Ukraine: First post-‘Orange revolution’ elections

No party represents interests of working class

The following is a slightly abridged version of a CWI statement on the Ukraine parliamentary elections, which will be held this coming weekend. The statement was first produced in Ukrainian and in Russian, and distributed in Ukraine and throughout the former Soviet Union. Original statements in Russian and Ukrainian can be seen on (opens in new window).

First post-‘Orange revolution’ elections

With the elections to the Ukrainian ‘Supreme Rada’ (Parliament) due this coming weekend, workers in Ukraine are again left with no choice. Not one of the parties fighting for seats in the parliament has a programme that can be said to be in the interests of the working class.

This is a consequence of the bankruptcy of the so-called left forces who have proved not only incapable of but also showing no signs of wanting to mobilise workers in independent struggle for their rights during the burning political events of the past two or three years.

Only a year ago, the whole of the Ukraine was in the throws of the “Orange revolution”. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, including many workers and youth, participated in protests and demonstrations. Their demands were simple: stop corruption and the manipulation of elections and overthrow the authoritarian regime of Kuchma. Believing that Kuchma was personally to blame for the economic crisis, many desperately hoped that, with the coming to power of new leaders, wages would increase. But as the CWI then warned, the incoming pro-Western, ‘orange’ Victor Yushenko government, being firm supporters of capitalism, was incapable of solving the problems of the Ukrainian economy. As a result, many of those who participated in the protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square, last year, are now disillusioned, not knowing what to do, and, in many cases, are turning their backs on the elections.

The actions of Yushenko’s main opponent, Victor Yanukovich, leader of the pro-Russian ‘Party of the Regions’, have also demonstrated that he will not act in workers’ interests. He is more interested in maintaining his own position and career. When Yushenko sacked the former Premier, Timoshenko, Yanokovich’s votes for her replacement, Yuri Yekhanovich, saved Yushenko, and gave him a way out of the parliamentary deadlock.

All parties pro-capitalist

In reality, there are only tactical differences between the main political parties, when it comes to running the capitalist economy, albeit they are also involved in a fierce struggle for power, and influence and use potentially explosive issue like language rights to further their aims. They are all agreed that the main strategy for the Ukraine is to base it on the capitalist system. Maybe this is most sharply seen in the programme of the Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions. They call for the lowering of taxes, which will leave the state without money to pay for social programmes. At the same time, they believe that ‘free economic zones’ should be re-established in Ukraine. These are zones in which any restrictions on the activities of companies are reduced to nil. The Party of the Regions election programme demands, “Freedom of action for all entrepreneurs”. Obviously workers have nothing to gain from supporting such a programme.

The economic and social programme of the pro-Western, parliamentary block, ‘Our Ukraine’, (led by Victor Yushenko), is no better. Behind its populist slogans, such as “increase wages 2.5 times” and “create 5 million jobs”, the real aim of the President’s party is to increase productivity by 250% to prepare Ukraine for entry to the WTO. In other words, they want to sell Ukraine to international capitalists as a source of cheap labour, with workers having no rights to defend themselves, to make it easier for the more developed capitalist countries to exploit the workforce.

Yulia Timoshenko’s election block (imaginatively named ‘Yulia Timoshenko’s Block’ – BYT) demands re-privatisations as a central part of its programme. Undoubtedly, this is so that those oligarchs who lost out in the first privatisation bizarre can get a second chance to get their noses stuck into the great sell-off trough.

The ‘Pora’ organization (Pora was the youth group, mainly financed by Western NGOs, which provided the backbone to Yushenko’s Orange revolution in 2004) is calling for a “one-off amnesty” for “criminal money” and the “legalisation of capital”. These policies were first used by the dictatorial regime of Nazarbayev, in Kazakhstan, in an attempt to attract back much of the capital sent abroad by the country’s ruling elite in the 1990s. Supporters of such an “amnesty” argue that it is necessary to find “common ground” with these crooks.

‘Left parties’ little better

The economic policies of the so called ‘left parties’, the ‘communists’ (CPU), and ‘socialists’ (SPU), are little better. They offer free education and healthcare, higher wages and grants, and a freeze on price rises. But in their programmes, they do not explain how they will pay for these policies. The Communists (CPU) talk about “nationalisation” but their leader, Simonyenko, recently explained to workers at one factory what he understands by nationalization. He said, “The factory should get state support and not be allowed in private hands. It should be an example of scientific and economic co-operation between Russia and the Ukraine”. In other words, as far as the CPU is concerned, “nationalisation” is just a form of ownership which a capitalist government in the Ukraine can use as a lever for the development of the domestic economy and for building co-operation with Russian capitalist companies. The only result of such “nationalisation” will be the establishment of a group of ‘state capitalist’ companies acting as an integral part of the capitalist economy.

The ineptitude of the position of both the CPU and SPU is seen in their policies on constitutional matters. They both call for “parliamentarianism”. According to CPU leader, Simonyenko, the Supreme Rada of the Ukraine (Parliament) is the main representative organ of the state and the key representative of the will and opinion of the Ukrainian people. But this is a strange way of explaining things. It is likely that 60-70% of the deputies in the Rada after the election will be representatives of the four main capitalist parties (Party of the Regions, Our Ukraine, BYT, and the block ‘Litvin’) and yet it would be difficult to find more than 5% of the population who consider themselves capitalists. The vast majority of the population is working class and the poor, yet workers will have no genuine representation in the new parliament.


The Party of the Regions is demanding the “Federalization of the Ukraine”. Its leader, Yanokovich, cynically uses this demand in an attempt to increase his popularity amongst impoverished workers, by claiming, “Ukrainian communism is power in the hands of the Party of the Regions plus federalisation”! But in the conditions of the market economy in the Ukraine, an attempt to implement federalization, from the point of view of the pro-capitalist parties and oligarchs, will be no more than a further attempt to re-distribute power and wealth between different sections of the ruling elite. But when the idea of federalisation is accompanied by propaganda about how the rich industrial regions of the east of Ukraine should “stop subsiding” the nationalist regions of the west, this idea becomes extremely dangerous. It was in such a war of words between rival capitalist-gangsters that the basis was laid for the bitter ethnic wars in the former Yugoslavia, when the different national elites struggled for power, wealth, influence and territory.

In reality, the ‘independence’ of Ukraine is a myth, demonstrated by the different parties’ policies in relation to foreign affairs. President Yushenko’s Our Ukraine and the ‘Yulia Timoshenko’s Block (BYT) wants Ukraine to join the EU, NATO and the WTO. But as workers in those east European countries that recently joined the EU are discovering, the more developed capitalist countries will merely use them as a source of cheap labour.

The pro-Russian Party of the Regions contradicts itself – it says the Ukraine should “stay outside blocks” but calls for it to participate in the creation of the ‘Euro-Asian Economic Area’ (EEA – an economic and trade block made up of Russia, Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and maybe other former Soviet Union republics).

Those parties that want some form of relationship with Russia, either as part of the EEA, or, as part of just an economic block with Russia, are also living under an illusion. Russian imperialism, in the recent past, has become increasingly aggressive towards its neighbours. This winter’s gas crisis – when Russian gas supplies to fuel dependent resources Ukraine were temporarily cut off by Moscow – is just the most glaring example. President Putin’s economic policy is directed as strengthening the independence of imperialist Russia and bolstering it from outside Western imperialist influence. This means countering the pro-Western government of President Yushenko in Ukraine. The Moscow government recently opened a northern seaport near St Petersburg thus dramatically cutting down the trade moving through Odessa’s Black Sea port in Ukraine. Russia also wants to build an underwater pipeline through the Baltic Sea, bypassing the Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states, to deliver directly to Western Europe. Russian companies do not work not on principles of ‘solidarity’ but for purely commercial, mercantile, capitalist interests. If the Euro-Asia block comes to life, it will do so largely as a tool of Russian imperialist interests throughout the CIS.

Language question

The pressure of external interests finds its reflection in Ukraine in the argument over the language question, between the dispute over Ukraine and Russian language rights. The current Yushenko government, claiming to support “democratic values”, is forcing through the ‘Ukrainisation’ of society, even though it is proving incapable of guaranteeing the genuine development of Ukrainian culture. The Ukrainian economy, even given the consequences of neo-liberalism, has plenty of resources to support two languages and cultures. But the government is attempting to strengthen the Ukrainian language by squeezing out the Russian language. Nationalists of both sides are attempting to use the language question to increase the national and language divisions within Ukraine. Not one of the main parties offers a clear answer to the question, ‘How can the Ukrainian language and culture be supported without harming the Russian language and vice versa’.

It follows from all the above, that the CWI in Ukraine and in the CIS, calls for a vote ‘Against all’ in the coming weekend’s parliamentary elections in Ukraine. But voting against, is not enough. There is a need for the working class to act. In today’s Ukraine, workers are left without a party representing their interests or fighting for their rights. In other words, it is necessary to create genuine workers’ organization, to create independent, trade unions and a new mass workers’ party. The election campaign offers an opportunity to conduct propaganda and agitation in support of such a new party. After the elections, whatever pro-capitalist parties come out on top, the main task for the workers’ movement will be to build strong class organisations to resist privatisations and other boss’s attacks, and to fight for real change.

A new workers’ party would fight:

  • For free education and healthcare
  • For a decent level of wages, pensions and grants
  • For the control over price rises by elected consumer committees
  • For the nationalisation of all privatised enterprises and to transferring control and management of these industries to elected workers’ committees
  • For the rejection of the capitalist market economy, for a planned economy under the democratic control and management of workers’
  • Against presidential rule, for genuine representative government, for a constituent assembly, for a majority workers’ government
  • For full democratic rights. The mass media under social control. Freedom of access to the mass media for all political and social organizations – excluding fascists – in proportion to their support in society.
  • For the immediate abolition of the SBU (secret police)
  • For abolition of the bureaucratic structures. For the development of genuine regional self-management by the working class
  • For an independent Ukraine, with the right of regional autonomy
  • For state support for the development of Ukrainian language and culture, without reducing support for the Russian language. Everyone should have the right to use their native language
  • For everyone to be able to use their own language in relation to state, welfare and administrative affairs
  • For full language and cultural rights for the smaller nationalities in the Ukraine (e.g. Crimean Tatars)
  • No to Ukraine joining NATO, the EC, WTO or the Euro-Asia Economic Area. Ukrainian troops out of Iraq!
  • For an independent, democratic socialist Ukraine, as part of a voluntary socialist federation of Europe and Euro-Asia.

All sections of the ruling elite in Ukraine, whether ‘orange’ (pro-Western) or ‘blue-white’ (Pro-Russian) are terrified that the Ukrainian people, in particular the working class, will participate in political life independently and demand that problems are solved in their own interests. Therefore, all today’s political parties regard the coming parliamentary elections not as a means of the people expressing their will, but as a huge ‘polit-technological’ (spin doctor) project to con the people.

Cost of taking power

The statistics are astonishing. From the state budget alone, $20 million was allocated to finance political parties. According to Igor Popov, Head of the ‘Ukrainian Electoral Commission’, “The cost of creating a party to take political power is about $50-100 million.” By comparison, the cost of the participation of all parties in a Westminster election, in Britain, is about $60 million!

The parties are using these financial possibilities in a completely cynical fashion. ‘Virtual’ organisations were established by paying students 50 grivna (about US$10) to join. Agitators, observers and leaders of regional party campaign teams do not work voluntarily or out of political conviction but because they are paid. In other words, they are working like salespersons, selling products they themselves do not believe in.

For $1-2 million, a party can be established for the purpose of selling it to a bigger political block, with the aim of giving the impression of wider support. In this way, the Ukrainian ruling elite is cynically selling and re-selling the votes of electors, who in turn, are left with practically no influence over the election’s outcome. Not surprisingly, therefore, many workers look on these elections extremely skeptically. Unfortunately, the ruling elite succeeded in involving a layer of former left activists in their pernicious activities, which is partly done to try to discrediting the whole left.

There are other left activists who were sucked into the campaigns of various capitalist organisations under the illusion that somehow this can help create some form of ‘left alternative’. This is completely mistaken. The pro-capitalist parties are cynically using left activists in, firstly, create a certain ‘left image’ for themselves, and, secondly, to prevent the development of the consciousness of these youth in a more leftward direction. The participation of ‘left activists’ in these pro-capitalist blocks is only discrediting ‘left ideas’.

There is no alternative today but for left and worker activists in the Ukraine to recognise the need to create independent and self-sustaining organisations of the working class. The election campaigns should be used, not as an opportunity to earn money or support the various capitalist camps, but as an opportunity to conduct propaganda and agitation against the capitalist system and in support of the independent, self-organisation of workers.

Therefore, regarding the March elections, the CWI says, Vote ‘Against all’, and, furthermore, we are:

  • Against all who are for capitalism
  • Against all who use nationalism to divide the working class
  • Against all who attempt to introduce corruption in the workers’ movement
  • Workers and youth use the election campaign to conduct agitation and propaganda in favour of independent, workers’ organisations
  • For a new workers’ party, with a fighting socialist programme
  • For a socialist Ukraine, as part of a voluntary and democratic federation of socialist states, throughout Europe and Euro-Asia

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March 2006