Gunpoint democracy: bullets and ballots cannot crush resistance
By KD Tait
Elections, where half the population did not vote, a military invasion of large parts of the east and south of the country, murderous attacks by fascist militia, threatened and actual intervention by rival imperialist blocs and an impending economic disaster imposed by finance capital have all failed to quell the resistance to Kyiv. KD Tait analyses events and calls for a revolutionary answer to the crisis
Ukraine, 25 May 2014. While voters queued at polling stations in Kyiv to choose between representatives of the country’s rival oligarchs, hundreds of doctors and patients took shelter in the basement of Slavyansk’s hospital.
In Syria, Assad’s “election” is rightly denounced as a sick fraud. But in Ukraine, presidential candidates urge “unity” at gunpoint. Nothing – not a turnout of 55 per cent, not the military offensive in the east – would be allowed to challenge the legitimacy of elections bankrolled by the United States.
In the east the elections were rejected as an illegitimate sham. The near universal boycott was the inevitable response of a population under military occupation, which has faced down the tanks and helicopter gunships of Kyiv.
The massacres and provocations carried out by Right Sector fascist killers in Odessa and Mariupol have failed to intimidate the population of the south-east.
The object of the elections was to give the new status quo a gloss of democratic legitimacy and stabilise the situation prior to disarming the resistance.
For all the anti-Russian propaganda in the West, both the Russian and western imperialists were united in pressing ahead with the elections and on the candidate who should be elected. Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the election and announced he would work with the new president – and the US threw in another $11 million to oil the wheels (or rather grease the palms).
In terms of the result they have succeeded, if electing a president with 45 per cent of the population failing to take part can be called a success. The new president Petro Poroshenko is a billionaire oligarch who has worked with both sides of the Ukrainian political divide. He supported the Maidan and the Orange revolution but was also a founder of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions.
Germany will be delighted that he has promised to sign the second part of the EU deal and begin implementing its economic reforms. Meanwhile the US still has the government its coup installed. Under the 2004 constitution, the prime miniter Arseniy Yatsenyuk and the Svoboda ministers and Right Sector chiefs of the security apparatus will retain their powers undiminished. In short the regime itself has not changed one iota through Poroshenko’s election. This can be seen from the fact that, while he was elected promising to “re-unite the country” and end the military offensive against the east, the reality has been a savage all-out offensive against Donetsk, with helicopter gunships and paratroops.1
The presidential election was intended cover up the illegitimacy of the February coup – though parliament, the Rada, will continue to legislate till the autumn. This coup, financed and orchestrated by the US and its EU allies, saw organised fascists acting as the military vanguard.
On seizing power they purged the parliament of over a quarter of its members and announced their intention to sell the country to the lowest bidder – the IMF.
The seizure of power by fascists under the hated flag of wartime Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, the threat to rescind minority language rights, the imminent devastating cuts to subsidies and the imposition of pro-coup governors on the towns of the south and east provoked a wave of resistance.
The resistance in the East rejected the authority of the regime in Kyiv, insisted that the Presidential election, set for 25 May by the coup makers, would be illegitimate and demanded a referendum on autonomy for their regions.
The demands of the federalists were for the right to elect their own governors, for a greater share of tax collected from the region to be spent in the region and for a referendum of greater political autonomy from the centre.
The response of the regime in Kyiv was to launch a military offensive – supported by fascist terror gangs. This was cynically dubbed a “fight against terrorism”.
The first onslaught ended in a humiliating retreat when a column of tanks and armoured vehicles trying to take control of Slavyansk encountered a crowd of ordinary villagers blocking their advance. Local self-defence units quickly disarmed the regular soldiers, who showed no desire to kill their fellow citizens on behalf of the nationalists and fascists in Kyiv.
Unelected interim president Oleksandr Turchynov was forced to admit that large parts of the East of the country were no longer under the control of his regime; that most of the local police and armed forces would not enforce his orders.
After the failure of the first offensive to suppress anti-government opposition, the IMF stated bluntly that its bailouts were subject to the government restoring control. Under the prompting of the CIA’s man in Kyiv, John Brennan, Turchynov plucked up the courage to launch a second attack.2
The normal armed forces had proved they did not have the stomach to gun down unarmed civilians so the Right Sector was given a major role in the new National Guard – a paramilitary force composed of more reliable volunteers.
They were reinforced by 300 CIA and FBI operatives3 plus hundreds of mercenaries from the US Blackwater, now renamed Academi to cover up its crimes in Iraq. They had one aim: crush the resistance to Kyiv by any means necessary.
Despite the use of tanks, helicopters and heavy artillery, the government forces still failed to retake control of Slavyansk. Faced with the prospect of a generalized uprising, the counter-revolutionary regime in Kyiv looked for a softer target to serve as a deterrent.
They found it in Odessa (see box).
Shock troops of capital
The military offensive by the Kiev regime is the prelude to the economic offensive against the working class and peasants. The economic war will be carried out by the Kiev government according to the dictates of western finance capital in Berlin and Washington.
Fearing what an EU and IMF “reform” package will means for their regions’ heavy industry – an end to state subsidies, severing of connections with Russian markets, leading to greater unemployment and lower wages as well as discrimination on a nationalist basis – working people have demonstrated and taken strike action.
In order for the regime to impose austerity, it must first break the ability of the working class to resist. This is the motivation for the creation of the National Guard, the new conscription law and the military tax: to pursue a genocidal war to cleanse the country of Russophones, Russians, Jews and other minorities.4
Given the economic agenda of the Kiev regime, and the presence of fascists in control of the judiciary and repressive state apparatus, it is entirely justified for those who opposed Maidan or who now oppose the government it installed to reject its authority and organise for its overthrow.
The backbone of the self-defence forces in the east is comprised of autonomous units made up of army veterans, reservists and former police officers. Some estimates put the number of militias upwards of 1,000, numbering from half a dozen to more than 200 people.
Unlike the whitewashers of the Maidan counter-revolution, those of us who support the resistance have no need to excuse the errors it commits or justify the presence of reactionary political forces within it. All mass movements are heterogeneous – the question is what political forces predominate and determine its character.
There are undoubtedly volunteers involved in the resistance from right-wing Great Russian chauvinist and pan-Slav groups, including fascists. Obviously they have a reactionary agenda and are a political liability, alienating mass forces, particularly workers whose involvement is vital to victory.
But unlike their equivalents within the Maidan – these elements are not the predominant force, even amongst the armed defence groups. It is clear that there is a wide variety of views and indeed political confusion among the de facto leadership. Alongside democratic rights for the Russian language and the election of governors, the Donetsk People’s Republic also calls for taxes to be spent locally and “people’s control” of the mines and steel complexes in the Donbas.
The resistance by these forces is justified and necessary to prevent the Kiev regime and its Right Sector murderers repeating the Odessa pogrom and imposing its illegitimate rule. As such Ukrainian socialists are right cooperate with them in defence operations whilst rejecting any the permanent separatist agenda, or calls for a Russian invasion – as Borotba has done, despite meeting bureaucratic resistance, and continues to do.
The fact that the Donbas miners immediately came out on strike in protest at Poroschenko’s attack on Donetsk shows the possiblity of drawing workers into action behind the antifascist resistance.5
A working class solution
In order to wage a successful struggle to establish an all-Ukrainian movement to overthrow the regime in Kiev, and defeat the attempts by either the Western or Russian imperialists to dominate and exploit the Ukrainian people, it is urgent to create a working class political leadership, a party. At the same time it is vital to build democratic councils of delegates in every locality, and self-defence forces which should include all nationalities and language groups and are pledged to defend them all against oppression and attack.
The spread of Russian nationalist slogans and insignia in the east is, in part, a spontaneous response to the virulent Russophobia of the West Ukrainian nationalist and fascist leaders like Yulia Timoshenko, who, in an intercepted phone call on March 24, stated that it was “about time we grab our guns and go kill those damn katsaps,” (an old derogatory Ukrainian word for Russians).6
But it is also is the result of the power vacuum created by the fact that whilst the Party of the Regions and its oligarchs have lost all legitimacy, the Communist Party – despite standing up to the coup makers, and suffering severe repression and the threat of illegality from them – is still compromised by its support for Yanukovych. It seems moreover unwilling and unable to act as an alternative leadership within the resistance. In short it is a reformist party when a revolutionary party is needed.
Those like the comrades of Borotba, who openly identify themselves as revolutionary socialists have an opportunity to rally all the popular and democratic forces and appeal to workers and students across the entire country to come to the aid of their class bothers and sisters.
Despite Putin’s collusion with Poroschenko, the resistance needs to continue to refuse to recognise the government in Kyiv and the elections, which give it no right to rule. Only via democratically elected organs of working class power and local self-government will it be possible to hold free elections to a sovereign constituent assembly. The preconditions for this are a media freed from the grip of the oligarchs, a non-nationalist workers and peoples’ militia, the rights of assembly, free speech, unions, parties, etc.
In the east and south socialists should be working for mass demonstrations and the launching of a general strike to immobilise the forces of state repression and demand their and the fascists’ withdrawal. The captured arsenals should be opened and a mass militia of factory workers, miners and youth formed to convince the Kyiv troops not to fire – and forcefully convince the Right Sector bands that they will not repeat an Odessa in Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, Lugansk or Kharkhov.
To direct a general strike and mass resistance, councils of delegates elected by and rooted in the factories and communities will need to be formed – much like the soviets of 1905 and 1917. In addition to resistance, they can address urgent social problems afflicting the population: poverty, unemployment, collapsing social services, low wages and rising prices.
The “reforms” the EU and its Central Bank, the US and the IMF will impose will match the misery and suffering inflicted on the country by the restoration of capitalism in the 1990s. Only this time there is a sizable – if fractious – fascist movement that could rapidly grow to mass proportion unless the working class can enter the field of political struggle.
By adopting social, economic and democratic aims which directly oppose EU/IMF austerity they can also attract and build unity with the Ukrainian-speaking and formerly Maidan-supporting left and youth who are likely to break from the neoliberal and fascist rulers.
The workers, peasants and youth of Ukraine face a terrible struggle to ward off the attacks of the hard-line nationalists of Fatherland, the respectable fascists of Svoboda and the open Nazis of the Right Sector.
To this must be added the fight to reject the imposition of a Greek style “economic reform”. Last but not least is the threat of bloody ethnic conflict and further imperialist intervention whether from the West – which is acting as the aggressor – or from Russia.
The first step is to fight to halt the punitive expedition sent to the east of the country and to prevent the imposition of Kyiv rule.
Those on the left who say calls for armed resistance are risking bloodshed or “provoking” the regime should answer the simple question – why it is that the peaceful demonstrations that had taken place in the streets of Odessa for weeks have been shattered by Right Sector forces.
When law becomes lawlessness, resistance is necessary. Against the bullets and ballots of the counter-revolution, the workers, poor famers and youth must look to their own defence, and fight arms in hand for the only possible solution: democratic elections to a sovereign constituent assembly, under the protection of the armed people, to determine the future legal, political and economic basis of the Ukrainian state.
In this struggle international socialists stand shoulder to shoulder with our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. We will not abandon them to semi-colonial slavery, either from the EU or Russia, nor to fascism.