Bringing the class back in(to what?): A response to F. Poenaru

james-robertsonIn his recent analysis of events in Ukraine, Florin Poenaru raises several points whose relevance goes well beyond the specific situation in that country. They speak to important problems that concern the (re-)building of the revolutionary Left in post-socialist Eastern Europe more broadly. This piece responds to some of these points in an effort to contribute to a wider political discussion on the strategies and analysis of the Left today.

The central argument here concerns Florin’s call for Leftists working in and on Eastern Europe to ‘bring class back’ when assessing the politics of mass movements. He makes this plea in light of Leftist support for the Euromaidan movement; a support, he argues, which was ‘theoretically weak and politically reactionary.’ By foregrounding class politics, Florin believes that the Left can avoid such mistakes in the future.

However, before moving onto my response to this argument I want to first address some points of concern in his representation and analysis of the recent upheavals in Ukraine.

Florin’s piece explicitly rejects the description of the recent events in Ukraine as a ‘revolution’, preferring, along with Stephen Cohen, the term ‘coup’:

‘[Yanukovich] was deposed not as a result of a popular uprising but following backdoor machinations and hidden politicking. The Ukrainian people in general and those protesting in Maidan for weeks were excluded from the wheeling and dealing, even though they were the first to take the bullet of the President’s thuggish way of dealing with protests. Therefore, events in Ukraine largely resemble a coup d’etat and not a democratic or socialist revolution.’

However critical we might be of the ‘democratic’ qualities of the upheaval over the past months – and there is a lot of which we should be wary – it seems churlish to reduce the final outcome to ‘backdoor machinations and hidden politicking.’

Florin’s account erases the real impact that Maidan had on the political status quo in Ukraine. The masses of people that braved subzero temperatures and police violence for months appear in his account as mere victims; first of Yanukovich’s ‘thuggish’ repression, second of the machinations of cunning politicians. Either bodies bleeding in the streets, or the passive puppets of conniving oligarchs. Never as empowered subjects. Such an account flies in the face of all that we have witnessed since November 2013.

Unquestionably it was the sustained pressure placed on Yanukovich’s government by tens of thousands of committed Ukrainian citizens occupying Kiev that forced the regime to make several strategic errors. First, the various brutal attempts of the government to disperse the crowds occupying Maidan using riot police were failures and succeeded in only further galvanizing and emboldening the protests. Second, the introduction of draconian protest laws (shamefully passed with the votes of the Ukrainian Communist Party) served to broaden the ranks of the protests, politicizing still further layers of ordinary Ukrainians. Finally, the attempts to pacify the protests by the resignation of Prime Minister Azarov and the repeal of the anti-protest laws, revealed to the world the fracturing of the government’s political will.

None of these key victories in the struggle can be chalked up to back room deals amongst politicians. They were the outcome of a real struggle initiated and pursued by tens of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians.

The movement’s victories engendered the political crisis of the Yanukovich regime, leading to defections within the Party of Regions – most notably Kiev’s mayor Volodymyr Makeyenko – which in turn opened up a space for the opposition to renegotiate a new power-sharing arrangement.  Importantly, this deal had to be taken to and agreed on by the representatives of Maidan precisely because the opposition recognized their lack of total authority over the movement. As one activist-security guard reportedly warned a triumphant Tymoshenko: “Yulia Vladimirovna, remember who made this revolution.”

Throughout this uprising, established political organizations have tried, and for the time being more or less succeeded, in presenting themselves as the voice of this movement, channeling it into their own priorities. However, they have only been able to seize power by riding the wave of mass opposition and exploiting the political crisis engendered by Maidan. Their authority did not lie in the power of the military, as Sisi’s does in Egypt, but rather in their unstable and politically dubious but nonetheless real connections with the movement in the streets. To describe this as a ‘coup’ is both erroneous and puts the Left in some very distasteful alliances; alliances which only serve to buttress the anti-leftist rhetoric of the far right.

Far from a ‘coup’ the events in Ukraine resemble a replay of the Orange Revolution of 2004, with the crucial difference that the mainstream opposition parties hold far less authority with the people in the streets today than they did a decade ago. The weakness of their authority will open real spaces in which the Ukrainian Left can grow, but only if that Left places itself alongside the masses of politically active Ukrainians taking to the streets to struggle for a better life.

But it is the main thesis of Florin’s piece that I think is most relevant to the Left in post-socialist Eastern Europe today; that is, his call for us to ‘bring class back in’ to our analysis and assessment of movements today. Florin asks us to break with the ‘ideological mystifications’ that led many on the Left to ‘fetishize the mere presence of people in the streets’. In place of such naive and disoriented enthusiasm we should instead prioritize an intellectual framework based on class politics, which would help us to assess ‘the very social basis and political aims of mass gatherings.’

Class here functions as a kind of guiding tool for an analysis of the ‘real’ meaning of a protest, a barometer for measuring the political trajectory of an event. Florin’s call for East European Leftists to ‘bring class back in’ is an important one, but his use of the term strays dangerously close to replaying the mistakes of economism and risks reducing the term to a category of sociological analysis that flattens out and narrows wider discussions of political strategy.

The biggest problem with Florin’s call is the simple fact that class no longer carries with it the same political legitimacy today as it did half a century ago, especially in Eastern Europe. The collapse of state-socialism and the subsequent onslaught of ‘transition’ reforms not only had the effect of decimating large scale industries across Eastern Europe, they also led to the decomposition of the working class as both a community of real individuals and a political subject. Indeed, we could argue that the latter was already under crisis following the failure of reform movements of the late 1960s (with the possible exceptions of Poland and Yugoslavia where working class movements continued to play key roles in leading mass opposition to the state well into the 1980s).

The decay of this political subject led to the flowering of new poles of authority, new discourses of political legitimacy: the nation, ‘Europe’, the ‘citizens’, or appeals to European legal norms or to human rights. Workers continued to be active as individuals, but their subjectivity came to be determined primarily by these new discursive fields, and therefore their structural power remains unrealized. Speaking of the social composition of Euromaidan one of Ukraine’s revolutionary syndicalists argued that ‘it’s doubtless that the protest has become more “proletarian” – although the share of workers is still low, and when they are present, they are there as “Ukrainians” or “citizens” but not as “workers”.’

The decomposition of the working class – both as a political subject and a real social class – confronts the Left of Eastern Europe with a monumental task: the resurrection of this central revolutionary subject. And yet, in a period in which unemployment has reached staggering proportions, salaries and pensions go unpaid, and workers are as likely to demand the privatization of their workplaces as they are to oppose it, how can this rebirth come about? Where is the class that we need to ‘bring back in’? And into what are we to bring it?

At the moment it seems clear that the key political conjunctures of the region emerge around questions of poor political governance: corruption, illegal or ‘incorrect’ privatizations, nepotism, links to organized crime, etc. It is particularly telling that the largest protest movements since the onset of economic crisis in 2008/2009 have centered on the policies of specific governments, rather than either more global political and economic forces (the EU, IMF, the US or Russia) or local economic actors (businessmen, tycoons, oligarchs). A deep reservoir of anti-political contempt for the ruling political class has been behind protests that broke the backs of the Jansa government in Slovenia and the Borisov government in Bulgaria, despite the fact that both protests initially emerged from deeper social issues. In Ukraine the Euromaidan quickly transformed from a protest around Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement to a general call for his resignation, a demand that resonated with a wider layer of people fed up with his authoritarian rule. Even in Bosnia, where we have witnessed the most articulate form of working class politics in the region, the targets of the protests have been the local political class.

In part owing to the disorienting dissolution of political discourse during the period of ‘transition’, these protests have been heterogeneous and even contradictory in their ideologies, strategies and demands. In their ranks we can see independent trade unionists marching alongside hardened nationalists demanding the repression of ethnic or religious minorities, proselytizers of European integration calling on their ‘European’ people to protest for ‘European reforms’, and NGOs evoking the language of human rights. Middle class elites, working class youth, disgruntled pensioners, radical students and petit bourgeois nationalists: all participate in these diverse movements. Far from representing any clear balance of class forces, what we are increasingly witnessing today in Eastern Europe is a series of confrontations between a corrupt and self-serving political class and an inchoate and contradictory civil society.

These political conjunctures contain the potential openings for revolutionary leftist politics, but our capacity to exploit these openings will turn on our developing a more nuanced vision of political strategy, and breaking with the hope that one day a ‘pure’ class struggle will emerge. Lenin’s argument regarding the impossibility of such a ‘pure’ social revolution is particularly relevant to our current moment:

‘The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses and errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will be able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which all hate (though for different reasons!), and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately “purge” itself of petty-bourgeois slag.’

I quote this passage fully aware of its dissonance in today’s ears – especially with regards to events in Ukraine. Not only does such language of historical ‘objectivity’ sound anachronistic, but the optimism, the revolutionary vision and even confident arrogance of the speaker appear as an irresponsible luxury, a fantasy that we can ill afford, bunkered down as we are in these embattled positions.

However, what I want to highlight with this quote is Lenin’s sense of the plurality of any genuine mass revolutionary movement; the fact that it will not lend itself to a simple assessment of and reduction to some kind of essential ‘social basis’ but will be instead a site of contestation and contradiction. The curse of the current generation of Eastern European leftists (but not only them) is precisely the lack of the ‘class-conscious vanguard’; the central character of this historical drama has failed to appear. In its absence many of the current political confrontations in the region have displayed a comprehensive exhibition of the ‘prejudices’, ‘reactionary fantasies’, ‘weaknesses’ and ‘errors’ of post-socialist society – nowhere more so than in Ukraine.

However, it is precisely within these movements that new social antagonisms are being realized, new demands and discourses articulated and new political subjectivities forged. And the truth is that these phenomena do not stop at the factory door or the office lobby; they contribute to the formation, revival or further decomposition of class politics.

Who five years ago could have predicted that a dispute regarding the distribution of citizen ID numbers to new born children was a salient concern for the working class? It certainly did little to address the key dynamics of the post-socialist transition as they effected working people – privatization, the dismantling of the welfare state, austerity. And yet, amidst the wave of workers’ protests engulfing Bosnia today, we can clearly see how the ‘bebolucija’ of June 2013 was a key moment in tracing a new socio-political antagonism that cut through the language of nationalism inscribed in the Dayton state and paved the way for the kind of political cooperation amongst Croat, Serb and Bosniak workers today. What appeared as a ‘liberal’ conflict regarding the appropriate functioning of a democratic state, in fact had important repercussions for shaping the political horizon of the current workers’ revolts.

‘The class’ is not formed in a political vacuum.

A revolutionary working class movement in Eastern Europe today will not suddenly emerge from outside of the current political struggles. And if we stand on the sidelines of these contemporary struggles, quietly waiting for them to condense into the ‘pure’ forms of class conflict we recognize from our ABC of Marxism, we will doom ourselves to an even greater insignificance.

In the current struggles between a corrupt and discredited political class and an inchoate and inarticulate civil society there are important seeds of class revolt (even in Maidan!). The task of the Left is to organize and throw itself into these struggles, to identify those moments of class conflict, those points at which the structures of the system come into question and to amplify their contradictions, sharpen their antagonisms.

The seeds of class revolt are dispersed across a wide array of political possibilities contained within these movements. And these possibilities cannot be disclosed in advance. Florin’s suggestion that we might ‘bring class back’ to help us assess ‘the very social basis and political aims of mass gatherings’ will do little to orient us in these chaotic times. Rather, the only way forward lies in an organized and strategic intervention within these movements, to struggle for the realization of their more radical and emancipatory possibilities.

To be sure, these possibilities will be contested, and the Left will be fighting for an audience amongst nationalists of all stripes, Europhiles and liberals. And we are at a huge disadvantage. But our ability to shape these movements, to ‘bring back’ a revolutionary language of class, will turn on our capacity to strategically intervene in an organized way and to try to pull these movements into a more progressive direction.

It was clear from the beginning that the Euromaidan movement would pose an enormous challenge to the Ukrainian Left. The EU Association Agreement was a blatant and cynical attempt to pull Ukraine into the political and economic periphery of Europe, while guaranteeing ordinary working Ukrainians nothing; the idealism of ‘Europe’ that echoed through the streets of Kiev could not but seem like a sick joke in the shadow of today’s Greece; and the vocal presence of well-organized right wing groups like Svoboda made the movement distasteful to many (and not just on the Left).

As the movement advanced things became more complicated. As the protesters shifted their focus on to the wider problem of authoritarianism and state repression, the question of ‘Europe’ faded into the background and the ranks of the movement widened to include broader swathes of Ukrainian civil society. At the same time, this opened the space for the far right to grow. Its victories, however, were tied to the group’s central role in confronting the police, providing defensive infrastructure for the encampment and a point of leadership, particularly after the events of 19 January. Once their power was established, they were easily able to protect their hegemony from any possible Leftist interventions, beating trade unionists, breaking up anarchist meetings and destroying leftist propaganda material.

But it is important to recognize that the victories of the far right were not predetermined by some kind of inherent social basis of the movement. Their hegemony stemmed from two key factors, which the Left will need to engage with if it is to target the roots of fascist growth.

First, to a large degree the right’s authority lay in their important strategic interventions within the movement, including the vanguard role they played in confronting the police and protecting the Maidan from attacks. This was a question of political strategy and the Left were outmaneuvered, outflanked.

Second, the legitimacy of nationalist discourse in Ukraine make the politics of the right more accepted than they might be elsewhere. Remarking on the dominance of nationalism in Ukraine, Ilya Budraitskis has pointed out that:

‘[Nationalism is] bound up with the way that Ukraine was founded as an independent nation – through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. That’s why nationalism is such a popular ideological persuasion. The mentality is like that of a former colony. Most Ukrainians think that the most important thing is not to be dominated by a foreign power.’

To a large extent, then, the favorable climate for far right nationalism lies in the history of Russian imperialism and the role of Ukrainian nationalism as a discourse of resistance. Any struggle against the far right must necessarily, then, engage seriously with the Ukrainian national question.

Florin’s focus on class, however, at times seems almost precisely designed to pull us away from addressing these questions. His argument that Yankovich’s presidency ‘represented, at least minimally, concrete interests of a large section of the Ukrainian post-communist working class’ neglects to mention that this base of support was largely amongst the Russian-speaking working class of the south and east. In other words, class here serves to bracket a whole set of political questions that are key to understanding how the far right have been able to grow.

Even if we are to ‘bring class back in’ it must necessarily enter as refracted through the prism of the national question and the politics of Russian imperial rule. The revolutionary Left have a long legacy of anti-imperialist resistance, and any project to revive the language of socialism will surely need to draw on that rich legacy. But aligning ourselves (however obliquely) with a president, seen by many to be pulling Ukraine closer to the Russian sphere of influence, will only further discredit the Left and strengthen the position of the far right.

There are very real questions that emerge in the wake of the events in Ukraine concerning the urgency of organizing common Leftist interventions, our capacity to challenge the growth of right wing militancy, learning how to organize and strategize in these contradictory movements, knowing when we have lost the struggle and what to do with that realization.

These are real and messy questions that require subtle assessments best provided by activists fully immersed in the struggles on the ground. But our success is going to depend on taking seriously the possibilities of these new and inchoate forms of struggles erupting across the region. In our interventions, we are going to have to make wagers; sometimes they will come to naught, sometimes we will be beaten back and sometimes we might even find ourselves in the den of our worst enemies.

Only two things are certain: First, that if we fail to intervene, participate and attempt to shape these inchoate upheavals the Left will doom itself to even further irrelevance. Second, that no amount of ‘bringing the class back in’ will offer us a short cut to the complexities and wagers that are the lot of political struggle.

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  • natalia

    while i agree that Florin’s article is in need of many qualifications and clarifications, what I don’t see in your article is precisely an identification of the strategic points of insertion that you are talking about. if anything, Florin’s analysis is retrospective, it’s reflection stemming from the horror of having seen that the left was unable to articulate an independent voice in ukraine and consequently it has, in practice, aided the affirmation and quasi-institutionalization of the right and the far right. so while i take seriously and stand in solidarity with your suggestion of strategically using spaces of confrontation, i don’t see any proof in your analysis of the real points those could/should have been. but i do see a lack of confronting a very basic fact: at the end of the day it looks like the oppositional efforts of the left have been absorbed by the hegemonic apparatus of the right. the protest forms of the left have not managed to articulate a leftist political response. so perhaps it’s time we moved on from the rhetoric of the strategic use of oppositional situations to a more precise understanding of the forms in which that can be done. and a very clear understanding that the ways in which we use spaces of opportunity are neither neutral nor given. the question to ask is not merely “what explains the hegemony of the right?” strategic awareness requires us to ask what part our forms of organization play in the establishment of that hegemony and whether our alliances have any emancipatory potential at all.

  • Ranovsky

    When it comes to supporting or fighting against this or that political movement, it is an absolute necessity to have a clear perspective of what political forces (parties etc) take part in it, what kind of slogans they bring up, what kind of speeches are being made and so forth . What we witnessed on the Maidan since november can not be discribed with a simple notion of ‘a real struggle of tens of thousands of ordinary ukrainians’. The struggle was led and is being led by a coalition of two moderately-nationalist neocon batkivshina and UDAR, and the far-right Svoboda supported by the ever-growing ‘right sector`. That is true, that some of the almost non-existant ukrainian left participated in the events on the side of the protestors, but only as the cannon-fodder for the rightists: neither their political presence nor influence can be felt.

    So far, the main results of the ‘revolution’ are the following:
    1) the political right has become much stronger (for example, the streets of kiev are controlled by the neo-nazi armed groups as reported by the german magazine Spiegel) , the jews of Ukraine were urged to leave the country by their community leaders (see, here
    2) a loan is to be taken from the IMF on the conditions discribed like that by the New York Times:

    ‘The I.M.F. is expected to insist that Ukraine raise domestic gas prices, cut government spending, tackle corruption and allow the country’s currency to float on the international markets.
    Opposition leaders have signaled their support for substantive changes.’

    And here’s some more of the neocon wisdom:
    “The popular demand is radical,” said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “The public sector has been working for the enrichment of the elites, and the old tricks need to be done away with.”’
    Both quotes are taken from here

    So, that is the victory the ordinary ukrainians have been fighting for: the neocon economic policies and the revival of the far-right. Hooray to that. But i do not see how anyone who calls him or herself a left-winger can approve of such development or of the movement that it made it possible.

  • Alexandru Racu

    Bringing the class back, together with the left, into history. Excellent analysis!

  • James R

    Natalia and Ranovsky’s criticisms are not wrong: the Right were always in a better position to exploit this confrontation than the Left. That is not in dispute. The weakness of the Ukrainian far Left was central here. But once we have recognized this, where does that lead us? The Ukrainian Left is weak. We know. The question has to be: how to break out of this leftist ghetto, how to not be weak. And my article is an attempt to answer that.

    I’m not convinced that abstaining from these movements is a way to break out of the ghettos the Left finds itself in. And aligning with Yanukovich is a sure-fire guarantee to make the Left irrelevant. The only thing that we are then left with is a critical and organized participation in these movements…with no illusions as to our weaknesses.

    I think a large part of the Left in Ukraine did just this – threw themselves into the struggle, well aware of their being outnumbered, well aware that they faced the violence of Svoboda and Right Sector activists. But also well aware that there were few other choices available to them. And I think this was a heroic move on their part.

    As to what nature the ‘strategic interventions’ should take: I think that has to be left up to the people on the ground. I’m obviously not about to fall into some kind of identity politics about ‘who can and who can’t speak’ about a situation. But strategically, how these interventions should be conducted depends on a whole set of details that people immersed in those struggles are best placed to answer.

    But one thing is certain: given the weakness of the Left in Ukraine and the dominance of the far right in Maidan, the best interventions should have been undertaken through some kind of united front. grouping together as broad an array of progressive activists (leftists, social democrats, independent trade unionsts, left liberals, even principled liberals) was going to be a necessity to injecting a more progressive dimension into maidan and to confronting the far right. But the Left Opposition, as far as I amaware, was already attempting to build around its manifesto such a broad coalition. I am in no place to say whether they did that well, or could have done it better, or what kind of challenges they faced on the ground.

  • Ranovsky

    Yes, that is about how to break out of the ghetto, in fact, a lot of what has been written and done by the eastern european leftists in the last 25 years deals with this question in one way or another. And the results are such, that it makes one wonder if the left has any future at all. But that’s besides the point.

    Let us consider the situation in Ukraine. The liberals, that is the neocons, are in power relying heavily on the support of the street (read, the fascists). Now they are trying to get a loan from the IMF on the condition that certain austerity measures are implemented. Let the rich not pay for their crisis. The threat of a war with Russia is making the fascist rhetorics seem legit to a great number of people and it is also preventing the liberals from breaking off with the far-right (as these people are quite useful for the war effort). Where does the Left come in? Why would the liberals turn against the Fascists who have real influence on the streets and form an aliance with those few who most eagerly oppose their economic policies? Fascists are ok with the neocon economic doctrine, the Left is not. Would it be becuase it’s not good for their image to have nazi friends? But the mainstream media in the west have been ignoring it for a long time and there is no reason for them to start paying attention to it now. One might say that Batkivshina and UDAR do not represent all the liberals, or even that they are not the ‘true liberals’ at all. But these are the only politically significant liberals Ukraine has. Alas. There is basically no place for the left here.

    I think the only way a left-winger can participate in movements hostile to everything the Left stands for is as an enemy of such movements. These are ordinary people, but to convince them that the Left has a better offer for them, one has not to disguise him or herself as a loyal maidan activist, but rather openly state what he or she believes is wrong with shouting ‘glory to ukraine! death to her enemies!’ and what economic policies such shouting is meant to hide.

    Hypothetically, Would you participate in a very popular movement led by the australian tea party supporters and neo-nazis? Even given that the policies they protest against are criminal.

  • James R

    In answer to your question: the role of the Left has to be to highlight that the far right and the neo-conservatives cannot defend the national independence of Ukraine. Rather, they merely counterpose the dependence on Russia with dependence on the EU – the neo-conservatives/liberals that now rule the country are preparing to sell it out to the IMF and other foreign backers. They are already trying to channel the blame for the existing and not-too-distant social problems into a hatred of Russian-speakers (hence the discussions about banning the use of Russian).

    Svoboda are up to their necks in this government – they have (stupidly) taken leading positions and will be held accountable for its policies. This is not to say that they won’t grow or won’t continue to be a serious threat for the Left and any democratic forces in Ukraine today – indeed, the more discredited they become and the more their authority comes into crisis, the more dangerous they will become. But their crisis of authority will open real possibilities for the Left to tie social problems alongside national problems. i.e. the show how the current neo-conservative nationalists will happily sell out the country’s sovereignty in exchange for lining their own pockets.

    As we said here at LeftEast a week or so ago:
    “Whether you like to think of it this way or not, you are the true Ukrainian patriots now. You are the main force that can cut through the false choices of Europe or Russia, West or East, with which the power-hungry political class is ripping your country apart.”

    Once again – everything you say is true. The neocons have a real interest in aligning themselves with the fascists rather than any genuine left. And the danger of the oligarchs actually turning their support to groups like Right Sector or Svoboda is real (I think Sean Larson mentioned this in the following article: ).

    But two things need to be recognized:
    1) Since the Orange Revolution the political authority of the neocon opposition has fractured to such an extent that they are now forced to rely on the support of groups like Svoboda to maintain power. This is important for assessing the breakdown of the previous status quo. Although it obviously in no way indicates a more progressive or emancipatory society (quite the opposite!!) it also points to possibilities for an organized and on-the-offensive Left to make some real political contributions.

    2) Not aligning with maidan means a) implicitly aligning with the government (as the Ukrainian communists did – how has that worked out for them?) or b) abstaining from a movement that was incredibly contradictory and in some ways reactionary, but was bringing wide sectors of Ukraine’s civil society into direct confrontation with state power. I don’t see how either of these positions would have led to the Left being in a stronger position today. In fact, I think they would have compounded whatever illegitimacy they had and made it far easier for the Right to discredit the Left as ‘weak’ or ‘pro-Kremlin’ or ‘anti-Ukrainian’ etc etc etc.

    The comparison with Australia is simply an unproductive one. Australia is an imperialist country and most far right Australian nationalists are anxious that Australia has ‘conceded’ too much to aborigines or to its colonial satellite states (PNG, Solomans, Indonesia, etc). Precisely because Australia is a nation of occupiers (and not a nation of the historically-occupied, like Ukraine), nationalism has a very different social meaning – just like the christian fundamentalism of the Tea Party is not politically equivalent to the political islamism of the muslim brotherhood in Egypt.

    But in Egypt, I think the far left had the correct policy with regards to the MB: to at once work alongside them to help build and lead the popular movement to victory against an authoritarian state, and at the same time to chip away at their social base, to show how the MB leadership were always going to betray the revolution, to highlight their reactionary social policies and their alliances with big capital.

  • Ranovsky

    Up to 2) we are in a complete agreement.

    But from there you said some very strange things. Not joining one movement does not mean supporting the forces it fights against. The CPU was on the side of Yanukowitch not because they were not on the maidan, but because they were voting for his laws, making some half-hearted propaganda for him etc. Not being on the maidan is no more pro-yanukowitch than the bolsheviki’s fight against tsarism in the years 1914-1917 was pro-german. To say otherwise would mean giving in the logic propagated by the right wing (both in cases of the maidan and the WWI). As to the question of being called ‘antinational’ by the nazis, i find it not worth one’s concern. For the nazis we are and should be antinational traitors working for whatever foreign power the nazis are bashing at the moment. I’d rather be worried if the nazis suddenly started praising the left for its patriotic efforts.

    You are right of course, that Ukrainian nationalism is to be treated differently than the Russian or the German one. Lenin said so and all. However, if at the given moment, the Ukrinain nationalists are just going from one foreign master to another, how does it suit the Left to join with them and march together, singing whatever version of the Horst Wessel Lied is now the most popular. How can one be there trying not to piss off the fascist crowd, while the very same crowd is beating up the leftists who act like ones (that is who try to bring the social slogans there). I just simply cant get it.

    And now, what about the East? We know that there are movements no less popular than the maidan was in Kiev. Do the leftists need to join those too, and, if it comes to a war, shoot at their comrades from the center and the west of the country? It’s quite obvious that not shooting would allow the russian nationalists to call them traitors. And who would want that.

    Right now the Maidan is nothing but a loyalist mob staying to the right of the neocon government. You would not deny it yourself. Should the left work with them, distribute leaflets and so forth? Sure. But just to repeat what you have said about the situation in Ukraine in the first four paragraphs of your message, one has to be the enemy of the main forces present there. If one believes it possible to do it in a ‘friendly’ way, the first encounter with a national-minded ukrainian will rid them of the false idea.

    What really freaks me out: How come in a country with an inequality level way above the one say, in the US or China, the very issue of socialism (at least of higher taxes for the rich) does not come into the agenda of the popular movements (East or West). Maybe the left is done for and people have chosen barbarity after all. They seem quite happy fighting over which imperialism they prefere.

    Anyhow, the discussion has been very interesting, thank you.

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  • A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I do think that you ought to publish more on this
    subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but generally
    people don’t discuss these issues. To the next!
    Kind regards!!