Stalinism: It's Origin and Future. Andy Blunden 1993
In February 1990, Boris Kagarlitsky commented on the state of the left in the USSR: ‘After the Communist Party, the rest is wilderness’.
As was observed in an earlier section, the Bolshevik opposition in the Soviet Union had been virtually extinct since the 1950s. For a number of historical reasons - the nature of the Stalinist repression, the history of the Russian working class and the social position of the Russian intelligentsia - the bond between the socialist intelligentsia and the Russian workers forged in the 1890s, and broken by Stalin in the 1920s, was never re-forged.
After the rise of Gorbachev, the opposition movement grew rapidly. According to a Soviet book which appeared in 1990, the number of samizdat periodicals grew exponentially from 10 in July 1986 to 323 in July 1989. During the same period a plethora of youth cults sprouted and industrial activity among the workers began to grow.
In an interview for International Viewpoint in 1990, Mikhail Malyutin, who was in the Democratic Platform in the CPSU and was member of a preparatory committee for a Socialist Party gave a picture of the emerging Soviet left:
Our groups began to work on a legal basis in 1987. The first name for the Soviet left groups was the Federation of Socialist Clubs. These were small groups, one of the main ones being the Confederation of Anarcho-syndicalists. It had 30 to 40 members in Moscow and some 300-400 throughout the Soviet Union. As a result of its last congress on March 25, another group called the Socialist Initiative - led by Boris Kagarlitsky, Vitaly Ponomarov, Yefim Ostrovsky and myself - turned itself into the Moscow Committee of New Socialists. It is also not a big organisation - 40 members in Moscow.
There are some other organisations who support our struggle for a new Socialist Party. There is the left wing of the Komsomol in Moscow and elsewhere, who are called the Federation of Socialist Youth. Some provincial committees of the Komsomol stand on this position. Another group is the left wing of the Independent Trade Union, Sotsprof. One of its leaders, Lev Volovik, is a member of the preparatory committee of the new Socialist Party. There are Sotsprof workers groups with a socialist position in Kuzbass, Vorkutsk, Donbass, Narva and Moscow. Also involved are some members of the Democratic Platform in the CPSU as well as left populists in Moscow, Irkutsk, Kazan, Kyubyshev and so on.
There are many different organisations which describe themselves as social democrats. The most serious of them is led by Oleg Rumantsyev and Leonid Volkov who are now members of the Russian Parliament. It is a party of young intellectuals who want an electoral rather than a mass party. They call themselves a party of the middle-class.
The Soviet mass media do not like the Soviet left. ... there is a real blockade of information about our organisation.
The Clubs do not exist now. They existed in 1987-88. Now the members of the Clubs are in the Popular Fronts, or are members of local government at different levels. Now we have three deputies in the Moscow Soviet: Boris Kagarlitsky, Vladimir Kondratiev and Sergei Baranov. We have one deputy in the Russian Parliament, Vladimir Makhanov, one of the leaders of the miners from Prokopevsk.
When Boris Kagarlitsky, Pavel Kudukhin and Andrei Fadin began organising ten years ago they were arrested. That was in 1982. But when perestroika began they were released. Thus we have only been able to conduct legal political activity for four years. At the start it was small groups of left-wing intellectuals in Moscow, Leningrad and other towns. After 1988 things became more serious. The Popular Fronts were founded throughout the Soviet Union - also by young intellectuals. Only after the miners’ strike of 1989 did we establish a real party.
Their magazine, Left Turn, was published in 300-500 copies with between 100 and 200 pages. About 20 numbers had appeared by then. They also got articles printed by the strike committees.
We did not have contact with the miners before the strike. At first the miners did not know why they were going on strike. But we were the only organisation that supported them and tried to link up the different regions. The Democratic Union and Pamyat did not want anything to do with the strikes.
The ideas that unite the Socialist Party are self-government and self-management. Self-management for the workers, self-government in the municipalities and so on. The anarchists are for pure self-management, but we believe that the new government would have a serious role during the transitional period, within the framework of state property.
Our ideas draw on several sources. One is revolutionary Marxism, the Fourth International, another is the New Left current, another is ecological socialism, and a fourth is left Social Democracy. We are also very much influenced by the experiences of Polish Solidarity. We think that in some respects the movement in Russia will take a similar form.
In Beyond Perestroika, Ernest Mandel sketched the broader spectrum of Soviet politics after the legalisation of political parties at the start of 1991 thus:
The press has reported the creation of a dozen or more political parties or quasi-parties, at least two of which have not broken their links with the CPSU. A figure of 2,500 to 3,000 independent social organisations, encompassing 2.5 million members, has also been mentioned. .. The new political parties or quasi-parties range right across the spectrum. A Social Democratic Party founded in May 1990 at a congress attended by 240 delegates claiming to represent 74 branches, is generally far to the right of the old Mensheviks, and has itself split between a right wing that rejects any reference to ‘democratic socialism’ and a left wing closer to Swedish or German social democracy. ... Other formations include the Pamyat-type fascists of the Popular Republican Party of Russia; the Christian Democrats, including some tendencies who favour a restoration of the monarchy; Constitutional Democrats claiming the heritage of the Milyukov Kadets; a Liberal Democratic Party already linked to the German FDP; the Democratic Party of Russia, a right-wing splinter of the Democratic Platform; the Green Party; that part of the Democratic Platform which split from the CPSU at the end of the 28th Congress; the Marxist Platform of the CPSU; the new Socialist Party; the Marxist Workers Party (Dictatorship of the Proletariat); and various anarchist or ‘libertarian communist’ groups.
The left groupings are not limited to the Moscow intelligentsia. Rabochii, mentioned above, emerged from a series of small socialist study groups that surfaced in the industrial areas of the Urals during the 1980s. Alongside the socialist intelligentsia, there is a growing number of worker-politicians who have been radicalised by the events of the past few years. A myriad of small groups and semi-parties are appearing and disappearing and many of them are closely connected with the trade unions.
The main source of left currents in Russia today is the former CPSU which had 19 million members at its terminal Congress in 1990. Every political current, left or right, is populated by former members of this party. It is not useful to categorise political people in Russia by whether or not they are former members of the Communist Party.
However, some political currents carry forward Stalinism as a political current. The great majority of all political currents in Russia in one way or another reflect the legacy of Stalinism, but this is not the same thing.
Other sources of political creed are the political currents of the West, both the mainstream apparatuses and the ‘fringe’ political currents, national movements originating among the 100 nations of the USSR and political currents that hark back to pre-revolutionary days.
On the left, the most significant currents are Brezhnevite Stalinism, strands of Stalinism struggling to re-discover revolutionary-democratic socialism, Marxist trends independent of Stalinism and anarcho-syndicalism. The Greens and the women’s movement are important as well but still very small.
The Green Party originated from a minority of radical delegates who attended the Congress of the Social-Ecological Union in December 1988. These radicals proposed a stop to the building of nuclear power stations, which was rejected by the Congress. Delegates from Kuybyshev, Kazan, the Ukraine and other places united to form the Green Union, and organising committee for the Green Party.
Once Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost opened up discussion within the CPSU, there was a rapid differentiation into factions, which would later split and recombine in the formation of a new range of political parties. The section of the CPSU leadership which moved towards the traditions of its founders called themselves the Marxist Platform. The most prominent spokesperson for this trend is Alexander Buzhgalin.
Buzhgalin is an economics professor and was elected to the CPSU Central Committee at the Congress in July 1990: In his address to the Congress he said:
a multi-party system, pluralism, democratisation? Without any doubt - yes. But if it will be only this, then professional politicians will be in power ... It is necessary to give real power to every working person. How is that possible? There is a way, and we have known it for a long time. The power of the soviets, when they get real economic authority, when questions concerning housing, health, education and culture re under the control and responsibility of the soviets; when the people and not the apparatus give everyone the feeling that they can go to the soviet - and the soviet decides how he will live, where he will live and what rent he will pay. To prevent people being alienated from the soviets it is necessary for them to be founded in the masses, on the self-management organs in the local areas, on the soviets of workers’ collectives, on the consumers; clubs and the ecological movement.
In an interview with International Viewpoint in December 1990, Buzgalin explained:
I am in a minority of one on all questions. Obviously I have become well known because of this. ... But on the other hand, I am responsible for all the decisions of the CC, most of them I don’t agree with. I am not sure how to resolve this. Furthermore, it is difficult to be a member of an organisation that bears the responsibility for the Stalinist repressions and the present crisis. I am rather hoping to be thrown out, which would resolve the problem. I have not accepted any of the privileges of that body.
Buzhgalin and his small group from the Marxist Platform participated in a series of Popular Fronts which led, up to this point, to the Party of Labour.
The largest and still unfortunately the most well-organised and influential fragments of the CPSU are those referred to as traditionalist, i.e. in the tradition of Stalin, rather than that of Lenin. As elsewhere the shock of their fall from grace has shattered the Communist Party of Russian into a number of conflicting parties and groups, but as elsewhere they have proved able to operate effectively through ‘umbrella’ organisations. Including in their ranks large sections of the former ruling caste and enjoying the support of large sections of the population who have suffered abysmally under the shock therapy these parties form a formidable opposition, far outweighing the anti-Stalinist left.
Even today, the Stalinists are the main opposition party of the left. In the contemporary Russian context, left seems an eccentric label to apply to Stalinism. But then again, so does conservative, the term most commonly used by the Western media. However, the dynamics of Russian politics today can only make sense if we recognise that the Stalinist remain a tendency in the working class, nonetheless so now that they are in opposition, and despite the fact that they represent the interests of the former ruling caste.
Poul Funder Larsen reported in International Viewpoint on 25 May 1992:
‘Since the January price shock the only consistent opposition has come for the remnants of the former ruling Communist Party (CPSU), including a series of street meeting of traditionalist Communists in Moscow this year.
‘The latest one, on Mayday, drew a crowd of some 50,000. Among the Communist forces, the leading role has been played by the Russian Communist Workers Party (RKRP), a neo-Brezhnevite formation claiming 150,000 members but also involved have been more moderate groups such as Roy Medvedev’s Socialist Workers Party (SPT), the Russian Communist Party (RKP) and the Union of Communists, these last two both originating from the CPSU’s Marxist Platform.
‘Another group which has attracted much media attention is Trudovaya Rossiya [Working Russia], but despite its reliance on nostalgic slogans calling for the resurrection of the Soviet Union and chauvinist rhetoric which has drawn Russian nationalist leaders around the fringes of the movement, it has no substantial support beyond its own ranks.
‘Unfortunately this is also true of the far less numerous democratic socialist forces grouped around the Party of Labour project or the various anarchist and left socialist organisations. ...
The prevailing passivity among workers and the feeble stand taken by organisations, including the so-called independent ones, claiming to represent it, have increased the left’s isolation.
In the opinion of Vladimir Resnits:
Now the Communists have begun to revive ... When they convene demonstrations more and more people attend, which is in itself significant. But they don’t have much support among workers, usually it’s engineers, clerks, foremen and pensioners as well. ..’.
The CPSU has also spawned tendencies which belong unequivocally to the right, even while retaining greater or lesser elements of Stalinist dogma. These groups form part of what is known as the Red-brown alliance’, and will be considered later.
At the end of August 1991, a declaration was published calling for the launching of a Party of Labour. Signatories included Socialist Party leader Boris Kagarlitsky, Anarcho-syndicalist Andrei Isayev and leaders of the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions (MFP), including Niko Goncher, Chair of the Moscow City Council. The MFP originates from the ‘official’ union structure, and comprises 90% of the 16 million people who live in the Moscow region, and the participation of its leaders in the founding of a party together with the leaders of the best anti-Stalinist left groupings was a most significant development.
The founding Congress of the Party of Labour was held in Moscow on October 9/10 1992. About 70 people attended, and the party’s total membership is no more than 400.
‘In a Programmatic Declaration they stressed their opposition to Yeltsin’s neo-liberal reforms, called for a large state sector to be retained and modernised to serve as the locomotive required to haul the Russian economy out of depression, urged the development of organs of workers self-management quite incompatible with the command-administer system to which the Stalinist parties want to return, and refused to make cheap gains by adapting to Russian nationalism. The challenge before the Congress was to work out how to clarify their opposition to the Stalinist and nationalist positions and stressed the need for workers of the different nationalities to develop their economic and political collaboration’.
‘Although these positions are shared by scores of millions Russians, as a result of the traumas of Russian history, there are few political leader advocating these policies. Since the early 1980s when it became possible to organise, the democratic left has been represented by small and isolated political groups; by cells of workers militants within the heavily bureaucratised trade unions; by a largely still-born movement of labour collectives; and by still small environmental and women’s movements’.
‘A key task which the Party of Labour set itself is to provide a framework within which the political groups, at least, can combine their efforts’.
‘The new organisation contains veterans of the Socialist Party, formed in 1990 by left-wing opponents of Communist Party rule and of an anarcho-syndicalist current with roots in the student movement. Also present are people who worked within the Communist Party to recruit activists to the struggle for democratic socialism and workers’ control. There is also a socialist-populist element who look to the traditions of the Social-Revolutionaries of the first decades of the century. Finally, there are individuals whose positions could be described as left social democratic’.
‘Much of the work of party activists consists of building contacts with the environmental, women’s and above all labour movements, and of trying to defend the interests of these movements in the political sphere. ...
[The Party’s Program states]:
We reject the idea of a vanguard party. The Party of Labour must become a party of political support to the trade unions and the workers’ movement. Without trying to bind the mass workers’ organisations to its leading role, the party must help them to acquire their own voice in the organs of power, and to become the decisive force in our social development’.
In November 28-29 1992, a Congress of the Democratic Left brought together 1,200 delegates from all over Russia and most of the former Republics of the USSR as well as overseas visitors. The Left parties, Rutskoy’s nationalist Free Russia party, as well as leaders of the Russian unions and the Union of Work Collectives, the women’s and Green movements and many prominent figures from culture and science attended.
The process of the formation and dissolution of alliances has continued, as the new political landscape of Russia forms itself.
The SMOT (Free Inter-professional Workers Union)
In an interview with the German anarcho-syndicalist paper, Direkte Aktion, SMOT Paris representative Alesandr Chubayev said that SMOT consists of a jumble of left and right-wing groups, including monarchists. According to the SMOT information bulletin:
the SMOT is a trade union, not a political organisation. ... the Smolensk group has suggested we adopt a new clause stipulating that any newly elected SMOT member must immediately cancel his/her membership in any other party if he/she has one. We, the co-ordination centre, try to remain firmly and consistently apolitical.
The SMOT promotes the following demands:
We need to obtain the introduction of a clause in collective bargaining agreements, stipulating that salaries be automatically increased according to a salary scale which corresponds to the rise in the cost of living.
We need to organise real, free trade unions and to demand that the agreements be redrafted, considering the changes in the social and economic situation of the country.
Obshchina, is currently the newspaper of the KAS (Confederation of Anarcho-syndicalists). Obshchina comes out about every 2 or 3 months, and the KAS also broadcasts on Voice of America.. Oshchina summed up the recent history of anarchism in Russia as follows:
Anarchists in the Soviet Union are becoming more and more visible, not only because of the colour of their flags in demonstrations, but also because of one of their distinctive characteristics - confusion. This of course is the result of their complete separation from other anarchist movements in the rest of the world, thanks to the ‘iron curtain’, and of their enormous difficulties in keeping direct contact with the West. ...
Today, a variety of different anarchist groups are literally blossoming in the Soviet Union, organising strike pickets, concerts and demonstrations. However, shortly after they have been set up, new-born groups all too often begin to split up, change their name, etc. which makes new difficulties to understand what is happening ...
Until 1988 there were no openly active anarchist groups in the Soviet Union. 1989 was the year of many tragedies (for instance the Tbilisi bloodshed, the murder of Sotnikov, the leader of a strike picket in Rostov, the dismantling of many newspapers in the Republics, the compromising tactics of many strikers after the massive strikes of June. It was also the year when, at last, the first anarchist groups appeared: KAS groups, ASSA groups (Free Anarcho-syndicalist Association), AKRS groups (Anarcho-Communist Revolutionary Union). A few other small groups were also set up, but they did not openly declare themselves any anarchist program of their own, they often broke up and set themselves more ‘reasonable’ goals, such as legal reforms etc....
The KAS ... was founded by the editors of Obshchina, a magazine which was set up in 1987 as a leftist, independent Marxist paper, and gradually became anarchist. Issues 1 to 4 were published under ... the slogan ‘The people are not for socialism, Socialism is for the People’. ... Issues no. 18 came out as the newsletter of the Union of Independent Socialists under the slogan ‘Power to the People, not the Parties’. ... From issue no. 27 (February 1989) Obshchina was published as the KAS’s newsletter. ... Issues no. 43 (June 1990) and following have been printed in a State-owned printworks with an output of 30,000 copies.
I Podshivalov, a Siberian delegate to the November 1990 Congress of the KAS commented: ‘The KAS is an organisation, not a shambles!’ and called for restricted membership, to be open to activists only, not to ‘anarcho-hippy freaks’. This Congress voted to abolish the KAS’s Federal Council, since such a body was regarded as ‘unacceptable centralism’. Isayev, a leader of the KAS commented: ‘The KAS today is slowly taking in a steady inflow of workers. ... This inflow is becoming a reality. But the fact that the KAS, as a structure, is working less and less is a totally different question’.
The ASSA was set up in September 1988, now known as the ‘Association of Free Anarchist Sections’. It is centred mainly in St Petersburg, and is hostile to the KAS, which is centred mainly in Moscow. The ASSA joined with the Alliance of Anarchists in Kazan to form the ADA, Alliance of Anarchist Movements.
There are also anarchist groups in the Ukraine (Confederation of Ukrainian Anarchists, KAU), which has relations with the KAS and the Trans-Urals Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists. The AKRS set up the Union of Moscow Anarchists; there is also the Union of Young Radical Anarchists (AROM) which ‘gathers young anarchist-minded hippies and punks (Autonomists). Their actions are mainly direct and pacifistic. The Young Anarchists Front (AFM) formed after the break-up of the AROM, and concentrates on issues affecting young people, including conscription.
The Initiative of Revolutionary Anarchists (IREAN) ‘gathers former KAS members who left the organisation because of their disagreement with the market-economy, libertarian model of society supported by the KAS ... we place ourselves to the left of the religious Tolstoyist anarchists and the bio-cosmics’.
In the first issue of the Black Star, newspaper of the IREAN’s Dmitri Kosyenko declared:
The Initiative of Revolutionary Anarchists united people who want the full liberation of the human individual from any external dictate. Our final objective is a free communist society, a federation of self-managed communities which constitute the foundation for mutual agreement, aid and understanding.
In order to achieve this goal it is indispensable to transfer all resources to collective ownership, to eliminate private property, and to dismantle the State together with its institutions. Only if the masses organise themselves in labour, alongside with the State and the already existing society of exploitation, and only if they fight against these institutions, can the liberation of man be accomplished.
We declare as our fundamental principles the abolition of the Sate, anti-capitalism, anti-militarism and internationalism. We reject the idea of a centrally planned economy (State monopoly) with its bureaucratic State management, but we are also against market economy, against private property and private capitalism. Everything must belong to everybody. All forms of hired labour must disappear. We are also against frontiers and nationalism.
We accept as means to achieve our goals self-organisation and direct action: self-management of the people, workers taking over factories, boycotts and sabotage and strikes, including an active, general strike which would paralyse and destroy the State and all forms of ownership.
The role of IREAN is not to assume leadership, but to help the people to organise themselves, and to achieve the revolutionary spirit within them.
The role of IREAN rejects all centralised organisations, and it does not aspire to become the leader of the libertarian movement in this country. We call upon all anarchists to help set up a Federation of Revolutionary Anarchists. At the same time, we shall struggle for uniting all the leftist revolutionary forces who reject both the State and the private-capitalist model of society, and who support the alternative model of self-organisation. Without anarchy, there can be no freedom!
In short, like the rest of the ex-Soviet left, the anarchists are very active in protests but extremely fragmented and disorganised. They are most significant in the unofficial union movement, distaining to participate in the struggle to renovate the official unions. In general they have no positions of leadership in the mass movement.
All the left currents active in the West have sent missions into the former USSR with the aim of establishing branches among the Russian workers. Most report startling successes but it would appear that none have been any more successful in the East than they have been in the West. The following report in a letter from a Russian anarchist sheds an interesting light on their efforts however:
These Leiba Davidovich [Trotsky] fans are more active here than all the other western parties, groups and trade unions. They come here all the time, taking turns, especially the English, and also a Spanish group. They are all at daggers drawn with each other. Here they publish two Trotskyist newsletters in Russian (plus one from the German Trotskyist group The Spartakists, but that one doesn’t really count since it sounds exactly like old Makhno’s Communists), and they are officially sent from Germany and then spread over here ...Coming back to the Trotskyists themselves, I can tell you that given the political farce which is taking place today in this country, the chances are that they will be able to develop inside the workers’ movement here. They only need to slightly re-arrange their vocabulary, and they could become one of the leading political forces. Already now one should not treat them too off-handedly. They are not ridiculous at all here, they represent one of the most serious attempts to wedge Western activists into the Soviet opposition and to thereby influence it. It isn’t their fault if their ideas do not yet gather sufficient support in this country ...
Barbara Einhorn points out in Cinderella Goes to Market that the situation of the women’s movement in Russia and in Eastern Europe after the collapse of Stalinism is very similar to the state of the trade union movement.
In the past was the monolithic official women’s movement, allegedly independent but in fact a semi-official, bureaucratic, centralised and top heavy mass organisation which acted as the state’s agent on issues of women’s ‘emancipation’. In the present are a plethora of tiny, fragmented and disparate, often single-issue and almost always explicitly non-feminist groups, existing alongside the purportedly reformed and democratically intentioned old women’s unions and councils. What happened in between? Why did the democratically created space for the articulation of political alternatives, so sorely missed by those few women’s groups that did exist in some form before 1989, not result in the emergence of a mass grassroots women’s movement akin to those in Western Europe? And why does one encounter such an antipathy to feminism? 
Barbara Einhorn points to two reasons why the new women’s groups are reluctant to embrace feminism. Those groups which had formed in the period before 1989 shared strong feelings of solidarity with the other opposition groups all fighting against the suffocating repression of the Stalinist apparatus and could not conceive of seeing themselves a having separate and antagonistic interests from men.
On the other hand, those groups which had arisen after 1989 felt, in the words of Jana Hradilkova of the Gender Studies Centre in Poland, that feminism smells like an ideology and people have had their fill of ideology here. The official Stalinist women’s movement has just as effectively poisoned the idea of a women’s movement as they poisoned the idea of a workers’ movement. Apart from the official reformed women’s organisations left over from the Stalinist period, the majority of other women’s groups pursue the interests of specific national or interest groups and all in one way or another emphasise and support the role of women as mothers.
It took some years and the proclamation of glasnost before feminist discourse and analysis again surfaces in the public domain. The March 1989 issue of Kommunist, the theoretical journal of the Communist Party , published an analysis of gender roles by three women researchers of the Academy of Sciences. This event was a landmark. The article supported the principles of autonomy and choice for women and argued for men’s active participation to lessen women’s overburdening. Child and family benefits should be available to either parent in order to facilitate such sharing of parental responsibilities.
In the same year, Natalia Zakharova, Anastasia Posadskaya and Natalia Rimachevskaya, the authors of the Kommunist article, established the Centre for Gender Studies within the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Anastasia Posadskaya is the Centre’s current director. Following publication of the article, she and her co-authors were invited to submit a position paper for policy on women to the Congress of People’s Deputies, and subsequently granted advisory status to the Committee for Protection of Maternity, Childhood and the Family. Members of the Centre have been instrumental in the formation of autonomous women’s organisations such as LOTOS, the Independent Women’s Democratic Initiative (NEZHDI - the acronym meaning Do Not Wait!) and the First Independent Women’s Forum. Other feminist groups also came into existence in 1989-90. In Moscow, Natasha Filippova was involved in facilitating a network of small groups called SAFO. In Leningrad, Olga Lipovskaya was publishing Women’s Reading, a samizdat journal circulated in an edition of thirty typed copies.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Women’s Committee, renamed as the more neutral Union of Women, ‘is clearly changing ... but women in independent groups criticise it as a conservative organisation, as a product of the communist past, and as attempting to maintain its monolithic grip over fresh women’s groups’. Anastasia Posadskaya stressed as early as September 1990 that ‘they are not elected by anybody ... they should acknowledge that they represent only themselves, not all Soviet women’.
The First Independent Women’s Forum, entitled: ‘Democracy Without Women is No Democracy’ was held in Dubna near Moscow from 28-31 March 1991. It provided the first opportunity for autonomous women’s groups to get together. About 200 women came, from 25 cities. The final document challenged the patriarchal structure of society and acknowledged the existence of discrimination on grounds of sex in the former Soviet Union. It attacked ‘the myth of women’s natural functions, that women have a purely biological, predestined role’. The accusation levelled at women ‘of being to blame for many social problems, such as the increase in the divorce rate, juvenile delinquency, prostitution’ was energetically opposed. The report pilloried ‘the practice of representing women purely as sex objects’. Political representation should be proportional ‘without gender bias’. Disproportionately high female unemployment should be countered by training courses for women entrepreneurs as well as other re-employment possibilities. And the family should treat all its members as ‘individuals with equal rights’. The Forum established a Women’s Information Network. ‘From Problems to Strategy’ was the title of the Second Women’s Forum held in Dubna from 27-29 November 1992.
Women-only political parties formed in the republics of the former Soviet Union ranged across a wide spectrum, from the United Women’s Party of Leningrad, which aims to ‘unite of grains of female intellect’ in one powerful political party, to the Party of Women of Sovereign Russia, founded in Tomsk in Siberia, which is wary of male-dominated political organisations and proposes to create an autonomous feminist movement. The Christian Democratic League of Women of Moldova argues that ‘society would benefit from greater recognition of differences between men and women’, while the self-help group, Women for Social Renewal, officially registered in September 1989, is an entrepreneurial group.
In her account of new women’s organisations, Olga Lipovskaya also mentions new women’s magazines, which ‘are still searching for their identity, confusing patriarchal material with more or less emancipated ideas. The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers was initially formed in Moscow and Leningrad in 1989 by mothers of Afghanistan veterans; it has now become prominent in protesting against the maltreatment of soldiers doing their military service.
According to Olga Lipovskaya, there are also powerful anti-feminist or conservative organisations such as Caritas in Lithuania which is pro-life and pro-family, or Russia (Rossiya) in Moscow which is part of a nationalistic movement called the Movement for the Spiritual Rebirth of Russia. The programme of the latter states that ‘a women is first of all a mother and a wife and she is responsible for the spiritual education of children and men’. Her femininity is enlisted in the cause of ‘restoration of the Russian Home’, which means some kind of traditional community’. Lipovskaya opposes such views, and in a 1991 interview she expressed disappointment with the new democratic political organisations which have emerged over the past few years: ‘I don’t know one with women’s issues in its platform’. She felt there was ‘no civil society, no concept of individual rights, no political culture’. Feminism was hampered on the one hand by press reports accusing women of all the system’s faults and of having lost their femininity, and on the other by the fact that ‘our level of understanding is so low, women don’t see the discrimination against them’.
There are also organisations defending the interests of particular groups such as Only Mothers which has plans for charity shops to improve the plight of poverty-stricken lone mothers. However, ‘Moscow mothers aren’t flocking to join’ this group. As Elena Prokoryeva, a lone parent, says: ‘You need time to organise that kind of cooperation. After working, queuing, cooking and cleaning, women just don’t have the energy’.
The striking symmetry between the effect of Stalinism on the women’s emancipation struggle and on the workers’ struggle is worth reflecting upon.
The parallelism spans from the close connection between the socialist women’s movement and social-democracy pre-1917, to the gains of the women’s movement based upon the Russian Revolution, the betrayal of women by Stalin in its zig-zags between the mid-1920s and the 1950s and then the policies of Stalin’s successors, the dissident movement and the small isolated radical groups which exist alongside the conservative mass organisations left in the aftermath of Stalinism.
In his autobiography, Yeltsin describes life in the 1970s as First Secretary of the Party in Sverdlovsk:
‘In those days a provincial first secretary was a God, a Czar, and on virtually every issue his opinion was decisive. ... The sense of power is intoxicating. But when you try to use it for the public good, it turns out that even that power is insufficient. It cannot ensure that everyone in the province is decently fed and housed, although it is sufficient to enable first secretary to use it corruptly, to fix someone up with a good job or a nice flat’ .
But at this stage Yeltsin could be described as an efficient public servant, who occasionally objected to injustices, but was in no way an oppositionist.
Yeltsin and Gorbachev knew each other at this time. Gorbachev was first Secretary of the southern farming Region of Stavropol. When Gorbachev became Party leader in 1985, he appointed Yeltsin as Secretary of the Party Committee in Moscow. Yeltsin says that it was from this time that his views began to change.
Once Yeltsin set out to smash the system, he proved to have the decisive advantage over Gorbachev who was committed to ‘protecting the system’, in the tactical battles of 1989-91.
As Moscow party leader, Yeltsin drastically cut the Party’s apparatus, sacking large numbers of local government and Party officials. While making plenty of enemies in the bureaucracy, he was popular on the streets of Moscow. He lived a relatively austere personal life-style, using public transport, and publicly attacked the privileges of the government and party élite. As a supporter, albeit a more radical supporter, of Gorbachev’s policies for change, the Moscow party leader was appointed to the Politburo.
Coming increasingly into sharp conflict with his Communist Party colleagues, Yeltsin was sacked by Gorbachev as Moscow First Secretary in 1987 and dropped from the Politburo in October 1988. Gorbachev and his supporters and the ‘conservatives’ were united in their opposition to Yeltsin. But they could not prevent his come-back. Yeltsin won election to the Congress of People’s Deputies in 1989 by a landslide. In August 1989, he formed the Inter-Regional Group in the Congress of Deputies, with the intellectuals Andrei Sakharov and Yuri Afanasyev, representatives of the Siberian and Ukrainian miners and junior army officers. He was elected President of the Russian Parliament in June 1990 and in June 1991 won the Russian Presidency with a popular mandate, defeating the candidate endorsed by the CP.
After his removal from the Politburo Yeltsin identified himself with the Opposition, and attacked the Party publicly and ruthlessly. The more Yeltsin was attacked by Gorbachev and the Party press, the more popular he became. Drunkenness and other ‘colourful’ episodes did him no harm, and he was never accused of corruption.
During his time on the Supreme Soviet he travelled extensively, gathering together his ‘advisers’, and paying little attention to the work of what was supposed to be the ruling body of the Union. Yeltsin encouraged members of the Democratic Platform to leave and form a new party, while he remained on the CPSU Central Committee, allegedly ‘to see if there was a chance of reforming it from within’.
When Yeltsin bid for President of the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies (Parliament), he raised for the first time the demand of sovereignty for Russia. This was like Britain demanding freedom from the British Empire. Russian independence meant the dissolution of the USSR. In this way, Great Russian chauvinism was mobilised for the destruction of the USSR.
Russia is three quarters of the land mass of the USSR, and just over half its population. Russia produces 90 per cent of the Union’s oil, 80 per cent of gas, 63 per cent of electricity. This energy was provided at low cost to the other republics. Russia produces 58 per cent of steel, employs 70 per cent of all scientists, and has almost three quarters of enterprises in the defence industry.
Under the system at the time however, most industry and trade was controlled centrally, and the Russian Republican government had control only of a minority of the economy, mainly light industries. Yeltsin launched a battle to wrest control of these enterprises, and thus of the Soviet economy, from the Centre.
As Russian President Yeltsin resigned the CPSU, proclaimed the sovereignty of the Russian Republic and withheld funds to the ‘Centre’. A Russian Constitution was established with direct elections for both President and Congress Deputies. The Deputies had to be nominated by residents or workers in their enterprise, and needed more than 50% of votes to get elected, even if they were the only candidate. A Constitutional Court was also established.
On the anniversary of this declaration, which he made a public holiday in Russia, he won the Russian Presidency in a general election. His running partner was Gen. Alexander Rutzkoy, a Party member belonging to the Communists for Democracy faction, closely linked with the Army and Civic Union, the lobby group representing the interests of enterprise managers
He won 60% of the vote, a clear majority, sweeping the board in Moscow and almost all the urban centres. This gave him a popular mandate independent of the Communist Party and an independent power base.
In July 1991, Yeltsin banned the Communist Party from organising in workplaces. He divided up the assets of the USSR with the other Republics, negotiated foreign trade independently of the Centre, and signed treaties with the Baltic States recognising each other as sovereign states.
In December 1991, in the immediate aftermath of the failed Moscow coup, the USSR was formally dissolved in favour of the 15 republics of the ‘Commonwealth of Independent States’. The only existence of the CIS was to be an Olympics team and the intercontinental nuclear missile arsenal. 
Gorbachev, now out of a job, commented:
‘The main work of my life is done. I have done all that I could, I think that in my place others would have given up long ago. But I managed to drag the idea of perestroika through, if not without mistakes... [the CIS] have begun carving up the country like a pie’. [The final session of the Congress of the USSR was inquorate. In adjourning the decision, Gorbachev commented]: ‘I respect your decision, but please carry on without me’.
And Yeltsin moved into his Kremlin office even before Gorbachev had had time to clear his things out.
The Ukraine declared it was setting up its own army, navy and air forces of 420,000 men, claiming jurisdiction of Red Army troops on its territory and operational control of Navy forces stationed in Odessa. Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldavia began rapidly recruiting volunteers into republican militias. They were soon followed by the other republics, and in some cases went to war with each other.
The struggle for possession of the nuclear arsenal continued over the next few years, with the Ukraine using the missiles on their territory as bargaining chips with the US and Russia. There were about 6,000 nuclear missile warheads, 6,000 nuclear bombs and 2,000 nuclear artillery shells scattered around the Soviet Union at the time of the Moscow coup, which could be used to set up nuclear capabilities for the emerging republics. The thousands of strategic weapons and inter-continental missiles could not be used without a large technical apparatus for programming, targeting etc, expertise held by the Central Command.
Ultimately, Yeltsin’s Russia secured control of the nuclear arsenal, although the nuclear potential of some of the other Republics is not finally excluded.
The struggle over the nuclear arsenal was indicative of the fact that although the USSR had been smashed, the new Russian state was essentially the same as the former Soviet state. Yeltsin had made in-roads into the military, but its core leadership remained intact. The failed Moscow Coup was the turning point, but the process of transformation of the state was still incomplete and reversible.
The armed forces of the USSR included two million conscripts. A fighter pilot was paid the same as a tram driver. Housing and other conditions were abysmal, many living permanently in tents. By 1991, tens of thousands of conscripts were ignoring the draft or refusing to serve outside their republic. Three quarters of a million Red Army soldiers returned from Europe, while a similar number of troops already at home were dismissed. In November 1991, almost 200,000 Soviet soldiers and their families were officially homeless.
Clearly, the armed bodies of men - as Marxists refer to as the essence of the state - were in poor shape. In 1989, there were significant moves to forma trade union in the military. The military had failed its decisive test in August 1991, and allowed the Union to be dismembered, and in 1992, sections of the Red Army even supported the separatists in Moldavia.
In November 1991, after a year in which overall production had fallen by 15 per cent, Yeltsin took personal charge of the ‘shock therapy’ for Russia. This would involve deregulation of prices and wages, land reform and rapid privatisation, sharp cuts in defence, industrial subsidies and all government spending and an end to all foreign aid.
The removal of most price controls in Russia quickly brought to light how ‘independent’ were the independent states of the CIS. Ukraine and Byelorussia had retained the rouble as their currency, and had no choice but to follow Russia’s action the next day, to avoid being massively ripped off by ‘cross-border’ trading. On the first day of ‘free prices’ bread tripled in price, milk went up a factor of 50, butter by a factor of 11. 10 hours work at the average wage would buy 11 loafs of bread, or 6 packets of cigarettes, or 450 gm butter or 400 gm of chicken. In the first few weeks of the ‘shock therapy’, production fell a further 10 per cent. Yeltsin appealed to the Western countries for financial aid - $6 billion in hard currency to stabilise the rouble and $6 billion for urgent purchase of food and medicine. The eight-fold cut in demand for weapons internally, was ‘involuntarily pushing our weapons manufacturers towards exporting their dangerous wares’, said Gennady Burbulis, Deputy PM of Russia, unless the West assisted Russia in turning the military-industrial complex to civil production. Burbulis begged Western entrepreneurs to invest in Russia, but as a British commentator said in The Guardian::
‘The problem of trying to buy or create a business in the former USSR is that you don’t know what you are buying. You don’t know what the tax regime will be either. It’s like buying a semi in Liverpool and being told that the whole of Toxteth comes with the house’.
By April 1992, food production had fallen 28 per cent and 90 per cent of Russians were living below the subsistence level of 1,500 roubles per month. Wages were being held down with a punitive tax on enterprises granting wage rises - a technique used earlier as in Poland. Unemployment was still only 100,000 but would soon rise. To avoid immediate closure as a result of the withdrawal of state subsidies, the managers of the large enterprises extended credits to each other, thereby thwarting the government’s monetary policies. During the first half of 1992, inter-enterprise debt increased from 40 to 2,000 $USb. To avoid a catastrophic breakdown, many enterprises were still paying workers, even though disruption of the transport system and supplies made production impossible. For instance, the Frolov textile factory in Tajikistan employed 6,500 workers, but only 2,000 were coming to work.
Architect of the ‘shock therapy’, Yegor Gaidar, refused to moderate the policy, as inflation reached 300 per cent. The wealthy mayor of St Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, commented: ‘This is not stabilising the economy. This is a fiasco’.
In August 1992, the G7 demanded an economic price for $24b of Western aid to Russia that Yeltsin could not accept. Instead, Yeltsin offered Russia’s natural resources for sale at cut rates to cancel the $71 billion debt of the ex-USSR.
Since August 1991, industrial production had fallen 27 per cent, inflation had increased prices by a factor of 16, real wages had fallen 32 per cent and investment in plant and equipment had halved as a result of privatisation measures. Long-dead diseases such as cholera, polio, bubonic plague and diphtheria began to reappear. Unregulated markets and kiosks were selling food that was very often contaminated, and food-poisoning became common. City water supplies were becoming undrinkable. The cost of medicines was prohibitive. For the first time since the War, the number of deaths exceeded the number of births in Russia.
Most of the money being made by the new capitalists was in street trade in imported goods and the legal and illegal sale of state property and raw materials. It was estimated that one third of the oil exported from Russia was sold illegally, as was fifty per cent of nickel. 80% of raw material sent to Kaliningrad never arrived. Most of the profits were spent on imported luxuries, or sent abroad. During 1992, it has been estimated that $US15b in hard currency was exported from Russia to private bank accounts in the US and Western Europe - more than twice the net aid and credits Russia received from the West during the same period.
The former bureaucrats of the CPSU were part of, but not dominant in this new capitalist class. The former Deputy General Secretary of the CPSU, Vladimir Ivashko for instance, was now on a pension of 3,500 roubles a month ($15). On the other hand, Gorbachev was enjoying a steady income on the royalties from sale of his books in the West.
No legal means was found for the privatisation of the state’s industrial assets. The government handed out to all Russian citizens vouchers representing shares in the state’s property. People sold them off as soon as they could, rapidly making a reality of their belief that the vouchers were worthless. With rampant inflation and no industrial bourgeois class, there were no savings for such purchases, and foreign investors still showed little interest. At the same time, the government made no efforts to modernise or restructure state-owned enterprises, still hoping for private buyers to do it for them.
The majority of shops in Moscow and the big cities were now privately owned, usually by their former manager, but increasingly by new entrepreneurs who had bought them out. The New York Times of 2 August 1992 reported the case of Natalya Maloetneva, the former manager of a Moscow clothing store who had bought a controlling interest when the shop was privatised a year ago. She purchased her share for 60,000 rubles, allegedly from her savings. In a letter to the NYT, a Soviet professor pointed out that this price amounted to ten years of his salary, raising the question as to how the former manager had saved up enough to buy the store.
Street kiosks abounded. According to The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele, the average age of kiosk owners is 23. Very young children clean windowscreens. Large numbers of pensioners eke out a living buying and reselling small items like single bottles of vodka, Mars Bars or packets of cigarettes. Racketeers plague the markets.
The Washington Post of 30 September 1992 reported a St Petersburg middle-man as saying: ‘Everything we do is aimed at a quick profit. We buy, we sell, and we get out. Only a fool would invest their money in a long-term business in Russia’. Not surprisingly then, the industrial base is relatively untouched by privatisation.
Anatoly Chubais, the Minister in charge of the privatisation program conceded There is no visible correlation between ownership and efficiency.
And as for making progress against official corruption and bureaucratic parasitism! According to the weekly Argumenty i Fakty, questioned about the practice of bribery, the Mayor of Moscow, Gavril Popov said that he was categorically opposed to blackmail, but that he had nothing against the making of payments to officials for services rendered, which he described as commissions, and he thought 10 per cent would be sufficient.
A year after the failed Moscow coup, with the manifest failure of Yeltsin’s ‘shock therapy’, the Stalinists in Russia’s Parliament, led by its Speaker, Ruslan Khasbulatov, were now able to muster a majority against Yeltsin’s measures. The government was increasingly gripped by paralysis, and there was renewed talk of conspiracies.
According to sacked Secretary of State, Gennady Burbulis, ‘crafty and cynical revanchists’ were consolidating their position. Sergei Filatov, a friend of Yeltsin, called Khasbulatov a Bolshevik, and accused him of plotting a coup with the help of groups of Chechin fighters armed to the teeth. Yeltsin demanded the disbandment of the new parliamentary security force, reputed to number 5,000, as a threat against his government and passed a decree putting the militia under his command.
Yeltsin threatened extreme measures if Parliament continued to frustrate his decisions. Khasbulatov claimed that terrorist actions are being prepared to frame the conservatives. Ilya Konstantinov of the National Salvation Front accused Khasbulatov of having made a secret agreement with Yeltsin to maintain the status quo. Yeltsin threatened to rule by decree, but the Parliament voted 125-16 to call on the Supreme Court to rule the decrees unconstitutional. In turn Yeltsin refused to appear before the Court when it met to consider his decrees.
Yeltsin was becoming more and more isolated. His decrees now failed to get into print, just as the Parliament’s decrees had failed to get into print a few months before. Declarations of support from Clinton and Major only served to remind Russians of the ‘support’ Gorbachev had received from the capitalist powers. Dep. President Rutskoi and Justice Minister Fyodorov were said to have refused to sign the decree. Later Yeltsin followed with threats to call elections by Presidential decree, or to replace the Congress with a ‘Federation Council’ composed of representatives of the 88 regions. Meanwhile regions such as Ossetia, Karelia, Tartarstan and Sakha threatened secession.
In the words of Vitaly Tretyakov, who was editor of an underground newspaper before the Coup:
‘The agony of the political system is obvious to all. From top to bottom not one of the branches of power is working properly. Each one is fighting with the others, and very often among themselves. The parliament is split. The government is split. The President’s apparatus is split. The constitutional court is split. No-one can be sure that decisions taken today will not be reversed tomorrow’.
The Political Committee of the Party of Labour, declared on March 21:
The Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who received extraordinary powers form the People’s Congress in the autumn of 1991 has used them to carry out a socio-economic genocide in our country.
The mild attempts of the Congress to stop these anti-popular policies has provoked the President’s anti-constitutional actions. In fact, in doing this Yeltsin announced his own impeachment.
We are calling on the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation and the Congress of People’s Deputies to:
Take cognisance of the President’s self-impeachment,
Swear on A Rutskoy as Acting President,
Carry out early general elections simultaneously for the legislative and executive powers on the basis of a law worked out by the Supreme Soviet with the participation of the political parties, trade unions and social organisations.
In April, Yeltsin and the Congress agreed to test their support in a referendum which tested confidence in the President and the Congress, a call for early elections and approval of Yeltsin’s economic policies. At the same time Congress voted 617 to 268 to impeach Yeltsin, falling slightly short of the two-thirds majority required for impeachment, and 558 to 339 against the removal of Khasbulatov. Yeltsin won the April 25 referendum with 59% confidence in his Presidency, and 53% support for his economic policies.
During this period, Yeltsin attempted to portray the Congress delegates as just so many die-hard Communists. The Western press supported this view. In reality, the Deputies to the Congress of People’s Deputies were elected in March 1990 at the same time as Yeltsin was elected to the Congress, and it was the Congress which elected Yeltsin as their leader, and opened the way to Yeltsin’s election on a popular mandate in June 1991. The Congress of People’s Deputies was elected just as ‘democratically’ as Yeltsin.
The great majority of those who stood in the elections across the USSR were Communist Party members, as were those elected. 85% of the Deputies elected to the Congress were members of the CPSU, but all had campaigned on a range of policies from one political extreme to the other and had formed themselves into 14 factions. About two-thirds of Deputies were advocates of restoration of the market, and included well-known dissidents. The resistance of the Congress to Yeltsin’s policies and particularly his insistence on his right to rule by decree, reflected legitimate concerns. Consequently, the referendum outcome did nothing to resolve the impasse.
Following accusations by Alexander Rutskoi that Yeltsin’s supporters were deeply embroiled in corruption, investigations began in July into allegations of criminal embezzlement by the First Deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Shumeiko, and Deputy Prime Minister Miguel Poltoranin. In September, Rutskoi was suspended while he in turn was investigated for corruption.
While Yeltsin was on holiday, the Central Bank suddenly announced the withdrawal of pre-1993 banknotes, a move which threatened to reduce Russia’s poor to destitution and was designed to stoke up opposition to Yeltsin. The political crisis came to a head in September 1993.
On 21 September 1993, Yeltsin dissolved the Congress of People’s Deputies - something he had no constitutional power to do - and called elections for 12 December. The Parliament responded by voting for his impeachment and electing Alexander Rutskoi as President, and sitting-in in the Parliamentary building in a non-stop Parliamentary debate.
Russia faced a constitutional crisis of the first order, but neither side succeeded in mobilising popular support to any significant degree. The Deputies made somewhat of a show of handing out guns to citizens coming to the building to defend its barbed-wire barricades, but non-stop Parliamentary debate, mostly without the benefit of television broadcasts, and eventually without the benefit of electric lighting, was no way to mobilise the country. Yeltsin surrounded the building with loyal troops and lobbied the for support from the military, police, media and bureaucracy. Increasingly, it became clear that Yeltsin had succeeded in isolating the Deputies and exercising effective control over all arms of government.
On 2/3 October, troops fell back before anti-Yeltsin demonstration, which broke through the cordon and surprisingly succeeded in taking control of the office of the Mayor of Moscow and temporarily of the Ostankino television tower, until evicted in a violent clash with pro-Yeltsin troops. The stage was being set for a decisive test in the loyalty of the Red Army. The demonstration provided the pretext for a brutal assault on the Parliamentary building, complete with helicopters and an artillery barrage. On Monday 4 October, the citizens of Moscow witnessed the assault in much the same way people enjoy a motor car rally, as the Deputies were arrested and packed off to prison.
When the state effectively arrests the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People’s Deputies on command of an anti-Communist President, you have to say that the class nature of the state has changed. The transformation of the state which had begun with the defeat of the August 1991 ‘Moscow Coup’ was now proven to be complete. This marked the end of a period of a kind of ‘dual power’ in Russia since August 1991, during which there were not rival state powers but a struggle for control of the state. The struggle between Yeltsin and his Stalinist opponents reflected a struggle for possession of the state. However distorted, this struggle reflected a struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie.
When the state fell in a heap before Yeltsin and his unarmed band of mostly middle-class protesters, and stood by while the Union was dissolved, it proved that it was no longer functional in any sense at all as a workers’ state. It was unable to defend its vital interests. But at the same time, the state was not yet captured by the bourgeoisie. With dead-lock between the various wings of government - the Congress of People’s Deputies, Supreme Soviet and Constitutional Court increasingly lining up to oppose Yeltsin’s decrees - the position of state had to be tested.
When Yeltsin defied the Constitution and decreed the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People’s Deputies, he provoked a testing out of the class nature of the state. The state arrested and jailed the elected representatives of the Russian workers. Although it could still not be said that the Deputies had an alternative economic programme to Yeltsin’s, and the argument was still in the framework of the pace and extent of reforms, rather than of which direction to go in, it is possible to see within this struggle the clash of class interests. And the state supported the policy of capitalist restoration at any price, as fast as possible, and repressed the policy of slowing down the pace of reforms and softening the impact on the poor.
Not everybody agreed with this analysis. The ISO still denied any significant difference between Yeltsin and Rutskoi. The Socialist of October 1993 commented under the headline, ‘Yeltsin dumps democracy for market’:
‘It looks like Boris Yeltsin’s coup will succeed. As The Socialist went to press his soldiers were mopping up resistance in Moscow. Despite its last dramatic show of support on the streets, the opposition grouped around the Russian parliament was isolated.
‘The counter-coup which brought together the red-brown coalition of diehard Stalinists and extreme right-wing nationalists, got no popular support because their alternative to Yeltsin was a return to a totalitarian state run by another Stalin.
‘On the other hand, Yeltsin has little different to offer. He too is an old Communist leader. He too is prepared to ditch democracy when it suits him’.
Having secured control of the state and jailed his political opponents, Yeltsin brought forward a new constitution to be voted on simultaneously with the December 12 election for both the Council of the Federation (Upper House) and State Duma (Lower House). Under this constitution, the President will have the power to appoint the Prime Minister of the new State Duma, veto its legislation, dissolve it and call new elections, or institute a state of emergency. The judges of the Constitutional Court were also to be re-elected.
More than thirty electoral blocs set out to contest the election, but only thirteen blocs qualified by collecting 100,000 signatures with no more than 15,000 in any one Region: Party of Russian Unity & Accord (or Entrepreneurs for a New Russia, Sergei Shakhrai, Konstantin Zatulin, Oleg Soskovets), Russia’s Choice (Yegor Gaidar - Yeltsin’s main supporter, and author of Russia’s shock therapy), the Stalinist Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (the opportunist ultra-right demagogue, Vladimir Zhirinovsky), the bloc of Grigory Yavlinsky, Yuri Boldryevand V Lukin, Civic Union for Stability, Justice & Progress, Constructive Ecological Movement, Russian Democratic Reform Movement (millionaire Moscow Mayor Anatoly Sobchak), Dignity and Mercy, Women of Russia (A Fedulova, Y Lakhova, N Gundareva), Democratic Party of Russia (Nikolai Travkin, Stanislav Govorukhin, Oleg Bogomolov) and The Future of Russia.
A further eight blocs, which claimed to have collected the requisite 100,000 signatures were denied registration by the Electoral Commission and others failed to reach the target. Sergei Baburin of the Russian All-People’s Union said that police had confiscated 22,000 signatures in a raid the day before the deadline. The ultra-nationalist National Republican Party of Russia, Constitutional Democratic Party (Cadets), Party of Economic Freedom, Association of Independent Professionals, Russian Christian Democratic Movement, Russian Christian Democratic Party, Conservative Party, Party of Consolidation, National-State Party and New Russia Bloc were also excluded. The electoral system also allowed for the election of individuals from local constituencies.
To everyone’s surprise, the ultra-right Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who had run a slick, expensive and shamelessly opportunist advertising campaign promising a return to Czarist imperial glory plus nuclear weapons, received the largest vote of any of the blocs. His support had come from a wide political spectrum, but included a frighteningly high level of support from serving military.
Thus, although the political complexion of the Congress had changed somewhat, Yeltsin found himself with a legislature that was just as hostile to his reforms as had been the previous one. Among other things, the vote for Zhirinovsky was interpreted as a rejection of Yeltsin’s economic policies, and the term market romanticism entered the language.
Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party won 25 per cent. Second was Yegor Gaidar’s Russia’s Choice which received 15 per cent. Third was the Stalinist CPRF 11 per cent, the Agrarian Party 9 per cent and Women of Russia 8 per cent. The pro-market forces independent of Yeltsin were Yavlinsky’s bloc with 7 per cent, Shakhrai with 6 per cent and the Democratic Party of Russia with 6 per cent. A large number of individual candidates were also elected from local consituencies and it would be only among these individual candidates that we could find anything that could be described as Left.
In the pages above we have described how the entire leadership of the Russian Revolution was put to death by Stalin, who gives his name to the politics of the bureaucracy of a degenerated workers state. We have seen how a Stalinist (Mao) can make a revolution, marching into the city at the head of a peasant army; or even become a Stalinist after marching into the city at the head of a peasant army (Castro). We have learnt how a Stalinist (Pol Pot) can make the liquidation of the urban working class a central plank of his platform, and yet remain a Stalinist. Gorbachev, who led the drive to foster capitalist economic relations in the USSR was a Stalinist. The Chinese leaders who continue to foster the establishment of foreign capitalist enterprises in China and encourage the accumulation of capital by the new Chinese bourgeoisie are Stalinists. On what basis is it possible to say that Yeltsin is not a Stalinist?
Stalinists in Australia, such as Laurie Carmichael, assisted the bourgeoisie in dismantling the organised strength of the trade unions; Stalinists in France supported French nuclear weapons aimed at the USSR; ‘Euro-Stalinists’, denied the working class even exists.
But in the capitalist countries we have for many years known of ex-Stalinists. That is, people who have renounced their membership of the Communist Party and continued in political life either as ‘professional’ anti-communists, or as members of the Labour Party.
Laurie Short, for instance, resigned the CPA and after a brief sojourn in the Trotskyist movement, joined the ALP and aligned himself with the extreme right-wing Groupers to help witch-hunt the CPA. Cecil Sharpley left his leading position in the CPA and his denunciation of the CPA’s ballot rigging was crucial to the decimation of CP leaders in the union movement in the 1950s. In the capitalist countries of course, Stalinists come under the direct pressure of the capitalist state, and its influence within the workers’ movement via the reformist bureaucracy. The ability to absorb members of the Stalinist parties and provide a ‘career’ for them in anti-communism, is founded in the strength of the capitalist state and its material basis in the social relations of capitalism.
The other domain where we are familiar with ex-Stalinists is in the case of defectors from the Soviet military, people who ‘cross over’ to the imperialist forces and receive protection and careers in the military in exchange for intelligence. Again the direct pressure of the capitalist state, and the opportunity to individually ‘cross over’ provide the material basis for this ‘conversion’.
In Yeltsin’s case, at some time between his sacking from the Politburo of the CPSU and his assumption of the leadership role in the dismemberment of the USSR, as President of the Russian Republic, he became an anti-Communist, not a Stalinist.
It would be hard to sustain an argument that banning the Communist Party of Soviet Union is a qualitatively greater crime than murdering the Cambodian working class or inviting monopoly capitalism to set up shop in China. But it is not a question of saying that Yeltsin ‘went too far’. We rightly ridiculed the Chinese for labelling the USSR as ‘capitalist’ because of Khrushchev’s policies, and the Australian Maoists for denouncing Deng Zhou Ping as ‘fascist’ because of the Tien An Mien Square massacre. These acts were intended to defend the workers’ state, and grew out of perspectives which reflected the policy of the leadership of the workers’ states, which, however incompetently, did defend the workers’ state.
Yeltsin’s perspective and action was deliberately, skilfully and successfully directed at destroying the USSR. Yeltsin was trained and found his political opportunity as a member of the Communist Party. No doubt he will forever bear the stamp of his origins. This is inevitable in a country in the CP dominated all political life. But politics in Russia has changed. Stalinism is now an opposition party, and competes for leadership of the working class. A new spectrum of bourgeois parties competes for leadership of the emergent capitalist class.
What remains in the territory of the old Soviet Union is by no means simply capitalism. It takes more than a coup to change the social relations of production. The main industrial enterprises have still not been privatised. The state is not completely destroyed or transformed either, but the Red Army has been to a large extent dismembered, and is in at least the degree of disrepair than the Czarist state was in at the time of the beginning of the Civil War.
The struggle for control of the central apparatus which was centred in Moscow was extremely sharp. But Moscow is untypical of Russia and the territories of the former Soviet Union. Moscow was the centre of the bureaucracy through which the Union was governed. Yeltsin’s work leading up to August 1991 was centred in Moscow. While Yeltsin succeeded in breaking up and disorganising the bureaucracy, in the outlying regions of the Russian Federation and in the Republics the bureaucracy more or less remained in place, and adapted to the new situation. However, due to the centralised character of the state, Yeltsin’s victory in Moscow destroyed the proletarian character of the state (such as it was) altogether. This was possible because the economy of the whole region was already totally disorganised, and capitalist social relations were already growing rapidly everywhere.
Looking around the Republics we could see a whole spectrum of politics in which it is not sensible to demand the determination of a clear class line. Most of Republicans leaders are ex-Stalinists or Stalinists of the kind of those in the West who dropped out after the demise of the USSR or those who joined the ALP during the 1980s, rather than the type like Laurie Short who became professional anti-communists. Some are Stalinists in the conventional meaning of the term.
In the absence of a strong national leadership committed to restoring the planned economy, the large-scale industries are becoming increasingly dominated by the conditions of the capitalist market. This capitalist market is driven by petty and large-scale organised crime, smuggling, overseas trade, corruption and individual small scale exchange and barter.
As the Communist Party of the Soviet Union loosened its stranglehold on Russian political life a range of political forces came on to the scene which owed little to the Russian Revolution or 70 years of socialism but a great deal to pre-Revolutionary Russia, a political tradition of anti-Semitism, corruption, parasitism and arrogant indifference to legality and social principles, and the worst of European political opportunism.
The Trotskyist movement had for 70 years called for the overthrow of the Stalinist regime, but we had grossly underestimated the depth to which Stalinism had dragged Soviet Russia. Somehow we believed that behind the bureaucracy lay a population which had maintained the legacy of the Revolution, and that the removal of the bureaucracy would lead directly to a movement beyond Stalinism, surpassing the level of political development of the workers’ movement in the capitalist world. We were sorely disappointed.
The imperialist analysts were also deceived. As Gorbachev was eclipsed by Yeltsin who was in turn eclipsed, in electoral terms if not in power, by Valdimir Zhirinovsky, hopes for a smooth transition to a civilised, democratic, pro-American capitalist Russia faded.
In retrospect, this slide into the political jungle is not surprising. Stalinism had dragged not only the productive forces but the whole social fabric to a level well below that of the West, a level which belied the apparent achievements of the planned economy in military and space technology, science, sport, literature and so on.
The 1989 elections to the regional Soviets had been called as part of an organised program of democratisation and had returned a mixture of reformed and hard-line Stalinists, dissidents and nationalist leaders. The December 1993 Russian elections had been brought about by the shelling of the parliamentary building and gave the largest single vote (25%) to Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party on the strength of the most unspeakable warmongering and demagogy. Overall the votes were fairly equally divided between the ultra-right, Stalinists and capitalist restorationists.
Yeltsin’s constitution passed in December 1993 gave the President more formal power than any leader of the Soviet Union had enjoyed and the Parliament no more power than the parliament of Kuwait.
In the discussion above, on the significance of the failure of the Moscow Coup and on the social position of Boris Yeltsin, I have emphasised the qualitative social change that was marked by this event, even going so far in the statement published at the time¶ as to characterise the failure of the coup as a ‘counter-revolution’. Other Trotskyists more cautiously characterised the event as a coup. And with some justice, for what had taken place in August 1991 was a relatively minor change of personnel, and a change in the relations between them, within the top echelons of the Soviet government. There had been no overturn in the social relations of production or a significant change in property relations, and the only changes in the state apparatus (army and police) was at the very pinnacle, and even then these were limited to ‘musical chairs’.
What has taken place is unprecedented, and neither characterisation is adequate, drawing as they must upon concepts derived from past history. The point is that a profound, qualitative change in the social relations of production was taking place, and has continued to take place, in both the relations of production and the actual property relations (legal or illegal), and also in the class nature of the state. August 1991 was a water-shed in this gradual process. The characterisation coup correctly emphasises the relative nature of the change within the state apparatus. That it was not absolutely irreversible. The characterisation of ‘counter-revolution’ emphasises the relatively irreversible nature of the change in the social relations of production. That while even a reversion in the political control of the state to hard-line Stalinists with a program of reverting to command economy could not now reverse the change taking place in the social relations of production. The loss of will, perspective and capacity of the state, on the one hand. On the other, the deeply-rooted, objective, relatively irreversible character of the slide into anarchy in the economy. The growth of crime, smuggling, corruption, and disorganisation of the state-owned economy would be reversible only on the basis of a genuine, thorough-going resurgence and victory of the organised proletariat - a new social revolution. A social revolution whose task would include the dispossession of a growing petit-capitalist class. A social revolution, the leadership for which was quite absent.
If the slide into economic anarchy goes too far, then clearly the impetus for a new revolution will be there. The state apparatus is still ill-equipped to enforce capitalist social relations under these conditions. And the commanding heights of the economy have still not been privatised, and given the continuation of economic and political instability, it is difficult to see how that can be achieved. Even Germany has not really managed it under infinitely more advantageous conditions.
Speculating in 1937 on the tasks confronting a future counter-revolution Trotsky wrote in Revolution Betrayed:
‘If a bourgeois party were to overthrow the ruling Soviet caste, it would find no small number of ready servants among the present bureaucrats ... A purgation of the state apparatus would, of course, be necessary in this case too ... The chief task of the new power would be to restore private property in the means of production ... in the sphere of industry, denationalisation would begin with the light industries and those producing food. The planning principle would be converted for the transitional period into a series of compromises between state power and individual ‘corporations’ - potential proprietors, that is, among the Soviet captains of industry, the émigré former proprietors and foreign capitalists. Notwithstanding that the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far toward preparing a bourgeois restoration, the new regime would have to introduce in the matter of forms of property and methods of industry not a reform, but a social revolution’.
‘The bureaucracy has betrayed the revolution. But a victorious revolution is fortunately not only a program and a banner, not only political institutions, but also a system of social relations. To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it. The October Revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown. It has a great power of resistance, coinciding with the established property relations, with the living force of the proletariat, the consciousness of its best elements, the impasse of world capitalism, and the inevitability of world revolution’.
The whole question depends on the political development of the working class, and its leadership. While this struggle goes on, imperialism is not standing by passively. Imperialism was now openly supporting Yeltsin, although they were somewhat slow in recognising Yeltsin as ‘one of their own’ (Gorbachev was such a nice man). Western agents are active within the territory of the USSR and intervening in conflicts.
The future of Yeltsin is questionable, but the process of destruction of the workers state is irreversible. Only a new revolution can restore what has been destroyed.