Some of us associated with this blog have been discussing the events in the Ukraine. The situation is complex. The fact that the mass media in the US is so controlled and biased makes it even harder to determine the exact nature of events. We thought we would share parts of a discussion some of us have had on the issue as we attempt to figure out from afar what is going on and what options lie ahead for the Ukrainian working class and workers throughout Europe.
Ukraine. Danger of civil war. But also mood for workers' unity.
The government of Yanukovych was a government of the oligarchs. It tried to balance between the oligarchs who looked to Russian imperialism and the other wing that looked to Western imperialism. At the end of last year the Yankovyich government looked to sign a treaty with the EU which would have brought it closer to western imperialism. There was opposition to this from Russian imperialism and Yanukovych backed away. The result was mass opposition in the streets to this government. This opposition was mixed, genuine working and middle class opposition to the corrupt capitalist regime of Yanukovych which was looting the country, middle class youth who had illusions in Western Europe, and amongst this the Ukrainian Orthodox church and the extreme right fascist organizations. The government was brought down and Yanukovych fled to Russia.
An openly pro western government took its place. This was backed by US imperialism and the EU. Like Russian imperialism they wanted to get their hands more solidly on the wealth of the Ukraine. In particular US and Western European imperialism feared the potential stranglehold of Russia's supply of oil and gas to Western Europe. This extreme right wing Ukrainian nationalist government moved to ban the Russian language and to make increasing threats against the Russian minority. It included in its ranks many extreme right wing fascists. It also increasingly moved to link with the west and especially US imperialism. The country was being torn apart.
Against this background a referendum was held in the overwhelmingly Russian speaking Crimea. A massive majority voted to join Russia. This and the increased threats of the western Ukrainian government in Kiev against Russian speakers increased the fears of the Russian speaking minority in Eastern Ukraine and throughout the Ukraine in general. Buildings were seized in numerous cities throughout eastern Ukraine by pro Russian forces. Some of these were forces sent in by Russian imperialism but some of them were locals who feared the increased strength of the right wing and fascist types in the new government in Kiev. Their fears were not assuaged by the open support of this government by US imperialism. Brennan the head of the US CIA openly visited Kiev to show his support. This was a propaganda gift to Putin and it also strengthened the fears of the Russian speaking peoples in the Ukraine as a whole.
Over the past days the Kiev government sent in troops and tanks to put down the movement of pro Russian speakers in the East and to remove them from the government buildings they had occupied. It looked like a blood bath was very possible. Tens of thousands of Russian troops were sitting across the border and could have moved in in a matter of hours. They were also much better equipped than the Ukrainian troops. An open war was also possible.
But while there is still the danger of a blood bath or open war as US and Western European imperialism egg on their allies and Russian imperialism eggs on its allies a very important development has take place in the past couple of days. The Ukrainian troops who were sent into the pro- Russian areas in their tanks with orders to put down the pro-Russian movement and end the occupation of government buildings by pro-Russian forces, refused to engage the protestors and instead fraternized with them. Troops disobeying their officers and state orders is a dangerous situation for any government. The soldiers refused to fire on the pro-Russian people. Not only that, in case after case they handed over their tanks and military vehicles to the pro-Russian protesters. This is an event of some significance especially if it spreads.
This happened mainly because of the way the pro-Russian protesters approached the troops of the Ukrainian army. They appealed to them on grounds of solidarity. They asked them not to shoot. They brought the soldiers who were hungry and thirsty food and drink. But it was not only the local pro-Russian protesters who appealed to the Ukrainian troops not to shoot the protesters. News reports report tell of parents of Ukrainians sent to the East calling their sons by cell phone and telling them not to shoot the protesters if they were ordered to do so. Another example of the use of the Internet and how it facilitates mass movements and the coordination of struggles. But more important these are examples of working class solidarity and how armed forces cash be appealed to and won away from the officer cast and their political rulers.
What happens now in the Ukraine cannot be forecast with any certainty. Both western imperialism and Russian imperialism are stirring up division and egging on their stooges. Western imperialism has given up on getting the Crimea back but would be prepared if they could to initiate a civil war to drive out, "ethnic cleanse" the Russian speaking people from the east and repartition the country to hold the rest of Ukraine. Russian imperialism on the other hand would be prepared to move into the East of Ukraine to take this and annex it as part of Russia under the control of the Russian oligarchs and their representative Putin. There could still be a civil war in the Ukraine. But it is also possible that there can be a deal where there is a new constitution which would allow more of a federation with the different national and linguistic groupings having much more of a say and control over their own areas while Crimea stayed with Russia. And possibly parts of the East going with Russia.
The most important development to see from the events of the past few days is that the working class moved and prevented the threat of civil war when the Kiev government sent in its forces. The Ukrainian troops refused to allow themselves to be used against the Russian speaking protesters. This is a major development which shows the potential of the working class and which is the reason that so far we have not had a blood bath in the Ukraine or an out right war.
There are many working class groups in the Ukraine with mixed membership and support, that is, membership and support from both Ukrainian and Russian speakers. Many of them are based in workplaces and unions. These exist throughout all of Ukraine East and West. But they will not be unaffected by events. The various nationalist forces will seek to provide an alternative to these, will seek to undermine these, to undermine the working class unity that is represented by these. It is these bodies and this working class unity that offers a future for Ukraine. They should be drawn together in a unified network throughout the entire country. They should unite around taking the stolen wealth that the oligarchs looted from the country and put this wealth back in the hands of the Ukrainian working and middle class and build a healthy democratic socialist Ukraine. This wealth should also be used to bring all workers living stands up to a decent level. It should also be used to bring the living standards of women up to that of men and to introduce the right for all women to full reproductive rights and free and professionally staffed health care facilities.
These workers' bodies can also determine by assessing the mood what, if any kind of federation is the best way forward for Ukraine. These bodies can also organize to physically stop the armed fascist bands many of which have their roots in collaboration with the Nazis of the Hitler era and build a new and healthy society. Such a step would also allow this new democratic socialist Ukraine to reach out its hand to other countries in the region, to Russia, to the Baltics, to Poland, to the entire region and begin to move towards ending imperialism in the entire region and building a democratic socialist federation of Europe.
One thing your article made me reflecting on quickly, and I've not really tried to qualify and refine these points, but doesn't the whole situation show how inherently fragile Europe is under the exterior of unity and the still relevant prosperity in central and northern Europe. Let's not forget how it became the arena for 2 World Wars and how events will have repercussions throughout the area.
When I worked for the CWI in the Eastern block and also surrounding western capitalist countries like Austria and Germany, British comrades tended to view the Stalinist countries as something of a distant place, which it was for them. But in central Europe, the Stalinist countries were only a few hours drive away. Come out of the airport in Vienna and you would see the highway signs for Bratislava, Prague ans Budapest. It was a 50min drive to Bratislava, 2hr 20 to Prague and 3 hours to Budapest. 5 hours drive from Berlin to Warsaw and another 5 hours to the Ukrainian border.
Germany was split in two and in Berlin when you took the metro across town, you'd travel through East German metro stations on the Stalinist side without stopping, which were sealed up and abandoned since the creation of the Berlin Wall. If it had been the US, it would like New York being split between capitalist and Communist parts and the rest of the east coast from Philadelphia through the Carolinas down to Florida and across to Arizona being Stalinist states with the rest of the US west and north west being capitalist.
The point I'm trying to illustrate here is how the repercussions of developments in the Ukraine will be massive psychologically in Central Europe. Its on the doorstep for these capitalist countries and its effects on the other ex-Stalinist countries will also be huge. We saw what happened in Yugoslavia. The crisis in the Ukraine and Eastern Ukraine could be like a fizzling fuse spreading across East-Central Europe. In fact, there is massive “fault line” running through the whole region from the Baltic states to the north down to the Caucasus to the south which has large Russian minorities or pro-Russian minorities interwoven along both sides of the border states, like in Transnistria in Moldavia on the Ukrainian southern border and in the Baltic states there are over a million Russians discontented with their situation. The question is where next.
And its not just the question of Russian minorities who will be affected. It will undoubtedly affect minorities like Turks in Bulgaria and Greece, Hungarians in Serbia and Romania, Bosnia, the ethnic mix in Macedonia and in the Caucasus, where ethnic overlaps and tensions are even more complex.
I think we need to point out how Imperialism and capitalism is to blame for this and how Stalinism not only failed to resolve these national issues, but worsened them in many cases and that now we are paying the price for the failures of both systems. The Ukraine is yet another manifestation of this and not the final one. it will also have reverberations further afield in countries like Spain, Belgium and Britain.