Monday 3 March 2014

A Note on the Ukrainian Revolution

In his polemic against "anti-authoritarian" socialists, Engels said this of revolution.
A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.
Engels goes on to note that the problem with the 1871 Paris Commune was not so much its authoritarian tendencies. Rather that it was not authoritarian enough. But as Engels was talking about the passing of power from one class to another, what relevance does his observations have to 21st century Ukraine where the situation, it appears, was characterised by tension and potential conflict between nationalities even before Putin sent the troops in?

Grasping the character of Ukrainian nationalism means recognising how it sucks nutrients from the devastating memory of the 1918-21 civil war and Stalin's artificial famine. It remembers the deportation of "disloyal" nationalities during and after the war, and had a slow burning resentment toward the USSR's post-war settlement of the east and south by Russians - a feature common to all the subaltern Soviet republics. This sense of grievance, however, is darkened by the browns and blacks of fascism. Ukrainian nationalists collaborated with the Nazis when the Wehrmacht invaded in 1941 and some were enthusiastic participants in the extermination of the Jews. Hence Ukrainian nationalism is more than David-vs-Goliath-style nationalism common to small nations who've long been under the yoke. There is a virulent component locked in its historical DNA that could provide cover for pogroms - and worse.

Therefore, it would be a mistake to dismiss the ousting of Yanukovych and his clique simply as a US/EU-backed fascist putsch, as many here have done. The crowds who camped out and fought in Kiev's Independence Square found their grievances in a number of things - the economic situation, cronyism, heavy-handed policing. The nationalist dynamic was fueled by Yanukovych's government cuddling up with and acquiescing to another period of Russian domination of Ukraine. It was basically a populist uprising wrapped in the national colours, and it was one that was never going to be derailed by warm whispers down the phone from London or Washington.

The far right - the Right Sector and Svoboda-aligned militias - were always a very small but highly visible component of the crowds that defied riot police. Nevertheless concentrating their meagre fighting forces from across Ukraine in Kiev and inserting themselves into the most dangerous pitched battles was, politically speaking, an astute move. The fascists have attracted greater numbers of (primarily) young men on the basis of being the revolution's "best builders"; strengthened their hand vis a vis the other centre-right opposition parties with whom they had been in a formal coalition - namely St Tymoshenko's Fatherland party and Klitschko's Democratic Alliance for Reform; and set about inflaming nationalist tensions further. Have no doubts about it, there are plenty of people in the far right who fantasise of making Ukraine this decade's Bosnia. The fascists then, the would-be pogromists are a tendency within the revolution, one whose gains were not inevitable at the outset but are now busily consolidating their position. As the section of the government calling loudest for firm action to be taken in Crimea, they are now seeking to position themselves as Ukraine's only consistent champions.

As a populist uprising asserting itself against Russia, its purchase was always going to be limited among Russian-speaking Ukrainians and other minorities. The revolution dismissed the government by imposing the popular will of west Ukraine on the national state, but it is fantastical to imagine this can be carried through where the rest of the country is concerned. And it is that febrile, incomplete and regionalised character of the revolution that has generated a discernible impulse toward civil war. Engels was right that revolutions are among the most authoritarian social phenomena going. He might have added there can be no half-measures either, but that is what Ukraine is stuck with - a revolution that has changed a government, yes, but risks pouring petrol on smouldering national tensions. Small wonder that the West and now Russia are working to de-escalate the crisis.


Robert said...

Maybe the least bad solution would be a federal Ukraine with complete autonomy for Crimea. Given the state of the Ukraine's economy (facing default) and the military and economic levers that Russia can pull plus the alienation of the minorities from Kiev there's no chance of a solution to this crisis unless the West stops posturing and compromises with Vlad the Hammer.

This situation is terrifyingly reminiscent of Yugoslavia where the IMF structural adjustment program helped wreck an already fragile economy which helped trigger civil war and a nationalist carveup of Yugoslavia's remaining assets. Still Russia is a lot more powerful now than it was then and Putin is not Yeltsin.

Nick Robinson has confirmed that there's not going to be any serious financial sanctions against Russia by the UK. Well of course not. The Tories don't want to jeopardise all that lovely Russian non dom money in the City. What's a few Ukrainians among banksters?

The AIG bailout was because of the fraud committed by its London based derivative traders. Same with JP Morgan’s London Whale fiasco. The reason why London is the financial capital of the world, is for the simple reason that “light touch” regulation means that fraud is ALLOWED, and fraudsters never held to account.

As you pointed out Phil London is incredibly dependent and addicted to Russian capital inflows in its economy and stock market.

It’s going to be hilarious watching how the Tories spin this, simultaneously threatening Putin with “costs and consequences” while touting for more Russian business and investment! lol

Perfidious Albion will figure out a way to talk both sides of its mouth at the same time.

Phil said...

Ukraine is a federation already. I'm minded to favour the kinds of arrangements in West European societies that have tended to reconcile different interests, but it's worth noting that those contradictions had more or less stabilised before the institutions were set up.

I'm going to be writing about the end game later tonight.

Gary Elsby said...

The Pity of war was the BBC take on WW1 by Niall Fergusson (Fri 28th and his angle was that WW1 was wrong for GB and we shouldn't have participated.
Honoured Professors were also invited to agree/disagree and was the best so far.
One point was that only one group in the UK openly spoke against any GB involvement, the hard left and Leninists.
He didn't have a speaker to defend that stance (his stance).
It would have been interesting to hear the case from that viewpoint.

Phil said...

You might be interested in my piece below on Niall Ferguson, Gary.

Re: the Leninist position, it's a case of it being an inter-imperialist war in which workers were being sacrificed for profits. Anti-war agitation by revolutionaries was rhetorically committed to turning the war into a civil war for capital's overthrow.

Robert said...


You're right of course. I meant to say confederal.

Anyway bottom line is that this situation is deadly dangerous and the Russians are not bluffing. Putin means business.

If the Russians were sponsoring a revolution in Mexico, would the Yanks be serious about moving troops into the northern part of the country to protect their borders? You bet.