The July elections represent another turn in the situation in Russia. On the surface, the result was a massive victory for Russian capitalism. Despite the frightful collapse in living standards, crime, corruption and mafia capitalism, Yeltsin won. This was a heavy defeat for Stalinism, not socialism or genuine communism, but it will usher in a new period of convulsions for Russia. The underlying processes remain as contradictory and explosive as before. The result has resolved nothing.
According to the Central Electoral Commission, Yeltsin got 53.10%, to Zyuganov's 40.41%. If these figures are correct, this means that Yeltsin increased his support from 26.7 million voters in the first round to 38.9 million in the second, while Zyuganov's vote went up only slightly, from 24.2 millions to 29.3 millions. In percentage terms, Yeltsin increased his vote by almost 19 points, while Zyuganov's share went up by a little more than 8.
Despite everything, the CP still made a strong showing. Zyuganov defeated Yeltsin in the "Red Belt" area stretching from Tambov and Voronezh, south of Moscow, to Siberian regions such as Novosibirsk, Omsk and the coal mining area of Kemerovo. We can assume that the CP maintained its support in the other mining areas, and in the workers in heavy industry in general. 40% is a considerable base in society, and this would undoubtedly include the decisive layers of the industrial workers, as well as the rural areas.
This is something which Trotsky did not anticipate before the War. He thought that the peasantry would provide a solid base for capitalist reaction. But, as Marx pointed out long ago, the peasant also has his rational side, and is able to distinguish between what is in his interest and what hurts him. This is clearly shown in Poland, where the CP has a strong base among the small peasants, who have understood that, for them, capitalism spells ruin.
In Russia, the rural population no longer consists of peasants. They are rural proletarians, who have no interest in becoming transformed into small proprietors. The prospects for Russian agriculture under capitalism are grim. The former "granary of Europe" is importing large quantities of food from the West. The victory of Yeltsin will mean that this situation will continue, and with it the further decline of Russian agriculture.
The response of the bourgeois to the result was euphoric. Russian financial markets soared, but then fell back as it became clear that Western investors were not participating in the buying spree. The western capitalists, while breathing a sigh of relief that Zyuganov was not elected, are still worried about the future.
Were the elections rigged?
Can these results be the result of fraud? Since the elections, there has been more than sufficient evidence pointing to the existence of widespread ballot rigging. The CSCE observers found evidence of widespread electoral fraud. Even before the first round, the then Defence Minister Pavel Grachev announced that sailors in the fleet outside Russia had voted "unanimously" for Yeltsin. Even more incredibly, Yeltsin's highest vote was supposed to have come from Chechnya—64.1%—a remarkable result for a man who had ordered the bloody war resulting in the mass slaughter of the Chechen people and the reduction of their homeland to ashes!
Andrei Kolganov and Alexander Buzgalin, two left wing economists at Moscow State University, state that "an element of fraud cannot be excluded (though in the view of experts, this could hardly have exceeded 3-5%)." If we assume that ballot rigging amounted to 5% of the votes, Yeltsin's majority would be cut to a bare minimum. However, since it is notoriously difficult to obtain precise figures in cases of electoral fraud, the estimates of the "experts" may understate the real position. Socialist Boris Kagarlitsky implies that fraud was more widespread than this. He writes:
"The second round Russian election began inauspiciously for the authorities. Throughout the morning the population of St. Petersburg, a city considered a major stronghold of the present regime, simply failed to turn up at the polling stations. People were clearly sick of elections. By 3 p.m. only about 4% of electors had voted. A low turnout was also evident in other regions where Boris Yeltsin had come out ahead in the first round. Something close to panic broke out in the president's campaign team. A state television announcer let slip the news that 'catastrophic moods' had seized hold of the campaign staff.
"After 4 p.m., however, something happened. As if someone had waved a magic wand, the low turnout was everywhere replaced by a high one, in some places exceeding the results of the first round. If we are able to believe official reports, the citizens of Russia turned up as a body at the polling stations, and in no less united fashion, voted for Yeltsin. The more remote and inaccessible the region, the greater the support for the president. The people of the Chukokta peninsula in the far north-east showed particular enthusiasm for Yeltsin, giving him 75% of the vote—a remarkable result, especially if we consider that in the heat of the election campaign the authorities had forgotten to ship foodstuffs to Chukotka, and the danger of starvation hung over the region.
"The people of Chechnya also voted en masse for Yeltsin; obviously, they had recovered after being bombed by warplanes of the federal forces. It is true that journalists were unable to find many of the polling stations, but totals of votes recorded at these stations were nevertheless to be found in the offices of the republic's electoral commission. The inhabitants of Daghestan, who voted overwhelmingly for Communist candidate Zyuganov in the first round, had evidently changed their minds ten days later, when they voted for Yeltsin. The official press attributed this to explanatory work carried out by local leaders. Similar explanatory work had been performed in Bashkiria and Tataria. Despite all these strange goings-on, it would be wrong to speak of widespread fraud in the elections. More likely, the authorities 'adjusted' the results somewhat. A small majority for Yeltsin was thus transformed into a substantial one; the president was re-elected with 54 per cent of the vote compared to about 40 per cent for Zyuganov."
The Guardian (5/7/96) makes out a similar case: "There were some startling pro-Yeltsin anomalies in the Red Belt, suggesting either the powerful personal influence of local bosses in ethnically-based regions or fraud.
"The most suspicious result was in the North Caucasian republic of Daghestan, long a bastion of Communist support. In June, Mr. Zyuganov won 66 per cent of the vote, against 26 per cent for Mr. Yeltsin, with Lebed barely registering. This week, Mr. Yeltsin's vote shot up to 51 per cent, with Mr. Zyuganov down to 46.
"Almost as dubious was the result in the oil-rich Volga republic of Bashkortostan, where a largely Muslim population traditionally backs the Communists. How a Zyuganov lead of 42 to 35 per cent in June turned into a Yeltsin triumph of 52 to 42 per cent this week is a mystery."
Before the election, Zyuganov had warned of the danger of fraud. After the result of the second round was declared, he pointed out that "In Daghestan we got 60% last time, and now they say we've lost there. I want to figure out how that could have happened in the last ten days."
The Italian paper La Stampa, which is generally considered to be in close contact with the reality of Russian political life, and evidently has excellent sources, published an article on July 6th entitled "Fraud—here is the proof". Analysing the results of the first round, it concludes that: "in any other country, these figures would have caused a scandal of international proportions, whereas in Russia they circulate in samizdat". The figures referred to are taken from the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan. They prove conclusively the existence of massive fraud.
La Stampa's correspondent had access to the voting figures given at different levels. At the lowest level, the Local Electoral Commission represents 60 polling stations. These results are then submitted to the Regional Electoral Commission (in this case, Tatarstan), which finally sends them to the Electoral Commission of the Russian Federation. The La Stampa article shows that the results do not add up. Votes were systematically subtracted from all other candidates, and transferred to Yeltsin's list. For example, in one area of Tatarstan, the discrepancy was as follows:
Yeltsin real vote 171,000
Yeltsin official vote 207,000
Zyuganov real vote 68,000
Zyuganov official vote 59,000
Lebed real vote 35,000
Lebed official vote 25,000
Other areas showed similar discrepancies. La Stampa concludes that, if this was the case in Tatarstan, there is no reason to suppose that it was any different elsewhere. It further concludes that such fraud could only be carried out with the participation of a large number of functionaries right up to the top government level, where no checks were carried out. It is unthinkable that the Central Commission was not aware of this. In other words, the ballot rigging was organised at the highest level. The article ends with the following question:
"Does this mean that the Communists, in reality, won the first round?"
There is no doubt that Yeltsin rigged the vote in the referendum on the Constitution. Even bourgeois commentators accept that. So, if it looked as if Zyuganov was going to win, there can be no doubt that Yeltsin supporters would have resorted to massive ballot-rigging to fix the result. The Russian bourgeoisie and the West could not permit Zyuganov to win. In the words of Time's Moscow correspondent Bruce Nelan, "It would have been a disaster for all concerned had the Russians elected Zyuganov....In the end they voted for the lesser evil." However, the same correspondent warns against drawing too optimistic conclusions: "There are still serious problems in Russia that need to be resolved. The Western idea that the problems will all disappear with the reelection of Yeltsin is simply wrong."
Role of the "free" press
During the campaign, the so-called "free press" and television behaved in a manner so depraved that it made the Western gutter press look quite demure by comparison. Even the Western pro-Yeltsin commentators were forced to express their discontent at the way the media favoured the President. The Economist referred to "a slavishly pro-Yeltsin bias in the Russian media." These facts show the hollowness and hypocrisy of the Western claims that Yeltsin stands for "democracy."
On the role of the media, even the main international observer team, organised by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was obliged to state:
"Not only was there a significant imbalance in candidate Yeltsin's favour in the amount of coverage but also his campaign was generally shown in positive terms, compared to other candidates, in particular candidate Zyuganov, who tended to be shown in negative terms."
US observers organised by the International Republican Institute made the same point:
"The group of American observers were also astonished , said the senator, by a situation when the independent mass media so obviously supported the reelection of the incumbent president."
The observers found that in the six weeks preceding the first round of voting, president Yeltsin received roughly 53% of the time devoted to the election in news and current affairs programmes. Zyuganov received 18% of the time but this was overwhelmingly negative and designed to frighten voters off.
In an article published in the Morning Star (July 9th) Renfrey Clarke, a prominent left wing commentator on Russian affairs, gives a whole series of examples of the methods used to bribe the media into supporting Yeltsin. He points out that: "though extensively privatised, the national television networks still depend heavily on the government to subsidise their operations. State control over the print media is looser but still considerable.
"Again, the heads of the main newspaper organisations consider themselves well served by Yeltsin and clearly needed little prompting to direct their resources to getting him re-elected".
Papers like Moskovsky Komsomolets and Vechernaya Moskva published slanderous articles, telling all kinds of lies, such as the allegation that the Communists would "bring Moscow to its knees in six months following an election victory." They would "economise on city expenses by allowing only Russian products to enter the country's capital" and bring " a mass flood of depraved, unfortunate provincials". The English language Moscow Times, reported the deputy editor of Vechernaya Moskva, Vyacheslav Motyashov as saying: "Of course we ran that article to get people to vote for Yeltsin—who else?"
Gleb Pavlovsky, a former journalist and now general director of the Foundation for Effective politics was himself involved in distributing pro-Yeltsin articles to the Russian press, estimated that 1,000 journalists in Moscow alone were on the take, "including an elite group of perhaps 50 big name reporters who received $3,000 to $5,000 per month on top of their other income for writing articles favourable to Yeltsin or other candidates".
After the first round the CSCE observers demanded an improvement in the second round. "It is important that the shortcomings mentioned above in the behaviour of the media, the conduct of the election campaign and the polling day procedures be addressed as a matter of urgency."
In reality, the reverse was the case, All the abuses of the first round were deepened in the second. The Daily Telegraph reported, for example: "The selection of news items is even more flagrant. Yesterday Victor Ilyukhin, a senior Communist who heads the security committee of the lower house of Parliament, summoned reporters to see a tape of police questioning a banker who admitted taking $500,000 from the Finance Ministry and giving it to two members or the Yeltsin campaign team. The tape failed to find a place on the early evening news on the Russian Public Television, the most popular channel".
So distorted was the TV coverage, that even news of Yeltsin's illness was suppressed to a large extent. As Tony Barber commented in the Independent: "Clearly, the inability of one of the two presidential candidates to perform his duties would be likely to have a decisive influence on the outcome. So the Russian media simply hushed it up".
Constanze Krehl, head of the European parliament delegation observing the second round said: "It is really clear that Mr Yeltsin has more than 400 points of positive coverageÉ and Mr Zyuganov has minus 300". Yet despite all this, the "democratic" observers from the West were quite prepared to give the Russian elections a clean bill of health!
Why the CP lost?
These "democrats" resorted to every kind of trickery, bribery and corruption to stay in power. In order to ensure that his supporters did not go off to their summer-houses (dachas) on voting day, Yeltsin changed the day from a Sunday to a weekday, an act that was quite illegal. But so what? An eye-witness account from Russia, which reached us on the eve of the first round, describes the atmosphere surrounding the campaign thus:
"There is absolutely unprecedented and extremely aggressive anti-communism campaign going on in all possible thinkable ways, not just on TV and radio. Apparently, there are free newspapers distributed in every house, called 'God Forbid,' in which all sorts of threats of communism pronounced (such as a list of Zyuganov-Hitler comparisons, trying to match statements made by each, etc.). To target younger generation, there are concerts of popular music, involving famous singers, are taking place under such slogans as 'Yeltsin is Our President'. Since it is not still enough to convince everyone, plenty of free T-shirts and baseball caps are given away in such concerts. Of course, the older generation, who still remember what life was like before, represent much more difficult target for him. But even there he seems to manage OK, mainly by pure bribery. Suddenly, plenty of money has appeared from somewhere, and he seems to be very happy to give everyone a nice present. Schools are getting computers, towns receiving huge credits for solving transport and environmental problems, factories also receiving 'bursts' for modernisation and even some individuals apparently 'deserved' free cars."
However, none of these factors is sufficient to explain the result of the election. The main reason why the CP was defeated was because they did not put forward a democratic socialist alternative for the workers and the people of Russia. In our last statement, issued just after the first round, we wrote:
"Given the social catastrophe, if Zyuganov had a genuinely Leninist policy, he would now be on the threshold of power. But in common with the other ex-Stalinist leaders of the CPs of Eastern Europe, Zyuganov has revealed the most complete lack of even the most elementary grasp of revolutionary class politics.
"Because of the bankruptcy of the CP leaders, it now seems likely that Russia is moving in the direction of a new nightmare in the form of bourgeois Bonapartism—a pro-capitalist dictatorship based on "rule by the sword." But even now this is not inevitable. The most far-sighted representatives of capital, even after the first round of voting on June 16th were cautioning investors not to celebrate victory too soon, and that Yeltsin could still lose. Their attitude leaves no room for doubt that they are still convinced that a Zyuganov victory would pose a serious threat to capitalism in Russia.
"Zyuganov's election campaign showed just how far removed these ex-Stalinist leaders are from the traditions of Bolshevism. Not an atom of class content, not a mention of socialism, no perspective that could rouse and inspire the working class and the young generation. Instead, Zyuganov tied to wrap himself in the stinking rags of Russian nationalism, an abomination that Lenin condemned a thousand times."
Timothy Heritage, writing for Reuter on July 4th, states that : "Zyuganov himself is a strong Russian nationalist and admirer of the Orthodox Church. His closest adviser, Alexei Podberyozkin, is a nationalist and Orthodox believer who is not a member of the Communist Party at all. Despite leading into the election a nationalist-communist alliance including some radical communists, Zyuganov has ruled out any rebirth of the old Soviet Communist Party which collapsed five years ago."
Here the subjective factor is decisive. After decades of totalitarian rule, there is no enthusiasm for a return to Stalinism. The masses are repelled by the chaos, corruption and general rottenness of the Russian gangster bourgeoisie, whose plunder of state assets even the Financial Times described as "the theft of the century." But they have no desire to hand power back to the old Stalinist bureaucracy. They want socialism, but with a democratic regime.
In the absence of a democratic socialist alternative, Yeltsin was able to organise a scare campaign on the lines described above. In the circumstances, it is surprising that the CP's vote was as high as it was, even if one accepts the official figures as correct, which is extremely doubtful. In spite of Zyuganov, the bulk of the industrial workers voted for him. But elections are not decided by the industrial working class alone. As in the West, there are intermediate layers, professional people, civil servants, functionaries of all kinds, who would follow the proletariat if the latter was mobilised in action, but, if no lead is given, can be drawn behind the ruling elite by fear, bribery, or a combination of both.
Western economists have roughly calculated the nascent bourgeoisie at about 10% of the population (this would be an extremely broad definition, including all sorts of petty "entrepreneurs," whereas the big capitalists would be a tiny handful ). Together with their families and dependants, and all other layers who are somehow linked to the "market" such as drivers, street traders, self-employed people, servants, private bodyguards (there are 600,000 of these alone) and criminals, we are talking about maybe 20% of the population. This is approximately the percentage of votes won by all the "pro-market" parties in the December elections. It is a not inconsiderable portion of the population, but not enough to win an election.
It is no accident that Yeltsin's main support came from Moscow and St. Petersburg. Apart from the fact that these centres act as a magnet for the nascent bourgeois from all over Russia, like all capital cities and administrative centres, they have a large petit bourgeois population, not just the small traders and petty speculators linked to the market economy, but a vast number of functionaries whose jobs and career prospects are dependent on the ruling clique. The upper stratum of this layer is mainly at the service of the nascent bourgeoisie. The lower grades could have been won over by the CP. These are the typical "floating voters," who hesitated until the last moment before casting their vote reluctantly for Yeltsin, on the principle of "better the devil you know." These people thought: "At least with Yeltsin we have some freedom (this is, of course, an extremely relative proposition). If Zyuganov wins, how do we know he will not impose a totalitarian dictatorship. And who can say if we'll be any better off under the Communists? Weren't they also corrupt? Wasn't Yeltsin in the same party as Zyuganov? So they're all as bad as the other. Yeltsin has made a lot of promises. Maybe if we stick with him, things will get better."
Role of the "Communist" Party
There was also another factor. Interviews published in the West with such people gave interesting responses. Many of them were afraid that a Zyuganov victory would have meant a coup and civil war. This appraisal is not wrong. As we have pointed out repeatedly, the bourgeois had no intention of allowing Zyuganov to win. One way or another, he would have been blocked. Such a development would have created an explosive situation, which could have ended in civil war. If Zyuganov had been a genuine Leninist, and not a hopeless reformist, that would have been no obstacle. It is an elementary truth that no ruling class, or, in this case, ruling elite, ever surrenders power without a struggle. The Bolsheviks took power with only 33% of votes in the elections to the Constituent Assembly. Even the official figures gave Zyuganov over 40%, and the real figure must have been higher.
If Zyuganov had been a Communist worthy of the name, he would not have confined himself to warnings about vote-rigging, but would have set up committees to defend democracy in every workplace and locality, composed of the elected representatives, to organise and co-ordinate the fight-back against the Yeltsinites and their corrupt, anti-democratic regime. Any violence that ensued would be exclusively the responsibility of this gang of crooks and reactionaries. A decisive attitude on the part of the workers is the prior condition for winning over the wavering middle layers. As we stated after the first round:
"It is still not excluded that Zyuganov can form a government. But this is only possible on the basis of a big movement of the working class, not otherwise."
Here the subjective factor is all-important. Above all, in order to win over the youth, a bold vision is necessary, one which would inspire with hope for the future. But no such perspective was put forward. Zyuganov, in fact, offered no perspective at all. His attitude to the Stalinist past was half apologetic, which gave the Yeltsinites the possibility of identifying him with the crimes of the old regime—concentration camps and so on. Yet Zyuganov did not even clearly advocate the re-establishment of the USSR and a nationalised planned economy. The word socialism was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, he scandalously flirted with Russian chauvinism, even to the point of inviting Orthodox priests onto his platform, a tactic which was grist to the mill of Lebed.
After generations of totalitarian bureaucratic rule, broad layers of society do not want to go back to the Stalinist past. Even when Yeltsin's rating in the polls fell to 5 to 10%, there were still more than 40% of voters who declared that they would not support a KPRF presidential candidate under any circumstances. If we exclude the nascent bourgeois, their dependants and hangers-on, this figure still means that millions of workers and youth, who are undoubtedly hostile to Yeltsin and capitalism, have also decisively rejected Stalinism. Only the democratic, internationalist banner of genuine Marxism can win over these layers. By contrast, Zyuganov's combination of Stalinism and nationalism only served to repel them.
Broad layers of the youth were not attracted to the CP. In the future this will change. As the crisis develops, with rising unemployment among the working class youth and students, there will be a massive shift in the direction of Communism. The ideas of Lenin and Trotsky will gain their most enthusiastic audience among the youth. But at present the repulsive mixture of Stalinism, nationalism and reformism peddled by Zyuganov cannot attract young people who are particularly sensitive on the question of democracy.
Despite its huge resources, the KPRF, at the moment of truth, was unable to connect to a wide layer of the population which was looking for a genuine democratic socialist alternative. After decades of totalitarian and bureaucratic methods, the party leaders had no idea how to appeal to the masses. As Kolganov and Buzgalin point out:
"With its 500,000 members, the KPRF was the largest political party in Russia. But as the election campaign showed, the party's bureaucratism, together with its orientation toward "people of the past" and pragmatic-minded petty bureaucrats dissatisfied with Yeltsin, made it a weak organisation, incapable of devising any effective response to the propaganda and "dirty tricks" of the authorities. In circumstances where the mass media were monopolised by Yeltsin, the idea of carrying on agitation "from door to door" was not in itself a bad one, but the members of the KPRF were unable to implement it in practice. They had no idea of how to perform such work, and could not find a road to people's hearts - except for the hearts of people already inclined to support Zyuganov. The experience of the elections showed that Zyuganov does not have anything even remotely resembling a "Lenin Guard".
"The KPRF's strengths, including its massive size and the presence within its membership of tested, experienced cadres from the Soviet Communist Party, were turned into weaknesses. Disciplined rank and file "party warriors" turned out to be of little use in the conditions of a multi-party system marked by struggle between various ideologies and interests. Meanwhile, the experienced cadres had experience only of bureaucratic kow-towing, not of political propaganda work."
If Zyuganov's campaign in the first round was bad, in the second it was almost non-existent. Some of the western commentators were so perplexed that they wondered whether Zyuganov's tactics were not the result of some cunning plan to increase public apathy, and thus cause a low poll, which, allegedly, would benefit the CP. But it is not necessary to seek such a subtle and "profound" explanation. There was no such plan. Zyuganov's failure was the result either of his inability to put a real alternative before the people, or because he was afraid of winning the elections. Most likely, it was a combination of both.
Lacking any revolutionary perspective, Zyuganov was terrified of the prospect of civil war. This would have meant leaning on the working class, something which the CP leaders wish to avoid at all costs. Once the workers were aroused, it would be difficult to control them. Under such circumstances, it would not be possible to consolidate a neo-Stalinist regime. No doubt the Yeltsinites made it clear in advance to Zyuganov that he would not be permitted to take power by electoral means. The choice was clear—either mobilise the masses for an all out struggle for power, or capitulate. It does not require much imagination to understand what occurred between Zyuganov and the leaders of the Yeltsin camp between the first and second rounds, if not before. The correspondent of the Spanish paper El Pais (7th July) writes:
"In order to understand why the communists have been so passive in relation to Yeltsin and why they have accepted with such resignation the tricks played on them one has to bear in mind these subterranean currents, for it is there where, according to a hypothesis which cannot be verified, Zyuganov had been given to understand that the powers-that-be would never accept his victory, should that occur, and presented him with the alternative between hanging on to the position he has now in the parliament (the communists are the biggest group in the Lower House) or face the prospect of being declared outside the law."
Once Zyuganov refused to mobilise the working class for action, the result of the election was a foregone conclusion. Boris Kagarlitsky believes that the CP leaders did a deal with Yeltsin to hand him the elections on a plate, on the understanding that they would be offered positions in the government. For obvious reasons, this cannot be directly proved. However, it would explain a great deal about the complete absence of an election campaign in the second round on the part of the KPRF, the failure to denounce the blatant irregularities after the elections, and the indecent haste with which the CP leaders rushed to accept the idea of accepting posts in Yeltsin's government.
"By the second round the position had become even worse," says Kagarlitsky, "The Communist Party virtually abandoned propaganda work. The party's leaders spent more time consulting with the government than on assisting their own activists. The KPRF's reluctance to condemn obvious breaches by the authorities of the electoral legislation together with the fact that Zyuganov's campaign staff did not seem in the least disappointed by the election results, provides grounds for still more grave suspicions. Even before the elections, the Communists' 'reserve candidate' Aman Tuleyev unexpectedly declared his readiness to enter the government. Immediately after the elections State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev and one of the party's long-time leaders, Anatoly Lukyanov, spoke out in the same vein. They referred to the party's ``good'' results and argued that the KPRF ought to receive relatively senior posts in the new cabinet.
"Leading members of the Yeltsin administration who barely a day before had been speaking of the "red menace'', and suggesting that if the Communists came to office the effect would be something close to the end of the world, also changed their tone abruptly. On the day after the elections Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and other government representatives spoke of the presence in the KPRF camp of serious and responsible people, who should be brought into the government and entrusted with the task of resolving social problems. The government leaders argued that the country should not be divided "into reds and whites'' (as if they had not spent the previous two months doing precisely this), and pledged that a place for all would be found in the cabinet of ministers".
While hinting at the possibility of fraud, Zyuganov made no attempt to mobilise any kind of protest movement, but hastened to accept the result as "the will of the people." The bourgeois in the West could scarcely conceal their glee at the spectacle of this fearsome "Communist" meekly accepting defeat. The Financial Times of July 5th carried the headline "Communists accept defeat like democrats." What the FT means to say is that the Zyuganov wing of the CP have abandoned all pretence at being Communists and openly embraced "democracy," that is, capitalism. Following the Polish CP leaders, they have transformed themselves from Stalinists to Social Democrats. No wonder the western media which yesterday foamed at the mouth against the danger of a Zyuganov victory, now pay hypocritical tribute to this "statesmanlike" behaviour, that is to say, this abject betrayal.
What "will of the people" is Zyuganov talking about, when even the western media is compelled to admit that the whole election campaign was shamefully biased in Yeltsin's favour? Thus, Zyuganov has entirely capitulated to bourgeois ideology in its most vulgar and myopic form, parliamentary cretinism. However, he is not alone in these illusions. The upstart bourgeois, who only weeks ago were panicking at the prospect of a return to "Communism," have now recovered their nerve and succumbed to euphoria. In the same issue, one of the representatives of the Russian bourgeois, Boris Berezovsky, was quoted as saying "We shall never again need to choose between communism and capitalism." The relief of these elements was best expressed by their most consummate representative, Victor Chernomyrdin the day after the election—"The choice is made for always, today democracy has won forever." However, such judgements are premature.
From a Marxist point of view, elections in and of themselves solve nothing. In the best case, they provide a snapshot of the mood of the masses at a given moment. But in this case, even that can be doubted. In any event, the social tendencies are shown here in an extremely mangled and indirect manner, as through a distorting mirror. Had Zyuganov won, that would have been a significant change in the situation, reflecting a major setback for the pro-capitalist elements. But, for that very reason, it was not going to be allowed to happen. Those who had enriched themselves by plundering the state would not just have handed over with a polite bow. A Zyuganov victory would have brought the country to the brink of civil war. As all history shows, the decisive questions are settled, not by parliamentary arithmetic, but by the struggle of real forces.
However, the fact of Yeltsin's victory does not signify a fundamental change. True, for a time, the pro-bourgeois wing will receive an important access of confidence, while the mood of the working class will be temporarily depressed. The movement in the direction of capitalism will continue and even be speeded up in the next few months. But none of the fundamental contradictions have been removed by the election. On the contrary, they will become enormously exacerbated from now on. Not the July election, but the resolution of these fundamental contradictions, is what will finally determine the outcome.
Trotsky predicted that the restoration of capitalism in Russia, if it occurred, would be a regime of decline. And what a decline! A collapse of more than 50% in the first four years, compared with the 30% drop after the Wall Street crash in 1929. Yet, in spite of this, the CP proved incapable of mobilising the working class to take power. The most important element in the equation is the subjective factor. Zyuganov and the ex-Stalinist leaders of the KPRF act as a powerful brake on the movement. But that will not last. Explosive events will shake the CP from top to bottom.
This conclusion, elementary from a Marxist point of view, was underlined the day after the elections. No sooner had Yeltsin been declared the winner than the editorials in the West began to express deep concern about the immediate future. Yeltsin made all kinds of promises during the election. That undoubtedly helped him to get the desired result.
During the election campaign, Yeltsin promised, among other things, a 20% increase in the minimum wage; holiday pay for teachers; Chechnya reconstruction; support for coal miners; compensation for elderly savers, the elderly and handicapped; increased pensions; write-off of farm debts; home building loans; payment of all unpaid wages and pensions; more state spending on defence research and development; payment of state debts to power ministries. It has been calculated that the total value of these promises is about 100 trillion roubles ($19.8 billion). The problem with a promissory note, however, is that eventually it is called in. And where do you get the funds to draw on?
Ultimately, the decisive factor is the economy. For almost a year, the bourgeois economists in the West have been predicting an economic revival in Russia. They even talked of a figure of 10% in 1996, which we said was impossible. What is the real situation? The Russian economy remains in a deep crisis. Economic activity slowed still further in the first half of this year. Industrial production and GDP declined by 4.4% and 3.8% respectively (year on year) in the first five months. Part of this is the result of political uncertainty delaying investment decisions. But there are other factors. Russia's increasing dependence on the world market creates new problems. Exports, including metals, chemicals and forestry products, have been hit by weaker international demand and prices. On the other hand, cheap foreign imports are penetrating the Russian market more and more. According to the latest estimates by one leading market analyst, "Even a pickup in the second half of the year, GDP growth for the full year of 1996 is unlikely to meet the IMF and EBRD forecasts of 2%." (Brunswick Brokerage report, 26th June).
The same report states that inflation in Russia is now comparable to that of Poland and Brazil, and lower than Mexico's. However, it warns that "the potential for inflation to continue falling in the second half of 1996 now appears limited." The fact that the level of inflation has been reduced is hardly surprising. With a collapse of production by more than half, how could it increase? As a matter of fact, under such circumstances, prices ought to fall, not rise. Yet the danger of inflation is far from overcome. It is not prices that are falling, but only the rate of increase in prices. If the economy begins to recover—and that is inevitable at a certain stage, possibly in 1997—inflation will begin to take off again. Hence the extreme concern in the West at Russia's huge budget deficit, a permanent source of inflationary pressure.
In the Spring of 1995, when the rouble was rising, the central bank printed roubles and used them to buy dollars. Money supply rose by 27% in two months, reserves doubled to $6 billion and the IMF's target—set with respect to a preceeding, one-year loan—were undisturbed. This spring the picture was different. Base money grew by 7% in March and at the same rate in April, but this money was spent buying votes, not dollars.
The fall in production has drastically reduced the state's revenue, while increasing costs. On the other hand, the private sector does not make up for the collapse of state industry. The mafia are not the most regular tax payers. A large part of the state's shrunken revenues goes on wages and pensions, while investments are being cut back. But this is further undermining Russia's future prospects. Despite the cuts, the budget deficit goes from bad to worse. In the first four months of 1996, the budget deficit stood at Rb 31 trillions ($6.2 billion, or 4.3% of GDP) according to the Ministry of Finance definitions, but Rb 51 trillions ($10.4 billion, or 7.5% of GDP) according to those of the IMF, above the agreed ceiling of Rb 40.4 trillions ($8.1 billion).
So far the budget deficit has been financed by the issue of treasury bills (GKOs) and credits from the IMF, Germany and France. In this way, a large part of Russia's wealth is being siphoned off in interest paid to Western financiers. This is a very costly operation. To illustrate the drain, we cite the following fact: although the gross amount of T-bills outstanding increased by 57 trillion roubles ($11.4 billion, or 2.5% of GDP), the net financing increase only amounted to 15 trillion roubles (0.7% 0f GDP). The government is also believed to have sold some of Russia's precious metal reserves.
Kolganov and Buzgalin comment:
"The adventurist budgetary and financial policies of the first half of 1996 inevitably pose the question of how the budget deficit will be covered, and of how the internal debt that has grown along with it will be serviced. The federal budget deficit has grown to 9.6 per cent of GDP, twice the figure planned for the end of the year. Tax revenues in the first four months of 1996 fell to 7.5 per cent of GDP compared to 11 per cent during the same period of 1995. 'We cannot collect taxes on vodka, on cars, or on imported consumer goods,' admitted Minister for the Economy Yevgany Yasin, 'and we are approaching the point where there will no longer be anything to take, where an increase in taxation threatens grave consequences for production.' The total state debt rose during the first half of this year by US$20 billion, of which $4 billion was foreign debt, and $16 billion domestic debt. The government borrowed $22.4 billion on the market for short-term state securities during this period, but with interest rates at exorbitant levels, had to pay back $19.7 billion; it is clear that this key source of funds has now virtually been exhausted.
"The government in all likelihood will have to resort simultaneously to all of three possible solutions to its problem with finances. It will have to dip into the Central Bank's reserves of gold and hard currency; it will have to use credit and monetary emission; and it will have to limit its outlays by freezing wages (through delays in wage pay-outs) and delaying the payment of social welfare benefits and subsidies to producers. According to economists, total emission during the first half of 1996 already exceeded 50 trillion rubles (about $50 billion). This points to growing inflation, problems on the financial and credit market, increasing social tensions, and a worsening of the economic decline. Extra spending on the purchase of grain from abroad will also be unavoidable, since reserves are somewhat below the level needed to ensure supply until the new harvest. There is also the 'eternal' problem of supporting agriculture."
Yeltsin has driven a coach and horses through the IMF's stipulations, which did not prevent that organisation from continuing to bail out the Yeltsin regime. In February, the IMF granted a three-year loan of just over $10 billion—the second biggest ever after Mexico. Despite the fact that Yeltsin frittered most of this away in the election campaign, and drew a further $1 billion from Russia's Central Bank in June, the Fund's Chief Michael Camdessus stated, without even blushing, that Russia was "up to date on performance criteria".
But that generosity will now cease. The West was terrified of a Zyuganov victory. Up to the very last minute, they were not sure that this could not happen. For this reason, the IMF hastened to approve its loan before the election. But now Yeltsin is back in the Kremlin, the attitude of the West will change. In the next few months they will be applying merciless pressure on Moscow. They paid the bills, now they will demand results. They will demand that all the conditions attached to the loans be fulfilled. They will insist that the programme of privatisations be carried out to the end, regardless of the consequences.
An indication of the fragile condition of Russian capitalism is the instability of the financial sector. Western economists have predicted that a fall in the yield of Russian treasury bills (GKOs) will produce a collapse of the banking system. Annualised GKOs yield have fallen to 89-90% down from more than 200% before the elections. Immediatley after the elections Russia's central bank put administrators into Tveruniversalbank, Russia's 17th-largest commercial bank with assets of some $1.2 billion. On July 8th the central bank's cahirman, Sergei Dubinin warned of problems at Russia's 4th biggest bank, Inkombank. A further slide in the value of GKOs could provoke a collapse not only of the banks but of the stock exchange.
So far, despite the terrible economic catastrophe and the collapse in living standards of the big majority, unemployment has not assumed massive proportions. The industrial crisis has manifested itself mainly in a huge accumulation of inter-enterprise debt and unpaid wages. This is itself a major factor in the budget deficit, since, to date, these debts are mainly underwritten by the state. The IMF is demanding that this cease, and that, in effect, these factories be allowed to collapse. Such a scenario would mean perhaps 25 million unemployed—a finished recipe for social convulsions on a colossal scale.
Nor do the problems of the new government begin and end with the economy. Yeltsin promised an end to the Chechen war. This is an important question for many families faced with the conscription of their sons to fight and die in an unpopular war. But this is just another lie. The ruling elite, and especially the military caste, cannot tolerate the loss of what they see as an integral part of Russia. This particularly applies to the Caucasus, for both economic and strategic reasons. Immediately after the declaration of Yeltsin's victory, a senior Chechen field commander threatened new attacks unless Russia remove army checkpoints in the rebel territory within three days. This shows the fragility of Yeltsin's so called "peace". If they cannot reach some kind of deal which would provide a cover for Chechnya to remain part of Russia with the formal trappings of a pseudo-independence, then the war will go on. In fact, less than a week after the elections, fighting broke out again.
Thus, not one stone upon another will remain of Yeltsin's election promises. Not that he will be much worried about that. The President's health is clearly in a somewhat fragile state. Whether his "indisposition" in the closing stages of the campaign owed more to his heart or a vodka bottle is unclear. But it was sufficient to set the alarm bells ringing in every Western foreign ministry. Everywhere the question was asked anxiously: After Yeltsin, what?
Splits in the camp of the victors
No sooner had the election result been announced than it became clear that the government was riven with contradictions. The most obvious is the open rift between prime minister Chernomyrdin and general Lebed. The former is the most consummate representative of the new class of robber-capitalists who have enriched themselves from "the biggest theft in history." From a faceless bureaucrat, he has become a billionaire controlling a huge oil and gas conglomerate. As prime minister he has a powerful position, and probably enjoys the support of a big section of the nascent bourgeois as well as the imperialists who see him as their most reliable representative.
On the other hand, Lebed is an unprincipled adventurer who only just joined the camp of the "reformers" and whose voters probably made the difference between victory and defeat. As a result, he succeeded in wringing out of Yeltsin the key post of head of the Security Council. At least formally, he has concentrated immense power into his hands as head of the army and police. Yet this is not enough for him. Lebed aspires to absolute power, and makes little effort to conceal the fact.
Unfortunately for the general, there is no shortage of aspiring Bonapartes in present day Russia. Lebed's path is blocked by Chernomyrdin, who doubtless fancies the role for himself. The day after the election, it was clear that Lebed was being pushed into the background. "The Moor has done his duty. The Moor may go!" But this "Moor" has no intention of going anywhere—voluntarily, at least. With an eye on Yeltsin's demise, Lebed proposed that he be given the post of Vice-President, a move which was promptly stamped on by Chernomyrdin. Thwarted for the time being, the general will swallow his rage, retire to the sidelines, and bide his time, while constantly manoeuvring to build up his position.
Even the fact that he was put in charge of the campaign against crime and corruption was, in reality, a calculated manoeuvre to discredit Lebed, since this campaign is doomed to fail before it starts. In order to stamp out crime and corruption in Russia, it would first be necessary to arrest the biggest criminals, who are to be found at the heart of government, commencing with the prime minister. Lebed has attacked corruption in high places, but, so long as the Chernomyrdin clique remain in the saddle, all this remains on the level of worthless demagogy.
However, by placing Lebed in charge of the army and police—a desperate move by a man afraid of losing the election—Yeltsin was taking a big risk. Everything seems to indicate that Lebed was promised a lot more in exchange for his help in winning the election. But such promises are about as valuable as all the other ones made by Yeltsin, that is, not a lot. Lies, treachery, deceit—these are the stock-in-trade of the entire regime, and Yeltsin has them worked out as a fine art. Probably at this stage, Lebed does not have a sufficiently strong base to challenge the Chernomyrdin gang. It is not even sure that he has a solid control over the armed forces. But he will be constantly striving to build such a base.
Before the election, Lebed waged a demagogic campaign, attacking both reformers and Communists. He undoubtedly took some support away from the CP. For example, in the depressed industrial region to the north of Moscow (Ivanovo, Yaroslavl). When he went over to Yeltsin, it should have been possible for the CP to win over his voters in such areas, but Zyuganov's flirtation with nationalism made this impossible. If the voters of Ivanovo wanted a nationalist, why not vote for the genuine article, rather than a poor imitation. And did Zyuganov not offer Lebed a place in his government? Conclusion—Lebed is a man to be trusted.
Immediately after the elections, Lebed made a highly significant speech, in which he warned that many promises had been made, and that they had better be carried out, or else there would be an explosion. It is in this context that we must see the offer to allow some representatives of the CP into the government. After putting the boot in the elections, Yeltsin now "magnanimously" offers to give them a hand. This is a case of "Won't you come into my parlour? said the spider to the fly." The CP will be offered, as always, the ministry of labour and, possibly, social security. In these positions, they will be allowed to cover themselves with glory, and then tossed aside once they are sufficiently discredited.
Yeltsin is a sick man, who can disappear from the scene at any time. That would be the signal for an open power struggle between the rival factions. Being at a disadvantage, Lebed will try to entangle the CP in his machinations. It is not clear at this moment whether Zyuganov, or his close collaborators, would be prepared to enter a coalition government. Nor is it clear that, if they were to do so, whether the rest of the Party would accept it. We lack the necessary information to make a judgement on this. But it is likely that such a move would cause sharp differences even in the leadership. Leaders like the CP spokesman A. Lukyanov have at least shown a modicum of understanding when they predicted that Yeltsin would "implode." If the CP remains outside the government, they would pick up a lot of support, thus placing them in a strong position to take power. But everything seems to indicate that the Zyuganov wing would be quite prepared to act as the fifth wheel of Yeltsin's cart.
By this means, Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin intend to split the CP, by drawing sections of the leaders into the thieves' kitchen of corruption. After all, they know these people very well, being "old comrades." A split is guaranteed, if the CP leaders are stupid enough to accept this kind offer. Even now, there must be a lot of unrest in the ranks of the CP.
Incredibly, the daily paper of the British Stalinists, the Morning Star, in an editorial of the 5th of June entitled No Decisive Defeat, is full of praise for the idea of the Russian CP entering the Yeltsin government: "It is against this altered political landscape that President Yeltsin recognised yesterday that the concerns of all those people who voted communist would be addressed, perhaps by bringing the party into government.
"If the elections had marked a decisive defeat for the Communist Party, no such calculation would be necessary—Yeltsin and his cronies would simply have trampled across the opposition. The fact that there is now open talk of coalitions shows just how far the Communist Party and progressive forces in general have advanced".
What can one say about such people? They have learnt nothing and forgotten everything. The intention of Yeltsin is to use and discredit the CP leaders to whom he will probably offer the poisoned chalice of the ministries of social security and labour. Once they have done the dirty work, they will be unceremoniously kicked out . More perspicacious observers than the Morning Star have understood the real significance of this tactic:
"I think that a split is inevitable in the Communists after Yeltsin's victory," Alexey Kara-Muza, an independent political analyst and Communist Party historian, said. Sergei Belyayev, head of the pro-Yeltsin Our Home Is Russia bloc in parliament said: "The communist group will be split because the clever members are getting tired of strict communist discipline". Belyayev's words mean that the Yeltsinites will attempt to bribe sections of the KPRF Duma faction to support them. They may well succeed. But the parliamentary group does not reflect the feeling of communist workers at grass root level.
If the leaders take upon themselves the slightest responsibility for the crimes of gangster capitalism, there will be convulsions. At a certain point, the CP will split. Probably they would fuse with Anpilov's Communist Workers' Party, which would get increasing support by remaining outside the government. If there was a strong Trotskyist tendency present, it could get an important echo for a policy based on class independence, workers' democracy and internationalism. The presence of a strong and genuinely Marxist-Leninist current would transform the whole situation.
Marxists and the Communist Party
Even we did not expect that the CP would recover in the way that it has. It is true that the KPRF still has Stalinist features inherited from the past, a bureaucratic internal regime in which the voice of the rank and file is partially stifled by the apparatus. Nevertheless, there is a genuine membership, mainly working class in character. This represents a big change from the previous situation when the CPSU was little more than an extension of the totalitarian bureaucracy of the State, an organisation full of careerists, toadies, informers and agents.
In effect, the old party of the bureaucracy has become transformed into a Communist party, not in the Leninist sense, but like the CPs in the West, i.e. a reformist workers party. This is a peculiar development, which was not foreseen either by Trotsky or ourselves. Once the link with the state was broken, the KPRF has lost its previous character as an extension of the bureaucracy, and come more under the direct pressure of the class. Its upper layers are composed of that section of the old bureaucrats, who have lost out in the division of the spoils. These are the most incompetent, conservative or just unlucky elements. Among them are those whose only disagreement with the nascent bourgeoisie is that they are not part of it. They look with envy at the likes of Chernomyrdin, and would be quite willing to reach a deal with him, if he would make them "an offer they cannot refuse". This faction must be well represented in the Duma group of the party, which Chernomyrdin is skilfully attempting to split.
However, even in its leading layer, the KPRF is not homogenous. Another wing of the bureaucracy looks wistfully to the past, when their power, prestige and income were guaranteed by the "command economy". This section would like to go back to the old system, if they could. However, they are faced with the dilemma that the only way to defeat the nascent bourgeoisie is by mobilising the working class. Apart from the fact that their whole psychology and past and present interests fills them with distrust and lack of confidence in the working class, their entire experience of life has been sitting behind a desk giving orders. They are organically incapable of appealing to the workers, even if they wished to do so.
Below the leading stratum is a large number of "cadres" many of whom are close to the working class and honestly aspire to socialism. However, they lack a genuine Marxist-Leninist education, and are also inexperienced in serious work in the masses. Nevertheless, as the crisis develops, many of these can be radicalised and move in the direction of a real Leninist policy. This process will be enormously accelerated in the event of a split in the CP, which is inevitable at a certain stage. If a Trotskyist current were present, this process would be easier and quicker.
The indescribable stupidity of the sects is shown by their attitude to the KPRF. They are too busy constructing "mass parties" of ten or twenty people to see the potential of a party of 500,000! About 18 months ago, there was a conference on Trotsky in Moscow. Among those present were not only the usual sectarian rag tag and bobtail, but left wing intellectuals and members of the KPRF. Among the latter was a member of the Central Committee and contributor to Pravda, Boris Slavin, who appealed to the Trotskyists to join the KPRF. The appeal fell on deaf ears. However, when Slavin was asked if he considered himself a Trotskyist, he answered in the affirmative.
Whether or not this is strictly correct, it shows the potential for work in the CP. The KPRF is essentially no different to the mass communist parties in the West, or for that matter the Social Democracy. The fact that there is a bureaucracy which restricts internal democracy is no argument. The same thing can be said of the Communist and Social Democratic parties in the West, which does not mean in the slightest that they are not workers parties, and that Marxists cannot work in them. In fact, despite the bureaucracy, the possibilities should be even greater here. The rank and file of the CP believe that this is Lenin's party. It would therefore be possible for a Marxist current to base itself on the defence of Lenin's ideas, starting with the four conditions for workers democracy outlined in State and revolution.
The insane attitude of the sects to the KPRF is reminiscent of the position of Andres Nin when he refused to enter the Spanish Young Socialists in 1935 when he was asked to join by the leadership. By this act, Nin rendered impossible the construction of a mass revolutionary party in Spain and handed over the YS to the Stalinists on a plate. This ultimately led to the defeat of the Spanish Revolution. Despite all the difficulties, it is necessary for the Russian Marxists to find a way to reach the rank and file of the KPRF, and begin the task of building the genuine forces of Trotskyism in Russia.
"Time of Troubles"
The confidence of the bourgeois and the West in the future of capitalism in Russia is misplaced. Already there is the outline of a massive crisis in Russia. As the social, economic and political crisis unfolds, their forces will melt away. The idea that Communism cannot return because of Yeltsin's victory is a foolish pipe-dream. The very confidence of the bourgeois will be a factor in its undoing. Like the bullfrog in Aesop's fable, they are puffed up with their own importance. As a result, they will press on in the direction of "market reform" and will inevitably overreach themselves. They imagine that everything is settled, whereas nothing is settled. For a Marxist, an election is only an incident in the general process, and not at all the most decisive incident. The real test still lies in the future.
With the utter decay of Stalinism, and the general throwing back of consciousness at all levels of society, the most primitive and barbarous ideas have re-emerged from the murky slime of a half-forgotten past—Pan Slavism, Great-Russian chauvinism, anti-Semitism, astrology, superstition, faith healing, Orthodoxy—all this ideological and spiritual muck is a faithful mirror of social decline. Most striking of all the expressions of this decline is the way in which Zyuganov, instead of combating nationalism and religion, the inseparable soul mates of reaction, above all of Russian reaction, has completely succumbed to these poisonous influences, against which Lenin struggled all his life.
In the absence of understanding, self-styled intellectuals—not only on the right—take refuge in mysticism, referring to the "Russian soul," and drawing the conclusion from superficial analogies with Russian history that the Russian people are "not suited for democracy," and so on. In reality, such "explanations" explain nothing at all, but can be used as a ready-made excuse for the next gangster who seeks to seize power in the name of Russia, Order and Orthodoxy.
Far from the future of Russia being guaranteed, new upheavals and chaos lie on the horizon. Russia has entered a new "Time of Troubles"— smutnoe vremya, as the Russians call it—referring to the period of anarchy and social breakdown which preceded the coming to power of Peter the Great in the first half of the 18th century. The unstable, corrupt, gangster regime of Yeltsin bears some resemblance to the rule of the streltsy, the bandit rulers of Muscovy at that time. But then there was no working class such as the powerful Russian proletariat, which could, with proper leadership, show a way out of the impasse. As always, historical analogy is a lame substitute for a scientific analysis of the real class balance of forces. There is nothing at all inevitable about the descent of Russian society into chaos, or the victory of Bonapartist reaction, any more than in 1917. Now, as then, the causes are not to be found in the "Russian soul," but exclusively in the leadership of the working class—or the lack of it. The problem of problems is that the Russian working class has not yet moved as a class. This fact conditions the whole situation. But it will not last forever.
The starting point of our analysis is the impossibility of any lasting solution of the problems of the Russian economy under gangster capitalism (no other capitalism is possible for Russia), where the bourgeoisie had exhausted its progressive role long before the October Revolution. Under Yeltsin, there is no question of raising living standards, at least for the vast majority. The economic perspectives for the immediate period ahead have already been described. Even the paltry 2% target of the IMF is seen by the experts as an unrealisable goal. And the prospect of mass closures and soaring unemployment looms ever larger.
Precisely for this reason, the possibility of giving the CP a couple of posts in the government is posed, not out of any sense of altruism on Yeltsin's part (he could be accused of many things, but hardly that). This was the inner meaning of Chernomyrdin's comment the day after the elections that Russia should not be divided into "winners and losers." The "winners" are evidently terrified of the reaction of the "losers" once the real position becomes clear.
In one sense, Yeltsin's victory is a good thing, because it gives us more time. A CP victory would have rapidly led to civil war, which, given the total lack of preparation and leadership, could probably have been a disaster. Now the process will unfold somewhat differently. It will take longer, although this does not mean a smooth and peaceful process. Quite the contrary. Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin appeal for national unity because they realise what awaits them. Once again Zyuganov demonstrates his complete lack of understanding when he echoes the call for a "government of all patriotic forces." The call for "national unity" is the emptiest of all slogans. With falling industrial production, collapsing living standards, the ruin of agriculture, and the shameless enrichment of the few, how can one talk seriously of "unity"? It is not possible to unite oil and water. How can the working class unite with the mafia thieves and the rotten nascent bourgeoisie? This would be like the unity of the horse and the rider, equipped with sharp spurs!
The miners' strikes in January served notice that the workers' patience is beginning to wear out. Paradoxically, the much heralded economic revival could be the signal for a wave of strikes and protests. Frustrated on the electoral front, there would be a natural tendency for the workers to move onto the industrial plane. An economic revival would encourage this tendency, especially as the bourgeois will be thieving, looting and exploiting even more blatantly in the next period than before. There must now be a mood of bitter anger and resentment against the wealthy parasites. Temporarily, the workers' heads will be down, but that cannot last. The explosion must come, and will be even more violent for having been pent up so long. Those who imagine that "everything is solved" have some nasty surprises in store.
The idea so assiduously peddled in the West, that Yeltsin's victory signifies a rosy dawn for democracy in Russia is false from first to last. Even in the next few months there can be upheavals, once the effect of the election has worn off. The speed with which events unfold depends partly on the general economic situation, which, in turn, is linked to the perspectives for the world economy.
After the defeat of the Russian workers in the Revolution of1905-6, Trotsky pointed out that it would require an economic boom before the class would recover its confidence. That was shown to be correct. The economic revival of 1910-11 was the signal for a new revolutionary upheaval, which was only cut across by the First World War. Something similar can happen this time. But it is also possible, given the colossal accumulation of discontent, that the attempt to close the big factories will provoke fierce defensive struggles which might, under certain conditions, become transformed into offensive ones. One thing is clear. Once the class begins to move, the whole attitude of the workers will change. The whole atmosphere will be transformed, once the fresh wind of the class struggle begins to blow.
Events can be precipitated by movements on the political plane. Lenin pointed out that the first condition for a revolution is a split in the ruling class or caste. The ruling elite in Russia is already split. This is no accident. The political instability at the top is a distorted reflection of the general instability in society. For the past six years, there has been one upheaval after another, and no end is in sight, elections or no elections.
Behind the scenes, Lebed is plotting against Chernomyrdin, and vice versa. Chernomyrdin would like to get Lebed ousted before he gets too powerful. He may succeed, since the imperialists are also worried about Lebed, whom they see as too unpredictable. But, arguably, Lebed would be even more dangerous in opposition than inside the government camp. Chernomyrdin may decide, to quote the former US President Lyndon Johnson, that it is better to have a rival inside the tent p***ng out, than outside the tent p***ing in. If Lebed is removed, he would probably attempt to set up his own movement, based on the usual bonapartist demagogy in which patriotic and "left" phraseology serves as a mask for the most vicious reaction. He would conduct permanent intrigues in the officer caste, playing upon the growing dissatisfaction and disgust with the corrupt and inept Chernomyrdin clique. It is not ruled out that he might get support in this from Zyuganov, who has shown his complete lack of any understanding of the class nature of society, and therefore might willingly collaborate in fashioning a noose for his own neck.
The menace of Bonapartism
Either way, there is no question of a stable regime of bourgeois democracy. As a matter of fact, there is no real democracy in Russia even now. The parliament, In which the CP leads the biggest bloc, is mainly for decorative purposes. Real power is in the hands of the President. If Lebed takes power, this will be even more the case. He may even liquidate the Duma altogether, or maintain some semblance of a parliament for the sake of appeasing the Western "democrats". In his inimitable style, Lebed describes himself as "half a democrat." From this one can conclude that he is also "half totalitarian," and it is safe to assume that the totalitarian half is greater than the democratic one.
Lebed is a demagogue. In order to get a base to strike blows against his enemy Chernomyrdin, he would be quite prepared to lean on Zyuganov. His warning that Yeltsin's promises must be carried out was an indication of this. But it is a feature of Bonapartists that they try to balance between the classes, and can put on a "left" face when it suits them. Despite all his demagogy, Lebed remains one of the most dangerous enemies of the working class. If he succeeds in taking power, he will not hesitate to crush the labour movement. He may even outlaw the CP. He has made no secret of his admiration for Pinochet. But Zyuganov is blind to the danger from Lebed, just as Allende was blind to the danger from the "democratic" general Pinochet. This kind of blindness is typical of reformists of every kind.
In an article published in the pages of the Socialist Appeal immediately after the first round, we explained the perspectives for a regime of bourgeois Bonapartism in Russia:
"If Lebed seizes control, the whole equilibrium of forces in Russia would be altered. This would mark a very serious step in the victory of bourgeois Bonapartism. Unlike the weak Bonapartism of Yeltsin, this would be a vicious reactionary regime. Lebed's admiration for Pinochet gives us an idea of how his mind works. Lebed would not hesitate to crush all opposition. It is not ruled out that he might retain some semblance of a parliament as a sop to Western public opinion, but it would be an impotent talking-shop with all real power concentrated into the hands of the Strong Man, ruling by decree. in other words, what Yeltsin aimed at, but never quite succeeded in doing.
"Such a regime would be a nightmare for the working class of Russia. How stable it would be is another question altogether. Lebed would inherit a ruined economy and a desperate people. in order to get things moving, he would inevitably be compelled to resort in the beginning to measures of recentralisation and even renationalisation of some key strategic sectors of the economy. A bourgeois Bonapartist regime in Russia would inevitably retain quite a large state sector, as did Brazil under the military dictatorship in the 1960s—probably the nearest analogy one can think of.
"There is no doubt that Lebed's threat to take action against the mafia and corrupt elements is more than just words. Organised crime and corruption have reached unheard of levels and devour such a proportion of the surplus value that they threaten to undermine society completely. Any regime that seriously proposed to begin to get out of the mess would have to begin here. Lebed would not hesitate to shoot a few hundred, or a few thousand, speculators "to encourage the others" as the saying goes. Such a policy would have the additional merit of being very popular.
"However, even if Lebed takes measures against individual capitalists and speculators, that will not mean that he does not stand for capitalism. In The 18th Brumaire, Marx describes the drunken soldiery of Louis Bonaparte shooting down bourgeois in Paris after the coup d'état of December 1851. Louis Bonaparte and his gang of adventurers saved the bourgeois from revolution, but extracted a heavy price from their "employers." They took over the state and ruled on behalf of the bourgeois, but in exchange robbed and looted the state and the bourgeois to their heart's content.
"In the same way, Lebed seeks personal power, raising himself above society as the personification of the Russian state, complete with general's uniform, medals and jackboots. By "taking out" the most corrupt and criminal elements of the mafia bourgeois, and even nationalising some of their ill-gotten gains, his intention is to make Russia "safe" for the capitalist class as a whole. But these services will not come cheap. Lebed and his gang of unscrupulous adventurers will stuff their pockets and loot society even more rapaciously than the mafia. All this is in the nature of Bonapartism in general, and bourgeois Bonapartism in particular.
"Even as a regime of bourgeois Bonapartism, a Lebed regime in Russia would be an uncomfortable sort of neighbour to live with also for other reasons. By its very nature, it would be an aggressively imperialist regime, asserting its dominant role in Eastern Europe and the Balkans and moving to reconstitute the former USSR, or, more correctly, the tsarist empire. Lebed would have to show some "successes" abroad to make up for the lack of bread at home. In this respect also, he would be acting in the authentic tradition of Bonapartism."
The possibility of such a regime of bourgeois Bonapartism has undoubtedly become stronger. But it is still not certain whether it will happen. It is impossible to predict the outcome of the power struggle between Lebed and Chernomyrdin. In the absence of a big movement of the proletariat, the intrigues at the top, the ceaseless manoeuvring for position, the palace coups, will continue, one after the other. These shifting combinations at the top have a largely accidental character, reflecting the impasse of the regime. But whatever the particular combination, the general tendency must be in the direction of Bonapartism, a regime which expresses the deadlock between the classes in which the weak and rotten Russian bourgeoisie is unable to establish a social equilibrium by "normal" means, and the proletariat, paralysed by its leadership, is unable to carry out a complete reconstruction of society from top to bottom.
Capitalism's uncertain outlook
Russian capitalism cannot be established on any other basis than this. But it is not certain that it can be established at all. That depends on many factors, national and, above all, international. The attempt to move in the direction of capitalism in Russia coincides with the impasse of capitalism on a world scale. In the long run, this is decisive. Everywhere, the attacks on living standards and cuts in state expenditure are preparing the way for an explosion of the class struggle and the transformation of the psychology of the working class and the labour movement internationally. Let us not forget that it was the temporary boom in world capitalism in the 1980's that played a big role in strengthening the pro-capitalist wing of the bureaucracy. Now all that is over.
Even at the present moment in time, the economists are speculating about the possibility of a new crisis. The inflated values on the New York stock exchange are so far out of line with the real economy that a crash is inevitable, possibly in the next few months. They talk euphemistically of a "correction," as if it were a small matter, like adjusting one's television set. In fact, a crash of values on Wall Street will have serious implications for the rest of the world. It will mean the wiping out of the savings of a large number of small investors in the US. "Confidence" will be shaken, not only in the USA, but internationally. The "global economy" means that there will be falls on other stock exchanges, with unpredictable results. At least some economists are drawing uncomfortable parallels with 1929.
It cannot be predicted with certainty whether such a stock exchange crisis would end up as it did then, or be more like 1920 or 1987. The economic cycle in America has now lasted for six years, and has some of the symptoms associated with the peak of a boom, which heralds the start of a downturn. On a world scale, the recovery has been sluggish, with low rates of growth, stagnant demand, and persistently high rates of unemployment. The attempt to reduce the huge budget deficits inherited from the past period is further cutting demand and restricting growth. Only in Japan has the government attempted to get out of the crisis by traditional Keynesian methods of deficit financing. Even so, growth is only 2-3%, and it is not clear that even this can be sustained. The level of indebtedness in Japan is the highest in the world, and the financial system is in a parlous state. A financial crash in Japan could plunge the world economy into a deep slump or even a depression.
Even if, as is possible, the US economy recovers and resumes its growth, the problem would only be postponed for at most a couple of years, before a new and even steeper fall is registered. A serious slump in the West, which is inevitable in the next period, would drastically alter the relationship of class forces in Russia and Eastern Europe. The close binding of the economies of Eastern Europe to the world market (70% of their exports go to Western Europe) means that a slump would have devastating effects. It would provoke enormous movements in Russia and Eastern Europe. The masses in these countries would have had enough experience to realise the bankruptcy of capitalism. The CPs would enter into crises and the pro bourgeois elements would be rapidly discredited and vomited out. The objective conditions would be created for the creation of mass Trotskyist currents in the workers' organisations, particularly if nuclei had been formed beforehand.
With the possible exception of the Czech Republic, which is now a satellite of German imperialism, the basis of capitalism in most of Eastern Europe is still quite fragile. In Poland, where the ex-Stalinists in government are attempting to pursue the capitalist road, carrying out a vicious policy of cuts and factory closures, the road is being prepared for Bonapartist reaction. But, as Trotsky explained, in a modern industrial society, the army and the police is too narrow a base to keep the working class down for long. A regime of bourgeois Bonapartism in Russia or Poland would not be a stable regime. It would be shaken by crises in the rest of the world. Sooner or later, there would be new movements of the masses which would prepare the way for revolution.
One factor which weighs heavily in the present situation is the fact that the masses fear civil war, with all the chaos and privations that would mean. This was undoubtedly one of the things that swung sections of the voters behind Yeltsin in these elections. But events will reach the point where there is no alternative. A skilful Leninist leadership would know how to place all the responsibility for violence on the shoulders of the bourgeois thieves, looters and mafia scum. Sooner or later, the fundamental questions will be settled by open struggle between the classes.
In the immediate future, we can expect further steps in the direction of capitalism in Russia. That is inevitable. But we must not fall into empiricism. The process is still not complete, even now. There are serious obstacles in the path of the nascent bourgeoisie. There will be many explosions in the coming period, which will put on the agenda the possibility of the revolutionary transformation of society.
Even a temporary victory of bourgeois Bonapartism in Russia would only be an episode in the general process of capitalist decline. As we pointed out in the article in the Socialist Appeal:
"No society can live permanently in a state of chaos. If the working class of Russia does not move decisively to transform society, the stage will inevitably be set for some kind of bonapartist solution. Given the present situation, even a regime of bourgeois Bonapartism can seem like an improvement. In the short term it can even get some results. How long it can succeed in stabilising itself would depend above all on developments on a world scale. Despite a temporary and relative improvement in the economy (it is not very hard to improve on the present situation!) this would still be a regime of decline—a fact which would soon register on the consciousness of the masses.
"A bonapartist regime is corrupt and unstable by its very nature. The masses would soon compare the demagogic speeches "against corruption" with the reality of a corrupt and degenerate clique of officers enriching themselves at the expense of the nation. Whatever popularity they might have had in the beginning would turn into hatred and contempt. When this stage is reached, the regime would be doomed. Trotsky explained that the army and police are not sufficient to keep the masses down in a modern industrial society, such as Russia now is.
"Only the temporary inertia of the masses would allow them to stay in power for a time. Even then, they would be at the mercy of the capitalist world economy. A slump in world capitalism, which is likely in the next few years, would completely undermine the attempt to consolidate a capitalist regime in Russia. Just as the 1929 slump led to the collapse of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in Spain, the road would be open to revolutionary developments. The illusions in capitalism would be utterly destroyed, and the stage would be set for a New October, but on a qualitatively higher level."