Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ukraine (part 1)

K. Karo

  1. What is the essential character of the protest and occupation movement that started in Independence Maidan in Kiev – capital city of Ukraine – on November 21st, 2013 which ultimately led to the downfall of Kremlin-friendly President Viktor F. Yanukovych regime on February 22nd, 2014 and transformation of the country into the hottest of geopolitical hotspots in the world? And equally so, what are the essential characters of the following major post-Maidan movements that ensued Maidan’s initial victory on February 22nd, 2014?
    1. Referendum on the question of independence and secession of Crimea from Ukraine and its integration into Russian Federation,
    2. The present rise of protests in Ukraine’s predominantly Russian-speaking east – where pro-Russian and anti-Kiev sentiment is high – expressed as armed seizure of city administration buildings and police headquarters throughout Ukraine’s eastern provinces (city of Mariupol, city of Slavyansk, neighboring Kharkov and Lugansk regions) and as a mark of protest against the Ukraine acting government in Kiev. 
    3. As anti-Kiev sentiment is, meanwhile, spreading across Ukraine, on Wednesday April 17, 2014, the “anti-Maidan” movement in the city of Odessa called for a day of protests and declared the creation of a “people’s republic” in the region.
  2. On the one hand, Russian government and part of the left all over the world condemn the Maidan movement as a right wing movement instigated and funded by US and EU and consider the fall of the President Yanukovych on February 22, 2014 a right-wing coup, or a fascist putsch, an act by fascist thugs taking over Ukraine and logically Russian government is accusing the US/EU – the West – of complicity in supporting this “illegitimate” interim government. At the same time the Russian government – which is seen as the instigator of events in the eastern Ukraine – fully and part of the left organizations partially or implicitly supports the post-Maidan movements. Here Maidan is demonized and its opponents in the form of post-Maidan are glorified.
  3. On the other hand, while the US and EU governments which supported Maidan movement along with many left organizations around the world consider that movement to be progressive in its character, at the same time condemn the post-Maidan movements in Crimea and eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. Here Maidan is glorified and its opponents in the form of post-Maidan are demonized.
  4. The purpose of this critique is to show that both of the above mentioned positions – regardless of their ulterior motives – are one-sided and hence deficient in one respect and false in another in their characterization of the political events of 2013-2014 in Ukraine.
  5. Meanwhile, this critique is based on the following presuppositions:
    1. Ukrainian movement of 2013-2014 is one totality, a movement comprised of many moments. Maidan protests and occupation of November 21, 2013 to February 22, 2014 is only one and the first moment in the chain of moments which has appeared on the political scene. And post-Maidan events in Crimea and in the eastern part of the country (in the Donetsk and Kharkov, etc.) should also be considered as the subsequent mediated moments of the first moment itself. Therefore the characterization of Maidan should be the characterization of the whole movement.
    2. Ukrainian movement of 2013-2014 is a combination of revolutionary protest of significant sections of masses in Kiev. This movement eventually fell into the hands of parliamentary liberal nationalist Batkivshchyna and UDAR parties, as well as ultra-nationalist Svoboda Part y – with known links to Nazi proxy forces back in WWII -and neo-fascist Right Sector at the same time and with the aim of toppling the corrupt government of President Viktor Yanukovych. What glued these diverse forces together was the goal of overthrowing the ruling government of the Party of Region which had the support of Ukrainian Communist party as well. On the international level American and Western European imperialist countries of EU were whole-heartedly behind this movement as well. These facts rendered a contradictory character to the movement: a movement for revolution along with a movement for counter-revolution fighting shoulder to shoulder in the Maidan and rubbing shoulders behind the same barricades against government military forces. Therefore what one witnesses here is a progressive movement along with a dark reactionary movement at the same time and in the same place – Maidan Nazalezhnosti.
    3. This movement with such a contradictory nature is part of a family of movements that have been happening within the last four decades on the world political landscape.
      1. Iran 1978-1979: Mass protests of 1978-79 in Iran which culminated in the downfall of the dictatorial and monarchical regime of Shah were the forerunner of these kinds of contradictory movements. On one side, students, intellectuals, state employees, youth, women, workers, and unemployed and urban poor, a section of bourgeoisie and Bazaar merchants along with liberal and left organizations were in a “unity” with the dark and reactionary forces of Khomeini and Shiite clergy marching on the streets of Tehran pursuing a regime change in Iran. Imperialist intervention in the support of the movement was very minimal and it was covert and indirect in nature.
      2. Libya 2011: Anti regime protests of 2011 in Libya witnessed broad masses fighting for freedom along with the reactionary Jihadist forces which among other things acted as proxies for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf reactionary governments along with US and other European imperialist powers. What united them all was their opposition to dictatorial regime of Gaddafi. Imperialist intervention was in the form of direct military intervention.
      3. Present civil war in Syria: Present civil war in Syria with the aim of overthrowing the regime of Assad, is yet another example of these kinds of contradictory movements of revolution side by side with forces of reaction in a “coalition” to overthrow the ruling dictatorial regimes. On one side of the divide Turkey, Saudi Arabia and world imperialist powers (US/EU) are helping the anti-Assad forces. And on the other side of the divide Russia and Iran are making sure to provide support to the ruling regime of Assad. These helps come in a various forms and shapes: moral, political, material and military. It is being revealed that Turkey has even provided the right-wing opposition forces with chemical weapons of warfare. It is interesting to note that the weaker the political theater is in terms of revolutionary traditions and weight of the left organizations, the more direct the country turns into a geopolitical theater and a proxy war for imperialist as well as regional powers.
    4. Whether it was Iran of 1978-79, or Libya of 2011, or it is the present Syria Civil War of 2011-2014, or finally Ukraine of 2013-2014, the reason for their dual and contradictory natures are to be found in a combination of the following factors:
      1. Historical crisis of revolutionary proletariat leadership which started after the rise of Stalinism in Soviet Russia
      2. Weakness or total lack of revolutionary left organizations of some significance.
      3. Betrayal of traditional working-classes political organizations (Communist and Social-Democratic parties) wherever they had any existence on the political scene.
      4. Progressive bankruptcy of traditional bourgeois liberal political personalities, leaderships, parties, programs and policies which in turn has amounted to increasing popularity of religious and/or right-wing political alternatives which are finding a fertile and empty political landscapes to occupy and thrive.
      5. Weakness or lack of proletariat class organizations (trade-unions, parties).
      6. Low level of working class involvement on the political scene.
Maidan as EuroMaidan
  1. The circumstance for the emergence of Maidan as a fusion of protest and occupation was provided by the decision of Yanukovych not to sign the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU. Mustafa Nayem, a Muslim and an Afghan using social media, called students and other young people to rally on the Maidan in support of a European choice for Ukraine. Maidan in the Ukrainian capital began with about 100 students setting up tents in Kiev’s central square and declaring a hunger strike. It then started to grow very rapidly. The government in a clumsy and confused way first ignored the movement altogether and then it tried to suppress it. In this phase of the movement which spanned from November21, 2013 to Nov. 30, 2013, EuroMaidan came to existence. For initial Maidan movement independence from Russia and getting rid of Russian-friendly government was important and they found the realization of such a goal in the integration of Ukraine into EU. For them integration with EU meant was an opportunity to start enjoying the fruits of struggles of their western European brothers and sisters over centuries: democracy, social and individual mobility across Western Europe, Europe sans-visa for Europeans, rule of law, higher standard of living, the absence of widespread corruption, etc. Therefore the main messages of the movement were the along the following two dimensional axes:
    1. Independence from Russia and
    2. Integration into EU. For them “Ukraine is Europe”.
  2. EuroMaidan of 2013 was a loud echo of history and a rallying cry of popular protests on the Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), stretched back to many decades and centuries from Russian tsars to Soviet Stalinist dictators, from Soviet era to post-Soviet era which was markedly characterized with the rise of oligarchy in general and oligarchical cronies in particular, from independence movement of 1991 to orange revolution of 2004 and from failed experience of 2004 orange revolution to present times and beyond. The collapse of USSR in 1991, took Ukraine out of being a “colonial” to a modern “semi-colonial” country in relation to Russia. Ukrainian Declaration of Independence of 1991 was a declaration of separation of an abusive spouse in an abusive marriage; it was not a divorce certificate, it only was a separation without complete act of divorce and without the right of divorce for the abused spouse. Hence 2013 movement of Maidan was in essence a fight for the right of divorce for Ukraine: it was a struggle for complete independence from Russia. Unconditional and unilateral right of divorce is a fundamental human right after all. Afghanistan or Bangladesh can join EU if tomorrow they decide to do so without any Russian active intervention. But Ukraine could not. What defined the fundamental dynamics in Maidan movement was the necessity of ending their long history of Russian domination,the necessityof freedom of separation from indirect domination of Russia, a powerful authoritarian neighbor and former imperial master. Ukraine wanted to complete its status as an independent state while Kremlin considers it as a breakaway region that was really Russian. Hence Maidan was a battle cry of popular protests for a total political independence from Russian Federation.
  1. Along with this tendency for political independence, there was a second urge at work, and that was the deep urge of Ukraine to join a bigger universal, to be part of bigger whole, to integrate with Western Europe, to participate in and directly interact with cultural, social, economic and political achievements of their brothers and sisters in Western world. Of course, by integration is not to mean territorial integration. After all, for man and for a nation, to be an independent part and to be a part of an integral whole is a human right.
  2. US imperialism and Western European imperialist powers headed by Germany and represented by EU parliament, IMF and other institutions had a fundamental interest in Maidan movement. Desires of Maidan on the surface coincided with their imperialist and geopolitical designs in Europe. So they actively helped, and supported this movement in their own way and with their own methods.
  3. The US and EU imperialists were not the only ones who found Maidan movement as their proxy war against Russia. A western-oriented faction of Ukrainian oligarchy found Maidan to be yet another proxy war in their competition with the Russian and pro-Russian oligarchs who had the bigger slices of Ukrainian pie. For them Maidan movement was only a means on the way of achieving an end result of gaining a redistribution of Ukrainian wealth between oligarchs as a whole.
  4. So there emerged two interpretations of independence and integration in Maidan: one, true and total and the other limited and distorted one. The former had more appeal to the people, the latter was actively sought by the imperialist powers, oligarchs, and their liberal and fascist political representatives. The former had no political representation, no organs of self-organization and for the latter, there was billions of dollars spent by US and EU imperialists and local oligarchs. By means of imperialist might, oligarchic influence and organization, what was imposed or superimposed on the protesters of Maidan was not the first but the second interpretation.
  5. But independence from Russia was just a partial independence. And integration into EU was a partial integration as well.
  6. What constituted the essence of the movement on was independence coupled with unity at the same time. Total independence means unconditional freedom from all foreign dominations externally and it also means recognition of national autonomy for different ethnic nationalities internally. Total integration – which does not mean territorial integration – also denotes firstly that integration should be unconditional and with no strings attached and secondly it signifies the fact that Ukraine more than anywhere else in the world, needs a policy that will unite and integrate it to the East as well as the West all at the same time. As if Ukraine is to be a link connecting these two pieces of Europe together. Ukraine is a borderline country on the geopolitical map of East and West, of Russian imperialism on one hand and Western Europe and US imperialism on the other. But this is only the external borderline. There is a second borderline though, the national and internal one, which divides Eastern and Southern regions on one hand and Western and Central regions of the country on the other hand along language, ethnic and linguistic divides. One can say this is the second “geopolitical” consideration of Ukraine. After all Ukraine as a word means “borderland”, as a country it is borderland with two major virtual borderlines. So the concept of total independent and total integration as the objectives of the movement relates to this particularity of Ukraine as a country and as a society as well.
  7. And since total independent and total unity and integration are in themselves insufficient and empty aims unless they are tied to the higher good of Ukraine at large which is manifested in the act of mobilization and realization of talents, and potentialities, i.e., the essential powers of people as a unified nation and as free individual citizens, then the real underlying aim, the goal, the end, the purpose, the in-itself, i.e., the ideality of the movement was to be found in the total independence with total integration and for the good of the people, of the working masses, of ethnic groups, and of individual citizens all at once. This implies democracy, local autonomy, ratification of a federal constitution to hold Ukraine which is objectively several states in one, rule of law, rejection of kleptocracy and oligarchy – hallmarks of post-Soviet era -,and reining in rampant corruption, including political manipulation and compromised judiciary which are the trade-marks of former Stalinist-Soviet space. This translates into creation of an independent democratic united and federative Ukraine based on self-organization and self-rule of the masses, and it entails restructuring of the whole society in such a way that it will satisfy the desires of the whole population (Ukrainian and Russian speaking both), a system in which each individual citizen will be a living manifestation of democracy, independence and integration all at the same time.
  8. It is important also to note that fundamental means, agency and force for the successful realization of this goal could not be primarily EuroMaidan movement per se. As a matter of fact, EuroMaidan was a distorted, hijacked, contaminated, limited, deficient and yet real and only the first moment in the total chain of events, activities, movements, moments, and upheavals that needed to unfold among masses themselves, in their own self-organizations, in their own self-activities, in the factories, in the offices, on the streets and on the squares to bring about a true victory in Ukraine.
  9. 0ccupation of Maidan by students without political party leadership and without an active support of the working class movements was not a match for the task. The initial EuroMaidan leadership even did not allow political organizations to bring their own banners and raise their own demands. Some of the famous celebrities who came to help the movement proved later to be part of the problem than solution. Communist party totally boycotted the movement. The birth place of Leon Trotsky and many great socialist revolutionaries of early 20th century turned into a political space totally void of any significant left in general and revolutionary socialist left in particular. Current Ukraine is a country without “Left”. Bourgeois Party of Regions, which was the ruling party, was publically against the movement. And no solid leadership was developed in this very short period of time. In any case, this period was very short-lived and it ended with Nov. 30, 2013 police raid of the Maidan.
Maidan as Revolution
  1. The lack of active political party leadership for the protest movement was overcome the next day. On December 1, 2013 a massive re-occupation of Maidan took place by thousands upon thousands of people of Kiev. The call for “Kiev Rise!” on November 30th, 2013, was fully heeded by people of Kiev on December 1st. The march of December 1 towards Maidan, was so massive and powerful that before it reaches Maidan, special riot forces who took back the square from the hands of student protesters, they all disappeared in the thin air. Maidan was re-occupied. From today on, speakers on the stage, started to call the movement less EuroMaidan and more the Revolution. A public concert-size stage was built for open microphone public speaking, with gigantic and powerful sound amplification systems along with gigantic loud speakers, and with speakers addressing and performers entertaining masses of protesting audience rallying at the Maidan in the spirit of Ukrainian revolution. It is interesting to note that during the life of Occupy Wall Street, New York Police Department (NYPD) never allowed the occupiers to use any kind of sound amplification. So “the leaderless” leaders of OWS instead of insisting on having sound amplification, devised a very lame and ineffective method called “human microphone”, also known as the “people’s microphone” to deliver any kind of speech or announcement during their general assembly “horizontal” democracies. If OWS had half of the sound amplification of Maidan, the little Zuccotti Park would have grown into the gigantic Central Park in a matter of days and hence the real American Maidan would have found the light of the day. One of the major lessons of Maidan – in the positive sense – was that any square occupation must have significant sound amplification to sustain itself and to grow fast.
  2. It was on this same day that movement leadership changed hand. The initial one was dispersed by the police and now overthrown by a new set of united leadership. This time under a coalition of liberal-nationalist and extreme-right nationalist parties, i.e., the Troika of parliamentary opposition parties of the time, Batkivshchyna – “Fatherland”-, UDAR  – “Punch” – (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform)and Svoboda – “Freedom” – parties hijacked the leadership of the movement. Batkivshchyna (US favorite) and UDAR (German and hence EU favorite) are considered as liberal-nationalist parties and Svoboda is an extreme right-wing fascistic party which is adopting parliamentary path without giving away their proactive street presence. Hence right and far-right factions of bourgeoisie usurped the leadership of the movement in the most undemocratic way. The head of the movement for democracy undemocratically self-proclaimed itself as the sole leadership of the movement at the exclusion of any self-organization of students, teachers, workers, even NGO’s, i.e., a bloc of oppositional parliamentary bourgeois leadership minus any participation, presence or independent voice of what later referred to as “Civil Society”.

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