Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Can Ukrainian Communists and Socialists Evolve to Social Democracy?

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Can Ukrainian Communists and Socialists Evolve to Social Democracy?

Article excerpt

Olexiy Haran' is a professor of political science and director of the Center for National Security Studies, University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. During spring and summer 2001 he was a visiting scholar at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.

In the Ukrainian political lexicon, the term "Left" usually refers to parties that are to the left of both social democracy in its traditional understanding and to the left of several Ukrainian social democratic parties. In fact, one of the problems for Ukrainian politics is the absence of a real and strong social democratic party; the quite influential Social Democratic Party of Ukraine/United--SPDU(o)--represents the interests of the oligarchs and could discredit the very idea of social democracy; and the three other social democratic groups are not influential.

The main parties of the Ukrainian Left are the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), reborn in 1993 (with around 140,000 members, mostly from the older generation), and the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU), created in the autumn of 1991 (with a current membership of sixty thousand). In addition to these, both the Peasant Party of Ukraine (SelPU, 1992) and the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine (PSPU, 1996) were relatively active in the second half of the 1990s (see figure 1).

Figure 1. The Left and Center-Left Political Parties in Ukraine

Regarding its future stance, the Left in Ukraine has choices to make: between communism and social democracy, and between pro-Russian and pro-European choice. In this article, I will maintain that although the non-modernized Communists seem to have no chances of coming to power, the more moderate Socialists could come to power in coalition with other forces (mainly centrist), but that would require more flexibility from them as well as their transformation into a center-left force. In this article, I will discuss primarily the ideology of the Left, the Left's electoral successes and defeats, the lessons that the Left has learned, and its prospects for the future as they are seen on the eve of the campaign that began on 1 January 2002 for the parliamentary elections to be held on 31 March 2002.

Historical Background

All parties of the Left are connected historically and, to a great extent, ideologically to the CPU, which was a part of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Because the CPSU was a unitary structure, the CPU was viewed as just a regional organization of the CPSU, with no autonomy. In post-war times, the CPU was more conservative than the Communist parties in the Baltic republics or the Moscow regional organization of the CPSU. Moscow waged a cruel battle against so-called "Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism"; thus the leaders of the CPU strove to be "more saintly than the Roman Pope" to survive politically (as well as physically) during Stalin's reign.

During perestroika, the "hardliners" within the CPU continued to dominate. They did not want to engage in any dialogue with the opposition (such as the Polish "round table" between the Communists and Solidarity) and opposed any modernization of the party. Those who finally did turn to dialogue with the opposition (in particular, Leonid Kravchuk, head of the Ukrainian parliament, who later became the first president of Ukraine), voted to ban the CPU after the failed August 1991 coup against Gorbachev in Moscow (the attempted coup led to the banning of the CPSU in Russia). All of this explains to a great extent the inflexibility of the CPU when it re-emerged in 1993.

Comparing the situation on the left flank in Ukraine with that in other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, analysts stress that Ukrainian Communists have a strong partner-rival in the SPU, which also emerged on the basis of the banned CPU but which is politically to the right of the CPU: "In Russia nothing came out of this idea" to create a noncommunist party, and initiators of these attempts remained "politically eccentric and marginal" (e. …

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