Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 31, 2014

Ukraine, NATO and imperialism

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,NATO,Russia,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 7:29 pm

A Google search on “Ukraine”, “NATO” and “imperialism” results in 493,000 hits. Right off the top, there’s a Youtube clip of Rick Rozoff who runs the “Stop NATO” Yahoo mailing list and is an old hand at this, followed by other old hands such as Eric Draitser, Global Research, the Spartacist League, and the World Socialist Website. Most of the nearly half-million articles make the same talking points. WSWS.org is typical:

Can anyone seriously believe that Washington did not expect that Russia, at the very minimum, would deploy military forces to secure control of Crimea—a part of Russia until 1954, the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet and its sole access point into the Mediterranean? Or that Washington knew Russia would not simply turn the other cheek as the installation of an extreme rightwing government in Ukraine, in which xenophobic nationalists exert immense influence, transformed the country into the new forward base for NATO forces, armed with missiles, on the very border of Russia?

Nobody could ever mistake Rozoff, Draitser or Global Research for Marxists, but one does have to wonder how self-described Trotskyists as the Spartacist League and WSWS.org would have so little interest in understanding why Eastern European nations would gravitate toward NATO. If you were the head of state in a country that had been invaded by Russian tanks in the past, your options are rather limited in terms of alliances after you’ve left the Kremlin’s orbit. One doubts that the Martians can be relied upon, no matter the prowess on display in “War of the Worlds”.

In 1999, three new nations were added to NATO, the first additions since 1982. They were Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. For those whose historical memory goes back further than EuroMaidan, it is not so difficult to figure out why they would hook up with NATO. All had been invaded by Russian tanks “defending socialism” against imperialist aggression.

Under the serene and wise leadership of Mátyás Rákosi, Hungary was proceeding rapidly toward communism in the 1950s, occasionally having to rein in agents of imperialism. According to Wikipedia, they were a motley crew:

Under Rákosi’s reign, the Security Police (ÁVH) began a series of purges, first within the Communist Party to end opposition to Rákosi’s reign. The victims were labeled as “Titoists,” “western agents,” or “Trotskyists” for as little a crime as spending time in the west to participate in the Spanish Civil War or for being Jewish (labeled as “Zionist agents”). In total, about half of all the middle and lower level party officials-at least 7,000 people-were purged.

When the revolution of 1956 broke out, the British Communist Party sent a trusted reporter to Hungary expecting articles of the Rick Rozoff and Eric Draitser variety. Imagine their disappointment when Peter Fryer joined the counter-revolution:

There were Gestapo-like torture chambers with whips and gallows and instruments for crushing people’s limbs. There were tiny punishment cells. There were piles of letters from abroad, intercepted for censorship. There were batteries of tape recorders to take down telephone conversations. There were prostitutes retained as police spies and agents provocateurs. And the young brutes who made up this strong arm of the people’s democratic State were paid – according to documents found on their dead bodies – 3,000 to 4,000 forints a month as men, 9,000 to 12,000 as officers: three to twelve times the average wage. Plus luxurious flats while thousands in Budapest lived cramped in slums and cellars.

Surely Dryer should have understood that stern measures were required against Spanish Civil War veterans and rootless cosmopolitans.

Largely decided at the Yalta Conference of February 1945, the USSR won the right to create “buffer states” that would protect it against another imperialist invasion, or more specifically another German invasion. Like Daniel Goldhagen, the Soviet tyrant considered Nazism to be a kind of essential expression of the German Geist. Feelings of hatred directed against all things German filtered down to the Red Army grunt who thought himself justified in raping German women on a massive scale. In a book on this blot on Soviet history, Anthony Beevor quoted a Russian fighter: “Our soldiers’ behaviour towards Germans, particularly German women, is absolutely correct!.”

In exchange for the buffer states, Stalin agreed to rein in the Communist Parties in places where they had considerable strength: Italy, France and Greece. In Greece the consequences of this policy were particularly harmful. After Stalin tossed the Greek CP overboard, the Greek bourgeoisie was rewarded with 25 years of stability. When the workers got uppity, they got the back of the hand just like the Hungarian workers. While Greece and Hungary rested on rival social systems, they both knew how to keep the rabble at bay.

If not for Stalinism, the world would look a lot different today. A socialist Italy, France or Greece would have had much more importance than a socialist Hungary since the pre-existing democratic rights would have militated against Stalinist ambitions. As Fryer points out, Hungary was a dictatorship except for a brief period: “Hungary has never known democracy, except for four and a half quite abnormal months at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919, under the bourgeois-democratic government of Károlyi.”

From the day that the buffer states were created, the citizens suffered under dictatorship and economic privation. While the Warsaw Pact was not about extracting profits, Eastern Europe economies had to put up with bureaucratic inefficiencies that were both unnecessary and pain-inducing, particularly in Czechoslovakia, a country that was relatively advanced. When Dubcek proposed a series of economic changes that might be described as technocratic but that remained consistent with socialist principles, the pro-Kremlin wing of the CP attacked him as an agent of imperialism. When Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia and re-imposed hardline Stalinist political and economic rules, a layer of the intelligentsia decided that if socialism with a human face was not possible, then you might as well opt for liberal capitalism. The most notable example was Vaclav Havel, who became president after the country left the Soviet fold. In other words, the primary driving force behind Czechoslovakia’s lining up with imperialism and NATO was Stalinist obduracy.

It might have been expected that Boris Yeltsin would have little problem with the former buffer states joining NATO since he was as willing to satisfy Western imperialism’s interests as a member of Congress. So much so in fact that he wrote a letter in December 1991 raising the possibility that Russia join NATO.

The letter stated: “This will contribute to creating a climate of mutual understanding and trust, strengthening stability and cooperation on the European continent. We consider these relations to be very serious and wish to develop this dialogue in each and every direction, both on the political and military levels. Today we are raising a question of Russia’s membership in NATO, however regarding it as a long-term political aim.”

Now our “anti-imperialist” friends might write this off as to be expected from a tool of Western interests. But not so fast. He changed his tune just four years later, sounding positively Putinesque. In 1996 he complained that the expansion of NATO as “an attempt to keep the foreign policy mechanisms and the mentality of ‘Cold War’ times.”

Whether or not Yeltsin would have been up to the kind of stiff resistance to NATO expansion as his successor Vladimir Putin is difficult to determine. However, when it came to Chechnya both leaders showed that they were ready to shove the country back into the Stone Age to protect Russian interests.

In contrast to Eastern Europe, the Kremlin has been far more willing to both wage open warfare and to ally with the West in the former Soviet Republics of the southern Caucasus, with Chechnya being the most extreme example. The Party of Socialism and Liberation went the furthest in linking the Chechen revolt to NATO’s expansion, writing in 2004:

If it were to succeed in separation from Russia, Chechnya would join the league of former Soviet lands that are now “hosts” to U.S. and NATO occupation, and whose wealth is exploited for foreign profiteers.

Few could have imagined in the 1980s that today U.S. and NATO would occupy former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kirgizistan, and Georgia, which borders Chechnya and whose pro-U.S. government is playing a key role in the struggles taking place.

One doubts that the PSL ever took the trouble to follow up on this analysis, but the presence of American troops in Uzbekistan did not exactly generate the kind of response from Putin one might expect given this gloomy prognosis. Uzbekistan has an enormous NATO base that has been key for the war in Afghanistan. Furthermore, as long as these former Soviet republics were part of the “war on terror”, Putin had no problem with a NATO presence as the NY Times reported a month after the 9/11 attacks:

Today, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, Mr. Putin seemed to signal a far more flexible approach to enlargement. ”If NATO takes on a different shape and is becoming a political organization, of course, we would reconsider our position with regard to such expansion, if we are to feel involved in the processes,” Mr. Putin said.

”They keep saying that NATO is becoming more political than military,” Mr. Putin added. ”We are looking at this (and) watching this process. If this is to be so, it would change things considerably,” he said.

Mr. Putin has moved swiftly since the terror attacks to lend his support to the West. Most strikingly, he dropped Russian objections to the deployment of American and other NATO counterterrorism forces in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere in Russia’s Central Asian sphere of influence.

He has already extracted a price for his help. Within days, the United States and Germany lined up behind a Kremlin demand that rebels in Chechnya lay down their arms, notably omitting criticism of human rights abuses there by Russians.

You will note that the West had little problem with the Russians solving the “Chechen problem” in the way that it saw fit. For those who are still expecting the USA to go to war in Syria for “regime change” as pursuant to Samantha Power type “human rights” ideology, it would be useful to review what happened to Chechnya. With both the White House and the Kremlin acting on pragmatic grounds, there’s little reason to expect a penny to be wasted on reversing the biggest humanitarian crisis in decades.

Unless you are one of those people who still take Russian press conferences seriously, there’s little reason to believe that the Kremlin is intervening in Ukraine for fear of NATO encirclement.

Long after Yeltsin had departed from the scene (leaving aside how he eventually put some distance between himself and the West, arguably under pressure from his military), the Kremlin continued to see NATO in terms far less apocalyptic than the “anti-imperialist” left as the EUObserver reported on January 4, 2009:

Russia does not rule out NATO membership at some point in the future, but for the moment it prefers to keep co-operation on a practical, limited level, Moscow’s envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin told EUobserver.

“There is no such necessity at this moment, but we cannot rule out this opportunity in the future,” Mr Rogozin said in a phone interview on Tuesday (31 March), one day after Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Russia should join the military alliance, if it meets the membership criteria.

Ironically, the obstacle to joining NATO was not primarily over the occasional flare-ups of the sort that took place in Yugoslavia or Georgia but whether or not NATO was the appropriate place for a Great Power:

“Great powers don’t join coalitions, they create coalitions. Russia considers itself a great power,” the Russian ambassador stressed.

He said Russia wanted to be NATO’s “partner,” provided the alliance took into account Moscow’s “interest” – a catchphrase alluding to NATO enlargement to its neighbouring Ukraine and Georgia, which it fiercely opposes.

Well, who can blame Rogozin? Interests are paramount when it comes to Great Powers. Kissinger said it best: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”

For reasons we can only guess at, Russia sees the carve-up of Ukraine in its interests. It now seems bent on either annexing Donbas in the way that Crimea was annexed or keeping Kyiv in a constant state of turmoil so that it will eventually accede to a state of affairs that allows de facto separation of Donbas.

Anton Shekhovtsov, a PhD student at the UCL in London, has a very useful blog for keeping track of what is happening in Ukraine if you are looking for an alternative to WSWS.org, Global Research et al. Of course, I imagine that if you prefer being spoon-fed from RT.com, you’d probably not be here in the first place. Here’s from his latest post, titled “The ‘Ukraine crisis’ is a long-planned operation” that should make clear that fearing encirclement was not what drove Kremlin policy:

For the Russian authorities, the “colour revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine that brought to power pro-Western governments in 2003-2004 was a sign that these countries were willing to leave the Russian sphere of influence choosing liberal democracy over semi-authoritarian kleptocracy. President Vladimir Putin perceived these revolutions as a direct threat to his rule: if Russian citizens see that post-Soviet countries such as Georgia and Ukraine can successfully modernize and democratize, then they may want the same for Russia – and this would dramatically undermine the authoritarian regime that Putin and his elites have built. Hence, Putin’s task was to subvert democratic governments in the neighbouring countries to prevent them from successful modernization.

In the past one could possibly understand why the Western left would have a tough time making up its mind what was the lesser evil, Stalinist authoritarianism that at least provided a social safety net or liberal capitalist democracy that at least opened up the possibility for a genuine socialist movement to develop and eventually take power. But how does one explain a left that seems so anxious to see the Ukraine return to the state of affairs that prevailed under Yanukovych and the Party of Regions?

Under Yanukovych, you had police repression and economic insecurity. For all of the blather about how bad life in Ukraine would become if it became tied to the EU, there’s plenty of evidence that for the average Ukrainian things couldn’t be much worse than they were in 2011, as the Kyiv Post reported:

Ukraine is on the verge of another wave of labor and intellectual potential losses, expert from the Razumkov Center and former First Deputy Labor and Social Policy Minister Pavlo Rozenko has said. During a press conference on Nov. 14, the expert said that employment does not protect a person from poverty in Ukraine nowadays.

Rozenko also said that, according to recent data, 23% of families in which all members have jobs, and 37% of families in which only one member is employed, are below the poverty line.

The poverty risk is even higher for families with children. According to the expert, 26% of families with one child, 39% of families with two children, and over 70% of families with four and more children are living in poverty.

Meanwhile, while this state of affairs existed, Yanukovych—Putin’s golden boy—lived like this. No wonder the country rose up.



  1. Not one inch toward the Russian border, not one inch if you agree to German reunification…

    NATO, an organization that should have dissolved along with the Warsaw Pact, shocked to find that Russia ain’t Libya.

    Comment by Bill J. — September 1, 2014 @ 2:03 am

  2. You didn’t link to the Wsws article but:

    “Can anyone seriously believe that Washington did not expect that Russia, at the very minimum, would deploy military forces to secure control of Crimea—a part of Russia until 1954, the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet and its sole access point into the Mediterranean? Or that Washington knew Russia would not simply turn the other cheek as the installation of an extreme rightwing government in Ukraine, in which xenophobic nationalists exert immense influence, transformed the country into the new forward base for NATO forces, armed with missiles, on the very border of Russia?”

    This reads 100% true, even if the SEP is a sectarian cult. Anyone with a brain would know that Russia wouldn’t give this space up or allow NATO to move closer without a fight. It wouldn’t make sense if they did, anymore than the US allowing a leftist regime to take over in Puerto Rico and split with the US in favor of ALBA.

    Now, where do we go from there? Communists should recognize this as another example of rival imperialisms carving up the world, which leads to wars and battles, with the international working class suffering the brunt.

    The answer is then to oppose imperialism as a world system rather than side with any of the bourgeois camps involved. If it’s not stopped the risk is another world war, this one possibly the last.

    Comment by steve d — September 1, 2014 @ 7:25 am

  3. “Here’s from his latest post, titled “The ‘Ukraine crisis’ is a long-planned operation” that should make clear that fearing encirclement was not what drove Kremlin policy”

    It doesn’t make that clear at all. Russia feared that its imperialist sphere would decrease while the US and Western European spheres would expand, which is exactly what’s happening now in Ukraine.

    “Interests” are another word for imperialism, as in “American interests are being harmed by the Allende regime”.

    Comment by steve d — September 1, 2014 @ 7:37 am

  4. Another article that fails to enlighten us on Imperialism or Ukraine.

    “one does have to wonder how self-described Trotskyists as the Spartacist League and WSWS.org would have so little interest in understanding why Eastern European nations would gravitate toward NATO.”

    Understanding this wouldn’t translate into agreeing with it.

    incidentally one of the most pro US places in Asia is Vietnam. Never take anything for granted.

    Now I agree that many of the facts in Ukraine are distorted by both sides.

    But what do we know for a fact,

    The elected government of Ukraine was overthrown in a coup, the ousted government found most of its support in the East. Those people who voted for the ousted government had seen their vote stolen by those in and around Kiev. This was not the first time that those in Kiev had ousted a government supported by those in the East. In fact it has become a fact of life in Ukraine. Some in the East did not accept the new junta and decided not to accept its authority. Some in the East wonder how they can live in a nation where there vote literally means nothing.

    Conclusion of this – support for those heroes fighting the junta.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — September 1, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

  5. “When Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia and re-imposed hardline Stalinist political and economic rules, a layer of the intelligentsia decided that if socialism with a human face was not possible, then you might as well opt for liberal capitalism. The most notable example was Vaclav Havel, who became president after the country left the Soviet fold. In other words, the primary driving force behind Czechoslovakia’s lining up with imperialism and NATO was Stalinist obduracy.”

    I think that this letting people like Havel off too easily. Couldn’t they conceive of alternatives? Furthermore, didn’t Havel and others in Eastern Europe support the US when France and Germany objected to the invasion of Iraq? They couldn’t even ally themselves with Germany and France in 2003 because they were still afraid of the Russian Republic? They bring to mind Lacan’s purported evaluation of May ’68: something like, “As revolutionaries, you are hysterics who demand a new master. You will get one.”

    While I understand why people in the western Ukraine find an association with the EU alluring I don’t ridicule it as an expression of political idiocy, I fear that we are about to experience another instance of rebellion with a sublimated desire for discipline that will soon come to the surface.

    Comment by Richard Estes — September 2, 2014 @ 1:02 am

  6. I think that this letting people like Havel off too easily. Couldn’t they conceive of alternatives?

    There’s a long sorry record of pro-democracy activists getting corrupted. In Czechoslovakia it was Havel, in Poland it was Adam Michnik. This is a long but fascinating profile:

    The New York Times
    November 7, 1999, Sunday, Late Edition – Final
    The Accommodations of Adam Michnik

    BYLINE: By Roger Cohen; Roger Cohen is the Berlin bureau chief for The New York Times.

    It is a question of cabbage. Not an everyday demand at the trendy Tokyo restaurant, where Poland’s nouveaux riches purr into their mobile phones as they gaze at the raw fish. But Adam Michnik, enfant terrible of the revolution that brought democracy to central Europe and sushi and the beautiful set to downtown Warsaw, wants the vegetable. In what form, however, is unclear, and as Michnik seeks to define the cabbage dish, he is transformed into a dervish. Wide-eyed, a Japanese waitress watches as a whirlwind of gesticulation and stuttering utterances — interrupted only by long draws on a cigarette and a gulp of sake — at last communicates the desired thing: a spicy Korean cabbage appetizer, kimchi.

    “Aaaaaah, yes, fan-tas-tic,” Michnik, 53, sighs, his small eyes glittering, satisfied that his favorite weapon — words — has not failed him. He is stubborn; he has appetites; he will have his way. A decade ago, before Solidarity’s Polish revolution led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, cabbage tended to be found floating in thin soup of the kind Michnik sampled during six spells as a dissident in prison. “I thought I’d never see the end of Communism,” he says with a chuckle. “But now, here I am, part of the nomenklatura of the new Poland!”

    He was ever the provocateur, this Polish Jew whose paternal family was largely wiped out in the Holocaust. This Polish patriot. This crazy, proud Pole with the low-slung jeans that cry out for a belt, the hair conscientiously uncombed, the Polish-Latin lover’s stubble and the mind that is anything but sloppy. As he provoked, he probed: the totalitarian mind was always a target for him, even in its fathomless grayness. “Your soul is as generous as the Ukrainian steppe,” he wrote from prison in 1983 to Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, the interior minister who played a central role in the imposition of martial law in Poland two years earlier. And continued: “You are a vindictive, dishonorable swine.” And surmised: “It may come as news to you that there are two things in this world: evil and good.” And warned: “Those who have suffered and been humiliated will present you with a reckoning.”

    The letter may have looked like bravura, and dangerous bravura at that. But to everyone’s astonishment, and just six years later, the reckoning came. A bankrupt Communist system subsided into bloodless defeat, opening the way for the mainly velvet transitions to democracy in central Europe. Poland, the state Germans and Russians long enjoyed devouring for breakfast, freed Europe. And Michnik — the “Zionist agent” whom the Communists loved to hate, the man who rejected offers of exile in Israel or Nice as “moral suicide” — joined the establishment.

    Ten years is a long time in capitalism. All the states emerging from the former Soviet bloc have found that. The West’s system has proved devastating, psychologically and materially, to many; no wonder there are pockets of nostalgia for the old, deep-frozen ways. But democracy and the market have also set much of a continent free from a tenebrous half-life in which initiative was dangerous, informers ubiquitous.

    On one level, Michnik, now the editor of Poland’s most successful newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza (Election Gazette), has succeeded in the new world of winners and losers simply because he understood personal responsibility earlier than most. But on another, the story of this Polish Jew — son of Communists, grandson of shtetl dwellers who were murdered, a citizen of a state whose borders have been shifting, porous or nonexistent for most of this century — is also that of much of central Europe. It involves the quest to escape from a murderous history in order to found a stable, civil society. It is about the search for reconciliation, for an inclusive national identity, for a steady place where myths are less important than a mortgage.

    “I would be lying if I said I did not want revenge,” says Michnik, who left prison for the last time in 1986. “Anyone who has suffered that humiliation, at some level, wants revenge. I know all the lies. I saw people being killed. But I also know that revanchism is never ending.” He pokes his cabbage with his chopsticks, wedges a clump, raises some to his lowered mouth and chews with vigor as he continues: “And my obsession has been that we should have a revolution that not resemble the French or Russian, but rather the American, in the sense that it be for something, not against something. A revolution for a constitution, not a paradise. An anti-utopian revolution. Because utopias lead to the guillotine and the gulag.”

    A reasonable revolution: that, it seems, has been Michnik’s late-20th-century aim. Normality was how Gazeta Wyborcza put it. The paper, in its first edition, praised the normal, elevated it to a goal. Of course, it is scarcely a ringing word in the West. But in Warsaw, too much heroism or enslavement over the years has made “Liberty, Fraternity, Normality” a fair revolutionary cry.

    Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity, offered Michnik the editorship of the paper in the spring of 1989. The debut copy had eight pages. Today, the bulging tabloid sells 500,000 copies on weekdays. It has accompanied the Polish transition, and buttressed it, with the same intensity as El Pais in post-Franco Spain. The paper is normal: restaurant guides, local supplements, eclectic opinion pages, an advertisement-stuffed magazine — capitalism at work. It now stands at the heart of a media empire, Agora, that went public earlier this year and is worth upward of half a billion dollars. “A billion dollars,” Michnik laughs. “Not my cup of tea!”

    Michnik’s allusions to business — pronounced “beez-ness” — all convey a mild contempt. Before the stock offering in April, he surrendered his right to shares that would have made him very rich. “The ethics of journalism are one thing,” he insists. “Another thing is the ethics of business.” As the share sacrifice suggests, he cannot quite resist the grand geste. But even as he explains that in his heart he is “always a dissident,” Michnik’s keen eye for the importance of “beez-ness” is evident. Indeed, there is a certain affectation to this enduring “dissidence” and to his allusions to being “a prisoner of my biography.”

    The fact is that a funny thing happened on the road from resistance to responsibility: Michnik’s realism, always the other face of his stormy defiance, came to the fore. “I know very well that if we want to have influence, we need material independence,” he says. That influence, he adds, is vital for the education of post-Communist society.

    But is this new Polish society, with its rising unemployment, its myriad poor and its leather-clad gangster-speculators, not a disappointment to him?

    Far from it. Such problems are part of the inevitable cost of joining the West. And what of the liquidation of the Gdansk shipyard, birthplace of Solidarity, and the plans to sell it off to foreign investors? “So what?” Michnik shoots back. “We don’t need legends. This is not a legendary country anymore.”

    A couple of miles from the Gdansk shipyard lives Anna Walentynowicz, a small woman with gray hair tugged back off a broad face. Her apartment is cluttered with images of the Virgin Mary and Pope John Paul II; she moves about it with a muscular agility suggestive of her long career at what was previously known as the Lenin Shipyard. She started in 1950 as a welder. Because of her size, she was regularly assigned to the airless corners of hulls. Later, she moved up — quite literally — to become a crane operator, the job she held when she ignited the movement that brought down Communism in Europe.

    The spark flared on Aug. 7, 1980: Walentynowicz was fired for criticism of directors and for making candles to commemorate the 44 workers killed during a strike a decade earlier. But she was popular, and her dismissal came just over a year after the Polish pope had emboldened his countrymen through his extraordinary first visit. Within days, workers in the Gdansk shipyard put down their tools. Their demands were Walentynovicz’s reinstatement and a pay raise. The strike that would lead to the extraordinary grass-roots movement called Solidarity had begun.

    “We wanted better money, improved work safety, a free trade union and my job back,” Walentynowicz, now 70, recalls. “Nobody wanted a revolution. And when I see what the so-called revolution has brought — mass poverty, homelessness, self-styled capitalists selling off our plants and pocketing the money — I think we were right.”

    Call Walentynowicz the embittered other face of the European transformation that propelled Michnik to prosperity and power. There are millions like her. Pensioners eking out a living on $200 a month; the unemployed; those nostalgic for the predictable security, closer communities and free day-care centers of old; the disillusioned who believed capitalism was actually good in some moral sense and now recoil at the egotism of what many former East Germans call “the elbow society.”

    But for Walentynowicz, the sense of betrayal is particularly intimate. She is full of anger — against Michnik, against Walesa, against Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the stiff soldier in dark glasses who imposed martial law in 1981. All of them are now lumped in what she sees as a plot to rob the workers and the poor. Solidarity, after all, is a word that means something; she sees less of it in the Republic of Poland than its forebear, the Polish People’s Republic.

    The fact is, however, that Solidarity was always a very broad coalition. Therein lay its force. It brought together workers like Walentynowicz, intellectuals like Michnik and the church. “We had not expected the mass character of the movement,” says Jaruzelski, who tried to crush Solidarity with tanks in December 1981. “We had faced the intelligentsia in 1968, workers in 1970, but never both of them together and never in the presence of a Polish pope. You could describe it as an earthquake.”

    Raising the level on the Richter scale were the ideas of Michnik and Jacek Kuron, members of the Workers’ Defense Committee, formed in 1976 to provide striking workers with legal help. Michnik knew the repetitive, if glorious, disasters of Polish history and had already been imprisoned several times. His conclusion: frontal assaults against the system tended to fail, but a self-limiting action could work. His message: do not attack the party; try to live as though it does not exist.

    In his mid-30’s when the strike began, Michnik was already an obsession of men like Jaruzelski, who saw in him “the most demonic man possible,” as the general now puts it. He had burst upon the scene in 1961 at the ripe old age of 15. Jerzy Jedlicki, a historian, met Michnik then — a beautiful, almost angelic boy in his school uniform.” The setting was a Warsaw debating club, the Crooked Circle. Michnik unleashed a smoldering speech on education reform that later got him expelled from school.

    “He is oversensitive, short-tempered and he likes to shout,” Jedlicki says. “But from that first moment, this exceptional intellect was evident, allied to an unusual courage. He never calculated the risk. I mean, his personal risk.”

    Wanda Rapaczynski, now the president of Agora, also knew Michnik as a teenager, “wandering around muttering about how the workers will not take this any longer.” She was struck by his obsessive nature. “There was always a mission,” she says, “this strange notion that somehow the universe can be organized right, that here and there survivors of the Enlightenment exist.”

    By 1965, when he was a history student at Warsaw University, the obsessions had landed Michnik in jail for supporting Kuron’s criticisms of the party. He was back in prison in 1968, rounded up in the anti-Semitic sweep with which the Communists responded to student agitation. And back again in 1977, for protesting the killing of a Krakow student. “I worked very hard in prison,” Michnik says. “No phones, no women, no vod-vod-vod-vodka.”

    The stutter is disarming, imbuing Michnik-speak with an odd, tumbling timing and reinforcing, if anything, the bons mots that pepper his discourse. The juxtaposition of a speech impediment and evident self-confidence is also intriguing; for some reason, the latter has not cured the former.

    But whatever the cultivated elements of his charisma, and however light he now makes of the cells of the Polish police state, the fact is that prison was indeed a time of serious reflection that would lead to conclusions setting him on a collision course with the likes of Walentynowic. His jailers, as he puts it, were “the thieves of my life.” He hated them. But he had to save his internal liberty. So he worked feverishly, waging “civil war” to obtain books. One was by the poet Zbigniew Herbert, who wrote of the ideology that “poisons wells, destroys the structures of the mind, covers bread with mold.”

    And as he read and wrote, Michnik asked himself again and again: what inhabits the poisoned totalitarian mind? His answer, in part, was that totalitarianism was the revenge of the victims. Nazism was revenge for Versailles. The Soviet revolution was the final vengeance of the downtrodden against the czar, the factory owners, the rich. “After the French Revolution,” Michnik says, fist clenched. “It was not the treason of the king that was in question; it was the existence of the king. You have to be very careful when you judge and execute somebody for being a symbol.”

    Another thing happened in prison. He had been interrogated, beaten, insulted. But one day, a senior officer of the security services held out a piece of paper warning Michnik that his cell was bugged and identifying one prisoner as a police informer. Then the officer burned the paper. A first lesson in the dangers of sweeping judgment.

    These feelings — the abhorrence of revenge, the sense that truth is a mottled thing — would guide Michnik in the years following the revolution. They have led him to a dialogue with Jaruzelski — even a willingness to promote one of the general’s books — that disgusts Walentynowic and leaves her with the sense that Solidarity was a sham. “When I think I went on a hunger strike for Michnik when he was imprisoned in 1985, I am appalled,” she says. “Who is he serving when he protects Jaruzelski? In effect, the Communists exploited the Solidarity logo to survive.”

    Walentynowic, who herself spent 19 months in jail when martial law was imposed, is full of conspiracy theories. Like others in the former Soviet bloc, she actually dreamed of some sort of “Third Way,” a true socialism. Instead, she got capitalism, a miserable pension, the Gdansk shipyard liquidated by a Solidarity government before its remaining assets were sold to private investors late last year — and comrade Michnik carousing with Jaruzelski.

    “The reason Michnik is against the vetting process for former Communists is that his brother Stefan Michnik has dirty hands,” she says finally. “He was a military prosecutor in the 1950’s, when many innocent Poles were murdered by the Communists. Stefan Michnik was among those handing out the death sentences. Now he is evading prosecution in Sweden.”

    It is true that Michnik’s half brother Stefan was a military judge during the postwar Stalinist period, when a brutal purge took place. It is also true that he lives in Sweden. But this is the kind of charge that rouses Michnik to fury. In part, it is the innuendo: with reference to a Jewish prosecutor, the term “innocent Poles,” rather than “innocent people,” has a particular resonance. In part, it is the insistent use of history as a sullying cudgel. “My brother is a vehicle used by my enemies in the worst kinds of provocation,” Michnik says.

    Poland, legendary Poland, is not quite normal yet.

    They are the unlikeliest of pairs. Jaruzelski’s unadorned Warsaw office reflects the almost ascetic order of the man. Michnik’s is submerged in papers. The general is neatly groomed, with brown slacks and a brown zippered sweater, while Michnik has all the elegance of a pimply teenager. The soldier is of noble Polish birth, a member of the gentry who as a very young man and a prisoner was seduced by Soviet power and doctrine, during the Second World War; the writer is a man driven all his life by a visceral loathing of Communism. Above all, as jailer and prisoner, they viewed each other for decades as mortal enemies.

    Jaruzelski, now 76, still uses those caricatural dark glasses. He is still the pallid man who appeared on television Dec. 12, 1981, to announce martial law. He still measures each word — and there are an awful lot of them / in the arid Communist bureaucratic style. But suffering from cancer, he is obviously engaged in a reckoning.

    “Tolstoy said the two greatest misfortunes in life were bad health and a bad conscience,” he says. “I have the first, and the second in part. Many things I would have done differently. I am aware of the mistakes, the wrongs I did people, for which I was morally responsible, even if some things happened outside my knowledge. But my intention was always to help Poland.”

    Michnik, in effect, has given him the benefit of the doubt. They met for the first time in mid-1989, shortly after the elections that brought Solidarity into the first non-Communist government in the Soviet bloc. Earlier in the year, Jaruzelski had suggested that Michnik was manipulating factory workers, comparing him to “the tail wagging the dog.” When Michnik held out his hand to the general, who was still president, his first words were, “This is the tail of the dog.”

    The general was amused; an odd bond formed, one that can provoke a certain queasiness. Jaruzelski is now a charter member of the Michnik fan club. “A titan of the intellect,” he says. “A giant in moral terms.” He adds, “I have a complex because for many years I considered him an agent of the West.”

    Michnik applauds Jaruzelski, above all, for grasping perestroika’s possibilities and steering Poland toward the 1989 “round-table” talks between the regime and Solidarity officials that opened the way for a peaceful transition. For the former dissident, the greatest political innovation of the late 20th century is the negotiated end to repressive or military regimes, in Spain, Poland, South Africa and elsewhere. “The peaceful dismantling of dictatorships is the best gift our century can give to the next,” he declares.

    And what of martial law? “For Jaruzelski,” Michnik says, “it was the defense of Poland against either Soviet invasion or civil war.” And the dozens of people killed in the military clampdown? “As dictatorships go, it was relatively mild, and to find justice, other than in a few specific cases of torture or murder, is impossible.” So where do you draw the line? “The dividing line is genocide. Jaruzelski was not Hitler. Franco was O.K. for the Americans, and so was Pinochet.”

    Jaruzelski was not Hitler. But when Poland turned on its surviving Jews in 1968, he was at the forefront of the anti-Semitic campaign that landed Michnik in prison again. “We will not tolerate the least bit of foreign, antinational, cosmopolitan and antisocialist views,” the general said then, using the elaborate shorthand for Jews.

    Such bilge provoked Michnik to a reckoning. His father was Ozjasj Szechter. (Michnik used his mother’s maiden name.) Szechter was from Lvov, where 90 members of his family, including Michnik’s grandparents, were killed by the Nazis. But in Stalinist postwar Poland, official history had no place for the Holocaust; Michnik was raised in what he calls “a totally Polish way.”

    That, however, was before he experienced anti-Semitic persecution, and he responded with the pugnacity that is the glint of steel in his otherwise rumpled manner. “I was filled with rage to fight anti-Semitism,” he says. Those fists are clenched again. “I do not accept being a prisoner of fear. Of Communism, of fascism. That one can bear. But of one’s fear. No. Never.”

    So in reconciling with Jaruzelski, Michnik was reaching out across both racist and Communist ideologies. It was a stretch, but his belief in the cause is deep. The Michnik doctrine may be summed up as follows: At the end of a war — and dictatorships leave the same sort of divisions as civil war — the priority must be to rebuild the peace. If there is evidence of a particular, identifiable crime, like the murder of the Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko in 1984, it should be prosecuted. The authors of genocide must be tried. But the quest for other forms of justice is illusory. Worse, it is damaging because it prolongs the war.

    Late last year, Michnik used Gazeta Wyborcza to come out strongly against Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s arrest in Britain on charges filed by a Spanish prosecutor. “Pinochet has in his country very many supporters, to whom the general’s trial would amount to a breaking of the internal consensus. The Spaniards should recall the reasons why they decided to forego a settling of accounts for the victims of the Franco dictatorship.” For a man who had harshly criticized the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1980’s, it was a remarkable turnaround. “I never thought he would be so ostentatiously friendly to Jaruzelski or argue for Pinochet,” says Jedlicki, the historian. “For a man of the left, defending Pinochet is courageous.”

    But perhaps courage is not the issue here. What distinguishes Michnik is the unusual alliance of the head and the heart, of the strategist and the rebel. He was never ready to bow to dictatorship; but nor did he simply want to fail gloriously, like the Warsaw uprising of 1944.

    As early as the 1970’s, he was plotting the critical alliance of the church and the left in his book, “Church-Left Dialogue.” In the 1980’s, he pushed Solidarity forward even as he urged it to avoid bloody confrontation. And in the 1990’s, he has sought an understanding with his jailers in the quest for a stable Poland that would join the West. “Was Pinochet personally responsible for these murders?” he asks. “I don’t know. But I do know that you have to choose between the logic of reconciliation and the logic of justice. Pure justice leads to new civil war. I prefer the negotiable revolution.”

    Michnik emerged as a mediator early in Europe’s upheaval. When Solidarity swept to an extraordinary victory in the first half-free election of June 1989 (many seats were reserved for the Communists), the Warsaw Pact was still there, as was the Berlin Wall. Whatever perestroika might mean, it did not seem yet to signal Mikhail Gorbachev’s readiness to dismantle the Soviet empire. Michnik wrote a decisive editorial — Your President, Our Prime Minister” — that finessed open conflict with Moscow. Jaruzelski did indeed stay on as president; Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Solidarity’s prime minister.

    Mazowiecki thought Michnik’s article was a mistake. “I was against that degree of caution,” he says. “I thought the danger was that we would be taken over by the system.” But now he feels that Michnik was right. “In an explosive situation, the responsible thing to do is defuse the mine.”

    When the government was voted in on Aug. 24, 1989, there was nothing to indicate the wall would come down less than three months later. There were still two blocs armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons; Ceausescu was openly demanding a military intervention in Poland. “God knows what might have happened,” Mazowiecki says.

    But the breach had been made, and Michnik believed that the whole Communist structure would soon collapse. He visited Vaclav Havel that summer at his home in Hradecek in what was then Czechoslovakia; Havel was still skeptical: Czechoslovakia was not Poland. But Michnik sensed a new openness, a new humor, in the streets. He said, “By the end of the year, Communism will be finished and you will be president.” Havel laughed.

    On taking office, Prime Minister Mazowiecki placed his first call to Pope John Paul II. Within minutes, Mazowiecki was speaking to the pope. “I said: ‘Holy Father, a few hours ago, I was elected premier. It is a very great task. Please pray for me.”‘ Instead of going to Moscow, as tradition demanded, Mazowiecki chose to make his first foreign visit to the Vatican. After he was admitted to the papal quarters, all aides were asked to go, and the two Poles were alone. For several minutes they sat in silence, opposite each other, arms outstretched, hand in hand.

    Nobody predicted the fall of Communism. The physical force did not exist within the countries to bring it about. It was a victory of moral conviction. A silent victory.

    Outside the Gdansk shipyard, beside the three towering crosses that commemorate strikers killed in 1970 and the whole struggle for freedom in central Europe, a quotation from the pope has been engraved: “Silence in a place like this is like a scream.”

    Only a few years have passed, but the cries of the long struggle are by no means readily audible. Freedom is not necessarily beautiful. Where 17,000 people once worked, there are now about 2,700. The cranes once operated by Walentynowic stand immobile over rusting girders and empty hangars. The shipyard was liquidated in 1996 and taken over late last year by an investment company called Evip that is trying, with partners, to revive some shipbuilding while developing the site. “They were living on history here and unable to compete in the West,” says Andrzej Kwiatowski, an Evip director directing the project, called Synergie 99.

    He is hoping to piece together a $5 billion development package, complete with hotels, offices, a harbor for luxury yachts and a theme park. One small problem is that the famous meeting hall where Walesa, Kuron, Michnik and other leaders of Solidarity once gathered during the heady days of the strikes gets in the way. So Evip has come up with the idea of moving the building and setting it down beside the memorial outside the gates. “Then we could have a sort of museum to Solidarity all in one place, and that would be very attractive to tourists.”

    Evip’s chief executive is a glittering representative of the new Poland named Ewa Plucinska, who has a wide smile and very white teeth and does business from a Warsaw high-rise with a good view of Stalin’s Palace of Culture (now adorned with advertisements for Web sites). “The man I want to invest in the old shipyard is Donald Trump,” she says. “He has the kinds of ideas we want. Tourism, casino, theme parks, everything. Why not?”

    Why not, indeed? Poland is joining the West. It became a member of NATO this year and stands a reasonable chance of being admitted to the European Union by 2003. Warsaw is full of Western cars, new clubs and sprouting businesses. The transformation over the past decade is astounding, and in general it is the one Michnik sought.

    Unshaven, he sweeps into his office from Gdansk. Most weekends, he travels there to see his 12-year-old son, Antoni, who lives with Michnik’s estranged wife. A question about the weekend is met evasively. His private life is his private life. (He calls the Lewinsky investigation McCarthyism.) As for his reputation as a ladie’s man, he has a standard line: “Not my fault if some women have bad taste.”

    His desk is piled with books, lighters and cigarette ends. He asks for a call to be made, but his secretary is unable to complete it immediately. “I’m waiting, I’m waiting,” he shouts. “O.K. Adam, O.K. Adam.” Patience is not one of his virtues.

    Putting a newspaper together is a painstaking business. Michnik is not painstaking. He is Gazeta’s symbol and gives the paper its broad political orientation. But the day-to-day running of it he leaves to Helena Luczywo, who like many at the paper has been there from the outset. “Adam is a little strange,” says Piotr Pacewicz, a deputy editor. “He is abroad about 30 percent of the time, and he is essentially interested in our political image. The fight for circulation, the quest to make the paper more vivid and indispensable, that’s our job.”

    Michnik has had his mind on other things. He has shifted politically. He is now estranged from many former Solidarity colleagues, some of them in the government. He sees the party as too identified with a clerical, nationalist and xenophobic right he now views as a greater threat to Poland than the ex-Communists.

    Chief among his ex-friends is Walesa, his son’s godfather, who was supposed to be the keynote speaker at Gazeta’s 10th anniversary gathering this spring. Walesa, having confirmed his presence the night before, failed to show. A calculated insult. “Walesa has moved from the heroic mode to the court jester,” says Rapacynski. “He feels he ‘gave’ the paper to Michnik and then was betrayed.” As for Michnik, he is scathing: “Walesa has the mentality of a Caesar: La Pologne, c’est moi. He has his great place in the history of Poland, but he is typical of the revolutionary leader who, like Robespierre or Lenin, cannot really accept a pluralist society.” Walesa declined comment.

    The former Solidarity leader is not alone in being irritated by Michnik’s elevation, through the newspaper, to a sort of conscience of the new Poland. Jerzy Urban, once Jaruzelski’s spokesman, now a downscale newspaper publisher, says, “His lofty moral points of view are simply tiresome.”

    But they have had an impact. The past still churns — some senior officials have been forced out recently after a vetting of their past — but attempts at trying senior figures of the former regime have petered out. Right-wing nationalist groups regularly attack Gazeta using anti-Semitic innuendo, but the attacks remain marginal.

    What Michnik wants now is a multicultural Poland. In some ways, it is an absurd illusion. The Jews are mostly dead or departed. The Germans have left. So have the Ukrainians and Byelorussians, swallowed by postwar borders. But if Poland cannot become an inclusive civil society — even with much diminished minorities — where on earth does Michnik the Polish-Jewish patriot belong? For he is a patriot still. Faced by the endlessly competitive victimhood of Poles and Jews, he tries to take an evenhanded position. He finds in some Jewish attitudes a distasteful “triumphalism of suffering” that leaves no room for the three million Catholic Poles killed in World War II and casts the Poles wrongly as mere abettors of the Nazis.

    This quest for balance is typical of Michnik. Even in the raging 1983 letter from prison to General Kiszczak that described him as “swine,” Michnik’s conclusion was cool to the point of detachment. “As for myself,” he wrote, “I hope that when your life is in danger, I will be able to appear in time to help you,” even if the price should be that the general “once more wonder at my incorrigible stupidity and decide to lock me back in prison all over again.” Men of courage generally have a sense of humor; Michnik is no exception.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 2, 2014 @ 1:20 am

  7. Uh-oh! Cuban leader (and hero of Jack Barnes) takes the exact opposite position of the SWP and Louis:

    “Fidel Castro compares NATO to Nazis, lashes out at US” – http://news.yahoo.com/fidel-castro-compares-nato-nazis-lashes-us-201518233.html

    The most famous member of the neo “anti-imperialist” camp?

    Comment by Steve D — September 2, 2014 @ 11:04 am

  8. Putin saw 9/11 as a way to align Russia with the west. Immediately after the attack on the Twin Towers, Russia closed its listening base in Cuba and its naval port in Vietnam and allowed American bases in ex Soviet Republics. He felt his cooperative efforts were unreciprocated. A key factor was American plans for a missile defense system on Russia’s borders, which Russians see as a component of American drive to develop a nuclear first strike capability, correctly, according to this article in Foreign Affairs: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/61508/keir-a-lieber-and-daryl-g-press/the-rise-of-us-nuclear-primacy Two years ago Hiliary Clinton said the US would look for ways to disrupt the Eurasian Union: http://www.rferl.org/content/clinton-calls-eurasian-integration-effort-to-resovietize/24791921.html The policy of the US is to prevent the rise of regional powers that threaten US interests, especially when they have oil. Putin saw what the US did to Iraq. In the light of undeniable American aggression around the world, no Russian leader could ignore overt American and Nato meddling in the overthrow of an elected government on its borders. The WSWS is right that the Russian reaction was so predictable that it is hard to believe that it was not intentionally provoked in order to drive a wedge between Europe and Russia and to justify a renewal of NATO as a military force. The propaganda campaign against Putin and Russia is unbelievable, worse than against Iraq before the invasion. The situation could be easily defused by allowing Putin to save face by avoiding the complete destruction of the rebels in Ukraine. If it were in the interest of the US and NATO to end the conflict, they could do it. Obviously they want to continue the conflict and to put Europe on a military footing, as the WSWS argues. None of this has anything to do with whether or not Russia or Ukraine are good or bad places

    Comment by marco — September 2, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

  9. None of this has anything to do with whether or not Russia or Ukraine are good or bad places.

    This is the fucking Unrepentant Marxist blog. To even refer to “good or bad places” shows a deficit in historical materialism that makes me question what you are doing here.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 2, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

  10. But other than the ‘good or bad places’ ending the rest of marco’s contribution was very well articulated.

    Not so long ago this blog denied there were any economic tensions between the USA and Russia!

    Now seriously that is worse than ‘good or bad places’

    Comment by Simon Provertier — September 2, 2014 @ 8:01 pm

  11. #8 said: “The propaganda campaign against Putin and Russia is unbelievable, worse than against Iraq before the invasion.”

    It’s certainly believable but hardly worse than “against Iraq before the invasion” which was a proven pack of lies, and clearly not worse than before the 1st Gulf War when all the commercial press was declaring Saddam as “The next Hitler”, fools that they were, a sheer absurdity considering the real Hitler had a strong military that would have overwhelmed Europe if not for the Red Army — whereas in reality Saddam had a weak army of Shia conscripts that couldn’t even overwhelm its neighbor Iran.

    The US ruling class no doubt has some divisions on what to do about Putin’s growing imperialist rivalry. But the oil profiteer wing of that class, which has close ties to the Pentagon, usually holds sway in their internal debate and here’s why:

    During the last dozen or so years of the Afghan War Uncle Sam has relied (and continues to rely) on Putin’s oil to grease the Pentagon’s war machine, having bought over a billion barrels thus far. Since the Pentagon’s own reports admit paying roughly $430 gallon for every gallon of fuel for its equipment in Afghanistan over the life of the war, when you do the math of how much fuel a 43 gallon barrel of oil refines down to (23 gallons) vs. the price per gallon of fuel paid, that translates into the US Treasury spending roughly $10,000 per barrel of oil from its Russian connection. Of course the Russian proletariat does not share that since Putin sells it probably cheaper than the world market value (subsidizing the Pentagon now like it used to subsidize Cuba back in the day) but the bottom line is the gross income from this heretofore cozy relationship amounts to ten thousand billion dollars!

    Ten thousand billion dollars. What an astronomical sum, particularly considering it takes a stopwatch 32 years to click off one billion seconds.

    Ten thousand billion dollars (however many trillions that is) financially represents what’s at stake — just on the Afghan War end of the relationship, not a dime of which has yet been affected by any economic “sanctions” that have been widely ballyhooed. The sanctions up to now only affect a tiny fraction of that relationship, such as the price of American cheese that Russian workers will have to pay going forward and interest rates for bankers on future loans affecting real estate speculators and other petite-bourgeois types.

    Not a hair on the heads of those reaping the windfall of ten thousand billion dollars has thus far been disrupted and if you follow the money the conclusion is that apple cart is not likely to be overturned soon.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 3, 2014 @ 12:41 am

  12. This is the fucking Unrepentant Marxist blog. To even refer to “good or bad places” shows a deficit in historical materialism that makes me question what you are doing here.

    You ought to be grateful for any readers of this illogical hodgepodge. I thought it was obvious that I used “good or bad” to refer to your intellectual deficits, for example, “But how does one explain a left that seems so anxious to see the Ukraine return to the state of affairs that prevailed under Yanukovych and the Party of Regions?” By this logic those who saw the Iraq war as a manifestation of American imperialism were supporters of Saddam. Is this what you mean by “historical materialism”? Or are you referring to the astonishing revelation that the rich and powerful live better than the poverty stricken?

    Comment by marco — September 3, 2014 @ 3:12 am

  13. You ought to be grateful for any readers of this illogical hodgepodge.

    Oh go fuck yourself, anonymous troll. I have a 300 page FBI file while you are probably a pimply-faced 17 year old in your parent’s basement jerking off when you are not trolling on the Internet. Lenin said that Ukraine was to Russia as Ireland was to Britain. That is what I meant by a historical materialism deficit. Your argument is not with me but with Lenin.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 3, 2014 @ 3:33 am

  14. Marco doesn’t seem like a troll to me. His arguments look solid whether or not you agree with them and they certainly don’t appear to be aimed at provoking a reaction for entertainment. It’s a bit disheartening that you frequently disregard well made arguments in the comments section of your blog as trolls and hurl insults and curse words rather than engaging them.

    Comment by Steve D — September 3, 2014 @ 5:37 am

  15. Karl: Saddam certainly was no Hitler. But aren’t you another big fan of the beard? Castro says US/NATO is like the NAZI SS. Is he right?

    Comment by Steve D — September 3, 2014 @ 5:39 am

  16. Depends on the perspective Steve. If I’d grown up in the towns of say, Fallujah, My Lai or El Mazote the answer would be absofuckinglutely.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — September 3, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

  17. Lenin said that Ukraine was to Russia as Ireland was to Britain.

    Your years of commitment and intellectual energy are certainly admirable, but taking as definitive what Lenin wrote a hundred years ago seems like a bad habit of the sectarian mind that you so detest. Even for you Lenin’s views lack explanatory value, when you write “For reasons we can only guess at, Russia sees the carve-up of Ukraine in its interests.” As far as I can tell, the evidence suggests Russia is reacting defensively to US and NATO machinations, not aggressively trying to reconquer Ukraine.

    Comment by marco — September 3, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

  18. As far as I can tell, the evidence suggests Russia is reacting defensively to US and NATO machinations, not aggressively trying to reconquer Ukraine.

    I sometimes wonder if people who comment here read a newspaper. Ukrainian presidents ever since the country became independent in 1991 have been tools of Kremlin interests even when they had the reputation of being pro-West. Yulia Tymoshenko, whose remarks about “nuking” Russia went viral after her phone call was intercepted and who was an icon of the “Orange Revolution”, went to prison for cutting a crooked deal with Gazprom at the expense of the Ukrainian people. The separatist movement in Donbas did not emerge because of the “Nato threat” or because Russian speakers would begin to be victimized as Kurds are in Turkey. It developed because the Russians never considered Ukraine to be worthy of self-determination. Long before EuroMaidan, Russian nationalists were preparing for a breakaway republic as Anton Shekhovtsov has pointed out:

    Russian university textbooks on geopolitics published since the late 1990s routinely questioned the territorial integrity of Ukraine and, especially, the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Since the 1990s, Russian top officials regularly visited Crimea and spoke about the republic’s integration with Russia in future. In 2008, then Mayor of Moscow Yuriy Luzhkov was denied entry in Ukraine for his earlier speech about the “return” of Sevastopol, the major port in Crimea, to Russia.

    It was in 2005, when the Kremlin’s siloviki revitalized their support for pro-Russian separatists in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. That year, the organization “Donetsk Republic” – a Russian proxy in the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine – was created. Its leaders went to Russia in 2006 to participate in the summer camp of the Eurasian Youth Union that was established in 2005 with the money from the Presidential Administration of Russia on the initiative of Aleksandr Dugin, major ideologue of the Russia-led Eurasian Empire, and Vladislav Surkov, then deputy head of the Presidential Administration. This summer camp was aimed at further indoctrination of the activists and training for fighting against democratic movements in the neighbouring states. Instructors from security services taught methods of espionage, sabotage and guerrilla tactics. Among the participants of the summer camp was Andrey Purgin, who is now “First Prime Minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”.

    full: http://anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/the-ukraine-crisis-is-long-planned.html

    Comment by louisproyect — September 3, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

  19. When you look at the demographics, past voting patterns, recent history it would appear that the only resolution to this problem is the splitting up of Ukraine (though that will kick start a series of other problems). I certainly don’t think many in the East will want to be part of a nation governed by characters who say things like “Kneel before the Ukrainian army”. And they want to let this banana republic into the EU?!

    I don’t think Russia wants that actually, the economic costs of this would be huge, given that Ukraine is an economic basket case of the first order.

    My take is that the West are bordering on lunacy and are pushing the world into a very costly conflict.

    Yes call Putin authoritarian but any serious Western leftist would be screaming about the lunacy of its own rulers. I just don’t see any of that here. I don’t even see anything that is informative. All I see is carefully chosen propaganda.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — September 3, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

  20. I do read newspapers but I don’t remember seeing anything about the Donetsk People’s Republic until recently. This is interesting stuff, but one could just as easily bring up a litany of American interventions, manipulations, coups, bombings, war plans, bribery, etc. Anyway, thanks for the chat. PS, I thought these links might interest you:



    I found it astonishing that such a drastic revision of the Ukrainian account of the shootdown of the Malaysian airline was not picked up anywhere in the media.

    Comment by marco — September 3, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

  21. “In 1999, three new nations were added to NATO, the first additions since 1982. They were Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.”

    I keep being surprised by how even highly educated and well-read people repeatedly make this mistake. Czechoslovakia ceased to exist in 1993. In 1999, only the Czech Republic joined NATO, Slovakia didn’t join until 2004. I realize this is irrelevant to the larger point, but I have to admit that as a Slovak it drives me crazy how often I see this kind of thing.

    Comment by OliverB — April 29, 2016 @ 11:54 am

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