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Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Maidan sniper" conspiracy theory and contradictions of the US middle class left

Did capitalist political leaders in Ukraine (opposed [for now] to Russia's suzerainty over their country) employ snipers to kill protestors they claimed to be leading?

Cop shootings in Kiev were a turning point in the spontaneous mass protests in Kiev that ended President Yanukovych's rule and sent him fleeing to Moscow.

Such theories about events of the last four months in Ukraine abound.  They are promoted by those on the middle class left here in the US who portray Moscow as somehow progressive because it opposes [for now, and for its own reasons as a country ruled by wannabe capitalists] Washington.  These same middle class left forces, similarly, have protested spontaneous social explosions in Libya and Syria, claiming they are the result of conspiracies organized by the US government, and not attempts by workers and farmers in these countries to begin defending themselves against capitalist austerity and attacks on democratic rights.

[Note: Frequent readers of this blog will note that I also promoted such theories and rationalizations from 2011 to September 2013 about Libya and Syria.  This was wrong.]

The middle class left has run with a story of doubtful provenance, based upon a  recorded phone call that clearly serves to cast protestors in Kiev's Maidan [Independence] Square as dupes of Washington. 

John Catalinotto's article in Workers World newspaper [in full here] promotes the story:

....The phone call was between European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Urmas Paet, Estonia’s foreign affairs minister, on Feb. 26. Paet had just visited Kiev. These two pro-West officials would not lightly speak against imperialist interests.

Referring to a Ukrainian doctor whom he interviewed, Paet told Ashton he worried that the new, pro-West regime in Kiev would be discovered as being behind the killings: “[Olga] can say that it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition that — they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition,” Paet told Ashton. (Guardian, March 6)

She replied: “I think we do want to investigate. … I didn’t pick that up. That’s interesting. Gosh.”

“And second,” Paet continued, “what was quite disturbing, this same Olga [Bogomolets] told as well that all the evidence shows that the people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and then people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides.”

Like many urban myths, the "Maidan sniper" conspiracy theory is based on at-best third-hand hearsay.

The true story about what Dr. Bogomolets had to say is far different.

“Right now we are thinking what steps should we make to change the system,” said Olga Bogomolets, a doctor who helped organize the network of medical clinics in the Maidan.

She turned down two positions she was offered in the new government, saying all she sees is “a few new faces, but our goal was not to change the faces.”

Russian propaganda
Bogomolets has been the victim of Russian propaganda that slandered the protests and branded participants as murderous thugs. Russia Today and other Putin-backed media have claimed that Bogomolets said protesters and police were killed with the same bullets during the riot police attacks that provoked outrage and hastened the fall of the Yanukovych government.

“Russia Today feasted on the story, presenting it as evidence to back President Vladimir Putin’s allegation that the deaths in Kyiv came at the hands of opposition provocateurs,” the March 8 Toronto Star reported.

But the story is made out of whole cloth. Bogomolets said the only people she saw who were killed were protesters shot by snipers.

Catalinotto's article does not claim the conspiracy theory is the truth.  It simply and cynically promotes the story for the confusion and delectation of those in its milieu [movementarians of the "social justice" and "anti-imperialist" variety], which long ago surrendered a class perspective on world politics and any confidence that workers, farmers, and oppressed nationalities can defend their own interests and change the world.

Workers World has also defended the murderous Bashir Assad regime in Syria using the same methods.  For instance, they promotd  the theory that 21 August 2013 nerve gas attacks against Damascus workers districts were not carried out by Assad, but by his US-controlled opponents in a "false flag" operation.  [The term "false flag" was used by Workers World party cadre on social media immediately after news of the 21 August attacks emerged.]

Workers World promotes the "Maidan sniper" conspiracy theory for several reasons.  1.) Because Washington mouths support for the protests, it is in the interests of those opposing Washington to see and also oppose the protests as tools and inventions of Washington.  2.) Putin opposes the protests [because he promotes and defends 300 years of Great Russian chauvinism against Ukraine]; Putin is currently, for his own reasons as head of a crystallizing propertied capitalist class, opposed to Washington; ergo, any rationalization by Putin for any policy can be defended as anti-imperialist.

Claiming mass demonstrations in defense of Ukraine's sovereignty are inspired and led by fascists is just icing on the cake.

Let's take a step back to view this process in the middle class left more broadly.

Where should communists start their analysis of spontaneous social explosions like this occurring today in Ukraine [and in the last few years in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria]?

A letter by US Socialist Workers Party leader Jack Barnes, written in 2006 during Israel's invasion of Lebanon, provides an important revolutionary socialist perspective.

....Our starting point in analyzing and responding to the war in Lebanon is what we—the international communist movement—are for.  [Emphasis in the original - J.R.]

Most of the petty-bourgeois radical left start with what they’re against: in every case the Bush administration, and, in this particular case, Israel as well. (Some would add “the West,” “Christendom,” or capitalism.) Then comes the unspoken enabling clause: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Voila! Hezbollah—literally the “party of God”—is suddenly transformed and hailed by many as a revolutionary national liberation organization. Sheikh Nasrallah is its admired leader. And “We are all Hezbollah!” starts resounding as the new watchword for much of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois far left.

The communist movement, on the other hand, is for whatever strengthens the working class and rural toilers, their confidence and capacity for independent struggle within the anti-imperialist resistance. We are for whatever increases working people’s space to politically organize and fight to move toward workers and farmers governments that can lead the toilers in overturning imperialist oppression and capitalist exploitation. We are for whatever advances the working class along that line of march. With that as our strategic guide, communists call for the defeat of Israel in the current war, as we did in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982....—and as we do in any military conflict between an oppressed nation or nationality and an imperialist power (or a regime such as the Israeli capitalist state that defends and advances imperialist interests).

At the same time, communists give no political support to Hezbollah, any more than we did to the Egyptian, Syrian, or other bourgeois governments (whether “republican” or monarchical) in the earlier Arab-Israeli wars, or to the Kuomintang or the regime of Emperor Haile Selassie during the resistance to Japanese and Italian imperialism in the 1930s. All such misleaderships, claiming to speak for the popular masses and for patriotism, are obstacles to an effective fight for national liberation, as well as class enemies of the workers’ and peasants’ march toward power.

Just because Hezbollah stands at the head of the military forces in combat with the Israeli Defense Forces does not turn it into a national liberation movement. It is not the Vietnamese National Liberation Front or North Vietnamese Army—fighting to defend and extend a workers state—much less the revolutionary-led July 26 Movement and Rebel Army in Cuba. It’s not comparable to the FLN of Algeria, the FSLN of Nicaragua, the New Jewel Movement of Grenada, nor the African National Congress of South Africa during the anti-imperialist struggles in those countries.

....Finally, the most important point is that in explaining all this to workers, farmers, and youth, we always find ways to tie it concretely to what communists in this country—or wherever we’re functioning—are doing as we participate in the class struggle and build the proletarian movement here. Otherwise, no matter how accurate, it’s just commentary. It’s not communism. It’s not part of the line of march of the working class to the dictatorship of the proletariat.


Workers Wold Party emerged out of a period of profound pessimism that gripped some US radicals in the period 1949-1959.  The retreat of US labor after the 1945-46 strike wave; political witch-hunts against labor militants; and the consolidation of deformed [Stalinist-led] workers states in Eastern Europe, China, North Vietnam, and North Korea; all manifested themselves among this social layer in a collapse of confidence in the working class, including in imperialist states. 

Initial cadre of Workers World party, parting from the perspectives of Lenin, Trotsky, and the first four congresses of the Communist International, set out to build an organization based upon supposedly progressive middle class political forces.  It worshiped the established fact: because Moscow oversaw the end of capitalism in Eastern Europe through its local Stalinist epigones, the Stalinist leaderships themselves were the progressive factor, not workers and peasants struggling for their own government.  WWP viewed the Chinese CP the same way, even though that party had spent decades acting as a brake on China's workers and peasants.

Today WWP acts as a transmission belt for petty bourgeois confusionism in the working class in the United States.  In so doing, it finds itself ensnared in various contradictions: it defends LGBTQ rights and Vladimir Putin at the same time; it supports various "progressive" elected officials of the imperialist Democratic Party [Charles Barron, Cynthia McKinney], while that party carries out Wall Street's wars at home and abroad.  Internationally, it presents as socialist leaders like Nicolas Maduro, Rafael Correa, and Robert Mugabe while these figures oversee capitalist states.  [Several years ago I wrote about WWP's continued promotion of the FSLN in Nicaragua].


I think it would be useful in conclusion to present a recent editorial from The Militant, expressing an internationalist and communist perspective on current Ukraine events: 

Working people the world over should stand with fellow workers and farmers of Ukraine in demanding Russian troops out now! Defend the sovereignty of independent Ukraine!

The Russian government of President Vladimir Putin is raising the specter of war. This is a threat to workers and farmers of Ukraine — Ukrainian, Russian, Tatar, Jews, etc. — as well as to working people in Russia, the rest of the former Soviet republics, and beyond.

The Ukrainian toilers overthrew Moscow’s puppet government of Viktor Yanukovych, opening up space to debate, discuss and organize. Supporting their victory is part of advancing labor’s fight around the world against the bosses’ assaults on our living standards, rights and very dignity.

The Putin government’s annexationist maneuvers are being carried out under false claims of defending “self-determination” in Crimea and protecting ethnic Russians. Moscow is organizing a fake plebiscite at gunpoint as its state media spews a fountain of lies, which dries up in the face of every credible on-the-scene report. Russian speakers are not fleeing to the motherland. There is not a significant movement in Crimea in favor of joining Russia or becoming an “independent” vassal of Moscow. Russian churches and Jewish synagogues in Ukraine are not under assault.

The propertied rulers of both Russia and Ukraine — as well as in Western Europe and America — are driven by fear of the mobilization of working people. And it has found an echo in the “left,” including among many who claim to stand for socialism and the interests of the working class.

As self-serving justification for turning their back on the mobilizations of hundreds of thousands of working people in Ukraine, much of the radical left has clung to a fantastic tale of conspiracy: “Fascist forces have taken over in Ukraine, swept to power by a secret operation engineered from Washington.” The presumption is that U.S. imperialism is the one source of all problems and the enemy of my enemy is automatically my friend.

Further confusion comes wrapped in notions that the Russian regime is a progressive force in the world because it checks the influence of U.S. imperialism. Moscow is a rival of Washington. But both are enemies of working people. And in Ukraine, it’s Russian troops that are on the ground.

Others claim there are residual gains of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia today. There are not. And if there were, would that not be also true of Ukraine? This is a case of a stronger capitalist nation, Russia, attacking a weaker capitalist nation, Ukraine. It is an example of the Great Russian chauvinism that defined the czarist empire’s “prison house of nations” and that was revived as part of the bloody counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin in the 1920s.

This is why the truth about the early years of the Bolshevik government under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin following the 1917 Russian Revolution is so important. It is the only time in which the rights and aspirations of nations and peoples oppressed under the Russian empire were respected and championed. It is in that same Leninist tradition that the sovereignty of Ukraine must be defended today.

Hidden behind the slanders that demonstrators in Ukraine are “fascists” is a contemptuous view of workers and farmers, of their “backwardness,” their supposed ignorance and lack of sophistication. This begins with disdain toward workers at home, who naturally sympathize when they see people like them fighting against tyranny.

Working people should oppose Washington’s denial of visas to Russian officials, imperialist threats of sanctions against Russia or any U.S. intervention in the affairs of Ukraine, military or otherwise.

Workers in the U.S. and Western Europe should demand imperialist governments provide unconditional economic aid, not more loans, and cancel all debts to Ukraine on the brink of economic collapse.

And what if Ukraine joins the European Union trade alliance? We would join struggles by Ukrainian toilers against inevitable mass layoffs and other hardships the capitalist rulers of Europe would impose. And we would welcome the deeper integration of Ukrainian workers with the rest of their class in Europe.

The working class in the former Soviet republics was not defeated with the fall of the Soviet Union. The goal of the Russian regime in a war against Ukraine would be to deal major blows to the morale, confidence and combativeness of the working class. This is what the Stalinist bureaucracy was never able to accomplish, to the chagrin of the capitalist rulers in Europe and America.

Russian troops out! Defend Ukraine sovereignty! Oppose Moscow’s war moves!

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