by Milan Lelich, Maxim Nechiporenko, Kyiv
The gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine attracted more attention to the latter country than it had received since the times of the so called ‘Orange Revolution’. Despite a great number of various interpretations of what has happened, both in the Ukrainian and European media, the main reason for the conflict seems to be quite clear: Russia’s attempt to take political control of Ukraine using economic methods.
One must notice that the conditions for Russian imperialism’s intrusion turned out to be very auspicious. The Ukrainian financial system is highly dependent on foreign investment and is now going through difficult times because of the world economic crisis. The rate of the Ukrainian stock market fall is one of the highest in the world – about 75%. Industrial production started to decline rapidly. The greater part of Ukrainian exports – metallurgical complexes’ output – shortened up to 50%. Chemical plants (the second important export line) had to stop because of the lack of natural gas (about 80% of the costs). As a result there were about 1.5 million unemployed people in the country at the end of 2008 and this number keeps on increasing. Ukraine has already come very close to mass unemployment.
This lower level of financial and industrial capital concentration makes the Ukrainian economy vulnerable to the highly developed Russian big capitalism. In Russia the process of amalgamation of different corporate elites into a united ruling class is already complete, and this class acts as a single whole in its aspiration for economic and consequently political expansion. The goal of the expansion consists in undermining the viable branches of Ukrainian economy which compete with Russian ones (in the case of gas conflict – chemical and metallurgical plants).
Political factors are important as well. So called Ukrainian political ‘elites’ are very dissociative and unable to rule the country in an efficient way, which suits Russian capitalists well. Some of the representatives of Ukrainian big capital tried to use the gas conflict in their own political and economic interests, leading to its further aggravation.
In this difficult situation the ruling class started a full-scale offensive on the rights of the working class. A bill for a new Labor Code was put to the parliament. In fact it turns an employer into a real slaveholder, allowing him to increase considerably the length of the working day, cut down or even not pay wages, extremely easily fire the employees and so on. The bill was unanimously approved at the first stage by almost the whole second chamber (no wonder – the Ukrainian parliament is totally controlled by big capital). Only the recurrent political crisis in fact prevented the project from final approval, but still there is no guarantee it will not happen in the future.
Under difficult economical conditions, unstable national currency, mass dismissals demand for leftist ideas in Ukrainian society has a tendency to increase. But paradoxically the only left political power represented in the parliament is the Communist Party of Ukraine (actually the successor of the USSR Communist party) where it has the second minor fraction. But even this party is communist only by word of mouth; its real character is as much bourgeois as the political system of the country in general. More ready-to-act leftist organizations are now at the margin of public attention. There are several reasons for such a situation. They are: the almost official state policy for superficial discrediting of communist ideology, a bulk of polittechnological left projects aimed at blowing up the faith in the left worldview, and especially the usage of populist mottos and leftward rhetoric by different national-liberal parties that disorganize the workers and transform them into their electorate.
It is logical to suppose that such actions of the ruling class face the serious resistance from the trade unions. But once again we meet a paradox. The leaders of the biggest and semi-official trade union organization are among the authors of the aforementioned new Labor Code that greatly reduces workers’ rights. So instead of defending the interests of the working people, the major trade unions are accomplices of big capital. But new independent trade unions (like ‘Direct Action’ or ‘Labor Protection’) that are just starting to gain own importance, are the exception from the rule. In particular these trade unions took very active part in the struggle against the new Labor Code.
The real vanguard of the working class in Ukraine nowadays is the ‘New Left’ movement. It not very numerous yet, but the interest to left ideas is increasing, especially amongst the young people. ‘New Left’ include the representatives of various social initiatives, trade union activists, Marxists and anarchists. Several campaigns against the offensive on the workers’ rights were held by the ‘New Left’ in cooperation with friendly organizations, like the Revolutionary Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists. Among them: the rock concert and some manifestations against the new Labor Code, a protest action against the four-time increase in fare for public transport in Kyiv (by the way, this action was brutally attacked by the militia, several activists were beaten and arrested). The ‘New Left’ also take part in trade union struggle, closely cooperate with independent trade unions.
The ‘New Left’ enjoy the confidence of Ukrainian workers and have great prospects of becoming a powerful centre of the leftist movement in Ukraine. Now most activists are focused on preparing for the expected mass demonstrations of the Ukrainian working class in spring.