Ukraine: self-determination is still basic

May 12, 2014 at 9:29 pm (AWL, imperialism, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism)

 

Statement from the AWL. This is important in view of the willingness, on the more ignorant sections of the neo-Stalinist left, to go along with Putin’s monstrous, hypocritical “anti-fascist” justification for Russian imperialism:

Accounts vary of the clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian nationalist groups in Odessa on 3 May, in which some 42 people were killed.

Some people say it started with an attack by militarised Russian and pro-Russian far-rightists on a peaceful Ukrainian nationalist demonstration. After that, “ultras” among the Ukrainian nationalists set out for the building where the pro-Russians had their headquarters.

Some say that it was a planned assault by far-right Ukrainian nationalists on pro-Russians who did no more than defend themselves.

Yet others suggest conspiracies. Maybe the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists and the far-right pro-Russians have a common interest in fomenting bloodshed which will irreparably split Ukraine. If it leads to the east being annexed by Russia, then the “ultra” Ukrainian nationalists will have a better chance of influence in a rump Ukraine than if it stays united.

Maybe, so Ukrainian leftist Volodymyr Ishchenko suggests, “one of the reasons why all these protests in the Eastern Ukraine started now, and why they are so violent, is actually to halt the national elections in May — to postpone them and give [Yulia] Tymoshenko some time to gain more popularity among Ukrainians”.

Tymoshenko is way behind in the polls. Her pitch is Ukrainian nationalist. But she is also known to have had, and may still have, good relations with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Putin certainly wants to sabotage Ukraine’s presidential election due on 25 May. Maybe he also looks forward to a later election when Tymoshenko can win and then do a deal with Moscow.

None of the stories give any special trade-union significance to the fact that the building which the Ukrainian nationalists stormed was the trade-union headquarters in Odessa. It appears in all stories just as the big public building in the city (built in a time when the “trade unions” were just departments of the state administration) where the pro-Russians happened to have gathered.

Some structural facts, however, are evidenced enough to be clear even at a distance.

The local coups in the cities of east Ukraine are not just external Russian interference. There is little evidence of active popular resistance to them, for example by workers in the public buildings which have been seized.

We would, anyway, expect a base for pro-Russian sentiment. A large minority of the population, over 30% in some areas, is Russian. The cities are more Russian than the countryside. The east has voted more pro-Russian, in independent Ukraine’s elections, than the west.

The new Kiev government is distrusted everywhere, but more so in the east. People in eastern Ukraine will be reluctant to resist the pro-Russian coups not just out of fear, but also out of a wish to avoid supporting the new Kiev government, and a lack of any strong third alternative.

There are no reports of the local coups raising social demands, but it is plausible that some support accrues to them because of the social concerns of people in eastern Ukraine, worried that its old heavy industry will decline fast if Ukraine is more integrated into the world market.

The local coups also show evidence of being decisively shaped and led by people closely linked to the Russian government. They did not well up from mass protests about social or regional or language-group concerns, but started straight off with seizures of public buildings by armed groups.

The issue is not Russian-majority pockets near the Russian border, and a call for adjustment of the border. Putin has staked a claim to the whole of Novorossiya, which is a vast area of south and east Ukraine. Despite all the diversity within Ukraine, it has been a historically-defined nation for a long time. Ukraine’s right to self-determination is the central issue here, and can and must be defended without endorsing the ideas, or all the actions, of Ukrainian nationalists.

The Kiev government has put new laws for regional autonomy to the parliament, and promised to uphold the laws for Russian language rights introduced by Yanukovych, but in the east people seem to distrust the government that these measures change little.

Russia’s aim is to establish de facto control in the east so as to give Russia mor­e options. Putin’s preference, probably, will be for a deal in which he agrees to reverse the local coups in return for strong influence over all Ukraine. Immediately, he wants obstruct and discredit the Ukrainian elections on 25 May and prevent a Kiev government gaining authority.

Volodymyr Ishchenko points out that “you have to understand that the political mainstream in the Ukraine is much further to the right than, for example, in Western Europe. Things which would receive very strong criticism in the West are more or less tolerable in the Ukraine. It’s more or less okay to talk about things like ‘the defense of white European people’; this kind of thing can even be said by mainstream politicians. It’s okay to be homophobic, not to recognize any need to defend LGBT people… The Right Sector and Svoboda [the Ukrainian-nationalist ‘ultras’] are being criticized because their violent and provocative actions are seen as something that can be used by Russia” [i.e. not really out of a leftish revulsion at their far-right bias].

This rightward tilt of the political spectrum is at least as true of eastern Ukraine as of western Ukraine. There are many reports of strong far-right forces within the pro-Russian coup-makers.

We cannot orient ourselves here by asking which side seems less right-wing, and especially not by taking Stalinist nostalgia as evidence of good left-wing resistance to right-wing Ukrainian nationalism. We can orient only by the fundamentals: Ukraine’s right to self-determination.

The Kiev government is in an impasse. It cannot mobilise the population of east Ukraine against the coup-makers. It cannot send in the Ukrainian army full-force, because that would rally people against it and open the way for a Russian invasion “to restore order”. Equally, it would like to be able to prevent the local referendums scheduled in some districts in east Ukraine for 11 May, on propositions as yet unclear, but amounting to some sort of secession. It remembers the Crimea referendum on which those gambits are modelled. It will condemn the new referendums as undemocratic, like the Crimea referendum, and it will be right, but that won’t help it gain a grip in the east.

So it tries an ineffectual middle way, moving against the coup-makers, but mildly and tentatively.

The US and the EU side with the Kiev government, but see no overriding interest in Ukraine, and (especially the EU) fear the effect on their own economies of even sharp economic sanctions against Russia. So Putin, sees Ukraine as a vital issue for which he will take risks, has the upper hand.

A way out of the impasse will require the Ukrainian left to mobilise Ukrainian workers, west and east, on socialist demands against the corruption and oligarchic inequality which people both east and west name as their main concern. Those socialist demands will be integrated with a democratic programme of national self-determination for Ukraine and full minority rights for Russians within Ukraine.

At present, though, the Ukrainian left is weak. As well as helping it as much as we can, we must also support the national self-determination of the whole Ukrainian people against Russia’s moves to grab territory, tacitly threaten invasion, and seek decisive influence over the whole country.

5 Comments

  1. Ukraine: self-determination is still basic | OzHouse said,

    […] May 12 2014 by admin […]

  2. James Robb said,

    “Putin has staked a claim to the whole of Novorossiya, which is a vast area of south and east Ukraine. Despite all the diversity within Ukraine, it has been a historically-defined nation for a long time. Ukraine’s right to self-determination is the central issue here, and can and must be defended without endorsing the ideas, or all the actions, of Ukrainian nationalists.”

    I strongly agree with this. As Lenin established in relation to Ukraine and all the other oppressed nationalities within the former czarist empire, respect for the right to self-determination is the precondition for developing any real working class unity and international solidarity.

    You may be interested in the discussion on Odessa on my blog

    http://convincingreasons.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/the-tragedy-in-odessa/

  3. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    ‘Historically defined nation for a long time’

    Until 1991 there was never a Ukrainian nation with stable borders or international recognition.

    There was a German puppet state the Hetmanate in 1918 and a very short lived Republic in 1919-20.

    Neither of these incidentally claimed the Crimea.

    Ukraine’s 1991 borders were drawn not by Ukrainians or by any international treaty but by Lenin, Stalin and Krushchev none of whom imagined for a moment that Ukraine would ever actually have the effrontery to nationally self-determine itself out of union with Soviet Russia.

    Redrawing them to align with the actual national aspirations of the people in each province expressed in a properly run plebiscite is perfectly reasonable.

    But neither Putin or his local agents or the rival clique of kleptocrats that have seized power in Kiev are reasonable.

    So it is very difficult to see how one can take a position and with not just a ‘weak left’ but a left that is entirely invisible (if there is any sort of socialist or social-democrat party represented in the current Ukrainian Parliament I’ve yet to find them and talk of mobilising workers that can’t be motivated to support even the mildest reformism to ‘make socialist demands’ is just ludicrous) there seems to be no one there worth asking how we should stand.

    • dagmar said,

      “Until 1991 there was never a Ukrainian nation with stable borders or international recognition. ”

      Maybe, but it is also the case that the Ukrainian SSR had its own seat at the United Nations, along with the Byelorussian SSR, both separate of and addition to the USSR’s seat.

      I’m also certainly not a fan of Zizek, but in the generally Stalinistic LRB, he writes the following:

      “There was nonetheless a historical irony in watching Ukrainians tearing down Lenin’s statues as a sign of their will to break with Soviet domination and assert their national sovereignty. The golden era of Ukrainian national identity was not tsarist Russia – where Ukrainian national self-assertion was thwarted – but the first decade of the Soviet Union, when Soviet policy in a Ukraine exhausted by war and famine was ‘indigenisation’. Ukrainian culture and language were revived, and rights to healthcare, education and social security introduced. Indigenisation followed the principles formulated by Lenin in quite unambiguous terms:

      “The proletariat cannot but fight against the forcible retention of the oppressed nations within the boundaries of a given state, and this is exactly what the struggle for the right of self-determination means. The proletariat must demand the right of political secession for the colonies and for the nations that ‘its own’ nation oppresses. Unless it does this, proletarian internationalism will remain a meaningless phrase; mutual confidence and class solidarity between the workers of the oppressing and oppressed nations will be impossible.” (Lenin)

      Lenin remained faithful to this position to the end: immediately after the October Revolution, when Rosa Luxembourg argued that small nations should be given full sovereignty only if progressive forces would predominate in the new state, Lenin was in favour of an unconditional right to secede.

      In his last struggle against Stalin’s project for a centralised Soviet Union, Lenin again advocated the unconditional right of small nations to secede (in this case, Georgia was at stake), insisting on the full sovereignty of the national entities that composed the Soviet state – no wonder that, on 27 September 1922, in a letter to the Politburo, Stalin accused Lenin of ‘national liberalism’. The direction in which Stalin was already heading is clear from his proposal that the government of Soviet Russia should also be the government of the other five republics (Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia):

      “If the present decision is confirmed by the Central Committee of the RCP, it will not be made public, but communicated to the Central Committees of the Republics for circulation among the Soviet organs, the Central Executive Committees or the Congresses of the Soviets of the said Republics before the convocation of the All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, where it will be declared to be the wish of these Republics.”(Stalin)”

      http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n09/slavoj-zizek/barbarism-with-a-human-face

      • R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        And Stalin started out by demanding a separate UN seat for every Soviet Republic – only settling for the two extra when the Americans responded by demanding a seat for every US state…..

        As for Lenin and the unconditional right to secede this is entirely meaningless when your army and secret police systematically suppresses every other party but your own and you ban opposition factions within even that – which was of course the situation from the Tenth Congress onwards.

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