Ukraine: The Illusion of ‘Social Slogans’


Ukraine is now in the throes of full-scale civil war.

On one side – the ‘Maidan’ movement, the new government it brought to power in Kiev, the European and American backers of that government and (behind the scenes) the Western-oriented business magnates or ‘oligarchs’.

On the other side – the resistance movement known as the ‘Anti-Maidan’, a collection of armed groups in the country’s eastern regions (which are also fighting one another), the Russian government with its secret services and the Russia-oriented oligarchs.

Both the Maidan and the Anti-Maidan are basically nationalist movements (Ukrainian nationalist in one case, Russian nationalist in the other). Both feed on ethnic hatred. Both are willing to massacre unarmed civilians identified with the other side. They fight for the interests of different sections of Ukraine’s capitalist class. They have nothing to offer working people except further suffering, bloodshed and privation, perhaps even famine.

Leftists in Ukraine and abroad look for redeeming features in these ‘grassroots’ movements, which they hope might overcome ethnic and regional divisions and merge into a single movement of popular protest against common ills. Some find grounds for hope in the Maidan, others in the Anti-Maidan, yet others in both.

There are indeed some themes common to both movements, such as outrage at pervasive corruption and hostility to oligarchs. But on the whole the negative aspects outweigh the positive ones, and there are no signs of this changing in the immediately foreseeable future.    

It is in this context that we present an article from the internet blog of a Ukrainian anarchist who criticizes the illusions of many leftists about the anti-Maidan. Although we do not agree completely with all his formulations, his general perspective is consistent with our own. 



The Illusion of ‘Social Slogans’ – Alexander Volodarsky

Like religious believers who discern the face of Christ in a dog’s backside, a piece of pizza or a bloodstain on a wall, some leftists have discovered a ‘social agenda’ in the Anti-Maidan…

For a left-wing intellectual to believe in a new October Revolution, he has to be shown a Real Worker. The dirtier and the more stupid the better, because in his imagination a Real Worker is always dirty, smelly, covered in scabs, and of course stupid (an intelligent worker awakens an inferiority complex in the left-wing ‘intellectual’). In this respect the left-wing populist is no different from the social racist who stigmatizes the ‘common herd’. The philistines of left and right share the same prejudices…

So the dirtier, the more stupid and the more illiterate the ‘worker’ the more inclined is the left-wing intellectual to believe in his authenticity. But for some that is not enough – red flags are needed to dispel their doubts… It does not matter to them that throughout the world the red flag is used not only by progressive but also by reactionary organisations and sects. It does not matter to them that for many of those who love Soviet symbols those symbols represent a powerful state and empire – and no more. It does not matter to them that nostalgia for Soviet times is not a dream of stateless communism but myth-overlaid memories of familiar rituals, stable rations, shiny missiles and a ‘strong hand’.

But if even the red rags held aloft by the devotees of empire fail to convince the skeptic, then the next argument concerns Social Slogans. The stereotypical worker, covered in dirt, with a red rag and joyfully supporting ‘social slogans’ – there is a picture to gladden all but the hardest of left-wing hearts.

Let us consider what sort of slogans ring out at Anti-Maidan demonstrations. Ritual curses aimed at the oligarchs? Everyone curses the oligarchs – leftists curse them, rightists curse them, liberals and fascists curse them, their own venal journalists curse them. Finally, they curse one another. Hatred for ‘the oligarchs’ is a safe outlet for any social discontent. Does it pose a threat to the oligarchs? Not especially. Does it pose a threat to the capitalist system? No – in fact, it bolsters the system. It is a classical corporative, fascist technique – to divert the energy of an emerging workers’ movement away from criticism of capitalism as a system to criticism of individual ‘fat cats’. The result is either the replacement of one set of oligarchs by another or the strengthening of the state. Neither of these results brings the victory of the workers’ revolution any closer: capitalism as a system remains unchanged.

Let us pass on to the second empty demand – nationalisation. This too is a favorite for everyone from Trotskyists (what sort of Trotskyists would it be without fantasies of ‘nationalisation under workers’ control’?) to neo-Nazis (for whom it means something altogether different, something like Hitler’s ‘Aryanisation of the economy’). For many leftists ‘nationalisation’ is such a fetish that you only have to say the word and they lose all capacity for critical thinking. Is it really so hard to grasp that ‘nationalisation’ in a capitalist state that retains the system of wage labour will not improve the lives of working people but merely replace the individual capitalist by a collective capitalist consisting of state bureaucrats? But leftists continue to copy the recipes of ‘real socialism’ despite the fundamental changes that have occurred since then in both the economic and the political situation.

One of the victories of the Anti-Maidan movement in Kharkov, besides the beating up of defenseless people, is considered to be the inclusion in its programme of ‘prohibition of the exploitation of others’ labour’. That sounds very progressive. But a consistent interpretation of ‘prohibition of exploitation’ must mean ‘prohibition of wage labour’. Does the ‘Kharkov Republic’ intend to prohibit wage labour and transfer the means of production into the hands of the workers? There is no movement in this direction, even at the level of declarations. There are no strikes in the factories; there are no seizures of enterprises; the trade union cells are silent and new ones are not being formed. So by ‘prohibition of exploitation’ the people who signed off on this point meant not a revolutionary change in relations of production but the prohibition of forcing people to overwork or to work without pay and enforcement of the labour norms specified in various legal codes. Prohibition of exploitation is a beautiful soap bubble that has no real political content in the context of the Anti-Maidan movement. Now the Ukrainian Stalinists have something to show their Western colleagues when they next ask for money for their ‘revolution against the fascist junta’ [in Kiev] – a splendid sham achievement for sham revolutionaries.

There are three kinds of social demands: reformist, revolutionary and populist. Reformists try to change the system without encroaching on its foundations, by means of gradual transformations and compromises (among Ukrainian leftists this path was chosen by the Left Opposition). Revolutionary leftists see the solution to the problem in a basic change in the rules of play (in Ukraine only the anarchists consistently take this position).

As for populists, they do not propose solutions. Their goal is to appeal to potential voters with beautiful phrases. A populist can be inconsistent: it does not matter how often he contradicts himself, as in any case his programme is not meant to be implemented. He can therefore parasitise either on revolutionary or on reformist rhetoric. A classic case was the programme of the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party. Leftists who are enthused with ‘the people’ and social slogans should recall this ‘socialist workers’’ party with its red flag, appeals to ‘the people’ and unique social agenda. My impression is that were this party to appear again today it would certainly obtain the ‘critical support’ of the ‘broad non-sectarian left’.


Source: (in Russian); original posted on April 14, translated by Stefan

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