Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 11, 2019

Gauging the power of Ukraine’s neo-Nazis

Filed under: Fascism,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:55 pm

Over the past few months I have noticed a steady stream of FB posts that make the case that Ukraine is the motherlode of neo-Nazism globally. Some of it comes from obvious sources like RT.com but you can also find such reports in ostensibly more authoritative sources like Newsweek, which published an article titled “Ukraine Makes Birthday of Nazi Collaborator a National Holiday and Bans Book Critical of Anti-Semitic Leader”.

Another well-publicized report maintains that the USA is arming and training the notorious Azov Battalion. The Grayzone boys, as might have been expected, jumped on this in a Max Blumenthal article titled “The US is Arming and Assisting Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, While Congress Debates Prohibition”. It begins: “Known as a bastion of neo-Nazism, Ukraine’s Azov Battalion has received teams of American military advisors and high powered US-made weapons.” Interestingly enough, Blumenthal cites a source that in other instances would have been described as an untrustworthy:

Finally, this January, the transfer of the lethal weapons to Azov was confirmed by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL). Aric Toler, a DFRL researcher, asserted that “the US Embassy did absolutely help facilitate this transfer, and I’m not sure if they were aware that Azov would be the first to train with them.”

This is the same think-tank, which after forming a partnership with Facebook, was characterized by Blumenthal as “the merger of the national security state and Silicon Valley.”

In any case, everybody would describe the Azov Battalion, Svoboda and Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) as fascist. The same with Bandera’s role as Nazi collaborator who murdered Jews.

The bigger question, however, is how much political influence such neo-Nazis have in Ukraine. There is some statistics that can help us understand the degree to which Ukrainian nationalism overlaps with Bandera-style neo-Nazism.

In fact, a poll was conducted among the Ukrainian population about their attitude toward the various armed forces and political leaders who fought over their country during WWII. Those affiliated with the USSR received support by 69 percent of all those between the ages of 18-29, while Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) garnered only 14 percent. As for political leaders, the UPA’s commander Roman Shukhevych was rated one percent lower than Joseph Stalin. Considering the fact that Stalin had been responsible for the death of millions of their countrymen in the early 1930s, that should give you a good idea of how much support there was for Bandera’s politics in 2012. For a full presentation of the statistics culled by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, go here.

Meanwhile, let’s review the kind of votes neo-Nazi candidates get in Ukraine. In the 2014 Rada elections, Svoboda won 6 seats. That meant out of 450 deputies, its percentage was .013. By contrast, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) just won 97 seats in the Bundestag, which made it the third largest party. With the Bundestag consisting of 598 seats, this means that AfD now represents sixteen percent of elected parliamentarians.

As for the Pravy Sektor, it managed to elect only a single member to the Rada in 2014 but he ran as an independent. This probably reflects the crisis that has beset the party in the post-Euromaidan period. In November 2015, its best-known figure Dmytro Yarosh quit the party, taking 20 percent of the membership with him.

Given the tendency by people such as Blumenthal, Stephen F. Cohen, and just about everybody writing for Consortium News to make an amalgam between the ruling party in Ukraine and groups like Pravy Sektor, you are dealing with propaganda, not responsible journalism. On August 3, 2015, the Financial Times published an article titled “Ukrainian far-right force puts Kiev in its sights”. It is this perspective that is sorely missing in Grayzone type articles:

Dmytro Yarosh, Right Sector’s leader, called last week for a nationwide no-confidence referendum in President Petro Poroshenko . He was addressing a rally in Kiev of up to 5,000 Right Sector activists, angry over what they say is the government’s slow progress in fighting corruption and excessive concessions to Moscow as it attempts to reach a settlement over eastern Ukraine. “We are an organised revolutionary force that is opening the new phase of the Ukrainian revolution,” Mr Yarosh told the rally.

Earlier this month, two people were left dead in a shootout between off-duty Right Sector fighters and police near Ukraine’s previously peaceful western border – 1,500km away from the eastern conflict. The group claimed it was acting to destroy an illicit cross-border cigarette trade. Some observers suggest Right Sector was trying to take it over.

This leaves us with the worst of the lot, the Azov Battalion that has just spawned a political party with the innocuous title of National Corps. It organized a parade honoring Stephen Bandera on January 1 and is generally regarded as the most dangerous of the three far-right groups. Led by Andriy Biletsky, it could hardly be further from the political agenda of the ruling party that people like Stephen F. Cohen castigate for being a tool of the EU and NATO. In fact, Andriy Biletsky and the professor emeritus are not far apart when it comes to Western imperialism as Anna Nemtsova reported in the Daily Beast:

The commander of the Azov Battalion, the former founder of ultra-nationalist movement “Social-National Assembly” Andriy Biletsky, also known as “White Leader,” personally took the oath from members of the militia for “faithful service to the Ukrainian people.”

Biletsky’s party, the National Corps, is against Ukraine joining the European Union and NATO. He says he thinks the EU wouldn’t let Ukraine join, and that he is “not a fan of NATO.” Among other things, both demand Western European democratic standards for membership.

Given the minuscule votes for these neo-Nazi groups, it is virtually ruled out that they could ever replace the pro-EU and pro-NATO government in Kyiv as has been the case in a number of other Eastern European countries, especially Hungary. This does not mean that they don’t pose a threat. They have increasingly functioned as shock troops attacking the Ukrainian left and various social movements. With a sympathy for the ultraright in the police and the top ranks of the military, they are analogous to groups like those that showed up for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Nobody would expect such groups to ever win elections but they are capable of being used as a battering ram against the left. This is true of every country in Europe as well. There is a symbiotic relationship between right-populist parties following the letter of the law and the semi-clandestine bands that will resort to murder to achieve its goals.

The lynchpin of this far-right constellation of forces in Ukraine is the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov who has close ties to Andriy Biletsky. Avakov is a member of the People’s Party that is in a coalition with President Poroshenko’s party called Solidarity. If he fired Avakov, he would lose his slim majority in the Rada and Ukraine would be forced to call new elections.

Right now, Poroshenko is extremely unpopular. It is difficult to say which political force could replace him except to rule out the possibility of anybody resembling Viktor Orban becoming president. In a complex situation filled with contradictions, there is no mass right-populist movement in the wings even though there is a sizable neo-Nazi movement that could become a much more serious threat is such a movement took shape.

If you are at all concerned about Ukraine’s future and want to keep on top of developments there, I recommend bookmarking https://ukrainesolidaritycampaign.org/ that is based in England. It is there that you will find a class analysis of the country as well as some promising developments in an overall grim situation. This one stands out:

5 Comments »

  1. Newsweek 8s not reliable since its new ownership. In the Ukraine we have both anti Russian fascists and pro Russian fascists. Most Ukrainian sociak8sts and anarchists oppose both.

    Comment by Les Evenchick — January 11, 2019 @ 10:28 pm

  2. A thoughtful and nuanced appraisal of a dangerous and painful situation–underscores the provisional nature of any political solution confined to one country, while reminding us that national problems can’t be wished away merely because national political solutions are at best impermanent.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 12, 2019 @ 1:41 am

  3. Thoughtful and nuanced?

    If you’re arguing that Ukraine is run by a “fascist junta”, then that might be the case.
    But his article doesn’t even consider Andriy Parubiy’s so-called “People’s Front” as a component of the far-right in Ukraine!

    It has 81 seats in the Ukrainian Parliament and actually rules in a coalition with the “Petro Poreshenko bloc”.
    A couple of weeks ago, in response to the Straights of Kerch incident, they declared Martial Law in a large swathe of Eastern & Centra Ukraine.
    (since relaxed)

    Parruiby – a founder of the “Social National party of Ukraine” was a commander of the Maidan self defence units & is the Speaker of the Parlament,
    Rather unusually for a bourgeois party, his Peoples Front has a military council, which includes members of the Azov and Dnipro Batallions.
    He is of course a member and regularly visits Western capitals to cement Ukraine’s growing alliance with NATO.

    The point is that you can have a counter-revolutionary government which tolerates bourgeois elections for quite long periods.
    The Weimar Republic was a good exmaple.
    Its formation involved smashing the Spartacus Uprising and murder of numerous revolutionaries in order to establish a National Assembly “by force of arms”
    This involved numerous military personnel who went on to be actively involved in the Nazi apparatus.
    However at this point, it wasn’t necessary to ban all other parties and crush the unions.

    In fact the current Ukrainian coalition is well to the right of the Weimar republic.
    Like various Latin American right wing governments (Chile and now Brazil) its fascism (or otherwise) is a product of its dependence on imperialism.
    The level of repression depends on the resistance it encounters.

    As it’s entirely dependent on NATO & the IMF for support, it hasn’t encountered the kind of crisis that led the German ruling class to opt for the Nazis in 1933. If it did, I’ve no doubt which side Parubiy will be on,

    Comment by prianikoff — January 14, 2019 @ 8:11 pm

  4. The People’s Front emerged out of Fatherland, a party led by Yulia Tymoshenko. These are certainly Ukrainian nationalists but they are not neo-Nazis, even if some neo-Nazis belong.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 14, 2019 @ 9:26 pm

  5. Given the minuscule votes for . . . neo-Nazi groups, it is virtually ruled out that they could ever replace the pro-EU and pro-NATO government in Kyiv as has been the case in a number of other Eastern European countries, especially Hungary. This does not mean that they don’t pose a threat … .

    The People’s Front … are certainly Ukrainian nationalists but they are not neo-Nazis … .

    prianikoff–The above illustrate what I meant by thoughtful and nuanced.

    Isn’t the deeper underlying issue here that of whether there is any case to be made for the non-annexation of Ukraine by Russsia? Is Putin’s mafioso thug imperialism–thoroughly impregnated with Dugin-style fascism and Great Russian racism, BTW–an alternative for Kyiv?

    In any case, you equivocate–first implying that Louis supports a “fascist junta,” then walking that back fractionally by stating that “the current Ukrainian coalition is well to the right of the Weimar republic …”

    Under Nazism, many individuals “to the right of Weimar” wound up being strangled with piano wire while hanging from meathooks. We can’t really love the Graf von Stauffenberg in spite of his undoubted courage (an overrated virtue, I admit), but in the long run he was anti-Nazi even if also an old-line Prussian reactionary … .

    So for that matter–at the more relevant level of national leadership–were Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill, both double-dyed right-wingers. One rues them both, but thoughtful people can’t call them fascists.

    Does Ukraine have or does it not have some sort of right to national self-determination, and if so, how to support that?

    Surely you can’t see Putin as an anti-imperialist hero whom we must all adore because he opposes NATO.

    In the immortal words of Keanu Reaves on the runaway bus, “What do you do?”

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 17, 2019 @ 2:47 pm


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