Saturday, June 18, 2005

More on Tymoshenko’s Tribulations and the Issue of so-called Populism

In the talk of globalization and development, populism has become as dirty a word as liberalism has in the United States, and the pundits working to convince others they are dirty words are the same: either the Thomas Friedman liberals or right-wing theorists of globalization. What is the matter with populism? It ain’t socialism, people. . .

There is far too much hyperbole, too much exaggeration, going on. Socialism was a very specific thing. The Kyiv Post has published some really outrageous op-eds about the so-called populism of Tymoshenko’s government that follow along the same lines as Anders Asland’s now infamous Washington Post piece, each of which are full of this kind of sophistic hyperbole and conflation of two things that are not alike (however, I do want to note here that I often very much so agree with Kyiv Post editorials, and find the Post an excellent, excellent source of critical commentary on contemporary Ukraine: they at the Post are doing in Ukraine what real news media should be doing everywhere, i.e., voicing conscience and dissent, and the US media could learn a lot from them). Price-controls on oil do not take Ukraine straight back to socialism. Socialism was a specific thing, involving state ownership and regulation of just about everything. Ukraine is far from those days. In the course of a recent argument with a far right-winger, I was told that George Soros is a communist. That is absurd. Communists were very specific people, with specific principles, and Soros is far from holding any of them. I am not saying that Soros’s position is the same as Tymoshenko’s, but am making this parallel: Tymoshenko is no more leading Ukraine down a road back to Soviet-era socialism than Soros is a communist (thus the Kyiv Post publisher’s piece entitled “A Revolution? We’re still waiting. . .” is quite extreme in this case). All of these statements are just as absurd as when someone on the left waxes that Bush is the equal of Hitler, and that the presently neo-conservative dominated Republican Party is the new Nazi Party. Those statements too are gross exaggerations (although a comparison between the neo-conservative controlled Republican Party of today to the beliefs of Mussolini’s Fascist Party is of a correct order of comparison, to my mind). Amnesty International’s (AI) statement that GITMO is the “gulag of our time,” I must admit, also was hyperbole (exaggeration)—but one MUST note that the statement “of our times” indicates that they did not mean to say that GITMO is precisely like the gulag. The rhetoric “of our times” leaves open the possibility that the two are not quite the same, and if one goes on to read the report, one will see that the people of AI are not that stupid: thus those on the right who are trying to make them say that GITMO and the gulag were exactly the same are engaging in their own sophism (more below). The people of AI were just trying to grab attention with that obviously rhetorical comment. Such rhetorical phrases usually are all about GRABBING OUR ATTENTION. You have to read to see what an author really means by such a hyperbolic statement as that. But is that what the Kyiv Post and Anders Asland and my right-wing interlocutor were all simply trying to do with their exaggerations?

No. I do think that the Post 's publisher and Asland are convinced that populism is just a road back to socialism (and the person with whom I was arguing refused to back down on his statement that Soros is a commie; and oh, Michael Moore, too, is a commie according to this fellow. . .). All of these commentators are Americans, and America’s political culture is acutely driven by black and white worldviews and black and white solutions.

In this connection, read this quote from an excellent piece posted on (there is a link below to the whole piece, which is a MUST read):

"Tymoshenko’s greatest 'crime', for which she is now being castigated by economic hit men, is that she sees no crime in retaining control and therefore profits from lucrative state enterprises to benefit common Ukrainian people instead of private buyers who care nothing whatsoever for Ukraine or Ukrainians. Aslund counters with name-calling: 'state capitalism', 'populist', and worst of all at least in US vernacular, 'socialist.' 'Socialist' is a bad word in US politics, but not so bad in Europe – where Ukraine is heading, not to the US. He used those words in a US publication knowing very well the nasty impact they would have. This, in a country where at least one in six people live in poverty, and probably closer to one in four – if honest poverty statistics ever come to the fore."

The US system and media-driven propaganda machine completely eliminates any real or complex representation of the true diversity of political ideas, opinions, etc., and right wingers and left wingers are all equally as guilty for making polarizing and hyperbolic statements and judgments. You are populist? You Commie! You believe in Welfare? You're a Socialist! You support the war in Iraq? You Nazi! And on and on. . .

But as for the attack on populism, these American commentators, as well as the worldwide class of stooges of neoliberal (free-market driven) development completely forget that the US and the nations of the EU have only arrived at their present state of prosperity through lengthy periods of Keynesian social-democratic, State-interventionist economic policies, or what I would call populism. Such policies are neither/nor: neither complete neoliberal or laissez-faire capitalism nor State socialism, but a third way, a compromise in-between that Europe used to have before it began to dismantle it's third way between capitalism and socialism, only to keep up with the US-and-neoliberal driven globalization and definitions of what is efficient: as far as I am concerned, the American and neoliberal notion of efficiency boils down to everyone giving up their good lives and vacation time to spend anywhere from 60-80 hours a week working and only two weeks on vacation a year, while giving up all public spaces and most of civil society, especially the media, to privatization in the hands of big corporations. But I will write a more detailed piece critiquing the notion that the US is “efficient” in the future. . .(the US maybe efficient from a numbers and economic viewpoint, but it certainly is not from a human or humanist one, let alone ecological one. . .)

Populism or social democracy increasingly is the demand being put forth by the people or multitude of the non-Western world, and Ukraine is part of that world. People in nations across the globe who live with high poverty and unemployment, often with deplorable work and environmental conditions, low wages, no benefits such as adequate healthcare and access to higher education, etc., are all demanding populist, New Deal type policies to get them out of their depression (both economic as well as pyschological, I would add). For they know that trickle-down, laissez-faire economics does not work: they have experienced decades of post-colonial development (what we today call neoliberalism), and have mostly witnessed the gap between the rich and the poor getting wider and wider. That is what is “progressive” about the neoliberal economy: rising poverty. The stage is set for a showdown on a global scale between capital and labor of the likes that Europe and the US went through in the late 19th to early 20th century.

A populist (i.e., New Deal) government (not State socialist) is precisely what Ukraine needs right now, and is what most Ukrainians seem to want.

Here is some stuff I wrote a couple weeks ago, but never posted, along these same lines:

What’s up with Yushchenko’s critique and partial retraction of his critique of PM Tymoshenko? Are these two just playing good cop-bad cop? And how can one deny that there is a Russian oil cartel controlling prices in Ukraine? When 80% of the industry is controlled by Russian conglomerates, how can one say that market forces set prices; see this article by Vladimir Socor at Eurasian Daily Monitor:

"Kyiv Takes Emergency Steps to Deal with Fuel Crisis"

Tymoshenko took artificial measures to combat an artificial “market” price. Tymoshenko may have gotten more than she bargained for by setting prices the way she did, but only in the sense that, well. . .did she really not expect some kind of Russian retaliation such as a cut-back in production? But then this makes me wonder, are Ukrainians really willing to do what it will take to pull their country out of a sphere of Russian domination? Or is this necessary? Can Ukrainians afford to take on this problem in the typically radical way of Tymoshenko?

Energy has always been independent Ukraine’s major Achilles heal vis-à-vis Russia. Tymoshenko herself knows this; she in the past has said that one of the major eye-opening events of her life was when she entered the government and realized how deep the corruption in the energy sector really was, and how the problems of the energy sector were really compromising Ukraine’s sovereignty vis-à-vis Russia. She certainly for a while was part of the problem—which she doesn’t ever admit, of course—but if you read between the lines of what she says about going to the opposition once she entered the government, it seems she’s admitting that she had a change of fate, and I don’t think that there is any reason not to believe her. She went after her job of cleaning up corruption in the energy sector as deputy PM to Yushchenko with gusto, for which she is hated/appreciated by the Russian government, actually (to see what I mean, read below: I will reproduce at the bottom of this a piece I did some months ago on my list-serve about who I think Tymoshenko really is and was. . .)

So, the problem of Ukraine’s energy dependence on Russia is obvious. But perhaps there need be another, less militant approach. Perhaps all of this is just a repeat of what happened during the course of the Orange Revolution, with Tymoshenko once again being the attack dog who gets us all fired up, while Yushchenko is once again being the handler urging some restraint. He did prove a very shrewd negotiator in this regard during the OR, and perhaps that is the game being played again: Tymoshenko is very good at putting fear in the hearts of opponents, and then Yushchenko steps in to take advantage of their fear at the negotiating table?

I sure hope so.

But then on to the Op-Eds by Anders Aslund and by Kyiv Post’s publisher blasting Tymoshenko’s populism:

First the articles:

Washington Post:

"Betraying a Revolution"

Kyiv Post:

“Has the Orange Revolution Gone Red?”

“A Revolution? We’re Still Waiting. . .”

“Ukraine doesn’t need its own Khodorkovsky”

It seems to me that many average Ukrainians, many of whom can get by as subsistence farmers with occasional wage labor, are not all that concerned about growth rates for Western investors. They want to see social programs started up to help them out of poverty. They want the infrastructure improved. They want to see some of the wealth ferried away by the oligarchs returned and invested into Ukraine—i.e., reprivatization. They’ve got the wealth internally to see to it that these things will happen—the wealth just needs to be redistributed. So is Ukraine’s post-OR economy all about attracting foreign investors and/or making them comfy in the course of reprivatizations, or is it about popular demands? Tymoshenko’s populist agenda has widespread support in Ukraine. Of course, the emphasis should be neither—there needs be balance. But these articles place the emphasis only on making a comfortable situation for foreign investment, as though neoliberal economics works in the end to improve the daily lives of people because of that magical (but ultimately mythical) trickle-down effect, for trickle-down economics is just a rich man’s religion designed to soothe the wealthier from feeling the the guilt of an economy really engineered (i.e., deregulated) for the sake of top-up accumulation. Of course American thinkers on economics in general are going to whine that populist policies hurt the economy, and that Ukrainians should just forget about such expensive endeavors and get on with making Ukraine a safe place for investment—well, they are working on that, too; but it is at least that Tymoshenko is no fan of “austerity measures” and “restructuring,” having had once stated that, “I am not a free-market ideologue,” which means she does not intend to lead a government that works hard to improve the country’s means of production without also giving her nation’s people guarantees for better wages, living and working conditions, healthcare, etc., all of the things that the IMF and World Bank consider to be too much “fat.” So what if investors still feel a little jittery about Ukraine right now? There is no way they are going to just turn a complete blind eye on Ukraine or any part of Eurasia: there is still too much potential there for them. They will wait. In the meantime, re-privatize! Keep the social democratic promises of the OR!

But also work on reducing the bureaucracy, which is very much at the chore of curtailing the corruption: close the bureaucratic loopholes leading toward corruption, and the Western critics need to keep in mind that social welfare states do not necessarily produce systems with redundant and inefficient and corrupt bureaucracies: the EU and Scandinavian and certain South American nations are doing a fine job with a streamlined Welfare State without the USSR’s inefficiency. Oh yeah, we’re back to the point made above, that social democracy is NOT THE SAME AS STATE SOCIALISM!!!!

Yushchenko is working on keeping investors calm, while Tymoshenko is working on helping her people. They will strike a balance, I hope—if Yushchenko doesn’t fire her (which I don’t think is likely). What I am wondering now is whether this is an indication of how the US machinery is going to in the future deal with Eurasian post-revolution populists and social democrats that the US has helped bring to power in its power struggle with Russia (over Central Asian energy and labor reserves)? Discredit them and work to have them removed in favor of those with more neoliberal policies?

Here’s a link to a great article that made similar points to mine above and defended Yulia’s track record against the Posts’ articles; it is a MUST READ:

Then for two perhaps more balanced accounts than mine and the one above, see:

from Taras Kuzio:
I’ll post it soon as I find the link. . .

And then here is some evidence that much good is happening:

In conclusion, we should no longer be talking about pure liberal capitalism versus socialism. Has the lesson not yet been learned that markets are never value nor rule-free, but rather, that they can be regulated for one or the other purpose; that that magical-mythical hand can serve either top-up accumulation or more equitable redistribution?

1 comment:

Jeff Mowatt said...

Stephan, You'll probably find that link to Taras Kuzio and a rebuttal of Anders Alsund's piece on Maidan -

Jeff Mowatt