ukraine’s ‘new left’ and the russian ‘gas war’

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.

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16 thoughts on “ukraine’s ‘new left’ and the russian ‘gas war’

  1. does the Socialist Party still exist … as far as I know, there were at least some spaces for real leftists inside this party 10 years ago?

    In 2004 they united with “orange” Yuschenko and Timoshenko. In 2006 It collaborated with Eastern-Ukraine oligarchs and in 2007 didn’t overcome 3% percent barrier on the elections. Now both – official Communist Party and Socialist party – looks disgusting fot their collaboration with oligarchs and corrupted politicians . Valentina Semenyuk, one of the Socialist Party leading members, is in charge for “State Property Fund”, which main function is privatization!

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  2. And as for the “New Left”. It seems that main their goal is, like we say here, PR – presenting themselves as “real vanguard”. In fact they don’t have good reputation for numerous scandals of with other activists, and for their thirst to boast and to write down all the glory to themselves.

    I’m member of Organization of Marxist, Ukrainian Communist organization. We took part in funding that concert and action against public transportation fares (in fact the last was planned in our office), we also took part in European Social Forum preparation. But according to the “New Left” there must be no any other people who have the right to represent the left. “There could be only one” – “New Left”.

    In the last month the New Left activity in talking about them as the “real vanguard” increased, and there are talks about some “Left Union” from the “New Left”. So, now I know, what is behind it all. The “Real vanguard” just wants to be the Even More Real Vanguard. That’s it.

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  3. Roman, you seem to be attempting say the New Left was not part of the organisation of the concert against the new Labour Code or the increase in the public transport costs – I refute this. There were young comrades of the New Left directly involved in these actions whom I know personally. As for the ‘numerous scandals’ there is no doubt there has been recent disagreements over perspective in the New Left, such as activity in social movements and trade unions. However there is also in my experience a great deal of respect for activists from the New Left. I recently participated in a trade union event in Kyiv at the offices of Glavred, this one of a number of events which I have been involved in personally which I contradict your views. As to what the future holds I dont know but I am convinced that in contrast to the Organisation of Marxists the various activists of the New Left have never to my mind been confused about Stalinism. I recall when the Organisation of Marxists was founded a major article saying there was no longer any Stalinism or Trotskyism. A strange things to say in a country where Stalin butchered Ukrainian communists by the thousands.

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  4. Hm… That’s interesting. I’ve heard about this organization too – Organization of Marxists – but I didn’t managed to find any glorifying of the New Left in this article. It is obvious that the authors of the article present their own analysis of the situation in Ukraine.
    As for me, they are absolutely not supposed to mention a group of stalinists from Organization of marxists in their own article as they (New left) unite “representatives of various social initiatives, trade union activists, Marxists and anarchists” . It would be at least
    I’ll give you one example. I am also pretty involved into social forums process, and I have met the Organization of Marxists’ leader at one of the Preparatory Assembleys. He was accompanied by the Deputy Chief of the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine – as I discovered later, and as mentioned in this article – “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”. They looked like best friends and even presented a proposal to hold the next Assembly at this Union’s office.
    So, after I discovered these bloody details about them, I dont want to deal with them too. And besides, I don’t see any obstacles to make your actions more known if they are usefull – from what times does it called a “PR – presenting themselves as “real vanguard””?
    xxx

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  5. When I see the word “stalinists” – I know that this is a somebody from New Left liars talking about OM. That is the one and only their excuse. :)

    In fact if there are a few “stalinists” in the OM, – they don’t have the majority. And OM never see Stalins dictate as its ideal.

    Roman, you seem to be attempting say the New Left was not part of the organisation of the concert against the new Labour Code or the increase in the public transport costs – I refute this

    They was part, but they was JUST a part :) One of the New Left published on mail list their list and there are 10 (ten) man it it. The Real Vanguard with Great Prospects!

    He was accompanied by the Deputy Chief of the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine They looked like best friends and even presented a proposal to hold the next Assembly at this Union’s office.

    That was about the financial matters. OM exploit FTU for their office, that’s all. :)

    Who believes the New Left – is fooling him(her)self. Now I enjoy trashing of the New Left liars for this article by former New Left member, anarchists, communists and others :)

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  6. No Roman I am from the Commune, the question of OM’s attitude to Stalinism was made pretty clear in the article I mentioned. How can you possibly consider historical differences with Stalinism are no longer a problem? The fact you have your office as a favour of the former Stalinist Trade Union Federation, who has also written the anti-union laws – The Labour Codex – hardly instills my confidence in OM. What your saying about New Left is simply exaggerated and indeed false. Considering the size of the left in Kyiv maybe you should concentrate on fraternal debate and working together. A good start would be a clean break from stalinism and its legacy.

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  7. Stalinist Trade Union Federation?!?! Man, are you crazy? What are you talking about? We don’t have any significant stalints here in Ukraine (except, may be Vitrenko “circus”), and don’t have any “Stalinist Federation”. Trade Union Federations collaborate with capitalists, not with Stalinists – and that’s why they took part in the New Labour Code. All that simple. OM took part in the protest campaign against it too. We don’t have office (or other resources) from them, we just use their office for EPA conference.

    OM isn’t a Stalininst group. It just can have debate of something like “Was Trotsky right on something? Was the Stalinism inevitable? Was Stalin forced to his policy by some inevitable circumstances like the bourgeois encirclement of USSR?”.

    The main OM statement is that USSR history questions must not be taken as the main point for something, including the attitude to comrades. That’s all. You are free to think that Stalin was wrong, and you are free to think that Stalin was forced to his decisions. I’m among the first – I think that Stalin was wrong and his policy and crimes must be condemned, but I don’t force nobody to think like me, just took part in debates sometimes.

    What your saying about New Left is simply exaggerated and indeed false.

    That’s true. Ten men, most of them well-know scandalists who can’t get along with anybody (anarchists, communists other activists) except the New Left themselves. After reading this article I just don’t want with anybody from this liars organization. The people who think that Stalin can be right on something is more acceptable to me than liars who pretend to be “the Real Vanguard”. If there will be any vote in OM on cooperation with the NL – I will vote against, I don’t want to work with dirty liars.

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  8. Most of the trade unions in Ukraine that existed under the previous Stalinist system have continued to exist un-reformed, if they were previously tools of the state-capitalist employer now they are performing similar functions assisting private-capitalist employers, i’e in the protests against the rise in the public transport prices the trade union sided with the employer and the increase in prices. This former state unions are the living legacy of Stalinism, if there are no significant Stalinists what is the KPU not to mention its fragments? These Russian chauvinist bodies remain unfortunately larger than the anti-Stalinist left at this point in time.

    In any of the countries which experienced the Stalinist system, especially one which experience such terror on a scale as Ukraine with purges and a man-made famine which killed 7-10 million how can there be any possibility of creating a new communist body with any prospects which is ambigious on Stalinism. Its not a question people having different views on the nature of the system but a common recognition it was nothing whatsoever to do with socialism/communism but it opposite. I am not a Trotskyist but in one sense Trotsky was right when he said a river of blood divides us from the Stalinists. In that regard its not a question of liars but genuine socialists.

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  9. the previous Stalinist system?
    – previous system wasn’t Stalinist.

    tools of the state-capitalist
    – I don’t believe in all this “state capitalist” bullshit.

    state unions are the living legacy of Stalinism
    – you made my eyes really big.

    what is the KPU not to mention its fragments?
    – just a “legacy system”. Russian Zyuganov proclaimed KPRF “part of the Orthodox world” and KPU’s Simonenko did almost the same in his Ortodox Christmas congratulations.

    These Russian chauvinist
    – what?

    Ukraine with purges and a man-made famine which killed 7-10 million
    – the numbers are exaggerated. Famous Ukrainian historian Kultchitskiy wrote an article where said that famine killed about 3.5 million.

    I am the ancestor of the famine survivors myself, – but my grandmother had portrait of Stalin in one of her drawers. Why? I better stay with Stalinists but communist, than with nationalists or neo-nazi – the main Stalinism “prosecutors” for now.

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  10. Authoritarian socialist.

    My father and mother were working engineers. I remember, how they lived – there were nothing close to capitalism exploitation. Fixed work time, large vacations, free education and healthcare, cheap bills. Quality of goods and food was not the best, of course – but there were no homeless, no poverty, no unemployed, and quality of public services was better than now.

    Nobody was pushed to have three jobs, or to serve in some fast-food, restaurant or shop to pay room rent or to pay for education. Retired were able to send money to their grandchildren or to help their descendants.

    I can’t call system which was giving so much free time to workers and so much free or cheap services for people “capitalist”. It didn’t exploit me or my parents. It was authoritarian, but it was not about exploitation and capitalism.

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  11. ‘My father and mother were working engineers. I remember, how they lived – there were nothing close to capitalism exploitation. Fixed work time, large vacations, free education and healthcare, cheap bills. Quality of goods and food was not the best, of course – but there were no homeless, no poverty, no unemployed, and quality of public services was better than now.’ – That’s all you mean saying ‘socialism’???
    For me it is obvious that you are trying to justify the stalinist nature of your ‘Organization of Marxists’ before western left community.
    I became certain when I came across the program article of your leader – Vasyl Tereschuk – it was called ‘Trotskyism and Dialectics’ – this article is dedicated to justifiing stalinism and atacking one of the versions of revolutionary Marxism.
    Moreover, after publishing this article on their web-site, when Tereschuk started to receive first responses from western Marxists, he deleted this article from everywhere. But even now it still remains in google cache memory, and everybody can see the real stalinist nature of this ‘Organization of Marxists’ – unfortunately, it is only in russian – http://74.125.77.132/search?q=cache:lvjrycVEubIJ:rksmb.ru/get.php%3F1738+%D0%A2%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%86%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%BC+%D0%B8+%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BA%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B0&hl=ru&client=firefox-a&gl=ua&strip=1
    Another member of ‘Organization of Marxists’ central commitee – Viktor Shapinov writes in the same stalinist manner.
    I see no reasons to support and advocate them after such facts.

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  12. The title “Ukraine’s ‘New Left’ and the Russian ‘Gas War’” is somewhat misleading. It implies the New Left’s role in the gas war; instead the article contains their reflections upon the conflict between two state-owned monopolies and grim economic landscape, and… a bit of self-advertisement.

    Why “Russian ‘Gas War’”, and not “Russo-Ukrainian ‘Gas War’”? Doesn’t a war involve at least two parties, two sides, two countries?

    It’s not quite clear why the authors believe that it was “Russia’s attempt to take political control of Ukraine using economic methods.” Russia already controls 75% of gas, 100% of nuclear fuel (nuclear power plants generate 50% of electricity in Ukraine) and nearly 100% of petroleum supplied to Ukraine. The country is already hooked heavy as lead.

    Bringing up the “rate of the Ukrainian stock market fall” to illustrate Ukrainian economy’s downward movement is comical. PFTS average daily volume of stocks traded in July 2008, last peak month before the big crash, was mere UAH 188 million (US$ 39 million, 0.02% of GDP). Compare it to the volume of US$ 157.86 billion (1.1% of GDP) in all stocks traded daily at NYSE in the same month to feel the difference. If the Kyiv stock exchange vanishes into thin air tomorrow, few will take notice. The consumer price index might be a better indictor of how it all is going from bad to worse. The prices, particularly those of import goods, are going through the roof!

    The following sentence is a gem: “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.” I wonder how many “left political powers” can be represented in a bourgeois parliament? How many communist or socialist party members are there in the House of Commons? The CPU is in no way the successor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), but an awkward monster produced by nostalgia raped by bureaucracy. If the article is written for foreign readers, not necessarily familiar with particularities of groupings in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament), the authors could give a scale of comparison and say that there are five factions in the Rada, the CPU’s being the forth largest (27 out of 450 seats).

    The Ukrainian New Left lament for “the almost official state policy for superficial discrediting of communist ideology,” but they don’t seem to be true proponents of communism themselves. They get eagerly engaged in street protests, social activism, and militant flash mobs, reformist activities of all sorts, but rarely in political and theoretical debate or revolutionary propaganda, let alone revolutionary struggle. What are their slogans? “Another Ukraine is Possible”? What Ukraine?

    Though it’s true that the state contributes to discrediting communist ideology, the irony of fate is that it does so being unaware of its doing. The incumbent leaders of Ukraine prefer not to remember that all of them are former members of either Communist Party, or Communist Youth League, or KGB. They’re the monsters made to scare off potential communist sympathisers. One can’t help standing agape with wonder before the Soviet system, which was designed to produce a new man but chunked out those flexible conformist characters. This is a major failure of the Soviet, or Stalinist if this adjective makes one more comfortable, system. It failed to produce communists, it produced nouveau riche. Now who wants to fight for and construct the social form, communism, the end result of which is so miserable?

    The Ukrainian left have to blame themselves for the fact that various national and liberal parties use left-inspired mottos and rhetoric. If there’s a “demand for leftist ideas” and you don’t propagate them, somebody else does. If you don’t organize and transform workers into your electors, somebody else does (and you end up with “paradoxically the only left political power represented in the parliament”). If you don’t help the masses to see through the king’s new “revolutionary” clothes, to separate the husk from the grain, they eat what they’re fed. And the competing capitalist parties certainly spare neither effort, nor money in supply foodstuff on demand.

    “The real vanguard of the working class in Ukraine nowadays is the ‘New Left’ movement” is wishful thinking. This statement can also remind those old enough to remember, the giant slogans and posters praising the CPSU in every single village and city of the USSR: “The Party is the esprit, honour and conscience of our age” or “The people and the party are united.” Are you sure it’s the Communist Party of Ukraine who is the successor of the CPSU? The “new left vanguard” isn’t numerous indeed, but the main problem with it is not its dwarfish size, but its inability to get their message through to the masses and mobilize them. Though the message or rather the absence thereof is perhaps another major problem (Who are these “New Left”? Are they communists? Are they socialists? Are they anarchists? Are they libertarians? Are they autonomists? What future society they envisage? What’s their social ideal? What’s their utopia?). Before the workers recognize the New Left as their leaders, the New Left are nothing but a sect of arrogant megalomaniacs.

    “The ‘New Left’ enjoy the confidence of Ukrainian workers” apparently contradicts what is said above about the “different national-liberal parties that disorganize the workers and transform them into their electorate.” If both statements are true, Ukrainian workers behave like schizoids: they put their trust in the New Left but cast their votes for nationalist liberals.

    Are “different national-liberal parties that disorganize the workers” capable of doing something different? Is the struggle for national liberation over in Ukraine, and who was victorious? Does “national” means “reactionary” only? Has “national” ever had emancipation potential? Is the language question finally resolved?

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  13. Dear Max. As You know, an article by Tereschuk was not “program”, but discussional one.

    As You well know there was answers to Tereshchuk from members of OM, who support Trotsky. So, his position is not “program” for organization.
    As You well know, there are different communist currents represented in OM – maoist, stalinist, trotskyist, left-communist.

    As You know, Tereshuk didn’t deleted his article from internet. Article remains not only in cash memory even on web-site you wrote – see http://rksmb.ru/get.php?1738

    As You know, I’m not writing in “stalinist” manner. You can read my position on stalinist-trotskyist discussion here
    http://english.communist.ru/2006/04/05/there-is-no-stalinism-or-trotskyism-any-more-there-is-revolutionary-marxism-and-reformism.htm

    Please, don’t lie about OM, dear members of “real vanguard”. And it’s better to say to western comrades, that “stalinists” from OM was a part and co-organizers in activites You wrote in article. It will be more correct.

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  14. Victor if you want western comrades to recognise that OM plays a role as co-organisers in certain activities, there is nobody here who is really in a position to dispute. However as regards the opinions comrades here will form of the politics of the Organisation of Marxists compared to the New Left then I can only say the impression we are being given of OM on this website has not been very encouraging at all.
    We also believe we need to transcend the fragmentation of Marxism however there are two different fragmentations which OM confuses. One is that which arose in the communist movement as a result of the defeat of the Russian and international revolutions which began in 1916. The legacy of which we live with to this day. The other is Stalinism, what happened to the official Communist parties. Stalinism represented the counter-revolution which emerged from within the revolution itself. One represents the defeated communists the other the counter-revolution, OM sees no difference between the two – the article ‘There is no Stalinism or Trotskyism any more, there is revolutionary Marxism and reformism’ attempts to stuff these contradictory movements together as if they were simply historical questions, as if we can renew communism for the 21st century without a critical engagement with what happened in the 20th century defeats.
    Furthermore it is simply untrue to say there is no Stalinism any more – what then is happening in China, North Korea and Cuba? What then is the KPU in Ukraine but neo-Stalinism. You seem to want to put aside differences with Stalinists as simply a problem of the past in order to achieve unity – instead of breaking them from Stalinism which was the opposite of communism. OM could do well to re-read Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme on abandoning principles for the sake of unity.
    I further feel that in the OM contributions there is also an implicit failure to appreciate the national question or the legacy of Russian imperialism’s rule over Ukraine. Something the Ukrainian Marxist tradition has never done, a tradition butchered and repressed by Stalinism from the purges of the Ukrainian Communists in the 1920s through to the persecution of the dissident Marxists such as Leonid Plyusch, who also considered the USSR a state-capitalist society.

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