Everyone is keen to blame someone else for the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine today. But you have to ask: who in their right mind would fly over an area where anti-aircraft weapons are in daily use? Only the day before, the armed forces of the independent republics of eastern Ukraine shot down two Ukrainian air force planes, and damaged another. One of them was flying at a high altitude, trying to avoid anti-aircraft fire. (In fact, the Ukrainian armed forces are losing the battle, with quite a number of planes shot down and troops surrounded.) Both the Ukrainian army and the independents have the Buk missile systems, which can reach 24,400 metres, way above a passenger plane height limit. And what government would declare its skies safe for passenger planes, as the Kiev regime did, when all this going on? Anyway, the tragedy was probably a mistake by one side in the conflict, thinking the plane was either Ukrainian or Russian.

But the conflict does reveal that rarely if ever is there a purely ‘civil’ war. In Ukraine, NATO and US advisors, equipment and personnel have been present for months, especially the notorious mercenary outfit, Academi (Blackwater until 2009). So you can hardly blame Putin for sending personnel and equipment to aid the separatists. Any of the ‘civil’ wars in memory always seem to be microcosms of international conflicts – the Spanish Civil War and the Russian Civil War after 1917, are perhaps the two most telling examples.

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What is it like to live in a country torn apart by civil war – at an everyday level? A few glimpses from correspondence with some friends in different parts of Ukraine:

You caught me just at the moment when I am thinking about what is happening and how to “tell” you about it, trying again and again to understand what is happening. In place of the period when people could not tear themselves away from the TV, not to “miss” the truth, we have come to the period of non-news (TV, talking to each other). Many have not slept for some time and continue to take tranquilizers. Unfortunately, intolerance increases and therefore it is dangerous to express an opinion different from the one imposed. “Searches” happen, for anyone supporting a separatist-federalist position; nationalism appears even at the household level … I never could have imagined that people could turn into animals so quickly.

Suspicion and fear are gaining momentum, manifested in everyday life. Some of it is still non-systemic and can be perceived as misunderstanding. But wiretapping of telephone conversations now happens, and among the population, even among friends, are many informants. They ask supposedly random questions: “Were you there? And you do not want to leave?” … Many are worried about their relatives who participated in the referenda in the south-east. My aunt [who lives there] said that, despite the threat to life, she had not seen so many people come out for a vote in recent years.

But who is who? Today I witnessed a scene: two young men were talking near a car with its doors and windows open. The driver of the car shouted that they were Muscovites (Russian) and do not speak the language. So one of the young men leapt upon the driver and hit him several times.

It does not surprise me what is happening. This has been “brewing” since the 1990s. Then they “crushed” Crimea and the Donbass, but the problem is by no means solved. What do we have now? Accumulation of Capital; revival of impoverishment; a nation based on Russophobia; an aggressive minority insolent through the support of its foreign backers. The blind worship of everything foreign, kowtowing to the so-called Americans and Europeans has always irritated and annoyed me. I think that this worship has a long history, going back at least to the time of Peter the Great. And so, today’s oligarchs live in Western Europe, and come here only to earn money … But what does merging with Europe mean? Perhaps all we are allowed is to “merge in ecstasy” with Euro-Atlantic values. Then arguments are irrelevant.

Two new items on the situation in Ukraine, which will have profound implications for the geopolitical situation, and not only in Europe. First, a sign that those in eastern Ukraine have little sympathy with the protesters in Kiev and western parts. This comes from a blogger’s report on an attempt by a right-wing group of 200-300 to seize government buildings in Odessa, on the Black Sea. Answering a call to ‘stop the Nazis’, thousands of citizens of Odessa turfed them out, aided by the police. After an hour’s standoff, the group dispersed with their tails between their legs. The governor of the Odessa region has called on people to offer a citizen’s guard of the local administration buildings, which they seem to be doing.

Second, a debate between Stephen Cohen and Anton Shekhovtsov, the former a specialist in Russian studies and politics, and the latter a researcher at the University College London. Unexpectedly, Shekhovtsov takes the ‘democracy’ line, arguing that the protesters seriously want to link up with Western Europe in the name of ‘freedom’ and so forth. Cohen, by contrast, calls this half-truth an ‘untruth’. He blames the EU for precipitating the crisis, for the EU insisted that there could be no three-way deal, between Ukraine, the EU and Russia (as Putin suggested). Instead, it was to be EU or nothing, with NATO military lines. Not only would it destroy any form of liberal democracy in Ukraine, with the EU supporting the overthrow of an elected government, but it would have been an economic disaster for Ukraine, since the EU was offering an austerity package. Not hard to see why it was rejected.

More importantly, who runs the show? For  Shekhovtsov, it’s the moderates of the Euromaidan, with a few marginal right-wing elements who are quite limp. For Cohen, on the other hand, the evidence points tellingly to the far right. Their position:

They hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine.

The debate gets quite heated towards the end, but what interests me the most is Cohen’s point that there really is a civil war under way in Ukraine already. The moderate leaders (Vitali Klitschko and others) have lost control of the streets. They have told the rioters to stop attacking police with Molotov cocktails (filled with napalm) and to vacate the occupied buildings. But the rioters have refused, as they have refused any possible deal. ‘And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway’.

Cohen points out what I have mentioned earlier: that there are really two Ukraines already. ‘One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. … This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure’.

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Why waste a good crisis? Or so the adage would have it. North-western Europe is using the ongoing euro-crisis to wage a ‘civil’ war against the south-east. And the purpose of that civil war is a desperate effort to bolster the fading dominance of the north-west. Having ensured that the old communist bloc of Eastern Europe is an economic basket case, now the target is Greece. After all, the time has come to relegate Greece to its true status as a Balkan country in Eastern Europe. For instance, in 2008 Romania cut all public wages by 25% and is sitting on the same rate of unemployment. In the recent package of ‘austerity measures’, Greece is set to emulate such a wage cut while unemployment has passed that figure. And in the midst of that war, the propaganda war is at full tilt. In north-western European countries, news reporting on crimes always makes a point of commenting if the perpetrator is Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish, Greek …, but no comment is made if the perpetrator is an ethnic Dane, German, Dutch. Spoken as if it were the gospel truth, people observe that Greeks are lazy and have been sponging off the government purse, Italians are corrupt, Poles criminals. The increasing opinion is that Eastern Europeans are not European at all. Meanwhile, back in Greece with its massive strikes and protests, the Germans are portrayed as reborn Nazis out to dominate Europe, the French as imperialists under a new Napoleon, and the craven politicians (including so-called socialists) as lackeys of these supposedly dominant powers. But are the Germans and French really that strong? The Germans for one are in deeper trouble than they make out: aging infrastructure, relying on workers from the east, threadbare public institutions, universities that are running purely on reputation. No wonder they want to take out someone else.

While the usual tripe about fearless rebels fighting an oppressive ‘regime’ in Syria is reiterated ad nauseam on much of the media, along with Australian foreign minister and Lazarus aspirant Kevin Rudd, it’s worthwhile gaining a bit of perspective through Syria Tribune.

Deeply into the veneration of Lenin, so to speak. Much of the secondary material is pretty trite (the ‘cult’ was engineered from above etc.), but what emerges between the lines is how pervasive the spontaneous wave of popular veneration was. The government realised what was going on and thought ‘holy shit, what do we do?’ Publish them at least, and then try to channel them in useful directions. Here’s one, from Orenburg:

The tsar was informed by one of his leading generals that there was someone, ‘of unknown rank, without a passport, who goes by the name of Lenin’. This person was threatening to entice the tsar’s soldiers to his side with one word, and then grind into ashes the commanders, generals, officers, even the tsar himself, and throw them into the wind. The tsar grew afraid and decided to do anything he could to prevent Lenin saying the word. So he made contact with Lenin, offering to divide the country in half. Lenin agreed to the proposal, but with one condition: the tsar must take the ‘white’ half, that is, the generals and officers and wealthy people, while Lenin would take the ‘black’ half, the workers, peasants and soldiers. The tsar couldn’t believe his good fortune in keeping all that mattered to him, so he quickly agreed. But to his dismay, he realised soon enough that Lenin had tricked him. His officers had no soldiers to lead, the rich people had no workers, the tsar had no people to make the country run. So the white part under the tsar went to war with Lenin’s black part, in order to win the latter back. But the white was unable to survive for long. So it was that Lenin took the country away from the tsar.

Volume 30 of Lenin’s Collected Works: what a read it has been so far! At one level, it is an extraordinary narrative that draws you in, giving you the proverbial never-ending book. At another level, it has blown away many caricatures and preconceptions concerning Lenin. One would have to be the sectarian Lenin, brooking no rival and eliminating them at the slightest provocation. Not at all, Lenin struggles between what I call ecumenism and sectarianism, voicing now one, now the other position – so I will need to call on a complex dialectic to deal with it all.

However, the best find of late is the lice. Lice!? Not on me, mind you.

Let me set the scene. It is late 1919, two years after the revolution. The place has faced six years of perpetual war, first in WWI and then in the ‘civil’ war. Of course it wasn’t ‘civil’ at all: the British, French, Americans, Canadians, Japanese et al thought they could topple the fledgling and weakened communist republic. They failed, so they sent arms, money, supplies and troops to old guard generals in the north, south, east and west – Kolchak, Yudenich, Denikin, Churchill et al (Churchill predicted he would have Moscow by Christmas of 1918). The lesson: any socialist state that wants to delink from the global capitalist system will be attacked, brutally and consistently, dubbed ‘terrorist’, a threat to civilisation, un-democratic, dictatorial and so on and on. It will also need to make sure it is bloody well protected – the necessary evil of what I call ‘war communism’.

But defeat the lot of these shits the Soviets did, especially with the genius of Trotsky. So by the end of the 1919, they can finally turn to reconstruction. Three key issues have been dogging them: food, since the blockade had attempted to starve the Russians; fuel, since the same arseholes grabbed the coalfields and tried to freeze them to death. Pecisely on these issues does the question of the transition from old to new turn: how do you construct a completely different system of production, distribution and consumption in the midst of the old system. I cannot wait to write about this deeply theo-political problem in the book.

But what about the lice? They are the third key issue for the tension between old and new. Here is Lenin at the seventh congress of Soviets in December 1919:

Comrades, we must concentrate everything on this problem. Either the lice will defeat socialism, or socialism will defeat the lice! (Collected Works, Vol. 30, p. 228)

Why lice? Easy: they spread typhus. Typhus was sweeping through a hungry, cold but  increasingly victorious Red Army and population. The outcome is now history, albeit less known than it should: socialism did defeat the lice, or at least those lice.

No wonder Lenin could proclaim, ‘it really is a miracle!’

It’s also the reason he stopped wearing those furry hats: