The huge demonstrations in Ukraine, launched in late November, have won their first partial victories.
On 28 January, the Supreme Rada (parliament ) met urgently to abrogate the draconian repressive laws that the same body, at the request of President Viktor Yanukovych, from the rightist Party of Regions (PR), and the parliamentary support of the Communist Party, had approved less than two weeks before aiming at restricting the protests. At the same time, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov announced his resignation, a fact that triggered the downfall of the entire cabinet.
While more than two months ago the situation is marked by extreme political instability by the action of hundreds of thousands of people who, under temperatures of minus 23º C, have taken the main streets of Kiev and about ten thousand camping at Maidan, the main square of the capital and current hub of the protests against Yanukovych’s government, the abrogation of those repressive laws further radicalized the protests and opened a new stage in the conflict.
The balance of the brutal police repression is at least five dead and hundreds of injured and of political prisoners. Protesters have blocked main roads and began a wave of occupations of ministries and public buildings in 14 of the 25 provinces of the country and the start of demonstrations in the east, where protests and clashes have occurred in Zaporozhye (east) and Dnepropetrovsk (center-east).
It’s worth mentioning that, in Ukraine, there are marked cultural, historical and political differences between the west and east. The eastern Russian spoken region is more industrialized and where Yanukovych has his largest base of social support, compared to the more rural western region, with Ukrainian-spoken people and with greater cultural connections with Europe. This broadening of protests begins to generate an even bigger concern for the local bourgeoisie in power and the foreign interests in the country.
The abrogation of the repressive laws and the fall of the Ukrainian cabinet, in our opinion, is a major victory for the popular movement, twisting the arm of a repressive, servile and oligarchical government. But the power remains in the hands of Yanukovych and the Ukrainian disgusting oligarchy, always willing to sell out to both the Russians and the Europeans vultures. Therefore, this victory should be a starting point to continue the offensive of the exploited people to overthrow the government, to end the power of the oligarchs and place the economy in the hands of the working class, achieving the absolute and definitive independence of the country.
Yanukovych did not give up. He tries and will maintain his attempts to dismantle the Maidan Square protests. But if he doesn’t prove capable, the summit of the Ukrainian army (the second largest in Europe after the Russian) called on the commander-in-chief (Yanukovych) to take urgent steps “to stabilising the situation in the country and reaching consent in society,” declaring as “unacceptable” the seizure of state offices, entering the fray on the political crisis for the first time.
In this situation it is urgent that the international Left assumes a position of unequivocal support for the demonstrations, while fighting the pro-imperialist and bourgeois leadership, as well as the far-right sectors and neo-Nazi who try to control the process. It’s also necessary to clearly repudiate the threats of military to crush the movement of the Maidan Square.
Between Russian chauvinism and imperialism
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, currently with 45 million people, has always suffered under Russian national oppression. Before the First World War (1914-1918), Ukraine was dominated by the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, and it was due to the tsarist autocracy the control of most of its territory. After the victory of the Russian socialist revolution of 1917 the country gained independence and was one of the founding republics of the former Soviet Union (USSR) in December 1922.
During the 1920s, before the consolidation of the Stalinist bureaucracy in power, the Bolsheviks had a policy of respect for the Ukrainian national rights, which was expressed in a flowering of art and culture and the widely permitted use of the local language (previously prohibited by tsarism). The early years of the USSR were also of higher achievements related to social rights as public health and education, housing, access to land and women’s rights.
However, at the end of that decade and the early 1930s, the bureaucracy led by Stalin brutally attacked all these achievements, as part of the triumphant political counter-revolution in the USSR. The Kremlin denied the right to national self-determination, previously guaranteed to Ukraine by the October Revolution, and has placed a growing national oppression. Forced collectivization undertaken by Stalin, for example, reached brutally the Ukrainian peasants. The Red Army confiscated lands and grains and imposed unreachable production targets to the peasants, who wouldn’t receive food and grains if they did not comply. This brutal policy during that decade caused widespread famine throughout the Soviet Union and only in Ukraine it killed more than five million peasants.
In the same period, the Moscow Trials (1929-1934 and 1936-1938) also greatly affected the Ukrainian population, especially the political opposition, intellectuals and artists. It is estimated that during the trials thousands of Ukrainian oppositionists were murdered. In fact, among the more than five million prisoners sent to death in the Stalinist concentration camps (Gulags) in Siberia, at least 20% were Ukrainians.
These are just some of the facts that demonstrate that national oppression by Russia on Ukraine, dating back to the empire of the czars and passing by the Stalinist terror regime, is central to understand the causes of the current situation.
Furthermore, the current crisis, which has those historical roots, is also explained by the brutal colonization process to which Ukraine has undergone since the restoration of capitalism throughout Eastern Europe in the 90’s.
During over 20 years, Ukraine has undergone a tremendous process of deindustrialization and denationalization of the economy by a huge increase in foreign investment and, consequently, in foreign debt to imperialism – mainly European – and the dependence on the natural gas’ price imposed by Russia.
Upon capitalist restoration, the former ruling bureaucracy became dollar multimillionaires, benefiting from wild privatization in all sectors of the economy. So it was a greedy and corrupt oligarchy, firmly decided to grasp his “feud” with an iron fist. This bourgeois oligarchy holds enormous industrial and financial businesses. Moreover, there is another feature of the Ukrainian elite: the servilism. Sectors of the bourgeoisie have their business more focused on relations with Russia while others drive their connections with the European Union, especially with Germany. However, this does not prevent both blocks from are always willing to sell out themselves to the best buyer.
Thus, depending on which sector of the bourgeoisie is in government, the economy and politics of the country range from the influence of Russia, to where it exports 25.6 % of its production and imports 32.4 % of its domestic consumption, mainly natural gas, and the “West,” particularly the European Union and the U.S., from whom Ukraine gets loans mainly to pay for the Russian gas, and where the Ukrainian oligarchy has important assets. Thus, Ukraine is a semi-colony, disputed by the imperialist EU-US bloc and Putin’s Russia, vying for political and economic influence and trying to loot the largest possible amount of its wealth. In a nutshell, the gas from the east and credits from west are the pillars on which rests the Ukrainian bourgeoisie.
These two routes of national oppression and exploitation by the European and North American imperialisms, on one side, and on the other Russia, which is a regional sub-metropolis that, despite also being colonized by the imperialists tries to save at any cost its area of influence inherited from the former USSR, are the basis of the political turmoil in Ukraine.
The current world economic crisis and the impact of servile and neoliberal policies of the successive governments deteriorated the standard of living of the masses until they reached unbearable levels. Since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine has gone from 51.4 million to 45 million, the result of falling birth rates and increased mortality, mainly due to the dismantling of public health. The exodus to the outer reaches nearly 7 million people, who send about US$ 3 billion annually to the country. Poverty, according to the government itself, affects 25% of the population, 16% of them living in extreme poverty, the highest rates being in the rural west. State employees don’t receive their salaries for months and the country can’t afford the gas it imports from Russia. Unemployment is “officially” of 8% and the average salary is US$ 332, almost three times lower than in Russia and Belarus, not to mention the EU.
These are the profound social and economic backgrounds for the popular discontent that drives the current mobilization, independent from the issues on the relationship with the EU or Russia.
The agreement with the EU and the current crisis
The world economic crisis strained the relations with Russia after it raised the price of gas sold to Ukraine.
The sky-high gas price (higher than that Russia charges EU) hurt the business of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie and undermined the state’s finances. This led the government to resort desperately to credits in the form of Eurobonds and loans from the IMF (the Ukrainian debt quintupled in the last 5 years; Ukraine has to service around US$ 10 billion of its foreign debt at the end of 2014), which pushed the bourgeois oligarchy and the entire Ukrainian politics increasingly into the arms of imperialism.
Entangled in a vicious circle, it is not uncommon that Ukraine uses the loans from imperialism to pay its debts to Gazprom , the Russian gas monopoly company. But this situation of paying important sums of money both to Russia and imperialist creditors led the state to bankruptcy and the Ukrainian bourgeoisie made the decision to sell out the country to the EU, in exchange for “financial assistance”. Let us mention that, according to Standard & Poor’s, Ukraine has currently 50 percent chance of becoming bankrupt.
So, Yanukovych began the massive propaganda in favor of a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, hoping the entry of European money. But the agreement offered by the EU didn’t guarantee the expected government funding nor gave Ukraine the right to belong to this continental bloc. It only guaranteed the Ukrainian domestic market and the possibility of further looting for the the European imperialists, without any significative compensatory measure.
The Russian regime, afraid of the possibility of losing its influence over Ukraine, including its military base in Sevastopol, Crimea, critical to its military presence in the Black Sea, began to press more and more the Ukrainian government. It offered 30% off in the gas’ price and a grant a loan of US$ 15 billion, with the sole purpose of keeping Ukraine within its “orbit of influence.” Likewise, Putin has redoubled its efforts to incorporate Ukraine in the so called Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Amid this situation of extreme pressure from Putin, Yanukovych, against all precedent propaganda, refused to sign the agreement with the EU on November 21, 2013, which sparked the first demonstrations, the offensive of the pro-West bourgeoisie opposition and the current crisis.
The character of the process
The international press reports insistently that the purpose of the demonstrations is to require the entry of Ukraine into the EU. The Russian propaganda and its Castro-Chavist left supporters also insist in that issue and add the fact that the demonstrations were being run by “fascists” funded by the EU and U.S. to “orchestrate a coup” against Yanukovych and end the “fraternal integration of the peoples from the former USSR”  .
It is true that there are illusions in broad sectors of the masses, especially in western Ukraine, hoping a rapprochement with the EU could be a solution to the stifling economic situation and a “more democratic” alternative to the Bonapartism of the ruling oligarchy. However, we must understand that these illusions and deception on the part of a sector towards the EU has, as we have seen, material foundations, which is the historical oppression by Russia and hatred they feel towards Putin, whom they feel like the Russian tyrant who embodies centuries of exploitation, humiliation and abuse against the Ukrainian people.
The hatred of the Russian oppressor is progressive, the error (encouraged by the pro-Western opposition and imperialism) is in thinking that a “free” trade agreement with the EU would be the solution to many years of exploitation.
It is also true that the bourgeois and the pro-imperialist opposition, expressed in the party Udar (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform), of the former boxer Vitali Klitschko, the pro-EU party Batkivshchyna (The Fatherland) of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and currently led by Arseniy Yatseniuk (whom Yanukovych offered to be Prime Minister when Azarov resigned) and the openly fascist sectors, as Swoboda party (Freedom) led by Oleg Tyagnybok (which has around 10% of votes in Parliament), participate and try to control the protests at Maidan, openly backed by European and American diplomats.
There are also, in the square and in the seizure of public buildings, xenophobic and far-right militants grouped in so-called Pravy Sektor (Rightist Sector), which sided with other organizations, whether ultranationalists or veterans of the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan (1979-1989) to “protect” the camp in Maidan Square.
Andrei Tarasenko, a Rightist Sector’s leader, belongs to an organization called The Trident Stepan Bandera, in memory of the rebel leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), a Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary army that fought the Soviet authorities during the Second World War and even in the early 1950. Tarasenko says the Rightist Sector is based on “principles of traditional Christianity in Ukraine and on the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism.” He declares themselves to be anti-russians (“because the Russians are not Europeans”, he says) and anticommunist. Despite opposing the government of Yanukovych and joining the EU (a “supranational structure” that, according to Tarasenko, leads to “denationalization” and “de-Christianization” of Europe), he advocates a xenophobic society strategy guided by “a higher law, God’s law and the law of Everyday Life of the Ukrainian nation.” These groups are also against euthanasia and marriages between persons of the same sex, because “for Christianity sodomy is a sin that must be punished” .
Although both the illusion in the EU and the character of the leadership of the protests at Maidan Square are deeply reactionary, we argue that the left can’t confound this reactionary and pro-imperialist nature of the leadership’s process with the nature of the process itself.
We remark that the process of mobilization shaking Ukraine is currently progressive, despite their leadership and numerous other contradictions. It has a progressive course because it faces a ultra-reactionary Bonapartist, repressor and servile government as Yanukovych’s, and because it faces, despite the distorted pro-EU propaganda and the confusion of the masses in this sense, the historical Russian oppression against Ukraine.
Although early in the process the goal of the mobilizations was to repudiate the suspension of the EU’s agreement, the dynamics of the protests and the brutal repression by Yanukovych made the center of the protests to be the government toppling and the end of repressive measures, something clearly progressive.
This course was highlighted after the approval of “dictatorial laws” by Yanukovich, similar to those prevailing in Putin’s Russia, which eventually backfired on the government. This affront and the mass movement’s response opened a new moment in the situation’s outcome. The initial protests, in which predominated students and middle-class sectors, gave way to the incorporation of sectors of the working class and the expansion from Kiev to other cities, some in the east.
Given the Bonapartist offensive, the Ukrainians responded with new increasingly radicalized mass demonstrations and fierce clashes against the police, as well as the occupation of state offices . Now the illusory demand of “euro integration” took the backstage, and the current goal is Out with Yanukovych! 
The current events turned the doubts and confusion previously generated in a clear desire of Ukrainians to settle their accounts with the government that led the country to bankruptcy and openly despises the people. On the other hand, the government was virtually paralyzed and unable to placate popular anger, losing more and more control of the country.
Because it is a process whose meaning is essentially progressive, it is essential that all organizations that call themselves leftist and the labor and social movements from all over the world to express their support and solidarity to the tenacious struggle of the Ukrainian people. We must fight and denounce the reactionary role played by the leaders of the protests at Maidan Square, but being part of the process. The left’s support is necessary because if Yanukovych is toppled by popular mobilization it would mean an important political victory, which would deepen the crisis of the regime and would be a valuable step in the strategy of taking power by the working class and the people.
Castro-Chavism supports Putin-Yanukovych
Unfortunately, as we have said, this is not the majority view of the left. The official propaganda of Yanukovich and especially Russia absolutizes the actions of the far-right. When referring to the protesters, Russian newspapers are filled with phrases like “fascist”, “members of criminal gangs”, “thugs”, “organizers of pogroms” , “radical right”, “ultra-nationalist groups” or “scammers”. Protests are presented as the result of a “conspiracy of the EU and U.S.” and most of the international left fell again in the web of that nothing original speech.
It is the same speech used by Assad and Putin, as well as all the Castro-Chavists, in the Syrian Civil War. In this case, the Syrian dictatorship tries to present all rebels fighting for the fall of the regime, as “terrorists” and “jihadists”, taking advantage of the presence of al Qaeda-linked groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Al Nusra Front. In the Ukrainian case, Yanukovych and Putin use the (real) element of the presence of pro-imperialist and right-wing sectors in the demonstrations to delegitimize and weaken the assembly process.
We remark that, opposed to what most of the left say, the best way to fight the fascist groups like Swoboda and Rightist Sector is participating directly in the demonstrations to build, inside them, an independent working class alternative to face both the servile and pro- Russian government of Yanukovych and the bourgeois and right-wing opposition, who want to tie the country further to the dictates of European imperialism and that, if the demonstrations seriously threaten the capitalist domination, will be shameless to agree a “negotiated way out” with Yanukovych himself.
The task is not to deny, but to vie with the bourgeois opposition and the fascists for the leadership at Maidan Square. Against the far-right that wants to impose a nationalist-xenophobic meaning for the demonstrations, we must oppose a policy of deepening the struggle incorporating the organized working class, the precarious and hopeless youth, the women and the left in general. A policy of democratization of the movement, building up a self-defense organization against repression, belying the fascist arguments that they take over the task (which no one voted) to “defend the square and the protests.”
The left’s policy of omission or directly against the protests plays into the hands of Yanukovych’s government, the national oppression by Russia and also the pro-imperialist and right-wing groups because it leaves them free to bring this heroic mass struggle to a sure defeat.
The only antidote to the growth of the far-right is a tough fight for the entry into the scene of the working class, with their organizations and methods at Maidan Square, for the construction of a third field to present a clear program for the country under the perspective of the working class.
Our summarized position is:
1. Active participation in the demonstrations at Maidan Square. Full solidarity with the struggle of the Ukrainian people against the murderous and servile government of Yanukovych and against Russian historical oppression.
2. We must intervene in the process clearly proposing: Out with Yanukovych’s government!, Neither the European Union nor submission to Putin!, No “negotiated way out” with Yanukovych!
The solution is neither joining the EU (where the immediate aftermath is the social tragedy that we see in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland) nor supporting the oligarchs who are looting the country, whether “opposition” or officials. No to the agreements with Russia.
At the same time, we repudiate any attempt to negotiate a possible “interim government” integrated by the current rulers and opposition members of the far-right. The way out is the defeat of the government by force from the streets.
3. For the immediate end of repression of the people: No to military intervention! Punishment for the repressors! Freedom for all imprisoned fighting people!
4. For the development and subsequent centralization of people’s committees from the groups that exist in Maidan Square. These democratic committees should organize mass meetings to decide the course of the struggle.
The policies and proposals of self-defense organization must be decided in meetings, to limit the actions of neo-fascist groups. The people’s committees and assemblies at the square would be a good starting point for the formation of committees in workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, etc. They should be completely independent from any kind of bourgeois organization.
5. The protesters at Maidan Square should have a policy to attract the workers movement to fight the government, incorporating their demands, as a general pay increase, reduction of working hours and decent jobs, equal pay for equal work for each and everyone.
6. For the immediate convocation of a democratic, free and sovereign National Constituent Assembly to decide on the relations with the EU and Russia, as part of the struggle for an independent and sovereign Ukraine. The Constituent Assembly should break the political and economic ties with imperialism (EU and IMF) and the historic Russian domination: Down with the agreements with the EU and Russia! No payment of the foreign debt with Russia or the EU/IMF!
7. To be truly democratic and sovereign the Constituent Assembly can’t be convened by the current oligarchic government of Yanukovych nor the pro-imperialist opposition and the far-right. Only a workers’ and people’s government – supported by the democratic organizations of the working class and poor people – can ensure a free and sovereign Constituent Assembly, to achieve the country’s independence and the nationalization of all wealth (factories, land, banks, transportation) and natural resources to serve the needs of working people.
8. Only a workers’ and people’s government will be able to guarantee the national independence of Ukraine, the nationalization of the economy, the effectiveness of democratic freedoms, the agrarian revolution, full employment and real improvement of living conditions of the people by expropriating the oligarchic bourgeoisie, imperialism, the Russian oligarchy and putting the entire economy at the service of the country. Let the people be the master of all the country’s wealth, not a handful of millionaires sold out to the EU or Russia!
9. The fight for a socialist and working class government demands, in the heat of the current struggle, the creation of the foundations of an internationalist Marxist revolutionary party to vie for the political leadership of the demonstrations towards the struggle for an international socialist revolution.
Translation: Marcos Margarido