Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 30, 2014

UKRAINE: Report from a visit in Kiev in April 2014

Filed under: Ukraine — louisproyect @ 1:45 pm

All left-wing activists said that the fascists or radical right wingers did not dominate the movement nor represented a big part of the protestors. They did describe fascist attacks on themselves and how they were excluded from the barricades, but that was rather a result of their own weakness then of the strength of the fascists. The mass waving of Ukrainian flags or chanting nationalist slogans were not signs of fascist or radical right wing ideas. Some protesters also had a blurry understanding of nationalism, expressing that for them it was fighting for a free world.

Racism or ethnic nationalism did not seem to catch on.Before Maidan the biggest right-wing force was the Ukrainian nationalist party Svoboda (in parliament) with their fascist “youth organization” and militia C-14, with several fascist groups even further on the right (outside parliament). Pravy Sektor was founded by several fascist groups including paid activists and football hooligans at the beginning of the Maidan movement. One of these fascist groups (White Hammer) was later excluded after it had killed three policemen at the outskirts of Kiev. Not all fascists took part in Maidan, some also supported Yanukovich – and, of course, the Russian nationalist fascists did not take part either.

They are active now in the separatist activity in Eastern Ukraine, for instance, showing the black-yellow-white flag of the Russian monarchists or national-bolshevik banners.Most of the fascist leaders on Maidan were from the middle class and intellectuals, their infantry consisted of many students, and there were few workers or farmers. The fascist intervention on Maidan seemed like a contradiction from the start, since many of the main issues were liberal or left, like pro-democracy, for EU-association, against corruption, against police-violence, etc. These are topics the fascists do not represent, so their standing among the protesters was not based on their political program but their ability to organize the struggle against the police. When rightists attacked unionist or left-wing activists on Maidan in November, others supported that because everyone “communist” was identified with the Communist Party of Ukraine (which supported Yanukovich). However, even when the Right Sector led the struggle against the police in January, it constituted a rather small group.

via UKRAINE: Report from a visit in Kiev in April 2014.


  1. Thanks for posting this article, it is very informative. Interesting that it was posted at libcom.org, a site known for its association with the anarchist and autonomous Marxist left. Some brief observations:

    “According to our interview partners, the majority of the people on Maidan were driven by social issues, including poverty and low wages, corruption, police-violence and repressive laws.”

    All of which will be intensified through affiliation with the EU and the imposition of IMF austerity as acknowledged towards the conclusion of the article. What will be the Ukrainian reaction and how does the EU and its allies in the Ukraine intend to suppress opposition? From what is written towards the end, it sounds like a Greek response at the grassroots in workplaces, schools and universities has begun and will intensify. I appreciate the reports of recent actions by students and government workers in the article, we get far too little of this in the US.

    “All left-wing activists said that the fascists or radical right wingers did not dominate the movement nor represented a big part of the protestors. They did describe fascist attacks on themselves and how they were excluded from the barricades, but that was rather a result of their own weakness then of the strength of the fascists. The mass waving of Ukrainian flags or chanting nationalist slogans were not signs of fascist or radical right wing ideas.”

    I don’t find this reassuring. Attacks upon leftists and the exclusion of them are indicative of the success of rightist, if not fascist, elements. The old adage, actions speak louder than words, resonates here. If there is no broad movement of Ukrainians willing to resist these attacks upon leftists and to insist upon their inclusion within the movement, how is anything other than a rightist outcome likely?

    “At the beginning in November many leftists, including anarchists and feminists, got involved. A group of about thirty activists visited Maidan to participate and agitate and set up a left-wing group of one hundred. They were attacked by fascists, once because Left Opposition took a red flag, another time because feminists had banners on equality. The leftists were too few and could not enforce their open participation in the movement. The attacks were carried out by C-14, the Svoboda militia which was well prepared for this because already before Maidan they had made lists of left-wing activists and knew many faces. Afterwards few leftists including anarchists fought on the barricades (where they were attacked and kicked out be the rightists); instead they got engaged in other ways.”

    At the risk of being repetitive, where were the non-fascist Ukrainians and why did they allow the fascists to undertake such unilateral actions? When people within Occupy undertook actions that threatened the safety of other participants, there was vigorous internal debate over it. Did this happen within Maidan? Perhaps, the more critical question is, will non-fascist Ukrainians come to the defense of students and workers when they are attacked by rightists in the future as they engage in more and more confrontational actions against the new government and austerity?

    Comment by Richard Estes — April 30, 2014 @ 4:26 pm

  2. IMF austerity approved for the Ukraine:


    “An IMF staff report published on Thursday stresses that an “unwavering commitment” from Kiev and broad public support are critical to the success of the programme, which includes energy market reforms, spending cuts and tax rises in an attempt to put the economy on a more stable footing.

    “A long-lasting disruption of relations with Russia that depresses exports, investment and growth, or a loss of economic control over the east that reduces budget revenue, would require a significant recalibration of the programme and additional financing, including from Ukraine’s bilateral partners,” it says.

    According to the IMF’s central forecast scenario, annual growth beyond 2015 should accelerate to 4-4.5% over the medium term.

    “There is … a risk that the political, trade, and gas frictions with Russia could lead to strong deterioration in economic relations between the two countries, with a significant drop in Ukraine’s exports to and imports from Russia. This would likely lead to deeper and longer recession,” the report notes.”

    Blame shifting aside (why on earth would the Russian Republic continue to provide subsidized oil and gas to an economy where the IMF is demanding market reforms?), the report acknowledges that the future of the Ukraine is bleak.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 1, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

  3. Missing from the analysis is anything about the presence and influence of the *non-fascist, ‘mainstream’, ‘neo-liberal’ Right* in the Maidan. In connection with the mass uprising, this politics reflects an EU-aspriring middle class viewpoint. It was the critical ‘glue’ that ensured the hegemony of the broad Right extending to the neo-fascists, over the Maidan up to this point. They were also the channel for outside influence from both the US and EU neo-liberals (but, ironically not the Euro Far Right, which hates the EU project and admires Putin – including, in a great historical irony, the present Hungarian Far Right government, this might have something to do with that http://www.gazprom.com/about/production/projects/pipelines/south-stream/ ).

    The result in the revolutionary “crack’ was that the US was able to slide in what is effectively a neo-liberal “hegemonic bloc” government together with the fascists, the neo-liberal “Yats” riding in on the shoulders of the fascists on the streets. Seen in abstraction of the obvious historical and material differences, this is nothing more than a US-backed Pinochet-style coup government, politically and economically.

    This bloc may now be entering a deep crisis and could break up, which would be a very good thing. In no small part to the resistance being aggressively raised in the Donbass, one might add. No matter how deformed.

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — May 1, 2014 @ 8:27 pm

  4. Haven’t read it, but I’m told that the IMF is effectively demanding the “reconquest” of the Donbass as a condition for any bailout. “Austerity” by other means I suppose. After all, Ukraine – Donbass != “broad public support”.

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — May 1, 2014 @ 8:36 pm

  5. “This bloc may now be entering a deep crisis and could break up, which would be a very good thing. In no small part to the resistance being aggressively raised in the Donbass, one might add. No matter how deformed.”

    Interesting that you mention this. Here’s what I posted over at the Guardian yesterday on this subject:

    [There is a relationship between resistance to austerity in the east and resistance to military suppression in the west. Each empowers the other, makes war less likely and makes it more difficult to impose yet another round of shock therapy on the Ukraine. Paradoxically, because the participants in the east are probably opposed to those in the west, and vice versa. Conversely, war in the west will intensify the severity of austerity in the east (someone has to pay for the weapons in addition to the bankers).]

    Ukrainian troops sent into the east are defecting in the face of mass Russian opposition. It may be lead by rightists and paramilitaries but that doesn’t make it any less substantial. Are the US and the EU going to insist that the Ukrainians attempt to use force to hold the country together despite their obvious lack support for the project? Higher taxes, higher food and fuel costs, cuts in social programs and conscription to invade and occupy the east? Echoes of early 1917, Kerensky and the Entente here.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 1, 2014 @ 8:52 pm

  6. Oops, my sense of direction is off (I meant east where I meant west and west where I meant east), but you get the idea.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 1, 2014 @ 8:53 pm

  7. On a related note, I’d really like to see a detailed, in depth deconstruction of Boris Kagarlitsky’s latest, “The Logic of a Revolt”, http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-logic-of-a-revolt/

    I’d do it but am busy with writing a book proposal that I aim to finish by the end of June, and don’t have the time.

    Basically what we have here is a collection of “truths” woven into a narrative that I think is fundamentally a call for the Russian state to intervene in the Donbass. This is disguised as as a – very true! – critique of the Russian regime that does not want to “import a revolution”. Hence the absurdity of Western fear-mongering here. Kagarlitsky seems to give a great world-historical import to the Donbass insurrection. We’ll see, but the Donbass presently does appear to effectively be a “sovereignty-free zone”, neither Russian or Ukrainian, always a good thing IMO, especially in a historic working class district such as this.

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — May 1, 2014 @ 8:57 pm

  8. Boris uses the phrase “ordinary people” quite a bit. Touche?

    Comment by matthewrusso9 — May 1, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

  9. Upon a quick reading of the Kagarlitsky article, some observations:

    First, despite his contemptuous dismissal of Maidan, Kagarlitsky’s humanization of the participants in the secessionist movement in the Donbass has merit. It has substantial working class support, even if one argues over whether it is one with regressive or radical features (interesting that supporters of Maidan and the secessionist movement in the Donbass both claim that their movement has egalitarian features involving the devolution of power). If the left supports attempts by the Kiev government to suppress it, it will find itself supporting the use of force by a government aligned with NATO, the EU and the IMF against working class people in the east. If the government succeeds, which I find unlikely, but if it does, it will then turn its eye towards workers in the west. Or, maybe, the other way round, but the outcome is the same.

    Second, I am beginning to wonder whether how much difference there is between the Maidan in the west and the Donbass in the east. Rightists are prominent in both movements, and, in each instance, they serve the purpose of the imperial power that backs the movement (please observe that I didn’t say that the rightists have the same objectives as the imperial power that exploits them). Is there a place for the left in Maidan? Can they play a role in the Donbass? For now, leftists have been marginalized, but the coming austerity and possible conflict between east and west should create opportunities for them, as long as they don’t follow the Ukrainian communists into obscurity by aligning with one nationalist side against the other.

    Just as Louis has rightly condemned the demonization of those in the Maidan, Kagarlitsky does so in regard to the participants in the Donbass (a classic example, Luke Harding’s characterization of a Donbass supporter as a dumb, illiterate peasant woman in a Guardian article yesterday). Unlike Louis, Kagarlitsky romanticizes the Donbass successionist movement, failing to acknowledge the extent to which its participants religiously rely upon the past glories and the overall insignificance of the left as a whole. Elites in the US and the EU find the Maidan acceptable because of the neoliberal middle class element that you mention, which naturally makes them hostile to the Donbass movement because of the absence of it.

    But both hit the bullseye when they emphasize the dismissive elitism of the left in regard to their movement of choice. In regard to Maidan, Louis has rightly condemned US and European leftists who celebrate Putin and characterize the Maidan protesters as pawns of USAID and the NED. Similarly, Kagarlitsky criticizes those who consider the Donbass protesters as nothing more than fools lead around by the Kremlin, crony capitalists and local rightists. They are surely involved and very influential, but why are people coming out against the Kiev government in such large numbers? And why are the troops sent out to disarm them defecting? It is understandable that liberals in support of US policy explain this by reference to their purported backwardness and deference to autocrats like Putin and his local crony capitalist allies, but the left should engage this more critically.

    For example, is it possible that the workers of the Donbass, having lived through past instances of shock therapy, want no part of a Ukraine that takes direction from the IMF? (Note that some on the left have already preemptively addressed this: the workers are labor aristocracy, which may be true, but even if it is, does this mean that they must acquiesce to another round of austerity?) In any event, the thread that runs between both movements is neoliberal contempt for the participation of the working class in political and soclal life, the insistence that the working class must defer to others instead of speaking in its own voice. Kagarlitsky absurdly looks to Putin as a defender of the working class, missing no opportunity to cast the actions of the Russian Republic in the best possible light, but this, his criticism of leftist elitism, sounds true to me.

    For those of us on the left, Maidan and the Donbass successionists present a difficult challenge. While acknowledging that neither movement is leftist, we should oppose any effort to violently suppress them for the benefit of US and EU neoliberals (Donbass) or Russian crony capitalists (Maidan), while hoping that indigenous leftists can effectively organize under ongoing conditions of political and economic conflict.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 1, 2014 @ 10:48 pm

  10. The issue for me is that Kagarlitsky does not understand national oppression. His comment on Chechnya was appalling:

    “There are still people in Moscow who understand the Caucasus. A good Kremlin appointee could conduct tough, but effective, negotiations, paving the way for gradual regulation of the conflict as in Northern Ireland. The trouble is that the Kremlin is not ready for this and, as a result, the vacuum remains.”

    When you recall that Lenin made comparisons between Ireland and Ukraine on numerous occasions, it is all the more appalling.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 1, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

  11. As you addressed in an earlier post, Kagarlitsky describes a proletarian left in the Russian Republic that doesn’t really exist, one where Putin has been substituted for Stalin. So, I’m not surprised that he doesn’t understand national oppression. Consistent with this, he presents Putin and the Russian Republic as the savior of the Donbass, even after acknowledging in the article that Putin had no problem with the suppression of the secessionist movement! He attributes this to confusion and policy incoherence in the Kremlin in order to avoid confronting the obvious: Putin is no less a violent imperialist than the US and NATO. As you imply, his hostility to towards the Maidan is colored by it.

    Perhaps, Kagarlitsky has created a fictionalized working class participation in the Donbass to unite with his mythical Russian workerist left. I am inclined to believe, however, that it has rejected the Kiev government because of the mass nature of the resistance, while acknowledging that this resistance is not left. If the IMF is conditioning assistance to the Ukraine upon the recovery of sovereignty over the eastern regions, that is obviously a very combustible situation, much worse than trying to impose austerity in more stable countries like Spain, Ireland, Italy and Greece. I can’t imagine how that can be accomplished without substantial bloodshed, if at all, with serious consequences for all involved, even the Russian Republic.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 1, 2014 @ 11:51 pm

  12. IMF war in the east begins:

    “Ukrainian government forces were on Friday said to be conducting operations around the city of Slavyansk in the country’s east, with pro-Russia separatists claiming a “large-scale” assault to retake the town was under way.

    A Reuters photographer said he saw a military helicopter open fire on the outskirts of the town and a reporter heard gunfire. In Kiev an aide to the Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said he could not comment. “Until it’s over no one will say anything,” he said.

    Vyacheslav Ponomarev, regarded by the pro-Russia insurgents as mayor of Slavyansk, said two helicopters were shot down and a pilot taken hostage. Details could not be independently confirmed.”

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 2, 2014 @ 5:07 am

  13. Who doesn’t get that after the Soviet collapse — in the history of the world the Capitalist Kremlin assualt on Chechnya is one of the greatest war crimes in modern history, bar none?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 13, 2014 @ 3:23 am

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