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Where is Russia Going?

Lisa Taylor

AS NATO bombs rain over ex-Yugoslavia, Russian audiences are informed by their media, and by virtually the entire political spectrum, of a view that is practically the mirror image of Western propaganda.

Just as we are assured daily of the "humanitarian" nature of the NATO bombing operation – while the suffering of ordinary Serbs, the existence of Serb opposition to ethnic cleansing and the imperialist grand ambitions are masked from us – so the Russian ruling class along with the Communist Party (CPRF) tells the nation of this latter aspect only, and ignores and even demonises the Kosovars in its call for Slavic solidarity with Milosevic.

Yeltsin is hard-pressed to contain the call for re-pointing Russia’s nuclear missiles at the West, and warns apocalyptically of war.

What is going on? Is this the same Yeltsin who was once the darling of the West?

The capitalist restoration process has destroyed the Russian economy and thrown living conditions of workers back to the last century. The infamous predatory role played by the Western multinationals and financial institutions now stands exposed before the masses, especially since the collapse of the rouble last August when Russia defaulted on its debt – a people, already very poor, saw their living standards halved.

The chief opposition party (now the only mass-based party), Zyuganov’s Communists, have responded with hard words for Yeltsin and soft words for capitalism. "I’m for the market", boasts Zyuganov to the media. But he emphasises that the monetarism pushed by the US should be replaced by state intervention. Above all, what’s needed, he stresses, is a "strong state".

These words have less to do with a return to the old Soviet model than with the fact that the CPRF is collaborating in many regions with openly fascist parties. Nationalism has soared since the summer economic collapse. Zyuganov and many other so-called "communist" politicians are now openly espousing racism against Russia’s ethnic minorities. On 23 December, Zyuganov publicly blamed the entire crisis on the Jews.

It is no surprise to find these ex-Communists mutating into ultra-nationalist and racist formations. For not one of the major political leaders has any intention of taking on the true culprit of Russian misery – capitalism.

For the moment, the West’s soothsayers are right when they downplay Yeltsin’s apocalyptic statements. Russia will not go to war with the US while it is negotiating an IMF loan. The IMF, which cut off all money last summer, has only just renegotiated a package. But not one penny of IMF money will reach the population, as new loans, spread over 18 months, may not even meet the interest repayments Russia must pay the IMF this year. Worse, many of the conditions demanded by the IMF will exacerbate the crisis. Yeltsin and Yeltsinism will fail.

If not the IMF, what path will Russia’s new leadership take? Without workers taking control of resources and of political power, the choices seem very limited. But the logic of inter-imperialist rivalry today, with the spreading effects of a global overcapacity in production and the Asian economic crisis, could open up a space for Russia to compensate for its economic weakness by linking up with China or India, who desperately need its chief export, fuel – not to mention partners against US bullying. Further, the very real divisions between the US and the EU, temporarily disguised by Kosova, could provide Russia with the opportunity to gain a super-partner.

A Russia linked up with one or more of such powerful forces could be in a position to challenge US hegemony. This, indeed, is the policy advocated by CPRF chair Zyuganov. It could result in military conflict on a global scale – a prospect that might emerge sooner than many believe, with the worsening of the world economic crisis.

Now is the time to show our practical solidarity with Russian workers and our fierce opposition to the Western policies that are impoverishing them. International Solidarity with Workers in Russia – ISWoR – is a multi-tendency united front campaign open to all who oppose these policies, and who support the progressive sections of the Russian workers’ movement. Contact us now!

Supporting the Fightback in Russia

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY with Workers in Russia (ISWoR) was formed in January to support the progressive Russian workers’ movement – that is to say, the internationalist, anti-racist sections of that movement who hold a clear anti-capitalist line. Though new, we already have supporters in over a dozen countries and are now setting up a section in the US. Here are just some of the practical initiatives we are involved in:

1. Solidarity with the workers of Yasnogorsk, Tula (near Moscow). This struggle in Tula region became famous when workers took over their machine-building plant, expelled the existing management, and democratically elected their own! Ten thousand people came out to support their blockade of a major rail artery, repulsing the heavy attack by police sent by the local (CPRF-run) authority. On the 22nd of February special police forces were sent in to prevent workers from organising their usual general meeting. The courts had outlawed all workers’ action, threatening to sack all those who disobeyed. Here are extracts from the report sent by our contacts in Tula:

"At a joint meeting of the trade union and workers’ committee it was decided that no one will return to work unless all the workers are paid, a new collective agreement is signed and the administration is dismissed. At the general meeting outside the plant workers expressed their support to the decision by the workers’ and union committees. ’We have nothing to lose. If you want blood, there will be fighting’, respond hungry and angry workers to the threats.

"Misery is tremendous in Yasnogorsk and Tula. Workers of the plant have fainted at workplace meetings and were brought to hospitals.... The workers’ committee has received some financial assistance from trade unions and other organisations. Money is distributed among the poorest."

They have called on other Tula workers to join them, and similar rebellions have taken place since in a number of towns in the locality.

2. Highly active in the Tula struggle have been the Moscow Union of Marxists. Formerly the Moscow branch of the All-Union Leninist Communist Youth League (AULYCL), they recently left the AULYCL in protest at racist statements by its Leningrad branch. They are firmly committed to anti-capitalism and reject the CPRF as racist and as having sold out to the bourgeoisie. They work in the trade union Zaschita and at present are defending their comrades arrested on the picket line of Moscow auto workers.

3. The Samara strike committee arose when workers at Zim factory in 1998 took control of their plant. They enlarged their struggle, conducting solidarity actions with the miners, and participated in the famous rail war. Their strike committee now represents the eight biggest industrial enterprises in the city.

They describe the role of the CPRF and the racist-nationalist parties as one of betrayal of the workers and tell the story of how, at the miners’ solidarity picket, CPRF men tried to tear down their banners which proclaimed: "All bosses are scoundrels!" The Samara strikers have a slogan: "To lead the hungry it is necessary to be hungry yourself!"

They warn ominously that: "We now stand alone against the barbarism of ’liberal’ capitalism and the rising barbarism of its fascist twin. We know that no saviour will come to our help. We must save ourselves.... We can do this only by making it OUR society ... the dictatorship of the proletariat ...!" Recently they have been involved in the building of an All-Russia Strike Committee to unite the struggles, and now aim to publish a nation-wide workers’ paper.

4. The Krasnodar Two are anarchist anti-fascists framed on serious charges by the ultra-racist CPRF Governor Kondratenko. He rules Krasnodar region in alliance with open fascist parties, and has granted legal powers to tens of thousands of racist Cossack militiamen to terrorise local black people (mainly from Caucasus) on their patrols. One of the anti-fascists, several months pregnant, has already had damage to her foetus because of the starvation prison diet. Her guards are all male. The other, also female, has not been allowed to communicate with anyone outside the prison.

ISWoR has been and will continue to support all the above struggles – please contact us now to find out how you can get involved. We also require donations urgently for most of these initiatives and to pay for our own printing, phone and other expenses. Please help by sending cheques (addressed to ISWoR) to: Box R, 46 Denmark Hill, London SE5 8RZ. We need help too with research, translation (all languages), IT, and the general running of the campaign. We hold regular meetings – all welcome. Contact us now by post, or email ISWOR@aol.com.