Revolutions begin when capitalist contradictions become grave enough to unleash an explosion of public anger – but not all mass movements are progressive, warns Tomasz Pierscionek

Small protests, triggered by seemingly trivial or unrelated events, may rapidly gather pace to become mass movements.

The course they follow depends on pressures from within as well as from external factors, such as antagonistic forces and social-economic conditions.

The past few years have seen mass unrest in a number of countries across the globe, sparked by events that might otherwise have been relegated to a historical footnote.

Turkey and Egypt, two medium-sized countries on the peripheries of the European Union that both possess a sizeable working class, saw the eruption of mass unrest triggered respectively by the loss of an urban park and a suicide in a neighbouring country.

In Egypt a 30-year-long autocracy, propped up by military force, was overthrown. Ex-president Hosni Mubarak found himself imprisoned, paving the way for the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, to step into his shoes.

A short while later, following additional and larger protests, Morsi himself was deposed and imprisoned.

The Egyptian military regained control, under the guise of supporting the protesting masses and re-establishing order, bringing about a rebranded version of the old regime sans Mubarak. These events took place over the course of little more than a year.

Social upheavals akin to that recently witnessed in Ukraine can emerge from the spark of a single event that sets alight a powder keg of long-mounting contradictions in society, such as increasing inequality and feelings of alienation among the working class.

Once class conflicts reach a critical point they can quickly manifest in the overthrow of traditional power structures.

In nature, earthquakes occur following an unseen build up of pressure caused by two separate sections of the Earth’s crust rubbing against each other until energy built up by years of friction is unleashed in a surge of natural and violent force.

So too do social movements. Revolutions begin when contradictions inherent in capitalist society, often unseen at a cursory glance, become grave enough to unleash an explosion of public anger.

But not all mass movements have a progressive character or result in improving conditions for the working class.

In the case of Egypt, an autocracy was overthrown by a theocratic organisation representing a mixture of religious and petty bourgeois business interests.

Little changed for ordinary Egyptians who remained removed from the decision-making process and alienated from exercising control over their daily lives.

The initially peaceful and middle-class led protests in Kiev, which later gave way to fascist-orchestrated violence, did not begin solely because of President Victor Yanukovych’s refusal to accept a paltry offer of aid from the EU in exchange for opening up Ukraine’s markets for plunder by a cash-strapped and desperate alliance.

Such an act would have almost inevitably led to the collapse of industry in the east of Ukraine alongside a westward leaching of the country’s wealth.

Yanukovych was undoubtedly aware of what EU loans have meant for Greece.

Other factors also likely played a role in his reluctance to be strong-armed by the EU.

Ukrainian oligarchs, who control much of the industry in eastern Ukraine, may have pressed Yanukovych not to accept any deal as they would have lost out to competition from the wealthier and more organised capitalist forces of the EU.

Additionally, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer of €15 billion (£12.4bn) compared to the EU’s €1bn (£830 million) and Putin’s power to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine could have played a role in Yanukovych’s decision.

The challenge to the old order in Ukraine follows two decades of falling living standards.

Ordinary Ukrainian citizens were finding it harder to survive as wealth inequalities grew, leading to an increasingly impoverished majority alongside an ever wealthier elite.

Some in the latter group had been members of the Communist Party of Ukraine pre-1991, having joined to advance their career prospects rather than through confidence in the scientific method of Marxism-Leninism and a genuine desire to improve the lot of the majority. They found the transition from party bureaucracy to bourgeois democracy relatively straightforward.

Yanukovych and his cronies represent a faction of the Ukrainian ruling class that faces towards Moscow in contrast to the pro-EU faction led by darlings of the West Yulia Tymoshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko.

Klitschko himself has lived in Germany for many years yet manages to be head of the Udar (Punch) party in Ukraine.

In the final analysis, neither wing of the Ukrainian elites had anything of substance to offer the impoverished and demoralised majority.

The Obama regime in the US, undoubtedly still seething at Putin’s role in forcing the US to suspend plans for bombing Syria coupled with Russia’s sheltering of US National Security Agency truth-teller Edward Snowden, seized the opportunity to wade in and spread “democracy.”

Nato – read the US – has long harboured plans to expand its influence eastwards into former Soviet territory and tried to do so during the Ukrainian “orange” revolution of 2004 and the 2003 Georgian “rose” revolution.

A Nato-backed puppet government installed in Ukraine could lead to the loss of one of Russia’s most strategically important naval bases, the headquarters of the Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol in the Crimea.

In the early days of the demonstration, top-level politicians from the US, including former presidential candidate and Republican Party senator John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, travelled to Kiev to hand out cookies and give the protests a stamp of approval.

For those with any understanding of history and politics, alarm bells must have started to sound.

If the Kiev protest movement had truly represented the interests of the working people of Ukraine, top neocons would not have been seen fraternising with protesters.

While its politicians were interfering in Ukrainian affairs, the US warned Russia that any intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake.”

One can only speculate on the US State Department’s reaction if a member of Yanukovych’s party, or indeed a Russian politician, had travelled to New York at the height of the Occupy Movement to express public support for the 99 per cent.

Despite sporadic fighting between protesters and police, violence rapidly intensified around the weekend of February 22-23.

A day before the escalation Yanukovych had signed a compromise deal with opposition leaders.

Shortly after the agreement, remarkably well-organised and armed far-right street gangs sprang into action attacking police, occupying government buildings and easily wresting control from the protest leaders.

In the absence of a genuine working-class alternative, the most organised and fanatical forces in Ukrainian society sprang forth to fill the vacuum.

Leaders of far-right paramilitary organisations such as Oleg Tyahnibok, leader of the neonazi Svoboda movement, who has a history of fighting alongside Chechen militants against Russian forces, installed themselves in key government positions.

Several Svoboda leaders were appointed to the cabinet, three of whom were declared to be ministers of education, culture and justice.

Other cabinet members hail from the centre-right Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and Udar parties.

The Svoboda movement – until 2004 called the Socialist-Nationalist Party of Ukraine – is descended from Stepan Bandera’s Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists which fought alongside Hitler’s forces after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and was responsible for mass exterminations of civilians.

At that time, Bandera issued a manifesto which stated: “Moskali [Ukrainian slang for Russians], Poles and Jews are hostile to us and must be exterminated in this struggle.”

Many of Svoboda’s current members had fathers and grandfathers who fought in Bandera’s organisation.

The next several days saw far-right protesters in Ukraine wielding flags of the German-led EU as they marched through the streets suppressing democracy, intimidating supposed rivals and openly making threats to Jews, Russians and other ethnic minorities.

Yet EU and US officials still claimed that the protest movement spearheaded by the far-right was somehow a move towards democracy and for the most part did not condemn what was effectively a coup d’etat.

If even a fraction of the violence seen during the weekend of February 22-23 had occurred on the streets of Britain or the US, there can be little doubt that live rounds would have been used – in the US martial law might even have been declared – and the state-serving media would have likened the protesters to the spawn of Satan.

In the US, even a peaceful movement such as Occupy Wall Street was met with massive brutality.

An example of this, caught on camera and broadcast around the world, was the sight of NYPD officers assaulting and spraying seated and handcuffed protesters in the face with pepper spray.

In Britain, a document produced by the City of London police listed the Occupy Movement alongside violent organisations, such as Farc in Columbia and al-Qaida in Pakistan.

Recently leaders of the Jewish community in Ukraine issued a warning to their 200,000-strong community advising them to leave the area in the wake of increasing threats from far-right groups.

Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman of Kiev stated: “I told my congregation to leave the city centre or the city altogether and, if possible, the country too.”

There were also calls from the far-right to ban Russian as a second language in Ukraine alongside other threats to other minority groups.

At the beginning of the month the Russian Parliament voted to approve a request by President Putin to use military forces to protect ethnic Russians living in the east of Ukraine should they come under attack from fascist paramilitary forces making good their threats.

Earlier, the lower house of Russia’s Parliament had requested that Putin “take measures to stabilise the situation in Crimea and use all available means to protect the people of Crimea from tyranny and violence.”

Without hesitation British and US media went into overdrive, spouting myths of Putin’s desire for a new cold war and pretending that Russia had invaded Ukraine.

Such an example of lying by omissions ignore the fact that Ukraine and Russia have longstanding mutual agreements which permit Russia access to Ukrainian airspace and allow for Russia to maintain up to 25,000 troops in its bases in the Crimea.

Although Russia has sent troops to Crimea in recent days, at the time of writing it is estimated that there are only half the permitted numbers of Russian soldiers in Crimea.

In the mainstream media little mention was made of the role the US and EU played in instigating the crisis and no mention was made of the very real invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya undertaken by Western forces.

Additionally, US and European governments should be asked how they would act if an actual hostile force was issuing threats to their expat communities, bearing in mind the destruction wrought on a non-threatening country such as Iraq.

Many genuine criticisms of Putin could be made but warmongering is not one of them, especially since the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact was disbanded following the end of the cold war while the West’s “defensive alliance” of Nato continues to behave aggressively.

With Crimean citizens forming their own self-defence committees to protect against any aggression from paramilitary forces in Kiev, one has to ask whether Ukraine could go the way of Yugoslavia and descend into internecine conflict. Ukraine is also on the verge of a economic collapse – that word default here again – and the IMF is only too ready to ratchet up the poverty level with offers of “aid” in exchange for various “concessions,” as in Greece.

One positive piece of news is that sections of the Ukrainian armed forces have refused to follows orders given by the unelected cabal in Kiev, leaving open the possibility of the isolation of the Kiev-based politicians and paramilitaries (if they don’t receive a shot in the arm from the West, that is).

As an increasingly desperate imperialism – referred to by Lenin as the highest stage of capitalism – finds itself devoured by an economic crisis that is inherent in its structure, it is likely we may see further aggression against non-Nato counties such as Russia and China conducted under the usual pretexts of democracy and counter-aggression.

It is worth bearing this in mind on the eve of the 100th anniversary of World War I which very few expected to break out until it actually did.

Then, as now, one empire had run out of space to expand and felt threatened by another that was up and coming.

It is also possible that proxy wars, akin to that in Syria, may be fought on behalf of larger powers with the people living in those nations suffering greatly.

It is up to the working classes of all nations to demand an end to this system and refuse to be taken in by nationalist or scaremongering rhetoric. The threat is at home and not abroad.

March 10, 2014 via Morning Star
Dr Tomasz Pierscionek is editor of the London Progressive Journal