For the past several months the Ukraine has been in the grip of an acute political crisis. It began when Mikola Melnychenko, a former member of the political police, leaked tapes implicating President Leonid Kuchma in the grisly murder of Georgy Gongadze, a journalist who had been critical of the regime. Melnychenko's tapes, which the government initially attempted to dismiss as forgeries, graphically revealed the murderous brutality and venal corruption that lies at the heart of Kuchma's rule.
Kuchma was elected in 1994 promising a close alliance with Russia, but once in office he made an abrupt turn and joined Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova in a NATO-sponsored alliance aimed at undercutting Russian influence in the region. As a reward for pursuing a policy of "independence" from Moscow the Ukraine has received a total of $2.3 billion from the U.S. over the past decade. In December 1999 Kuchma won reelection pledging to continue his policy of balancing between NATO and the Kremlin, but as his position has deteriorated at home he has been forced into Putin's embrace.
The scandal over the spectacular revelations on Melnychenko's tapes galvanized Kuchma's pro-Western bourgeois opposition and rocked the regime. In December a tent city was established in Independence Square in Central Kiev where fascists and various reformist leftists peacefully joined together under the banner of "Ukraine without Kuchma". Among the participants in this foul lash-up were members of "Workers Resistance", (affiliated to Peter Taaffe's Committee for a Workers International), "Red Wolf" (a grouping linked to Alain Krivine's United Secretariat), the Socialist Party (SPU), the Social-Democratic Party (SDPU), the Green Party, several pro-western bourgeois parties, the right wing nationalists of Ukrainian People's Movement (RUH) and the fascistic Ukrainian National Assembly/Ukrainian National Self-Defence (UNA-UNSO). The Socialist Party, led by Alexander Moroz, who received the tapes incriminating Kuchma from Melnychenko, has played a key role in holding this unsavoury melange together.
Kuchma is still supported by the pro-Russian wing of Ukraine's proto-bourgeoisie. Also in his camp is the Workers Revolutionary League (formerly known as the Socialist Youth of Ukraine, an affiliate of Sheila Torrence's orthodox Healyite tendency) along with the far-right Social National Party of Ukraine (linked to Jean Marie Le Pen's French Front National) and the fascist goons of Stepan Bandera's Trident.
In early February, as the anti-Kuchma protests gained momentum, the European Union called for a full inquiry into Gongadze's murder, a clear signal that Brussels thought it was time for Kuchma to go. But Kuchma has refused to budge. On 6 February several dozen masked "anarchists", obviously security police, attacked the tent city. The same day leftists and fascists clashed at an anti-Kuchma rally. Over the next week protests continued. On 10 February, the day before the largest demonstration to date, Kuchma fired the heads of the security police and the presidential guard in an attempt to deflect criticism. On 11 February 5,000 protesters marched in Kiev and, according to reports, a small number unsuccessfully attempted to storm the presidential palace.
Russia and Ukrainian Oligarchs Embrace
As this was going on, Kuchma was in Dnepropetrovsk with Russian president Vladimir Putin where they signed 16 bilateral agreements (to promote cooperation in shipbuilding, aviation, rocketry among other things). Putin agreed to allow the Ukraine to reunite its energy grid with Russia's which is expected to significantly lower energy costs for Kiev. Putin's support, and the relatively small turnout at the 11 February protest, emboldened Kuchma who ordered the immediate removal of the tent city and began to hint at further repression if protests continued.
The nascent Ukrainian bourgeoisie is divided between those who favor an orientation to Moscow, and others who would look to the U.S. and West Europe. The Ukraine's current prime minister, and former governor of the central bank, Viktor Yushchenko, who has thus far remained on the sidelines, is the preferred candidate of western imperialism as Kuchma's successor. The call for "Ukraine Without Kuchma" is popularly understood as a demand to replace him with Yushchenko. In January one of Yushchenko's closest allies, Yuliya Tymoshenko, deputy prime minister and holder of the energy portfolio, was fired by Kuchma. Tymoshenko and her husband, who managed to accumulate a considerable fortune during her political career, have both been arrested and charged with "corruption."
Tymoshenko's difficulties demonstrate the limits of western influence in the Ukraine today. There is no prospect of any serious investment from the IMF or other imperialist agencies, much less private interests, in the foreseeable future. The 3/4 March issue of the Deutsche Zeitung carried a report of threats by U.S. president Bush to cut all further financial aid if attacks on Kuchma's bourgeois critics continue. Such public displays of pique indicate that Washington recognizes it has little leverage. The western imperialists are indifferent to the situation of the Ukrainian working people, who have suffered an appalling collapse in living standards as a consequence of a halving of gross domestic product in the decade that followed the triumph of counterrevolution in 1991. The NATO powers, who would prefer a strong and "independent" Ukraine to occupy Russia on its southern flank, are unwilling and unable to provide investment on anything like the scale required to revive the moribund Ukrainian economy. The prospect of closer economic and political links between Kiev and Moscow represents a setback for the U.S. and its allies and a victory for Putin.
Russia stands to gain economically through the economic reintegration of Ukrainian industry and agriculture in a common trading bloc. While the Russian economy has itself undergone a huge contraction as a result of capitalist restoration, Russian per capita GDP is almost three times that of the Ukraine, according to the World Bank. Kiev's dependency on Moscow for energy has given Russia's oligarchs the leverage to take over large chunks of the Ukrainian economy. For example Russia's Siberian Aluminum company now owns two-thirds of Ukraine's Nikolayev Alumina plant while Russian oil companies have taken over the Linos oil refinery and the Oriana chemical factory under the terms of the government's privatization program.
The Communist Party of the Ukraine (CPU), which has over 100,000 members, is by far the largest and most influential working class party. Yet it remained aloof from the anti-Kuchma protests for the first several months. Beginning with Kuchma's swing toward Moscow last year CPU leaders appearing on television news programs would stridently denounce the IMF and Western imperialism, while couching their criticisms of the president in terms designed to suggest that he should be seen as a "lesser evil". Then in mid-February CPU leader Petro Simonenko announced that the CPU would initiate a week of protest in March under the slogan "Ukraine without Kuchma and Yushchenko."
The following is an English-language version of a statement currently being distributed in Kiev by the Young Revolutionary Marxists (YRM) in both Ukrainian and Russian. The YRM and the International Bolshevik Tendency are fraternally related organizations.
The Tasks of Revolutionary Marxists
Revolutionary Marxists in the Ukraine today are confronted with a difficult set of strategic and tactical problems. It is quite clear that revolutionaries cannot be involved in the openly bourgeois (and fascist-infested) "Ukraine Without Kuchma" movement (recently redubbed the "National Salvation Forum").
Yet we are not indifferent to Kuchma's murderous bonapartism nor his other attacks on democratic rights, including those of his fellow oligarchs. While we demand the immediate and unconditional release of all leftists and workers imprisoned by the bourgeoisie in the class war, we are only concerned in the case of bourgeois figures charged with corruption, etc. that all proper legal procedures are observed and their democratic rights protected. This is why we support the call for an independent investigation of the Gongadze murder. We recognize that there is a real danger that either Kuchma, or his bourgeois rivals, could attempt to solve their problems through some sort of military coup. The proletariat has a vital interest in taking steps to prepare for such an eventuality. The creation of strike committees and workers defense squads in each workplace could make the oligarchs think twice about using the police or fascists against the workers.
An item included in the 16 February issue of the LRCI's e-mail newsletter, "Workers Power Global Week," raised similar concerns:
"In the near future a coup d'etat by Kuchma or Yuschtschenko is possible or at least sharp confrontations on the street with the police and/or the fascists."
This is quite correct. Yet comrades of the YRM have found in discussions with RV-MRM [LRCI supporters in Kiev], that the LRCI considers us "sectarian" for failing to side with the supposedly "more democratic" Yushchenko/Tymoshenko wing of the bourgeoisie against Kuchma's wing. This attempt to find a "lesser evil" element among the capitalists can only disorient the Ukrainian workers in the present situation. And the LRCI is only one of many organizations making this mistake.
The current situation presents real opportunities for strengthening revolutionary influence within the workers movement, but a political prerequisite is that we maintain fidelity to the fundamentals of Marxism, and never lose sight of the historic irreconcilability of the interests of workers and capitalists. We must also recognize that the victory of the counterrevolutionaries in Moscow in 1991, and the destruction of the bureaucratized Soviet economy, has led directly to our present impasse. Under capitalist restoration the Kuchmas, Tymoshenkos, Yushchenkos and their ilk have all enriched themselves at the expense of working people.
Capitalist restoration has been a complete social catastrophe for most people in the Ukraine and throughout the former Soviet bloc. Today there can be no illusions in the prospects of life under capitalism. The workers' movement, which has now had a decade of experience with the ravages of capitalist restoration, confronts a deeply discredited and increasingly unpopular administration, which sits atop an unstable and seriously divided ruling class. Neither wing of the bourgeoisie--those oriented toward the West or towards Moscow--currently appears capable of mobilizing substantial popular support.
While the workers are hostile to the regime and the rival blocs of bourgeois exploiters and thieves, they have not, to date, been particularly combative. This is partly a product of the desperate economic conditions that require ordinary people to concentrate on mere survival. But it largely reflects the fact that the main organizations of the workers' movement, particularly the CPU, has pursued a policy of inactivity and petty parliamentary maneuvers. Their hostility to Kuchma has abated as he has warmed to Putin, who the former Stalinists in the CPU leadership apparently view as some sort of friend.
'Ukraine Without Bourgeoisie and Fascists': A Balance Sheet
In addition to establishing a clear political demarcation from revisionists, revolutionaries seek to unite with others who may have very different political programs in common struggles for shared practical objectives. In the language of Leninism this is the policy of a "united front."
The recent activity of the YRM and its involvement in the "For Ukraine Without Bourgeoisie and Fascists" initiative has had both strengths and weaknesses and only through making a frank assessment of this experience, and of what we have learned from it, can we learn from our mistakes to better equip ourselves for revolutionary activity in the future.
Let us begin by acknowledging the correct criticism raised by the LRCI comrades of the demand in the 23 February text initiating the bloc which called for "Condemnation of neo-fascist terror attacks on workers and leftist activists, and prohibition of nazi parties and organizations." The call for the "prohibition" of fascist groups fails to make clear that the fascists must be physically driven off the streets through aggressive united action by workers and the oppressed. We do not know of any of the groups signing the common text who would waste their breath calling on Kuchma to ban the fascists (some of whom are among his few remaining supporters). However the way this demand is formulated is clearly open to this interpretation and so it must be rejected.
There is also a more general problem with the presentation of the issues in the statement of the bloc. The Communist International under Lenin and Trotsky drew an important distinction between a bloc for action (a united front) and a bloc of politically disparate groups to issue common propaganda. A "bloc for propaganda" between organizations that are not preparing to fuse can only confuse people who will naturally tend to conclude that the participants can not have any very serious differences among themselves. It can be fatal for Marxists to confuse their banner in this fashion with those of their reformist or centrist bloc partners. In signing the declaration "For Ukraine Without Bourgeoisie and Fascists" the YRM failed to make this important distinction.
The YRM played an important role in initiating this bloc, and in the concrete circumstances that confront society today, it was necessary and correct to attempt to group together those who oppose Kuchma and his capitalist opponents for common action--particularly for active self-defense against the fascists who inhabit both camps. But we were mistaken to sign a statement that suggests that the participants in this bloc share a strategy for achieving, "Liberation of Ukraine from the IMF, oligarchs, bourgeois and their lackeys, and from betrayers of the working people."
If all the participants had such a level of agreement then it would be irresponsible in the extreme to maintain our separate organizations. The only reason we are not in a common organization today is because we do not have such a far-reaching level of agreement. Thus a slogan which obscures this fact is not appropriate for a united front and can only serve to blur the very important distinctions that separate the various political tendencies.
To illustrate this, we shall use the comrades of the LRCI as an example. While we both oppose any moves by Kuchma to use the state authorities to restrict the democratic rights of his opponents, including, for example, the dispersion of the inhabitants of the tent city on Independence Square, we disagree fundamentally with the LRCI's conception that in a confrontation between the Kuchma and Yushchenko/Tymoshenko bourgeois gangs the workers have an interest in the victory of the latter. Similarly, we disagree with the LRCI's decision in Moscow in 1993 to support the Rutskoi/Khasbulatov wing of the capitalist restorationists against their erstwhile ally Yeltsin. In that situation, as in this one, the working class had no interest in the victory of either side in the struggle for power between qualitatively similar groups of capitalists.
Kuchma versus Yushchenko/Tymoshenko: No 'Lesser Evil'
There are points in history where elements of the exploiters may come to blows and the workers' movement does have an interest in the victory of one side over another. One such example was in 1917 when General Kornilov sought to crush the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky and potentially open the way for a restoration of the monarchy. The LRCI comrades have argued that this conflict is analogous to our situation today. But this is mistaken.
The Bolsheviks understood that a victory for Kornilov would lead directly to military dictatorship, the crushing of the workers' movement and the eradication of the democratic gains won through the February Revolution. Kerensky had thrown Trotsky into jail, was hunting for Lenin, and sought to crush the Bolsheviks and their proletarian supporters. Yet Kerensky depended on support from the Mensheviks and other reformist elements in the workers' movement who Kornilov would also have destroyed along with the Bolsheviks. Therefore when Kornilov attacked Kerensky the Bolsheviks militarily defended him against the counterrevolutionaries. The defeat of Kornilov laid the basis for the overthrow of Kerensky and the victory of the October Revolution a few weeks later.
The lesson of this experience is not that, in general, Marxists should look for a "lesser evil" in conflicts among capitalist factions, but rather that we must judge each situation on the basis of the overall interests of the workers' movement. In the United States, for example, genuine Marxists have long been distinguished from Stalinists and reformists by their refusal to support either of the twin parties of imperialist rule--Democrats or Republicans. This, not the Kerensky-Kornilov episode, is an appropriate analogy for the current wrangle between the Kuchma and Yushchenko/Tymoshenko bourgeois gangs. There is no lesser evil and therefore workers have no interest in the victory of either.
In the August 1991 coup in Moscow, conversely, workers across the USSR had a vital interest in the defeat of Boris Yeltsin and the forces of capitalist restoration. Without giving any political support to the treacherous and incompetent Stalinist bureaucrats it was necessary to militarily support the last-ditch attempt by Yanayev/Pugo who, however incompetently, attempted to preserve the status quo against the openly pro-imperialist, capitalist-restorationist forces led by Yeltsin. In that instance, to their shame, comrades of the LRCI mounted the barricades alongside the Yeltsinites and proclaimed the triumph of the counterrevolutionary restorationists a victory for "democracy."
The Basis for United Action Today
A united front should have a simple, action-oriented program based on common objectives shared by the participants. At the same time there must be "freedom of criticism" for all participants. This permits revolutionaries to unite in action with reformists and others around concrete issues, while also criticizing the political inconsistencies or contradictions of their partners. It is obviously urgently necessary to prepare for united action against the sinister bands of fascists.
Given the current precarious situation and the danger of repression the fight against the fascists must be linked to the needs of the workers movement to defend itself. This is why we call "For workers defense squads to smash the fascists and defend democratic rights." The fight to crush the fascist scourge is closely linked to the necessity to protect and expand the rights of working people against the exploiters and their thugs. Workers with very different political orientations also have a common interest in creating strike committees, which could prove vital in carrying out coordinated actions. As such committees spread from one enterprise to another, they will naturally require some sort of organizational framework for coordinating their activities, on a local and, ultimately, a national scale, as the workers councils of 1905 and 1917 did throughout the Czar's empire.
For Revolutionary Regroupment!
The YRM is only one of a number of ostensibly Leninist groups currently active in Kiev. We believe that it is vitally important to engage in political struggle with other left currents as part of the process of clarifying areas of agreement while clearly demarcating genuine Marxism from every shade of revisionism, reformism and muddleheaded centrism. Only in this way will it be possible to lay the basis to unite revolutionaries from very different backgrounds into a disciplined party.
The critical task posed at this moment is to regroup serious subjectively revolutionary militants and create an organization with sufficient social weight to effectively intervene in the struggles of the working masses. This can only be done on the basis of clear programmatic agreement and an authentically Marxist strategic line, based on the recognition of the fundamental historical incompatibility of the interests of the workers and all wings of the exploiters.
The only solution to the profound social and economic crisis that grips the Ukraine today lies through a struggle to reappropriate the factories, mines, transportation and distribution facilities and organize production on the basis of human need, not profit. This requires the creation of an authentically Bolshevik Party, modelled on that of Lenin and Trotsky, capable of leading the struggle for proletarian power.
Down with Kuchma/Yushchenko! Break with the Bourgeoisie!