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Source: «Critical solutions», www.krytyka.com

Leftists, Liberals, and Ukraine: A Tale of Double Standards

March 2015

Stephen Lendman (ed.). Flashpoint Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III [1]. Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2014. 269 pp.

Ukraine specialists are quite aware of what some have called the Ukrainophobic ranting of Stephen Cohen.  However, this historian who before 2014 never wrote as much as one scholarly article about Ukraine, yet suddenly felt obliged to pontificate about the country, is not an isolated voice. He is but the tip of an iceberg of distinctly anti- Ukraine and pro-Kremlin liberal and leftist publicists, journalists, commentators, and academics who, although ignorant of Ukraine, its history, and its language, as of 2014 began defending the foreign policy interests of Russia’s ruling class in its former de facto colony.  While their writings are little if at all known by Anglo-American academic specialists on Eastern Europe and Russia, they do figure in the mass media and influence ill-informed popular opinion and policy. They undoubtedly played a role in ensuring there were no mass non-Ukrainian organized demonstrations in any European or North or South American city supporting Maidan even though it was a definite “people power” movement directed against a corrupt puppet regime of a capitalist and imperialist power.1

Pro-Kremlin leftists and liberals seem to think Putin’s Russian neoliberal capitalism preferable to Anglo-American and European neoliberal capitalism and tolerate his imperialist drive to maintain Russian hegemony if not full control over Ukraine. Such people seem to think that the rapacious and destructive greed of big bankers and corporate owners/managers in Russia is preferable to that of their European and American counterparts, even though the former enjoy a degree of independence from governmental regulation that some of the latter can only envy. They see no similarity between Putin and his Eurasianists and George W. Bush and his Neo-cons.  The pro Kremlin leftists do not condemn Putin for turning Russia into a neo-Soviet kleptocratic autocracy or label as imperialist his expansionist wars west and south. Much concerned about the activities of the CIA and NSA, they show no similar concern for the activities of the GRU and FSB.

Since 1991, such leftists have either been silent on or supportive of regimes in China, North Africa, Syria, North Korea, Zimbabwe, the Congo, and, most recently, fundamentalist Islamists and fascist Arab Baathists. Such leftists ignored issues like the Chernobyl disaster, the North Korean government purchase of submarines from Russia for millions of dollars in 1994 during the height of the country’s famine, and the massacres in Rwanda. Today to this list one can add Putin’s Russia and neo-Nazi and fascist parties – both EU and Russian. Alongside issues such as Russophilism, material interest and simple ignorance, another explanation for this double standard is that such leftists analyze events in terms of anti-Americanism rather than anti-imperialism. This attitude results in condemning Anglo-American and European neoliberal capitalism but not Russian neoliberal capitalism.

Anti-Americanism is a set of beliefs that classifies imperialism as a singular specific American rather than global phenomenon and discounts or ignores competition between imperialists and intra-capitalist rivalries. Anti-Americanism bears little relation to Lenin's concept of many rival imperialist ruling classes divided within and engaged in an unending struggle with one another. Instead, anti-Americanists restrict “imperialism” to a single US dominated bloc without fundamental intra-ruling-class differences.

Such a perspective leads some leftists and liberals to see the world as a stage for a duel between a capitalist USA and NATO on one side, and capitalist Russia on the other. On this Manichean stage, Ukraine must remain Russian, so the US and NATO do not get stronger. Middle or working class Ukrainians who see benefit in the EU, the massive support for the Maidan and the prospect of support from Ukrainian leftists and liberals in the fight against neo liberal capitalism within the EU have no place on this stage. According to this script, those who support EU membership for Ukraine are dupes in a fascist plot, run by the USA and NATO and its new puppet Kyiv “junta” government. Ukrainian national ambitions and independence are synonymous with what these leftists, liberals and Russian rulers call fascism. The fact that EU negotiators and Maidan leaders were urging Yanukovych to remain in power and that he fled of his own volition is ignored. Appalled at the prospect of Anglo- American corporations making money from Ukrainian misery, as they are appalled at how they continue to extract resources from former European colonies, pro-Kremlin leftists and liberals are not appalled by the prospect of the Russian state and its ruling elite continuing to extract resources from its Ukrainian colony – as they have been doing since the 18th century.

The groups here examined include people like Paul Craig Roberts, John Pilger, Oliver Stone, John Helmer, Thomas Hartmann, and Anatol Lieven, who echo the Kremlin’s anti-Ukrainian propaganda on websites like Counterpunch.org, Marxist.com, Greenleft.org, World Socialist Website, Naked Capitalism, Stopimperialism.com, Canadian Dimension, and Globalresearch.ca.  Few of these sites list who finances them. How many are funded by the Kremlin, is unknown.2 These leftists and liberals, contrary to their avowed principles of anti-imperialism and self-determination, pen pro-Kremlin articles that identify the new conservative Ukrainian government containing Russians and Jews and Georgians and Lithuanians, as a fascist “regime” exploiting Russians and “invading” eastern Ukraine – not explaining how a government can invade its own territory and ignoring the Russian troops fighting on Ukrainian territory. These people consider Ukraine in Russia’s “sphere of influence” and that it should stay there. The fact that a majority of Ukrainian citizens prefer not to stay there, and that Russia’s drive for regional hegemony risks starting World War III by breaking international treaties and invading their country, is not considered by any of the Flashpoint authors.

One of these pro-Kremlin anti-Ukrainian publicists, James Petras, owns Clarity Press which, by its titles, appears to be a latter day Progress Publishers.3 In any case, the book is a collection of articles that illustrates how anti-Semitic  “Washington supported putschists” staged a coup d’état more brazen than Mussolini’s and established mob rule (15). The editor sets the tone of the collection in his comments about Washington (that is, the US government): “Millions of corpses attest to its barbarity. Replacing independent governments with subservient pro-Western ones is longstanding US policy” (9). He makes no analogous assertions about Moscow or Petersburg, their corpse count, or their longstanding policies towards neighboring independent governments. Leftists and liberals who would not dream of claiming India or Ireland are “inseparable parts of England’s past” nor hesitate to use the term colonialism when writing about them, nonetheless, in this book write “Ukraine’s history is inseparably part of Russia’s past” and do not use the term colonialism in reference to Russian rule (138). There follow 24 articles by people, who, with the possible exception of perhaps 3 or 4, are not known to have ever written any scholarly article on either Ukraine, or Russia.  While some of them, like Michael Hudson or Michael Parenti, have written serious analytical studies related to America and neo liberal capitalism, the judgment logic and scholarship that they showed in those works are not in evidence in the speculative ramblings on Ukraine that they penned for this book.

Below, I will not itemize all the half-truths, myths, omissions, and outright lies that characterize the anti-Ukrainian diatribes found in this book. I will focus rather on how the authors’ underlying preconceptions and logic contradict their avowed leftist, liberal, and, in some instances, Marxist principles.

When in power, Russian communist leaders were unperturbed by Nazis or fascists as long as they were pro-Russian. Thus, Stalin’s treaties with Fascist Italy (1933) and Nazi Germany (1939) – that obliged Stalin to deliver refugee German communists back to Germany. Those leftists in Europe who thought state control of the economy amounted to socialism dutifully accommodated themselves to these treaties. When Hitler invaded in 1941 and made Nazism and Fascism anti-Russian, Stalin and his associates made “anti-fascism” synonymous with pro-Russian. Their formula did not distinguish between fascism and Nazism and is parroted today by pro-Kremlin leftists and liberals. What is most terrible about Nazis in this formula is less their crimes than their anti-Russian politics. This had profound implications for non-Russians in the USSR opposed to a Kremlin rule that they identified with Russia.

Basically, Stalin’s new formula permitted his representatives and supporters to label all non-Russian opposition fascist and, implicitly, Nazi. This semantic trick discredited such opposition in the eyes of uninformed foreigners much more effectively than the term “anti-Russian” could have done by adding a class characteristic to a national issue. The authors in Flashpoint, accordingly, consider any assertion of Ukrainian national interest “Nazi.” Lendman even goes so far as to quote the Odessa Chabad Rabbi Wolf, whom he misspells as “Wold,” about supposed  endemic “Ukrainian anti-Semitism” – without mentioning that Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi and most all Ukrainian Jews have both supported the Maidan and condemned the Chabad Rabbis for pandering to Putin. Nor does Lendman mention  the Jewish Battalion fighting Russian troops in Donbas.4 This kind of selective omission is characteristic of the entire book.

With the collapse of the USSR, it would have seemed that foreign leftists would no longer support Russia’s neoliberal capitalist government. In any case, most foreign leftists ignored Russia and Ukraine. They broke their silence in 2014 when they condemned Ukraine’s Maidan protests. The pro-Kremlin group does not condemn the Russian government’s annexation of the Crimea, or its sponsorship of separatist anti-Ukrainian Russian neo-Nazi armed gangs in eastern Ukraine. Condemnation of CIA involvement is matched by silence on GRU and FSB subterfuge. Today, pro-Kremlin foreign leftists support Russia’s neo-liberal capitalist government and imperial ambitions like earlier they had supported its declared socialist government. Purporting much concern about exploitation and despoliation, they, like all the Flashpoint authors, have no interest in any evil they cannot link to the US government or corporations, nor in any peoples who suffer from such evil. 

Pro-Kremlin leftists and liberals  who support the anti-colonial violence of the colonized against various American sponsored dictators all over the world,  condemn the anti colonial violence of the colonized against Russian sponsored dictators. Presumably, they would have supported the Ottomans against the Greek revolutionaries in 1821, the French who opposed Algerian independence, the White Rhodesians, and the Northern Ireland Protestant UVF.

Anyone with an elementary knowledge of Marxist theory, that allows nationalism a progressive role at certain times and places, must wonder why so many leftist authors today apply such double standards. If in Turkish ruled Greece, English ruled Ireland, or Japanese ruled Korea, or any colonized country, nationalism was central to the independence movement, and a capitalist national state provided a better context for development than the old empire, then it follows that these factors should play a similar role today. Throughout Asia, Africa, and even Western Europe, communist parties were all associated with national liberation and, to a great degree, had broad support and successes because of that. Ukraine did not have a successful “bourgeois national” revolution during the last two centuries when most other countries did, and its indigenous communist party, that emerged from the Ukrainian left Social Democrats  in 1919 (the Ukrainian Communist Party – not to be confused with the Communist Party of Ukraine, the ruling subsection of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union)) failed to take power in 1919. 

From a Marxist perspective today, Euromaidan arguably constitutes such a bourgeois-led revolution.  Since there was no  organized Ukrainian radical left, while Ukrainians who consider themselves radical Marxists were few and far from the traditions of historical left-wing Ukrainian social democracy, no other alternative was really open. Given that Ukrainians had no anti-imperialist national capitalist class in the past to lead a successful liberation struggle and establish national independence, Marxists today could argue  that, in 2015, if Ukrainian and  radical leftists think they cannot support Poroshenko’s capitalist anti-imperialist government, then they should provisionally at  least not condemn it.  But this is not what is happening and nowhere in the Flashpoint book do its avowed leftist authors even speculate in these terms.

If all imperialisms and colonialisms are evil, then one should expect all leftists and liberals to condemn the Russian variant together with the American, British and French variants. But, as concerns Ukraine, what we see instead is a distinct pro-Kremlin group that supports  the Kremlin’s neo-imperialism and neo-colonialism. Instead of calling attention to the role of the Kremlin in backing a puppet-regime that viciously exploited the majority of the population, ethnic Ukrainian and Russian,  avowed leftists and liberals express solicitous concern only for the interests of Ukraine’s politically Russophile ex-ruling minority, their Kremlin backers and even their neo-Nazi goon squads. While vociferously condemning Ukrainian “fascism,” which few bother to distinguish from Nazism, they remain silent about Putin’s neo-imperialism and the Ukrainian national question. Leftists who do  criticize Moscow’s authoritarian domestic clampdowns remain silent about the enormous political and economic pressure it exercised on Ukraine, thereby provoking the radicalization of Ukrainian liberal nationalism.

 

Euromaidan is not a revolution in so far as its socioeconomic demands have been replaced with the neoliberal capitalist agenda of the new government. Its programme declares the need for "unpopular decisions" on prices and tariffs and readiness to fulfil all the conditions of the IMF. There will be disappointment and impoverishment and an unacceptable encroachment of private interests in public administration. Perhaps de-industrialization will continue. This much is likely. However, as part of the EU neo-liberal capitalist order, Ukraine is more likely to see the return of the Keynesian Social Democratic order of the sort that the IMF, World Bank, WTO and US government have been systematically destroying the past 20 years, than it would by remaining part of Putin’s neoliberal capitalist empire. Tymoshenko in her time promised policies to regulate capital flows of Ukraine’s wealthiest 1%.  Whether this will happen is unknown, but it would  be more likely within a Ukraine allied with the EU than within one tied to Putin’s imperial Russia, if national leaders like  their Polish counterparts, keep the national currency, enact fiscal regulations, and if the US, IMF and World Bank write-off  Ukraine’s debts – as they did Poland’s.

Under the new government, we see the pro-Russian section of Ukraine’s ruling 1% (the Medvedchuks, Kurchenkos and Kluievs) being replaced, for the first time in modern Ukrainian history, by a Ukrainian national capitalist class (the Poroshenkos and Kolomoiskys), who, in turn by virtue of their authority attract those oligarchs that are indifferent to national issues and were not part of the Yanukovich clan. Should the new ruling oligarchs  carry on in the footsteps of the Lehman Brothers and Kenneth Lay within the EU variant of neo-liberal capitalism, they would end up in jail. Something that did not happen to them after  the 2004 Orange Revolution, because it led to no changes among the ruling clans nor to a  “bourgeois revolution” with its associated rights and liberties. Like it or not, there are differences between capitalisms which only the uninformed or myopic ignore. Except for a return to the status quo ante, the “bourgeois national capitalism” emerging in the wake of the 2014 Maidan, represents Ukraine’s only realistic alternative. Putin’s invasion might spark an international war and the possibility of third alternative – socialist revolution. Radical leftists might well look forward to and exploit such a situation. But, is this what average Ukrainians desire?

Pro-Kremlin foreign leftists and liberals blinded by anti-Americanist preconceptions do not see Ukraine in such terms. They reiterate and disseminate pronouncements by Putin’s propagandists that are capitalist, traditionalist, clericalist, and imperialist. Putin recently declared at the ceremony marking the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, forgetting about the Jews and the Chinese, that the Russian people are the largest geographically disconnected people in the world and that he sees it as his job to protect and unite them all in a single state. Hitler expressed similar desires about diaspora Germans – both unconcerned about whether these peoples wanted to be “reunited” or “protected.”  Like its tsarist precursor, today’s government includes the head of the Russian Orthodox Church – only now he is called Patriarch instead of Oberprokurator. While not all academics consider Putin’s government fascist, they do consider it right-wing authoritarian. For Russian leaders, a high percentage of whom together with their Oberprokurator made their careers alongside Putin in the KGB, Ukrainian independence is a “historical accident.” To them, Ukrainians are really “Little Russians” loyal to Russia, not much different from Russians and they are unrelated to a supposed minority of extremist nationalists obsessed with a perverse idea of independence. Ukrainian citizens who want political, cultural, and economic independence from Russia, who think that the citizens of a country should know and use the language of the majority of that country, as is the case everywhere else in Europe including Russia, are extremists, fascists and Nazis who will repress Russians.5 Such ideas are normally attributed to Alexander Dugin [2] although they include elements of official Stalinist ideology, and may be traced back to various early 20th century loyalist rightist extremists, then called “Black Hundreds.”

Foreign pro–Kremlin leftist and liberal repetition of official Russian government pronouncements coincided with the formation of a pro Russian anti-EU, extreme right/far left alliance in the European Parliament – along the lines of the 1933 and 1939 Soviet-Nazi-Fascist treaties. Both these groups consider Putin Ukraine’s savior from “Western imperialism.” The pro-Russian EU leftists allied with the EU extreme right offer no explanation of why pro-capitalist EU fascists and neo-Nazis are worthy allies, while pro capitalist Ukrainian fascists and neo-Nazis are not. Alongside bone fide fascists, except those of the Ukrainian variety, pro Kremlin EU leftists are also in bed with another of the Kremlin’s allies, fundamentalist Christian Evangelicals.6 None of this is mentioned in Flashpoint.

The Flashpoint authors condemn Ukrainian "fascism," which, like Kremlin officials, they do not distinguish from Nazism and focus their spite on Ukrainian conservatives, the right and extreme right, which they do not distinguish from each other. They ignore the much more powerful revanchist Russian extremist right in Russia and Ukraine whose aim is to re-colonize Ukraine within a very much capitalist tsarist-type Russian empire.7 These avowed leftist and liberal authors remain silent about the Ukrainian national question and Ukrainian anti-colonialist thought. They make no mention of Russian colonialism, Russian imperialism, Eurasianism, Russian militarism, or the linguistic/cultural Russification of non-Russians.  They are concerned about Russians who complain that having to use Ukrainian in Ukraine is “oppression” ignoring the dominance of Russian in Ukraine’s public communication sphere and government support for Russian language media and schools. Supposedly defenders of oppressed minorities, such people make no mention of the lamentable condition of the almost 2 million strong Ukrainian minority in Russia who have one community-funded Ukrainian language newspaper and no Ukrainian media at all, let alone government financing for anything.  We find no critique of men like Dugin, Surkov, Gundaiev, or Glazeev - the counterparts to Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in Flashpoint.  No author scrutinized Kremlin ties to and sponsorship of EU neo-Nazis, nor Russian neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine.8 There is no reflection on why Ukrainians after 1929 stopped associating communism with national liberation – unlike populations throughout Asia, Africa, and Western Europe. All of which amounts to hypocrisy that ignores the misery of millions who prefer not to live under the Russian version of neoliberal capitalist imperialism.

Some, like Michael Hudson, think that Ukraine must remain dependent on Russia because it is economically tied to it and that severing those ties would result in destitution. This argument was also used by Russian industrialists, bankers and “Black Hundred” leaders one hundred years ago to justify Russian rule over Ukrainian lands.  Hudson and his like-minded co-authors have apparently forgotten that, in so far as all empires and dependencies are economically tied to each other, it follows that no dependent population anywhere should secede from any empire, in which case the self-determination, anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism leftist and liberals so strongly support would make no sense. Yet no leftists or liberals argue like this except in the case of Ukraine.

For all their concern over corporate control over US and EU media, no Flashpoint author, including the media specialist Michael Parenti, refer to Russia ranking 148 out of 179 countries rated in the Press Freedom Index and that, as of the summer of 2014, Putin’s government had either closed or muzzled the country’s last major independent media outlets. They do not seem to reflect on the fact that unlike in Russia, no journalist in North America or the EU is known to have ever been assaulted or murdered by armed gangs. Politkovskaya is not in the index. Today there are only three major independent Russian English language media organizations that do not toe the Kremlin line on Ukraine. As the Moscow Times and Petersburg Times are foreign owned, leftists presumably ignore them as tainted “Western capitalist” media. Novaia gazeta carries very little on Ukraine and, as of September 2014, appeared only in blog format.

Parenti either does not know or does not care that, in so far as any of the leadings personages in official Russian outlets – like Dmitrii Tsorionov, Alexander Prokhanov, Sergei Kurginyan, Margarita Simonyan, Dmitry Kiselev, Igor Osadchii, Evgenii Prigozhin, Mariia Kuprashevich, Vladimir Solovyov, or Arkady Mamontov – ever had anything to do with Marxism or socialism in general, then it was only of the official Soviet Stalinist variety.  His concern with the “corporate media’s Cold War bias,” does not extend to Kremlin bias.

Before 1991, when foreign pro-Kremlin leftists justified their support for the USSR and condemnation of the Ukrainian anti-Kremlin national movement, they had a degree of Marxist credibility. They defined socialism in terms of one-party rule and state ownership. According to that definition, Russia, then ruled by a declared communist party, had to be defended against its opponents. Although the USSR no longer exists and Russia is an imperialist neo-capitalist country, such leftists still provide a platform for official Kremlin government propaganda. This includes condemnation of those who oppose Putin’s foreign policy as fascists.9  As a representative example of this kind of double-think the Flashpoint book will be of interest to only two kinds of readers – students of Kremlin propaganda and believers.

Russophilism, ignorance, and anti-Americanism explain why some leftists and liberals apply double standards to Ukraine.  Flashpoint authors condemn Ukrainian independence and its new capitalist government, but not Putin’s imperialist neo-liberal capitalist government, as a “fascist junta” and do not consider the neoliberal capitalist Russian government imperialist.10  Unable to deny that Putin’s government is capitalist, they tacitly assign it a “progressive” role because it is anti-American and has used some oil and gas revenues to finance social programs. No one from this group reflects on whether the Russian variant of neoliberal capitalism might be more destructive and rapacious than its EU or US counterpart because it is not tempered by a strong left opposition, trade unions, independent political parties and critics, rule of law, and generally, what Marx considered the “bourgeois rights and liberties” established in Europe between 1789 and 1914. Pro-Kremlin leftists and liberals who condemn the claims of the US ruling class to a sphere of influence in Latin America on the grounds of self-determination and anti-imperialism, nonetheless, defend the claims of the Kremlin ruling class to a sphere of influence in Europe.

In conclusion, it should be noted that there are leftists and liberals, critical of Putin’s government.  The former may be best described as sympathetically neutral towards Ukrainian national interests and the Maidan movement. They place themselves in the tradition of the Ukrainian pre-Stalinist radical left (the Borotbists and the Ukrainian Communist Party, not to be confused with the Stalinist Communist Party of Ukraine – a Russian party in Ukraine, and not a Ukrainian party), and Trotsky’s post-1923 support for Ukrainian interests. Although they regard Russia as an imperialist power, they do not regard Russians in Ukraine as settler colonists.11 Thus, absent from their writings today are comparisons with French settlement in Algeria or Protestant settlement in Ireland where unassimilated imperial loyalist colonist communities served as the social base for the extremist rightwing OAS and UDA, and UDF, much like today Russian settlement in Ukraine provides a base for Russian neo-Nazis. 

The Fourth International, Ukraine Solidarity, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, and Socialist Worker contain articles condemning not only the Ukrainian right, which they consider too influential in the new government, but also Putin, and the armed Russian neo-Nazis. This is also the position of the Party of the European Left. These foreign leftists are critical of the new Ukrainian government as neoliberal capitalist, call for peace and the right of Ukrainians to determine their political future for themselves independent of either US or Russian imperialism.  

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