Workers World is publishing excerpts from a talk by Victor Shapinov, a coordinator of the banned Ukrainian Marxist organization Union Borotba (Struggle), given at the 7th International Anti-Imperialist Symposium in Istanbul on April 16. It was translated and edited by WW contributing editor Greg Butterfield.
In February 2014, a coup d’etat took place in Ukraine, carried out with the direct involvement of the European Union and U.S. imperialism. A bloc of ultra-neoliberal and fascist forces came to power. This coup launched a civil war that has lasted for more than two years.
I would like to try to answer two questions related to the Ukrainian crisis.
First, why did imperialism need to carry out a coup in Ukraine and bring to power a regime that we characterize as a new type of fascism or 21st century fascism?
Second, what is this new fascism in the case of Ukraine?
The 2014 coup should be seen in the context of the global crisis which world capitalism entered in the second half of the last decade. To understand the Ukrainian crisis, it’s important to understand that imperialism no longer wants and cannot share profits with the capitalist elites on the periphery, as it did in the years of growth.
Therefore, the existence of relatively independent regimes in the countries of the periphery have become an obstacle to imperialism’s strategy of passing the costs of the crisis on to those countries.
In this case, the completely pro-U.S. and pro-Western regime of President Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine had become a hindrance to U.S. imperialism’s plan to restructure the global economy during the crisis. This restructuring, as we know, includes the creation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), two systems of economic cooperation which will make the most economically developed areas in the periphery subordinate to the United States to an ever greater degree.
Here imperialism was faced with two major alternatives to its global restructuring strategy. First was the possibility of developing economic cooperation between the European Union and Russia. Second was the Chinese plan for a “new Silk Road.” The establishment of an extremely nationalistic regime in Ukraine, fully controlled by imperialism, and the beginning of the civil war became serious impediments to such alternative strategies.
The situation with Crimea and Donbass [popular referenda returned Crimea to Russia and won independence for the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics] put an end to the possibility of a strategic association between Russia and the EU. The new regime in Kiev has stopped cooperation with China, which began during the reign of Yanukovych [from February 2010 to February 2014], and could have made Ukraine part of China’s plan. Also, the severing of economic and political relations between Ukraine and Russia, carried out by the new Ukrainian regime, shattered hopes for the formation of an alternative model of economic integration in Eurasia.
To achieve these objectives, a completely dependent and politically weak puppet regime was required. It is this regime which appeared in Ukraine in February 2014.
What kind of regime is it, and why do we call it a new type of fascism?
By all indications, it certainly fits the classic definition of fascism as an open terrorist dictatorship of finance capital. Left and progressive organizations are banned, communist ideology is banned, prisons are filled with an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 political prisoners, extra-judicial executions are practiced using paramilitary forces and neo-Nazi groups.
At the same time, it does not look exactly like the fascism that existed in Europe in the 1930s. Formal democratic institutions remain, there is no mass fascist party, there’s no leader-Fuhrer.
“Classical fascism” of the 1930s was a response to the crisis of world capitalism at that time. The essence of this crisis was the transition from monopoly to state-monopoly capitalism. Hence, the specific feature of this form of fascism — the cult of the state.
With the new fascism, which we face in Ukraine, the cult of the state is not the issue, because it’s no longer a question of the transition to state-monopoly capitalism. On the contrary, the function it performs is not to elevate the state, as with the Nazis of the 20th century, but rather, the destruction of the nation-state in the interests of world imperialism head by the U.S. and neoliberalism.
Fascism is the crisis of political domination. Fascism of the 1930s was capital’s response to the political engagement of the masses, the emergence of mass parties. The form of fascist parties was largely copied from the mass workers’ parties (the Social Democrats and the Communists).
Modern fascism, which we face in Ukraine, copies manipulated forms of self-organization. The direct instrument of terror becomes a network of paramilitary fascist groups, as well as law enforcement bodies and special forces. The new fascism does not create a mass party, but causes neoliberal politicians like Petro Poroshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, etc., to adopt ultra-nationalistic ideology.
As much as the fascist forces were prepared for the development of the Ukrainian crisis, so we among the resistance forces were unprepared. After the right-wing seizure of power in February 2014, a haphazard protest movement began to form, mainly in the Southeast of the country. At first its slogans were very modest, asking only for a certain amount of autonomy from the central authorities in Kiev, which took on an increasingly distinct fascist character.
As soon as the regime in Kiev consolidated itself, it intensified the pressure on the Southeast through paramilitary attacks by neo-Nazi groups, and this radicalized the resistance. This resulted in a successful uprising in Donetsk and Lugansk, while the rebellion was defeated in Odessa and Kharkov.
Due to the fragmentation of the resistance forces, the uprisings shared no clear ideology or common goal. However, the overall antifascist and anti-oligarchic thrust was healthy and clearly reflects the proletarian and semi-proletarian class composition of the resistance.
Unfortunately, the left-wing forces of Ukraine were unable to stop the advance of the new fascism. We were focused on the long-term development of the crisis, while the political situation quickly turned to war. And if the right-wing forces, with the support and orchestration of imperialism, were ready for it, then the left-wing forces, unfortunately, were not.
I urge all comrades in the international anti-imperialist movement to learn from our experiences and mistakes, because the Ukrainian events are a model for implementing imperialism’s strategy in the crisis.