right of nations to self-determination? Since the civil war has now become a proxy war of rival great capitalist powers, the phrase is meaningless. The right of eastern Ukraine to secede, if the people want it, really means the right of Putin and his agents to butcher the country. Who else will police the referendum? The right of the people of Ukraine to remain within its present borders means the right of western imperialism to swallow the lot. The imperialists are the people arming their puppet Poroshenko to the teeth.
Is there a ray of hope in this sombre situation? There LRC supports the Ukrainian Socialist Solidarity. The campaign has been active in trying to drum up support for the Kryviy Rih miners in eastern Ukraine. The miners in Kryvyi Rih are in conflict with their oligarch boss Alexander Frolov, said to be ?worth? $1.6billion. The miners struggle to make do on just $450 per month in wages. They won a partial victory in June. They got a 20% pay rise. They still live in poverty. The Ukrainian currency the Hyrvnia is in freefall, so prices are going up all the time. Workers have to run hard just to stay still. The struggle continues.
The miners know they can expect no help from any of the oligarchs. Every time the workers take independent action to defend their class interests they come up against the right wing thugs, either of Svoboda and the Right Sector in the Kiev government or of the separatist militias. The Kryviy Rih miners issued a statement denouncing, ?inter-ethnic confrontation that is fuelling a hysterical mutual hatred between workers of different nationalities?.
In a statement they declare, ?Organised workers and workers? self?defence are precisely that stabilising factor that can effectively prevent the escalation of violence in Ukraine. In those places where organised workers are controlling the situation mass actions never turn into mass killings.?
Are they wrong? Should we instead support those who try to suppress independent movements of the working class? The Kryviy Rih miners want to take action against the separatist militias. They do so not because they are pro-Poroshenko, but because all the militias east and west are stooges of the regional oligarchs and oppose independent workers? action.
Workers? self-defence units were also set up in May in a steel works owned by the oligarch Akhmetov in Mariupol in the Donetsk region. Thousands of steel workers took over the city. Briefly they held the power in their hands. The workers described themselves as ?outside politics? and for ?order?. In fact they were against the politics of the oligarchs east and west and were taking a stance in favour of independent working class political action.
Aleksei Gorlov, a steelworker, said of the unpaid and voluntary patrols of about six steelworkers accompanied two police officers that were organized at Ilyich Iron and Steel Works, ?People organize themselves.? he said. ?In times of troubles, that is how it works.? (New York Times 15.05.14)
There have also been strikes by coal miners at the Chervonohad mine in Lviv in the west of Ukraine. Workers in different parts of the country need to link up and support each other.
There was a strike in April in Krasnodon in the east of Ukraine in 5 mines owned by Akhmetov. The strike spread to public transport workers and became a virtual general strike in the area. The strikers consciously said that they supported neither the Kiev government nor the separatists.
Alexander Tkachenko, an electrician at a coal mine near Donetsk, comes across with the authentic voice of the working class: ?People who work don?t have time to man barricades and seize buildings,? he points out. (Financial Times 12.05.14)
The USA has certainly been involved in mischief making in the Ukraine. Right wing former congressman Ron Paul admits, ?The US State Department provided much assistance earlier this year to those involved in the effort to overthrow the Ukrainian government.? But the Maidan movement was not just an American plot. Does the West really want a ?fascist? puppet government in Ukraine, given that the country is an economic basket case?
Likewise Putin is fond of making hostile gestures but doesn?t want war and is not in complete control over the separatists. Certainly they know they cannot rely on him to come to their aid.
Both sides are going to the brink, but it is not in their interests to ignite a wider war. The tit for tat rounds of sanctions between Russia and western imperialism are instances of cutting off the nose to spite the face. Sanctions will impoverish both sides. That is the view of big business, as shown by the fall in stock exchanges on hearing the announcement.
We should support none of the oligarchs striving for power and neither side of outside powers interfering in the battle for control of the country. We stand for an independent policy in the interests of all the working people of Ukraine ? a socialist policy against the disaster capitalism has brought the country. Independent action by the working class for a socialist Ukraine is the only hope for the future of the country.
For more information, see Michael Roberts ?Ukraine: a rock and a hard place?
by Mick Brooks, 11th August 2014