We received this letter from our correspondent in Moscow on the recent Russian Social Forum. (April 18, 2005)
About 1000 activists representing various trade union and social organizations attended the first Russian Social Forum this weekend (April 16-17) in the Moscow Humanitarian University, as well as former chess world champion Gary Kasparov and Duma deputies Sergey Glazeev (Rodina) and Oleg Shein (independent). The mood of the forum was buoyed by the outbreak of protests against severe government cutbacks in pensions, education and housing. While there were many reports about particular protests and single-issue campaigns and calls for everybody to unite together, the forum was unable to hammer out any clear practical measures for future social movements, underlining the heterogeneous mix of the forum’s participants.
In the plenary session on the government’s attacks on our social and political rights Sergey Glazeev, who positions himself as a left of centre leader, and Gary Kasparov, who openly professes his commitment to capitalist liberal democracy, sang from the same song sheet. They argued that the authorities trample upon the rights of everyone, regardless of whether they are dealing with workers or capitalists, left or right, and that therefore we all have a common and equal interest in uniting together against the current government and Presidential administration. They avoided ideology like the plague, correctly understanding that any thought-through discussion would split the forum between liberals who have been radicalised by their alienation from the corridors of power and everybody else. In this context all talk of focusing on practical actions, of coordinating information to undermine the domination of the government controlled mass media etc were empty phrases. Without a clear strategy and without a clear orientation to the working class all the clever phrases of these big names counted for nothing.
One characteristic of the forum was an exaggerated perception of the role of think-tanks and the media and a lack of understanding of the role of the mass organisations of the working class, namely the CPRF and the main trade union confederation (FNPR). Many of those attending the forum proved unable to see the main lesson of the protests against the government’s counter-reforms of this winter, which was that as soon as a spontaneous movement takes off it shakes up the CPRF and the FNPR, whose members took part in the movement and began to shake up their own organisations at a local level. It was also characteristic that trade union representatives, who criticized the FNPR and the KPRF from the left, themselves avoided discussing ideology. On the contrary, they outlined the need to focus on economic demands and leave on the back-burner political demands which, they argued, would put off workers and youth from joining future movements.
Saturday ended with a demo in Pushkin Square, which had a smaller turnout than the forum itself.
There were many young comrades from a diverse range of organisations, including the SKM (the youth organization of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation), the AKM to the anarchists to those without any defined political orientation. While these comrades held a healthy scepticism towards the importance of the likes of Glazeev they were often embroiled in various factional disputes and less concerned with tackling the needs of students and young workers which we need to organise around.
A series of workshops and seminars took place on Sunday. Supporters of marxist.com held a meeting on the lessons Russian activists can learn from the revolutionary movement in South America, particularly Venezuela, which we prepared a special brochure for in advance. We showed extracts of the film about the coup of 2002 and the Fourth World War which was followed by questions and discussions. We had nearly 20 in the audience and comrades from Volgograd, Samara, St Petersburg and Moscow gave their contact details to show the film at video clubs in their area and pass on information and appeals for solidarity from workers in South America. In total we sold over 300 roubles worth of literature including 20 newspapers and 15 brochures (at 15 roubles each), and one copy of the book Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for by Ted Grant and Alan Woods (to two enthusiastic comrades from the SKM in Samara).
The task now is to develop our work of translating material on Venezuela for the Russian page of the hands of Venezuela site, distribute copies of the films on Venezuela we have to supporters who have links with local alternative film clubs, spread information about solidarity campaigns and prepare for our interventions on May 1 and May 9, the sixtieth anniversary of the Soviet victory in WW2.
Moscow, April 18, 2005