However, what is mostly missing is old-style class analysis of the type I thought I left behind when I emigrated from Russia some 30 years ago. The West has generally entered the post-industrial stage; it tends to find the category of proletariat-bourgeoisie conflict as outdated and less useful than, say, ethnicity or religion. But what is unfolding in Eastern Ukraine has all the makings of a classic Marxist drama.
Corrupt, Kiev-based oligarchs have entered into alliance with ultraconservative forces of the western Ukrainian region, a region which is agricultural, pre-modern and is extremely hostile to all things Russian, including modernisation. The rather obvious purpose of this alliance is to impose a Western version of shock-therapy upon a country that has so far resisted it, because its economy is heavily intertwined with Russian resources and consumption.
What for Russians might appear as “NATO expansion”, or for the West, “the march of democracy” is, in fact, the expansion of Western capital, which needs the guarantees of Western legal and political system to function. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich resisted this pull towards the West not because of his loyalty to Russia, but because the Western system would have been too complex and cumbersome for him to steal on the scale that he got used to. But once he was removed, it become easier for the pro-Western Kievan economic and political elite to embark on this project, while relying on the loyalty of Ukraine’s western regions - the regions that could not wait to leave Russia’s influence and try their luck at competing with the Polish plumbers for the few good positions left in Europe. These groups saw the rapid Westernisation as liberation, not as a threat.
But what about the heavily industrialised Ukrainian east? Those who think that it is Russia that pulls it back are deeply ignorant of the complexity of the region. The Donbas Region, which comprises 10 percent of Ukraine’s population and produces 25 percent of Ukrainian exports, is inhabited by Russian-speaking people who work in mines, steel plants, and machinery factories, and who have a less cheerful view of Westernisation.
They might have as many anti-Russian grievances as anyone in Ukraine, but they also live on the ground and they know their own conditions better than anyone. These are “Reagan democrats”: Hard-working, law-abiding, vodka-drinking people who want their paycheck and pension and some social services instead of corruption. They also have a rather strong and proud working-class tradition that goes back at least a century and a half. In 1918, they formed a short-lived Donetsk republic that refused to join either Ukraine or Soviet Russia
The loss of a local son, Yanukovich, was not a big deal for the region. But besides paychecks and social guarantees, the new rulers have failed to provide the region with basic human respect that any well-organised and hard-working group has the right to expect.
One of the demands that St Petersburg workers articulated to their bosses before they embarked on the Russian Revolution of 1917 was the need to address them in polite form of “vy” and not the rude “ty”. But that kind of respect was not coming from Kiev. Instead of politeness, there was sloppy tinkering with the Russian language, there was rewriting of history that tried to present the tortured Ukrainian past from the perspective of staunch anti-communists and Nazi collaborators, most of whom were rewriting Ukrainian history in emigration. And there was the hostile, polarising rhetoric that would cast anyone not immediately agreeing with Kiev as “slaves”, Russian lackeys, or even “creatures” as the deputy from Lviv in western Ukraine, Iryna Farion, likes to refer to Russian speakers.