T.O. Weekly Special: Essential Background Articles on Ukraine and the National Question

National Museum of the History of Ukraine in WW2, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

Ukraine, Trotsky, and the National Question


[Excerpts from the Editorial Notes published in Issue No. 81 (February 2014) of La Vérité / The Truth]

The major crisis on every level that is hitting the capitalist system based on private ownership of the means of production has undergone a sudden acceleration in the recent period. One abrupt convulsion after another is shaking the “world order” maintained under the aegis of US imperialism.

At an increasingly rapid pace, the policy of destabilising, attacking and breaking -up nations being implemented by imperialism is leading to a proliferation of major crises that are spreading and placing on the agenda the recourse to war in an increasingly systematic way.

As we go to press [February 2014], Putin has had the Russian parliament vote in favour of authorising a military intervention in Ukraine, while at the same time he has agreed to a contact mission with the imperialist powers, on the initiative of Merkel acting in agreement with Obama.

What will come out of this situation? All options are open. As the reader will see in the article by Dominique Ferré in this issue, the origins of the crisis lie first and foremost in the initiative by the European Union, the IMF and US imperialism to demand that the Yanukovych government submit to demands for restructuring and structural reforms. Translation: the demand for open pillage by imperialism in Ukraine.

The starting point of the sequence of events is to be found in the very essence of imperialism in crisis at the beginning of the 21st century. Saying this does not put a plus sign next to the Yanukovych government, a government of corrupt mafia types living only for and through abuses and the pillaging of social property, transforming it into a source of sizable fortunes, feeding on and crushing the Ukrainian people. As highlighted by Dominique Ferré’s article, both the predecessors and the successors of Yanukovych, his “opponents”, have deep roots in the same breeding-ground – that of the decaying bureaucracy – and represent the same mafia-style social layer that lives on pillaging and destroying the productive forces. But at a given moment, Yanukovych was faced with two options, and he did not choose the one dictated by US finance capital financiers through its instruments, the IMF and the European Union.

Furthermore, the new “Prime Minister” had barely taken office when he subscribed to the commitments being demanded by his sponsors (1). This Prime Minister, allied with a party that is openly nostalgic of Nazism, declared upon taking office that his government was going to “have to take extremely unpopular measures” and was quick to point out: “We are on the brink of disaster (…). So welcome to hell.” French daily newspaper Le Monde, a fervent supporter of the so-called Ukrainian “revolution”, commented on this statement by pointing out that it would translate into “a reduction in social programmes” and “saving the financial system”, and as a result “Ukraine will experience its first shock treatment with the inevitable social traumas”. The hell, in fact, of destruction dictated by the survival of the decayed system based on private ownership of the means of production.

The situation that is developing today in Ukraine is reminiscent of previous scenarios that saw other governments turn from friends of imperialism into pariahs overnight: just recently the preferred interlocutor of the European Union and the IMF, today Yanukovych has been driven from power through a genuine coup, just like Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein and very many others before him, in conditions resulting from an open imperialist attack.

The developments in Ukraine fall within a particular context: the break- up of the former USSR and the process of “restoring capitalism”. This particular situation is being expressed on two levels: on the one hand, it is indisputable that the collapse of the USSR in 1991 – the result of an offensive by finance capital to open up for itself a gigantic market which mostly evaded it still – translated not into the constitution of a national bourgeoisie developing capitalism through the traditional means of a growth of industry and the extraction of surplus-value, but through the propagation of a mafia-style capitalism of pillage, poisoning the whole of the world economy, a capitalism of speculation based first and foremost on the mass destruction of the productive forces.

This restoration of a particular kind of capitalism satisfied the demands of finance capital for an initial period. But it very quickly displayed its limits. Firstly because, as emphasised in the article published in this issue, it was unable to follow through to the end with the task assigned to it: that of smashing all the segments of social property. On the other hand, because the constitution of those gigantic mafias did not exactly match the form of pillage desired by the leading circles of finance capital in the current stage of imperialist decay.

In fact, although it did not escape the imperialist system globally, the enormous natural wealth of the former USSR was not placed under the direct control of the multinationals that dominate the capitalist economy. From this point of view, today there is a need for it to go much further. This has led imperialism to clash with what it itself has largely contributed to creating: the layer of speculators that emerged from the old Stalinist bureaucracy that today controls the state (which still owns whole sectors of the economy). Acting in its own interests, this layer does not look kindly on US finance capital’s attempt to take direct control of affairs, thus threatening that layer’s outrageous privileges.

This first aspect, which has international value, is combined in the case of Ukraine with the national question. A nation that was oppressed for centuries by neighbouring countries, then very substantially by the Tsarist empire, then once again faced with the reality of national oppression under Stalinism, Ukraine is in a special situation. In an article written on the eve of the Second World War (“The Ukrainian question”, 22 April 1939), Trotsky pointed out that “The Bolshevik party, not without difficulty and only gradually under the constant pressure of Lenin, was able to acquire a correct approach to the Ukrainian question” — i.e. to declare itself in favour of the right to self-determination.

But although the revolution of October 1917 and the constitution of the USSR allowed the Ukrainian nation and culture to develop considerably, the Stalinist counter-revolutionary bureaucratic crystallisation that followed changed the content of the problem. “The more profound the hopes aroused, the keener was the disillusionment”, wrote Trotsky, for whom, in 1939, “a clear and definite slogan is necessary that corresponds to the new situation. In my opinion there can be at the present time only one such slogan: A united, free and independent workers’ and peasants’ Soviet Ukraine.”

At the time when Trotsky was writing, Ukraine was divided up, torn between Soviet Ukraine and the parts of Ukraine ruled by Poland, Hungary, etc. The perspective of “the independence of a United Ukraine” did not scare Trotsky. “What is so terrible about that? – we reply. The fervid worship of state boundaries is alien to us”, he wrote. On the other hand, he insisted on the fact that “the programme of independence for the Ukraine in the epoch of imperialism is directly and indissolubly bound up with the program of the proletarian revolution. It would be criminal to entertain any illusions on this score.”

And if he envisaged the possibility that “an independent workers’ and peasants’ Ukraine might subsequently join the Soviet Federation”, this could only be done “voluntarily, on conditions which it itself considers acceptable, which in turn presupposes a revolutionary regeneration of the USSR.” Such a “genuine emancipation of the Ukrainian people” would be inconceivable “without a revolution or a series of revolutions in the West which must lead in the end to the creation of the Soviet United States of Europe.” Having considered all these hypotheses, Trotsky came back to what he called “the question of first order”, namely: “the revolutionary guarantee of the unity and independence of a workers’ and peasants’ Ukraine in the struggle against imperialist on the one hand, and against Moscow Bonapartism on the other.”

In another article published a few months later (“Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads”, 30 July 1939) in response to the polemic resulting from the previous one, Trotsky spelled out the relationship between the independence of Ukraine and the world proletarian revolution: “The right of national self- determination is, of course, a democratic and not a socialist principle. But genuinely democratic principles are supported and realized in our era only by the revolutionary proletariat; it is for this very reason that they interlace with socialist tasks.”

Trotsky recalled that “the resolute struggle of the Bolshevik party for the right of self-determination of oppressed nationalities in Russia facilitated in the extreme the conquest of power by the proletariat.” Relating more precisely to Ukraine, he insisted on the need to “proceed from facts and not ideal norms.” And those facts were the following: “The Thermidorian reaction in the USSR, the defeat of a number of revolutions, the victories of fascism (…) must be paid for in genuine currency in all spheres, including that of the Ukrainian question. Were we to ignore the new situation created as a result of defeats, were we to pretend that nothing extraordinary has occurred, and were we to counterpose to unpleasant facts familiar abstractions, then we could very well surrender to the reactionary forces the remaining chances for vengeance in the more or less immediate future.”

Trotsky pointed out that “the national struggle [is] one of the most labyrinthine and complex but at the same time extremely important forms of the class struggle”. Consequently, it “cannot be suspended by bare references to the future world revolution.” Trotsky stressed that, of course, “an ideal variant” would be that “the revolution occurs simultaneously in all parts of the Soviet Union”, but even in this case, “in order freely to determine her relations with other Soviet republics, in order to possess the right of saying yes or no, the Ukraine must return to herself complete freedom of action, at least for the duration of this Constituent period. There is no other name for this than state independence.”

Have the events unfolded in line with Trotsky’s forecast? From a strictly factual point of view, it would appear not. But on taking a closer look… What happened in 1991? The disintegration of the USSR appeared – especially in the eyes of the oppressed nationalities – to open up the possibility of satisfying their legitimate national aspirations. The referendum that was held in Ukraine in 1991 produced a 90 percent vote in favour of the independence of Ukraine. This approval was the majority view in every one of the regions, Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking, and even in the Crimea, where, as we know, a very large Russian component of the population lived and continues to live today. Everybody identified the end to oppression with the need to impose the sovereignty of the Ukrainian nation.

Now, what appeared 20 years ago to be an indisputable sentiment shared by almost 50 million Ukrainians, today has gone up in smoke. The final provocations by imperialism are pushing Ukraine onto the path of disintegration, preparing what will be presented tomorrow as the “inevitable” resurgence of ethnic conflicts, national confrontations and implacable hatreds.

The reality is completely different. And in this respect, it completely confirms Trotsky’s analysis. Ukraine’s aspiration to independence, i.e., sovereignty, is inextricably linked to achieving the means to that sovereignty. Means that cannot be determined under imperialism’s iron rule. Because imperialism has a single obsession: pillaging Ukraine’s national resources, replacing Stalinist bureaucratic oppression with the mechanisms for capitalist exploitation, introducing mass unemployment and deskilling, and destroying the social welfare systems.

This is how within 20 years or so, hopes and illusions have once again given way to the biggest disillusion, the greatest sense of rejection, and also in part to the deepest despair. It is impossible to satisfy the aspiration to national independence while submitting to the dictates of imperialism and its plans for disintegration which it is fomenting. But this in no way implies that the solution can be found by turning to the Putin regime. Quite the opposite.

This poses the whole problem of the independence of the labour organisations. But this fully confirms that in the epoch of decayed and decadent imperialism, the solution to national questions – whether relating to Ukraine or other nations in the world – is a crucial question. As Trotsky reminds us, in the epoch of imperialist decay (which calls into question the existence of sovereignty of nations throughout the world) the aspiration to independence and sovereignty takes on a profoundly revolutionary character. But at the same time, it can only be completely guaranteed to its fullest extent by not giving in to the demands for decomposition made by imperialism itself, in other words by moving towards the “socialist” solution, the solution of the expropriation of capital. It is in this sense that national emancipation and social emancipation remain totally linked together, as is confirmed tragically by what is happening in Ukraine.

A heavy responsibility is borne by those within the labour movement who, because they refuse to break with the decaying capitalist system, seek to prevent the working class from struggling for the slightest national and democratic demand, wishing to submit to the diktats of the European Union and the IMF, those instruments of imperialism. The Fourth International fights unconditionally for the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination, which entails fighting against the reactionary measures taken by the Yatsenyuk government that aim to break up Ukraine.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ukraine: The Break-up of a Nation

By Dominique Ferré

[Excerpts from the lead article published in Issue No. 81 (February 2014) of La Vérité / The Truth]

At the end of February 2014, the so-called leaders of the “Western democracies,” from Brussels to Washington, via Paris, Berlin and London, were celebrating the “revolution” in Ukraine which, as they would have it, had just driven ex-President Yanukovych (1) from power.

Writing in the German national daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung on 25 February [2014], Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank that aims to promote the interests of the United States, was enthusiastic about the prospect that Ukraine could soon join NATO, stating:

Ukraine proved to be the weakest link in the post-Soviet chain. One must keep in mind that similar uprisings are also possible in other countries. (…) One can therefore hope that the Ukrainians will not be disappointed in Europe again, and also that the democratic forces in Russia (2) will be able to overcome their current disappointment with Europe.” And Ms Shevtsova went into raptures over the activity of the “radical groups”, most notably citing the openly pro-Nazi group Pravyi Sektor (3).

Shortly before that, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to US President Carter, wrote in the financial daily newspaper Financial Times: “Sooner rather than later, Ukraine will be truly a part of democratic Europe; later rather than sooner, Russia will follow unless it self-isolates itself and becomes a semi-stagnant imperialistic relic.” (4)

The same was to be heard from the private intelligence agency Stratfor (known to have close links to the US secret services): “The West wants to parlay the success of supporting Ukraine’s anti-government protesters into a broader, region-wide campaign.” (5)

These few statements (6) indicate the extent to which, as far as world imperialism and especially US imperialism is concerned, the events in Ukraine fall squarely within the policy of the breaking-up of nations, the consequence of the failed system of private ownership of the means of production. A policy which is affecting the whole world, whether referred to as the “New Middle East”, or so-called “ethnic” conflicts elsewhere, or calling national sovereignty into question.

According to those mouthpieces of imperialism, the process of disintegration currently underway in Ukraine must therefore serve as a bridgehead for a new offensive aimed at breaking up and pillaging Russia. It must also be used as an element of pressure and terror against the class struggle, in which the workers in every country of the European Union are seeking to use their organisations to face up to the destructive policies of the governments that are implementing the plans of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF (the troika).

Is Ukraine in the process of breaking apart?

Several statements by US and EU claiming to want to “maintain the territorial integrity” of Ukraine are pure hypocrisy: at the time of writing, the process of breaking up Ukraine has already begun. And even if they are not in control of all the processes of disintegration which they themselves started, those leaders are fully responsible for them.

The day after Yanukovych fled, the Verkhovna Rada (parliament, literally the “Supreme Council”) – the same assembly that the day before was pledging allegiance to Yanukovych – passed a battery of extremely reactionary bills, thus preparing the conditions for a civil war of disintegration. Among these measures, let us draw attention to the repeal of the Kolesnichenko law on the country’s official languages. This law established that in each region or large administrative district where at least 10 percent of the local population spoke a language other than Ukrainian (in most cases Russian, but also Hungarian, Romanian, etc.), that second language was recognised as an official language on the same level as Ukrainian.

Today’s Ukraine, the result of the break-up of the Soviet Union but drawing on a long previous history (see box), has a population that is mostly Ukrainian but also contains national minorities (Russians – forming the majority population in Crimea – Hungarians, Crimean Tatars, and so on). Without even referring to those national minorities, who speak their own languages, around half the population of Ukraine do not speak Ukrainian as their mother-tongue; they speak Russian. Whatever the limitations of the Kolesnichenko law, the fact of recognising languages other than Ukrainian as official languages was a recognition of a basic democratic right, and therefore a factor of national unity for Ukraine – a nation recognising all the languages of its citizens, including those of the non-Ukrainian national minorities.

Concretely, the repeal of such a law makes life impossible for any “non-Ukrainophone” Ukrainian citizen, whether a Russian-speaking Ukrainian national or a member of a national minority (Russian, Tatar, Hungarian, etc.). This applies to around half the population, who will now have to deal with the least administrative document being written or having to be written in a language they do not know well enough or not at all. By deciding to repeal such a law, the new Ukrainian government and its “sponsors” in Brussels and Washington are knowingly deciding to manufacture in the short term what the media will present hypocritically in the days to come as an “ethnic conflict” (7).

 The breaking-up of nations and the IMF: from former Yugoslavia to Ukraine

At the time of writing this article, all of the ingredients for a general explosion in Ukraine have been assembled. One week before the fall of Yanukovych, armed militias of the far-right party Svoboda (8) had already seized power in all of the big cities in the west. In the east of the country, where the Ukrainian population is mainly Russian-speaking and the traditional bastion of the “clans” that supported Yanukovych, governors reacted by threatening to no longer follow the central government’s orders. In Kiev, where the “Maidan militias” – including groups like Pravyi Sektor who hold marches under the sign of the swastika – have just been integrated into the forces of order, there are calls for the formation of armed columns to go and “free” the east of the country and Crimea…

The situation in Crimea is explosive. This peninsula on the Black Sea, which Nikita Khrushchev transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954, has a majority Russian population but also a sizeable Tatar (Turkish-speaking and Muslim) minority who were deported there en masse on Stalin’s orders in 1944 (9). In response to the reactionary laws passed by the new government in Kiev, tens of thousands of Crimean Russians, egged on by the local authorities (the mafia nature of which is in no way different to that of the Kiev government), are calling for Crimea to be transferred back to Russia. The first fatal clashes between Russians and Tatars have just taken place (10). Just before Yanukovych’s departure, the internet newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda, which was close to the then-opposition, published a report by the SBU (the Ukrainian ex-KGB) announcing that the country was about to blow apart. One week later, all the ingredients for this to happen had been assembled. Why?

Let us repeat, the “sorcerer’s apprentices” in charge of US imperialism – itself in crisis – are still not able to control the processes which they themselves started, and with which they have tried to “play” up to a certain point, in Ukraine any more than in Syria, Iraq or the Great Lakes Region of Africa. But one thing is certain: if Ukraine were to follow the path trodden over 20 years ago by the republics of former Yugoslavia, as they did in 1991, then only imperialism and all those who are going along with its plans could be held responsible. The supposed “ancestral hatreds” and “ethnic tensions” to which those same “sorcerer’s apprentices” never fail to refer must be rejected as pure fabrication.

Such an explosion in Ukraine, which would inevitably bring about similar explosions in neighbouring countries and Russia, would of course have even more tragic consequences than the disintegration of former Yugoslavia in 1991-4, organised by the big imperialist powers and their relay-stations within the “socialist” bureaucracy. However, there is one parallel with what happened in the Balkans which should be established from the outset. When the Yugoslav Federation blew apart, Criton Zoakos, an economist at Polyconomics, wrote at the time: “When the IMF shock therapy hit Yugoslavia (11), the initial form of social disorder was not ethnic friction but massive and repeated strikes and labor actions. (…) ‘Ethnic cleansing’ arrived only after ‘shock therapy’ had done its work.

The Yatsenyuk government’s programme: “Welcome to hell!”

Have we not reached the heart of the problem? Let us go back a few months. The demonstrations referred to as Euromaidan began when President Yanukovych and his government, which up to that point had supported the signing of an “association agreement” with the European Union, did a U-turn in mid-November, opting instead for an offer from the Russian government (for a US$15 billion loan).

It is nevertheless useful to recall that this “association agreement”, like the one signed by Tunisia and other countries, entailed the implementation of a battery of measures of utter brutality dictated by the IMF, ranging from a freeze on wages and pensions to a massive increase in the cost of gas to households.

In short, the same policy as the one that is brutally hitting the masses from Lisbon to Athens, under the troika’s guidance.

The “new” government installed in Kiev following Yanukovych’s flight to Russia did not keep up the suspense for very long regarding its programme and its intentions. Arseniy Yatsenyuk became Prime Minister on 26 February. This was exactly what US State Department representative Victoria Nuland had proposed on 6 February during a telephone conversation with the US ambassador in Kiev – a conversation that was recorded without their knowledge and made public, probably by the Russian secret services.

Yatsenyuk stated: “We are to undertake extremely unpopular steps as the previous government and previous president were so corrupted that the country is in a desperate financial plight. We are on the brink of a disaster and this is the government of political suiciders. So welcome to hell!

On the eve of the official announcement of the composition of the “new” government, one group of Ukrainian activists pointed out: “Prime Minister Arsenyi Yatsenyuk, whose candidacy has been actively supported by the bureaucrats of the European Union (Elmar Brock), has said: “The west will help us exit the crisis (…). We ask for immediate aid from our European partners. The IMF programme should be carried out immediately.” We recall that the condition for the IMF loan is a tax increase for the population to the level of world standards, a reduction in social gains and the speeding up of neoliberal reforms. This statement by Yatsenyuk means that the government will hear the voice of the international financial institutions but not the voice of the people. The participation in this government of a figure as symbolic as Viktor Pinzenyk – the “spiritual father” and “sponsor” of privatisation-pillage process – shows what the orientation of the government’s economic policy will be: a maximum of liberal capitalism and a minimum of the social state. (…) The news that the leaders of openly Nazi structures like “Pravyi Sektor” will be integrated into the SBU and the Interior Ministry, the attempts to ban “communist activities” and the pressure on the media illustrate the repressive and anti-democratic character of this government.” (12)

Let us stress this point: The government’s character is that of total subservience to the institutions of imperialism, the European Union and the IMF. Let us also stress the significance of the appointment to an important post of Viktor Pynzenyk, regarded as the “father of privatisation” and of the “shock treatment” of the early 1990s. As early as 2010, this individual was suggesting to the US ambassador (13) some emergency measures to be taken, including: increasing the age of retirement; tripling the price of gas for households; the privatisation of all coal mines and cancelling of all subsidies to the coal mining sector; and elimination of arrange of social benefits, including birth grants, free meals and school books.

A veritable programme of social warfare – which at the same time indicates that despite 23 years of mafia-style privatisation-pillage, the Ukrainian working class has through its own resistance maintained a certain number of gains which provide its foundation as a class (pensions, state ownership of the mines and part of heavy industry, social benefits), the legacy of the “gains of October 1917” that has still not been destroyed. Like before in Yugoslavia, to use the cynical phrase of the economist quoted earlier, one understands why it is necessary for imperialism that the “ethnic cleansing” be accompanied by “the IMF shock therapy.

Re-examining the conditions of the disintegration of the USSR 23 years ago

As far as members of the Fourth International are concerned, this disintegration-dismantling brings us back to the very conditions in which the Soviet Union collapsed 23 years ago. One cannot help but be struck by the fact that in Ukraine as in Russia, in Kazakhstan, Moldova, Belarus, etc., the ruling social layer and the various regimes that have represented it for the last 23 years have their roots in the bureaucracy of the USSR itself.

This is not the place to remind ourselves of the reasons for the degeneration of the USSR and the nature of that bureaucracy, its role as the “transmission belt of imperialism” and so on. The Fourth International has its roots in the struggle of Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition within the Bolshevik Party against the degeneration of the October Revolution. At a cost of the physical extermination of tens of thousands of their members, the Bolshevik-Leninists fought side by side with the Soviet workers and peasants for political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy – an integral part of the world unity of the class struggle. They fought in the USSR and Eastern Europe against “restoring capitalism”. When the bureaucracy in the USSR took the final step in its capitulation to world imperialism and decided to scuttle the Soviet Union in 1991, the Fourth International wrote:

To the accelerated impoverishment of the working population is counterposed the lavish lifestyle of a small layer of swindlers and mafiosi that emerged from the apparatus, who under the guise of the “Democratic Russia Election Bloc” are trying to sell off the country’s resources in order to fill their pockets with various commission payments collected along the way”. (14).

And we added: “The bourgeois character of the bureaucracy is revealed today in an almost caricatured manner in the way in which it is seeking to return to the bosom of the world bourgeoisie. This final stage of its development does not mean that it is losing anything whatsoever of its roots and parasitic nature – on the contrary. It cannot even become a rump bourgeoisie.

It does not have the means (nor the ambition) to constitute national capital. Even if the mafiosi of the parallel economy injected their 150 billion roubles, which in any case would only be invested in speculative sectors, the enormous liquidity crisis that is hitting the world economy with increasing brutality and forms the basis for the IMF’s wrecking plans prevents any hope of investing even a modest fraction of the gigantic needs of the Soviet economy; it therefore only remains for the mafiosi who sprang from the very guts of the apparatus to count the dividends of their political subordination to US imperialism and the gratuities they have gleaned from the privatisation process.

The decaying bureaucracy is no more than a subsidiary and supplementary layer of world imperialism, without any national character whatsoever, a caste of swindlers, traffickers, of mafiosi ready to sell themselves and state property to the highest bidder, and even to those who offer almost nothing.

Do we not have here a characterisation of both Yanukovych and the “clans” on which he relied…and of those who today are supporting the “new government” installed in Kiev? But also of the groups of “oligarchs” upon which the Kremlin relies in Russia, or again the social layer that supports the regime of Nazerbayev (former Secretary General of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and President of “democratic” and “independent” Kazakhstan since 1991)? (15)

“A caste of swindlers, traffickers, of mafiosi ready to sell themselves”

The career of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former icon of Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” who was freed from house-arrest following the agreements signed by Yanukovych and the European Union on 21 February, is striking.

As highlighted by a French journalist (16) in a profile piece, Tymoshenko “did not take long to assimilate all the subtleties of international finance. One year after the country gained independence, she registered a company in Cyprus on 8 October 1992; Somolli Enterprises quickly acquired US$140 million. The windfall came from United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a company headed incidentally by Yulia Tymoshenko that bought gas from Russia and distributed it in the Dnipropetrovsk region. She was appointed to this strategic post by Energy Minister Pavel Lazarenko, who was Prime Minister of Ukraine in 1996-7. (…) Thirty-something Yulia Tymoshenko was a brunette at that time, without her trademark crown braid. “She was subsequently given a makeover by western advisers, no doubt American, to play the Ukrainian peasant-woman”, notes Emilia Nazarenko, Geneva correspondent for the Ukrainian daily newspaper Den. Before becoming the poster-girl of the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko leaned more in favour of the Russian neighbour. As for Pavel Lazarenko, when suspected of embezzlement he opted to take flight. In December 1998, he was arrested in Basle (Switzerland) in possession of a…Panamanian passport. Geneva-based investigating judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, who was in charge of the case, was forced to play Hansel and Gretel following the trail of breadcrumbs in his attempt to track down the missing funds. The money was sent from Cyprus to four Swiss cantons, Fribourg, Geneva, Vaud and Zurich. (…) Arrested later in the United States, the former Prime Minister was sent down for nine years in 2006 in California, also for money-laundering. In the beginning, Yulia Tymoshenko appeared in the US court case as a “co-conspirator”, but very interestingly she was then cleared. It is true that meanwhile in Ukraine, heading up the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc – a coalition of centre-right parties – she had become the poster-girl of the Orange Revolution orange and was regarded as pro-west.

The mafia-type character of this social layer – the expression of the decay of the capitalist “world economy” – is explained by the fact that the “restoring of capitalism” by the bureaucracy in 1991 was carried out in conditions where the decay of the system based on private ownership of the means of production could not result in the constitution of genuine bourgeoisies, neither in Russia, nor in Ukraine or elsewhere; rather, the ex-bureaucracy was transformed into a mafia-style comprador bourgeois layer which, while submitting to world imperialism, could also be led – out of an instinct for self-preservation – to carry out a policy that did not coincide completely with the needs of world imperialism, and of US imperialism in particular.

This is what explains how Yanukovych and the “clans” he represents, who the day before yesterday were fervent supporters of the “association agreement” with the European Union, could make a U-turn yesterday and choose the “Russian offer”. It is also for this same reason that Putin and his regime, together with the layer he represents, considered that it was not in their interest if Ukraine were to turn towards the European Union, and so made the offer.

Preparing a second stage: the breaking-up and pillage of Russia

Putin remembers that the last wave of “eastward enlargement” of the European Union (the Baltic States, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary in 2004, then Romania and Bulgaria in 2007) was immediately followed by all of those countries joining NATO, surrounding Russia’s western borders with a belt of US military bases. A dismembered, “Yugoslavised” Ukraine would be a powerful lever for imperialism to use against the Russian Federation. Let us remember that Brzezinski, former national security adviser to US President Carter, wrote regarding Ukraine in 1994 on behalf of the leading circles of US imperialism that the country was a “strategically pivotal state”, i.e., a country which holds no interest in itself, but one which must be separated once and for all from Russia, because “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” (17)

After Ukraine, Brzezinski wrote in 1997, a second stage must be prepared – the disintegration of Russia itself: “Given the country’s size and diversity, a decentralized political system and free-market economics would be most likely to unleash the creative potential of (…) Russia’s vast natural resources. A loosely confederated Russia – composed of a European Russia, a Siberian Republic, and a Far Eastern Republic — would also find it easier to cultivate closer economic relations with its neighbours. Each of the confederated entitles would be able to tap its local creative potential, stifled for centuries by Moscow’s heavy bureaucratic hand. In turn, a decentralized Russia would be less susceptible to imperial mobilization.” (18) Behind this, the stakes are Russia’s vast natural resources – mining, gas and oil.

What is at stake is a second stage in the pillaging of Russia, because the wave of privatisation-pillage of the 1990s (under Yeltsin) could not be carried through to the end due to the resistance of the Russian working class, which – just like the working class in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus – clung on tooth and nail to its factories, its schools, its hospitals, its housing, etc. (which we call the “gains of October 1917”). This is not some science-fiction screenplay: when billionaire businessman Khodorkovsky, who headed the state-owned Lukos oil consortium and was therefore “protected” by the Kremlin, wanted to do a deal directly with the US multinational ExxonMobil behind the Kremlin’s back, the Kremlin threw him into prison for 10 years. This is why Brzezinski wants to get rid of “Moscow’s heavy bureaucratic hand”.

Putin calls for “continuing the work with Ukraine, the IMF and the G8”

In 2004, when the “Orange Revolution” had for the first time driven one corrupt government from power in order to replace it with another which was just as corrupt but which gave more proof of allegiance to capital’s international institutions, we wrote: “Putin, due to the needs of his own political survival, must protect a certain number of prerogatives, including from the point of view of his bureaucratic-military power based on the pillaging and destruction of the country, which could put him in contradiction with the immediate needs and policy of US imperialism.

We added: “Nobody can deny that there is an explosion today in Ukraine which could lead to the dismantling not only of the Ukrainian nation, but also of the whole of Europe. (…) We have been explaining for 10 years in Ukraine that the very nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy could only lead not only to the restoration of capitalism, but also to that policy of dismantling nations, pillaging the country, destroying labour-power and destroying it physically”(19).

These assertions remain profoundly true. Of course, Putin, Medvedev and others have been issuing an increasing number of statements against US interference and the operation to break up Ukraine, welcoming Yanukovych in Russia (just as they welcomed former Kyrgyzstan President Akayev, following the so-called “Tulip Revolution” in March 2005, following the model of the “Orange Revolution”), and have ordered military exercises. They have done this to protect their margin for manoeuvre, understanding – as they did in September 2013 in Syria, when a Russian diplomatic proposal “saved” Obama, who was mired up to his neck in the crisis of imperialist rule regarding a possible military intervention – that they are a component of the imperialist “world order”, but that at the same time imperialism could be moved to make them suffer the same fate as Yanukovych, Gadhafi or Saddam Hussein. On the one hand, Putin is “flexing his muscles”, but on the other he has ordered his government “to continue talks with Ukraine on economic and trade relations and to consult foreign partners including the IMF and the G8 on financial aid”.”.

The main “gain of October” that lives on: the working class

Reaffirming what we wrote in 2004, we could also add this conclusion, drawn from the same report we quoted from earlier:

Today, what we are seeing in Ukraine not only confirms this assessment [regarding the nature of the social layer that emerged from the bureaucracy – Editor], but also confirms that there is no solution (including in the most elementary democratic field of defending the sovereignty of the Ukrainian nation and its unity) to be found outside of the struggle to defend and win back the gains of October 1917. Or outside of the struggle in the field of social ownership, which is inextricably linked with the existence of the working class and the Ukrainian nation itself.

Because there is a working class in Ukraine, just as there is in Russia, in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, etc. A working class that paid a high price for the wave of privatisation-pillage in the 1990s, but one that protected its existence through its class struggle, despite the blows it suffered. The simple statement of the anti-labour measures proposed by the Ukrainian government to its masters in Washington and Brussels indicates everything that has not been destroyed out of what resulted from the gains of October 1917. From this point of view, it is indispensable for us to understand that the main gain of October 1917, the one that unifies everything that remains of the others, is the working class itself. A working class which instinctively expresses its aspiration to survive, like the anonymous miner – quoted by a French radio station on 25 February – who declared:

I dig coal from morning to evening. But when I’m 45, I’ll take retirement, while you in the European Union will have to work till you are 60 or even longer.

Despite the march towards the breaking-up of Ukraine, despite the blows that have already been received and the even more brutal blows that have been planned, the existence of that working class leaves open the historic choice of “socialism or barbarism”, as was demonstrated recently by the workers’ uprising in Bosnia-Herzegovina in early February, which within a few days blew apart the rotten institutional framework of “ethnic cantonisation” resulting from the Dayton Agreements signed in 1994. It was the workers in Tuzla (a big industrial city in eastern Bosnia) who decided to protest against the privatisation of their factories, grouped themselves around their trade unions, stormed the official buildings and thus blew apart the “ethnic” division within which imperialism had tried to “cantonise” them for the last 20 years. Uniting beyond their nationalities – Serb, Croat, Bosnian – with cries of “Death to nationalism!” (taking up the slogan of the partisan fighters of the Yugoslav Revolution, “Death to fascism!”) (20). In Bosnia, like in Ukraine and throughout the world, as stated in the programme of the Fourth International, “the turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard.

“Euromaidan” and the labour movement

In other words, the crucial question is that of the necessary independence of the labour movement. Structured by the NGOs and opposition “parties” acting as agents of imperialism (21), the demonstrations referred to as “Euromaidan” have nevertheless benefited from a favourable context. For more than 20 years, successive governments resulting from the decay of the bureaucracy and its mafia clans (Kuchma, Yanukovych), but also the governments resulting from the “Orange Revolution” (Yushchenko, Tymoshenko), have privatised, liquidated, destroyed and pillaged – helping themselves to huge amounts of money in the process, obviously. In these conditions, one can understand how large numbers of citizens, pensioners, small farmers, students and even part of the working class could decide to take part in the demonstrations, with all the accompanying illusions and confusion.

The major problem is that part of the leadership of the labour movement had called for participation in the demonstrations as early as mid-November 2013 – in particular, the leaders of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KSPU), which was set up around the powerful Independent Miners’ Union, a trade union whose roots lie in the powerful strikes by the Soviet miners in 1989-90 against the bureaucracy. What was bound to happen did happen: in late December, leaders of Svoboda issued a call from the Maidan platform: “Communist provocateurs have gathered on the corner of Khreshchatyk avenue!” Straight away, a hundred or so thugs headed for the KSPU stalls and beat up the trade union activists. In an article entitled “Ukraine, the ‘left’ and the labour movement”, published in Rabochie Izvestiya [Labour News] (Issue no.42, February-March 2014) (22), one comrade asks:

Could it have turned out any differently, when labour activists were called on to take part in the same demonstrations as genuine fascists, the heirs of Stetsko and Bandera?

For its part, the labour movement cannot ignore the Ukrainian national aspirations and their legitimacy. But the blossoming of Ukraine’s culture, language and nation cannot occur within the framework of the country being blown apart, of interference by Brussels and Washington, on the basis of deindustrialisation and the destruction of the workers’ social gains, as is being demanded of the government by the European Union and the IMF.

In order to progress down this path, it will indeed be necessary for those forces in the labour movement who want to maintain a class position to regroup in one way or another, linking up with the struggle of the working class internationally, in order to help the proletariat of Ukraine and the former USSR to take its fate into its own hands.

–      1 March 2014


(1) Who, just a few hours before fleeing to Russia, was regarded as a respectable interlocutor by the European Union, and especially by the German, French and Polish Foreign Ministers, who over the course of six hours had negotiated an agreement between him and representatives of the opposition on 21 February.

(2) Let us note that it is not just in Ukraine that US imperialism will look to the most reactionary semi-fascist forces to act as its reserve troops. In Russia, one of the prominent figures of the “democratic opposition” to the Putin regime, someone who in 2008 was invited to report on “corruption in Russia” before the United States Congress, was none other than Alexei Navalny. An “anticorruption  blogger” in the media and author of the famous formulation describing the Kremlin’s party as a “party of crooks and thieves”, he is also a regular at the annual racist demonstration called the “Russian March”, frequented by people making the Nazi salute under the imperial black, yellow and white flag. He is also the author of the racist slogan “Stop feeding the Caucasus”. And these people are talking about democracy!

(3) It is a fact that under the capitalist system, every dollar is only invested if it can provide a “return on investment” to the owner of capital. On 13 December 2013, during a conference of the US-Ukraine Foundation in Washington, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland stated that her government had invested US$5 billion in funding the “democratic” opposition in Ukraine, through various NGOs. This phenomenon exists throughout the world.

(4) Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Russia needs to be offered a ‘Finland option’ for Ukraine”, www.ft.com, 22 February 2014. Brzezinski was quoting from his own article (“Russia, like Ukraine, will become a real democracy”) dated 10 December 2013 in the same publication.

(5) From the article “After Ukraine, the West Makes Its Move for the Russian Periphery”, 25 February 2014.

(6) Let us also highlight the use being made by imperialism of what is happening in Ukraine and Venezuela, where street demonstrations are challenging the Maduro government’s policies, and even Algeria, on the eve of the high-risk presidential election. French daily newspaper Le Monde best expressed the interests of US imperialism when it wrote threateningly on 26 February: “The Algerians (…) are seeing elected leaders being swept aside within a few weeks elsewhere in the world.

(7) Among the other reactionary laws passed recently, let us highlight Law No.4176, which repeals Article 436-1 of the Penal Code penalising attempts to justify the crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborators. This was a provocation, in a country that paid a high price during the Nazi occupation. Yarovsky, the member of parliament representing Tymoshenko’s party who tabled the draft resolution, was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1981 to 1990, and from 1972 onwards was a collaborator of the KGB’s Fifth Chief Directorate, which specialised in the struggle against “Ukrainian nationalism”.

(8) Svoboda, one of the three main parties in the new Ukrainian government and the heirs of the Nazi collaborators, calls for Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO. Its leaders refer to the Yanukovych regime as “a bunch of Yids and Moskali” (a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russians).

(9) After signing the German-Soviet Pact with Hitler, decapitating the Red Army through the Trial of the Generals, disorganising the defence of the USSR and facilitating the Nazi attack on 22 June 1941, the Stalinist bureaucracy raged brutally against whole peoples in the USSR, falsely accusing them of “collaboration with the enemy”, in keeping with the Stalinist principle of “collective responsibility”. The Crimean Tatars – like the Volga Germans, Koreans, Chechens, Kalmyks, Greeks, etc. – were deported within hours to Siberia and the Central Asian steppes. The collective conviction of the Crimean Tatars for a crime they had not committed was only erased in 1967, and they were obliged to spend years mobilising against the bureaucracy for the right to return to Crimea.

(10) If they were to continue, such clashes could have immediate repercussions in Russia, where two million Tatars form the population of the Republic of Tatarstan (capital, Kazan), a subject of the Russian Federation.

(11) The IMF with which the former Yugoslav bureaucracy had signed subordination agreements in the 1970s.

(12) Statement dated 25 February by the organisation Borotba, set up in 2011 and claiming to stand for socialism.

(13) In a diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks (see http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10KYIV278_a.html).

(14) La Vérité-The Truth, December 1991.

(15) In Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev and his regime gave orders for striking oil workers to be fired upon, on 16 December 2011. The official casualty figures refer to 16 dead and dozens wounded. Seven of the strike’s leaders, including a woman, Rosa Tuletaeva, were convicted and received sentences of up to 7 years in prison. By the way, where are our big “democrats” and their media puppets who are so quick to condemn “dictatorships”? They are shamefully silent… Because Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan has opened its doors wide to investors and multinationals from the US, France, UK, etc…

(16) In weekly news magazine Le Point, 27 February 2014.

(17) Zbigniew Brzezinski, “The Premature Partnership”, Foreign Affairs, March-April 1994.

(18) Zbigniew Brzezinski, “A Geostrategy for Eurasia”, Foreign Affairs, September-October 1997.

(19) Extracts from a report given on 28 November 2004 to the national leadership of the French section of the Fourth International, today the Internationalist Communist Current of the Independent Workers Party (POI).

(20) On this occasion, “if it comes to escalation we would have to consider the intervention of EU forces”, reckons the “High Representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina” (9 February). The European Union, which was snivelling about the “repression” by the Yanukovych regime, does not hesitate to take the measures that in its view are necessary when it is a matter of crushing a workers’ uprising.

(21) The Batkivshchyna party of Tymoshenko and Yatsenyuk has always been very close to the Polish government (itself acting as the reserve force of the United States), and the UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform) of the boxer Klitschko was set up and funded by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, linked to Angela Merkel’s CDU party. As for Svoboda…its programmatic demand for NATO membership, like its secret meeting with US State Department representative Victoria Nuland a few days before the armed demonstration on 18 February, indicates who its “sponsors” are.

(22) An open platform published in Russian since September 2008 by activists of the former USSR, in which labour activists of all political tendencies can express themselves, including militant activists of the Fourth International.

(23) A square in Moscow where the public meetings of the “democratic” opposition took place in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.

(24) A play on words in Russian between the words “privatiser” and “thief”.

(25) “A mass revolt for democracy”, International Viewpoint, 25 February 2014.

(26) “Manifesto: 10 Тheses of the Leftist Opposition”, International Viewpoint, 22 January 2014.

(27) “Maidan: de l’autodéfense à la démocratie” [Maidan: from self-defence to democracy], published only in French at http://www.inprecor.fr/article-inprecor?id=1582. There is nothing “Ukrainian” about this policy: for years, in Libya then in Syria, and in the name of the so-called “Arab revolutions”, the Pabloite United Secretariat has been supporting and providing cover for imperialist interference and intervention, as we have demonstrated and denounced in previous issues of La Vérité-The Truth. Not only does this have nothing to do with Trotskyism, it has nothing to do with the labour movement itself!

* * * * * * * * * *

Ukraine: Some Reference Points

Without claiming to trace the history of Ukraine here, let us simply point out that this state of 46 million inhabitants that resulted from the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 has its roots in the first Slav state founded in the 10th century, the Kievan Rus’. Russia itself also originated from the Kievan Rus’, whose aristocracy and population converted to Christianity under the influence of the neighbouring Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire). This state went into decline and disappeared in the 12th century as the result of invasions by nomadic peoples of Mongol-Tatar origin. Following these invasions, the territory of present-day Ukraine was ruled and divided up in turn by various neighbouring powers, e.g. Lithuania and Poland in the 14th century, the Austro-Hungarian Empire (to the west) and the Tsarist Empire (to the east) in the 18th century. The Russian Tsarist Empire, the “prison of the peoples” comprising more than 100 nations, oppressed the Ukrainian nation, recognising neither its language, nor its culture or even its very existence. Fighting for “the right of nations to self-determination” especially within the Russian Empire, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party fought ruthlessly in the Empire’s labour movement against any adaptation to Russian major-power chauvinism and in favour of the democratic rights of the oppressed nations (including the right to secede from Russia), as a condition for a united proletariat irrespective of nationality. When the Revolution of February 1917 swept away tsarism, a republic was proclaimed in Ukraine. But by allying themselves with an imperialist power (Germany) in 1918, the Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists began a long reactionary tradition that put them at the mercy of the major powers, leading to collaboration with the Nazis in 1941 and submission to NATO today.

Following the October 1917 Revolution, civil war and intervention by the imperialist armies ravaged Ukraine, and in 1922 a Soviet Republic federated within the USSR was set up. A huge development in the Ukrainian nation’s language, culture and economy took place within this framework. The degeneration of the workers’ state created in 1917 took the form in Ukraine of a sudden resurgence of Russian chauvinism: the Ukrainian Communist leadership was eliminated in the name of the struggle against their supposed “nationalism”. Forced collectivisation, the resulting famine and the bureaucracy’s brutal methods jeopardised Soviet power. With the attack on the USSR by Hitlerian imperialism (22 June 1941), a “nationalist” named Stepan Bandera drafted the “Declaration of Ukrainian Independence”, committing to collaborate “with the National-Socialist Greater Germany, under the leadership of its leader Adolf Hitler which is forming a new order in Europe and the world”. Bandera’s Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists–Ukrainian Insurgent Army (whose black-and-red flags bedecked the Maidan in 2013-14) was to play a supporting role to the Nazis, eliminating partisan fighters, Jews, Hungarians, Poles, Roma, etc. It is this ultra-reactionary tradition that the Svoboda party claims to stand for today; until only recently it called itself the Social-National Party of Ukraine.

As our late comrade Pierre Lambert liked to recount, the Ukrainian militant activist Babenko explained during the Second World Congress of the Fourth International (1948) that when the Nazis invaded, the Ukrainian peasants – who had suffered under the forced collectivisation – did not receive the German troops with hostility. However, just a few weeks later, Babenko pointed out, the first groups of partisan fighters appeared, and very quickly these attracted hundreds of thousands of members in Ukraine and Byelorussia (today’s Belarus), in reaction to the invader’s attempt to re-establish private property. This was one illustration of the fact that “the gains of October 1917 live on in the consciousness of the masses” (Leon Trotsky). The Ukrainian people and the other Soviet peoples paid the heavy price of 23 million deaths for their victory against Hitlerian fascism.

Apart from their historic links, Russia and Ukraine (like the other countries of the former USSR) share links encompassing the whole of the industrial, agricultural and cultural development made possible by the expropriation of capital, despite bureaucratic rule and international isolation. The bureaucracy, “the transmission-belt of imperialism” within the degenerated workers’ state (according to Leon Trotsky’s Marxist characterisation), fulfilled its “restorationist” nature (opening the door to the restoration of capitalism in order to transform its caste privileges into private property) by destroying the Soviet Union in 1991. The resulting “independent” states, including Ukraine, now headed by the former bureaucrats who had reconverted to the “market economy” (Yeltsin in Russia, Kravchuk and then Kuchma in Ukraine, etc.) came under the control of the IMF. In the winter of 2004-5, the “Orange Revolution” based on NGOs funded by the United States installed a government (Viktor Yushchenko, Yulia Tymoshenko) that was supported by the United States. The unpopularity of Yulia Tymoshenko’s government prepared the ground for the election of Yanukovych, Kuchma’s former minister, relying on some mafia-style clans of oligarchs in the east of the country (the Donetsk region). After being the most fervent supporter of signing an “association agreement” with the European Union, Yanukovych did a U-turn just before the Vilnius European Summit (27-28 November 2013), opting for an agreement with Putin’s Russian government, which was offering Ukraine a US$15 billion loan.

Populated mostly by Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, the country also has Russian minorities (who are in the majority in Crimea) as well as Hungarian, Romanian-speaking, Crimean Tatar, Belarussian and other minorities. Historically referred to as the “breadbasket of the east” of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union due to its big agricultural sector, Ukraine is an industrialised country (mining, metal industry, steel industry) with a large working class. — D.F.

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