A new turning point
The December elections
The elections of December 1995 were an important stage in the unfolding of events. What tendency did they reveal? At any rate, not one in the direction of capitalism! There was a massive vote of no confidence, not only in Yeltsin, but in the market and all its works. True, an election result is never decisive, and this one least of all. The Bonapartist constitution leaves all power in the hands of Yeltsin and his clique. Nothing has been solved. But that is precisely the point. The problem of establishing a viable capitalist regime in Russia has not been "solved". The December election was a clear indication of the hurdles that the nascent bourgeoisie must clear before it does so.
The December elections in Russia represented a body-blow to the supporters of capitalist restoration in Russia. The Communist Party got 22 per cent of the votes in the constituencies where candidates were elected on the basis of party lists. It also did well in those which elected individuals (single member constituencies). Together with the Agrarians and other parties describing themselves as Communists, they received about one-third of the vote.
Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) saw its votes in the party-list elections halved from 22 per cent in 1993 to 11 per cent, winning only one seat in the single-member constituencies. This indicates that a growing number of people have seen through his "populist" demagogy and recognised the reactionary nature of the LDP. Alexander Lebed got only 4 per cent. However, the most shattering defeat was reserved for those parties and politicians who openly espoused the cause of the market economy reform, which has led to a catastrophic collapse of production and living standards.
Claims of the government that the economy had improved rang hollow to millions of Russian workers who are owed two or three months' wages. The voters took their revenge by massively rejecting the pro-capitalist parties. "Russia's Choice", the inappropriately-named party of the extreme pro-marketer Yegor Gaidar, was wiped out. It got less than 5 per cent, and Gaidar lost his seat in the Duma. Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko did better with 7 per cent, but he had been demagogically attacking the government's reform programme for months. Most damaging of all for Yeltsin and the West was the humiliating result of the party of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, "Our Home is Russia". This party, specifically set up to defend the government, with access to huge sums of money and unlimited access to the media, got less than 10 per cent.
When the final result was published, the CP and its allies were the largest group by far in the Duma, with 190 seats out of 450, followed by Zhirinovsky with 51, and Yavlinsky with 45. "Our Home is Russia" has only 55 seats, which was a very weak base from which to campaign for the presidential election.
The imperialists reacted with alarm to these results, which represented a massive vote of no confidence in market reform, precisely when the West was pressing Yeltsin to hurry the programme through, in a desperate effort to make the process irreversible, regardless of the social consequences. The election results entirely confirm the perspectives that the movement towards capitalism, far from being completed, was in serious trouble. After bleakly reviewing the December 1995 elections, the Financial Times (20/12/95) commented: "Like the leaders of the French revolution, Mr Yeltsin and the country's quarrelling reformers today have reason to fear that Russia's democratic revolution might devour its children in turn."
Western economists have roughly calculated the nascent bourgeoisie at about 10 per cent of the population (this would be an extremely broad definition, including all sorts of petty entrepreneurs, whereas the big capitalists are a tiny handful ). Together with their families and dependants, and all other layers who are somehow linked to the market such as drivers, street traders, self-employed people, servants, private bodyguards (there are 600,000 of these alone) and criminals, we are talking about maybe 20 per cent of the population. This is approximately the percentage of votes won by all the pro-market parties in the December elections. It is a not inconsiderable portion of the population, but not enough to win an election.
Horrified by the results of the December 1995 Duma elections and pessimistic about the prospects for the presidential elections in case the old Stalinists made a comeback, the clique around Yeltsin campaigned hard for both elections to be cancelled and for Yeltsin to rule by decree. Their public declarations clearly reveal the real attitude of the nascent bourgeoisie towards "democracy". For them, democracy is simply a device to be used when it suits their class interests.
"If people tell me that for the sake of symbolic democracy I must give up my property—well democracy is not worth that much to me," said Oleg Kisiliev, chairman of the Impeks-bank, an export company active in the gold trade. He said he and his associates fear that a communist take-over might confiscate their property. "I would very much like to live in a free country, but I very much fear that the path to freedom could kill us," said Kakha Bendukidze, another member of the nouveaux riche. The Financial Times (7/11/95) reported: "Mr Bendukidze and his allies say in the event of a communist landslide they are preparing to leave the country with as much capital as they can take with them." The article continues: "Democracy and capitalism are becoming antithetical in Russia... Until markets bring prosperity to the majority of Russian voters, democracy will continue to be a threat to the country's newly rich elite."
The presidential elections of July 1996 represented another turn in the situation in Russia. On the surface, the result was a massive victory for Russian capitalism. Despite the frightful collapse in living standards, crime, corruption and Mafia capitalism, Yeltsin won. This was a heavy defeat for Stalinism, not socialism or genuine communism, but it will usher in a new period of convulsions for Russia. The underlying processes remained as contradictory and explosive as before. The result resolved nothing.
According to the Central Electoral Commission, Yeltsin got 53.10 per cent to Gennady Zyuganov's 40.41 per cent. If these figures are correct, this means that Yeltsin increased his support from 26.7 million voters in the first round to 38.9 million in the second, while Zyuganov's vote went up from 24.2 millions to 29.3 millions. In percentage terms, Yeltsin increased his vote by almost 19 points, while Zyuganov's share went up by a little more than eight. Despite everything, the CP still made a strong showing. Zyuganov defeated Yeltsin in the "Red Belt" area stretching from Tambov and Voronezh, south of Moscow, to Siberian regions such as Novosibirsk, Omsk and the coalmining area of Kemerovo. We can assume that the CP maintained its support in the other mining areas, and in the workers in heavy industry in general. Forty per cent is a considerable base in society, and this would undoubtedly include the decisive layers of the industrial workers, as well as the rural areas.
Marx pointed out long ago, the peasant also has his rational side, and is able to distinguish between what is in his interest and what hurts him. This is clearly shown in Poland, where the CP has a strong base among the small peasants, who have understood that, for them, capitalism spells ruin. In any case, in Russia, the rural population no longer consists of peasants. They are rural proletarians, who have no interest in becoming transformed into small proprietors. The prospects for Russian agriculture under capitalism are grim. The former "granary of Europe" is importing large quantities of food from the West. The victory of Yeltsin will mean that this situation will continue, and with it the further decline of Russian agriculture.
The response of the bourgeois to the result was euphoric. Russian financial markets soared, but then fell back as it became clear that Western investors were not participating in the buying spree. The Western capitalists, while breathing a sigh of relief that Zyuganov was not elected, were still worried about the future.
Were the elections rigged?
Can these results be the result of fraud? Since the elections, there has been more than sufficient evidence pointing to the existence of widespread ballot rigging. The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) observers found evidence of widespread electoral fraud. Even before the first round, the then defence minister Pavel Grachev announced that sailors in the fleet outside Russia had voted "unanimously" for Yeltsin. Even more incredibly, Yeltsin's highest vote was supposed to have come from Chechnya—64.1 per cent—a remarkable result for a man who had ordered the bloody war resulting in the mass slaughter of the Chechen people and the reduction of their homeland to ashes!
Andrei Kolganov and Alexander Buzgalin, two leftwing economists at Moscow State University, state that "an element of fraud cannot be excluded (though in the view of experts, this could hardly have exceeded 3-5 per cent)". If we assume that ballot rigging amounted to 5 per cent of the votes, Yeltsin's majority would be cut to a bare minimum. However, since it is notoriously difficult to obtain precise figures in cases of electoral fraud, the estimates of the "experts" may understate the real position. Socialist Boris Kagarlitsky implies that fraud was more widespread than this. He writes:
"The second round Russian election began inauspiciously for the authorities. Throughout the morning the population of St Petersburg, a city considered a major stronghold of the present regime, simply failed to turn up at the polling stations. People were clearly sick of elections. By 3pm only about 4 per cent of electors had voted. A low turnout was also evident in other regions where Boris Yeltsin had come out ahead in the first round. Something close to panic broke out in the president's campaign team. A state television announcer let slip the news that 'catastrophic moods' had seized hold of the campaign staff.
"After 4pm, however, something happened. As if someone had waved a magic wand, the low turnout was everywhere replaced by a high one, in some places exceeding the results of the first round. If we are able to believe official reports, the citizens of Russia turned up as a body at the polling stations, and in no less united fashion, voted for Yeltsin. The more remote and inaccessible the region, the greater the support for the president. The people of the Chukotka peninsula in the far north-east showed particular enthusiasm for Yeltsin, giving him 75 per cent of the vote—a remarkable result, especially if we consider that in the heat of the election campaign the authorities had forgotten to ship foodstuffs to Chukotka, and the danger of starvation hung over the region.
"The people of Chechnya also voted en masse for Yeltsin; obviously, they had recovered after being bombed by warplanes of the federal forces. It is true that journalists were unable to find many of the polling stations, but totals of votes recorded at these stations were nevertheless to be found in the offices of the republic's electoral commission. The inhabitants of Daghestan, who voted overwhelmingly for Communist candidate Zyuganov in the first round, had evidently changed their minds ten days later, when they voted for Yeltsin. The official press attributed this to explanatory work carried out by local leaders. Similar explanatory work had been performed in Bashkiria and Tataria. Despite all these strange goings-on, it would be wrong to speak of widespread fraud in the elections. More likely, the authorities 'adjusted' the results somewhat. A small majority for Yeltsin was thus transformed into a substantial one; the president was re-elected with 54 per cent of the vote compared to about 40 per cent for Zyuganov."
The Guardian (5/7/96) makes out a similar case:
"There were some startling pro-Yeltsin anomalies in the Red Belt, suggesting either the powerful personal influence of local bosses in ethnically-based regions or fraud.
"The most suspicious result was in the North Caucasian Republic of Daghestan, long a bastion of Communist support. In June, Mr Zyuganov won 66 per cent of the vote, against 26 per cent for Mr Yeltsin, with Lebed barely registering. This week, Mr Yeltsin's vote shot up to 51 per cent, with Mr Zyuganov down to 46.
"Almost as dubious was the result in the oil-rich Volga republic of Bashkortostan, where a largely Muslim population traditionally backs the Communists. How a Zyuganov lead of 42 to 35 per cent in June turned into a Yeltsin triumph of 52 to 42 per cent this week is a mystery."
Before the election, Zyuganov had warned of the danger of fraud. After the result of the second round was declared, he pointed out that: "In Daghestan we got 60 per cent last time, and now they say we've lost there. I want to figure out how that could have happened in the last ten days."
The Italian paper La Stampa, which is generally considered to be in close contact with the reality of Russian political life, and evidently has excellent sources, published an article on the 6th July 1996 entitled "Fraud—here is the proof". Analysing the results of the first round, it concludes that: "In any other country, these figures would have caused a scandal of international proportions, whereas in Russia they circulate in samizdat." The figures referred to are taken from the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan. They prove conclusively the existence of massive fraud.
La Stampa's correspondent had access to the voting figures given at different levels. At the lowest level, the Local Electoral Commission represents 60 polling stations. These results are then submitted to the Regional Electoral Commission (in this case, Tatarstan), which finally sends them to the Electoral Commission of the Russian Federation. La Stampa article shows that the results do not add up. Votes were systematically subtracted from all other candidates, and transferred to Yeltsin's list. For example, in one area of Tatarstan, the discrepancy was as follows:
Other areas showed similar discrepancies. La Stampa concludes that, if this was the case in Tatarstan, there is no reason to suppose that it was any different elsewhere. It further concludes that such fraud could only be carried out with the participation of a large number of functionaries right up to the top government level, where no checks were carried out. It is unthinkable that the Central Commission was not aware of this. In other words, the ballot rigging was organised at the highest level. The article ends with the following question: "Does this mean that the Communists, in reality, won the first round?"
There is no doubt that Yeltsin rigged the vote over the referendum on the constitution in April 1993. Even bourgeois commentators accept that. So, if it looked as if Zyuganov was going to win, there can be no doubt that Yeltsin supporters would have resorted to massive ballot rigging to fix the result. The Russian bourgeoisie and the West could not permit Zyuganov to win. In the words of The Times' Moscow correspondent Bruce Nelan, "it would have been a disaster for all concerned had the Russians elected Zyuganov... In the end they voted for the lesser evil". However, the same correspondent warns against drawing too optimistic conclusions: "There are still serious problems in Russia that need to be resolved. The Western idea that the problems will all disappear with the re-election of Yeltsin is simply wrong."
During the campaign, the so-called free press and television behaved in a manner so depraved that it made the Western gutter press look quite demure by comparison. Even the Western pro-Yeltsin commentators were forced to express their discontent at the way the media favoured the president. The Economist referred to "a slavishly pro-Yeltsin bias in the Russian media". These facts show the hollowness and hypocrisy of the Western claims that Yeltsin stands for "democracy".
On the role of the media, even the main international observer team, organised by the CSCE was obliged to state:
"Not only was there a significant imbalance in candidate Yeltsin's favour in the amount of coverage but also his campaign was generally shown in positive terms, compared to other candidates, in particular candidate Zyuganov, who tended to be shown in negative terms."
US observers organised by the International Republican Institute made the same point:
"The group of American observers were also astonished, said the senator, by a situation when the independent mass media so obviously supported the re-election of the incumbent president."
The observers found that in the six weeks preceding the first round of voting, President Yeltsin received roughly 53 per cent of the time devoted to the election in news and current affairs programmes. Zyuganov received 18 per cent of the time but this was overwhelmingly negative and designed to frighten voters off.
In an article published in the Morning Star (9/7/96) Renfrey Clarke, a prominent leftwing commentator on Russian affairs, gives a whole series of examples of the methods used to bribe the media into supporting Yeltsin. He points out that
"though extensively privatised, the national television networks still depend heavily on the government to subsidise their operations. State control over the print media is looser but still considerable.
"Again, the heads of the main newspaper organisations consider themselves well served by Yeltsin and clearly needed little prompting to direct their resources to getting him re-elected."
Papers like Moskovsky Komsomolets and Vechernaya Moskva published slanderous articles, telling all kinds of lies, such as the allegation that the Communists would "bring Moscow to its knees in six months following an election victory". They would "economise on city expenses by allowing only Russian products to enter the country's capital" and bring "a mass flood of depraved, unfortunate provincials". The English language Moscow Times, reported the deputy editor of Vechernaya Moskva, Vyacheslav Motyashov as saying: "Of course we ran that article to get people to vote for Yeltsin—who else?"
Gleb Pavlovsky, a former journalist and now general director of the Foundation for Effective Politics, was himself involved in distributing pro-Yeltsin articles to the Russian press. He estimated that 1,000 journalists in Moscow alone were on the take, "including an elite group of perhaps 50 big name reporters who received $3,000 to $5,000 per month on top of their other income for writing articles favourable to Yeltsin or other candidates".
After the first round the CSCE observers demanded an improvement in the second round. "It is important that the shortcomings mentioned above in the behaviour of the media, the conduct of the election campaign and the polling day procedures be addressed as a matter of urgency."
In reality, the reverse was the case. All the abuses of the first round were deepened in the second. The Daily Telegraph reported, for example:
"The selection of news items is even more flagrant. Yesterday Viktor Ilyukhin, a senior Communist who heads the security committee of the lower house of parliament, summoned reporters to see a tape of police questioning a banker who admitted taking $500,000 from the Finance Ministry and giving it to two members of the Yeltsin campaign team. The tape failed to find a place on the early evening news on the Russian Public Television, the most popular channel."
So distorted was the TV coverage, that even news of Yeltsin's illness was suppressed to a large extent. As Tony Barber commented in The Independent: "Clearly, the inability of one of the two presidential candidates to perform his duties would be likely to have a decisive influence on the outcome. So the Russian media simply hushed it up."
Constanze Krehl, head of the European parliament delegation observing the second round said: "It is really clear that Mr Yeltsin has more than 400 points of positive coverage... and Mr Zyuganov has minus 300." Yet despite all this, the "democratic" observers from the West were quite prepared to give the Russian elections a clean bill of health!
Why the Communist Party lost
These "democrats" resorted to every kind of trickery, bribery and corruption to stay in power. In order to ensure that his supporters did not go off to their summer-houses (dachas) on voting day, Yeltsin changed the day from a Sunday to a weekday, an act that was quite illegal. But so what? An eyewitness account from Russia, which reached us on the eve of the first round, describes the atmosphere surrounding the campaign thus:
"There is an absolutely unprecedented and extremely aggressive anti-communism campaign going on in all possible thinkable ways, not just on TV and radio. Apparently, there are free newspapers distributed in every house, called 'God Forbid,' in which all sorts of threats of communism pronounced (such as a list of Zyuganov-Hitler comparisons, trying to match statements made by each, etc.). To target younger generation, there are concerts of popular music, involving famous singers, are taking place under such slogans as 'Yeltsin is Our President.' Since it is not still enough to convince everyone, plenty of free T-shirts and baseball caps are given away in such concerts. Of course, the older generation, who still remember what life was like before, represent much more difficult target for him. But even there he seems to manage OK, mainly by pure bribery. Suddenly, plenty of money has appeared from somewhere, and he seems to be very happy to give everyone a nice present. Schools are getting computers, towns receiving huge credits for solving transport and environmental problems, factories also receiving 'bursts' for modernisation and even some individuals apparently 'deserved' free cars."
However, none of these factors is sufficient to explain the results of the election. The main reason why the CP was defeated was because they did not put forward a democratic socialist alternative for the workers and the people of Russia.
After generations of totalitarian bureaucratic rule, broad layers of society do not want to go back to the Stalinist past. Even when Yeltsin's rating in the polls fell to 5 to 10 per cent, there were still more than 40 per cent of voters who declared that they would not support a presidential candidate of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) under any circumstances. If we exclude the nascent bourgeois, their dependants and hangers-on, this figure still means that millions of workers and youth, who are undoubtedly hostile to Yeltsin and capitalism, have also decisively rejected Stalinism. Only the democratic, internationalist banner of genuine Marxism can win over these layers. By contrast, Zyuganov's combination of Stalinism and nationalism only served to repel them.
Broad layers of the youth were not attracted to the CP. In the future this will change. As the crisis develops, with rising unemployment among the working class youth and students, there will be a massive shift in the direction of communism. The ideas of Lenin and Trotsky will gain their most enthusiastic audience among the youth. But at present the repulsive mixture of Stalinism, nationalism and reformism peddled by Zyuganov cannot attract young people who are particularly sensitive on the question of democracy.
Timothy Heritage, writing for Reuter on the 4th July, states that:
"Zyuganov himself is a strong Russian nationalist and admirer of the Orthodox Church. His closest adviser, Alexei Podberyozkin, is a nationalist and Orthodox believer who is not a member of the Communist Party at all. Despite leading into the election a nationalist-communist alliance including some radical Communists, Zyuganov has ruled out any rebirth of the old Soviet Communist Party which collapsed five years ago."
Here the subjective factor is decisive. After decades of totalitarian rule, there was no enthusiasm for a return to Stalinism. The masses were repelled by the chaos, corruption and general rottenness of the Russian gangster bourgeoisie, whose plunder of state assets even the Financial Times described as "the theft of the century". But they had no desire to hand power back to the old Stalinist bureaucracy. They wanted genuine socialism, with a democratic regime.
In the absence of a democratic socialist alternative, Yeltsin was able to organise a scare campaign on the lines described above. In the circumstances, it is surprising that the CP's vote was as high as it was, even if one accepts the official figures as correct, which is extremely doubtful. In spite of Zyuganov's policies, the bulk of the industrial workers voted for him. But elections are not decided by the industrial working class alone. As in the West, there are intermediate layers, professional people, civil servants, functionaries of all kinds, who would follow the proletariat if the latter was mobilised in action, but, if no lead is given, can be drawn behind the ruling elite by fear, bribery, or a combination of both.
It is no accident that Yeltsin's main support came from Moscow and St Petersburg. Apart from the fact that these centres act as a magnet for the nascent bourgeois from all over Russia, like all capital cities and administrative centres, they have a large petty bourgeois population, not just the small traders and speculators linked to the market economy, but a vast number of functionaries whose jobs and career prospects are dependent on the ruling clique. The upper stratum of this layer is mainly at the service of the nascent bourgeoisie. The lower grades could have been won over by the CP. These are the typical floating voters, who hesitated until the last moment before casting their vote reluctantly for Yeltsin, on the principle of "better the devil you know". These people thought: "At least with Yeltsin we have some freedom (this is, of course, an extremely relative proposition). If Zyuganov wins, how do we know he will not impose a totalitarian dictatorship. And who can say if we'll be any better off under the Communists? Weren't they also corrupt? Wasn't Yeltsin in the same party as Zyuganov? So they're all as bad as the other. Yeltsin has made a lot of promises. Maybe if we stick with him, things will get better."
Role of the Zyuganov leadership
There was also another factor. Interviews published in the West with such people gave interesting responses. Many of them were afraid that a Zyuganov victory would have meant a coup and civil war. This appraisal may well be correct. As we have pointed out, the bourgeois had no intention of allowing Zyuganov to win. One way or another, he would have been blocked. Such a development would have created an explosive situation, which could have ended in civil war. If Zyuganov had pursued a genuine Leninist policy, that would have been no obstacle. Even the official figures gave Zyuganov over 40 per cent, and the real figure must have been higher. That is a powerful base. But the question of power can never be settled by electoral arithmetic alone.
If Zyuganov wished to give a real lead to the workers of Russia, he would not have confined himself to warnings about vote-rigging, but would have set up committees to defend democracy in every workplace and locality, composed of elected representatives, to organise and co-ordinate the fight-back against the Yeltsinites and their corrupt, antidemocratic regime. Any violence that ensued would be exclusively the responsibility of the Yeltsin gang of crooks and reactionaries. A decisive attitude on the part of the workers is the prior condition for winning over the wavering middle layers. As we stated after the first round:
"It is still not excluded that Zyuganov can form a government. But this is only possible on the basis of a big movement of the working class, not otherwise."
Here the subjective factor is all-important. Above all, in order to win over the youth, a bold vision is necessary, one which would inspire them with hope for the future. But no such perspective was put forward. Zyuganov, in fact, offered no perspective at all. His attitude to the Stalinist past was half apologetic, which gave the Yeltsinites the possibility of identifying him with the crimes of the old regime—concentration camps and so on. Yet Zyuganov did not even clearly advocate the re-establishment of the USSR and a nationalised planned economy. The word "socialism" was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, he scandalously flirted with Russian chauvinism, even to the point of inviting Orthodox priests onto his platform, a tactic which was grist to the mill of Lebed.
Despite its huge resources, the CPRF, at the moment of truth, was unable to connect to a wide layer of the population which was looking for a genuine democratic socialist alternative. After decades of totalitarian and bureaucratic methods, the Party leaders had no idea how to appeal to the masses. As Kolganov and Buzgalin point out:
"With its 500,000 members, the CPRF was the largest political party in Russia. But as the election campaign showed, the party's bureaucratism, together with its orientation toward 'people of the past' and pragmatic-minded petty bureaucrats dissatisfied with Yeltsin, made it a weak organisation, incapable of devising any effective response to the propaganda and 'dirty tricks' of the authorities. In circumstances where the mass media were monopolised by Yeltsin, the idea of carrying on agitation 'from door to door' was not in itself a bad one, but the members of the CPRF were unable to implement it in practice. They had no idea of how to perform such work, and could not find a road to people's hearts—except for the hearts of people already inclined to support Zyuganov. The experience of the elections showed that Zyuganov does not have anything even remotely resembling a 'Lenin Guard.'
"The strengths, including its massive size and the presence within its membership of tested, experienced cadres from the Soviet Communist Party, were turned into weaknesses. Disciplined rank and file 'party warriors' turned out to be of little use in the conditions of a multi-party system marked by struggle between various ideologies and interests. Meanwhile, the experienced cadres had experience only of bureaucratic kowtowing, not of political propaganda work."
Zyuganov's campaign in the first round was poor, but matters got even worse in the second. Some of the Western commentators were so perplexed that they wondered whether Zyuganov's tactics were not the result of some cunning plan to increase public apathy, and thus cause a low poll, which, allegedly, would benefit the CP! But it is not necessary to seek such a subtle and "profound" explanation. There was no such plan. Zyuganov's failure was the result either of his inability to put a real alternative before the people, or because he was afraid of winning the elections. Most likely, it was a combination of both.
Lacking any revolutionary perspective, Zyuganov was terrified of the prospect of civil war. This would have meant leaning on the working class, something which the CP leaders wished to avoid at all costs. Once the workers were aroused, it would be difficult to control them. Under such circumstances, it would not be possible to consolidate a neo-Stalinist regime. It seems likely that the Yeltsinites made it clear in advance to Zyuganov that he would not be permitted to take power by electoral means. The choice was clear—either mobilise the masses for an all out struggle for power, or capitulate. It does not require much imagination to understand what occurred between Zyuganov and the leaders of the Yeltsin camp between the first and second rounds, if not before. The correspondent of the Spanish paper El País (7/7/96) writes:
"In order to understand why the Communists have been so passive in relation to Yeltsin and why they have accepted with such resignation the tricks played on them one has to bear in mind these subterranean currents, for it is there where, according to a hypothesis which cannot be verified, Zyuganov had been given to understand that the powers-that-be would never accept his victory, should that occur, and presented him with the alternative between hanging on to the position he has now in the parliament (the Communists are the biggest group in the Lower House) or face the prospect of being declared outside the law."
Once Zyuganov failed to mobilise the working class for action, the result of the election was a foregone conclusion.
After the election, while hinting at the possibility of fraud, Zyuganov made no attempt to mobilise any kind of protest movement, but hastened to accept the result as "the will of the people". The bourgeois in the West could scarcely conceal their glee at the spectacle of the CPRF leader meekly accepting defeat. The Financial Times of (5/7/96) carried the headline "Communists accept defeat like democrats". What the Financial Times means to say is that the Zyuganov wing of the CP made no attempt to stand for communism and have openly embraced "democracy", that is, capitalism. No wonder the Western media which yesterday foamed at the mouth against the danger of a Zyuganov victory, now pay hypocritical tribute to this "statesmanlike" behaviour, that is to say, this capitulation.
What "will of the people" is Zyuganov talking about, when even the Western media is compelled to admit that the whole election campaign was shamefully biased in Yeltsin's favour? Zyuganov has entirely capitulated to bourgeois ideology in its most vulgar and myopic form. However, he is not alone in these illusions. The upstart bourgeois, who only weeks earlier were panicking at the prospect of a return to "communism", now recovered their nerve and succumbed to euphoria. In the same issue, one of the representatives of the Russian bourgeois, Boris Berezovsky, was quoted as saying: "We shall never again need to choose between communism and capitalism." The relief of these elements was best expressed by their most consummate representative, Viktor Chernomyrdin the day after the election—"The choice is made for always, today democracy has won forever". However, such judgements are premature.
From a Marxist point of view, elections in and of themselves solve nothing. In the best case, they provide a snapshot of the mood of the masses at a given moment. But in this case, even that can be doubted. In any event, the social tendencies are shown here in an extremely mangled and indirect manner, as through a distorting mirror. Had Zyuganov won, that would have been a significant change in the situation, reflecting a major setback for the pro-capitalist elements. But, for that very reason, it was not going to be allowed to happen. Those who had enriched themselves by plundering the state would not just have handed over with a polite bow. A Zyuganov victory would have brought the country to the brink of civil war. As all history shows, the decisive questions are settled, not by parliamentary arithmetic, but by the struggle of real forces.
Yeltsin's false promises
No sooner had Yeltsin been declared the winner than the editorials in the West began to express deep concern about the immediate future. Yeltsin made all kinds of promises during the election. That undoubtedly helped him to get the desired result. He promised, among other things, a 20 per cent increase in the minimum wage; holiday pay for teachers; Chechen reconstruction; support for the coalminers; compensation for the elderly and handicapped; increased pensions; write-off of farm debts; home building loans; payment of all unpaid wages and pensions; more state spending on defence research and development; payment of state debts to power ministries. It has been calculated that the total value of these promises is about Rbs100 trillion ($19.8 billion). The problem with a promissory note, however, is that eventually it is called in. And where do you get the funds to draw on?
Ultimately, the decisive factor is the economy. For over a year, the bourgeois economists in the West have been predicting an economic revival in Russia. They even talked of a figure of 10 per cent in 1996, which we said was impossible. What is the real situation? According to the latest (1996) report of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the growth for 1996 in Russia as an average of the figures given by ten different economic institutions was supposed to be—2.1 per cent. The OECD predicted a growth of 1 per cent. In fact there was a further fall of 6 per cent. Part of this was the result of political uncertainty delaying investment decisions. But there are other factors. Russia's increasing dependence on the world market creates new problems. Exports, including metals, chemicals and forestry products, have been hit by weaker international demand and prices. On the other hand, cheap foreign imports are penetrating the Russian market more and more.
The rate of inflation is much lower than before. This is hardly surprising. Inflation rose during the whole of 1992 by an astonishing 2,318 per cent. With a collapse of production by more than half, how could it increase? As a matter of fact, under such circumstances, prices ought to fall, not rise. Yet the danger of inflation is far from overcome. It is not prices that are falling, but only the rate of increase in prices. If the economy begins to recover—and that is inevitable at a certain stage, possibly in 1997—inflation will begin to take off again. Hence the extreme concern in the West at Russia's huge budget deficit, a permanent source of inflationary pressure.
In the spring of 1995, when the rouble was rising, the Central Bank printed roubles and used them to buy dollars. Money supply rose by 27 per cent in two months, reserves doubled to $6 billion and the IMF's target—set with respect to a preceding, one-year loan—were undisturbed. In the spring of 1996, the picture was different. Base money grew by 7 per cent in March and at the same rate in April, but this money was spent buying votes, not dollars.
The fall in production has drastically reduced the state's revenue, while increasing costs. On the other hand, the private sector does not make up for the collapse of state industry. A large part of the state's shrunken revenues goes on wages and pensions, while investments are being cut back. But this is further undermining Russia's future prospects. Despite the cuts, the budget deficit goes from bad to worse. In the first four months of 1996, the budget deficit stood at Rbs31 trillions ($6.2 billion, or 4.3 per cent of GDP) according to the Ministry of Finance definitions, but Rbs51 trillions ($10.4 billion, or 7.5 per cent of GDP) according to those of the IMF, above the agreed ceiling of Rbs40.4 trillions ($8.1 billion).
In point of fact, the scale of the disaster is even greater than these figures suggest. Under the nationalised planned economy, it was correctly understood that competition is wasteful. Production was therefore concentrated into big state-owned monopolies. This means that the production of at least 600 basic products are in the hands of monopolies at the present time. If one of these monopolies was allowed to go bankrupt, the chain of production would be broken, and a whole series of otherwise healthy companies would be forced to close, in a domino effect. Furthermore, since many monopolies are virtually the sole employer in purpose-built towns, this would mean destroying entire communities.
So far the budget deficit has been financed by the issue of Treasury bills (GKOs) and credits from the IMF, Germany and France. In this way, a large part of Russia's wealth is being siphoned off in interest paid to Western financiers. This is a very costly operation. To illustrate the drain, we cite the following fact: although the gross amount of Treasury bills outstanding increased by Rbs57 trillion ($11.4 billion, or 2.5 per cent of GDP), the net financing increase only amounted to Rbs15 trillion (0.7 per cent of GDP). The government is also believed to have sold some of Russia's precious metal reserves.
Kolganov and Buzgalin comment:
"The adventurist budgetary and financial policies of the first half of 1996 inevitably pose the question of how the budget deficit will be covered, and of how the internal debt that has grown along with it will be serviced. The federal budget deficit has grown to 9.6 per cent of GDP, twice the figure planned for the end of the year. Tax revenues in the first four months of 1996 fell to 7.5 per cent of GDP compared to 11 per cent during the same period of 1995. 'We cannot collect taxes on vodka, on cars, or on imported consumer goods,' admitted the economics minister Yevgany Yasin, 'and we are approaching the point where there will no longer be anything to take, where an increase in taxation threatens grave consequences for production.' The total state debt rose during the first half of 1996 by US$20 billion, of which $4 billion was foreign debt, and $16 billion domestic debt. The government borrowed $22.4 billion on the market for short-term state securities during this period, but with interest rates at exorbitant levels, had to pay back $19.7 billion; it is clear that this key source of funds has now virtually been exhausted.
"The government in all likelihood will have to resort simultaneously to all of three possible solutions to its problem with finances. It will have to dip into the Central Bank's reserves of gold and hard currency; it will have to use credit and monetary emission; and it will have to limit its outlays by freezing wages (through delays in wage pay-outs) and delaying the payment of social welfare benefits and subsidies to producers. According to economists, total emission during the first half of 1996 already exceeded Rbs50 trillion [about $50 billion]. This points to growing inflation, problems on the financial and credit market, increasing social tensions, and a worsening of the economic decline. Extra spending on the purchase of grain from abroad will also be unavoidable, since reserves are somewhat below the level needed to ensure supply until the new harvest. There is also the 'eternal' problem of supporting agriculture."
The IMF's 'generosity'
The Yeltsin government finds itself between the devil and the deep blue sea. Under the relentless pressure of imperialism, they agreed to cut state expenditure. For instance, military spending was supposed to be cut. Now the military caste is demanding a real increase in their share of the budget. Fearing a social explosion, the parliament approved an increase in the minimum wage from Rbs20,000 a month to Rbs54,000 a month. As many welfare payments are based on this figure, this measure alone will cost Rbs30 trillion, or half the proposed budget deficit.
What this reflects is a deepening conflict between conflicting class interests, which is far from being resolved in a decisive way. That is what the strategists of capital mean when they complain that the situation in Russia is unpredictable. For their part, the imperialists are also aware of the threat of "social instability" as they express it. Not for nothing did Yeltsin warn the West repeatedly of the danger of a "new Bolshevism" if they did not support him. The miners' strikes served forcibly to underline the point. Yeltsin has been obliged to retreat on the issue of miners' wages, at least for the time being. He has blamed the non-payment of wages in general on "saboteurs". But any commitment to pay arrears will mean an increase in the huge budget deficit. This was, anyway, inevitable in the run up to the election.
The very fact that the imperialists are concerned that the movement towards capitalism has not yet reached the point of no return impels them to put pressure on Moscow to continue the reform at all costs, as quickly as possible, irrespective of the social consequences. They are pushing the situation to its limits, thus creating the conditions for an explosion. Some of the more far-sighted Western observers are beginning to realise the dangers in this. The next phase of privatisation would be the most dangerous from the point of view of social stability, as the Financial Times pointed out on the 12th August 1995:
"The Russian government is poised to decide on the next and most dangerous step in its three-year old reform process. Going ahead would mean launching a full attack on inflation, closing many obsolete factories and starting to create a working social security system with the aid of up to $18 billion [£11.6 billion] provided through the IMF...The scale of the transformation now being debated in the government and with IMF experts would be larger than anything yet attempted and would risk creating social unrest and political instability."
The idea of the hard-faced bankers of the IMF funding social welfare in Russia can be taken with a large pinch of salt. In general, the West has been lavish with promises of aid to Russia, but very short on delivery. The only part of this paragraph that matters is the promise to carry out a massive programme of factory closures, which would cause huge unemployment and terrible suffering. The real attitude of the Western financiers was shown by the president of the Swiss bankers, Mr Markus Lusser, who was quoted in the same article as warning that the IMF risked "financial and moral ruin" if it continued to display a "soft" attitude to Russia.
Before the elections Yeltsin drove a coach and horses through the IMF's stipulations, which did not prevent that organisation from continuing to bail out the Yeltsin regime. The IMF granted a three-year loan of just over $10 billion—the second biggest ever after Mexico. Despite the fact that Yeltsin frittered most of this away in the election campaign, and drew a further $1 billion from Russia's Central Bank in June, the Fund's Chief Michael Camdessus stated, without even blushing, that Russia was "up to date on performance criteria".
The reason for this unusual generosity was clear. The West was terrified of a Zyuganov victory. Up to the very last minute, they were not sure that this could not happen. The IMF, obviously under pressure from Washington, turned a blind eye to the fact that Moscow was manifestly not fulfilling its commitment to monetary discipline. Behind all these manoeuvres there were two main calculations: fear of major social upheavals in Russia which could spread to eastern and Western Europe, and the need to keep Yeltsin in power at all costs, for fear of the alternative.
For this reason, the IMF hastened to approve its loan before the election. But as we predicted, no sooner was Yeltsin back in the Kremlin than the attitude of the West changed. In the following months they applied merciless pressure on Moscow. They paid the bills, now they demanded results. They demanded that all the conditions attached to the loans be fulfilled. They insisted that the programme of privatisations, which had been put on ice in the run up to the presidential elections, be carried out to the end, regardless of the consequences.
The IMF wanted Russia's budget deficit to be limited to not more than 4 per cent of GDP, falling to 3 per cent in 1997 and 2 per cent in 1998. These were figures which the main EU countries are finding it virtually impossible to meet, yet they demand this of Russia! As a matter of fact, these conditions are even more stringent than the Maastricht conditions. To demand a budget deficit of no more than 3 per cent when Russia's budget is completely out of control, and millions of workers are not being paid is the economics of Alice in Wonderland. These so-called experts are quite mad. They have not even bothered to ask themselves where the state is supposed to get the taxes from. The Mafia? The latter are well known for many things, but paying taxes is not among them. On the contrary, they receive taxes—or, more accurately, tribute, like the tartars of old—with their universal levy of 20 per cent.
This is one more reason why they are finding it so difficult to consolidate a capitalist regime. This is a gangster capitalism, where Proudhon's old maxim has at last come true—"Property is theft". They have developed a new method of improving competitiveness—by physically liquidating business rivals. There has never been a state like this, unless we refer to Italy. Not the Italy of today, but that of the fourteenth century, when Italian city states were ruled by the condotierre, roving bands of robber-knights. It is true that in modern-day Italy, the Mafia has a very wide presence, and is mixed up with the state and business (not to mention the Vatican). But Russia is on an entirely different plane. Here capitalism is entirely criminal. The Mafia loots the state and sends its loot abroad. In other words, they do not fulfil any of the productive functions performed by the capitalists in other "normal" capitalist countries, Italy included.
Vast amounts of Russia's oil and minerals are being smuggled out by criminal elements. According to some estimates, it would be possible to finance the whole of Russia's foreign debt on the basis of the goods and capital that have been siphoned off over the past five years. These are truly vast sums of money. Much of it is laundered through the banks: an estimated $14 billion in 1992 and $17 billion in 1993. Corruption and theft on such a level could lead to the collapse of the Russian economy.
An indication of the fragile condition of Russian capitalism is the instability of the financial sector. Western economists have predicted that a fall in the yield of Russian Treasury bills (GKOs) will produce a collapse of the banking system. Annualised GKOs yield have fallen to 89-90 per cent down from more than 200 per cent before the elections. Immediately after the elections Russia's Central Bank put administrators into Tveruniversalbank, Russia's 17th-largest commercial bank with assets of some $1.2 billion. On the 8th July the Central Bank's chairman, Sergei Dubinin warned of problems at Russia's fourth biggest bank, Inkombank. A further slide in the value of GKOs could provoke a collapse not only of the banks but of the stock exchange. About 350 banks saw their licences withdrawn by the Central Bank of Russia in the first half of 1996.
So far, despite the terrible economic catastrophe and the collapse in living standards of the big majority, open unemployment has not assumed massive proportions. The industrial crisis has manifested itself mainly in a huge accumulation of inter-enterprise debt and unpaid wages. This is itself a major factor in the budget deficit, since, to date, these debts are mainly underwritten by the state. The IMF is demanding that this cease, and that, in effect, these factories be allowed to collapse. Such a scenario would mean perhaps 25 million unemployed—a finished recipe for social convulsions on a colossal scale.
Thus, not one stone upon another will remain of Yeltsin's election promises. Not that he will be much worried about that. The president's health is clearly in a somewhat fragile state. Whether his "indisposition" in the closing stages of the campaign owed more to his heart or a vodka bottle is unclear. But it was sufficient to set the alarm bells ringing in every Western foreign ministry. Everywhere the question was asked anxiously: After Yeltsin, what?
Splits in the reformist camp
No sooner had the election result been announced than it became clear that the government was riven with contradictions. The most obvious is the open rift between Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and General Lebed. The former, as prime minister, has a powerful position, and probably enjoys the support of a big section of the nascent bourgeois as well as the imperialists who see him as their most reliable representative.
Despite all his demagogy, Lebed is one of the most dangerous enemies of the working class. If he succeeds in taking power, he will not hesitate to crush the labour movement. Lebed describes himself as "half a democrat". From this one can conclude that he is also "half totalitarian", and it is safe to assume that the totalitarian half is greater than the democratic one. He has made no secret of his admiration for Pinochet.
Lebed's path was blocked by Chernomyrdin, who doubtless fancied the role of dictator for himself. The day after the election, it was clear that Lebed was being pushed into the background. "The Moor has done his duty. The Moor may go!" But this "Moor" had no intention of going anywhere—voluntarily, at least. With an eye on Yeltsin's demise, Lebed proposed that he be given the post of vice-president, a move which was promptly stamped on by Chernomyrdin. Even the fact that he was put in charge of the campaign against crime and corruption was, in reality, a calculated manoeuvre to discredit Lebed, since this campaign is doomed to fail before it starts. In order to stamp out crime and corruption in Russia, it would first be necessary to arrest the biggest criminals, who are to be found at the heart of government, commencing with the prime minister.
By placing Lebed in charge of the army and police—a desperate move by a man afraid of losing the election—Yeltsin was taking a big risk. Everything seems to indicate that Lebed was promised a lot more in exchange for his help in winning the election. But such promises are about as valuable as all the other ones made by Yeltsin, that is, not a lot. Lies, treachery, deceit—these are the stock-in-trade of the entire regime, and Yeltsin has them worked out as a fine art. Immediately after the elections, all the Kremlin factions and aspiring Bonapartes began fighting like ferrets in a sack. Anticipating this, we wrote:
"Behind the scenes, Lebed is plotting against Chernomyrdin, and vice versa. Chernomyrdin would like to get Lebed ousted before he gets too powerful. He may succeed, since the imperialists are also worried about Lebed, whom they see as too unpredictable. But, arguably, Lebed would be even more dangerous in opposition than inside the government camp. Chernomyrdin may decide, to quote the former US President Lyndon Johnson, that it is better to have a rival inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. If Lebed is removed, he would probably attempt to set up his own movement, based on the usual Bonapartist demagogy in which patriotic and 'left' phraseology serves as a mask for the most vicious reaction. He would conduct permanent intrigues in the officer caste, playing upon the growing dissatisfaction and disgust with the corrupt and inept Chernomyrdin clique."
Lebed's warning that Yeltsin's promises must be carried out was an indication that he was attempting to build a mass base of support, in preparation for assuming power once Yeltsin had died or been forced to retire. But the old Kremlin clique was ready for him. As soon as Lebed showed signs of preparing to set himself up as a national Saviour, among other things meddling in the Chechen affair, he was removed by a palace coup. However, the removal of Lebed does not solve the problem. Yeltsin is a sick man, who can disappear from the scene at any time. That would be the signal for an open power struggle between the rival factions. The situation remains extraordinarily volatile.
Lebed still remains as a reserve candidate for the bourgeois. At the time of writing, it has just been revealed that he has received £150 million. Where from? It is clear that a section of the bourgeois want to help him get elected if new elections are held when Yeltsin leaves the scene. They will demand payment later. Yeltsin's new illness (said to be bronchitis) indicates that he can leave the scene at any time—although the Kremlin doctors have a lot of experience at keeping people alive! The Mafia capitalists and their Western allies are evidently looking for a fallback position. However, if Lebed does take power, the West will have plenty of reasons to regret it.
In the absence of a big movement of the proletariat, the intrigues at the top, the ceaseless manoeuvring for position, the palace coups, will continue, one after the other. These shifting combinations at the top have a largely accidental character, reflecting the impasse of the regime. But whatever the particular combination, the general tendency must be in the direction of Bonapartism, a regime which expresses the deadlock between the classes in which the weak and rotten Russian bourgeoisie is unable to establish a social equilibrium by "normal" means, and the proletariat, paralysed by its leadership, is unable to carry out a complete reconstruction of society from top to bottom.
The possibility of a regime of bourgeois Bonapartism has undoubtedly become stronger. But it is still not certain whether it will happen. Either way, there is no question of a stable regime of bourgeois democracy. As a matter of fact, there is no real democracy in Russia even now. The parliament, in which the CP leads the biggest bloc, is mainly for decorative purposes. Real power is in the hands of the president.
In such a regime, as under Tsarism, the formation of a "court camarilla" with all its attendant intrigues and conspiracies, is inevitable. A report in the Financial Times (1/11/1996) revealed that the real power in the Kremlin was not the sick president, but a clique of seven Mafia capitalists, unelected and answerable to nobody:
"The same tight-knit group of seven businessmen now meets weekly and works closely with Mr Chubais, now the ailing President Yeltsin's chief of staff. Its members portray themselves quite openly as the main force shaping Kremlin policy...Mr Mikhail Khodorkovsky, president of the Menatep financial and oil empire; Mr Peter Aven and Mr Mikhail Friedman of Alfa Bank; and Mr Alexander Smolensky of Stolichny Bank. Their six enterprises, according to Mr Berezovsky, control about 50 per cent of the economy.
"'He [Potanin] had the feeling that one of the big bankers had to go there,' he said. 'He had the support of the other big banks.' The businessmen's reasoning was stark. Even if the threat of communism had receded with the July election, Russia's future as a flourishing and stable market economy was far from secure. Not only was the president largely out of action pending heart surgery; there was also the risk of serious social unrest, with wage arrears mounting and government finances collapsing." (My emphasis.)
Even Yeltsin's daughter is now a key figure in this murky world of manoeuvre and back-stabbing, although she is a political nobody. This is a throwback to the degenerate Rasputin regime. But the Rasputin regime eventually led to the February Revolution.
The 'time of troubles'
The confidence of the bourgeois and the West in the future of capitalism in Russia is misplaced. Already there is the outline of a massive crisis in Russia. As the social, economic and political crisis unfolds, their forces will melt away. The idea that "communism" cannot return because of Yeltsin's victory is a foolish pipe-dream. The very confidence of the bourgeois will be a factor in its undoing. Like the bullfrog in Aesop's fable, they are puffed up with their own importance. As a result, they will press on in the direction of market reform and will inevitably overreach themselves. They imagine that everything is settled, whereas nothing is settled. For a Marxist, an election is only an incident in the general process, and not at all the most decisive incident. The real test still lies in the future.
With the utter decay of Stalinism, and the general throwing back of consciousness at all levels of society, the most primitive and barbarous ideas have re-emerged from the murky slime of a half-forgotten past—Pan Slavism, Great-Russian chauvinism, anti-Semitism, astrology, superstition, faith healing, Orthodoxy—all this ideological and spiritual muck is a faithful mirror of social decline. Most striking of all the expressions of this decline is the way in which Zyuganov, instead of combating nationalism and religion, the inseparable soul mates of reaction, above all of Russian reaction, has completely succumbed to these poisonous influences, against which Lenin struggled all his life.
In the absence of understanding, self-styled intellectuals—not only on the right—take refuge in mysticism, referring to the "Russian soul", and drawing the conclusion from superficial analogies with Russian history that the Russian people are "not suited for democracy", and so on. In reality, such "explanations" explain nothing at all, but can be used as a ready-made excuse for the next gangster who seeks to seize power in the name of Russia, Order and Orthodoxy.
Far from the future of Russia being guaranteed, new upheavals and chaos lie on the horizon. Russia has entered a new "Time of Troubles"—smutnoe vremya, as the Russians call it—referring to the period of anarchy and social breakdown which preceded the coming to power of Peter the Great in the first half of the eighteenth century. The unstable, corrupt, gangster regime of Yeltsin bears some resemblance to the rule of the streltsy, the bandit rulers of Muscovy at that time. But then there was no working class such as the powerful Russian proletariat, which could, with proper leadership, show a way out of the impasse. As always, historical analogy is a lame substitute for a scientific analysis of the real class balance of forces. There is nothing at all inevitable about the descent of Russian society into chaos, or the victory of Bonapartist reaction, any more than in 1917. Now, as then, the causes are not to be found in the "Russian soul", but exclusively in the leadership of the working class—or the lack of it. The problem of problems is that the Russian working class has not yet moved as a class. This fact conditions the whole situation. But it will not last forever.
The starting point of our analysis is the impossibility of any lasting solution of the problems of the Russian economy under gangster capitalism (no other capitalism is possible for Russia), where the bourgeoisie had exhausted its progressive role long before the October Revolution. Under Yeltsin, there is no question of raising living standards, at least for the vast majority. The economic perspectives for the immediate period ahead have already been described. Even the paltry 2 per cent growth target of the IMF is seen by the experts as an unrealisable goal. And the prospect of mass closures and soaring unemployment looms ever larger.
Precisely for this reason, the possibility of giving the CP a couple of posts in the government is posed, not out of any sense of altruism on Yeltsin's part (he could be accused of many things, but hardly that). This was the inner meaning of Chernomyrdin's comment the day after the elections that Russia should not be divided into "winners and losers". The "winners" are evidently terrified of the reaction of the "losers" once the real position becomes clear.
The victory of Yeltsin means that the process will be somewhat more drawn-out. A CP victory would have rapidly led to civil war, which, given the total lack of preparation and leadership, could probably have been a disaster. Now the process will unfold somewhat differently. It will take longer, although this does not mean a smooth and peaceful process. Quite the contrary. Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin appeal for "national unity" because they realise what awaits them. Once again Zyuganov demonstrates his complete lack of understanding when he echoes the call for a "government of all patriotic forces". The call for "national unity" is the emptiest of all slogans.
With falling industrial production, collapsing living standards, the ruin of agriculture, and the shameless enrichment of the few, how can one talk seriously of "unity"? It is not possible to unite oil and water. How can the working class unite with the Mafia thieves and the rotten nascent bourgeoisie? This would be like the unity of the horse and the rider, equipped with sharp spurs! However, the possibility of such a government seems to have receded for the present. The dominant faction in the government wants to press ahead with its anti-working class policies without having to make any concessions to the CP. This is undoubtedly the result of the merciless pressures of the IMF, which is radically opposed to any concessions whatsoever. It is also a finished recipe for class struggle.
The miners' strikes in January 1996, and the subsequent strikes in the autumn of that year, indicated that the workers' patience is beginning to wear thin. Paradoxically, the much heralded economic revival could be the signal for a wave of strikes and protests. Frustrated on the electoral front, there would be a natural tendency for the workers to move onto the industrial plane. An economic revival would encourage this tendency, especially as the bourgeois will be thieving, looting and exploiting even more blatantly in the next period than before. There must now be a mood of bitter anger and resentment against the wealthy parasites. Temporarily, the workers' heads will be down, but that cannot last. The explosion must come, and will be even more violent for having been pent up for so long. Those who imagine that everything is solved have some nasty surprises in store.
The attempt to move in the direction of capitalism in Russia coincides with the impasse of capitalism on a world scale. In the long run, this will be decisive. Everywhere, the attacks on living standards and cuts in state expenditure are preparing the way for an explosion of the class struggle and the transformation of the psychology of the working class and the labour movement internationally. Let us not forget that it was the temporary boom in world capitalism in the 1980s that played a big role in strengthening the pro-capitalist wing of the bureaucracy. Now all that is over.
The economic cycle in America has now lasted for six years, and has some of the symptoms associated with the peak of a boom, which heralds the start of a downturn. On a world scale, the recovery has been sluggish, with low rates of growth, stagnant demand, and persistently high rates of unemployment. The attempt to reduce the huge budget deficits inherited from the past period is further cutting demand and restricting growth. Only in Japan has the government attempted to get out of the crisis by traditional Keynesian methods of deficit financing. Even so, growth is only 2-3 per cent, and it is not clear that even this can be sustained. The level of indebtedness in Japan is the highest in the world, and the financial system is in a parlous state. A financial crash in Japan could plunge the world economy into a deep slump or even a depression.
Even if, as is possible, the US economy continues its growth, the problem would only be postponed for, at most, a few years, before a new and even steeper fall is registered. A serious slump in the West, which is inevitable in the next period, would drastically alter the relationship of class forces in Russia and Eastern Europe. The close binding of the economies of Eastern Europe to the world market (70 per cent of their exports go to Western Europe) means that a slump would have devastating effects. It would provoke enormous movements in Russia and Eastern Europe. The masses in these countries would have had enough experience to realise the bankruptcy of capitalism. The CPs would enter into crises and the pro-bourgeois elements would be rapidly discredited and vomited out. The objective conditions would be created for the creation of mass revolutionary currents in the workers' organisations, particularly if nuclei had been formed beforehand.
One factor which weighs heavily in the present situation is the fact that the masses fear civil war, with all the chaos and privations that would mean. This was undoubtedly one of the things that swung sections of the voters behind Yeltsin in the elections. But events will reach the point where there is no alternative. A skilful Leninist leadership would know how to place all the responsibility for violence on the shoulders of the bourgeois thieves, looters and Mafia scum. Sooner or later, the fundamental questions will be settled by open struggle between the classes.
In the immediate future, we can expect further steps in the direction of capitalism in Russia. That is inevitable. But we must not fall into empiricism. The process is still not complete, even now. There are serious obstacles in the path of the nascent bourgeoisie. There will be many explosions in the coming period, which will put on the agenda the possibility of the revolutionary transformation of society.
Even a temporary victory of bourgeois Bonapartism in Russia would only be an episode in the general process of capitalist decline. As we pointed out in an article in the Socialist Appeal, no. 43, July-August 1996:
"No society can live permanently in a state of chaos. If the working class of Russia does not move decisively to transform society, the stage will inevitably be set for some kind of Bonapartist solution. Given the present situation, even a regime of bourgeois Bonapartism can seem like an improvement. In the short term it can even get some results. How long it can succeed in stabilising itself would depend above all on developments on a world scale. Despite a temporary and relative improvement in the economy (it is not very hard to improve on the present situation!) this would still be a regime of decline—a fact which would soon register on the consciousness of the masses.
"A Bonapartist regime is corrupt and unstable by its very nature. The masses would soon compare the demagogic speeches 'against corruption' with the reality of a corrupt and degenerate clique of officers enriching themselves at the expense of the nation. Whatever popularity they might have had in the beginning would turn into hatred and contempt. When this stage is reached, the regime would be doomed. Trotsky explained that the army and police are not sufficient to keep the masses down in a modern industrial society, such as Russia now is.
"Only the temporary inertia of the masses would allow them to stay in power for a time. Even then, they would be at the mercy of the capitalist world economy. A slump in world capitalism, which is likely in the next few years, would completely undermine the attempt to consolidate a capitalist regime in Russia. Just as the 1929 slump led to the collapse of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in Spain, the road would be open to revolutionary developments. The illusions in capitalism would be utterly destroyed, and the stage would be set for a new October, but on a qualitatively higher level."
Marxists and the Communist Party
The way in which the CPRF has recovered and acquired a mass base is one of the most extraordinary features in the present situation. There is a genuine membership, mainly working class in character. This represents a big change from the previous situation when the CPSU was little more than an extension of the totalitarian bureaucracy of the state, an organisation full of careerists and bureaucrats. Once the link with the state was broken, the CP lost its previous character as an extension of the bureaucracy, and has come more under the direct pressure of the class.
It is theoretically possible that Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin want to split the CP by drawing Zyuganov into their thieves' kitchen of corruption. At times, Zyuganov's conduct suggests that he would not be adverse to reaching a deal. But the rank and file of the CP will have an entirely different opinion. In its upper layers there is a section which would be quite willing to reach a deal with the nascent bourgeoisie, in exchange for a few concessions. This faction must be well represented in the Duma group of the Party, which Chernomyrdin is attempting to split.
Within the CPRF there are different tendencies, among whom is a section which is trying to find the road back to genuine Leninism. Between the two extremes, there is a wide spectrum of interests and tendencies which oscillate between them. The unbearable contradictions in Russian society must find their reflection inside the CPRF, with a struggle between right and left. In the course of this, the traditions of genuine Leninism will act as an important point of reference.
The new generation of Communists will rediscover the ideas of Trotsky and the Left Opposition. At a certain stage a mass leftwing opposition will emerge, capable of challenging the reformists and neo-Stalinists. Depending on the balance of forces, they might gain the majority, or else the apparatus may decide to split the Party. If the Leninist wing fails to gain a mass base, the result will be disastrous for Russia and communism. The policies of the opportunist wing can only prepare defeat after defeat. But we confidently expect that the left will be victorious. And its victory will be greatly assisted if the rising generation of cadres are armed with the ideas developed in the West over the past 50 years by our Trotskyist tendency. The fusion of both trends will provide an invincible combination.
The attempts of the different currents in the labour movement to make sense of the situation in the USSR make a sorry spectacle. The rightwing reformists tried to use the crimes of Stalinist totalitarianism as an excuse for abandoning all pretence of a socialist policy. Most of the rightwing labour leaders had an openly counter-revolutionary attitude in relation to Russian Stalinism. That was merely the logical extension of the fact that the right reformists always loyally defend the interests of the bankers and monopolies, at home and abroad (although some of them at times also flirted with the Moscow bureaucracy).
The left reformists, also as usual, were utterly muddled. On the one hand, they talked about "socialism" in Russia, Hungary and so on—which was an absolute scandal—yet in the next breath they talked about totalitarianism, thus mixing everything up. By confusing Stalinism with socialism, they did a colossal disservice to socialism. The Communist Party leaders talked about "socialism" and "democracy", then, when some crisis broke over their heads, they would tut-tut about it, and mumble incoherently about "unfortunate mistakes". But with the collapse of the USSR, and the spectacle of all the former leaders of "real socialism" in Hungary, Poland and to a great extent even Russia falling over themselves to become capitalists, they have nothing at all to say. The ultra-left sects on the fringes of the labour movement, also as usual, combine all imaginable mistakes, and a few unimaginable ones as well.
The worst role was played by the leaders of the Communist Parties and their backers. The Stalinist wing of the labour movement for decades deliberately concealed the real situation in Russia, hiding behind mendacious phrases about the alleged "building of socialism". These same people reprinted without comment many of the crimes of the bureaucracy revealed in the Soviet press. For decades, they lied to and deceived the rank and file of their parties, among whom were a large number of the most militant and courageous class fighters whose understandable loyalty to the October Revolution and the USSR was shamelessly abused. Now these leaders—those of them who still remain—are silent about their own role.
The questions and protests of the rank and file remain unanswered. In fact, they have no answer. Having abandoned Marxism and Leninism decades ago, they have now also abandoned Stalinism, the crimes of which they defended enthusiastically, but only to go over to reformism and Social Democracy. In many cases, they have even ditched the name of communism altogether, arguing that it has been discredited. In reality, it is not communism that is discredited, but only a monstrous caricature called Stalinism. And it is these very leaders who are responsible for this blackening of the spotless banner of October. This is a crime which can be neither forgotten nor forgiven.
The once mighty Third (Communist) International was dissolved by Stalin in 1943 as a gesture to the imperialists. Gorbachov even suggested that there should be joint celebrations between the Soviet "Communist" Party and the West German Social Democrats to celebrate the anniversary of the Second International! This meant that the Russian bureaucracy considered that there were no longer any differences between them and the reformist parties of the West. Evidently for them, everything that Lenin had ever spoken and written was all nonsense, and the entire history of the Communist movement since 1914 was all the result of a slight misunderstanding! This is where decades of Stalinist miseducation has ended up. Since the collapse of Stalinism, which threw the "Communist" Parties internationally into crisis, most of them have formally made the open transition to reformism by eliminating communism from their names and aims. But this was only to recognise what had happened long ago. In this sense, they have become reformist parties little different from the reformist parties of the Second International. They are what Lenin called social-patriotic parties. Many of their leaders have degenerated completely and have no intention of moving in the direction of the socialist revolution—although the majority of the party rank and file has a different attitude altogether.
It is really an astonishing fact that the publications of the Communist Parties, even at the present time, still persist in describing the former Stalinist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe as "socialism" or "real socialism". In other words, they have learnt absolutely nothing about the real character of these regimes. Displaying the most incredible confusion, they talk about the need for "more democracy"—as if it were possible to mix democracy with totalitarianism! This kind of statement shows that they do not have the slightest inkling of the nature of the problem. They have not grasped the elementary fact that the totalitarian regimes in these states were a necessary adjunct of the rule of a privileged bureaucratic caste, and were absolutely necessary to preserve this rule.
We reproduce here some statements taken at random from recent statements made at Congresses and Central Committees of different Communist Parties (my emphasis throughout):
Indian Communist Party:
"The reverses suffered by socialism in the Soviet Union and earlier in Eastern Europe have altered the world balance of forces in favour of imperialism for the present. The process of restoration of capitalism in the countries of Eastern Europe, the course of dismantling socialism in the Soviet Union and the break up of the USSR in its old form are accompanied by a new imperialist offensive. This has grave repercussions for the socialist countries and the Communist movement..." (Statement issued by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), January 1992. From Documents of the 14th Congress of the CPI(M), Madras, 3-9 January 1992.)
French Communist Party:
"Although the imperialist forces are using the upheavals in the USSR and other socialist countries in Europe to their profit, attempting to reinforce the political and military domination over the rest of the world... The Communist Party of France has expressed its fundamental divergence from the conception of socialism that prevailed in the USSR, and drawn lessons for itself from this unhappy experience, the crisis and the reversals that have taken place." (Statement issued by the French CC, January 1992.)
Sri Lanka Communist Party:
"It is particularly so in view of the major set-back suffered by socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The world balance of forces has changed in favour of imperialism. These developments have adverse effects on the other socialist countries and for the forces of peace and democracy, particularly in the third world countries." (CC statement, January 1992.)
Portuguese Communist Party:
"In the new international situation marked by the dismantling of the USSR, following the collapse of the socialist states of central and Eastern Europe, new difficulties will be put to the Communists and other revolutionaries in their struggle for social progress and socialism." (CC of the Portuguese Communist Party, January 1992, my emphasis throughout.)
This is the punishment for decades of opportunism. The leaders are powerless to explain the collapse of Stalinism to their members. To this day, we await an explanation from these people of what happened in Russia and why it happened. For decades, they praised the Soviet Union to the skies and indignantly denied the crimes of Stalinism. Now they pass this over in silence. But the membership wants to know the truth. Some of them at least make a show of trying to explain things.
Thus, the late Joe Slovo, who was the general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP) until his death, wrote:
"The commandist and bureaucratic approaches which took root during Stalin's time affected Communist Parties throughout the world, including our own. We cannot disclaim our share of the responsibility for the spread of the personality cult and a mechanical embrace of Soviet domestic and foreign policies, some of which discredited the cause of socialism." (Joe Slovo, Has Socialism Failed?, p. 24 (1990), emphasis in original.)
Simply a 'misunderstanding'?
Joe Slovo's pamphlet was written in response to "the dramatic collapse of most of the Communist Party governments of Eastern Europe" in 1989. Their downfall, he admits, "was brought about through massive upsurges which had the support not only of the majority of the working class but also a large part of the membership of the ruling parties themselves. These were popular revolts against unpopular regimes; if socialists are unable to come to terms with this reality, the future of socialism is indeed bleak." (Ibid., p. 1.) On this point at least we can agree with comrade Slovo. But the question is: how was it possible that after decades of this "socialism" the majority of the working class found itself involved in popular revolts (Joe Slovo's own words) against the regime? Something was clearly badly wrong. But what?
He says that "commandist approaches took root during Stalin's time", but where did these "approaches" come from? What did they reflect? What class interests did they represent? To these questions, no answer is forthcoming. Nor is any reason given as to why the terrible phenomenon which mysteriously appeared "during Stalin's time" should have continued to exist for decades after Stalin's death, and reached the point where they led to "popular revolts" supported by the majority of the working class. Such developments cannot be ascribed to insignificant little deviations ("spots on the sun" as someone once put it) but must be the product of profound and irreconcilable differences of interests between different social groups. What groups? Again, no answer is given.
Slovo states that "the fundamental distortions which exist in the practice of existing socialism cannot be traced to the essential tenets of Marxist revolutionary science. If we are looking for culprits, we must look at ourselves and not at the founders of Marxism". Nevertheless, throughout the pamphlet he persists in describing these regimes as "socialist".
These lines are an improvement on the position held by the leadership of the SACP for decades which, in common with the other Communist Parties internationally, was one of uncritical support for the Russian bureaucracy. For example, let us recall the report of Yusuf Dadoo (national chairman) and Moses Mabhida (general secretary) of the SACP on their visit to the 26th Congress of the CPSU as recently as 1981:
"The Congress hall was filled with delegates who had, by their honest labour and toil for the common good, richly deserved the highest honours and distinctions which the CPSU and Soviet government could bestow on them. These delegates were no arm-chair theoreticians. They were the life and blood of the heroic Soviet people...
"Here were the heirs of the great Bolsheviks, no less fervent in their commitment to create a better life, not only for their own people, but for all humanity. There is no other party which has produced such selfless, devoted and disciplined Communists, such tenacious fighters for peace, freedom and socialism." (African Communist, 3rd Quarter, 1981, p. 48, my emphasis.)
As we have seen, at this time the bureaucracy had ceased to play a progressive role. The economy was in trouble. The corruption of the bureaucracy was common knowledge. Yet these fraternal delegates saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing. Yet, as Joe Slovo tells us, the conditions were already being laid for a massive social crisis—including popular revolts!
From time to time, the Communist Party leaders criticise the "bureaucracy" of the former Russian and East European regimes, but this very criticism shows that they do not know what bureaucracy is. They confuse it with mere red tape—i.e. the most superficial and trivial manifestations of bureaucracy, and thus draw attention away from the essence of the matter—a monstrous ruling caste of privileged functionaries, engaged in looting the state and lording it over the working class. Such a ruling caste needs an oppressive totalitarian regime, with secret police and the complete denial of workers' rights, and can exist on no other basis.
"In some cases," writes Slovo, "the deformations experienced by existing socialist states were the result of bureaucratic distortions which were rationalised at the ideological level by a mechanical and out-of-context invocation of Marxist dogma... In other cases they were the results of a genuinely-motivated but tragic misapplication of socialist theory in new realities which were not foreseen by the founders of Marxism." (Slovo, op. cit., p. 11, my emphasis.)
So that's it! It was all a tragic mistake, the result of a little misunderstanding by sincere but misguided people. It is no accident that none of these parties has proposed going back to Lenin. That same Lenin who worked out the famous four points which are the prior conditions, not for communism or socialism, but for the initial stages of workers' power—that is, for a healthy workers' state at its very inception. Nor have they understood the causal relationship between the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the theory of socialism in one country, which they still accept. They still have not understood that this idea was an expression of the interests of the bureaucracy, not the working class.
Having abandoned Marxism, and also having lost their previous point of reference in the so-called "real socialism" of the bureaucratic regimes in the East, they continue to attempt to portray the regimes in China, Cuba and Vietnam as genuine socialism. They do not see that here also essentially the same conditions pertain, and they will end up with the same consequences. Of course, it is necessary to support Cuba against the impositions of US imperialism. No serious person can doubt the great advances made by the Cuban people thanks to the abolition of landlordism and capitalism, as was also the case in Russia. But Cuba is no more "real socialism" than Russia in the past, although the Castro regime undoubtedly retains the support of wide layers of the masses. A genuine regime of workers' democracy in Cuba would necessitate the running of society by democratically elected soviets. This would be resisted by might and main by the Cuban bureaucracy, which is essentially no different to its Russian equivalent.
The false position of the official Communist Party leaders in relation to Stalinism is only the other side of the coin of their abandonment of Marxism and their attitude to capitalism and the bourgeois state, and all that flows from it. One thing flows from the other. Having in the past accepted uncritically all the crimes of the Stalinist regime, with the collapse of Stalinism, they have abandoned the revolutionary road altogether. This is the case of the majority of the old leaders, at least. However, the matter does not end there.
The collapse of Stalinism has sent new shock waves through the ranks of the Communist Parties, causing a ferment of discontent, questioning and discussion. Not only the workers and the youth, but even the most thoughtful elements in the leadership are searching for an explanation and an alternative to the old discredited ideas and methods. They understand the impossibility of defending the Stalinist past, but do not want to abandon communism. They are honestly seeking the road to revolutionary Marxism. Many of them can find the way and play a decisive role, but only once they have firmly discarded the baggage of Stalinism and returned to the ideas of genuine Bolshevism, as summed up in the writings of Lenin and Trotsky.
After decades of opportunist politics, and with the enormous pressures of capitalism in the long postwar upswing, the process of nationalist and reformist degeneration of the Communist Parties was completed. They became just like any other reformist organisation. Breaking from Moscow, they felt increasingly under the pressure of their own capitalist class and bourgeois public opinion. This is the real meaning of so-called Eurocommunism. With the fall of Stalinism after 1989, this process has been further intensified. In Belgium, Britain and Norway, the Communist Party has virtually collapsed as a result. In Britain the former Communist Party "theoretician" Eric Hobsbawm has completely capitulated to capitalism and stands to the right of the Labour lefts. The ideological bankruptcy of the CP was summed up by Chris Myant, international secretary of the CPGB, who stated that the October Revolution was "a mistake of historic proportions." The British Communist Party has ended up in a complete fiasco, split into four tiny groups. The Spanish Communist Party, which could have taken power in 1976-77, is a shadow of its former self.
This has taken place on the eve of a new deep crisis of capitalism on a world scale, which may provoke even more convulsions in the Communist Parties. The best elements will find the way back to the real traditions and ideas of October. But in the Communist International and the Communist Parties, nothing remains of the old revolutionary ideas and perspectives. A fresh new banner is required. The banner of revolutionary Marxism. This will take as a starting point the fundamental ideas of the first four Congresses of the Communist International, developed by Leon Trotsky and the Marxist tendency over the last 70 years. Only thus will communism be regenerated. The prior condition for this is to draw a serious balance sheet of the experience of reformist policies carried out by both the Communist Parties and the Socialist Parties over decades.