[Marxism] Volodymyr Ishchenko: “For Ukrainians, as for any other people in the world, the main threat is capitalism.” | LeftEast
== Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message. == Chuck Mertz: On the line with us right now is Volodymyr Ishchenko. He is a sociologist studying social protests in Ukraine. Good evening, Volodymyr. Volodymyr Ishchenko: Good evening. Volodya CM: Volodymyr’s most recent writing includes Tuesday’s Guardian post Maidan or Anti-Maidan: the Ukraine situation requires more nuance. This week, Volodymyr, here’s the story from the BBC: Russia and Ukraine agree on steps to end crisis. “Russia and Ukraine struck a deal on Thursday to end unrest in Eastern Ukraine stoked by pro-Russian militants.” Has that agreement solved all of Ukraine’s problems? Do you think that this will provide safety and security for Ukrainian citizens? One of the stories that’s been going around in the U.S. media is the idea in Crimea, and also in the East of Ukraine, that Kiev has become lawless, it has become run by gangs, that there has been criminal activity, that it is not safe, and they fear that the same kind of chaos is coming to Crimea or the Eastern Ukraine. VI: That’s a very exaggerated picture. Life in Kiev is totally safe. It’s definitely much safer now than in the Eastern Ukraine; in Donbas there are armed gangs which have attacked state buildings. Some of them seem to be local protesters, but some of them seem to be too well-equipped and too well-trained to be just some militia. If they aren’t Russians or Russianists, they could also be former riot police officers who left Kiev to escape punishment by the new government. Kiev is definitely much safer than in February, when there really was chaos and street clashes in the center; the major problem is in the Eastern Ukraine. CM: Let me ask you a couple of really general questions about this protest. Whenever there is any coverage of any protest—it could be Ukraine, it could be Egypt, it could be Venezuela, it doesn’t matter where it is—the media often points out that this is about the economy, and if it weren’t for a downturn in the economy, these protests would never happen. It’s almost as if the media is saying, protests do not happen when people are upset about an infringement on their rights or freedoms; the only thing that drives people out into the streets is the economy. To what degree did the economy play a role in this Ukrainian uprising? Is this at all about freedoms and rights, or is this just about the bottom line and Ukrainians’ wallets? VI: There were actually two uprisings. You have the Maidan uprising—that started in December and became more violent in January—and now you have the Eastern Ukrainian uprising. They have many similar traits, but the socio-economic component is somewhat deeper in the Eastern Ukraine now, where the economic situation is really deteriorating. The national currency lost something like 40% of its value during the last two or three months, prices are rising, and people in Eastern Ukraine are mainly workers, pensioners. They are speaking about wages, they are speaking about prices, about the collapse of industry. Some of them demand nationalization, some of them demand decent pay for their work. That protest has more to do with the economy; it’s not just about their identity. But they also speak, of course, about their dignity, about their language, about their history, about their heroes, and about this federalization question—which also animates the question of recognition of their self-determination, the question of concrete freedoms and rights. The Maidan protest started more as an ideological protest that was, to some extent, an attempt to break through to the European Dream, seeing it as a kind of utopia which would solve many Ukrainian problems. And for other people, it was a protest against Russia. It was generally believed that if Yanukovych would not sign the European Association Agreement, he will join the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. These countries were described in quite negative tones as authoritarian, poor countries that Ukraine doesn’t need to orient itself to. But later during the Maidan uprising, there came the questions of police repression and violence, of the authoritarian laws which were passed in January—they were pulled to the forefront. They became more important than the European Association. CM: This is the other general question I wanted to ask you: how much are these protests caused by outside forces? Since the Wikileaks revelation from last week—about USAID and the work that they have done in trying to destabilize or help overthrow governments that are not friendly to the United States—there has been some talk in critical sectors of the media, here in the States, about the role that USAID and NED play. And then
[Marxism] Volodymyr Ishchenko: For Ukrainians, as for any other people in the world, the main threat is capitalism.
== Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message. == One can substantially agree with the thrust of the interview. And then we get to the nub of the problem I see again and again with respect to understanding Ukraine: Q: ...So is this really a Ukrainian uprising? Or are these just superpowers playing with a pawn? Obviously you cannot deny that both the U.S. and Russia?and the EU?try to influence Ukrainian politics. They would be stupid if they didn?t. They are great powers, they have their imperialist interests, and that?s what we can expect from them. But then you deny the grassroots nature of this protest. People are talking about real problems. People are self-organizing, both in Maidan in the Western Ukraine and in the Eastern Ukraine now. And you cannot just reduce it to this great power play. But this artificial juxtaposition of uprising vs. superpowers is quite a silly and completely unnecessary way of putting matters. It is an absurd way of framing a question that guarantees the absurd answer. It is this behavior that I find most puzzling. The real answer is that it is *both*. Louis has done valuable yeoman's work in drawing a clear line against especially our most rabid political opponents on what for the time being we must refer to as the Left, on the questions of the Arab Spring and Maidan. However that is not enough. We need to be able to present our own analysis of the motives and actions of the outside powers. In particular we need to present an analysis of the actions of our own Great Power capitalist regimes, first of all because that is where we interact with ordinary people on a daily basis. And second of all because these Great Power interventions are an objective factor and condition for the uprising and for any self-organizing movement. Today Ukraine is clearly heading toward disintegration as a result, not of Maidan, but of the actions of the outside Powers. My own analysis indicates that this result is *primarily*, but obviously not solely due to the actions and attitude of the US government. It is hard to imagine that a conservative like Putin would not want a status quo settlement that would divide up the spoils. But the US gambled for it all. And lost, as its policy predictably heads towards fubar. So far I've not seen this, perhaps out of a scratch-gangrene fear of resembling our opponents, or perhaps because one agrees with Slavoj Žižek in his surprisingly good Barbarism with a Human Face article in LRB (I confess that Žižek has come off too much as the philosophical clown for my tastes in the past, but this is the acme of sobriety from him, relatively speaking), when he ends by stating Such geopolitical games are of no interest whatever to authentic emancipatory politics. Here Žižek presents the above same artificial juxtaposition stood on its head as a conflation. Of course Great Power geopolitical games have nothing to do, are utterly alien, to authentic emancipatory politics. They are the *conscious enemy* of such a politics, that's why they exist! And that is why, as against Žižek, we MUST BE INTERESTED in the games they play against us, from ALL sides, and especially from the side of the Great Power closest to you. After all, a new Cold War against Russia is intended to whip up a militarist mentality in the US, generating not only the economic waste of yet another military buildup with directly negative consequences for our working class, but intended to create a political environment hostile to any authentic emancipatory politics in the US. Just as exactly 100 years ago, the machinations of the Great Powers provoked a World War with devastating consequences for the prospects of authentic emancipatory politics of the time, above all for the international working class Socialist movement. We clearly have a vital material interest in preventing that from happening, and that means going against all the idiotic new Cold War rhetoric coming out of Washington. With eyes wide open. I don't know why the concept of know thy enemy is so difficult to grasp. The failure to do so means defaulting to our opponents on the Left. It is not enough to know that we are not them. We have to defeat them. How else do we expect to win? Or are we content to simply be oppositionists? I don't know about you, but I fight to win. -Matt PS: Thank god it appears the Ukrainian officer corps has no stomach for shooting its own people. Who knows, with Ukraine facing disintegration, they might even move against the US-installed coup government. And good news that a troop of torch-bearing Neo-Nazis just meet with real hostility from the present Maidan encampment yesterday. Unfortunately I had to glean this latter from RT.com: http.com//rt.com/news/155748-rally-kiev-massive-fight/ See what I mean? Why do I have