The Ukrainian Revolution, known as Maidan [i], put an end to the corrupt and authoritarian government of Viktor Yanukovich. At the end of 2013, President Yanukovich, who had been negotiating with the EU, changed to discuss deeper cooperation with Russia. Against the backdrop of the declining economy this sparked a rebellion that brought Yanukovich down.
POI (International Workers Party, Russian section of the IWL-fi)
Student demonstrations took place in Kiev of between 5,000 and 10,000 taking to the streets. Yanukovich harshly repressed the demonstrations, using the Berkut, the hated riot police. He implemented new anti-protest laws, that were harsher than those of the Russian and Belarusian regimes [ii], in a clearly Bonapartist escalation. It is no coincidence that this was called “Putin in miniature”.
In response to repression, the initially small demonstrations became massive, with half a million demonstrators in the streets of the capital Kiev already at the end of November. The protesters camped in Maidan Square, built barricades and occupied the buildings.
The situation became unsustainable and Yanukovich sought international support trying to reach agreement between Yanukovich and the liberal opposition that was brokered by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the EU, the US and Russia. This agreement was meant to keep him in power until 6 December 2014, when new elections would be held. But Maidan protesters rejected the agreement demanding the immediate departure of Yanukovich and they refused to leave the streets. The only options Yanukovich had was to flee the country or try to drown the revolution in blood.
Despite Russia’s ‘full support’ along with their demand that Yanukovych stand firm he hesitated until the last moment. While the repression was harsh, with more than a hundred dead and hundreds injured, this was ‘insufficient’ according to the Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, who accused Yanukovich of cowardice. Unable to defeat the revolution by force, Yanukovich fled to Russia. Demonstrators surrounded the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) forced it to take power, call for immediate presidential elections and to disperse the Berkut troops.
The background to the revolution was the country’s insoluble economic crisis since the restoration of capitalism, with a reduction of about 60% of its GDP and an increasing dependence on both Russia and the EU. World economic growth gave different governments the possibility of balancing between the EU and Russia by selling the country to the highest bidder. With the world economic crisis, there was a much greater move towards colonisation, because all the fractions of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie were incapable of making the country independent and developing the economy.
Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe by territory, with an area almost twice that of Germany, a population the size of Spain, with land considered the most fertile in the world. It has great mineral wealth, high educational level and a strong industrial base inherited from the Soviet Union, despite having been plundered and much made obsolete by the lack of investment since the capitalist restoration.
In the past it had very strong engineering production of electronics, locomotives, automobiles, airplanes, space and military technology, in addition to remaining one of the world’s largest producers of minerals, grains, sugar, meat and dairy products. The Ukrainian tragedy is summed up in a world controlled and contested by half a dozen rich imperialist countries: there is no room for an industrialised Ukraine.
The aim of both the EU and Russia is dedicated to subjugating Ukraine by dismantling its economy, transforming it into a market for imported products, exporting minerals and agricultural commodities and supplying cheap labour for other countries. The Ukrainian bourgeoisie as a whole is accommodating itself to this situation, profiting from the colonisation of its own country, and all of Ukrainian official policy is summed up in the dispute over whether to sell out to Russia or the EU.
The Ukrainian Revolution was the high point of the great ascent and of the social polarisation that occurred in Western Europe, initiated with the Portuguese “Generación en Apuros” and the Spanish “Indignados”, and now with the fight of the “yellow vests” in France. By coming out onto the streets it brought down a government of bonapartist and pro-imperialist tendencies, forced the dissolution of the anti-riot police and defeated an attempt at a political agreement that involved all the political currents of the Ukrainian and international establishment. It was the first serious defeat for Putin.
The Wrong Revolution?
While it was the biggest revolution in Europe in recent times, it is also the most underestimated, misunderstood and slandered. It came to be called by the Ukrainian left “The Wrong Revolution”. The Ukrainian Revolution was accused of being pro EU, financed by George Soros, of having been a coup to remove a government “legitimately elected”, of being anti-communist, of being organized by fascist groups, which collaborated with Hitler in the Second World War, along with other accusations [iii].
No, the Ukrainian Revolution was not pro EU. During the Ukrainian Revolution, surveys carried out by European institutes revealed that the percentage of Ukrainians who considered that accession to the EU would be beneficial for the country hardly reached 30%. The mass demonstrations that overthrew Yanukovich were a reaction to the serious economic crisis due to the colonisation of the country, the unbridled corruption of the government and the violent repression against the demonstrations.
Nor was it a “blow against a legitimate government.” Every victorious revolution, by definition, overthrows the government of the day, regardless of whether it had come to power by votes or not. Such arguments are not against the Ukrainian Revolution, but against revolutions in general, because they always go above the “rules of the game”. It was a legitimate popular revolution, in which the fall of the corrupt and authoritarian president was decided by the masses on the streets and not in behind closed doors.
The violent repression led the demonstrators to organise self-defence committees, that brought together youth with war veterans who had combat experience. They grew to a few thousand partially armed members. In addition to defending Maidan Square, the self-defense committees occupied and took control of the buildings of the Presidential Administration, the Supreme Rada (Parliament), the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among others. It is not by chance that the fundamental requirement of the attempted agreement, to keep Yanukovich in the presidency until December 2014, was the dissolution of the self-defense committees and surrendering of their weapons.
In defence of the Maidan, all the opposition currents to the Yanukovich government were compelled to converge, including several pro-EU liberal tendencies, sectors that previously supported Yanukovich, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian nationalists and sectors of the extreme right. But the vast majority were young people without party affiliation. The right-wing nationalists caught the attention of the press with provocative and pointless actions outside the Maidan, against the forces of Berkut, which led many to overestimate their true strength. But in the following elections, they barely reached 1% of the vote, showing that the masses on the streets were not fascist at all, as Putin’s press falsely propagated (and was unfortunately repeated by much of the world’s left).
The role of Putin
Putin himself had faced large demonstrations in Moscow the previous year, and now the Ukrainian Revolution drew the attention of the Russians. Sensing the danger, he decided to use force to stop the Ukrainian Revolution advancing into eastern Ukraine with a military occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, the base of his Black Sea fleet. Along with this he sent mercenaries to occupy regions in eastern Ukraine. Crimea was effectively annexed to Russia with taking two regions in eastern Ukraine out of Kiev’s control: Donetsk and Lugansk, with Pro-Putin governments installed. The same was tried by Putin in Odessa and Kharkov, without success.
Putin used the annexation of Crimea (and the silence of the Russian left) to deflect internal opposition against him, directing public opinion of the Russians against their Ukrainian brothers who were presented as fascists in a chauvinistic propaganda campaign. The conflicts in the eastern region of Ukraine continue to this day, with more than 10,000 dead and 1.6 million refugees, who fled from Donetsk and Lugansk to other regions of the country. Of these, one million depend on government aid to survive. The absolute absence of a political alternative for workers led to the liberal pro-EU opposition filling a vacuum after the fall of Yanukovich, despite a lack of mass support.
The new government of Petro Poroshenko hastened to strengthen ties with European and American imperialism and with the IMF, that deepened the colonisation of the country. Putin’s regime therefore played a double counter-revolutionary role – to defeat or at least interrupt the Ukrainian Revolution: using brute force in the east and giving the justification to Poroshenko to implement his pro-imperialist policy in the rest of the country as a means to counter Russian aggression.
Limitations of Maidan
In spite of being able to overthrow a Bonapartist and submissive government in the middle of Europe, to dissolve its riot police and to organise self-defense committees, which controlled most of Kiev’s centre, the Ukrainian Revolution suffered great limitations. The current difficult situation in the country is a result of this. In the first place, the absence of an alternative power that represented the workers.
The already tiny Ukrainian left was caught up in the Stalinist scheme, which saw everything as a chess game between Russia and the EU, and they choose the “Russian camp”, paralysing itself in the process, when not directly supporting the candidate for dictator Yanukovich. The result was the disappearance of the Ukrainian left from the map. This criminal policy of the left was the basis for right-wing nationalists trying to identify Yanukovich and Putin with Lenin, knocking down their statues.
In the end, the Ukrainian Communist Party (PCU) was the only political party in the country to go onto to the streets to defend Yanukovich. Contrary to Stalinist legends, it is not because of anti-communism that the PCU is hated by the Ukrainian people, but for its support for a corrupt and repressive government. Incidentally, there are several videos that show that those who knocked down the statues of Lenin were small groups isolated from the masses.
The right-wing nationalists relied on sentiment against the centuries of Russian oppression during the Tsarist Empire, continued by Stalinism and more recently by Putin. The permanent threat of cutting off the gas supply in the middle of winter, in case the Ukrainian government “did not behave well” fed this. But despite the hatred of Russian chauvinism, the anti-Russian sentiment in the Maidan was secondary, being much more an “anti-Putin and anti-oppression” sentiment. Russian citizens who supported the revolution (unfortunately few) were very well received in the Maidan and were given the floor to speak in the protests.
The second great weakness of the Ukrainian Revolution is that it did not cover the whole country. The Ukrainian east, the most industrialised part, with the most important mines and with the highest concentration of workers was not an active part of the revolution. Although demonstrations and strikes took place in the eastern region of the country, they were defeated before they could grow due to the lack of a political alternative and by pro-Russian mercenaries, who were taking over the region. This tardiness of the east to enter the revolutionary wave served as the basis for Putin’s criminal policy of dividing the country.
And the third great weakness has to do with the programme for the country. The Ukrainian bourgeoisie as a whole wants to maintain and expand its business, exporting commodities and minerals to any place, without any regard for the fact that it is dismantling Ukrainian industry and sacrificing any political independence. Both right-wing and left-wing nationalists capitulate to “their” bourgeoisie, some more pro-EU, others more pro-Russia. There is no political current that defends an independent Ukraine, from the EU, the USA or Russia.
The government of Poroshenko, who is a coward and defender of the interests of the Ukrainian oligarchs, is unable to defend the country, refusing even to expropriate the companies and capitals of the aggressor Russia, which continues to exploit the riches of Ukraine. As a legitimate representative of the interests of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, Poroshenko wants to maintain good business with Russia, even when under military aggression.
At the same time, no confidence can be given to the imperialisms of the EU and the US whose only interest is to defeat and divert the revolutionary process through the elections, placing some puppet like Poroshenko in power, to continue colonising the country. Imperialism is unhappy with the Russian occupation of the east of the country, but not because of humanitarian concerns or democratic considerations, in the end, it did good business with Yanukovich and tried to keep him in office until the last moment. The concern is that Putin’s “hard-line” policy is generating more crises and deepening tensions within the country, and a new Maidan may emerge. That is why it has been implementing a series of economic sanctions against Russia to force Putin to make a negotiated solution.
The tension around Ukraine is a further reflection, like the war in Syria, of the profound differences between rival imperialisms in relation to how to deal with revolutionary processes. While the EU may wish to regulate the situation in Ukraine using with new elections, to calm the revolutionary process, democratic concessions are unacceptable to Putin, because of the very nature of his regime.
A new Maidan
The key to the continuity of the Ukrainian Revolution for a new Maidan, which can in fact make this great country independent, is first of all to defeat the Russian aggression in the east. For that a new movement must unmask the pro-imperialist and cowardly government of Poroshenko. A joint struggle of the workers of Kiev and Donetsk can defeat the Russian aggression, with a Maidan then taking the whole country. By occupying the east of the country in his counterrevolutionary aggression, Putin inextricably linked the fate of Ukraine to his. A defeat of Putin in Ukraine would be the beginning of the end of his government. Ukraine, as well as the Caucasus, is the achilles heel for the Russian regime dominated by the oligarchs.
A new victory of the Ukrainian Revolution could thus boost the struggle of Russian workers and other oppressed peoples against Putin. Increasingly, Russian workers are becoming skeptical about their government and its military aggression against other peoples. Extending from Kiev to eastern Ukraine, a new Maidan would not stop at Russian borders. It would advance to Moscow and the whole Russian territory, awakening the immense revolutionary force of the Russian workers and the people oppressed by Putin. If this giant rises, there is no force in the world capable of stopping it.
Defeating Putin would have global repercussions, given his international counterrevolutionary role. It would mean the almost immediate end of the Assad government in Syria and the weakening of the dictatorship in Egypt, which would drive a new wave of the Arab Spring. It would have a profound impact among the peoples of the Caucasus in their struggle for independence. Defeating Putin is an INTERNATIONAL task of the working class. At the same time, his defeat would also be the defeat of the last rotten remains of world Stalinism and its satellites, which are a chorus to the anti-Ukrainian campaign.
The Ukrainian workers urgently need an independent workers’ party, capable of extending the revolutionary process to the workers of the east, raising all the Ukrainian people against the aggression of Putin and against the fractions of the cowardly and sold-out bourgeoisie of the country. A party that stands for a united independent and free Ukraine, with workers’ democracy. A party that defends the reorganisation of the Maidan support defence committees, so that they spread throughout the country and take power, as true organs of a new type of government of the Ukrainian workers and people. This party does not exist today, which is the main weakness of the Ukrainian revolutionary process.
[i] Reference to the Maidan Nezalezhnosti square (Independence Square), in the center of Kiev, the main stage of the revolution.
[ii] Ukraine differs from these two countries in having many more democratic freedoms since the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, against the electoral fraud of YanukovIch himself. The Orange Revolution put an end to the authoritarian regime, under former President Leonid Kuchma.
[iii] In addition, it is becoming a general tendency to accuse the struggles of the workers and the people of being right-wing provocations. It was like this with the 2013 demonstrations in Brazil, with the Ukrainian revolution, with the truckers’ strike in Brazil and with the yellow vests now in France.