The fall of Yanukovych will not solve the problems of the proletarian masses
(«Proletarian»;Nr. 11; Winter-Spring 2015)
Since late November, Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine has been the site of mass demonstrations in Independence Square (the Maidan) to protest against the government’s decision to sign an economic agreement with Russia rather than the European Union.
The economic and social situation in Ukraine is precarious. Yanukovych won the presidential elections, promising to go back on the antisocial «reforms» of his predecessor, the famous Yulia Tymoshenko, blond idol of the Western media.
But with an economy on its knees, choked by a short-term debt in excess of its financing capabilities, the Ukrainian government refused, for fear of a social explosion, to follow IMF recommendations of drastic cuts in social benefits and sought to negotiate parallel economic aid with both the EU and with the USSR. Among other items the Ukrainian negotiators demanded from the EU was financial compensation for the loss of its markets with Russia if the Ukraine signed an agreement with Europe.
Finally, the Russian proposals being more favorable, an agreement with Russia was signed: the latter has promised $15 billion without binding constraints, unlike the IMF, «neither an increase nor a decrease or freeze in benefits, pensions, scholarships or expenditures,» according to statements by Putin himself (1).
But the illusions of a rapprochement with the EU (although for EU officials, there was never any question of integration of Ukraine into the EU, but simply an «association agreement») were such that the signing of the agreement – which is still preliminary – with Russia, sparked demonstrations. Initially small, these demonstrations gradually gained amplitude until they involved perhaps hundreds of thousands of people.
From mid-January, they took on a new character because of repression by the authorities, not only the police brutality «usual» in such cases, but also the voting of very repressive laws and the use of thugs to attack the demonstrators, some of whom have «disappeared» after being abducted (apparently there are dozens of such cases). Pro-European demands gave way to an expression of widespread discontent resulting in the demand for the departure of President Yanukovych.
After the economic disaster in the 90s that followed the disappearance of the USSR (according to a report from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, at the end of those years, the country’s GDP was only 37% of what it had been in 1990); the Ukraine then experienced a period of economic growth which has increased inequalities; a handful of wealthy capitalists – the «oligarchs» – seized most of the wealth of the country, financing the various parties represented in parliament to defend their interests (2). The discontent of the population was such that in 2004 a so-called «Orange Revolution», supported by the Americans, overthrew then-President Kuchma. But the new authorities (including Tymoshenko) quickly disappointed the population by imposing austerity measures and a new political crisis broke out in 2006, opening the way to Yanukovych. In 2008-2009 the international capitalist crisis hit the Ukraine hard (GDP was down nearly 15% in 2009), and the economic recovery is still pending (2013 was a year of recession after zero growth in 2012) (3).
A country of 46 million people, Ukraine is divided into an eastern part where heavy industry is concentrated and whose population is often Russian-speaking, and a less populated and predominantly agricultural western part, which is traditionally rather hostile to Russia. Internally divided, the country is also the target of the rival capitalist appetites of the Eastern and Western powers. If the European Union authorities do not want the integration of Ukraine at any cost because of the insurmountable problems that this would imply for European finances and institutions, Germany, Poland and the other countries of Central Europe are interested primarily in maintaining the stability of this country, along with the market it represents. The United States has not remained inactive and is working to cut the country’s ties with Russia. For its part, the latter for obvious geopolitical reasons, wants to keep Ukraine in her lap. Unofficial voices have even been raised in Moscow to warn that a grave crisis in Ukraine leading up to partition, could result in a war whose objective would be to annex the Crimea where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based...
The various imperialist powers have been maneuvering in recent days to influence the course of events. After the massacre of 19 February which left dozens dead (around 90 including a dozen police), an agreement was signed between the government and opposition parties under the auspices of the German, Polish and French Ministers of Foreign Affairs and a Russian envoy. But the ink on the agreement had not dried when Yanukovych, noting that his followers had abandoned him and that the police and the army had left him in the lurch, ran away and was soon after removed by a vote of parliament. A provisional government was appointed under the leadership of the party of Tymoshenko, released after two years in prison for alleged embezzlement.
The Maidan protesters, initially mostly students, were mainly from the middle classes, petty bourgeois faced with economic difficulties; although proletarians have probably participated, they were drowned in this interclass protest including « unemployed people as well as the CEO of Microsoft Ukraine»( 4) under the banner of democracy and Ukrainian nationalism. Gradually as time has passed, the traditional opposition parties have been increasingly discredited by their attempts to compromise with the government and the extreme right, ultra-nationalist, Christian and neo-fascist organizations gained importance among the demonstrators. These groups have a paramilitary organization and it is they who took the initiative to occupy various government buildings, while on the Maidan square they were hunting down any leftist organizations.
The Ukrainian working class, which has behind it a rich history of struggle (it’s enough just to recall the great miners’ strikes in the Donbass, thirty years ago) has been absent as such throughout these dramatic events: there were no strikes, or other significant events in the large industrial centers of the country. Admittedly, this is probably at least partly due to regional divisions exacerbated by the government parties (the East part of the country massively voted for Yanukovych against Tymoshenko in the presidential elections of 2010). But the fact remains that the demands and perspectives advanced by the bourgeois political forces which have been at the head of the opposition movement, had little to attract the proletarians subjected to harsh exploitation (the legal working week in industry is 48 hours, the average monthly wage less than 200 euros, the official unemployment rate of 8%, after peaking at 15 % in the mid-90s). However, the absence of the proletariat as a force present in the Ukrainian political crisis is ultimately the result of the total absence of any classist organization that represents and defends its interests.
The petty bourgeois layers are also victims of the crisis of capitalism, and they sometimes mobilize even before the proletariat, as we have seen in recent months in several countries around the globe. But as their existence is linked to the capitalist mechanism of the extortion of profit, they are inherently unable to advance other perspectives than chimeras of improving the functioning of the bourgeois economy, of a democratic capitalism and the disappearance of class antagonisms. The proletariat is the only class that is able to provide a definitive solution to the misery and suffering of the masses, including the petty bourgeois, by the overthrow of capitalism, and until they have sufficient strength for this revolutionary outcome, to extract, even temporarily, concessions from the capitalists by means of overt class struggle. The entry into open struggle of the proletariat has as a consequence the ability to rally around it at least a portion of the petty-bourgeois masses in the process of proletarianization. But if it fails to engage in the struggle, if it fails to free itself from the collaborationist forces of all types which cripple it, the bourgeoisie will inevitably turn the rage of the petty bourgeoisie against it, to crush it down even more, to further increase its exploitation.
Designated victim of the resolution of the current political crisis in which it did not take part, the Ukrainian proletariat will have to suffer in the short term heavy attacks on the part of the bourgeoisie, regardless of which new team is in power: there is no other way to shore up the national capitalism. Like its class brothers in all countries, it can only respond by smashing the nationalist, democratic or regional fetters that tie it to the interests of capitalism, by taking the path of independent class struggle, by restoring the class organizations it requires, and, in particular, the supreme organ which is the real class party, the antithesis of the bourgeois party which calls itself the «Communist Party of Ukraine».
This is a task that cannot be accomplished overnight and will not be conducted within national boundaries, a difficult but exalting task that is the only realistic one:
The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains, they have a world to win!
(1) See: Catherine Samary, «Ukrainian society caught between its oligarchs and its troika» http:// alencontre.org/ video/ la-societe-ukrainienne-entre-ses-oligarques-et-a-sa-troika-2. html
(2) In Parliament the «Party of Regions» of the oligarch Yanukovych has for an ally the Communist Party while in opposition there is the «Fatherland» party of oligarch Yulia Tymoshenko, the «Oudar» party (Punch) led by a former boxer and praised by European Governments, and the «Svoboda» (Freedom) far-right nationalist party funded by another oligarch.
(3) See Catherine Samary, cit.
(4) See: http:// pratelekomunizace. wordpress. com/ 2014/ 02/ 19/ maidan- and-its-contradictions-interview-with-a-ukrainian-revolutionary-syndicalist/
International Communist Party