Soapbox

Since even before I created this blog, I have endeavored to try to keep my personal politics as subtle as possible. This means sometimes acknowledging the accomplishments of ideologies I do not adhere to, such as liberalism, as well as giving Putin the benefit of the doubt back when it seemed that he was in fact a realist of sorts. At times I have made exceptions to this rule, typically when prompted by commentators. This is one of those exceptions. I’m going to climb onto my soapbox here, so fair warning- if you aren’t into radical politics, you might want to skip this one.

As the regular reader is no doubt aware, Ukraine’s Rada has approved a ban on Communist symbols. In some ways the ban is extensive, allegedly covering such things as quotations of certain Communist leaders. On the other hand, it seems that things like historical reenacting is not covered, nor are the symbols of currently-existing self-proclaimed socialist states such as China and Vietnam. Also as far as I know, 9 May’s Victory Day parade is still scheduled to take place in Kyiv, if not other unoccupied Ukrainian cities.

A part of me understands why this happened. Self-proclaimed Communists in and outside of Ukraine have sided with Russia in its plans to annex and partition Ukraine. Their symbols are counted among those used by the separatists and their sympathizers. Ideologically, none of these people can rightly be called Communists or Marxists. They have aligned themselves with regressive, if not fascist capitalist states. They have rubbed shoulders with open representatives of the far right and willingly done their bidding. They openly admit to betraying their principles and theory and they have absolutely nothing to show for it. And for that behavior as well as historical crimes both real and imagined, a great many Ukrainian citizens have written off Communism and anything associated with it wholesale.

The sad irony is that Ukraine, as a capitalist society, has no future. It will not become like Germany or Poland. It will forever be in Russia’s imperial shadow. It will be thus because the simple, objective truth is that there are irreconcilable contradictions between the interests of the majority of Ukrainian citizens and the people who actually own Ukraine, as is the case in virtually every nation on Earth.

In 1991, a minority of people, many of them members of the old “Communist” apparatus spread the fiction that all Ukrainians would somehow be better off if they were independent. I do not fault the Ukrainian people for believing this at the time. Unlike so many others, I see the concepts of socialist Ukraine and a Ukraine independent from the USSR as separate issues. Indeed, if Ukraine had experienced some massive desire to truly build a functioning socialist system along Marxist-Leninist lines at that point, or even much earlier, it would have had to separate from the USSR, which had become terminally ill with revisionism and Great Russian chauvinism. Of course this was not the motive behind independence, and that independence was bundled with capitalism. To speak of a united Ukraine or “the Ukrainian people” in the context of a capitalist society is futile.

While I have held these views for many years, I cannot claim to have predicted the annexation of the Crimea or the war in the Donbas. To be sure, I did believe that Ukraine’s only hope was a socialist state, run by and in the interests of the true Ukrainian people, that is to say all those who work and serve their community, not the property owners, the businessmen, and the bankers whose loyalty is always to their class first and foremost. I did predict that the worst enemy of this new Ukraine would not be NATO but in fact Russia, an aspiring imperialist state which in those days was making more and more inroads towards the European Union and the West. Had Maidan been a socialist revolution as opposed to a mere changing of the oligarchs, I am quite certain NATO would have been quite happy to let Russia reprise her 19th century role as the gendarme of Europe, perhaps seizing the Crimea and additional territory in the process. After all, before Maidan Russia was a big market and a source of ill-gotten funds in London banks.

The death of soldiers fighting for this capitalist Ukraine is a tragedy, because whatever happens, they and their families will lose in the end. If the separatists laid down their arms tomorrow and Putin were to hand the Crimean peninsula back to Kyiv, the Ukrainian people, and particularly those who did the fighting, would still face austerity, unemployment, and the same humiliation the country has faced since the fall of the USSR. Of course not all Ukrainians will face these things. Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, Akhmetov, and dozens of other businessmen will be just fine, as they always were. They will still host their foreign business partners in exclusive elite restaurants and providing them with the finest things average Ukrainians couldn’t hope to afford.

What is more, Ukraine’s ruling class will continue to make deals with Putin’s Russia; indeed, they have still been conducting business with “the enemy” this whole time. The businessmen of the EU and Russia’s oligarchs will hammer out an amiable agreement on how to divvy up Ukraine and they will all profit while the majority of Ukrainian citizens does the work and assumes the risks. A capitalist Ukraine will always be in Russia’s sphere, even after the inevitable collapse of the Putin regime.

Of course that is in a best case scenario where there is no war in the east and the Crimea is returned to Ukraine. In reality, Ukraine as it is possesses no possibility to reverse this situation. It is not merely a military question, but a political one. If Ukraine had a government of the real people, and not the ruling class, it could truly mobilize the entire nation and, in time, drive out the Russian occupiers and their lackeys. It could do this in the same way that the Vietnamese drove out empire after empire in an almost unceasing war which went on for roughly 50 years. It could do this in the same way that Fidel Castro rallied about a dozen men to start his rebellion after the original group of 82 were scattered shortly after their landing on Cuban soil. Egalitarianism, inclusiveness, and progress are values worth fighting for. The control of oligarchs, clericalism, and the same backward ideas which have triumphed over Russia are not.

The presidential and Rada elections in Ukraine belie the Russian claim that Ukraine has been taken over by fascists, but this does not mean there is no danger of such a takeover. One would do well to remember that fascism triumphed in states where the ruling class feared a working class revolution. Ukraine’s ruling class may be more focused on the threat from Russia and its supporters, but that also provides a pretext for enacting laws that will secure their rule over whatever Ukraine they end up with. Moreover, an internationalist, revolutionary working class movement is exactly what is needed to undermine the separatist movement. After all, they are also throwing their lives away for ultra-rich businessmen who wall themselves off from their own people and live in luxury while leaving the majority of their countrymen with scraps.

I do not believe that this law will end the socialist message in Ukraine. It may live on, perhaps under the guise of Anarchism, or perhaps under creative names. I believe that if anything, any viable revolutionary socialist movement in Ukraine will have to be genuine. Such a movement could not possibly be pro-Russia and survive. Nor could it have anything to do with the frauds who wrap themselves in Soviet flags and make common cause with fascists. Finally, such a movement will be forced to adopt revolutionary tactics and practices, and the government itself will have provided the justification for it.

I realize that what I’m saying is highly controversial, but rest assured that it comes from years of personal research, study, experience, and observation. At the very least, my opinions on this matter can do no worse than what others have tried for the last 24 years or so. I would also point out that the thing about Marx’s theory and socialism is that even if you don’t like others answers, the questions were and are still valid. When I speak about the contradictions between Ukraine’s working class and their rulers I am not speaking of abstractions but rather concrete, demonstrable facts. More than this, we have over a century of historical experience showing us how countries which achieved independence still found themselves within the sphere of their former rulers via the bonds of capital and investment. As I said before, we see that trade and business between Russia and Ukraine have continued all throughout this war. Lastly, I should point out once again that the only reason you don’t see a total rejection of Communist symbols in Russia is a matter of political necessity. Truly there are people close to the Kremlin who would love to enact the same laws and create a consistent, imperialist ideology for the Russian state. In fact, judging from his quotes, it’s almost certain that separatist leader and Russian agent Igor “Strelkov” Girkin would approve of such a measure.

I nurture no delusions about playing any revolutionary role in Ukraine. Time, circumstances beyond my control, as well as some poor decisions ruled out that career path for me some time ago. For this reasons I committed very little of my theories and observations to writing, and that which I did is only in English. For reasons I cannot explain, and perhaps which really require no explanation, I still feel a strong affinity towards Ukraine. If some Canadian whose great-great-grandfather came from Ukraine but who has never set foot in that country and can’t speak a word of Ukrainian or Russian can talk about their “heritage,” surely I can, within reason. To the English speaking Ukrainians out there I realize these ideas may seem like an anathema, but to be honest, your country’s track record since its independence hasn’t exactly been stellar. It might be time to try something new for a chance. What is more, I am a person who has been forced on several occasions to acknowledge that I was seriously wrong about the world. As such, I do not believe in writing off people just because their ideology is diametrically opposed. Preaching to the choir is how you get echo chambers and group think. If a movement is properly grounded in reason and sound arguments, it will make converts.

So there you go, my political rant on Ukraine’s new law and its future, direct from the heart. To my Ukrainian readers, I sincerely hope my site isn’t blocked in your country as a result.

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4 thoughts on “Soapbox

  1. Chukuriuk

    I agree with David Marples, as do you, that this is a stupid law. Mostly from the historical point of view: it is obscene to put the UPA in the same category as the leaders of the UNR, and naive to grant Rukh the same agency as either. (Nonetheless, I take issue with your suggestion that 1991 was simply a matter of ex-cadres spreading a fiction among a passive population — the popular festivals of the late 1980s show that these ideas were being worked out on the ground, whether a consensus arose around them or not: see Yuri Andrukhovych’s Recreations for a fictionalized account.) From the strategic point of view, this may cost Ukraine some allies in the West, but not many: as you have chronicled, most of the Western “left” long ago drank the Donbass kool-aid, and the ruling liberal ideology has long equated communism and fascism. As for the Russian angle, by now it hardly matters: the Putinists will invent any casus belli they like. If the law seems tactically unnecessary because the (imperialist-revanchist-Stalinist) CP was hemorrhaging votes, it may help to keep the right-wing formations on the reservation. And it will be interesting to see how it is received, beyond of course the Donbass (which is by now a lost cause).

    Beyond the stupid law, if probably not behind it, is the possibility that Ukraine is approaching — granted, in a zigzag path, and for better or worse — the European liberal consensus on WW2, “totalitarian” regimes, the examination of the past and the limits of its exploitation. One way or another Ukraine is moving away from Russia in this regard. See this piece:
    http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/04/new-laws-on-archives-and-names-show.html In time (and if the Ukrainian state survives), once the elements that make up the CP reorganize around pro-Russian populism and drop their leftist masks, a space should open up for the left, and a Syriza-style coalition, without overt communist symbolism, will be imaginable. It would be precisely a coalition, with nativist left elements such as you suggest (anarchism) and imported ones (Marxism) — and maybe even recognition of the positive Ukrainian contributions to Soviet communism, in politics and culture, would be possible.

    And, if Ukraine doesn’t approach Europe in a meaningful way, anything is possible, which may mean that nothing is possible.

    Reply
    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I didn’t mean to suggest that there wasn’t grassroots support behind independence, but rather I was referring to this trend that repeated itself all throughout the former Soviet Union, where you have this elite that rallies the people, and at first it’s “We’re all Ukrainians, Georgians, Russians, whatever.” But then when they get their new government, suddenly they’re not all equal, and the elite goes on to live in luxury making deals with foreign businessmen while the masses were left in poverty.

      Reply
  2. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning)

    I’m not sure why what you write is ‘controversial’? To who?

    From my reading of writing by leftie Ukrainians, the communists have been a huge drag on any grass roots socialist development there. And still are.

    I agree with Chukuriuk but I’d also note that it could grow not from political parties but from trade unions and other organising against austerity, whose seeds already exist in the strength of civil society. I also wonder whether a social democratic alternative can form in Ukraine because this appears to be a gaping hole from what I gather.

    Reply
  3. Bandersnatch

    Nothing you said is controversial or radical, at least not from my vantage point.

    A small part of me feels for Russians actually. I’ve just always felt that country and people had so much potential and it’s so disappointing to know it will never be met. Not all countries are equal in this regard. Saudi Arabia, for example…it’s ofcourse just my uneducated opinion but I’m not sure that nation has much a chance of ever truly being great and transcending its rising ‘bully’ status now.

    I’ve felt similarly about America. I really think Americans in general are better than their government and have wanted and deserved more but for various reasons, never manifested it.

    None of this matters though, because the status quo won’t change for any of these nations, especially Ukraine. That’s what’s tragic.

    Reply

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