Ukraine: Days of Decisions, Days of Struggle

The political face of the Kiev protests causes grave pessimism. But a revolution is a revolution and the left has no right to stay on the side, says Ilya Budraitskis. Originally published in Russian in http://openleft.ru/?p=682

ib-photo-2What is happening in Ukraine right now increasingly corresponds to the classical definition of a revolutionary situation. The mass movement, once it has come out in the streets, is ready to defend them in harsh confrontations with the police. The slogans, which initially gave birth to the movement, have now given way to the main question of any revolution—the question of power. Hesitations and practically open disunity within the elites, world leaders’ involvement on this or that side, behind-the-scenes negotiations, conspiracies and mass media manipulations all depend on the movement, on its dynamics, on its readiness to go to the last consequence. This strange revolution has no alternative project to offer—neither politically nor socially. But it exists as a process and its participants, as the participants of any revolution, experience their role in history here and now.

All of this is true—and this is why we have no cause for optimism. For the other part of the story is that, if victorious, the revolution will bring forth a coalition government of rightists and ultra-rightists and Ukraine risks becoming the biggest brown spot on the map of the already right-leaning Eastern Europe. Instead of fighting for their rights and collectively improving their actual lives, the citizens of this poor country, embittered by corruption and lawlessness, have been waving national flags in dumb ecstasy and battling with the symbols of a distant past.

This indisputable irrationality of the Ukrainian situation serves as the best excuse for the passivity of those who tend to see in revolutions primarily the act of the oppressed people’s ultimate realization of their “objective interests.” Before us, without doubt, we have an “incorrect” and thus doomed revolution, which nevertheless does not cease to be a revolution. The illusions of its participants, however nonsensical they may be, aren’t a mere result of a collective descent into madness, but are a logical product of the society that gave birth to them.

Leftists commentators have justly and copiously written that Ukraine’s signing the EU free trade agreement will destroy Ukraine’s industry, together with thousands of workplaces, and in its aftermath, ordinary people will find themselves hostages in the conflicts of interests of bourgeois clans. Such analyses, however, often relegate ideology to a secondary role, to a mere expression of “false consciousness.” But when it comes to the content of the revolutionary process—and moreover, to the struggle for this content,–ideological questions become central. In post-Soviet societies, where social fragmentation has reached its possible limit, hopes for political solidarity, for some form of cooperation among people, are born out quite literally out of trash. The problem lies not merely in the degenerating educational system or the political culture poisoned by corruption and lies for many decades now. The unnaturalness of “social demands” to both Moscow of 2011 and Kiev of 2013—and this unsightly paradox has been frequently noted by leftist activists, who have persistently attempt to “introduce” them—is connected with the destructive work of the triumphant neoliberal market. The destruction spreads well beyond the economy: it extends into to collective consciousness, into our ability to trust each other and act together. This trust founded on common interests has been replaced by a vague nostalgia for such a trust, by rebellious exhaustion from one’s own suspicion or from the logic of competition, which has penetrated all aspects of everyday life. This exhaustion finds expression in the political language of the Euromaydan—not the ideal politics of equality and justice but the only politics popularly available in today’s Ukraine.

In her perceptive analysis, the Ukrainian activist Olga Papash wonders about the smooth coexistence of the slogans of Eurointegration and an atavistic rhetoric of ethnic nationalism. She reveals the point where these seemingly mutually exclusive ideologies converge and give birth to the strange synthesis that currently animates the Ukrainian protests. This is the away-from-Moscow vector, which unites the century-old tradition of Ukrainian nationalism (not necessarily reactionary, but anti-imperialist, emancipatory), the steady line of post-Soviet Ukrainian elite, which has sought through its policy of nationalizing life to legitimate itself in the eyes of its subjects, and finally, perfectly founded fears of the aggressiveness of Russian corporations and Kremlin’s authoritarian power, which services them. Over the last decade, the growing aggression of the Russian elites, their efforts to inscribe Ukraine into the sphere of their commercial interests, sometimes expressed in (Russian) chauvinist propaganda, has almost deliberately reawakened all the myths of Ukrainian nationalism.

Today the question of undermining the nationalist hegemony in Ukraine is directly related to the ability of the Russian left and progressive forces to represent another Russia, a Russia, embodying those ideals of genuine democracy, equality, and social liberation, which back in the day also defined the Ukrainian liberation movement. It is precisely this version of “progressive patriotism” that holds, in my opinion, the best chance for our Ukrainian comrades. After all, slogans such as “Communists—on the gallows!” and “Death to the enemy!” (two of the most frequently chanted slogans at the Euromaydan) don’t represent a legitimate continuation of the tradition of Ivan Franko, Vladimir Vinnichenko, or Mikola Khvylovy.

The second component of the ideological centaurus of Ukraine’s right-wing opposition—the demand for democracy, people’s control, and transparency—must also be challenged by the left. It is precisely from the position of direct democracy that we must challenge the claims of the Yatsenyuk-Klichko-Tyahnynibok triumvirate to monopolize the movement as well as the physical censorship implemented by the commandoes of the ultra-nationalist Freedom party.

Every one of these ideological figures, defining the face of the Ukrainian protests, can be challenged only when we are ready to accept the movement as ours—even when we are ready to take its defeats, but not its dubious victories, as our own.

 

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  • There are different combined statements in Ilya’s rich contribution.
    – 1) the situation in Ukrain is characterized as a “revolutionary situation” or a “strange revolution” without alternative project – or an “incorrect” and thus doomed revolution – which does not correspond to the way profressive currents would define as the “objective interests of Ukrainians masses ;
    – 2) that “incorrect revoluton” would – if victorious – lead to a rightist and ultra-rightist government ;
    – this is a dominant “excuse” for passivity from left currents ; or they would try to “introduce” social aims in movements which seem not sensitive to them ;
    – 3) such a line does not fully take in account the roots of that lack of solidarity coming from the deeply “destructive work of the neo-liberal market ” ;
    – 4) two issues raised within ultra-rightist currents should not be left to them by the left because theyr could have a progressive content : Ukrainian nationalism (on its emancipatory and anti-imperialist side) and democratic feelings asking for people’s control.
    – 5) An alternative progressive Russian left could help the Ukrainian left if it take as “ours” the movement’s defeats – if not its “dubious victories”.

    My contribution to that discussion wishes (without developing it) A) to stress the two sides of the main issues -not only Rusian but also EU and therefore revolutionary currents there – sharing the dopinant concern in point 4 and 5 of Ilya’s contribution ; B) criticize the general judgement of points 1-2- about the situation as “revolutionary” ; and perhaps too pessimistic, unilateral and short term picture of “consciousness” on points 3-4.

    A) National “sovereignty” is part of democratic issues – and has social and political content. There are conficting views amonf marxists on that since a long time. I have summarized (in English) the tradition to which I belong, in the Forum on that issue in last Subversive festival in Zagreb. The video can be listened to on my website. To be short here : I share with Ilya, the idea that the right of self-determination has an emancipatory, anti-imperialist dimension. It is part of a global democratic stake for control on decision making for each nation (not on the back of any other nation, and not separate from individual and social rights). But I add – specially in the case of Ukraine which is in between Rusiian and UE domination, that we cannot separate those two sides : thta same program should be both defended by Russian revolutionaries AND by west-European progressive currents, fighting withing.against the existing European Union : the UE do NOT include right for secession… and certainly do not respect any democratic sovereign procedure. That is part of our global criticism and elaboration of an alternative. Ukrainian people should NOT have to chose between links and cooperation towards west or east. The conflicts come from the nature of the “agreements” imposed by the IMF and the EU, and from Russian “great power” behaviour. Combined criticisms are needed. Unilateral one will represent only partial interests of the Ukrainian population.
    But national rights and sovereignty has to be defended while criticizing the ideological and political content of the far right policy in the past and present.

    B) Ukrainian mass movement could turn, of course, into a revolution. But even the collapse of a governmeent would not be (yet) a revolution. And the Ianoukovitch power is not so fragile – the last informations about to-day’s mobilisation on Maidan is a sharp decrease : why ? Because the Russian offer is REALLY more interesting for the country’s immediate socio-economical interest than the IMF and UE “aggreements” : decrease of energy prices versus increase ; credit imposing new austerity policies versus credits without such constraints – but without transparency about oligarchs’s deals and corruption behind the scence. But “deals” and corruptions are on both sides. And the most subversive role revolutionaly left (from Ukraine, Russia or European Union) is to tell the truth about corruption on all sides – and ask for social and politicall control on all sides, against any confidence to the existing parties.
    An alternative Maidan would develop criticism on both sides and gtry to link with the part of the population which was not so much represented there ; it could look for transparency and concete analysis of the content and effects of all contracts, not only on those with Moscow but also with IMF and EU.

    Hoping for cross views and debates.
    Comradely
    Catherine

  • gheorghitazbaganu

    “What is happening in Ukraine right now increasingly corresponds to the classical definition of a revolutionary situation”
    If a fascist putsch is revolutionary, maybe the author is right. What I see is a mess: chauvinists, anticommunists and fools demanding the yoke of western corporations.

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  • anonymus

    It is not a revolutonray situation in ukraine.. it is just a fight between the western imperialism and russian imperialism.. the people have to choose between those two imperialistic blocks. It is neither a revolution or an revolutionary act. It would be some kind of revolutionary if the masses struggled against the system on its own… agianst the economic conditions there.. without any patriotism or nationalism… it is dangerous to talk about an revolutionary act or situation if the movement has an nationalist and pro capitalist character. therefore you cant (for example) compare this movement with the Taksim Sqaure struggle.. The difference was: a) fight and struggle against the government and the capitalist imperialistic politics b) against rascsim and nationalism (there were although nationalist – kemalist- partys but not determining) c) it was an uprising of (almost) all cutural, ethnical, religious, political groups UNITED … The slogan of taksim quare movement “either all of us or nobody.. united we will free” declares the situation that the ukrain movement does not have!

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