Ukraine: Two Nationalisms or None?

Why the violence?

Violence has erupted in the Ukrainian capital Kiev with dozens of people being killed during clashes between anti-government protesters and police. The stand-off between the well-armed police and protesters along barricades is reminiscent to a stage set from Les Misérables and has swung between calm and violence for months. The violence escalated again on 18 February, with policemen being shot, and riot police moving in to clear the protest camp on Independence Square; since then over 70 demonstrators have been shot dead and 177 injured.

The protests broke out after President Viktor Yanukovych's government rejected a trade-deal with the European Union in November 2013 in favour of stronger ties with Russia. The “opposition” orchestrated thousands of people into central Kiev for protests where they occupied Independence Square; a symbolic urban space of Ukraine nationalism

Several developments - including violent police attacks on student protesters, severe new anti-protests laws, and the abduction and beating of opposition activists - have caused the demonstrations to spread and intensify. For the demonstrators it is now an attempt to remove a pro-Russian President and his ruling clique and replace him with a President favouring closer integration with the EU.

For Ukraine’s ruling class, who favour closing ties with the EU, there is also another prize in removing the President. In Ukraine the fusion of business and politics is more the rule than the exception. Holding high legislative and executive office provides access to a patronage system, protection for business, access to public finance, and immunity from prosecution. The trough of un-told riches is the prize for those who eventually gain political power.

For example, Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, the main financial backer of the regime and a long-standing ally of President Viktor Yanukovych, was, until recently, a member of parliament. These privileges can give substantial (the Ukrainian edition of the Forbes financial magazine) reports that Mr Akhmetov's businesses obtained 31% of all state tenders in January 2014. Mr Yanukovych's son tops even this, having "won" 50% of state contracts in the same period. Mr Akhmetov controls a group of around 50 MPs in parliament (BBC NEWS21st February 2014).

Competing National Interests

Why is Ukraine important? Why the interest of the US government and EU ministers in its political affairs? The answer is simple. Ukraine’s importance lies with its strategic position in Eastern Europe and the wider conflict between the West and Russia. The Cold War never went away in 1991; just the political rhetoric in which the geo-political rivalry was being fought.

For Europe, Ukraine is most important for its location, particularly as a transit state for energy — “roughly 25 percent of the European Union’s natural gas comes from Russia, and 80 percent of that gas transits Ukraine”.

Ukraine’s transit role is also important to Russia, but Russia also has an interest in Ukraine because of other economic industries, like steel and agriculture. These industries have served as vital inputs for Russia’s economy from the Soviet era to the present.

However Russia’s interests in Ukraine go beyond the economic sphere. Ukraine is also important for military reasons; the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol is the headquarters for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Ukraine’s strategic location as a buffer zone between Russia and Europe and “its proximity to Russia’s own breadbasket and economic heartland in the Volga region make the country key to Russia’s geopolitical strength and, ultimately, its survival”(ibid).

A strong Russia allied with Ukraine gives Moscow confidence and strength, particularly in dealing with Europe, while a Russia without Ukraine is weakened and left to confront a hostile West right up to its borders. Its leverage over gas supplies is therefore diminished and internal dissent against Putin’s government would intensify; particularly that section who look to Western capitalism as a model to follow.

Who are “the opposition”? What are their Interests? Who underpins them? And who gains and who loses? Begin to answer these questions and it becomes clear that “the opposition” has no bearing on the interests of the working class in Ukraine particularly those fighting the riot police in Independence Square. In fact it was interesting to note that the INDEPENDENT (21st February 2014) contained a pro-EU editorial aligning itself with the faction in Ukraine who are looking West. It is no coincidence that the owner of the INDEPENDENT newspaper is the anti-Putin and pro-Western multi-millionaire Oligarch, Evgeny Lebedev.

Those on the barricades are merely naïve and deluded workers engaging in a nationalist struggle whose only winners will be either the ruling class who want closer ties with Russia or the ruling class who want closer ties with the EU. Even if Ukraine splits into two separate countries, the position of its respective working class will not change. They will not own the means of production and distribution but will remain wages slaves and exploited by their respective capitalist class.

From Nation States to No Nation States

As socialists have long argued, nation states contain a capitalist class owning the means of production and distribution with competing political and economic interests, political institutions and a coercive machinery of government to protect private property from internal or external threats.

Nation states also contain a working class who own nothing but their ability to work which they are forced to sell to the capitalists for a wage or salary. Within every country of the world social wealth is created by the working class. The working class are exploited in the productive process by producing more social wealth in a week or a month than they receive back in wages and salaries.

All nations of the world are capitalist economies within a world-wide capitalist system. Workers have no interest in the capitalist class who exploit them; they have no trade routes to protect, no raw resources to secure and no strategic spheres of influence to defend. A world capitalist class confronts a world working class over the ownership of the means of production and distribution. Workers throughout the world share the same class interests, take part in the same class struggle and share the same political need to consciously and politically replace World Capitalism with World Socialism.

This also includes the latent trans-European nationalism associated with those bureaucrats and politicians within the European Union who want to establish a United States of Europe. Early advocates of a United States of Europe included Victor Hugo, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Liberal J. S Mill and the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin but more recently a unified European State has been championed by, among others, the former Belgium Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt in his book, “UNITED STATES OF EUROPE” (2005).

The EU project is a long way off from achieving its objective of a political union and an integrated State along the lines of the US. The recent problems with the single currency and the bitter nationalism unleashed in countries forced to accept harsh austerity programmes leaves the project somewhat in tatters.

Over the question of the United States of Europe the capitalists and their political agents are bitterly divided. The question of Increased European integration and a European State is largely a political not an economic one; and it is a question of no concern to the interests of the working class. Capitalism, operating with all its contradiction and conflicts either within a United States of Europe or within individual nation states, is still an exploitive profit driven system leaving the means of production and distribution firmly in the hands of the capitalist class.

Capitalists and their politicians seldom agree over a wide range of economic and political issues of what constitutes “the national interest”; from joining the Euro to what energy or transport policy to pursue. They are even divided during a war. In both the First and Second World War some members of the capitalist class were bitterly opposed to war with Germany. During the late 1920’s and 1930’s both US and Britain prepared for war against each other. The US even drew-up plans in 1930 to bomb the main cities of Canada as part of a war plan to destroy the British Empire. There were opponents within the capitalist class of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservative supporting newspapers like the DAILY MAIL have opposed involvement in conflicts taking place in Libya and Syria.

The fundamental struggle in the world is not a nationalist struggle but a class struggle. The class struggle is a political struggle and it is the class struggle that politically moves one social system to the next. Socialists do not support one nation state against another. We do not support nationalist struggles any more than we support the Welsh and Scottish nationalists who want to cede from Britain.

However, Socialism will not come by its own accord. Social systems change through the political action of men and women. The establishment of Socialism is no exception. Only a Socialist majority can establish Socialism. This means that Socialists have to persuade workers to pursue the Socialist objective in line with their own class interest and not give support to capitalist politicians. The national interest is not the working class interest. The national policies of the capitalist parties are not policies workers should support.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.