Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ukraine: Where Should Progressives (Socialists) Stand?

There's a fascinating debate going on about Ukraine at a Facebook page I frequent called 'Being a Socialist'. The debate consists of two questions (and subsidiary questions branching out of each):

1) How do revolutionaries push forward an independent socialist alternative, in the midst of a civil war where both sides are backed by reactionary imperialists?


2) how do revolutionaries recognize which side to side with in different circumstances?

In Ukraine currently, there are at least two sides: that of the Putschists, whose parties Fatherland, UDAR and Svoboda are backed by the EU and US and that of the democratically-elected government (now deposed) whose party, the Party of Regions, is backed by Russia.

So question #1 asks us as revolutionaries whether it is possible to create an independent socialist alternative when both sides (Russia and EU\US) are imperialist. Further complicating matters is that one axis of this imperialist standoff is using fascist and neo-Nazi shock troops (from Svoboda and Right Center) to seize power from the legitimate government and upend the democratic process. But that democratic government is supported by the other side of the imperialist standoff.

So in a struggle between two imperialist powers (the US and Russia), what position should Socialist revolutionaries take? Or should Socialist revolutionaries declare, like Mercutio, "a plague on both your houses" and not have anything to do with either side?

There is no easy answer to this question, which may be why it is so fascinating to me. While my normal proclivity is to respond that Socialists must never side with any bourgeois society that uses fascists and neo-Nazis, I also recognize that EU\US democracy may be slightly more advanced with regard to certain  interests of the working class than the Russian autocracy. Is that slight advantage enough to lead me to set aside my moral scruples to make common cause with the side relying upon fascists? Not on your life. So the only question that remains for me is whether the need to smash European fascism and neo-fascism is important enough for me to set aside my scruples about backing autocracy. I have not yet fully decided although I am deeply sympathetic to Russian interests in Ukraine, based on history and demographics.

Question #2 poses a more interesting philosophical problem which is what method revolutionaries should use to decide with whom, if anyone, to side in these imperialist squabbles. Some argue that smashing fascism should be the top priority, which makes backing the Party of Regions and Russia logically follow. Others argue that both sides are capitalist-imperialist which argues for not taking either side. Finally, there are a couple voices arguing that western-style imperialism (the EU\US variety) is more advanced in terms of 'internationalism, liberalism and democracy' than the autocratic traditions underneath the Russian Federation.

Given my background in modern European history, I find myself drawn to the first position: that smashing European fascism should be the highest priority. Thus, even though the deposed government party Party of Regions and its leader Yanukovych represent the interests of a decadent bourgeois state, they are better for workers' long-term interests than a fascist regime and so I support Russia and the Party of Regions and oppose the Putschists as anathema to the working class' interests.

My answer to question #2 is that we must first determine which 'side' in a battle between imperialist forces better serves the long-term interests of the working class. Given m background in history, I am always looking for historical analogues and here, the example of the U.S. Civil War is instructive. In that case, as well, there were two sides, one bourgeois-capitalist and the other bourgeois-slave. Neither side ideal, each side parasitical to the output of the working class. But one side (the North) clearly better for workers than the other side (the South). Once we have determined which side better advances the interests of the working class, we can then pick a side or choose to remain neutral on the issue. But we need to analyze and determine objectively which side is better for the working class before making that decision.

This fascinating, all-important debate is far from over and ongoing. It can be found here:

Being a Socialist Facebook Page

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