Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Orange Revolution: Spirit and Struggle

Spirit and the Struggle:

The most basic principle of materialist philosophy in all its variants is the notion that things do not happen in the world because of spirit. History and events do not take place as part of a process of spirit realizing itself; it is through things happening that some thing we might call "spirit" is constituted and that some process we might call "progress" happens (though there always also is regression). Since Marx stood Hegel on his head, progressives have been aware of this: the world is constituted in praxis, i.e., struggle. "Before Being, there is politics" (cf. deleuze/guattari). It is through struggles (becomings) of all sorts that our Being-in-the-world is produced and reproduced. The human world is produced in the multitude of class or economic struggles, political struggles, cultural struggles, reproductive struggles (the struggle for liberal reproductive rights, or control over one's own body, especially by women), sexuality struggles, academic and intellectual struggles, etc.

The key word in all of this is not spirit, but struggle. Better than the birth of spirit, the Orange Revolution is thought of as a significant moment in Ukrainians' post-Soviet struggle to change their country, a struggle that is far from accomplished and that still requires grassroots action and organization--which was, at the time of the Orange Revolution, still only at a rudimentary level, appearances to the contrary aside. (An active NGO sector is neither a replacement for nor a necessary indication of a nation-wide, consolidated and deeply-rooted grassroots movement for change.) The Orange Revolution was still just a beginning, not a culmination. Yushchenko's inauguration day proclamation of the end of Ukraine' s post-Soviet history was premature (unless the nature of elections and relative freedom of press are the sole issues defining the boundary between post-Soviet and post-post-Soviet), and what is more, was an indication of the degree to which Yushchenko and gang considered the need for real struggle already over. This in turn indicated that Yushchenko and gang would soon capitulate to Ukraine's oligarchic or elite-driven political system and capitalism instead of leading a genuine, progressive struggle against oligrachic control. (Their capitulation to their oligarchic adversaries and betrayal of their Orange Revolution promises is an event that is marked on the pages of the ill-considered, so-called "Memorandum of Understanding," signed by Yushchenko and Yanukovych in the autumn of 2005.)

Like Kuchma and gang, though not to the same degree, Yushchenko and gang in the last two years have pursued a high level of compromise with their oligarchic adversaries (it was right to point out that many in Yushchenko's gang are oligarchs--business tycoons with political clout--and to claim that the Orange Revolution was in part the opportunistic rebellion of certain millionaires against Ukraine's billionaires and their cronies), instead of using the full strength of the will they had backing them after the Orange Revolution. In so doing, and though they promised to struggle for deKuchmization, they have betrayed those who really made the Orange Revolution happen, and are complicit in the (re-) creation of a Kuchma-lite system that is now taking hold in Ukraine, one in which only some (perhaps none!) of the extremes of Kuchmism are eliminated. They have shown that they are preoccupied with inter-elite struggles for their own sake and that they are nearly as removed from everyday people as are those they once called bandits and criminals. As Kuzio put it (here), Yushchenko has failed, as much as his predecessors, to be a listening president. In Yushchenko's case--in an effort to bring about the important disenchantment of the Yushchenko myth so widely spun in the heady OR days--it is important to recognize that one does not become a politician of the multitude of Ukrainians simply by virtue of having roots in a village one left behind long ago and by having a (bourgeois) passion for (collecting) folk art and (the leisurely study and promotion of) Ukrainian history. Yushchenko was only but ever a reluctant revolutionary (here), and has with almost total consistency refused any warrior path. The Orange Revolution was a remarkable exception in his technocrat's life. He prefers what he frequently called "clean politics," or to be what he fancies a proper, European gentleman-politician, indeed, an elite--real struggle is too messy, especially for the investors and governments abroad and for the interests of captial at home whose desires the president sought to fulfill more than those of the people whose struggle he claimed to champion. In this context, the manner in which the president chose to mark the second anniversary of the Orange Revolution, with an elite gathering far removed from "the maidan" and its people, is no surprise (here).

nd so the necessity of (an anti-oligarchy, anti-Kuchmism) struggle remains.

Spirit can always be lost. If the world is not the product of a spirit that is inevitably heading toward a telos (goal)--i.e., Freedom--but is created as the result of a wide variety of everyday becomings or struggles, then gains can be lost. "Freedom" is potentially gained (and lost) in struggle. If one doesn't like Marxist talk, perhaps one can appreciate terms borrowed from Zen Buddism: The Buddha was never content to relax. The Buddha had to renew his efforts everyday, lest he fall from his Enlightenment. If the Buddha can slip from Enlightenment without daily struggle and effort, Ukraine can loose the spirit of the Orange Revolution that hasn't yet been fully realized. Like any person after a flash of realization, Ukraine as a nation can become stuck in a semi-realized state and can succumb to old and new illusions, despite the Orange Revolution.

The Orange Revolution was a collective kensho, a momentary glimpse of Enlightenment, or a glimpse of the Enlightened world Ukrainians could live in and build. Realizing it will take ongoing effort, or struggle.

This is not to say that there is no positive or progressive accumulation of successes from previous struggles--that is, gains of the oppressed vis-a-vis the powers-that-be are in a certain sense permanent (cf. the life work of Antonio Negri, in particular this, this, this and this). There is a positive/progressive accumulation of the gains made in struggle that parallels the (negative, repressive) accumulations of capital and power. This is not a contradiction of the principle that there can always be a reversal to oppression and a loss of spirit after a progressive victory. Because of the positive accumulation of struggles, the political and capitalist powers-that-be are forced to innovate in their techniques of control and exploitation. This very thing is happening in Ukraine right now, and most of Yushchenko's oranges are reduced today to a scramble, not to stop this innovation, but to hold on to a meager share of the power they so quickly and unwittingly ceded to their oligarchic adversaries out of the blindness of their beliefs/interests and/or the hubris of their personalities.

Thus, after a victory of the oppressed, the powers-that-be can no longer rely solely on previous techniques, but there always-already are new techniques of control and exploitation to be invented and combined with older ones. Many critics have pointed out that two central limitations of Marx's thought were a) his failure to foresee the flexibility of capital and capitalist forms of rule in overcoming economic and political crises and, relatedly, b) his conviction that crises would necessarily lead to capitalism's collapse. For all their talk about needing stability in the market, capitalist powers have over and again demonstrated they can strive in times of crises, for it is in the resolution of crises that they can reassert their power and control, often with greater depth than before (cf. Negri, again). This process of reassertion is taking place in Ukraine right now, and Yushchenko and gang have enfeebled themselves to such an extent that they are not able to stop it (and it is likely that some among them benefit from and support the Kuchmism-lite system). Thus two similar criticisms of Yushchenko and gang and their apologists can be made:

a) They overestimated their societal level of support and gravely underestimated (due to their ideology? or meak personalities? or their own vested interests?) and therefore failed to appreciate the flexibility of their oligarchic adversaries;

b) They foolishly believed that their oligarchic adversaries would eventually capitulate--because of reasoned orange arguments and proclamations without any real orange stick--to full cooperation with an orange power, and become a kind of consolidated-on-orange-terms "national bourgeoisie." This latter bit was more an element of faith--not of some kind of level-headed pragmatism--that entered into their beliefs, willy-nilly. And so once again, religious leaders have failed to deliver to Ukrainians that for which they so long have prayed.

Thus, though positive change has happened in Ukraine--the minimum that was possible after the Orange Revolution--one should not prematurely think the struggle is over, nor that the Spirit of the Orange Revolution will live on without ongoing efforts. Ukraine after the Orange Revolution is stuck in a semi-realized state and is stuck with a plethora of top-level politicians who leave much to be desired (including Tymoshenko). This situation requires that the people who dreamed of much more and who felt the spirit two years ago renew their efforts in building a real movement for change in their country. I fear that no political force in Ukraine today is capable of delivering what the multitude of Ukrainians dreamed of or glimpsed in Nov-Dec. 2004. That force is still waiting to be made. Thus the most basic but important work of organizing and solidifying a real grassroots movement against corruption and elite intrigue is still of the upmost importance in Ukraine--and this is the reason why the ruination of Pora! as the embryo of a real, all-Ukrainian grassroots movement by the hubris of one man and the pretension of becoming a political party was one of the greatest tragedies of the post-OR days. But it is not a tragedy that can not be overcome.

Spirit is nothing without struggle; spirit will perish if concrete struggle does not continue.

For this reason, those who continue to occupy tent camps and to protest in Kyiv and across Ukraine, and who picketed outside of Yushchenko's elite gathering for the OR's anniversary, and who otherwise refuse to make any apologies for the way in which Yushchenko and team have betrayed "the people of the maidan," are in my opinion doing the right thing.

Of course, in the end, one should give credit where credit is due: the press is a degree freer, elections cleaner, civic activism a degree higher, and some moderate success has been gained in Ukraine's culture wars (Yushchenko's success on one front of the culture war--i.e., recognition of the holodomyr as genocide--is respectable). And the oligarchy-elite remain as firmly entrenched and in power as ever.

*All but the last five fotos, which were taken in Kyiv, are still-fotos captured from digital video that I took in various locations in Western Ukraine during the OR.


olechko said...

yep, very confusing subject to ponder on these days..

Stefan said...

thanks for commenting. . .

i have written this before, but yushchenko may be subject of another khmelnytskyj like poem; however, that poem about yushchenko should be bit more damning, for as i understand the history, old khmel' had his back to the wall with little choice over the matter, whereas yushchenko and gang completely squandered the potential laying at their feet with their elite squabbles.

you have an interesting-looking site, by the way.


Taras said...

Regular safaris by MPs and Cabinet members could save Ukraine a lot of trouble, couldn’t they? Sponsoring drinks and guns at the scene would definitely provide the best return on taxpayers’ money.

I wonder what spring will bring. Will Lutsenko's March on Kyiv generate enough attendance to chase away Kuchma's retirement blues, evoking adrenaline-rich memories of 3/9/2001? Will Proffessor call in sick? Will Kyivites put ChernoCo out of business? Or will Lyonya Kosmos (Leo the Loony) and his vassals go on to colonize the Moon, since an estimated 50 hectares (124 acres) of municipal land have already been parceled out?

I didn’t show up on Maidan just to have Kuchma’s students back from sabbatical two years later. And I certainly didn’t grow up to see Medieval, if not extraterrestrial, forms of social contract spring in my city.

Unless we Ukrainians are willing to bend over and take it, we’re gonna have to take another bite at it. There’s work we have to finish.

Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Riveting reflections, Stefan!

Anonymous said...

I do not think the Yushchenko government has turned out as badly as you do, nor do I think Yushchenko's accomplishments are as minimal as you portray. The establishment of a free press and clean election process are very significant achievements, and together they are the means by which Ukrainians will take hold of their country in the future. Also, the Yushchenko government has worked on eliminating burdensome regulations on business, and such efforts will, in time, help Ukrainians take hold of their economic situation; and as the economic situation improves, Ukrainians will become evermore empowered politically. As Alexander Motyl has frequently argued, Ukrainians and the world are witnessing the budding of democracy in Ukraine. It is an ugly process, but the signs are that democracy is taking root. That civic activism in Ukraine is any degree higher than it previously was is a symptom of this, and this greater activism is evidence that the Spirit you talk about lives on. I was an election observer and believe that the Spirit unleashed in the Orange Revolution has permanently changed Ukraine and that Spirit will push the country forward as a source of progress in the years to come. Finally, that democratic Spirit that is afoot in Ukraine is the reason one can say Ukraine has left the post-Soviet world, and why one can say that countries like Russia, Belarus and any of the 'stans have not.

What interests "of capital," by the way, do you imagine Yushchenko serving before those of the people of Ukraine? Have we not yet, once and for all, thrown into history's waste basket the leftist illusion that progress on the behalf of business is anti-people? Socialism--the drive for absolute equality--was an unmitigated disaster. One does not need absolute economic equality throughout society in order to create a livable, suitable world for "the multitude." In fact, world history has shown that if you hold back the more creatively business-minded elements within society, you hold back society as a whole, too. The goal should never be equality but overall economic performance and progress. As the saying goes, "A rising tide lifts all boats."

I find your blog interesting because I am interested in Ukraine but don't agree with you. I read and regularly agree with the stances taken by those at the Economist magazine and the Publius Pundit website, both of which you poo-poo!

Stefan said...

all that you do in your comment is repeat the views about yushchenko that i criticized. but you do express these views in a rather succint form, and i thank you for doing so. . .

your belief that, inevitably so, cleaner elections, a freer press, and the spirit of the orange revolution will produce a better ukraine is what i call a matter of faith, not of pragmatic practice. all those things are hollow without ongoing struggle. so i also would like to reassert here that i do think that orange revolution has brought about some improvement; the higher degree of civic activism is excellent.

however, lest i remind:

free elections did happen in ukraine, yet the oligarchy is managing to re-entrench itself. there is a massive democratic deficit in ukraine, and most of the oranges have proven just as aloof from the people as members of other oligarchic parties. what does one's vote matter when elected officials do not listen and are more concerned with elite politics than real, social policies and effective government? and in ukraine, what does a government that proclaims that it is for and of the people matter when, immediately, it dropped the ball of anti-elite struggle and joined the inter-elite war? (a democracy deficit is that deficit between what people vote for and what politicians promise and what politicians actually do; for an example, the current situation in the US displays a major democracy deficit--mid-term elections, which are an informal referendum on a president's performance, demonstrated that the majority of american voters are, finally, opposed to the war and the general conduct of the bush administration, which nonetheless proceeds in its plans unperturbed.)

the press is a bit freer in ukraine, and some journalists have made use of this; but journalists continue to be harassed. temnyky might be gone, but a touchy-feely consensus that does not deeply challenge money/power in the main has already taken shape--a truly western-styled, don't-really-rock-the-boat press has emerged, if you understand what i mean!

then in response to your comment about my comment concerning yushchenko serving interests of capital over those of the people and your displeasure with my leftist sympathies:

a) i have thought about this line of the piece a bit, not because i have changed my mind, but because i didn't clearly state what i wanted to say. i meant to deride the yushchenko government for fearing populist upheavals of society and thus for seeking stability outright without any real effort whatsoever to shake up the oligarchy's control of government, economy, and society. i think ukraine was ready for a few years of turmoil; hell, all that it has had under yushchenko is turmoil. after the OR, there was enormous will and trust--contrary to the belief that people would complain that the world hadn't changed, i think people were willing to be quite patient with further turmoil, but only if that turmoil was the result of a real struggle against (instead of within) the entrenched oligarchy with tangible results, such as: the start of some kind of social programs or public works projects and some actual prosecution, or proceedings in the direction of social justice. BUT instead of a turmoil that has led to the solidification of an orange government with its grassroots support in a struggle against a rapacious oligarchy during which social programs were launched and social justice demands met, all that one has seen in ukraine are elite squabbles that has lead to the re-entrenchment of the oligarchy and the marginalization of the oranges, and a steadily declining grassroots situation.

by seeking stability over the turmoil of a popular struggle for economic and social justice, yushchenko has, despite himself, delivered not more stability but more instability anyway, and a turmoil that has opened the door to the return of the oligarchs and that has made narly any difference in the daily lives of average people.

so one could have written that yushchenko failed to make any start on achieving his most cherished goal: that of creating the stability that his local capitalist gang and their international capital supporters and apologists and enemies of populism demanded. by fearing upheaval, they got upheaval, but not the one they should have wanted--and all the while, the people who actually produce ukraine's wealth have turned out to be, for yushchenko and gang, nearly as much as an afterthought as they have been for the rest of the oligarchy.

b) as for your free market ideology summed up in the statement, "a rising tide lifts all boats" and your wondering about why i have not left behind the left: i am really glad you used this line, because i was just reading somewhere recently--i forget where, perhaps on the counterpunch website to which i link--the following excellent response: not everyone owns or has access to a boat. and now i elaborate on that response: not everyone has access to means for building a boat. not everyone can swim. of those who can swim, few have the strength and stamina to swim and escape the riptides of neoliberal-driven globalization (i.e., profiteering off of public wealth and war by an elite clique) before drowning, or before being forced into accepting rescue on a rich man's yacht on condition of agreeing to work in the engine room or serve the master under close-to-19th-century conditions. the belief of the end of the left and the end of history with the collapse of the soviet bloc and chinese embrace of capitalism and thus the ongoing construction of a global market is nothing but pure triumphalist ideology. alternatives have never ceased to exist and the post-1991 (washington) consensus has only but ever rested on very shaky grounds. history and society--in this context, global society--continues to be a field of struggle, and signs are that the struggle for history and society is heating up for yet another epoch-making cataclysm. capital will not have the last word; it is ontologically impossible that it will, since capital is the social-political-ontological force that is derivative; capital is an afterthought, an after-effect, conditioned. deregulation and neoliberalism are innovations of control and exploitation that are reactions to the active upheavals of 1968, when the previous systems of capitalist control and exploitation where refused--i.e., when the logics of fordist-taylorist production, colonial rule, and party and union discipline were refused by masses the worldover. belief that the market is the best organizing principle for all social life is a kind of faith whose justification rests on a very simple, circular reasoning that gives it the same air of inviolability as any faith. being faith-based, it causes its true believers either to be blind to things unaccountable by their logic, or to dismiss problems with the market-as-organizing-principle-of-social-life with such notions as, "well such and such are problems, but just give the market more time to work!" thus, market and privatization fundamentalists can bleet on about a supposed global rise of standards of living when inequality--but what is more, actual immiseration--is actually, manifestly, objectively, on the rise; they can bleet on about the peace of the unregulated market system when the emergence of the global market is concurrent with the emergence of a global state of constant warfare during which war has become a foundation for all social and political life (as antonio negri and michael hardt and michel foucault all put it, war has become ontological and biopolitical, or directly organizing of social life); in short, because it is faith from whence they are talking, they can bleet on about the emergence of capitalist utopias against all evidence, and talk as though it was only the experiment with socialism that has taken a mighty toll in the bloodsport of development. market fundamentalists in power are as dangerous as other fundamentalists, and they have their non-fundamentalist opponents the world over.

Mariya said...

Hello Stefan,
My comment is pretty much offtopic.

I represent the project www.HowToManage.In.UA

I find your posts about Ukraine very interesting and informative.

Could you maybe post the information about our project at your blog?

We can add the link to your blog to our "Blog" section, if you like.

Best regards,
Mariya Novak
Project Manager