The following is a summary of highlights from a talk on the Ukraine crisis by Fred Goldstein to a Workers World Party meeting in New York on Feb. 28.
As internationalists living in the most powerful imperialist country in the world, it is incumbent upon us to always pay attention to the international situation. If you don’t pay attention to it, it can overwhelm you. The present crisis in Ukraine is a case in point.
Tonight President Obama came on the 6 o’clock news and told Russia to refrain from intervention in Ukraine or there would be “consequences.” After Obama, militarist hawk John McCain spoke for almost five minutes, followed by Gen. Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO who orchestrated the bombing and destruction of Yugoslavia.
Both of them spoke with aggressive, red-baiting belligerence. Their argument was that Putin wants to restore the “Soviet empire.” McCain and Clark represent the most aggressive elements within the Pentagon. Our party must take notice of this.
In 2012, at a human rights conference in Dublin, Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, said the identical thing in attacking the Russian-sponsored Customs Union and Putin’s proposal for a wider economic region, the Eurasian Union. “Call it what you want,” said Clinton, “call it Customs Union, call it Eurasian Union, Putin wants to ‘re-Sovietize’ the region.“ Clinton was an ally of McCain and went to Afghanistan with him to bolster the U.S. war there.
Right now the crisis is over the Russians sending troops to the Crimea. The Crimea is a peninsula that was part of the Russian republic during the Soviet era. In 1954 USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimea from Russia to the Soviet Republic of the Ukraine. It is where the Russian navy has a vital military base in Sebastopol on the Black Sea.
NATO’s drive to the east
Now, we must look at things from the perspective of Moscow and Putin. The U.S. and the European imperialists have just seized Ukraine. They do not have it consolidated, but they have the commanding heights. They have Kiev and other places in the western part of the country. They have a puppet government that will dance to their tune.
To appreciate the view from Russia, we must look at what has happened over the past 20 years since the collapse of the USSR. NATO, the military organization of Western imperialism, has advanced steadily to the east, swallowing up a dozen former Soviet republics and former socialist allies of the USSR in Eastern Europe. NATO has put anti-missile systems in the Czech Republic and is planning them for Poland.
NATO has advanced to the northern and eastern borders of Russia. If it can consolidate its victory in Ukraine, it will be on Russia’s southeastern border, in a very important and strategic country. Ukraine has the most fertile soil in Europe, heavy industry, a scientific establishment and mineral resources.
From the perspective of Moscow, this is a dangerous leap toward the encirclement of Russia. Let’s go over how this happened.
EU offers loan — with austerity
The Yanukovich government, with all its numerous defects and all that it has done against the working class, was nevertheless the legally elected government of Ukraine.
In November of last year the European Union called a meeting to gather a number of former Soviet republics into an association with European capitalism. Key to the success of this plan was to get Ukraine on board. The EU offered very little to the economically distressed Ukraine: a few billion dollars in loans and the right to trade with the EU, but of course tied that to the right of the EU to carry on its exploitation in Ukraine.
A little-known part of the deal, in small print, was that Ukraine would be part of military coordination with Western military organizations — i.e., NATO.
Ukraine was also supposed to reduce its gas subsidies to the population, devalue its currency and suffer other austerity measures like those imposed by the IMF in other economically distressed countries around the world.
Russia’s counteroffer enrages imperialists
When the time came for the Yanukovich government to make a decision and sign, Russia and Putin stepped in. They offered a $15 billion loan, a one-third reduction in the price of Russian-supplied gas (55 percent of the gas consumed in Ukraine) and favorable trade treaties, reducing or eliminating tariffs.
Of course, the Yanukovich government rejected the EU deal and signed for the Russian aid package, which the imperialists interpreted as a prelude to Ukraine becoming part of the Russian-sponsored Customs Union, together with Byelarus and Kazakhstan.
The imperialists were outraged. That is when demonstrations began in Kiev demanding union with Europe. The demonstrations were similar to ones staged in 2004, during the so-called Orange Revolution, when a variety of nongovernmental organizations worked to get Ukraine aligned with European imperialism.
The current demonstrations began in late November 2013 and lasted for three months. They crescendoed at the height of the Olympic Games in Sochi. The demonstrations got more and more aggressive until finally, in February the Yanukovich government entered into negotiations with the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland, with a Russian observer present.
The negotiations lasted 30 hours. A bad agreement was finally arrived at, as the EU leaders tried to finesse a smooth takeover. Among the elements of the deal were a change in the Ukrainian Constitution reducing the powers of the president (Yanukovich) and elevating the Parliament. Elections were moved back a year and set for December 2014. And a “national unity” government was to be formed, including Yanukovich and the opposition factions.
Relations between EU and U.S.
But the European Union and U.S. imperialism were on different pages. Pro-U.S. forces from the Fatherland Party in the Parliament called a rump session when around 100 members of the Party of the Regions, Yanukovich’s party, were absent.
With Right Front fascists armed and threatening violence outside in Maidan Square, the Parliament pulled the police off the street and forbid the army from interfering. Thus, the stage was set for an offensive by the fascists to terrorize and intimidate the Yanukovich government, ultimately driving him out.
It is a matter of debate whether he should have stayed and tried to fight them off. But that is another matter. The main point is that the legally elected government was driven out by a combination of subversion by a pro-U.S. rump Parliament and fascist storm troopers on the streets.
It is important to go back to the tape-recorded phone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Nuland’s infamous “F… the EU” comment was part of the conversation. But the plotting between them about how to arrive at a government is more important, especially in light of the unfolding events.
Yanukovich was still in office, but they were discussing the next government. After rejecting Vitali Klitschko, the person Germany wanted, and others, they declared that “Yats” should be the head of the government.
When the smoke cleared on the Maidan and the Yanukovich regime was driven out, who emerged as the prime minister? Arseniy Yatseniuk, “Yats,” the head of the Fatherland Party. The acting president is Oleksander Turchinov, also of the Fatherland Party, in line with the U.S./Nuland conspiracy.
How could Russia sit by and allow the European Union and especially the U.S. imperialists to seize this strategic country and turn it into a weapon against Russia and, we might add, against the Ukrainian masses?
Imperialists allow fascists to surface
The atmosphere in Kiev is saturated with right-wing and fascist political yearnings. To be sure, not all western Ukranians are fascist or right wing. Many Ukrainians died in World War II in the struggle against the Nazis. But right now the fascist right wing has the upper hand.
This past January there was a demonstration of 15,000 in Kiev celebrating Stephan Bandera. Who was he? A notorious Nazi collaborator and ultra-Ukrainian nationalist whose group, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, participated in the extermination of Jews, Poles and other nationalities during the Nazi occupation. Bandera helped to train Nazi battalions at the end of World War II.
Right now, monuments to the victory over the Nazis in cities like Kiev and Lviv are being desecrated because the Soviet Red Army defeated the Nazis. In other words, the fascists and the right wing are outraged because their side lost.
Such an atmosphere is fully understood in Moscow. Anything can happen under these circumstances, and we as a party must be ready for all eventualities.
The Russians may very well invade as a last resort if they do not find any other way to get the imperialists to back away from this takeover. We are not advocating it or promoting it. But it may very well happen and we must be prepared.
In an attempt to block the imperialist takeover of Ukraine, whether we agree with how they are doing it or not, we must take sides and demand that the imperialists get out. We must be able to explain to the masses of workers how the Russians were provoked by U.S. and European subversion and takeover by fascist methods.
We are opposed to the capitalist government of Putin, which sits astride a government of oligarchs who got rich on the basis of breaking up and dividing among themselves the dismembered components of the socialist economy of the Soviet Union.
But as Marxists, we must see where the interests of the masses lie in this situation. The worst thing that could happen would be for U.S. imperialism to expand its empire by taking over Ukraine and the rest of the former Soviet republics and weaken and eventually dominate Russia itself.
This would immeasurably strengthen Wall Street and the Pentagon in their struggle to subjugate the world. And it would strengthen their oppression and exploitation of the masses at home. In this crisis, our party will find a way to take an independent anti-imperialist position and do all it can to stop our enemy — the one right here at home.
A final point: The European imperialists are promising their puppets in Ukraine, which is facing bankruptcy, tens of billions of dollars in assistance. But talk is cheap. These bankers in Berlin and Paris are spending billions to bail out governments in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. They tell the workers in those countries that they have to sacrifice and endure austerity. How are these bankers going to turn around and tell the masses of Europe that they now have tens of billions of euros for the counterrevolutionaries in Kiev?
The imperialists have only hardship to offer to the masses in Ukraine. This may eventually help the workers in all the Ukraine to wake up to what has just gone down. It could eventually rekindle the class struggle there and allow the workers of Ukraine to throw out all the rascals and take the country back for themselves.
Points raised during question-and-answer period
The political problems involved in explaining our position in the present crisis are greater than in recent crises, such as in Libya, Syria, Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. When a great imperialist power attacks an oppressed country, there should be absolutely no question about opposing imperialism.
But in this crisis, the situation is more complicated. It is not like Syria or Libya. An attack on Russia by U.S. imperialism is not a case of an attack on an oppressed country. Russia is not an oppressed country. If anything, it carries on its own oppression in some areas.
It has a mighty industrial establishment, rich banks, a strong military and nuclear weapons. This is what makes it different from Syria and Libya. This is what requires a more thoughtful elucidation of our position in order to help people take the correct side in the present struggle.
We must explain that Washington wants to weaken Russia geopolitically, militarily and economically. The U.S. government and ruling class want to undermine Russia, foment a right wing that is pro-imperialist and reduce it to a colony — which is where it was headed during the period of Boris Yeltsin, right after the collapse of the USSR.
This struggle is illuminated by the remarks that both McCain and Gen. Clark made about how the Russians interfered with their opportunity to bomb Syria. In their view, Russia’s proposal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons gave Obama an alternative to bombing the country.
Of course, Washington doesn’t want the Russians to have a naval base in Syria on the Mediterranean, and they don’t want Russia to interfere with their votes against Iran in the Security Council or to help undermine the effectiveness of the economic blockade of Iran.
This is a struggle of a great reactionary, decadent, Western imperialist power against a lesser power in the East. Washington hovers over the countries of the East the way the tsarist empire hovered over eastern, central and southern Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Marx wanted a war against tsarism because it fostered European reaction everywhere.
Wall Street and the Pentagon are the tsars of the 21st century, hovering and waiting for an opportunity to promote reaction and expand their empire to the East.
Historically, in the struggle between the West and the East in Europe, whenever the relationship of forces has changed against the East, in this case Russia, in favor of Western capitalism and imperialism — including the U.S. — the West has moved aggressively toward conquest. This is what big wars are made of. That is what is going on today; only today it is U.S. imperialism that is the driving force toward war.
Following the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc, Germany and then the U.S. destroyed and swallowed Yugoslavia. They could never have done this during the era of the USSR. The destruction of Yugoslavia was the beginning of the eastward march toward Russia, which continues to this day.
I think we need to stress the expansionary and adventurist nature of U.S. imperialism. We need to show the similarities between Nazi imperialism and Japanese imperialism, both of which were adventurist and aggressive, and U.S. imperialism.
The expansionist nature of Wall Street is driven by the continuous development of the more and more powerful productive forces. Germany and Japan were capitalist powers with strong industrial development, but they came late on the scene of imperialism. They were shut out of the colonial areas dominated by Britain, France and the U.S. and needed desperately to seek outlets for the export of their capital, markets for the excess commodities and wage slaves to super exploit.
So it is with Wall Street now. It is finance capital that compels the expansionist aims of the White House and the Pentagon. It is not just a subjective drive for profits; it is a law of the system.
The ever-slowing rate of growth of capitalism, along with the rapidly growing development of productivity, technology and capacity to produce, is strangling the system. They cannot get out of the unemployment crisis, the revenue crisis, the budget crisis, and they cannot garner the massive profits they seek by expanding production. The capitalist productive forces are rapidly outgrowing the markets.
Only socialism can allow the mighty productive forces in the U.S. and Europe to flourish and expand. Only when production is geared to creating use values to enhance human life, instead of creating commodities for sale to enhance corporate profits, can the drive to war be stopped.
Imperialism was contracting for 74 years, from 1917 to 1991. In 1917 the imperialists lost Russia with its 11 time zones and one-sixth of the earth’s surface. In 1949 they lost China, one quarter of humanity. They then lost north Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Laos, Cambodia, Angola and Ethiopia. Their power was diminished in numerous formerly oppressed countries during the anti-colonial revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s.
The imperialists are bent on pushing back any revolutionary developments, particularly in Central and Latin America in the more recent period, with their dirty wars against Nicaragua, El Salvador and now attempts at destabilization in Venezuela.
Today, the imperialists want to take back all those territories that they lost. For this, they must turn to an era of imperialist expansion. They must expand or die.
It is important not to fall into the trap of branding nationalities or regions as this or that politically. Much of that is being done in the present crisis. It is important to remember that while there was collaboration with Hitler in the Ukraine, 150,000 Ukrainian partisans fought against the Nazis.
The fascists have the upper hand now, but they do not represent the working class of Ukraine. Let us stick to a class point of view. Statues of Lenin are being toppled in Kiev and Lviv. But that raises the question of what the statues are doing there in the first place? Those statues represent the progressive sentiments left over from the Soviet era. The Ukrainian Communist Party is reported to have 115,000 members, a significant number considering that the USSR was overthrown more than 20 years ago.
These are the sentiments that can resurface in the struggle and can turn the tables on imperialism.
Goldstein is the author of “Low-Wage Capitalism” and “Capitalism at a Dead End,” which has been translated into Spanish as “El capitalismo en un callejón sin salida.”