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Ukraine: The Collapse of the Liberal “Left”

War – is peace! Freedom – is slavery! Democracy – is the limitation of all rights! Freedom of speech – is silence!

Many are surprised at how quickly Ukrainian society has fallen under the rule of aggressive chauvinistic propaganda and begun to live according to the principles of Orwellian dystopia: “War – is peace! Freedom – is slavery! Democracy – is the limitation of all rights! Freedom of speech – is silence! The victims burned and killed themselves![1]

But I’ve realized that that, for some time now, there is nothing surprising about this. If we analyze the recent history of the “left-wing movement” of Ukraine, it is clear that these cynical principles are the very essence of Ukrainian nationalism. They are shared even among those who would not be expected to succumb to the chauvinist hysteria. Why did the “left” liberals go to Maidan? Why did Ukrainian nationalists under the flags of the EU screaming “Pro-Russians to the knives! Death to the enemies!” become, for them, “the people”, while the population of the South-East, singing “Arise, great country!”[2] became sovky[3], “cattle” and “Colorado beetles” [4]?

Did the “leftists” not notice the anti-communist rhetoric that was heard everywhere at Maidan? The sincere promises to introduce anti-social reforms immediately after the victory of Maidan [Independence Square in Kiev] – reforms that are being implemented today? The aggression against all those who raised a social agenda? What about the calls to suppress all dissent? And the presence of a clericalism that projects women as “helpers of men” in the spirit of late Middle Ags chivalry? Was all this not obvious?

For a long time, I was not able to solve this riddle, until I found on my computer a photo from last winter at Maidan. It showed the crowd wiping their feet on the red flag. Then everything became clear.

All the liberals who today actively support the regime of the oligarchs and nationalists have for years been dismissing the left and uprooting and destroying communist symbols. They are no different in this than the brownshirted Ukrainian nationalists. They supported the anti-communist rhetoric, demonizing the Soviet past to the extreme. And they have introduced anti-left stock phrases into education and historical sciences in order to steer workers and the masses away from socialism – thus helping the expansion of the right.

How many times, at every May Day organizing committee, did I have to defend the main symbol of the international communist and workers’ movement – the red flag with the hammer and sickle? There were those who called for its removal, so as not to scare off liberals and nationalists. They did not mind the presence of the red and black flags of anarchists which 100 per cent of the people in Kiev associate with the red-black flags of the ultra-nationalist Bandera movement that dominate everywhere in the streets.

The marginal “left” sectarians actively fought with “authoritarian Stalinism” (which has not existed for decades), while cowardly ignoring the real threat of the rise of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism. Thus, they demonstrated stunning authoritarianism –the likes of which was hard to find even in the regional committees of the Communist Party of Ukraine.

The point is that the Ukrainian “anarchists” (I cannot write the word without adding quotation marks) and “libertarians” became the yes-men for Ukrainian nationalism before it was “cool” to do so. That is, long before the “Euromaidan.”

It is not surprising that today, the liberal lefts do not want to notice the thousands of wounded and murdered civilians in the South-East. After all, it would be terrible to lose the financial backing of European funders and disrupt their habit of not threatening those in power, for example by organizing a peaceful antiwar protest in the capital for the mere purpose of stopping the killing of some sovky in the South-East. They are scared by the possibility of being beaten by the rightwing, or face hysterical criticism in their office, or become outcasts in their favorite hipster hangouts. They fear being branded “agents of the FSB” ever since the Ukrainian bourgeois regime began to label antiwar protests as Kremlin-financed provocations.

It is much easier to get a grant for a round table discussion about the “threat of war.” “Have you heard? We have a war! Shall we get some funding from European sponsors so we can talk about it at a conference?” Meanwhile, every second bus of refugees fleeing Lugansk (if not every bus) comes under attack from the Ukrainian army and right-wing militias at roadblocks and Kiev “libertarians” collect money for weapons and body armor for the National Guard.

Worse, a number of so-called anarchists are openly fighting on the side of executioners in the Azov and Donbass battalions, under the command of Nazis who publicly boast they are taught by Swedish racists who brag of murdering Ukrainians.

Isn’t that a crime? Do posts in personal blogs about the killing of innocent civilians – women, children, elderly people and workers – and calls to end the war really mean support for Putin or separatism? In recent months, none of my “left” liberal friends who brought food for the far-right fighters at Maidan and commemorated the “Heavenly Hundred”[5], have offered a word or even a hint of condemnation of the actions of the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian right-wing militants nor sympathy for their victims.

One of the most popular excuses for war crimes is to blame the people of the Donbas region: ‘It’s their fault – they haven’t kicked the bandits out of Donbas and they provoked the war with their referendum!’ [6]

How is a “leftist” writing such stuff any different from the average nationalist fanatic? Let’s be honest – he or she is in no way different

The vilest thing about the sentimental swamp of left liberalism is its attitude to the Ukrainian political prisoners and refugees, among whom are many of our comrades. Thousands of unjustly (and even randomly) arrested people receive no support from grant-receiving, liberal “human rights” defenders. The principle of the Maidan activists: “Everything…for our people only; for the rest… punishment by law!” People who justify again and again massacres, kidnappings and beatings committed again and again by the supporters of the regime, then try to blame their failings on those with different ideological positions and who are engaged in the struggle against war. If this is anarchism, then what is fascism?

Now I’m at home, in Donbas. Every day, and sometimes all night, we have shooting and shelling. Throughout the city there are men with guns. But for the moment, I feel more or less at peace, for the first time in many months of hard and heavy work. For the first time since the destruction of Borotba’s office in Kiev; since the mass arrests of ordinary people in Kharkiv (many of whom had become my friends); since the attacks on my friends, persecution by police and intelligence services and the attempted kidnapping of my comrade and boyfriend that happened in broad daylight in the center of Kharkiv in May.

We get solidarity from a vast number of people – partisans of peace, who are often apolitical, in Ukraine and different countries around the world. But to support the opposition to the current regime in Kiev is too courageous an act for a left liberal. None of them commented on the murder of a member of the Communist Party, Vyacheslav Kovshun, perpetrated by neo-Nazis. Probably because he was not a human being for them, just a member of the “wrong bourgeois Communist Party” while the Nazis who killed him were “progressive” Maidan activists. None of them said a word about the abduction of another comrade, a communist from Volnovakha, or about the murder of Mariupol journalist Sergey Dolgov. And likewise, they were silent about the assassinations of the opponents to the right regime in Kharkov, Odessa and in the Donbas.

I had hoped that the “left” would take part in antiwar protests by supporting the wives and mothers in Western Ukraine protesting against the forced conscription of their husbands and children. But what can you expect from those who do not have the heart to be called a communist, leave alone act as such? From those who consider themselves “leftists,” but are amorphous, not aspiring to the responsibility and consciousness of a liberal and who obediently serve the interests of the Nazis and the oligarchs?

Now my hopes lie with humane and honest people. And I know there are many out there.

The events of recent days, the protests of mothers and wives of Ukrainian soldiers against conscription or the war, have shown that the Ukrainian workers do not need a glamorous leftist fringe. Ukrainian workers need bold and ideological communists, who will greet the word “leftist” with a kind of contemptuous sneer. The workers need people who are not afraid of the working class and are ready to organize and educate; who don’t ask: “Oh, how shall I start a conversation with workers so they don’t tell me to go away?” They need people who consider a worker a human being and are not befouled by oligarch propaganda against “quilted jackets”[7].

I know these people. Their numbers are growing. The future – belongs to them. It is these people who will make Ukraine free and socialist. Notes:


1. The latter refers to the excuses of Kyiv supporters for the torching of the trade union building in Odessa on May 2, 2014 that killed more than 40 anti-fascist protesters.

2. A verse from the popular mobilization song during WW2 calling on the people of Ukraine to fight against fascism.

3. A pejorative term by modern day liberals for people who have positive recollections of the former Soviet Union. The literal translation is ‘shovel’.

4. A derogatory term for people who wear the St. George ribbon, which is a symbol of the victory of the Soviet Union over fascism during WW2. The color of the ribbon is orange with black stripes.

5. This refers to the rightist protesters who died fighting in Maidan Square in January/February 2014. A “Hundred” is a Ukrainian Cossack term for battalion.

6. Donbas is the region in southeast Ukraine that includes the oblasts (provinces) of Donetsk and Luhansk. The people there voted in plebiscites in May for political autonomy from the central government in Kyiv.

7. A derogatory term for Soviet soldiers in WW2, who often wore quilted jackets for warmth.

This article has been revised and updated in collaboration with the editors of Liva from its original form.

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