The war in Ukraine (13) – the unity for democracy

Extraordinary Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government held in Brussels, Belgium on March 24, 2022. (Photo by NATO Pool/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In the previous post we repeated an earlier review of two of the many indices of democracy in the world and the ranking of Russia and Ukraine.  These indices are, of course, ideological constructs that compare the real world with a bourgeois ideal that excludes what Marxists consider real human freedom. For these bourgeois indices freedom includes ‘economic freedom’, which Marx described as the freedom to exploit.  The freedom to own capital is also the freedom to exclude ownership to the vast majority, which without their own capital have to work for those that do, and without which those that do have capital would be able to do nothing with it.  A society in which the working class collectively owns and controls the means of production and has ended private capitalist ownership does not exist but would be one that would really be on the road to freedom.

There is therefore no point to a Marxist index that reported that in no country does the mass of the people, especially the working class, control its own destiny and impose its own will through its economic and social power, with whatever state organisation is still required to defend its collective ownership of the productive powers of society.  The left supporters of Ukraine however claim that there is something qualitatively different to ‘democracy’ in Ukraine in comparison to ‘authoritarianism’ in Russia.  The indices that we have quoted are simply a demonstration that there isn’t.

The point is not only that both are capitalist societies defended by capitalist states, which is the difference that socialists consider determinant, but that there is little difference between them in terms of the functioning of bourgeois democracy.  For socialists such democracy is mainly of value in order for the working class to develop its political consciousness and its organisation more freely.  For the pro-war left this is irrelevant, for while it complains about the attacks on workers’ rights and organisation by the Zelensky regime it nevertheless defends this regime and the state it sits upon. It betrays the cause of the working class at both the level of principle and immediate practice.

Its rationale for this has been argued against repeatedly on this blog, as we have noted the identity of its argument to that of the western capitalist powers, recited endlessly by their state and corporate media.  We see this again with a third index of ‘democracy.’ 

This third index is that of The Economist Intelligence Unit, which reported in its 2021 index that ‘Ukraine’s score declined from 5.81 in 2020 to 5.57 in 2021, taking it further below the threshold of 6.00, above which countries are classified as a “flawed democracy”. Russia’s score, already a lowly 3.31 in 2020, fell further to 3.24 in 2021.’  This meant that Ukraine was 86 out of 167 countries while Russia came in at 124.  The report stated that ‘Ukraine’s score registered the steepest decline among the four east European countries in this category’, (Hybrid regimes in Eastern Europe), and ‘declined in part as a result of increased tensions with Russia. Government functioning under a direct military threat usually restricts democratic processes in favour of the centralisation of power in the hands of the executive and the security or military apparatus with the aim of guaranteeing public safety. In Ukraine, the military played a more prominent role in 2021 and exerted more influence over political decision-making; government policy also became less transparent.’ In the 2022 report Ukraine has dropped only one place to 87 out of 167 countries while Russia falls to 146 place from 124.

’The Economist’ is a virulently opinionated ‘newspaper’ that champions capitalism and Western imperialist ‘values’ so its rationale for its open support for Ukraine is striking for its more or less perfect alignment with the justification of support for Ukraine by the pro-war left.  One is almost tempted to say that one of them hasn’t quite understood what is going on, but it is too easy to identity the mistaken party.

’The Economist’ reports that ‘Ukraine’s score in the 2022 Democracy Index declines compared with 2021, from 5.57 to 5.42. . . . Despite the overall decline in Ukraine’s Democracy Index score in 2022, there were also many positive developments, not least in the way in which the war has given rise to a sense of nationhood and national solidarity. Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion is a demonstration of how ordinary people are prepared to fight to defend the principles of national sovereignty and self-determination.’  

It goes on to say that ‘Russia’s invasion led to a strong “rally-around-the-flag” effect, after which trust in the country’s president, government and armed forces surged to all-time highs. Citizens’ engagement with politics and the news also increased. In response to the invasion, the Ukrainian government imposed martial law, which curtailed freedom of movement and placed sweeping emergency powers in the hands of the president, Volodymyr Zelenskyi. Checks and balances on Mr Zelenskyi’s authority were effectively suspended as normal political processes assumed a lower priority in the face of an existential external threat. The banning of pro-Russian political parties, such as Opposition Platform—For Life, as well as media outlets reporting pro-Russian views, is understandable in the context of the invasion and amid Ukraine’s attempts to consolidate and defend its national identity.’

‘However, in fighting a war that is widely understood to be existential, Ukraine’s leaders have sometimes curtailed the rights and freedoms of citizens, political parties and the media. Much of this is par for the course in wartime, but such extraordinary measures have inevitably resulted in downgrades in various indicators in the Democracy Index.’

‘The Economist’ index thus reports the continuing reduction in democracy with more sorrow than anger and reduces its impact on Ukraine’s overall score by increasing the score of the sub-category of ‘political participation’, which is not actually independent popular action but, as it says, a “rally-around-the-flag” mobilisation that subordinates the Ukrainian working class to its state.  That much of this has been voluntary simply emphasises the subservience.  It is no accident that this ‘political participation’ has been enthusiastically supported by the pro-war left as an example of working class mobilisation, another indication that it cannot distinguish between the power of the Ukrainian state and the power of the Ukrainian working class.

On one thing the magazine may appear obviously correct: ‘Every so often in history something happens that requires people to take sides as a matter of principle. In 2022 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine posed such a choice.’  The pro-war left has demonstrated that it agrees that it must ‘take sides’.

Boffy has ridiculed this idea, as if we must accept one of the alternatives presented by capitalism and the competition between its rival states; but the pro-war left has accepted this choice and in doing so has accepted the principles advanced by one of the alternatives, in its case the policy of the Western capitalist powers.  So, just like this pro-war left, ‘The Economist’ champions the centrality of ‘self-determination’, ironically also asserted by Russia and China in their own singing of the praises of national sovereignty: ‘Sovereignty and democracy are indivisible. Ukraine’s fight to defend its sovereignty has drawn attention to the importance of a principle that has been much denigrated . . .’

It then goes on to note, with total lack of self-awareness, that ‘Ukraine’s elections were marred by substantial irregularities that prevented them from being free and fair. There were serious constitutional flaws, with power being concentrated in the presidency rather than the legislature. The judiciary was far from being independent. Corruption was rife under a system dominated by oligarchs, who exercised huge influence over the main institutions of power. There was a pluralist media, but many outlets were owned by wealthy businessmen or controlled by vested interests. Public trust in government, political parties and the electoral process was very low.’

This however is blamed mainly on the influence of Russia, with the wishful thinking claim that the war ‘may have provided the shock that will ensure no return to the status quo ante in Ukraine. Russia’s war of aggression has raised the level of national consciousness and will amplify expectations of change afterwards.’

In fact, the opposite has already been the case, with nationalist radicalisation after 2014 being used as cover for the lack of economic and social progress and thorough democratisation.  Instead, national consciousness has amplified the worst parts of Ukraine’s past with its celebration of fascist predecessors who now play the most honoured role in Ukraine’s new nationalist revival.  Just like the pro-war left, this far-right is accorded no importance and the growth of nationalism celebrated.  Ethnic nationalism is endorsed through steps to erase Russian culture and define what is really Ukrainian, given a gloss on the left through stupid or dishonest claims that this is some sort of progressive decolonial project.

The pro-war left has therefore no essential difference with the ideological standard bearer of capitalism when the latter declares its verdict that:

‘Nothing that the Western powers did forced Russia to go to war in Ukraine. Russia had in late 2021 listed its grievances and concerns about NATO expansion, arms control and other matters, and the US’s door remained open for further discussion and diplomacy. The US made clear that it was ready to pursue negotiations with Russia. That Russia went to war in Ukraine is all down to the Kremlin.’

This Left holds this same view because its political conceptions are based on the same vacuous moralistic grounds declared by ‘The Economist’, which can be filled with whatever reactionary content is currently prevalent:

‘Democracy is a moral system as well as a system of government, and it is moral in the sense that it expresses an attitude towards people. The basic moral premise of democracy is the idea that all people are equal. Democracy is made for people, not the people for democracy.  From the idea of the equality of people follows the idea of the equality of nations: the principle of national sovereignty also has a moral dimension and is a bedrock of democracy.’ 

In expressing these political conceptions ‘The Economist’ faithfully grounds itself on the class interests of Western capitalism and can really only be charged with hypocrisy.  On the other hand, in basing itself on the same moral arguments and resulting political positions, the pro-war left betrays the class interests of those it claims to represent.

Back to part 12

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