Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Letter from Moscow

People-Power Consolidates in Ukraine: Putin Cracks Down on Dissent in Russia

By Richard Greeman
Posted by Noel Ignatiev

Dear Friends,

While the rump Ukrainian Parliament flounders in impotence, the self-organized popular uprising is consolidating its gains. As a result, the Europe Union and the US are backing off on their pretentions of dominating Ukraine. Meanwhile in Russia, a furious and frightened Putin, out to prove that he is no pushover like Yanukovich, is mounting a huge Stalin-style propaganda campaign and cracking down on every form of dissent, according to Alexei Gusev’s disturbing letter from Moscow (see below).

In the Ukraine, the mass civil-society uprising has achieved an historic stage. A multi-class peoples-power movement has succeeded in neutralizing the state’s repressive apparatus through mass civil disobedience (backed by the creditable threat of armed insurrection). This amazing tactical victory comes out of the demonstrators’ three month experiment of living together in a beleaguered winter ‘Occupy,’ providing themselves with food, shelter, hygiene, replacements and weapons of self-defense under constant siege.

Disciplined, self-organized, the occupiers were able to achieve victory through a muscular version of classic mass non-violence, while remaining capable of armed self-defense. Thus a spontaneous mass movement has, through its praxis, overcome the false dichotomy between the Ghandian tactic of mass, non-violent, civil disobedience and the Marxist doctrine of armed self-defense. A solution Rosa Luxemburg (and the Trotsky of 1905) would both have relished!

Small wonder the pipsqueak politicians of the so called ‘Opposition’ in the Parliament are totally at a loss to form a government or put forward a program, since they are perfectly aware that the power is in the streets!  Small wonder the EU is having grave second thoughts about supporting the emerging revolutionary regime in Kiev or lending it billions of Euros! Without a strong central government in Kiev to enforce the IMF’s draconian austerity conditions, there would be no guarantee that the money (and the monumental interest) would be repaid. The delicacy of NY Times headline is delicious: “Tentatively, European Union Weighs Its Options on Support for a New Ukraine.”[1] Far from trying wrest the Ukraine out of the paws of the Russian bear, the EU spokesperson, Ms Ashton, is quoted emphasizing “the importance of the strong links between Ukraine and Russia and the importance of having them maintained.”

This European backoff puts paid to the Left-wing conspiracy theorists who see the Ukrainian people’s democratic uprising through the Cold War lense of  a Western-backed right wing coup. To profitably take over the Ukraine, privatize and reduce the working classes to debt servitude, the EU, US and IMF need strong central government (right-wing if necessary) in Kiev to collect the interest. The capitalists want nothing to do with an armed uprising that may very well declare default on the debts of the previous corrupt regime and socialize the property of the oligarchs.

For this to happen, the Ukrainian working class must now take advantage of its newly-won democratic freedoms to unfurl its own banner and put forward its own social and political demands and program. Meanwhile, in Bosnia, Natasha Lennard describes “fierce anti-government protests this month” which  “have a class consciousness” she sees “lacking in Ukrainian revolt narratives.”[2] Another East European movement against neoliberalism to watch and link up with. However, in Ukraine our syndicalist comrades from the International Conference of Independent Unions held in Kiev last November have been in the thick of the struggle, and we hope that they will be able to exercise a radical, class-oriented, socialist and internationalist influence in the coming weeks as the democratic revolution moves into its next phase, the social revolution.  The latest from Praxis  “In Ukraine – free trade unions began to form detachments of Workers Militia which patrol streets of Kiev, Kirovograd and other cities together with fighters of Maidan Self-Defense (MSD), and there are attempts to establish workers control: union activists from the Kiev Zoo, supported by MSD, took over private Zoo and farm in the former Yanukovitch palace.” We wish them luck and offer our solidarity!

Meanwhile, in Moscow, a frenzied Putin is reverting to his Stalinist origins, as seen in this disturbing letter just received from Alexei Gusev, Chair of the Praxis Center and Prof. of History at the University of Moscow.

Dear Richard,

Thank you very much for your solidarity and support! Sorry for delay in answering you: the events are so important and developing so fast, that we have to react to them immediately.

The situation in Russia, in the context of Ukrainian events, is getting quite dangerous. The ruling regime is very frightened by the victory of Ukrainian revolution and ready to launch new repression against dissidents. Today 7 victims of Bolotnaya Square case (participants of mass pro-democracy demonstration in Moscow on 6 May 2012) were sentenced to prison terms from 2,5 to 4 years. Pro-government writers comment that now, after Ukraine, riot police is justified not only to beat, but to shoot protesters too. We narrowly escaped arrest when these policemen in full ammunition brutally dispersed a 1000-strong picket near the court building protesting against Putin’s shameful “justice.” About 500 people were arrested on Friday and 500 more today for just staying outside the court building, bringing the total number of activists arrested in Moscow in 2 days to about 1000. This, according to a popular joke, is “Putin’s only “Olympic record.”

The left democratic wing of the University Solidarity Union has issued a statement of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ukrainian universities, students, free labor unions and civil society which in a day collected 35 signatures from professors working in 8 Russian cities (new important contacts with politically progressive people were established during this campaign). Now it is published on the web-site of the principal university of Ukrainian capital – Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. At the same time, leading propaganda officers of the regime (like an Orthodox fundamentalist Milonov, member of Putin’s party and Municipal Councilor of Petersburg, and the notorious TV personality Soloviev) initiated a witch-hunt against an “anti-patriotic underground” consisting of Ukrainian revolution supporters which have to be “unmasked” among university professors and students.

Anti-revolutionary and anti-Western hysteria is on our TV screens every day, the population is being prepared for accepting harsh measures against opposition which is now associated with “traitors of the Motherland”. In the state-sponsored propaganda film “Biochemistry of Treason”, broadcast on prime  time on the main Federation-wide TV Channel, dissidents of today who “betray” Putinist regime  were presented as a link in the chain of treason – from revolutionaries of 1917 (who betrayed Tsar Nicolas) to general Vlassov’s ROA (who betrayed Stalin) and opponents of Brezhnev. It is announced that the next part of this film will cover, in particular, treacherous activities of Bronstein-Trotsky, enemy of the people and spy, who betrayed Russia to Nazi Germany.

Who could have imagined in the early 1990s, when we met you for the first time in Moscow, that all these things would be happening in Russia in 2014! We are really worrying about the possibility of a purge in universities and other forms of crack down on the opposition that could take place in near future.

The additional complexity of the situation is that the massive media propaganda against the Ukrainian revolution combined with great-power, imperialist sentiments and Stalinist rudiments in social consciousness lead to a confusion even among some members of independent unions. The heated debate is going on there on the Ukrainian question, with some people taking anti-revolutionary side. The tiny Russian and Ukrainian left (I am not speaking about various kinds of Stalinists, of course) is divided too. Some tend to see in the revolution only rightist political forces and even talk about “Nazi and Western imperialist coup”, rhetoric close to that of the Kremlin. Others are interested only in “social and economic slogans”, but to raise slogans like “Lower cost of public transportation” when there is fighting and people are dying on the streets is not very effective line (this could be said mostly about anarchists who, as usual, tend to ignore importance of politics, state power and National question). And only small part of the left, including supporters of various libertarian, democratic and socialist ideas openly joined the Maidan movement and the structures of self-organization and self-management created by it. Some of them were killed in action by Yanukovich troops. RIP. The Ukrainian free trade unions, which at our November conference declared their Left Democratic political orientation, of course, actively participated in Maidan from the beginning.

Among the Western left I see the same confusion. I am not talking here about people like Stephen Cohen, whose pro-Putin position has been clear long before and now simply manifested itself one more time in his anti-revolutionary writings. Other people too turned their backs to Maidan because of the role played there by rightist Ukrainian nationalists. But, on one hand, the role of the right is very overestimated by them (not without the influence of Russia Today etc). See the article on that question by the recognized expert on Ukrainian far-right:

On the other hand, this part of the left seem to forget or ignore the fact that throughout history nationalists have been involved in all revolutions on the imperial periphery. And in spite of that, Socialist left never refused to give full support to the Polish uprising of 1863 or Hungarian uprising of 1956, where nationalists participated together with other political forces, etc. It is possible to counter their influence only by participating in mass popular movement.

Thank you again very much for helping to explain to the Western audience our and Free Ukrainian trade unions’ position on Ukraine!

In Solidarity, Alexei



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