I was actually pleasantly surprised at the reaction yesterday’s post got, especially from Ukrainian readers or those in Ukraine. I wanted to include a lot more information, but the post was already long enough. Thus today I’d like to add in some extra points, as well as some links that a reader provided.
First of all, one of my main problems with the Jacobin article which provoked yesterday’s post was that it gives the image of Ukraine as being uniquely dominated by the far-right, using several attacks and hate crimes as a basis. As I pointed out, such crimes are unfortunately common in Eastern Europe, where right-wing politics generally dominate (even in parties which superficially appear left-wing). But the author leaves out examples to the contrary. For example, in the neighborhood I lived in in Kyiv, one could see anarchist and anti-Nazi graffiti on many of the buildings. This was accompanied by the website revdia.org, which claims to be an anarchist group.
Now in the whole period I was there, I never had time to meet with anyone from the organization. I’m not going to endorse it because I’ve been burned by Ukrainian “leftist” organizations who claimed to be “independent” in the past. But supposedly it is a sincere anarchist organization, albeit one with an unfortunately-designed logo that looks like a Nazi war flag.
While I was in Ukraine, I heard rumors that anarchists, possibly affiliated with this group, may have engaged in street fights with far right hooligans. From that photo above, they certainly look like they could match the skinhead hooligans I saw on the streets of Kyiv from time to time.
But take a look at their website’s agitprop section:
Nice graphics, but notice anything missing? There is nothing on any of those pages about Russian imperialism. Revdia may very well be a sincere anarchist organization with no ties to Russian intelligence (unlike other orgs, some far right, others seemingly far left), but is it not obvious how easy it would be for far rightists to portray this organization as another incarnation of Russian “hybrid” warfare even if they were totally innocent?
The simple fact is that “no war but the class war,” is simply not applicable in Ukraine today. As I stated in the previous post, while Ukraine cannot hope to achieve victory over Russian imperialism before solving its own problem with capitalism, it also cannot solve its capitalist problem without first resisting Russian imperialism.
To illustrate why, let me use another thought experiment similar to the one I presented in the previous post, which involved a militant Ukrainian socialist movement taking up arms against Russian occupation outside of the Minsk II agreement. In this case, suppose we have a wholly different situation- a militant Ukrainian socialist movement emerges, but rather than going to war with the occupation, it declares war on the corrupt Ukrainian state, because again, “no war but the class war,” right?
In this scenario one needs far less imagination to imagine how that would be betrayed by the Ukrainian state, its far right lackeys, and Ukraine’s foreign allies- this uprising would be seen as nothing more than a new front opened by the Russians. Even if there was no such connection and the movement “condemned both sides” the way many Ukrainian “leftist” organizations do, its uprising against the state and its armed forces would be a de facto advantage to Russia, which would no doubt try to exploit the disarray with an offensive somewhere in the east. This hypothetical movement would almost immediately lose any popular support, be utterly crushed, and forever be condemned as just another “Soviet” separatist plot.
So to reiterate- there can be no successful leftist movement in Ukraine that doesn’t first and foremost call out Russian imperialism as the main danger to Ukraine’s working class (here’s an example of why). Calls for “peace” aimed at Kyiv, which has no power to deliver it, and “no war but the class war” simply do not work in a scenario where a reactionary colonialist, imperialist power is physically invading the country and interfering in its politics on a large scale. In the Jacobin article, the authors suggested that Ukraine’s “patriots” and far right mercilessly attack anyone who suggests there are any conflicts in Ukraine besides the external one with Russia, but this is simply a lie. Everyone knows Ukraine’s far right parrots slogans about “oligarchs” and engages in anti-corruption protests along with the rest of Ukrainian civil society. So if even the mindless football hooligans can see that conflict yet still realize that the most pressing issue is a foreign invasion and occupation, why can’t the left also grasp this concept and use it?
As hard to imagine as it may be for many people in Ukraine, a militant Ukrainian leftist movement leading the charge against Russian occupation would have a huge advantage over its opponents in the state and the far right. This is because when it comes to issues, policy, and most of all theory, the left holds the high ground. Take the issue of endemic corruption, for example.
The liberal nationalist and far right explanation for corruption in Ukraine is basically magical thinking. Typically the idea is that corrupt officials have the “Soviet mindset.” They’re not patriotic enough, they are part of the “Russian world,” they’re really “Communists,” etc. No matter how obvious it is that Ukraine has plenty of brazenly corrupt officials who tick all the boxes on the Post-Maidan Ukrainian Patriot Checklist (Patent pending), this seems to be the default explanation for everything. How to fix Ukraine’s corruption problems? PATRIOTISM!!! MORE SHUKHEVYCH STREETS! EXORCISE THE SOVIET DEMONS!
Of course anyone with a cursory understanding of Marxism understands the real reason Ukraine suffers from corruption and cannot dig itself out of the hole with the tools provided by liberal democracy- capitalism. Ukraine is dominated by capitalists, like any other country, and like Russia or many other countries it is that peculiar type of capitalist system based on the theft of public resources rather than the use of lobbying on behalf of private business, like in a more developed capitalist economy like the United States. All you have to do to understand why Ukraine’s businessmen don’t want to seriously reform the system is look at their lifestyle and compare it to that of the average Ukrainian worker, with their average Ukrainian salary. Would you give up the former for the latter? Would you do it for “patriotism?”
Capitalism explains why even after nearly four years of war, annexation, and occupation, there are still Ukrainian businessmen working with Russia. Anyone who thinks these businessmen are simply a bunch of “Sovki” who love Putin is either insanely naive or hopelessly stupid. Up until recently, the President of post-Maidan Ukraine himself had business interests in Russia. Put simply, the liberal centrists and the far right simply have no solution to this problem.
Secondly, the left’s analysis is better because it can grasp the real reason why so many Ukrainian citizens were duped or enticed into working for Russia, both in the Crimea and the Donbas. It’s not about World War II, Soviet nostalgia, or the “Soviet mentality.” It’s about fucking money. Just look at a town like Kostyantynivka, for example. As I have repeatedly said- it looks like there was combat there but in fact there wasn’t you could say the same for many other towns in the region. With all the other political bullshit that has dominated Ukraine for years, you can understand why many people in the town couldn’t care less whether they were administered by Russian gangsters or Ukrainian ones. What they all knew, however, was that salaries and pensions are higher in Russia.
The liberal centrists and far right only have more magical thinking to explain why so many of their countrymen haven’t got on board with Ukrainian nationhood. Instead of reaching out to those dissatisfied Ukrainians and creating a more inclusive Ukrainian idea- they prefer to excommunicate them from the nation and pronounce them to be hopelessly under the mystical sway of the “Soviet mentality” (Alexander Motyl is probably the most guilty of this bizarre separatism that never gets called out as treason). Tell me what other nationalists have you heard of which are so eager and willing to give away millions of their own people and in some cases, actual territory to a foreign imperialist power, all in the name of preserving some metaphysical “national idea” that does not in fact encompass the whole nation and never did?
Marxists, just like Ukraine’s original nationalists who reached out to Ukrainians even far beyond the borders of historical Ukraine, can reach out to those people in the east, including those under Russian occupation. With an internationalist outlook, they can even reach the exploited peoples of the Russian Federation, which would be Putin’s greatest nightmare brought to life. Ukraine’s liberals and far right have no such ability and never will.
I could go on, but the point here is that the left, materialist, Marxist analysis goes much further in explaining and determining solutions to Ukraine’s problems than anything the liberals or far right have. The only problem is that Ukraine’s leftists are lacking in this one major point- calling out and resisting Russian imperialism. This is not selling out to the Ukrainian bourgeoisie. Nor does it require adopting some of the right’s bullshit myths as a certain other Ukrainian “anarchist” (Correction: A reader has told me they’re not anarchists but “left nationalists,” whatever that means.) organization has (Autonomous Resistance, which, to their credit, at least appropriated the UPA flag). This is simply good Marxist praxis and true anti-imperialism.
To round out this article, I’d like to provide some more links for leftists about Ukraine. Some of these were provided by a reader named Matt in response to yesterday’s post.