Ukraine: the authoritarian prison and the trap of democracy

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ICC Introduction

The “Orange revolution” in the Ukraine was given extensive media coverage in the West. The events appeared to possess all the ingredients of a political thriller: on one side, an utterly corrupt Stalinist mafia, in all probability guilty of the grotesque murder of a journalist who seems to have inquired too closely into its business; on the other, Yushchenko, the heroic defender of democracy, his face ravaged by the poison of a bungled KGB assassination with the beautiful Yulia Timoshenko at his side, the very symbol of youth and hope for the future.

One of the most important aspects of this thoroughly documented article (written in 2005) is that it uncovers what lay beneath the “Orange revolution” and thus helps to demystify the illusions in the democratisation of the countries of the ex-USSR. Events since 2004 have substantially confirmed the analysis put forward in this article, that the democratisation of the Ukraine was essentially determined by the struggle for power between the different clans of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie. Timoshenko became the Prime Minister of Yushchenko’s new government, only to be fired barely nine months later. The 2006 parliamentary elections (which saw the “Party of the Regions” of Yanukovich, the defeated 2004 presidential candidate and Kuchma’s heir, become the largest bloc in parliament) were followed by a series of negotiations among the various parties. The upshot of all this was that Timoshenko (who had failed to regain her job as Prime Minister despite an attempt at agreement with Yushchenko’s “Our Ukraine” party) joined up with the “socialists” and the “communists” and… the “Party of the Regions” in order to support her old enemy Yanukovich for the job of Prime Minister. The different alliances are so unstable, and so entirely based on struggles between cliques, that this situation could well have been reversed by the time we go to press.

We agree with the author’s denunciation of democracy. In particular, we want to insist on the validity of the idea that “if the workers join a bourgeois movement behind democratic slogans, that means that they refuse to struggle for the specific interests of the proletariat”. There remain nonetheless a few points where we have considered it necessary to point out disagreements, or what in our view is a certain lack of precision. To avoid interrupting the flow of the argument, we have indicated these in notes which appear at the end of the article.

ICC, 7th July 2006

Many countries of the world are witnessing a trend towards the increased restriction of citizens' rights and liberties, and a retreat of bourgeois democracy. On the other hand movements periodically rise to the surface of public life, armed with slogans for re-establishing democracy. Sometimes these slogans are very misty, vague and inconsequential; very often they are perfectly empty. But as the experience of the "Orange Revolution" in the Ukraine shows, they can arouse millions of people to struggle. Democracy's attractive power is so great, and the movements it inspires so massive that many left-wingers, both radical and moderate, rush to join the camp of "revolutionary-democrats". Their souls are filled with a noble aspiration to escape from the prison of authoritarianism to the realm of liberty. But whereas before the victory of the capitalist order fighting to establish bourgeois democracy was compatible with revolutionary activity, in today's developed capitalist society the struggle for democracy cannot be part of the revolutionary struggle. Any marxist, who does not understand this, finds himself in a tragic, or even a tragi-comic situation. He may escape from the prison of authoritarianism, but barely has he escaped than the trap of democracy slams shut on him, and it is impossible to be free of it. I shall now try to justify this statement.

The function of bourgeois democracy

Uneven development, anarchy of production and a plurality of interests within the ruling class, are characteristics of capitalist society that are axiomatic for any unprejudiced observer. This is therefore our starting point. Experience shows that in capitalist society the configuration of different interest groups within the ruling class changes over relatively short periods of time. Practically, today is already not the same as yesterday, and tomorrow will be noticeably different from today. Inasmuch as the balance of interests of the bourgeoisie changes dynamically, it is necessary for the political system of capitalist society to be able to respond to these changes in a timely way. In other words, it must not only be flexible, it must also demonstrate a broad variety in its own forms. It thus follows that the less flexible the political forms of bourgeois society are, the less able they will be to respond to changes in the balance of power, and the less durable they will be.

Dictatorship is probably one of the least flexible forms of the bourgeois political system, and one of the least suitable for quick reactions to a changing power balance. Strictly speaking, it is created solely to perpetuate a balance established at the moment of its victory. However it is impossible to eliminate such a characteristic of bourgeois society as the mutation of interests within the ruling class. Therefore dictatorship turns out to be, as a rule, historically short-lived. Practically it is possible to count on the fingers of one hand the bourgeois dictatorships that have existed for more than a third of a century. As a rule, such political longevity prospers in retarded capitalist countries. A prime example is North Korea, where the Kim family dictatorship has been in power for sixty years. Bourgeois-democratic regimes, by contrast, can survive for centuries. The secret of their stability lies in their flexibility. Bourgeois democracy allows a sufficiently easy and effective reflection of changing interest groupings in the bourgeoisie within the political system. In this sense it is an ideal political cover for the domination of capital.[i]

However, what interests us here is not the advantages that capitalism derives from bourgeois democracy, but the processes which developed in conditions dominated by undemocratic, authoritarian, or frankly dictatorial regimes. Certainly, there are objective reasons behind the establishment of any particular mode of government, i.e. a certain balance of interests of the bourgeoisie leads to their appearance. But today's balance is not the same as tomorrow's. And if the reasons for the existence of a particular authoritarian regime disappear, then this means that regime itself must leave the stage.

But as we have said, authoritarian or dictatorial regimes do not adapt to situations in society, rather they demand that such situations adapt to themselves. Rather than accept their own disappearance, they will cling to life by all truths and untruths and will try to prolong their existence notwithstanding the mood of civil society.

Such a situation must inevitably dissatisfy those layers of the bourgeoisie whose interests are not expressed by the regime in power. They try to act as oppositions, accuse the regime of being undemocratic, and attempt to break its power. As an alternative to dictatorship they propose democracy, since democracy gives them the possibility of changing the distribution of power within the state organs of authority in accordance with the new balance of interests, which dictatorship or an authoritarian mode of rule does not. Therefore every bourgeois opposition within these kinds of power system proudly displays a democratic banner. Whether it sticks to the principles of democracy after its victory is a secondary question for us, because if it does not the democratic banner will very soon be born aloft by another fraction of the bourgeoisie, possibly even from the ruling group, and so the fight for democracy will begin again.

Much more important are the methods the discontented bourgeois oppositions use in the fight for their own political ideals. These depend largely on the characteristics of the regime they are fighting against. The more stubbornly the authoritarian regime ignores the demands of bourgeois public opinion, the more stubbornly it clings to life, the more it uses violence to avoid its collapse due to the establishment of a new balance of interests, then the stronger is the barrier that the bourgeois opposition has to overcome, and the more radical the methods forced on these politicians. We need only recall that the opposition to today's dictator of Turkmenistan, Niyazov, has formed a secret political emigration, or that Saakashvili (president of Georgia[1]) and Yushchenko (president of the Ukraine) have no qualms about calling the events that brought them to power "revolutions".

So, the greater or lesser radicalism of methods in the fight for democracy depends on the conditions of the authoritarian regimes and dictatorships. The greater a dictatorship’s orgy of arbitrariness in its fight for survival, the more chance there is that even the most respectable figures of the bourgeois oppositions will declare that they are revolutionaries.

The more diehard and unbending the authoritarian regime remains in its opposition to the winds of time, the greater must be the blow that a bourgeois opposition must wield to knock it down. To create such power, it must gain the support of the working masses such as the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie. If the opposition manages to do this, its chances of overthrowing its enemy sharply increase. However the workers, peasants and merchants initially join the opposition on a bourgeois basis, since the opposition initially does not put forward any strategic goals other than changes in the arrangement of bourgeois elites. Consequently, if workers join a bourgeois movement under democratic slogans, this means a refusal to fight for the specific interests of the proletariat. And those marxists, who for the sake of an opposition movement in the present abandon the strategic goals of the class struggle, lose their independent ground and follow in the wake of the bourgeoisie. By propagandising for democracy they only help one group within the bourgeoisie to overcome another, and that is all.

Although this struggle may be characterised by its large scale, the broad involvement of the toiling masses, its radical methods, the ruthlessness and stubbornness of its opponent, or even by its ability to undertake armed rebellion, this does not make it revolutionary. It generates an illusion of revolution due to a resemblance in the forms and methods of struggle, which are known from the experience of revolutions. But an external resemblance does not mean a unity of essence. In the same way as a whale looks like fish, but is in fact not a fish, but a mammal, so the fight for democracy in developed capitalist society looks like a revolution, but is not one in fact. Revolution is a qualitative shift in the development of society, a transition from one formation to another, and its main element is a change in property relations.[ii] But what changes in property relations were brought about by the "Orange Revolution", for instance? What formations were changed in the Ukraine in 2004?

That said, it is known that the term "revolution" is also used to describe events, during which relations of property remain unchanged. For instance, in France in 1830, 1848, and 1870. But these events were characterised by progressive change: on each occasion the power fell to a part of the bourgeoisie less burdened by feudal survivals than its predecessors. That is to say these events emerged as the final acts of the great French revolution of 1789, ridding society of its feudal property relations, and only in this sense is it possible to refer to them as revolutions. When capitalist society becomes mature, a change in ruling groups, whatever methods they use, does not lead to a bourgeoisie loaded with feudal survivals, giving way to a more progressive faction. The change is only a change of like to like - one bourgeois group or equivalent to another. In such a situation progressive changes cannot be included in the definition. Regardless of whether the fight is for democracy against dictatorship or for dictatorship against democracy, in developed capitalist society the only revolutionary change is that which leads to its destruction and to a new, higher order – to communism.

Marxists who try to ally themselves with democratic bourgeois opposition groups, are condemned to self liquidation. Entering the struggle on the side of one of the bourgeois groups and abandoning their independent positions, they also voluntarily abandon communist revolutionary activity, the only one possible in the present period. Consequently, regardless of their own subjective intentions they cease to fight for communism. This is the trap into which they fall by defending democracy. They think that overthrowing the dictatorship will bring them nearer to a new social formation, but instead this completely destroys their own power, and their ability to strive for it. Indeed their own demands are dissolved in the movement of the bourgeois opposition: their essential difference from such movements disappears.

This is the theory. But important practical findings follow from it. Marxists, living in countries with authoritarian regimes should not be surprised by their overthrow. The first harbinger of this future overthrow will be the appearance of bourgeois oppositions with generally democratic slogans. Thereafter, the more stupid the possessors of state power, the more their overthrow will look like a revolution. However it needs to be clearly understood that a bourgeois opposition, whatever its struggle for victory, is not revolutionary and will not bring about fundamental change. So marxists in any event must not fall in behind the opposition, even if on a tactical level its struggle against the particular bourgeois regime and ours temporarily coincide. On the contrary, it is necessary to defend an independent line, unmasking both authoritarian rulers, and their democratic enemies. It is necessary to denounce both the authoritarian power and the democratic illusions it generates. This is the only possible way to use the ruin of an authoritarian regime to reinforce our own positions in the fight for the communism. Why? Because in the political system, for which we are fighting, there is no room for either a democratic, or an authoritarian bourgeoisie.

The causes of the Orange wave

Not since 1993 has the Ukraine seen a political crisis as acute as the "Orange revolution". That year was marked with the general strike in the Donbass and the industrial region of Pridneprovie. On the basis of the tactical coincidence of its own interests with the interests of the "red directors", the working class undertook a struggle against the predatory policies of the Ukrainian state. The strike led to the resignation of Leonid Kuchma (then only the Prime Minister) and provoked a crisis at the top of the bourgeois state. The result was the anticipated parliamentary and presidential elections. However the working class did not achieve its main purpose of stopping the economic crisis and robbery.

The crisis of November-December 2004 was very different from that of August-September 1993. Whereas then, the proletariat had emerged as an independent political power, in 2004 nothing similar was observed.[iii] Therefore a social-class analysis of these events must begin from the balance of Ukrainian bourgeois power. It was precisely a split in its ranks that brought about the "Orange revolution".

Up until summer 2004 Kuchma's regime largely succeeded in maintaining a news blackout in the Ukraine so the first stages of a future separation of "Blue-White" and "Orange" areas passed unnoticed by the majority of ordinary people. At least, the author of these lines, living in the "Blue-White" area, sensed a prevailing atmosphere of asphyxiating stability. Meantime in West Ukraine, in Kiev and in certain central areas, the Orange movement had already begun to emerge. But the split in the ruling class preceded this process.

The well known crisis of winter 2000-2001 (the "Gongadze affair"[2]) brought about the formation of an anti-Kuchma opposition; after many doubts and fluctuations Victor Yushchenko finally moved towards this opposition. In April 2001 Kuchma dismissed him as Prime Minister. The opposition threatened Kuchma with impeachment and he was afraid that Yushchenko could become an adversary (according to the constitution, in the event of the president's impeachment his place is occupied by the acting Prime Minister). What Kuchma feared, he got. Ex-Prime Minister Yushchenko led a right opposition and declared his presidential ambitions. Thanks to the 2002 parliamentary elections, where massive fraud was reported especially in the Donetsk oblast[3] (whose governor was Yanukovich), Kuchma managed to create a stable majority in support of his presidency. Oppositionists of all kinds gradually disappeared from the political scene; control of the mass media etc was tightened up. Slowly but surely, Ukraine was being "Putinised". However behind the scenes things were not running so smoothly. First of all Kuchma had to think of his successor to the presidency.

The ancients believed that the World rests on three whales. Although not the World, Leonid Kuchma also had a triple prop i.e. three oligarchic clans or, to be precise, three financial-industrial groups. These are the Kiev, Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk clans. The last of these for a long time held the leading position - unsurprisingly since it is the native clan of the former president. It re-established the dominant position it had held in Brezhnev's day thanks to Leonid Kuchma. The recognized chieftain of the Donetsk clan is Rinat Ahmetov, and in the Kiev clan the leading role belongs to the brothers Surkis and Victor Medvedchuk.

While in the nineties the leading role in Ukrainian politics was played by the Dnepropetrovsk clan, at the end of Kuchma's second presidency the situation changed. The rise of industry that began in the Ukraine, led to the reinforcement of the Donetsk clan's positions. Little is known of the details of the internal clan struggle in conditions of a changing power balance, but we do know the final result. In the autumn of 2002 the Donetsk clan put forward their man as Kuchma's heir - a chief of the Donetsk oblast state administration, Victor Yanukovich. In the summer of 2003 it became clear that the choice was definitive.

This situation created, for the Donetsk clan, what in economic science is called a multiplication effect: a process of avalanche-like reinforcement of the clan began. Its relative reinforcement compared to other clans gave it the post of Prime Minister, which promoted a further economic reinforcement of Donetsk, as well as a springboard to the presidency and thence the possibility of definitively subjecting its rivals. Using the opportunities offered by Yanukovich, the Donetsk men developed an active economic expansion. Already at the beginning of 2004 independent experts noted that this dissatisfied the Dnepropetrovsk clan, as well as potentially provoking discontent among Kharkow businessmen. However at the beginning of 2004 year the Kharkow bourgeoisie remained on good terms with the Donetsk colossus, and the president's son-in-law Pinchuk (of the "Dnepropetrovsk" clan) with Ahmetov privatized a large metallurgical combine "Krivorozhsteel". Internal friction within the framework of the ruling alliance of clans and their secondary regional hangers-on did not appear on the surface until autumn 2004.

The threat to the unity of the bourgeoisie's dominant faction came from outside. The Ukrainian bourgeoisie found itself unable to overcome the split which occurred in connection with the Gongadze affair, despite the endeavours of the ruling establishment.[4] The reason for this remains to be determined. At all events, the author can only say that he does not possess sufficient information on the subject. However, despite the gradual isolation of the opposition, the representatives of the ruling establishment continued to join its ranks. In 2001-2002 the "Authorities party" lost important businessman and politicians such as Petr Poroshenko (who left the Social Democratic Party of the Ukraine (united)), Yury Yekhanurov (who left the People's Democratic Party) and Roman Bezsmertny (he abandoned Kuchma directly, because he was a presidential deputy in the parliament). Yushchenko's party gained the support of the mayor of Kiev, Alexander Omelchenko. At the beginning of 2004 Alexander Zinchenko, a prominent member of the SDPU(u) was a major gain for the opposition. He quarrelled with his fellow party members and with the Kiev clan and went over to Yushchenko. In September 2004 due to the evident success of the Yushchenko election campaigns, the pro-presidential parliamentary majority evaporated. Some deputies abandoned the "centre" factions and the president’s supporters already had only a relative majority. In the interim active propaganda for Yushchenko continued and in the future Orange area an organization "Pora" ("It's time") developed its activity. In the south it encountered little echo. But whereas in West Ukraine and in Kiev the local authorities obviously helped Yushchenko's election campaigns, in the centre, in the south and east the state apparatus firmly supported Yanukovich. Even though in the summer of 2004 it was already obvious that in the central regions the population was resolutely opposed to the views of the ruling officials, this did not trouble even the elected deputies who might have been expected to fear for their seats.

But we have to say that the news blackout made itself felt in the summer of 2004. The "Blue-White area" knew little about the mood in the "Orange" one. This is one more reason for Marxists to consider that a well-organized party is necessary. In conditions where the ruling class prevents the spread of information damaging to it, only a strong party structure can create a channel for the alternative collection and spreading of information about what is happening in the country.

However the split in the dominating class was too peculiar. Before the "Orange revolution" Pinchuk, Kuchma, and Putin - at different times and independently one from another - have declared for both Yushchenko and Yanukovich: the question is about representatives of the same command. Kuchma even voiced regret at the split. But despite the split, something like a gentlemen's agreement held between its representatives. Each side poured buckets of dirt and compromising materials on its opponent, but one subject remained taboo. The true story about the unprecedented mockery of the people of Ukraine during the first decade of independence is a really inexhaustible well of information for blackening one’s enemy. Yet neither Yushchenko, nor Yanukovich drew from this well. Probably the knowledge that both had participated in these dirty deals outweighed their mutual hostility. But one thing was clear: the elections would not be about changing the regime, but about transposing its components.

Foreign policy was the only significant difference between the two sides. Yanukovich intended to continue Kuchma's line of 2001-2004, which consisted in balancing between the European Union and Russia with the scales weighed rather towards the Russian side. Yushchenko had the reputation of being pro-American, but in fact he tended towards the EU and away from Russia. The government’s behaviour since his victory has confirmed this completely. But which of them was right?

In January 2005 the newspaper Uriadovy courier published preliminary statistics on the development of the Ukraine’s foreign trade during 2004. It forces us to the conclusion that Yushchenko’s victory was not accidental. For the period of January- November 2004 the Ukraine’s exports rose 42.7% to reach $29,482.7 million, whereas imports rose 28.2 % to $26,070.3 million dollars. The positive balance of trade rose from $324.3 million to $3,412.4 million dollars. This is a fantastic amount. Such an income from foreign trade would allow the Ukraine to pay off its foreign debt in four years. But the most interesting aspect is that the Russian share accounts for only 18% of Ukrainian exports, and USA’s only 4.9%. The EU has emerged as the Ukraine’s main trading partner (29.4%) while the CIS as a whole only accounts for 26.2%. Because the Ukraine’s industrial development depends on the export orientation of the economy, continued industrial expansion and increasing profits for the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, including the Donetsk clan, depends on the successful development of trade with the EU. But the EU, as is well known, obstructs access to its own markets to businessmen from unfriendly states. So the Ukrainian bourgeoisie had good reason to support Yushchenko.

The foreign economic conjuncture could reinforce the Yushchenko group’s position in the struggle with Kuchma-Yanukovich, but it could not in itself cause the events known as the "Orange revolution". To arouse the mass of the people an internal factor was needed. Such a factor was the discontent accumulated in society over the years. However, this was not enough either. Undoubtedly the same discontent exists in Russia too, however it has not as yet given rise to any "Orange revolution". So we are led to conclude that the deciding factor, which gave the discontent an outlet, was a split in the ruling class. The opposition decided to harness the discontent of the exploited and to steer it in profitable direction, making it a battering ram to destroy the positions of the ruling group. This was the essence of the "Orange revolution".

The Orange movement used the official values of the Kuchma regime: nationalism, democracy, the market and the so-called "European option". There was very little new in it. These elements underlie the messianic mood embodied in the formula "Yushchenko – rescuer of the nation" which has already given rise to a personality cult. This was the only difference between the “Orange” movement and the ideology with which the Ukrainian population had been brainwashed for the previous fourteen years. In these circumstances, it took very little to be an Orange oppositional and take Yushchenko’s side. You needed only to be convinced that Kuchma was a hypocrite because he failed to keep his promises.

Such enthusiastic belief in Yushchenko’s propaganda was far from being present in all social groups. Firstly, the workers in the south and east were mostly satisfied with the economic successes of recent years and were sceptical about Yushchenko’s promises to rescue the Ukraine. One serious question, is why this did not happen with the proletariat of Kiev, which also feels that it is benefiting from industrial development; this did not prevent it from supporting the Orange faction. Secondly, amongst the populations of the south and the east, Yushchenko’s Ukrainian nationalism encountered little response, since they basically consist of Russians and russified Ukrainians.

Except among young people, whose consciousness is formed in conditions of nationalist propaganda, Yushchenko did not find broad support in these regions, and even amongst the youth it was much weaker than in the centre and the west.

In the end an important part of the Orange movement came from the petty bourgeois layers of west and central Ukraine. These are peasants, semi-proletarians, shopkeepers, and students. Many proletarians of these regions were also amongst the Orange supporters. It is worth examining their social character. With the exception of Kiev, Lwow and some other smaller cities, the proletariat of central and west Ukraine is concentrated in small towns, scattered among villages. According to the census of 1989, when the Ukraine’s level of urbanization peaked, 33.1% of the republic’s population lived in the countryside. Out of 16 areas of future Orange support (not counting Kiev) only in three was this proportion below 41%. In five oblasts it was between 43-47%, but in eight it exceeded 50%, and in some cases noticeably so (Ternopol oblast 59.2%, Zakarpate 58.9% etc.) In the 1990s the position only worsened: industry was destroyed, the population began to regress on the cultural level, workers had to rely on their vegetable gardens to survive and began to go back to the land, to restore their own social relationships with the villages, where they also have a mass of kinsfolk. So the influence of the rural petty bourgeois atmosphere on them increased immensely. Finally recent industrial development is reflected in this agrarian region’s increased electoral profile: the bourgeoisie and the population of the large industrial centres profited from the development, but not the Orange area. As a result the potential for discontent survived in this area, and the Yushchenko group has used this, and involved this proletariat infected with petty bourgeois consciousness in the fight for its group interests.

Yushchenko and his sister-in-arms Timoshenko (she played the part of some kind of Dolores Ibarruri of the "Orange revolution”[5]) probably never heard the reasoning of some marxists who fell into menshevism during the search for a new revolutionary form. So Orange leaders borrowed directly from the experience of the Bolsheviks.[iv] On the night of 22nd November, during the count of the second round of voting, they did not just call their supporters to get out on the streets of Kiev but united and prepared them beforehand, ensured a corresponding organizing base, and offered them a well-prepared political structure. The spontaneous demonstrations in the city squares were preceded by careful propaganda and the organization of the masses. As some in Kiev have said, the tents appeared on Independence square before the second round, and Yushchenko’s supporters had been offering explanations as to who was guilty and what was to be done since the spring. Of course, the help of the Kiev city authorities made things easy for them. But this was not the main factor. When the decisive hour came, people discontented with the electoral result already knew where to go and whom to join. They waited with "Pora", at Yushchenko’s election headquarters, at the offices of "Our Ukraine" and the "Batkivshchina" ("Motherland") party. Social protest (it does not matter what lay behind it) was uniquely and clearly channelled into struggles for the "rescuer of nation". Let the supporters of “new revolutionary forms” tell us how it is possible to neutralize such tricks of the bourgeoisie and withdraw from its control at least a part of the people, unless it is opposed by the same weapon – a well organised and trained party.

The outcome of the “Orange revolution”

At the same time is necessary to settle a few points, which have hitherto been the object of some uncertainty. First, was there fraud in the presidential elections? Yes, indeed. And on both sides. Less has been said about the tricks of Yushchenko’s supporters for one trivial reason alone: unlike Yanukovich they did not control the state apparatus, and that is why their own options were seriously limited. It is possible that without the fraud the two Victors would have obtained virtually the same result in the second round as they did in the first. But in the end this did not happen.

Another explanation claims that the Orange movement was artificial, that people stood for money etc. In fact this is not at all so, and sometimes far from being so. Let us start with the negative facts. It is known that the work of the Yushchenko activists was paid for both before the elections, and during them. Openly bourgeois parties do not behave any differently. It is also known that "Pora" activists worked for money. Moreover, the individuals who were charged with having blocked the entrance to the Cabinet Office during the Orange events responded to the questions put to them with identical answers learned by heart, which is a sign that they were not acting from conviction. It is also known that some people had their trip to Kiev paid for (however this information is limited to the blue-white area). Finally it is known that “bosses’ strikes” took place on both the Orange side and the Blue-White side.[6]

The Russian newspaper Mirovaia Revolutsia ("World revolution") has already published material on the nature of this phenomenon in the CIS, although in the corresponding article it was suggested that this facility will not be necessary for the Ukrainian bourgeoisie in the near future. Reality, however, has demonstrated the opposite. Company directors in the Donbass and Pridneprovie regions took the initiative first, in support of Yanukovich. Before the second round they conducted a series of short "strikes" against Yushchenko. At the sound of the factory siren, workers were led to a brief meeting and very soon everybody went back to producing surplus value again. The manoeuvres of Orange factory directors are not so well known and require further study, however it is already possible to confirm that the wave of strikes in western Ukraine after the second round was mostly artificial; the initiative came not from below, but from above. For example in Vinnitsa oblast Petr Poroshenko closed all his factories and offered to let people go to the meetings in Kiev. But nothing has been heard about any representatives of outraged labour groups or strike committees appearing in connection with the "Orange revolution".[7]

On the other hand, a multitude of eyewitness accounts show that the majority of Orange supporters came to occupy the city squares out of conviction. Meetings in Kiev brought together several hundred thousand people. Their scale can be judged by the fact that Independence square together with adjoining streets was unable to contain all those who wanted to come. The Orange sea spread up to Sophia square, where a monument to Bogdan Khmelnitsky stands. Anyone who knows the geography of Kiev, does not need an explanation as to what this means. The Orange supporters were not even afraid of the freezing weather, which hit the capital at the end of November. Neither snow, nor a temperature of -10°C forced them to disperse. As for the people  of Kiev they actively helped the visitors: they fed them, or gave them a place to sleep. Because during the first days of "revolution" Yushchenko's headquarters had not yet managed to make provision for participants in the meetings, the support of the capital's inhabitants greatly promoted the protests’ success. On some occasions schoolchildren practically forced their way to protest actions, notwithstanding their teachers' attempts to stop them. In the universities of Lwow and Kiev, and in some other high schools, classes were stopped, not because the university administrations favourable to Yushchenko wanted this, but because the students themselves ran from their studies and went to protest. All this is impossible to organize with money alone.

It is also worth mentioning the high degree of discipline among the Orange supporters. A service of stewards to protect the meetings was organized almost immediately in Kiev. According to people worthy of confidence, it first appeared spontaneously and intuitively. Of course, afterwards the Orange bosses reined it in. Despite the frost, those at the meetings did not drink alcohol. Drunks and drug addicts were immediately spotted and ejected from the square. The movement thus succeeded in avoiding provocations, rowdiness and spontaneous disturbances. These facts knock the spots off a widespread philistine thesis: "How is it possible to make a revolution with a such people?" If people are able to demonstrate such positive qualities in the fight for bourgeois aims, what wonders of discipline and organization they will show, when they will fight for their own class interests!

However, in the present conditions we must acknowledge that unfortunately hundreds of thousands of people in the Ukraine spared neither time, energy, nor health in the fight for one bourgeois faction to defeat another, for Kuchma's retired prime-minister to defeat the acting one.

From this point of view we have to acknowledge that never since the period of Perestroika has the bourgeoisie dominated the proletariat as completely as it does now.[v] We did not see even the slightest attempts to defend an independent proletarian class position, unless we include the efforts of a few microscopic marxist groups. It looks like a throwback to 1987, when people were united with the party and even ready to die for it. The bourgeoisie has restored its absolute hegemony over the proletariat with the victory of Yushchenko, however it has done so in such a way that this hegemony will turn out to be short-lived. It will soon begin to fall, though we need to examine more closely the how and the why. Meanwhile I would point out that in the present circumstances the Yushchenko leadership has such a credit of trust that it can absolutely ignore the interests of the proletariat. Therefore the "honest power", for which Yushchenko is currently fighting, will soon demonstrate an unprecedented arbitrariness in relation to the exploited. Suffice it to say that plans to abolish the First of May holiday are already in the works. This is a symbolic beginning - a whole program in one gesture.[8]

But let's finish with an analysis of the bourgeoisie’s internal class conflicts. As was mentioned, they defined the course of the Orange events. The Orange wave immediately broke the structures on which Yanukovich relied. The regional and city councils in several oblasts of west and central Ukraine have declared that they will acknowledge president Yushchenko; a Kiev council also took his side. Litvin, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, has cautiously begun to accompany Yushchenko; representatives of the army high command have declared that the army will not oppose the people. As for president Kuchma, he has eliminated himself from events, to the complete surprise of all observers. During the first days of the "Orange revolution", there were misgivings that he would disperse meetings by force. But this did not happen. Leonid Kuchma did not try anything at all. This is one of the riddles of the "Orange revolution". Probably, the increasing contradictions between the Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk men affected Kuchma's position. As we have said, the latter have already felt the burden of the former’s expansion. Anyway, Kuchma's clan has refused to support Yanukovich. Three main facts prove this. 1) Kuchma's inaction. 2) The powerful Dnepropetrovsk businessman Sergei Tigibko, who at the time headed both The National Bank of Ukraine and the Yanukovich election campaign, sent in his resignation and has left his patron’s headquarters to the arbitrariness of fate. 3) When it became clear that the "Orange revolution" would not be suppressed, an upheaval occurred in Dnepropetrovsk. The acting governor V. Yatsuba, who was Yanukovich's protégé, sent in his resignation, because deputies of the oblast council elected as its new chairman Shvets, Yatsuba’s predecessor. The governor, of course, refused to work with his enemy. However Kuchma prudently did not confirm this retirement.

A frantic struggle also unfolded in the Kharkov region. Business circles in the city saw a chance to dispose of the Donetsk men’s tutelage and supported the Orange movement. The Kharkov town council was kind to Yushchenko. The "rescuer of nation" himself arrived in the city especially to make deals with local businessmen. But the regional authorities there fought for Yanukovich, and Kharkov, despite all the Orange activity, has stayed Blue-White.

The Orange wave has thus deepened a split in the ruling class and undermined the position of Yanukovich. Many of his supporters have jumped across into the Yushchenko camp. The control of the state apparatus began to slip away from his hands. And here we can immediately see Yushchenko’s advantage over his rival. He had a mass public movement on his side, whereas Yanukovich did not. Thanks to Kuchma's inaction, the "Orange revolution" began to win victories. Its success was mainly due to a paralysis of the central state authority. However at the end of the first week the Blue-Whites began their counteroffensive, led by a convention of local government representatives in the town of Severodonetsk. It demanded the transformation of the Ukraine into a federation and threatened that the Blue-White regions would secede. Meanwhile a famous session of the constitutional court of the Ukraine began, which decided that the results of the ballot were invalid and fixed new elections. The court’s decision meant a new success for the Oranges. After these successes, the struggle was limited to battles for position, although it was clear that the Blue-Whites were losing. But they nonetheless achieved certain successes. They managed to organize a mass movement in support of Yanukovich, however much weaker than the Orange one.

In general the "Orange revolution" ended with the partial victory of the Yushchenko group. First, some agreement was reached between Yushchenko and Kuchma. As late as the end of February 2005 the Cabinet of Ministers proposed to reduce Kuchma’s privileges, the edict guaranteeing Kuchma against prosecution (like that given to Yeltsin by Putin) was not signed, and the government attacks began on Pinchuk’s plant "Krivorozhsteel" for the purpose of nationalization.[9] It is possible that Kuchma managed to get only a poor deal for himself, and that it was basically Yushchenko who benefited from the compromise. But the details of the negotiations remain unknown. Secondly, the forces of the Kuchma-Yanukovich camp decided to take out an insurance for themselves and consequently continued with constitutional reform. Consent for constitutional reform became a basis for compromise between the Orange and the Blue-White bourgeoisie. In general the fate of constitutional reform is very interesting. Firstly it was conceived to intensify a president's power and simultaneously adapt the Ukrainian political system to EU standards. Afterwards, at the end of 2003, the presidential majority decided that it needed to move in the other direction and to weaken the president's power. Probably they had misgivings that power could fall to the popular Yushchenko, as well as fearing to give too much power to a protégé of the Donetsk clan, who had already emerged as Kuchma's undoubted successor. The opposition, with Yushchenko and Timoshenko in the lead at first supported the new project, but afterwards came out against it. Voting for amendments in June 2004 was a wretched failure. They failed to be accepted by only five votes. But there was still hope that they could be voted during the autumn session of the Supreme Soviet. During the "Orange revolution" the remnants of the presidential majority used exactly this opportunity. As an essential condition for the satisfaction of a number of the Orange’s political requirements,[10] they have provided support for constitutional reform. Yushchenko's faction agreed on this.[11] Only Timoshenko's block voted against. However, Timoshenko presently can feel regret for this. Having become prime minister she gets the most reform advantages. From January 2006 the power of the president will have been sharply limited, and the key figure becomes the premier, appointed by the parliamentary majority, to which he answers. It does not matter that presently there is no majority in the Supreme Soviet. When the Supreme Soviet voted for the election of Timoshenko as premier, 357 deputies of the 425 present voted in favour. Such ”approvalism”[12] has not been seen in the Supreme Soviet of the Ukraine since 1989. So the bourgeoisie of the Ukraine has celebrated a reconstruction of complete hegemony over the proletariat.

Finally, the "Orange revolution" has presented one important lesson in connection with the functioning of the constitutional court of the Ukraine. As is well known, the victims appealed to it twice on exactly the same grounds. In November 2004 Yushchenko's command led to an action on the falsification of the second round results, and in January 2005 Yanukovich's command did the same on the falsification of the third round results. But not only were the results different, so was the very judgement itself. In the first case the court worked in good faith, and basically satisfied the complaint of the plaintiff. In the second case a meeting was transformed into slapstick and it was out of the question to satisfy complaints. Well-wishers of Yanukovich claim that the court sold itself to the Oranges. But this is nonsense. Actually everything was determined by the correlation of power. Hundreds of thousands of people stood for Yushchenko, ready for extreme measures up to the violent seizure of state power, and they were concentrated not in the periphery, but in the capital. Yanukovich could not throw such power onto the scales. The Blue-White movement by then wielded noticeably less power than the Orange and had no support in the capital. No wonder it lost. It follows:

  1. the concentration of the main power of any social movement (regardless of its nature) in the capital is an important factor of its victory;
  2. at moments of sharp social conflicts the masses decide on the outcome of the struggle;[vi]
  3. the right of power is always more strong than the rule of law, and whatever the laws, mass public protest is able to smash them.

In principle these conclusions are not new and confirm the validity of revolutionary tactics, worked out at the time of the great European revolutions. Here it is only necessary to recall that a resemblance in methods does not always mean a resemblance in essence. The "Orange revolution" did not express anything revolutionary in itself. All its turns and zigzags can be explained not as the "struggle of classes", but as the "struggle of clans". The People, which played a decisive role in Yushchenko's victory, did not emerge as an independent social actor at all but voluntarily surrendered itself into the hands of  the "rescuer of the nation". I hope that this article shows this sufficiently persuasively, and that the rule of the Orange chieftains will no less persuasively destroy the illusions of any readers who may have received the arguments given here with scepticism.[13]



[1] In 2004, Georgia’s president Shevardnadze was overthrown by the so-called “Rose Revolution”.

[2] In November 2000, the body of the journalist Georgiy Gongadze who had disappeared that September was discovered mutilated and decapitated. President Kuchma was suspected of being involved in the murder.

[3] The oblast is a regional administration in the Ukraine.

[4] Known in the Ukraine as the “Authorities party” (partiya vlasti). This term originates in the political struggles of the 1990s to designate an informal political structure of people holding state power contrary to the oppositional parties. The real ruling parties were formed in the Ukraine and Russia in the late 1990s.

[5] For the benefit of readers outside the Ukraine, it is worth noting that, unlike Dolores Ibarruri, Yulia Timoshenko is a multimillionaire, suspected of having built her fortune in part on the theft of gas from Russia, which was sold on illegally to avoid paying tax.

[6] By “bosses’ strikes” we mean workers’ protests with work stoppages organised by management. So workers “strike” at the behest of the boss and not for their own class interests.

[7] Today only three real strikes for Yushchenko are known of during the time of the "Orange revolution". They happened in Kiev, Lwow and Volyn oblast.

[8] Although these plans are abandoned now the general tendency really demonstrates an increasing arbitrariness of power.

[9] This large factory was really nationalized but immediately sold for much more money.

[10] Dismissal of general public prosecutor and president of the Central election commission, revision of official election results and so on. The Orange paid for these by consent to constitutional reform.

[11] Their voices were enough to confirm amendments.

[12] I.e. unanimous votes of approval.

[13] The last parliamentary election results show that I was too optimistic in my conclusion. Indeed, illusions in Orange ranks are in process of being destroyed. But they die as slowly as were born.

ICC comments 

[i]) We agree entirely with this characterisation. We want to insist here on the fact that it is its ability to deceive the working class that makes this form of the dictatorship of capital particularly effective, which is why the bourgeoisie in general has no other choice than to use it against the strongest fractions of the world proletariat, as long as they are not suffering from a profound political and physical defeat as was the case for example in Germany and Italy during the 1930s.

[ii]) It is perfectly true that there is a profound difference in kind between the proletarian revolution and the “revolutionary appearance” that the struggles between fractions of the bourgeoisie may sometimes take. But the similarity that the article identifies between the proletarian revolution, and the mobilisation of people in the street by the bourgeoisie, is extremely superficial. For us, there is no similarity in the form of the struggle at this level, and still less in its methods. One need only read Trotsky’s histories of the 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia to see that one fundamental aspect that is completely missing in movements like the “Orange revolution” is the spontaneity of the working masses, their creative activity and organisational ability.

[iii])There is certainly an issue of terminology here. To say that the proletariat “emerged as an independent political power” implies an ability to act in its own interests on the political terrain against the state power. This presupposes a high degree of class consciousness, expressed amongst other things in the formation of its own class party. Clearly, this was not the situation in the Ukraine (or indeed anywhere else) in 1993. Doubtless it would be more correct to say that in 1993 the proletariat struggled on its own class terrain, in other words for its own economic interests, which was not the case in 2004.

[iv]) It is certainly true that it was the ability of the Bolshevik party to foil the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie, and especially the provocation of July 1917 aimed at setting off a premature insurrection, that made the victory of October possible. In the same way, the party played a vital part in the success of the insurrection thanks to its role in the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. But simply to say, as the article does, that these qualities meant that the Bolshevik party could have been an inspiration for the leaders of the “Orange revolution”, tends to reduce the role of the party to nothing more than that of a revolutionary “General Staff”. We do not know what is the author’s viewpoint on this, but such a vision is indeed characteristic of that peddled by Stalinism and degenerated Trotskyism. From our point of view, this does not correspond to the reality of the relationship between the proletariat and its class party. In particular, it completely downplays the fundamental aspect of this relationship: the party’s political struggle to develop class consciousness within the proletariat.

[v]) This may be the case temporarily in the specific situation of the Ukraine. However, we should point out that the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is not determined on the national level in this or that country, but internationally. The local balance of class forces which is at present unfavourable for the workers in the Ukraine, could well be overturned in the future by the development of the class struggle in other countries.

[vi]) We feel that this generalisation is exaggerated and in consequence can lead to confusion. History has shown that the bourgeoisie is capable of putting the masses in motion prematurely in relation to their own general level of preparedness, in order to inflict on them a decisive military defeat, as happened during the insurrection of Berlin 1919.


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