From Letters, Socialist Worker, No.2049, 5 May 2007.
Downloaded with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The recent death of Boris Yeltsin, the former president of Russia, has prompted a lot of media bullshit about how he practically single-handedly created a democratic Russia out the ruins of the Soviet Union.
But it was ordinary Russians, who resisted the authorities from the moment the Soviet Union first began to wobble.
In the spring of 1991, a miners’ strike was at the heart of an anti-Soviet mass movement. Yeltsin, shortly to be elected the first president of Russia, was widely identified with it. It was at this moment that the Russian ruling class chose him, abandoning Mikhail Gorbachev, the reforming Soviet leader, who hurriedly did a deal with Yeltsin.
The deal involved Yeltsin using his authority to end the strikes, introduce a harsh work regime and declare unauthorised action against the authorities “intolerable”.
Yeltsin went on to preside over marketisation and privatisation measures which destroyed 50 percent of the Russian economy. This took much of the steam out of the strike movement. Nevertheless, strikes and even hunger strikes for months of unpaid back wages continued.
A movement against the first Chechen war, which Yeltsin began at the end of 1994, forced him to make peace in 1996 or risk losing the forthcoming presidential election.
In 1998 a “railway war”, in which miners blocked train tracks, brought the movement of goods in Russia to a halt. An ailing Yeltsin approved panic concessions, though these were nullified by the rouble crash a few months later. He also started former spy Vladimir Putin on his road to the Kremlin.
The Russian ruling class was so frightened that it was prepared to offer the KGB a partial restoration to power for the first time in over a decade. Years later, Yeltsin himself was unable to refer to the “railway war” without a shudder.
Even under Putin, pensioners and workers in booming industries have successfully fought for their share of rising profits.
Last updated: 29.3.2008