Russian Elections

Jj Plant jplant at cix.compulink.co.uk
Sat Nov 25 05:38:00 MST 1995


The following is the whole of a 2 part article scheduled for the WRP
Workers Press in the near future, circultaed with their permission.
__________________________________________________________________________
___
Elections for seats in the Russian Duma (parliament) take place
on 17 December. Here ALEXEII GUSEV surveys the parties taking
part. This first of two articles describes the parties closest to
the present government. The second article, to be published next
week, will look at the various `opposition' parties including the
Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and the stance taken
by the parties and trades unions claiming to represent Russian
workers. Gusev is a member of the Socialist Workers Union
(Russian section of the Workers International to Rebuild the
Fourth International).


----------------

One fine day in August, investors cheated by one of Moscow's
commercial banks held their regular demonstration in the city.
Two years ago these people had put their money into the Favorit
bank in good faith. They had been promised a high rate of return
- and been left with nothing. `Boiko, give us our money back',
they shouted. Their placards carried the same message.

They know now that in 1993, their money was used by Oleg Boiko,
prominent financier, owner of the National Credit bank and
founder of Favorit, to finance the election campaign of
Democratic Russia's Choice [the party led by Yegor Gaidar, former
prime minister and champion of economic `shock therapy'], of
which Boiko was the national chairman.

Today, Mr Boiko is thinking not about how to repay the cheated
investors, but about how to make new and profitable investments
of his own in politics. He has parted company with Gaidar,
swapping his party's declining fortunes for the brighter vistas
offered by Our Home Is Russia, the bloc led by prime minister
Viktor Chernomyrdin. And who will foot the bill this time?

It's full speed ahead as we all prepare for the elections to the
National Duma, Russia's parliament ...

The political scene is livening up as polling day, 17 December,
approaches. Blocs and coalitions are being formed, lists of
candidates being registered and electioneering has begun.
Bourgeois-bureaucratic clans of various colours have starting the
battle for seats. The main fight is expected between the two main
sections of the ruling class, which we may conditionally call the
`party of power' and the `opposition'.

The `party of power' is represented firstly by Our Home Is
Russia. Its social base is that part of the former bureaucracy
which is fully satisfied with the status quo, resulting from pro-
capitalist reform and privatisation. It brings together the heads
of the large corporations, banks and financial groups, and
everyone knows it was founded to serve their interests. Its
nickname is Our Home Is Gazprom, because of Chernomyrdin's close
links with that giant among energy industry combines. [In Soviet
times, Chernomyrdin for many years headed Gazprom, the state
conglomerate which owns most of Russia's vast natural gas
reserves.]

Nearly all the government ministers and heads of local
administration belong to the Our Home Is Russia bloc. Its
organisational structure corresponds to its basis in the
nomenklatura. So striking is its similarity to the old Communist
Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) that even the pro-government
newspaper Izvestia referred to it.

`Nearly all the party [i.e. CPSU activists in the local economy
belong to Our Home Is Russia,' said an article about Our Home Is
Russia's organisation in Ulyanovsk region. `Among the bloc's
activists are all the district first secretaries of the CPSU. The
former CPSU branch officials are well-known as propagandists and
agitators.' Izvestia concluded: `It seems that the CPSU regional
organisation has just been renamed ``Our Home Is Russia''.'

The other strength of Chernomyrdin's bloc is the support it
receives from president Yeltsin. It is well known that the prime
minister founded the bloc in line with the president's wish for a
`centre-right coalition'.

True, the original plan devised by Yeltsin's advisers was to
create at the same time an equivalent `centre-left coalition' and
establish something similar to the American two-party system. In
June, Yeltsin himself went on TV to explain all this, designating
as head of the `left centrists' the Duma speaker, Ivan Rybkin.
The joke was that, since the whole thing was artificial, the
members of the political establishment could not agree between
themselves who was `right' and who was `left'.

In the end, Yeltsin's plan was not fully realised: Rybkin's bloc,
Our Fatherland, having set out to unite all `constructive
critics' of the government, proved to be a nine-day wonder. The
government's `moderate opponents' decided that Our Fatherland's
antagonistic image did not sit nicely with the fulfilment of the
president's plans. [According to newspaper reports, shortly after
the bloc's foundation, two leaders, Boris Gromov and Stanislav
Shatalin, quit.]

This is how Our Home Is Russia became the main voice for the pro-
Yeltsin fraction of the ruling class. What is its ideology and
programme? Chernomyrdin is distinguished from his predecessor,
Gaidar, by his attachment not simply to economic liberalism but
to `state social-liberalism' - i.e. emphasis on the role of the
state in the economy and a `social orientation' in politics.

The prime minister himself explained at a congress of the bloc
the layers of society to which it would be oriented: the first
step, he declared, was to stimulate the accumulation of Russian
national capital. Reliance on the national capitalist and the
national bureaucrat, continuation of pro-market reform `without
excessive radicalism', guaranteeing supremacy in the economy for
the huge state- and privately-owned monopolies - this is the
essence of Chernomyrdin's programme.

Our Home Is Russia's appearance is quite natural. The era of
Gaidarism [i.e. `shock therapy'], with its passion for destroying
the `command-administrative' system and orientation towards the
`free' demonopolised market, a la Adam Smith, has gone. The
utopian attempt to implant `pure' private capitalism in Russia
has, naturally, collapsed. In fact that was not the aim of the
nomenklatura's so-called market reforms: the real question for
them was to modify and modernise the form of the bureaucracy's
social-economic rule and redivide the property. Today, the stage
at which this was the business of the day is practically over -
and, once again, they talk about the `accumulation of capital'
with active assistance from the state.

As we will see below, this aim figures in the programme not only
of Our Home Is Russia but of the great majority of electoral
parties and blocs.

A symptom of this trend is the decline of Gaidar's party,
Democratic Russia's Choice. If during the last election campaign
it was considered the favourite, today it would be hard to find a
commentator to predict that it will get more than 5 per cent of
the vote, the minimum needed to get Duma seats. Gaidar has become
unpopular. He is associated in the ordinary voter's mind with the
painful consequences of `shock therapy'. His former sponsors,
like the above-mentioned Boiko, have deserted him.

The most that is left for Gaidar is to complain that he was not
allowed to finish what he had started with `shock therapy', and
to criticise the Russian model of `robber-nomenklatura
capitalism', even referring to Trotsky's book Revolution Betrayed
(!) which stated that elements of the former bureaucracy would
gain most from the restoration of private property.

The only trump card left in Gaidar's pack is the human rights
campaigner Sergei Kovalyov, who is on the Democratic Russia's
Choice federal list of candidates. Kovalyov's outstanding
condemnation of Russian imperialist aggression against Chechnya
evoked widespread sympathy (although as a party, Democratic
Russia's Choice had an ambiguous attitude, refusing to openly
denounce Yeltsin on the issue.)

For voters who accept the general direction of Yeltsin's policy,
but are put off by Gaidar's tarnished reputation and find Our
Home Is Russia's image too elite and bureaucratic, there are
other electoral alliances occupying political niches somewhere
between Gaidar and Chernomyrdin. The two worth mentioning are the
Yabloko bloc led by Grigory Yavlinsky and Vladimir Lukin, and
Boris Fyodorov's Forward Russia movement.

The Yavlinsky bloc leans of the support of the middle layers of
entrepreneurs, parts of the intelligentsia and state officialdom,
and some financial groups, the most important of which is the
Most company. Sympathetic sections of the mass media do their best
to create the impression that Yavlinsky - once [under Gorbachev]
the author of a plan to take Russia to `civilised capitalism' in
500 days - has a unique new programme to lead the economy out of
crisis. Of course nobody has yet seen this sensational programme.
In Yavlinsky's own statements there is nothing new or unique,
just the old cliches about `gradual reform' etc etc.

As for Fyodorov, it can be seen from Forward Russia's name that
he aspires to the role of a Russian Berlusconi. His election
demagogy is closely related to Vladimir Zhirinovsky's, and he has
even been called the `democratic Zhirinovsky'. Forward Russia
promises to almost immediately eliminate inflation, to stop price
increases, to destroy the highest bureaucrats' priveliges and to
eradicate crime.

Fyodorov, formerly identified as a dedicated `free market'
monetarist, is deliberately trying to distance himself from
Gaidar [whose finance minister he was at the time of `shock
therapy'], constantly emphasising his movement's `patriotism'.
Not by chance was he one of the foremost supporters of Yeltsin's
invasion of Chechnya.

These are the main parties of that part of the bourgeois-
bureaucratic class which has already, in general, resolved its
`social problem'. But it must be borne in mind that only half the
Duma deputies are elected from the party lists, while the other
half represent territorial constituencies. And here operates
another powerful fraction of the `party of power' - the
representatives of the regional elites.

There is no question that these forces, resting on the local
financial-industrial and bureaucratic circles, are serious
competition for all parties and blocs. The August election of the
governor of Yekaterinburg district bore witness to their
strength: Alexei Strakhov, a protege of Our Home Is Russia, was
defeated by Edward Rossel of the Reborn Urals movement.

Among opponents of the `party of power', first place belongs to
the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) led by
Gennady Zyuganov. Its social basis is that part of the former
bureaucracy which considers itself to have been more or less left
out of the reform of the social-economic system: that is,
significant sections of the military-industrial complex's
management, of the military caste itself and of middle- and
lower-level managers in the economy.

This fraction of the ruling class is fighting with all its might
for a redivision of power and property in its own favour. To this
end, the CPRF hopes to secure majority support by claiming to
defend the interests of everyone: the `simple workers' and
managers, the intelligentsia and small tradespeople, the
unemployed and even the `new Russians' (who, according to
Zyuganov, are suffering from having `nowhere to invest their
money'). Zyuganov's party claims to be uniting `the whole nation'
under the banner of patriotism, statehood and `justice'.

Analysis of the CPRF's theory and politics shows, unambiguously,
not only that it is not `communist' (not even in words) but also
that it can not in general be considered part of the left. The
cult of a mighty state or `great power'; the counterposition of
the `unity of the nation' to the class struggle, as though the
latter was invented by some especially greedy sections of the
bourgeoisie; the slogan of `mixed forms of ownership' - all these
are the typical bill of fare of right-wing political forces.

Taking into account the labels it uses, Zyuganov's `communism'
can be seen aspiring not only to new methods of social-economic
rule by the bureaucracy, but also to well-tried `pre-perestroika'
methods. On the other hand, this `communism' needs to attract
those voters who, facing poverty and unemployment, have come to
the conclusion that `it can not get any worse than it is now',
and are even ready to agree to a partial return to the past under
the `communists'.

Zyuganov's `theoretical' work is a magic Russian salad whose
ingredients include Russian religious philosophy, cliches from
Stalinist `agitprop' and terms used by western `political
science'. His party programme includes: promises of price
controls; a struggle to return to `the power of the Soviets' (the
Stalin-Brezhnev type, of course) and to restore the USSR; tax
cuts; the strengthening of discipline and order; a struggle
against the mafia and the criminals; guaranteed `social security'
for Russian citizens; and so on - as well as the lofty phrases
about the accumulation of a national capital and a greater role
for the state in the economy, which are also used by Our Home Is
Russia.

In a word, the opposition aims to drive out the `Chernomyrdinite'
part of the establishment. This would also entail a partial
revision of the privatisation programme, in those cases where
the interests of the management caste have been damaged, and
greater priveliges for various sections of industry, above all
those connected with the military-industrial complex.

The character of the CPRF's `opposition' was clearly revealed in
its attitude to the war unleashed against Chechnya by Russian
imperialism. The Zyuganovites saw the invasion of Chechnya as an
occasion to attack the government and the executive power. And
what for? For mistakes in military planning, for `delay' in
dealing with `separatists', and for the fact that when federal
troops withdrew from Chechnya they left behind `mountains of
weapons' which were taken by the Chechen militia. The CPRF
fraction in the Duma, declaring themselves `defenders of the
Russian army', blocked even the timid attempts by some
`democrats' to express moral condemnation of the empire's
soldiers, who they compared to Nazi war criminals.

A similar line was taken by newspapers sympathetic to the CPRF.
One of these, Sovyetskaya Rossiya, earlier this year published a
short story, `In Grozny's Trenches', in which the positive hero
is a Russian army lieutenant who shows no mercy to the Chechen
enemy. He is contrasted to negative characters, such as a young
soldier whose unit is serving in Grozny and who tries to desert,
and his mother who comes to take her son away from the front. The
tale ends with the `patriotic' soldiers, led by the lieutenant,
killing the young `traitor' and his mother - who, by the way,
look like Jews. The author - and his `communist' newspaper -
approve of this `courageous' deed. The appearance of such proto-
fascist material in the `opposition press' tells us far more
about the soul of Zyuganovite `communism' than dozens of
demagogic declarations by the CPRF bosses.

The CPRF's closest ally is the Agrarian Party of Russia headed by
Mikhail Lapshin. It consists of bureaucrats from the agricultural
sector - directors from various types of co-operatives, kolkhozi
(collective farms) and sovkhozi (state farms), most of which have
now been renamed joint stock companies. Having resisted the
encroachments of the towns, and other bourgeois forces in
general, these elements are determined at all costs to preserve
their monopoly over the land. Proclaiming themselves `defenders
of the peasantry', the Agrarians demand higher state subsidies
for agriculture - that is, a larger proportion of the national
income for the ruling layers in the countryside. The rest of the
Agrarian Party programme, including the political part, does
not differ from that of the CPRF. And so the Agrarian fraction in
the Duma has been the most militant defender of `our Serb
brothers' and the [Bosnian Serb] regime of Radovan Karadzic.

The third considerable force in the opposition camp is the
Congress of Russian Communities. Its leaders are Yuri Skokov,
former secretary of the state security council, who refused to
support Yeltsin in his confrontation with the Supreme Soviet in
October 1993 [when the `rebels' led by Rutskoi and Khazbulatov
were suppressed by Yeltsin]; General Alexandr Lebed, former
commander of the 14th Russian army in Pridnestrovya [or
Transdnestr, the territory with predominantly Russian population
claiming the right to secede from Moldova]; and Sergei Glazyev, a
former minister of foreign trade.

Originally a small organisation founded to support Russian
companies abroad (hence its name), the Congress has taken on
political significance with the entry of Skokov and Lebed into
its leadership. Skokov is well known for his wide connections in
industrial circles. Lebed, a popular personality, rose to
prominence after halting the war between Pridnestrovya and
Moldova and making searing criticisms of the Pridnestrovya
leadership's corruption; he has also attacked `incompetence' at
the top of the Russian army, including that of the defence
minister, Pavel Grachev. Glazyev is an economist, author of yet
another `alternative' economic programme, every bit as mysterious
as Yavlinsky's.

The same patriotic call as is made by Chernomyrdin and Zyuganov -
to defend `the nation's industry' (meaning: the nation's ruling
class) - is the essence of the Congress's programme. But it is
flavoured with a strong criticism of `monetarist radicalism', in
contrast to Our Home Is Russia, and has no call to restore
`Soviet power', one of the central demands of the CPRF. Those
bourgeois-bureaucratic layers rallying to the Congress occupy a
position between the `Chernomyrdinite' and `Zyuganovite'
fractions of their class.

Lebed is the Congress's most colourful and outstanding leader.
Paradoxically, he has sympathisers among `patriots', some
sections of the liberal intelligentsia and even among workers.
The `patriots' are attracted to his image as a brave general and
defender of the `fatherland'; the intellectuals like his
criticisms of Grachev, who fell out of favour as a result of the
Chechen campaign; the workers see him as a fighter against
corruption. Lebed himself has hardly any clearly-defined
political views - Skokov and Glazyev lend a helping hand with
those - but his clear priority is `restoration of order'.

[Lebed is likely to stand in the presidential election next
summer.] In the case of him winning power, he would surely not
hesitate to use the most drastic measures, for example against
strikes that took on a `disruptive' character. It is no accident
that he pointed to Pinochet's regime in Chile as an example of
his beloved `restoration of order'. But today Lebed poses as an
`opponent' of the government, and his party can expect some
success in the parliamentary elections.

Also in the `opposition' camp stands Vladimir Zhirinovsky's
Russian Liberal Democratic Party. Its supporters include
considerable layers of the petty bourgeoisie; bureaucratic,
military and declasse elements; and - as has been shown by
sociological surveys - backward sections of unskilled workers.
These people are impressed by Zhirinovsky's shameless demagogy
and his promises of all sorts of bribes to his voters, including
cheap vodka. Significantly, the Liberal Democratic Party is
supported by several financial groups and commercial structures
with criminal or mafia connections. (In the 1993 elections,
several candidates clearly associated with the mafia got into
parliament on Zhirinovsky's list.)

Zhirinovsky's position is well known and there is no sense in
repeating it. As for its prospects in the Duma elections, the
Liberal Democratic Party is certain to win considerably less
votes than it did in 1993. Then, it practically monopolised the
`non-communist patriotic' niche in politics, but now there are at
least ten other nationalist parties and blocs of various shapes
and sizes. As a result, Zhirinovsky's potential support is sure
to be divided.

The most uncompromising opposition force is the Communists-Labour
Russia-For the Soviet Union bloc, an alliance based on the
Stalinist movement called Labour Russia. Its backbone is the
Russian Communist Workers Party led by Victor Anpilov. Socially,
Labour Russia represents those very stagnant layers of the former
bureaucracy and ideological establishment, who won nothing from
the reforms and could not get involved in Russia's `new reality'.
All their hopes are concentrated on the resurrection of the
Stalinist system - that is, not Brezhnev's or Khruschev's, but
exactly Stalin's version,  with the undivided supremacy of the
`communist' party, `purges' and - top of the agenda! - `regulated
reductions in prices'.

Demanding the return of a completely state-ised economy and
`planned' control of resources (`just like under Stalin'), the
Anpilovites try to enlist the support of enterprise directors who
are dissatisfied with the present regime. In return for
supporting Labour Russia, the latter are guaranteed that they
will keep their positions if the `communists' gain power.
Nonetheless, Labour Russia's admirers of Stalin and Kim Il Sung
can not inspire the faith of the reprsentatives of the more
prominent circles of the bureaucracy, let alone the voters, and
can not count on any sort of success at the polls.

In the spectrum of election platforms, does there exist a single
one that represents the interests of the Russian working class
and all the labouring masses? The simple answer is no.

The former official trade unions, the Federation of Independent
Trades Unions of Russia (FITUR), will go to the polls in alliance
with two management groupings - the Russian Union of
Industrialists and Entrepreneurs [which came to prominence in the
Duma in 1992, led by Arkadii Volski] and the United Industrialist
Party.

Justifying the need for such an alliance, the leader of the
FITUR, Mikhail Shmakov, claims that `the trades unions' interests
completely coincide with those of the vast majority of
industrialists'. And this is true - because these trades unions
are nothing more than a mechanism to discipline the workforce on
behalf of the industrial management. This is the role played by
the trade union committees at the enterprises, and no amount of
`radical' rhetoric by the top trade union bosses can hide this
fact.

It would be quite wrong to imagine that there are `rank and file
activists' in the FITUR who can put `pressure' on their
Çleadership and push it to the left. The notorious `rank and file
activists' in the factories - who as a rule are proteges and
agents of the management - will only do anything when it is
profitable for `the industrialists', as Shmakov calls them. Trade
union deputies in the Duma would carry out exactly the same
function, as a support mechanism for industrial management ... if
this bloc happens to pass the 5 per cent barrier. But that is
extremely unlikely.

As for the FITUR's `ideology', it is expounded in its principal
publication, the newspaper Solidarnost, whose editor is Andrei
Isayev, former anarcho-syndicalist and one of the founders [with
Boris Kagarlitsky] of the still-born Labour Party. Solidarnost is
busy trumpeting the virtues of `social partnership' with
enterprise directors, expressing solidarity with the actions of
the Russian army in Chechnya and with Radovan Karadzic's `just
war' in Bosnia. One recent issue proclaimed that the trades
unions' credo coincides with the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox
church!

The situation in the so-called `alternative' trade union camp is
little better. Its right wing has dispersed into various small
liberal-bourgeois blocs. The left, in the shape of the alliance
of workers' unions, Zashchita [Defence], has merged with the
CPRF. The leader of Zashchita, the former `Marxist revolutionary'
Yuri Leonov, decided to turn his organisation into a propaganda
shop window for Zyuganov's party. Leonov is at present a Duma
deputy and hopes to regain a seat, by asking workers to vote for
the CPRF. He recently took part in a television talk show and
declared: `We have to work things out so that workers have no
desire to go on strike. To this end we must put deputies in the
Duma in whom people can really believe.' It's a simple recipe:
vote for Zyuganov's crowd, and things will be so wonderful that
you will never feel like striking or campaigning!

Another electoral alliance claiming to represent working people
is the Party of Workers' Self-Management, led by Svyatoslov
Fyodorov, a noted opthalmologist and director of the Co-operative
Institute of Opthalmological Surgery. This party's credo is based
on workers' share-ownership, plus the `free market', plus
parliamentary democracy. Its utopianism is obvious to many people
- after all, it is one thing to run a commercially succesful co-
operative doing eye operations, using state-of-the-art technology
and know-how - but quite another to run Russian industry, the
greater part of which exists in a state of permanent crisis.
There are few people who today believe in the magic force of the
`free market' seasoned by `self management'.

So what can be expected from the December elections? The
principal battle - both for the seats elected from the party lists
and for those based on territorial constituencies - will be
between the three main representatives of the ruling class: the
Our Home Is Russia bloc, the regional elites and the CPRF-
Agrarian Party alliance. They will be the most powerful forces in
the new parliament. The elections may shift the balance of forces
slightly, but are extremely unlikely to bring about any radical
changes. And the majority of working people in Russia understands
this. Certainly no more than 50 per cent of eligible voters will
go to the polling stations. This sort of absenteeism reflects the
spread of distrust in the political institutions of the system.
According to sociological surveys, 67 per cent of the population,
fully or partly, does not believe in parliament; 64 per cent does
not believe in parties.

Illusions in bourgeois democracy are now in the process of being
overcome - and this is part of the development of the class
consciousness of the Russian proletariat. The time when the
working class transforms itself into a `class for itself' is
still far off. For now, significant experiences are being
accumulated by workers - negative experiences of the ruling
class's political activity, and positive ones of struggle,
although these are still very limited. This is the preparation
for a future active upsurge of the masses.

(ends)






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jplant at cix.compulink.co.uk



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