[Marxism] Volodymyr Ishchenko: “For Ukrainians, as for any other people in the world, the main threat is capitalism.” | LeftEast

2014-04-30 Thread Louis Proyect

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Chuck Mertz: On the line with us right now is Volodymyr Ishchenko.  He 
is a sociologist studying social protests in Ukraine.  Good evening, 

Volodymyr Ishchenko:  Good evening.


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 

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.

2014-04-30 Thread Matthew Russo
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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
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

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

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.


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