Ukraine and the question of self-management

In its 2022 activity report, the Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement) pointed out that "Civil society has been forced to fulfil the role of the state and, instead of waiting for more specific assistance, to assume almost all of its social functions."

A few months earlier, in September 2022, at its Kyiv conference, the organization explained that "the war has led to new forms of self-organization and popular politics. The mobilization of the people on the basis of the war of national liberation has strengthened the feeling of popular involvement in a common cause and the awareness that it is thanks to ordinary people, not oligarchs or corporations, that this country exists. The war has radically changed social and political life in Ukraine, and we must not allow the destruction of these new forms of social organization, but develop them."

Among the demands adopted by the conference, Sotsialnyi Rukh put forward: "In particular, the nationalization of key enterprises under workers' and public control is necessary. Introduction of the opening of account books in all companies, regardless of the form of ownership and involvement of employees in their management, creation of separate elected bodies and committees for the realization of this right.” For her part, Katya Gritseva, a member of the organization, in an interview given during her visit to Paris to the French magazine Contretemps, observed that "Many people are volunteers, they engage in mutual aid, create extra-state organizations to compensate for the shortcomings of a state poorly prepared for such a situation. This dynamic of self-organization is contradictory with the return of conservatives, or even the far right. For the left it is a question of acting in favour of this dynamic, of helping the workers, the people, without pretending to give them lessons in the manner of the Stalinists." Ksenia from the QueerLab cooperative replied to us concerning  self-management in Ukraine; "Yes, the practice of self-management is widespread. In Ukraine, this topic is discussed and it is relevant, because everyone is impressed by the phenomenon of self-organization of various teams, volunteers, activists, the rise of which became noticeable with the beginning of a large-scale war! Our team is also self-managed, everyone is committed and coordinates the leadership. Also, adhering to the horizontal structure, we don't have bosses.”  In addition, many Western observers, surprised by the rapid revival of Ukrainian railways after Russian bombing, concluded that private companies could never have achieved these feats or so effectively organized the evacuation of refugees. The association Autogestion noted (March 11, 2022) that "The war has confirmed for some, revealed to others, strengthened in any case, the existence of national solidarity and above all facilitated popular self-organization. At the initiative of the workers, the reconversion of production in many enterprises was organized  to support the war effort... Municipalities, local administrations, groups of inhabitants organize together daily life, supplies, care, evacuations.”

This capacity for self-organization of Ukrainian civil society has been and remains one of the keys to its resistance to the Russian imperialist aggression. In a war situation, it may seem surprising that the exploited and dominated decided to take their lives into their own hands, when their situation could appear hopeless and resignation or distress could paralyze them. But it is often in situations of acute crisis that workers decide to take care of the "administration of things" (Engels) when the state is unable to meet their needs. All things considered, and without falling into anachronism, we can think of Argentine workers, who, faced with mass redundancies, decided to take over their business, to manage it themselves, to organize new relations at work, new forms of ecological production. It is estimated that there are nearly 20,000 workers who manage themselves more than 435 self-managed companies across Argentina (February 2022). One also thinks, in the heart of the Babylon of capitalism, of these self-managed workers' cooperatives in the United States. One example is Spectrum in New York, where workers, after a four-year strike, expanded their People's Choice Internet access cooperative and offered Bronx residents cheaper internet access. Lastly, let us quote what Dicle Amed, member of the Rojava Women's Economy Committee, said about women's cooperatives: "We are trying to develop a production format that is not directly oriented towards money and is not based on the development of large production monopolies, but that meets the needs of society and ensures self-sufficiency. That is what we are doing. We do not make a profit with these cooperatives and we are not shareholders.” We could give many more examples, but all these experiences, from North to South, have in common the construction of a workers' political economy, alternative to capitalism.`

For several years, the association Autogestion has undertaken to publish an International Encyclopaedia of Self-Management, which makes available experiments of self-management or workers' control from the nineteenth century to today, but also theoretical texts on this question by authors from a wide spectrum of the workers' movement, from social democrats to libertarians. To date, eleven volumes have been published (for free download) in French. Three volumes have appeared in Spanish.

Self-management, a political perspective in Ukraine

A question arises: after the victory, will the Ukrainian state regain its full place, deprive the workers and the population of the capacities to manage society that they acquired during the war? Will they be deprived of "almost all their social functions" to use the formulation of the Sotsialnyi Rukh, which they assumed during this difficult period? According to the old dialectic of "war-revolution", one can hope that the Ukrainian people will not wish to see the pre-war social and political order return. Based on its experience, and its ability to manage "social functions" itself, the question of democratic self-management at all levels will have to be raised. Recently, the issue of corruption at the highest levels of government has returned to the public debate. It is clear that the best medicine for this scourge is the control of workers over the management of administrations. No supervisory body, no commission of inquiry can have the effectiveness of workers' collectives that democratically control the use of public funds.
Self-management can become a common horizon and a social project. A concrete utopia which, starting from the new social practices born of war and a radical democracy, will give itself the means here and now to avoid any bureaucratic drifts in the construction of the alternative.
Self-management expresses the aspiration to take one's affairs into one's own hands, to organize oneself without hierarchy and without a boss, to establish different social relations, but in the case of Ukraine it also becomes a tool of resistance and survival in an unprecedented situation. At once a project, a programme and a social practice, self-management has made its way into the history of emancipation. This is the path that Solidarnosc wanted to open in 1980 with its project of a self-managed republic, before being crushed by the Polish and Russian bureaucracy. In Ukraine it is obvious that a new page rich in lessons is being written in the long history of self-organization of the exploited. In this situation, it appears that the Sotsialnyi Rukh is certainly one of the organizations most aware of these potentialities. Its political tasks are immense. The internationalist and anti-capitalist currents of the Western left must support it.

February 17, 2023

Translated by from cerises la cooperative








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