17 February 2018

There’s always a Hitch…

Image courtesy the Daily Mail

And it’s usually worthwhile to read him. The younger one, that is.

Peter Hitchens notes that, this time (as so many times before), the Russians have been telling us the truth about the so-called ‘revolution of dignity’, which was in fact a right-wing putsch carried out by heavily-armed thugs, aimed against the legitimate and democratically-elected government of Viktor Yanukovich. Hitchens (and the paywalled article by David Roman which he cites) rightly alludes to the Waffen-SS insignia and other evidences of far-right hooliganism on the Maidan, which have been confirmed even by research friendly to the overall aims of the movement. To all of which can be added: the beatings by Maidan activists of unionists, journalists and non-whites, the arson attack which murdered 42 labour activists in Odessa, the ugly anti-Semitism which has not died down but gotten worse in the meantime.

The central point of the piece is solid; if I have any gripes with it, it’s that Mr Hitchens is a wee bit too soft on Saakashvili. Saakashvili as crusading anti-corruption outsider is rather laughable not only when you consider his Atlantic connexions in the early junta, but also when one considers his rôle as the sadistic, corrupt ex-dictator of Georgia (which country has since sensibly and rightly stripped the man of his citizenship and has sought to have him arrested and extradited).

Hitchens must be heeded on this point. (As a rule, I’ve found it a useful exercise to give notice to the Old Right, of whom Hitchens and Bacevich are representative, on these kinds of issues.) Now, it is true that the presence of fascism and far-right elements in the original Maidan protests has not given neo-Nazi parties like Svoboda or the Radical Party any immediate political benefits. But it’s clear that the willingness of more ‘moderate’ (read: neoliberal) parties to make common cause with fascists signals something about the nature of the current government itself, as well as about the nature of the opposition.

Let’s think back to the waning days of 2013. Yanukovich was overthrown because he refused to sign an accession agreement to the EU. Regardless of what you think of Yanukovich’s record prior to that (and believe me, it isn’t inspiring), speaking from the point of view of the welfare and dignity of the Ukraine’s working class, Yanukovich did the right thing in rejecting the agreement. The EU accession agreement was a textbook example of the exact same sort of œconomic liberalism that the interwar agrarians in Czechoslovakia made a point of explicitly rejecting in their own day. All trade barriers were to be removed. The investment was overwhelmingly to flow one way; the trade to flow the other. The beneficiaries of the agreement would essentially all be German (or Belgian, or French); the losers and victims would be Ukrainian. Sean Guillory summed it up eloquently:
I think there is a false choice here as much as there is a force choice. Ukraine’s desire to be in the EU should be separated from the problems with Yanukovich. But because of its dire economic situation, Ukraine is being forced to make a decision—cast its future with the EU or with Russia. But people must understand that the EU path—and frankly the association agreement doesn’t appear to be a path to membership. It is an attempt at neoliberalizing Ukraine.
It’s an attempt that has succeeded to a significant degree. But it hasn’t gone down simply. The Ukraine’s continuing transition into neoliberalism, privatisation and austerity has to disguise itself by ascribing false names to events that deserve their own explanation. It has to dehumanise people who fall out of line. Crimea’s annexation by Russia was legally dubious, though not without historical precedent; however, the attitudes of its people are anything but dubious: they prefer to be part of Russia by overwhelming majorities, and continue to be so. Protests against neoliberal trade policy that arose organically in the Donetsk Basin, largely among industrial workers there, were written off as a Russian operation. The Ukraine’s losses of both Crimea and parts of the Donbass were wholly avoidable self-fulfilling prophecies, arising from the fact that the post-2014 politicians wanted to keep the territory but couldn’t care less about the people who lived there.

Is the current Ukrainian government ‘far-right’ or ‘fascist’? No. It is neoliberal. That is a distinction that critical observers need to continue to make. However, that same neoliberal government continues to rely on far-right and fascist support, for everything from the rewriting of its history to the maintenance of the status and geopolitical alignment of its current political élites. It shouldn’t take someone like me to explain why that’s troubling.

And this is why voices of the Old Right, like those of Peter Hitchens and Andrew Bacevich, are so valuable. Very few people will listen to a leftist on these things – most of us (even and perhaps especially a left-conservative Slavophil like me) would just be accused of ‘red Putinism’, Soviet nostalgia or post-Occupy sour grapes. No one ever had cause to accuse Peter Hitchens of being soft on the commies. When these issues are couched in the language of realism, sober assessment of national interests, the balance of moral obligation with ability, the understanding of fallen human nature as having real-world ramifications – there is still a remote chance that people will listen.


  1. Thanks very much for this thoughtful and illuminating piece. Or am I just sayuing that because it confirms my prejudices?

    Since 2014 I've stopped reading stuff about Ukraine, either from the West or Russia, because it's all propaganda, and I don't have the detailed knowledge or the time to acquire it to be able to sift it.

  2. Hi Steve!

    Thank you for the comment, and I'm sorry I didn't get back to you sooner.

    There is good material about the conflict in the Ukraine out there, but you're right that by and large it's a morass of politically-motivated half-truths and non-truths spun by various state actors and other interested parties. Quite discouraging.