March 2015

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

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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 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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