‘Fascism’ and the Ukraine protests

At least 25 are reported dead and more than 240 injured in clashes that erupted when Ukrainian protesters mounted a march on parliament Feb. 18, apparently ending a “truce” that had been worked out to allow negotiations. The march took place before a scheduled debate on reinstatement of Ukraine’s 2004 constitution, which would rein in President Viktor Yanukovich’s powers. The situation on the streets escalated as the bill was blocked by parliamentary staff who refused to register it on procedural grounds. The 2004 constitution was repealed in 2010, shortly after Yanukovich came to power, replaced by a new one granting him sweeping powers, including to appoint regional governors—a critical issue in Ukraine, with its divide between the more Russian-identified east and more European-identified west. (Jurist, WP, UN News Centre, Feb. 19; BBC News, EuroNews, Feb. 18)

Given that the protesters are reacting against centralization of power and a supreme executive, it’s rather an irony that (precisely as in Venezuela at the moment) the opposition in Ukraine are being widely portrayed as “fascists” in the “progressive” press in the West. An egregious case in point was provided by Seumas Milne in The Guardian last month:

You’d never know from most of the reporting that far-right nationalists and fascists have been at the heart of the protests and attacks on government buildings. One of the three main opposition parties heading the campaign is the hard-right antisemitic Svoboda, whose leader Oleh Tyahnybok claims that a “Moscow-Jewish mafia” controls Ukraine. But US senator John McCain was happy to share a platform with him in Kiev last month. The party, now running the city of Lviv, led a 15,000-strong torchlit march earlier this month in memory of the Ukrainian fascist leader Stepan Bandera, whose forces fought with the Nazis in the second world war and took part in massacres of Jews.

So in the week that the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army was commemorated as Holocaust Memorial Day, supporters of those who helped carry out the genocide are hailed by western politicians on the streets of Ukraine. But Svoboda has now been outflanked in the protests by even more extreme groups, such as “Right Sector”, who demand a “national revolution” and threaten “prolonged guerrilla warfare”.

This is pretty hilarious. First, the assertion that “you’d never know it from most of the reporting” is pretty damn ironic when the “fascist” calumny has been raised over and over in the “alternative” press in the West (e.g. CounterPunch, of course) and the decidedly non-alternative press in Russia (e.g. Voice of Russia—which cluelessly quotes an “expert” from the Schiller Institute, organ of the fascistic LaRouche cult!). Milne, of course, has loaned similar propaganda services to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria and the ayatollah state in Iran. How interesting that he suddenly develops a touching concern with anti-Semitism! In contrast, we have noted actual statements from progressive elements in the Ukrainian opposition, which acknowledge far-right exploitation of the protest movement, but insist that rightists are not in charge, and that their their role is being exaggerated for propaganda purposes.  One statement from Ukrainian academics asserts: “The demonstrators include liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, nationalists and cosmopolitans, Christians, non-Christians and atheists.”

This is the same error (or intellectual dishonesty) that the Western “left” is making regarding Syria, where we are told over and over that the opposition is monolithically jihadist. This is certainly not true, and (as we have said repeatedly) if indeed the secular-democratic elements in Syria are doing poorly, that means they need more solidarity—not less. And there is no reason to believe the secular-democratic elements in Ukraine are anywhere nearly so besieged by reactionary opposition elements as in Syria.

We’ve acknowledged ourselves the irony that the Ukrainian protesters are seeking closer ties to the European Union, while Greek, Spanish and Italian demonstrators are protesting against the EU. Some light is shed on this dilemma by Timothy Snyder in the New York Review of Books, in an essay entitled “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine”:

The course of the protest has very much been influenced by the presence of a rival project, based in Moscow, called the Eurasian Union. This is an international commercial and political union that does not yet exist but that is to come into being in January 2015. The Eurasian Union, unlike the European Union, is not based on the principles of the equality and democracy of member states, the rule of law, or human rights.

On the contrary, it is a hierarchical organization, which by its nature seems unlikely to admit any members that are democracies with the rule of law and human rights. Any democracy within the Eurasian Union would pose a threat to Putin’s rule in Russia. Putin wants Ukraine in his Eurasian Union, which means that Ukraine must be authoritarian, which means that the Maidan must be crushed.

The dictatorship laws of January 16 were obviously based on Russian models, and were proposed by Ukrainian legislators with close ties to Moscow. They seem to have been Russia’s condition for financial support of the Yanukovych regime. Before they were announced, Putin offered Ukraine a large loan and promised reductions in the price of Russian natural gas. But in January the result was not a capitulation to Russia. The people of the Maidan defended themselves, and the protests continue…

The Eurasian Union is the enemy of the European Union, not just in strategy but in ideology. The European Union is based on a historical lesson: that the wars of the twentieth century were based on false and dangerous ideas, National Socialism and Stalinism, which must be rejected and indeed overcome in a system guaranteeing free markets, free movement of people, and the welfare state. Eurasianism, by contrast, is presented by its advocates as the opposite of liberal democracy.

In exploring the ideological background of the Eurasian Union, Synder invokes “National Bolshevism,” the doctrine of the so-called Red-Brown Alliance that, finding inspiration in the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact, seeks a left-fascist bloc against the West.

The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. Dugin’s major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, follows closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism is not only the ideological source of the Eurasian Union, it is also the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather active far-right Russian youth movement. For years Dugin has openly supported the division and colonization of Ukraine.

Referring to the “fascism” charge, Snyder rhetorically asks: “What does it mean when the wolf cries wolf? Most obviously, propagandists in Moscow and Kiev take us for fools—which by many indications is quite justified.” Reading all too many screeds such as Seumas Milne’s, we agree.

The Guardian reports that the Eurasian Union began taking shape in 2010, and thus far includes Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Recall that Russia, Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet Central Asian states are likewise part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional body also including China that was established after the Soviet collapse to counter-balance the US presence in Asia.

So of course there is plenty of fodder for all the “leftist” hyperventilation about how the Ukrainian protesters are puppets of the US and NATO. Given the context, it is predictable and inevitable that the governments of the West will attempt to cultivate the Ukrainian protesters as pawns. That hardly means that they have no legitimate grievances, or that they are monolithically “fascist,” or that they are CIA “astroturf.”

And there is actually a prefect logic to the pro-EU posture of the Ukrainian protesters and the anti-EU position of their Greek and Spanish counterparts: The EU institutionalizes human rights (at least formally) and democracy (at least bourgeois democracy), so greater integration with it will therefore apply some breaks on the consolidation of a dictatorship in Ukraine. But the EU also institutionalizes “free markets” and austerity, correctly opposed by the Greek and Spanish working class. The seemingly complete absence  of solidarity between the Ukrainian protest movement and those within the EU provides a textbook study in the global divide-and-conquer scam which is the essence of the state system. Rather than acquiescing in demonization of the Ukrainian protesters as “fascists” and CIA pawns, progressives in the West should be seeking to establish dialogue with them and attempting to work out a common position. And this is impossible without starting from a position of solidarity. Certainly, supporters of the Occupy movement should oppose on principle Yanukovich’s “dictatorship laws” that banned public encampments.

And such a dialogue is precisely what is needed to break the ubiquitous propagandistic conflation of “free markets” and democracy. Human rights and social justice are not opposed concepts. They are fundamentally unified—in spite of the official denial of this, both East and West.

The greatest irony is that that there is a far greater case that the Yanukovich regime is truly “fascist.” As we have had too many reasons to say in recent years: Remember when the left used to fetishize balaclavas and Molotov cocktails? Today it seems to more often fetishize police uniforms and truncheons. What’s up with that?