In the Ukraine: Stale nationalisms used to cover up inter-imperialist conflict
(This article originally appeared in May-June 2014, in issue no 395 of our Italian language newspaper “Il Partito Comunista”).
The Ukraine, due to its strategic position as a borderland between Europe and
Russia, has for centuries been a much sought-after prize for the stronger state
entities surrounding it, determined to enforce their control over it. Although
enjoying fertile land, and today important mineral resources and an impressive
industrial base – despite the latter being antiquated in some respects – it is
severely hindered by a large public debt and the fact that its energy needs are
met from abroad.
The economic crisis that struck world capitalism in 2008 resulted in a general drop in the standard of living of the lower classes in the Ukraine, among the proletariat and petty bourgeois strata, as in other countries with a weaker economy such as in Greece, Spain and Portugal in the south of Europe, and Rumania and Hungary in the east.
In the Ukraine the working class suffers from a high rate of unemployment and low pay. But, lacking a class perspective, that is, lacking the indispensable orientation of its political party, the proletariat there has been unable to respond effectively and is still suffocated in the inter-classist embrace of the “people as a whole”. The workers are allowing themselves to be organized, as individual citizens, in the electoral herd, mistakenly believing that they can use their votes in elections to impose policies on the demagogues of career politics, all bankrolled by big capital, and membership of one or the other of the imperialist formations competing to control the country.
Lacking a revolutionary perspective and trade unions as well, bound to the clique in power, weakened by rampant unemployment and increasing uncertainty in the future, the Ukrainian proletariat has been unable to oppose the gangs mobilized by the various bourgeois parties, ranging from the fascist ones of “Pravy Sektor” (Right Sector), to Yulia Tymoschenko’s Patria, to the nationalist ones, “Svoboda”, and the national-communists and Stalinists. A part of it seeks consolation in an illusory “identity” provided by the various churches that have traditionally divided up between the region’s souls.
The question of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, which the governing party in Kiev lays claim to, is of no concern either to the proletariat, which has nothing to gain from it, or the communist revolution, and it should not be considered progressive, or any less reactionary than its division; on the other hand, we must view in the same way the “reconjoining” of the Crimea to the Russian mother country, which is what the nationalists of “Russian Unity”, in the pay of Moscow, want, or any future annexation of the eastern regions of the country in the future. In the clash between the two “global” imperialisms there is no room left for the proletariat, except to fight its own autonomous battle, against both sides.
The fact of the matter is that the transfer of Crimea to Russia has served to considerably swell the forces of nationalism throughout the region, and to divide workers – who for over a century have been living alongside one another under the same economic and civil conditions – by aggravating and reinforcing new ethnic and religious divisions, and by concealing the class ones.
Before the imperialisms can unleash a counter-revolutionary “ethnic” war, as happened in Yugoslavia ten years ago, they will need to divide the working class.
An international war of the capitalisms such as the current one, disguised as a “civil war”, would be severely detrimental to the proletariat and the revolution, not only because of the toll it would have to pay in its own blood, because of the privations and terror it would be subjected to, but because the war represents for capital the submission of proletarians to its dictatorship. To try nowadays to brush up the old divisions based on ethnicity, religion or nationality within the borders of the Ukrainian state, where a developed capitalism is to be found, along with a strong proletariat, is just an “irredentist” pretext, clumsily justified with the “right of self-determination” of this or that national minority. It is just bourgeois war propaganda, and a reactionary attempt to destroy in advance any possibility of proletarian union and a proletarian counterattack. The national-communists, the orthodox Muscovites, the Stalinists, the Cossacks who are fighting for unity with Russia are no better than the fascists and Nazis who, along with the so-called liberals, and the followers of the Ukrainian orthodox church, are clamoring to unite with Europe and are calling for Washington to protect them.
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In the ruthless war between the bourgeois states the outward justifications are of no interest; that is, whether or not the Kremlin’s coup de main, which in a few days succeeded in militarily occupying the Crimea and securing its old naval base in Sebastopol, was in compliance with “international law”; and we are equally uninterested in knowing whether or not Moscow has reacted to the attempt by the United States to move NATO’s missiles even further to the east, or if NATO has been forced to respond to the maneuverings of Russia, preparing to occupy a part or all of the Ukraine.
The pro-Russia militias in the Donbass, refusing to accept orders from the new regime in Kiev, have organized a referendum, using the “popular will” to sanction their request for the region, baptized New Russia, to be united with Moscow, following in the footsteps of the Crimea. Their intention is thereby to head off the outcome of the national elections on May 25, which is bound to sanction the victory pf the pro-western governing parties in Kiev.
The proletariat, which is particularly numerous in that region because of the mines and metallurgical factories situated there, is seemingly assenting to its “passage” to Russia, not out of patriotism but because, or so it believes, it would obtain, if not higher wages, at least greater social security and higher pensions and so on.
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In the Ukraine the crisis has been presented as a clash within the country between those who have an interest in joining the European Union and those who want to strengthen collaboration with the Russian Federation. But the reality is that the causes of the crisis are to be found outside its borders.
As far as France is concerned Le Monde writes: “Despite the crisis in the Ukraine, France has no intention of suspending the supply of two Mystral warships to Russia, a contract worth 1.2 billion dollars. The controversy was inflated after the American deputy secretary of state for Europe openly cautioned France against going ahead with the sale to Russia”.
As for Germany Spiegel on line writes: “On May 22 the International Economic Forum will take place in St Petersburg, and the directors of the main German companies—E.On, Metro, BASF, Daimler—will certainly be attending, despite the threats from the United States; the leader of the Kremlin will make his official speech, and the German top managers will of course have to applaud vigorously.
The major capitalist states in Europe have very strong links with Russia, where they export commodities in exchange for gas and petrol; but they are tied to the United States in a military alliance, NATO, which for many years has protected them.
The United States are pushing in two directions: they want to reduce the economic links between Europe and Russia and tie Europe in more with their economy. At the same time, they are trying to strengthen NATO by providing themselves with a string of military bases and missile launch sites positioned as far to the east as possible, relying on countries in Eastern Europe which are traditionally anti-Russian, and now they are maneuvering to get The Ukraine to join NATO.
For Russia’s part it wants to maintain and increase the interchange with Europe but is very fearful of NATO moving ever further east, to the extent it has been willing to make major financial investments in the Ukraine to retain its loyalty.
All this during a phase of the economic crisis that is making a new inter-imperialist confrontation on a vast scale ever more inevitable.
Today the first signs of war seem to be emerging from the China Sea, where Beijing is trying to put into question the fragile equilibrium in the area which emerged after the 2nd World War, which is currently entirely favorable to the United States, by provoking major friction with Japan, South Korea, Viet Nam and the Philippines.
As regards the Ukraine China has been very cautious, whereas as regards Syria it has supported Russia in preventing an American military attack.
The revolutionary communist party cannot ignore the relations between the imperialist states, and must evaluate their strength and their policies and prevent the consequences of their conflict; but it does not have to align itself with any of the fronts. It prepares its army and prepares for its war, the international revolutionary war is opposed to all of the imperialist fronts, just as was the case in Revolutionary Russia in the early years of its life, before it was crushed by the imposition of the Stalinian counter-revolution.