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A Lesson From Ukraine

By John Spritzler

26 February, 2014

Based entirely on reading what other people, presumably better informed than I, have written about recent events in Ukraine, I am going to try to draw a lesson from them. Some articles that I found useful are this one by Israel Shamir and this one by Mark Ames and this one by Justin Raimondo. I am going to assume that you, the reader, have read these or similar articles. Let us, then, think about what people who want an egalitarian society (as discussed here and here) can learn about these events in Ukraine.

As I read articles about the forces in support of, and opposed to, the recently deposed government of Viktor Yanukovich, I note that the descriptions are virtually always in terms of national or ethnic identity. There are Russian versus Ukrainian language speakers. There are those who want to be in the sphere of Russia versus those who don't (the European Union being the only available alternative.) Some groups are characterized as "fascist" and "anti-communist" because they sided with Germany against Russia during World War II when both of those nations fought to control Ukraine and ordinary people were forced to choose sides; but I haven't read anything that indicates these people have strong convictions about the economic policies or relative degrees of "democracy" under Hitler versus Stalin.

Overwhelmingly, the ideology that seems to be driving events in the Ukraine, that makes people take one side or another and feel passionately about it, is nationalism in the sense of identity based on language and ethnicity. Nationalism has made allies of people who we would call "liberals" and people who are being called "fascists."

Nationalism, to be precise, is the idea that the most important thing about a person is his or her nationality (where I use "nationality" in a broad sense to refer, depending on the specific circumstances, to country of origin or race or religion or ethnic group.) When nationalism is strong, then people judge their leaders by asking "Are they of the right nationality?" What this means is that leaders are not judged by asking, "What are their values?" or "Are they for equality or inequality" or even "Are they honest or corrupt?"

Judging leaders this way is a recipe for enabling leaders who are personally corrupt or who want society to be very unequal and undemocratic to gain power on the grounds that they are of the right nationality. From what I've read about Ukraine, this is exactly what has been happening there for a very long time. Such leaders know that in order to make the correctness of their nationality trump all other concerns they need to keep "their" people in fear of another "enemy" nationality. This is why such leaders relish and foment national (possibly ethnic or religious) conflict. Apparently one way of doing this in Ukraine has been for leaders to make their followers fear (perhaps truthfully) that they will be prohibited from speaking their language if the "enemy" nationality gets in power. Another method that these nationalist leaders use is to employ the rhetoric of "freedom" (discussed more fully here.)

For those of us who want an egalitarian society, the important question about leaders is not what nationality they are but whether they support or oppose the values of egalitarianism--equality and mutual aid among people regardless of nationality.

To the extent that egalitarianism has little or no organized presence in Ukraine, then to that extent Ukrainians will continue to be oppressed by inequality, by the rule of the few haves over the many have-nots. The haves may be Russian speaking or Ukrainian speaking, desirous of being in the Russian or European sphere of influence, liberal or fascist. But no matter what nationality the haves are, their goal is to make sure that the have-nots remain dominated, exploited and oppressed by the haves.

This is why I read about what's happening in Ukraine with an eye out for any sign that there are organized egalitarians. So far I haven't seen any such sign. Nonetheless, I am quite confident that most ordinary Ukrainians want an egalitarian society, meaning that if they were presented with that goal clearly spelled out they would say it would be wonderful to live in such a world. I am also quite confident that most of the ordinary Ukrainians follow the leaders they follow because they hope it will result in an improvement in their lives by reducing their domination and oppression by haves of one stripe or another. This domination is all they have experienced, and any big change that holds out the promise of having their nationality in power instead of the enemy nationality offers the hope that maybe it will make things better.

But if most Ukrainians have never even heard of egalitarianism, or if they think anybody who uses the word "equality" wants to be another Stalin and send them to a Gulag, or if they think they're all alone in wanting an egalitarian world, then they can hardly be expected to say, "I am an egalitarian," never mind expected to create organizations that fight for egalitarianism. What's left to such people? All that is left is for them to choose which nationality to identify with and fight passionately for. This explains the dearth of explicitly egalitarian organizations in Ukraine. People are in an ideological trap, in which only the haves win and the have-nots are doomed to lose. Ukrainians need to break out of this trap.

How can people elsewhere help people in Ukraine?

Instead of trying to figure out which nationality in Ukraine to support, which one is the "anti-imperialist" one or the more "progressive" one or some such thing, it makes far more sense to build an egalitarian revolutionary movement where we live. This is especially true for those of us who live in the United States or another imperialist nation. As many articles about Ukraine point out, the United Sates is a major force in whipping up and financing the Ukrainians who toppled the pro-Russia government of Yanukovich. As long as the U.S. government is an instrument of the American plutocracy it will do terrible things to strengthen its power, and the power of the haves generally, everywhere in the world.

When it comes to keeping the have nots out of power, the haves of all nationalities cooperate with each other far more than they fight each other. The best thing we can do to help the have nots (in Ukraine and everywhere else) is to fight against the haves where we live and try to remove them from power. One way to do that is what people are doing at PDRBoston.org .

John Spritzler is editor of NewDemocracyWorld.org



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