RIAC Experts' Comments

Rostislav Ishchenko: Ukraine: Permanent Maidan

December 25, 2014

Author: Rostislav Ishchenko, President, Centre of Systems Analysis and Forecasting

The theory of Maidan and Ukrainian reality

The theory of permanent revolutionwas developed by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Each of them had his own views on the subject but they all agreed on one point: a permanent revolution is possible and in some cases even desirable. The idea was simple and easy to understand. In relatively undeveloped countries which have not yet solved the tasks of a bourgeois-democratic revolution the proletariat at the time of a revolutionary crisis does not stop at the bourgeois-democratic stage and immediately passes on to the proletarian, i.e. socialist revolution.


The idea logically followed from the revolutionary crises of the past. Already during the early bourgeois-democratic revolutions -- Dutch, English and French – there emerged political currents (Remonstrants, Levellers, Jacobins) that sought to move the revolution forward. In other words, the radical political force which at a certain point was the main strike force of the revolution, at the next stage challenged the parties and leaders that led the revolutionary process. The radicals simply thought that the revolution had not finished its job.


Prior to 1917 the radicals never managed to hold on to power for long, with each permanent revolution ending with its own Thermidor. However, in Russia in 1917 there emerged a unique situation when a weak and unpopular Provisional Government which sought to solve the tasks of a bourgeois-democratic revolution relying on a shaky compromise among a motley assemblage of parties was confronted with a small but disciplined Bolshevik Party. The Bolsheviks succeeded in carrying out their own permanent revolution that went far beyond the real historical tasks.


REUTERS/Gleb Garanich


In politics, once a precedent is set, it seldom turns out to be a historical accident. It usually stands a good chance of repeating itself, albeit with some modifications due to new conditions. The “colour revolutions” for the most part are not bona fide revolutions. Therefore as a rule the day after the “revolutionary people” topples the “criminal regime” sees calm restored in the country, with all the institutions doing business as before, and the same parties and faces claiming the limelight. Only the foreign policy orientation, the domestic policy priorities and the head of state change. Sometimes the governing party finds itself in opposition. This is a classical palace coup in its “colour” variety.


However, not infrequently colour revolutions take place in a country that faces a real revolutionary situation, and then destabilisation and civil strife, often developing into a civil war, may last a long time, making the notion of permanent revolution relevant again.  This was the situation in Ukraine in 2013–2014.


A permanent revolution becomes possible when the goals and tasks of the revolution fall short of the goals and tasks of its main strike unit. Thus the character of the permanent revolution (its ideological thrust) are intimately connected with the ideology of the strike force that carries out the coup.


Ukrainian society in the early 2010s was pregnant with an anti-oligarchy revolution. All the main signs of a revolutionary situation were there: 1) the elite was unable to rule in the old way (the Soviet resources off which the system lived had run out); 2) the lower orders did not want to live in the old way (as the resources slated for looting were depleted, the authorities began to break the legal and moral norms in a systemic way, which deprived them of legitimacy in the eyes of the people); 3) the political activity of the masses increased dramatically stirred by the discussion, fuelled from abroad (by the USA and the EU) and internally (by the pro-European oligarchy), over the choice between signing an Association Agreement with the EU and joining the Customs Union; 4) the elite,  split by the struggle for the system’s dwindling resources, did not only fail to form a untied front against the people, but on the contrary, various groups of oligarchs tried to rely on antagonistic political and ideological groups and different regions of the country in the fight against their opponents.


The main problem was the split of the country into the Russian (Little Russia) and Ukrainian (Galician) parts. It was this cleavage, that was latent from the first days of Ukrainian independence and was increasingly coming to the surface determining the country’s political life that enabled the ruling oligarchy to channel energy of the people into ethnic, communal, linguistic and regional divisions diverting the masses from the confrontation between the oligarchy and the people.


By 2013, when the failure of the economic system became obvious, Ukraine faced a situation it had never faced before because the anti-oligarchy slogans had resonance all over the country and with all the political trends. Therefore the Maidan protests of 2013–2014 that started under Euro-integration slogans quickly took on the format of a protest against the oligarchy and got a nationwide perspective. The anti -–oligarchy protests on Maidan Square had the support of both Western and South-Eastern Ukraine which held diametrically opposite views on other topical political issues.


However, the formal political leadership on Maidan was seized by the leaders of opposition parties A. Yatsenyuk (All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" or Batkivshchyna), V. Klichko (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform) and O. Tyagnibok (Svoboda). All these parties were part of the system of Ukrainian oligarchy. The first two were moderately nationalistic whereas Svoboda (Freedom) represented radical nationalists and even Nazis: before being renamed on 14 February 2004 it was called the Social-National Party of Ukraine (patterned on the name of Hitler’s National-Socialist German Workers’ Party). That is why the leaders of street actions that developed into riots sought to direct them not only (or largely) against the oligarchy as to give them a radical-nationalist shade. That antagonized the majority of the population and especially the country’s Russian regions, i.e. the South-East and Crimea.




As a result, Maidan did not have anything like the strength needed to overthrow the government that commanded the loyalty of the Interior Ministry (the Interior Ministry troops, the Berkut special police forces, etc.). Although the rioters claimed that there were “millions” of them and that they had the support of the whole country, they could not seize power in the country with that amount of support. It was the relatively small numbers of protesters that forced Maidan to turn to the Nazi militants who lent a violent, and not a peaceful character to the confrontation with the authorities typical of colour coups.

Nazi-Oligarchy dual power

The militant units formed by Freedom and the marginal Patriots of Ukraine, Trident of Stepan Bandera, the White Hammer and other Nazi groups which later united to form The Right Sector, as well as football fan groups brought up in the Nazi spirit gradually increased to 4,000-5,000 in Kiev and 15,000-20,000 nationwide. Initially they were bent on violent overthrow of the government, and some of them were armed. During the Maidan protests the quantities of weapons, including automatic weapons, in the possession of the Nazis increased. They became the strike force of the armed coup that took place in Kiev on 21–22 February 2014.


During the coup authorities all over the country collapsed overnight, the law-enforcers were demoralized and discredited. The Nazi gunmen thus became the only organized force capable of controlling if not the whole capital and the whole country at least the government quarters and strategic points. The militants got more weapons from the army dumps and infiltrated the security structures, i.e. the Interior Ministry, the Ukrainian Security Service and the army. The new power, which saw them as a counterweight to the pro-Russian population of the South-East, encouraged the growth of their numbers and their formation into paramilitary units (territorial and volunteer battalions).


Thus the Nazis became the strike force of the coup which took place under the slogans of the revolution against the oligarchs. It has to be noted that the programmes of the Nazi parties and organisations had, with rare exceptions, quite articulate social and anti-oligarchy components. This is not surprising because the Nazi ideology is a reaction of petty bourgeois and declassed elements of the population to the sway of the oligarchs. Although Nazi parties since the times of Hitler and Mussolini have been comfortably cooperating with the oligarchs, the Nazi masses (storm troopers, militants) are fiercely anti-oligarchic.


The February coup in Kiev failed to fulfil the objective task of anti-oligarchic revolution or the task of a permanent Nazi revolution put forward by the Nazi militants who spearheaded the protests. The coup changed only the persons in power. The essence of the regime remained the same.

The country disintegrates as it vainly awaits a Thermidor

For a while the contradictions between the oligarchs who called the shots and the Nazi strike force of the coup were obscured by the civil war Kiev had unleashed against New Russia (the South-East of Ukraine). However, defeats on all fronts, a sharp deterioration of the economic situation and the plummeting living standards made it necessary to explain to society who is to blame for the fact that the hoped-for instant improvement of living standards after the pro-European coup did not occur.


As the economy crumbled, the fight of the oligarchic clans for what remained of the budget money and for grabbing the assets that could still yield profits intensified. The oligarchs could not use the traditional methods of competition by bringing in the administrative clout of the state and the Interior Ministry, the law courts and the Prosecutor’s Office because all these structures were in disarray. The Nazi militants became the main force in seizing others’ property and protecting one’s own.


In fact they took over all the functions of the state – the military, police, administrative, economic, judicial, etc. – except the diplomatic and financial functions. On the surface, however, state power was exercised, as before, by the oligarchs and their stooges.


From the viewpoint of a Nazi revolution the post-coup oligarchy was an unnecessary intermediary between the Nazis and government. All the four above-mentioned characteristics of a revolutionary situation were still in place, and the fourth one even increased as the split within the elite became ever more antagonistic as resources dwindled.


The contradiction between power and the people which was not eliminated as a result of the February 2014 coup continues to fuel protest sentiments in Ukrainian society. As the Nazi militants become the only organised and ideologically motivated armed force, gain experience of full-scale military combat, infiltrate the security and military structures to establish ideological control over them, the tasks of the Nazi revolution move to the top of the agenda, all the more so since the Nazi slogans, inasmuch as they target the oligarchy, are shared by the rest of society and in that sense meet the social expectations. The traditional split of Ukrainian society coinciding with the civilisational fault line – the confrontation between New Russia (Novorossiya) and Ukraine proper (Galicia/Little Russia), which has already developed into a civil war in Donbass, kindles among the pro-Ukrainian population the xenophobic (Russophobic) sentiments expressed in the Nazi programme. On the one hand, the depletion of the resource base of the Ukrainian state is pushing the country towards regionalisation (actually feudalisation). On the other hand, there are growing contradictions within the elites fuelled by the scramble for the available resources. This prevents the elite from uniting to preserve the oligarchic republic and tends to further destabilise the situation in Ukraine.



Vinnytsia, December, 2014


By the end of August 2014 all these factors combined to make another coup and the spread of the civil war to involve the whole of Ukraine a real possibility. The preparation for a snap parliamentary election against the background of the debacle of Kiev’s troops in Novorossiya aggravated the contradictions among the oligarchs and between the oligarchs and the Nazis. The civil conflict against the background of the collapse of Ukrainian statehood has not broadened due to two factors, one internal and one external.


The internal factor is that, unlike Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s, Ukrainian Nazis are not united in a mass national party. The fragmentation of the Nazi movement makes it possible to set some of their groups against others, sidetracking the protest potential to the settling of scores between them. In fact the split of the elites is compensated for by the lack of unity within the Nazi movement. Various Nazi groups gang up against opposing groups with opposing groups of oligarchs. Thus the conflict loses some of its ideological edge and the Nazis are pursuing not their own task (continuation of the Nazi revolution) but the tasks of their partner oligarchs (re-division of power and property).  


The external factor is the massive and constantly growing involvement in the Ukrainian crisis of the United States which has been the key organiser and stimulator of the crisis. In order to harness the Ukrainian state to counteracting Russia, the USA is using every trick in the book to keep the Kiev regime from sliding into chaos.


Stability cannot last long given the existing basis. The commitment of the Kiev authorities to patching up budget holes with IMF loans so clearly expressed in the Yatsenyuk government’s programme forces it to pursue an asocial policy that affects the interests of all the social strata. The state’s renunciation of its social obligation and the multiple growth of absolutely all levies and taxes that go into the treasury, lead to impoverishment of the population, lower purchasing power and consequently to the shrinking of the internal market. Considering the sharp drop of foreign trade, this spells the liquidation of whatever remains of Ukrainian business. All these factors conspire to reduce budget revenues against the background of a sharp rise of social tensions.


The growing numbers of Nazi militants, their provision with arms, organisation into military units, growing experience of combat actions have all increased the influence of the commanders of territorial and volunteer battalions who have the support of their units. Although the commanders are typically controlled by the oligarchs and the USA, they have to reckon with the sentiments of their subordinates. In a civil war situation such battalion commanders have the status of warlords who command authority and control their gang as long as they meet the views and interests of the gang. If the unity of the gang and the warlord is broken the latter may be deposed or killed. The warlords who have real military clout are not afraid of the oligarchs whom they serve for pay. They are afraid of the United States knowing how quickly people who stand in the way of American policy can dissolve in time and space. But they are afraid even more of their subordinates because the USA is far away while the subordinates are all around them. The USA would need time to send in liquidators while the subordinates may rebel at any moment and liquidate the warlord at any moment.


The regionalisation/feudalisation referred to above against the backdrop of rapid decline of the role and influence of the centre generates the need for such warlords (or atamans). The regions have no need for impotent, decaying central structures that are incapable of defending themselves. Every region needs its own warlord, its ataman, its battalion commander who will defend the region’s borders, the property of the elite and ensure a subsistence level for the population in exchange for kormleniye[1], the opportunity to fleece the region.


In such conditions the growth of conflicts within Ukrainian society cannot be checked by any internal circumstances or external forces. The spread of the civil war across the country’s territory in the form of Maidans of various shapes and sizes, coups and shootouts becomes inevitable.


The stand-off will inevitably erupt into armed struggle at the macro-oligarchic level as the groups led by Yatsenyuk, Poroshenko and Kolomoisky vying for the position of an unchallenged leader have practically exhausted the traditional political and administrative means of warfare. They have to up the ante because the resources needed for a compromise are not there and the very first concession would mean an admission of weakness and political, business and possibly physical death.


Hundreds of thousands of small arms freely circulating in the country have to start firing because there are many reasons to start shooting and not a single reason for stabilising the situation. Once it has started the permanent revolution cannot end until it achieves its goals, unless the revolutionaries are exterminated physically.


1. Kormleniye is a medieval Russian term which meant that military and civil administrations were not paid salaries, but lived by “fleecing” (literally “feeding off”) the territory under their jurisdiction.

Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
For business
For researchers
For students