Ukraine the EU and the EU left

The mass of Ukrainians and a majority of Russians and Russian-speakers, with the exception of the Crimea, alongside their national-democrat leaders regard the EU as the only alternative to the neo-soviet Russophile oligarchic order in which they live. They desire integration into EU looking to Poland Slovakia and Hungary as models. For some European democratic and anti-Stalinist leftists who condemn the American-led neo-liberal corporatist offensive to destroy Europe’s post-war social-democratic order, this Ukrainian affinity to the EU can appear incomprehensible. Most ignore Ukraine Others, despite professed support for oppressed and downtrodden groups, either implicitly or explicitly think Putin’s Russian bandit-capitalism preferable to American neo-liberal capitalism, and, tolerate his neo-imperialist driven objective to maintain at least Russian hegemony over if not full control over Ukraine. Those who think in these terms overlook a number of issues that, one might think, principled leftists should not. 

First, the November 21 refusal by Ianukovich to sign the Association agreement is a result of the very successful Russian colonialist project in Ukraine. Initiated by Peter I after the Battle of Poltava in central and eastern Ukraine, the project was successfully implemented in western Ukraine after 1945. Like all colonialist projects, the tsarist and soviet Russian project in Ukraine involved foreign-speaking colonists from the metropole settling in the periphery, centrally imposed governors from the metropole, a local collaborationist elite and a reduction of the local population to ethnographic curiosities unsuited to modernity. The imperial centre then turned the annexed periphery into a supplier of raw materials and unfinished bulk-goods. This project was so successful that even today Anglo- American and European commentators and politicians who would not even think about referring to “legitimate” English or French interests in India or “Indo China,” can, with straight-faces, talk about “legitimate” Russian interests in Ukraine! 

Ukraine’s colonialist-type Russian-speaking elite, its settler-colonist social base, lopsided economy and the institutions that maintained this order remained in place after 1991. This socio-political order was threatened in 2004, but in 2010 the world witnessed regime-restoration in Kyiv. The flag and the formal language became Ukrainian in 1991, but the public communications sphere remained Russian and the underlying institutions and relations of power remained Soviet. In this broader context, the ruling elite, as represented by Ianukovich, his Party of Regions and the still existing Communist Party of Ukraine, was for all intents and purposed a continuation of the old Soviet era colonialist administrative elite whose focus, allegiances, culture and fortunes remain tied to Putin’s neo-imperial Russian centre.

As rulers and owners of a de jure independent country, some of Ukraine’s Russophile post Soviet oligarch/capitalists began developing a territorial “national interest.” Like their counterparts in 19th century Latin America this group, after 1991, began evolving into a “creole” elite ruling an independent national state separate from the imperial metropole. As an incipient “national capitalist class” they see membership in the EU as a way secure their local political power and stolen fortunes. 

The November 21 decision suggests this evolution has stopped for the foreseeable future. Whether or not massive inflows of European capital will renew it remains to be seen. Whether police and special forces turn and support the pro EU movement also remains to be seen. The minority within the ruling culturally Russophile and Russian-speaking oligarchic elite who seek EU integration are a “creole” class resembling the nineteenth-century Spanish speaking ruling elites in Latin America. Such oligarchs already live in the EU keep their money, wives, children and lovers there, and give speeches there in Russian about Ukraine. They are already a part of the EU neo-liberal capitalist corporatist elite. Some even give a few cents of their stolen fortunes to Ukrainian diaspora causes hoping to temper condemnation of their government from that quarter. The November 21 decision, however, suggests that this “creole territorial-national elite” were unable to win over the neo-soviet pro- Russian colonialist administrative majority. This latter group may be compared to the French settler minority in pre-independence Algeria. 

During 20 years of political independence few if any of Ukraine’s oligarchic plutocrats did anything to lessen their economic dependency on Russian markets and state-capitalist conglomerates. They did not invest profits into production, modernization, diversification, and infrastructure, and evolve into a “national capitalist class.” They chose instead to remain a dependent “comprador bourgeoisie” as Marxists would call them. They deposited their astronomical ill-gotten profits into tax-free off- shore accounts, bought imported luxury goods and bribed politicians and administrators. Their scale of theft from public coffers is so great that this year the government they control had to borrow from private banks to pay pensions. Regardless of any differences they have with the Russian metropole, like their French colonialist counterparts, these semi-criminal oligarchic plutocrats by all indications prefer to be little fish in the old big imperial metropolitan sea, than big fish in their new small territorial-national sea. 

Second, within this context, the average Ukrainian, even if such a person is aware of the neo-liberal corporatist destruction of the post-war order, sees the EU corporate neo-liberal capitalist order as one that still provides better conditions of life than the post-soviet Russian-style robber state-corporatist capitalist order they live under in Ukraine. Re-establishing closer ties with Putin’s Russia would reinforce that criminalized neo-feudal soviet-style order. 

Third, when the average Ukrainian looks at the EU they see what Marx considered the great achievements of the eighteenth and nineteenth century bourgeois revolutions: freedom of the press, elected representative assemblies, constitutions, the rule of law, and strong legal trade unions. These freedoms have yet to be enacted and enforced in Ukraine. 

Today, transnational corporations through their various “trade agreements” usurp and destroy these freedoms in the countries where they were won, often by force of arms and bloodshed. Nevertheless, even in truncated form, today’s EU member countries s remain as beacons of these “bourgeois freedoms” to people living in the neo-feudal authoritarian post-soviet republics. These freedoms never existed in Stalin’s USSR and, after 1991, despite their formal adaptation in a written constitution, Ukraine’s robber barons and their hired politicians ignore them whenever they please. 

Fourth, from the leftist perspective, the results of the “bourgeois revolutions” that occurred in eastern Europe only in 1989, have yet to reach Ukraine. Accordingly, leftists must realize that nationalism plays a different role in Ukraine than it does in the EU. Nationalism is simply a theory that says political and cultural borders should coincide. The policies enacted within those borders can be either leftist or rightist, extremist or moderate. Everything depends on the leaders and the people. Ukrainian nationalism in Ukraine, accordingly, as in any other country, cannot be identified solely with an extreme right – in particular in as much as leaders of such extremist nominally “Ukrainian” groups like Dmytro Korchynski of “The Brotherhood” are or “Patriots of Ukraine,” upon investigation, turn out to have links with Ukraine’s pro-Russian oligarch and the Russian FSB. Like any nationalism nurtured by and directed against any imperialism, Ukrainian nationalism directed against Putin’s Russian neo-imperialism, represents a democratic progressive force and must be supported.

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