Ukraine: Déjà vu

The “orange revolution” in the Ukraine was given quite a lot of coverage in the western media. The truth of the matter is that this so-called “revolution” was nothing of the kind. It was used to facilitate the passage of power from one wing of the ex-bureaucracy to the more openly pro-imperialist elements within the ruling elite. Goran M. from Belgrade looks at the situation basing himself on a similar experience in Serbia. These events are possible because there is no clear working class alternative being presented to the masses.

American revolutionary Emma Goldman once said: “It is not my revolution if I cannot dance to it”. Well, there has certainly been a lot of dancing going on in the streets of Kiev over the last two months, but how much real revolutionary change has there been? Apart from the well orchestrated praise heaped on the “heroic” pro-western movement by most big business media, many of the liberal media were quick – this time – to unveil the financial backing the Ukrainian opposition had received from the West and to point to movements that followed almost the same pattern recently elsewhere in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. So what do we make out of these movements in the last few years?

Let’s take a closer look at the nature of these movements. Indeed, the whole scenario in the Ukraine resembles very much the post election tactics used by the pro-western opposition movements in Georgia in 2003 and Serbia in 1996 and partly 2000. Just like in Serbia, Georgia or Byelorussia, western regimes and their organizations pumped millions of dollars into the Ukrainian pro-western opposition movement and the NGO network during the nineties. We are not inventing anything here – Ukrainian opposition activists themselves hardly even attempt to hide these ties. If you were a western journalist, Serbian Otpor movement “veterans” would be more then willing to boast in front of your cameras and tell you how, with a little help of their friends from the American embassy, they were involved in training the Ukrainian youth movement Pora and the Byelorussian Zubr. It does not take a major investigative journalistic effort to “uncover” this. However, similarities flow from something much deeper then western financial backing. “Rose”, “Orange” or Serbian “anti-Milosevic” movements have all been products of a unique situation in which these former deformed workers’ states (Stalinist regimes) found themselves at the beginning of the millennium. The mere fact that imperialism uses the same methods shows us that the conditions and the class set up in these societies are quite similar.

Instead of a promised “Swedish standard of living”, Eastern European countries found themselves much closer to Colombian standards after the re-introduction of capitalism in the nineties. Apart from a few so-called “successful” examples of transition in countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary or Slovenia where a certain level of production has been re-established with the investment of foreign corporations, most Eastern European countries never saw significant investment of capital from the West. Therefore they remained in a kind of limbo – a system that combined the worst features of both the corrupt bureaucratised past and ruthless mafia capitalism.

Most of these countries had gone through a degree of industrialisation during decades of planned economy and had developed a large urbanised working class. With the collapse of the old Stalinist regimes, those who were lucky enough to save their jobs found themselves retaining the minimum level of production under the supervision of the same old party bureaucrat who now became the owner of the factory.

It was exactly this layer of privileged ex-bureaucracy that carried out the initial wave of privatisation with the full backing of the West. Slobodan Milosevic, Leonid Kuchma and Eduard Shevardnadze were all representatives of that section of the old bureaucracy that had decided to move in the direction of capitalism. Most of these oligarchs drew their power from the previous state giants that were broken up and turned into their own private companies. However, after a period, the interests of this layer came into conflict with those of their western backers. The imperialists wanted full control over the economies of these countries. Faced with this growing pressure from imperialism, these ex-bureaucrats began to realise that further liberalisation of their markets would mean their own self-destruction. They and their power base would be wiped out. Thus they started to slow down the “reforms” and continued to rule in a semi-bonapartist manner keeping a tight grip on society.

In reaction to this “disobedience” of these local oligarchs, the West started organizing a huge propaganda apparatus in these countries, built mainly through a thick network of various non-governmental organizations, which was supposed to exploit the anti-establishment sentiment within society. This movement attracted almost exclusively the intelligentsia and the youth. The working class, although it was clearly fed up with these corrupt regimes, could not be attracted by the calls for further liberalisation of the markets. Also, the openly anti-working class sentiments of these organizations meant they could not penetrate into the working class. The false propaganda that these movements spread among the population consisted in the false idea that the main reason for the harsh living conditions and economic collapse were to be found not in the pro-market “reforms” that had started earlier in these countries, but in the fact that these measures had not been implemented thoroughly and fast enough.

All this explains why these movements have been concentrated mainly in the major cities – especially the capital cities where the petit bourgeois is strongest. They have also based themselves on the youth, mainly the student youth, the intelligentsia and middle classes of these respective countries with little or no participation of the working class.

The protests are more like carnivals, with a lot of showmanship. The tactics applied are inspired by so-called “civil society”, “civil disobedience” and non-violence, of the philosophy of “moral superiority”, placing themselves in the role of victim. Most of the actions during these protests are not directed against the local ruling structures but rather towards the western “public opinion” with the aim of gaining compassion and sympathy.

Together with the predominant mood of wanting to fight the autocratic regimes, a subtle mix of nationalism and anti-communism is always present, with the ruling layer presented as the relic of the old Stalinist bureaucracies that are blocking the movement towards the European Union and “future prosperity”. The frustration of the intelligentsia and the petit bourgeoisie can be felt on the streets. They envisage a place for themselves under capitalism, but they feel they are being held hostage by a massive working class which opposes any further move “forward”.

The western media mainly focuses on the youth wings of these movements, which are almost a perfect carbon copy of the original Otpor movement in Serbia. There has been a lot of talk about them being the main organizers and backbone of the movement. The truth of the matter is that these organizations are exploited mainly as propaganda tools but they also add substance which gives the movement an appealing honest kind of image.

It would, however, be a mistake to see these organisations simply as artificial “creations”. Even though they are openly financed by the west and its leadership is trained in NGO schools, because of the lack of any real alternative in fighting against oppression, these movements have managed to activate large sections of the youth.

Another common characteristic is the low political level nurtured by these groups, orientating their membership almost exclusively towards activism. The political goal is presented in very simple, shortsighted terms with their propaganda concentrated against corrupt individuals at the top. Once that specific goal is reached, thousands of youth – who for the first time in their lives had engaged in social struggle – are left out in the cold, with the organizations they have joined falling into a state of collapse and any attempt to continue activity or deepen their analysis being suppressed. For example, in Serbia the once powerful Otpor counting thousands of members has dwindled in no time to an insignificant political party of a few dozen active members. The main role of Otpor, Pora and other NGOs in Eastern Europe and the “Third World” is therefore to attract and pacify the youth vanguard and serve as buffer against any prospective movement.

These movements were not designed to be revolutionary. The last thing the western bourgeoisie wants to see is the movement of the masses, even though these might be turning against the same people they want to get rid off. All of these movements were set up with the idea of putting pressure on disobedient so-called “rogue” regimes, and not for any kind of revolutionary change. Far from it! The kind of regime they want to put in place is one that is completely subservient to imperialism.

The fact that regimes such as those that have been brought down in these countries, have fallen so easily under the pressure of these “movements” speaks more about the rottenness of the system than any potential revolutionary strength of these movements. Let us recall that much bigger and longer lasting demonstrations in Belgrade in 1996 than the ones in Kiev recently did not succeed in overthrowing Milosevic at that time. It was not until 2001 that the opposition managed to win support from a section of the Serbian working class. It is significant that this small flexing of the muscles of the Serbian working class changed the whole outlook of the demonstrations. Showmanship and light-hearted humour disappeared and effective action took their place. In one day the movement, reinforced with militant workers, achieved more than in 84 days of citizens’ disobedience and peaceful marches. But unfortunately due to the lack of a mass revolutionary party, its ultimate results were more or less the same as in Georgia and Ukraine – a simple regime change and faster movement towards capitalism.

The people of the Ukraine should take a closer look at the country the so-called “orange revolution” was modelled on. After two major mass movements in the nineties against Milosevic and a spectacular overthrow on October 5, 2001, the situation in Serbia has not changed much and the same people who marched in the streets are now tired and cynical. It will not be long before the articles about the brave “orange revolutionaries” will disappear from the pages of the bourgeois press. Yuschenko will be president and the Ukraine will be old news, foreign journalists will pack and leave Kiev, Pora will be dismissed, people will start to feel cheated and only a tiny minority will profit from the whole process.

The Ukrainian workers, the Ukrainian people, must avoid falling into this trap! There must be an understanding that this is not the end but only a beginning. The spirit of organizing must and will survive in the most advanced and honest layers of the ordinary participants in the orange protests, for not all those protesting were pro-imperialist ex-bureaucrats. Some people honestly believed the propaganda of the movement, as they did in Serbia. Once the new regime is solidly in power, they will ask themselves why the same organisations that shouted such militant slogans against the corruption under Kuchma are now be silent under Yuschenko even though things have not improved. This experience will teach. Already a large part of the Ukrainian working class was not supporting the “orange” movement. The experience of the next period will teach the workers and the youth – whether they were in the movement or not – that there is no fundamental difference between the two camps that faced each other in the recent elections.

They will come to the conclusion that the workers need their own organisations. They will start building organisations controlled and organized by themselves, independent of western donations and hypocritical NGOs. Harsh reality will teach them that they cannot safely rely on anyone but the Ukrainian working class whose interests are truly connected with the genuine advancement of Ukraine. Maybe from that moment on they may even decide to change their trademark colour from orange to red. After all, it will finally be their own choice and not some western marketing agency’s idea.