File spoon-archives/marxism-general.archive/marxism-general_1997/current, message 36

Date: Sat, 17 May 1997 18:18:52 -0400
Subject: M-G: Russian "Left" Speaks

I'm forwarding a piece from JRL which I find a remarkable
illustration of the marasmatic state of the so-called 
Russian "Left."  I don't think any commentaries needed.
The defenders of the "future of left-wing ideas in Russia"
speak for themselves just fine.

Vladimir Bilenkin

Date: Thu, 15 May 1997 13:03:42 +0400 (WSU DST)
From: (Renfrey Clarke)
Subject: New April Theses of Russian leftists


[The following document, which is aimed at providing a basis for new
alignments and regroupments on the Russian left, was first circulated
during April at the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of the
Russian Federation. Initial signatories include Igor Malyarov, first
secretary of the Russian Komsomol; Anatoly Baranov, deputy chief
editor of the newspaper Pravda-5; and writer Boris Kagarlitsky.]

     The politics of the Russian opposition are now a strange mix of
toughly-worded declarations and of behind-the-scenes attempts to find
a compromise with the authorities. The left majority in the State
Duma voted to confirm Chernomyrdin as head of the government, and
also voted for the budget. But nationalist-statist rhetoric and
criticism of the personnel policy of the authorities cannot
substitute for principled politics. Nor can struggles over symbolic
issues take the place of real actions aimed at defending the rights
of workers. It is worth recalling that for the left movement the
struggle for workers' rights, and not the defence of the state
bureaucracy, has always been central.
     The government finds it advantageous to deal with an opposition
that calls for a return to the past, with an opposition that cannot
win elections. Nostalgia for Soviet times is in itself natural and
understandable, but it cannot amount to a constructive program. The
victory by the left in the 1995 State Duma elections could have
provided a historic chance to make the shift from criticism to
concrete work, to show in practice what the essence of an alternative
economic policy amounted to. But such activity would have put the
Duma in constant confrontation with the government, and placed it at
risk of early dissolution. The leaders of the Duma majority are more
afraid of such a dissolution than of the discontent of their
     With a majority in the parliament, the opposition could have
achieved a great deal. But in practice this is not an opposition in
the strict sense, since by adopting laws and by voting to endorse the
head of government and the budget, it is taking its share of
responsibility for everything that happens in the country.
     The modernisation promised by liberal ideologues and government
propagandists has not taken place in Russia. Not only are we still
behind the West in technological terms, but we are now lagging
further and further behind in the areas of education, health and
social welfare. The blame for this lies entirely with the present-day
elites, which have totally subordinated the country's development to
their own enrichment. But in condemning the present order, the left
must not call for a return to the past. It must look forward, to a
society where a higher level of social justice is based not on
bureaucratic distribution but on the democratic organisation of
power; on a high level of technological development; and on the
efficient functioning of socially-owned means of production.
     The weakness of parliament is the result of the partial and
largely fictitious nature of the democratisation in Russia. As in the
early years of the century, it is up to the left to raise the banner
of democratic change, using the Duma as a forum for direct and open
attacks on the autocracy. The task is not simply to replace the court
favourites who have been put in power. The real problem lies in the
principle of unlimited personal power, and it is this which has to be
rejected. In this sense, it is quite irrelevant whether the president
is called Boris Nikolaevich [Yeltsin], Gennady Andreevich [Zyuganov]
or Aleksandr Ivanovich [Lebed]. What the country needs is not new
tyrants and autocrats, but efficiently functioning state organs that
are accountable to the people and under popular control. We are
against presidential autocracy; this means that the left has to
become the real democratic alternative, to show that except within
the context of its program, broadening of the rights and freedoms of
citizens, ending bureaucratic arbitrariness, halting the de facto
censorship of the electronic media, and restoring real local self-
government are all unthinkable.
     To nationalism, we have to counterpose our traditional values of
the solidarity of working people whatever their nationality. The
forces of the left are capable of putting an end to ethnic conflicts
and to the division of society along national and religious lines. It
is alarming when the leaders of the Communist Party remove the slogan
"Proletarians of all Lands, Unite!" from their banners on the grounds
that it is no longer relevant.
     While accusing the authorities of selling out national
interests, the present-day opposition cannot formulate with any
clarity what these national interests consist of. This is no
accident. The nation's main interest lies in replacing the structure
of power. In order to defend and strengthen the state, we have first
to radically transform it. It would be irresponsible, even criminal,
to defend and strengthen today's state, "Belovezhskaya Russia", in
the form in which it has been established by the present regime.
Moreover, we cannot possibly call on neighbouring peoples to unite
with us while we cannot ensure order in our own home. Both the
authorities and the opposition are trying to play the integration
card as a substitute for radical changes in Russia itself. But a
serious and durable integration is possible only as a result of such
     The nationalist slogans of the opposition and its calls for
integration are readily taken over by the right, simply because the
official left does not have its own program. However much the leaders
of the official left might talk of national accord, it will never
exist in a society split into the hungry and the super-rich. Nor will
there be economic stability so long as the plunder of public assets
     With only a few exceptions, the opposition has failed to use the
opportunities it possesses in the Duma in order to defend industry
from privatisation and to help bring about the rebirth of the public
sector. Meanwhile a new, decentralised public sector is spontaneously
coming into being; the provincial authorities are becoming the owners
of enterprises after their privatisation has failed. An alternative
to the neo-liberal course of the ruling authorities is emerging at
the local level, even where the local administrators themselves have
no sympathy for the views of the opposition. The left has to thrust
this alternative before public opinion on the scale of the country as
a whole. There is a need for concrete discussion of the prospects for
development, instead of declarations of protest that alternate with
attempts by leaders of the left to prove how "constructive" they are.
     Finally, the left will never become a democratic alternative
unless there is democracay within its own ranks. Behind-the-scenes
decision-making and apparatus infighting must give way to open
political discussion. The leaders of the Duma opposition have denied
all responsibility for the defeat in the 1996 presidential elections,
instead blaming everything on media bias and dishonest manoeuvres by
the authorities. But is it really true that we were ignorant from the
start of the kind of television and the kind of authorities that
exist in our country? And why does the Duma opposition, that has not
the slightest illusion as to the mood of the media chiefs, literally
every day hand them weapons in the form of half-thought-out
declarations? If the politicians lack the competence to work under
unfavourable conditions, the politicians must be changed. Then we
will be able to change the conditions.
     Finally, the leadership of the KPRF is firmly convinced that
since the party is by far the largest left formation in the country,
it does not have to pay any heed to other socialist currents and
organisations. Here we are not talking only about small, divided left
grouplets, but also about the millions of people in Russia who hold
to socialist values and ideals, while definitely not supporting the
Communist Party. The desire of the KPRF leadership to avoid an
honest, serious analysis of the past makes people suspicious as to
the character of the present-day communist organisations, and is used
by hostile propagandists anxious to paint all leftists as supporters
of totalitarianism or apologists for stagnation. Rejecting the
propaganda of anticommunist commentators, we need to counter these
attacks not with attempts "to save everything that cam be saved" of
the past, but with our own analysis of the huge and terrible tragedy
of twentieth-century Russian socialism.
     It is not only the authorities that now find themselves in a
deep crisis, but the opposition as well. If we are to escape from it,
we must openly and uncompromisingly diagnose the sickness and begin
the treatment. We call on everyone in who cherishes the future of
left-wing ideas in Russia - on communists and non-communists,
deputies and worker activists, members of youth and veterans'
organisations - to join in the discussion. The participants in this
debate need to include everyone for whom the words socialism, freedom
and justice have not yet become empty sounds.

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