In the parliamentary elections last December President Putin won with a landslide victory. His party, United Russia, polled over 60%, a result boosted by Putin himself heading their party list. The Communist Party came in second with nearly 12%, while the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) and a Just Russia (SR) just crept over the 7% barrier that parties need to pass to be represented in parliament.
Of course United Russia's result was inflated. Examples of cheating only undermined the result for Putin. A voter in Biisk even ate his ballot paper in protest! Since Putin would have won with a majority anyway election fraud shows not the strength of his support but the stupidity and gangster methods of his supporters, particularly in republics like Chechnya and Mordovia. This is why there weren't any protests on the streets against the electoral fraud. Since the CPRF is the only genuine party, this means that the CPRF was not able, through public displays of force, to force the state to recognize their result.
Cheating and a lack of opposition are nothing new in Russian politics. What is new is that this is the first time the ruling party has won consecutive elections. These elections, as with the Presidency of Putin in general, reflect the same political consolidation that we saw in the economy, with the stabilization after the financial crisis of 1998. These new relations are now in turn leading to a reaction. The modest gains of the CPRF reveal both the potential for an organized opposition to Russian capitalism and the path that this opposition will take in the mass organizations. We must prepare the programme for the left in the mass organizations, the programme of Bolshevism.
The new axis of power
In outlining the political system that he wanted to impose from above, Putin talked of establishing "the vertical of power" in Russia. Under Yeltsin the power of the state was in conflict with itself, which is clearly illustrated by the results of the Duma elections when different factions used the executive power against each other. The pie charts below show the results of the 1993 and 2007 Duma elections:
Duma elections 1993
Duma elections 2007
United Russia's dominance speaks for itself. But everyone knows that this picture is misleading. People voted for Putin, not for the party. The result for United Russia was up from four years ago but down from Putin's vote in the last presidential elections. It is absurd that a party that wins with such a majority should be unpopular but it is true. Election surveys recorded a curious but perfectly natural response of voters to United Russia's campaign propaganda - the more people were fed with posters and slogans the less likely they were to vote!
Naturally, bourgeois commentators in the west are jealous of the contempt for democracy that Putin exhibits. So what do they do? They complain that he is attacking democracy. In particular, The Economist and co. complain about the treatment of the pro-western liberal parties - Yabloko and the SPS (the union of right wing forces.) They received 2% combined, a pathetic result. But a fair result! They don't have any base in Russian society. The main reason that they got good results in the past is because then they were in power under Yeltsin and they could use the same "administrative methods" to cheat as Putin's party does now.
The results of Zhirinovsky's LDPR and of a Just Russia by contrast were boosted by Kremlin approval. Neither of these parties have any base in society or represent any opposition to Putin. In fact the Kremlin uses them (as well as the Agrarian Party) to split the vote of the CPRF. But the result of a Just Russia (as with its predecessor Rodina) is not to oust the CPRF from the left flank but to take votes from Putin's own party, United Russia. This says a lot about how weak United Russia is. A Just Russia worships Putin and its opposition to United Russia is just empty phrases. But even empty phrases can eat into United Russia's electoral support! In order then to beef up United Russia's vote Putin headed their list, but this struck a massive blow against a Just Russia. How can you be pro-Putin yet in opposition to the party he is heading? Some regional divisions of a Just Russia split and joined United Russia. This shows how fake all the pro-Kremlin parties are.
The party that lost the most votes through election fraud was the CPRF. United Russia officials in Moscow admitted privately that at least 4% more bulletins were cast for the CP than official results give. In the provinces the falsifications were significantly greater. If Putin had not stood for United Russia and the turnout had been lower, the CP's proportion of the vote would have been even higher. In this context the party did well to make modest gains. In Saint Petersburg it increased its vote by over 40% from around 170,000 to over 240,000 votes. In Moscow the result was up from 7% to 14%. In the main Moscow University the CP polled 26.45%, the highest result of any party. A genuine figure for CPRF support today is 20-25%. If this is the case today, in a difficult situation for the party, what will happen when there is a crisis of power and splits in the elite? The only perspective is for the CPRF to gain massively at a certain stage in the future, a process that in an embryonic form is already visible.
The legacy of the CPSU
It is absurd that the President should win legislative elections. What is the point of parliamentary elections if the President comes first, and if parliament itself is a rubber stamp for his decisions? This is the tradition of the old CPSU (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) where the state and the party were two heads of the same monster. The real inheritor of the tradition of the CPSU is Putin. This shows that the legacy of the CPSU are the methods of the Kremlin and the secret police. They are separated from the genuine traditions of Bolshevism by a river of blood in the 1930s.
The genealogy of United Russia, and the family tree of the elite as a whole, runs right back to the CPSU and the Soviet elite. This doesn't mean that the elite are secret communists today but that they were secret pro-capitalist enemies of the USSR who actively worked to destroy the USSR. The destruction of the USSR destroyed their unity as each bureaucrat rushed to enrich himself. The unity of the elite today, which is still temporary and fragile, is the result of Putin pushing out or reigning in Yeltsin's favourites and re-allocating the spoils. This is why parties and leaders that were opposed to executive power under Yeltsin are now on board United Russia. It is the modern day version of the CPSU but in capitalist conditions. This proves once again ‑ if proof were needed ‑ Trotsky's prediction that the CPSU was an incubator for capitalist forces.
Although Ziuganov also comes from the CPSU and appeals to the memory of the CPSU, the CPRF is now developing along a different axis from the Soviet norm. This evolution is still in its early stages. Ziuganov is loyal to the Kremlin but the party as a whole is no longer an arm of the state as the old CPSU used to be. Although the CPRF still has its fair share of directors and bureaucrats, it is no longer the platform for a layer of the ex-Soviet elite who lost out in the early stages of privatization to regroup and push for a slower, more controlled transition to capitalism. This was the case in the 1990s, the period that saw the phenomenon of the "red directors," when a layer of old Soviet industrial barons gained the position of governor in a number of oblasts and, like all other governors, used their influence to boost the CP vote. With the strengthening of the state under Putin, who has the power to sack governors at random, these governors have either moved directly into the camp of United Russia or are loyal to the Kremlin.
This transformation of the CP is not an automatic process and must be actively fought for by a new layer of activists. This process of the regeneration of the party is being held back by the continued presence of Gennady Ziuganov at the top. He was the first person to congratulate Yeltsin on winning the 1996 presidential elections, even though the result was falsified. Ziuganov was afraid of winning. He was afraid that he wouldn't be able to hold back the masses that voted for him. He defended capitalism when all the other pro-capitalist institutions were hated and isolated - precisely because they were associated with capitalism. Then, after the financial crisis of 1998, the CPRF even had ministers in Yevgeny Primakov's cabinet, which saw off a wave of strikes before the economy began to take off. In the 1990s the wave of mass opposition to capitalist counter-revolution was orientated towards the CPRF but the party leadership acted as a safety valve for Yeltsin's regime.
The modest successes in the Duma elections are not the result of Ziuganov's leadership. They are the result of a new alignment in Russian society and politics, of the molecular changes of social polarization and class differentiation that are increasingly setting their stamp on politics. An upturn in the class struggle will undermine the position both of Putin (and his successor Medvedev) and the position of traitors in the leadership of the CPRF.
Trotsky explained that, in the event of the USSR collapsing - due to the bureaucratic deformations of the Kremlin - the bureaucratic deformations would continue to exist but the planned economy would be destroyed. And, as we have seen in tracing the methods and cadres of United Russia to the CPSU, this is exactly what has happened. Only the old state apparatus, once it regrouped, had the connections and experience to stamp its authority on the country. But there is an obvious difference. The regime in the USSR was one of proletarian bonapartism. The cancerous state apparatus defended the planned economy and nationalized property. Now, after it has destroyed the planned economy and waged a capitalist counter-revolution in order to become a new capitalist class, the state apparatus is defending capitalist relations - although as before it is defending its own privileges first and foremost. It is therefore a bourgeois bonapartist regime.
Before looking at the new details of the state superstructure it is necessary to take a step back and see the broader picture of the class contradictions that are developing and shaping the political system (see separate article). The first point is the weakness of the capitalist class. In the 1990s the capitalists were still in the process of becoming a class and solved their problems individually, using gangster methods and corruption. Now they are more consolidated as a class. But this doesn't change anything fundamentally. They are still too weak to organize their own party. They are still too greedy and shortsighted. Without the support of the state they would be too weak to maintain their dictatorship over the working class. This is because they lack tradition and a social base. But instead of strengthening the capitalist class, the dominant role of the state in politics and in the economy divides the capitalists and destabilises capitalism.
It is a different story with the workers. They were atomized, disorientated and shocked by the devastating impact of capitalist counter-revolution. Fortunately ten years of rapid economic growth has prepared the ground for an offensive on the trade union front. Unfortunately this process has been held back by the lack of leadership and organization of the workers. But victories, as with the example of the Ford workers, will quickly heal the scars of past defeats. The delay in this struggle, due to lack of leadership and the demoralization of a whole generation of workers, was the key to the stability that Putin enjoyed.
The class struggle has entered into a new chapter. The old contradictions of the Soviet Union have been solved - at the cost of creating an even greater contradiction between the capitalist elite and the working class. This is the core of Russian politics and economics. Scratch the surface of any aspect of politics and this is the basic fact you come across every time. Putin and his circle are conscious of the fact that they have no legitimacy except for Putin's popularity, which is not set in stone. Instead of the popularity of Putin (or his successor) being able to cut across the class struggle, the opposite will happen - the rise of working class solidarity will eat into the superficial legitimacy that the President currently enjoys. Such struggles show that workers have the courage to stand up to the police. The working class in too strong for state repression. Instead of bureaucratic, police methods Putin is being forced to turn to reforms. This is why instead of talking about Chechnya, which is simmering in the background and will explode again, in the parliamentary elections the focus was on boosting living standards.
The Duma elections in Dcember and Putin's decision to stand down from the post of President raised, if only superficially, the profile of parliament. Thus we have a regime of parliamentary bonapartism, in which in form there is bourgeois democracy but in content the police and law courts stand above society and are only accountable to the executive power. This is why the Duma at the moment is only a rubber stamp for the Kremlin's agenda. It could be dissolved by presidential decree without the slightest hesitation. The problem is that the CPRF leadership has so far not used parliament to agitate the workers outside parliament. The working class is potentially far stronger than the state and the capitalist class combined. It only needs to organize itself and set itself a clear aim, which concretely means pursuing the programme of nationalization under workers' control of industry.
But we must have a sense of proportion. It is true that for now Putin is popular. It is not a simple one-sided process of society shifting to the left. But this is inevitable. Putin's popularity is superficial. It is due to an improvement in living standards that took place in spite of him, not because of him. He cannot transfer his personal popularity into support for the bourgeois parliament because it is a conveyor belt of attacks wrapped up as reforms. The contradiction between Putin's words and deeds means that he cannot be consistent or tolerate even bourgeois democracy. This is why his party has also not used its position in parliament to organize its support outside of parliament. If United Russia organized support at a grass roots level it would run the risk of developing its own local leaders who could display initiative beyond the control of the Kremlin. Putin's United Russia is diseased and infertile and can never develop beyond the façade of an all-powerful state apparatus.
Putin is trying to use new methods because the old bonapartist methods are not effective. But in practice it won't strengthen the regime. His methods are neither new nor democratic. The politicians in the parliament only understand the same old bureaucratic methods as their fellow bureaucrats do outside the parliament. In fact a layer of Duma deputies only entered politics to escape police prosecution. This is the real, rotten face of the elite. Instead of consolidating the rule of capital, the politicians and bureaucrats are in conflict with each other, ready to stab each other in the back and fling insults against their enemies in the press.
Instead of pessimistically ignoring the parliament on the grounds that the vote was rigged and that United Russia has an absolute majority, communists and trade union activists need to orientate towards the Duma, and concretely towards the CPRF, in order to use the opportunities the Duma offers to mobilize opposition to the regime outside of parliament.
The perspectives for the CPRF
The perspective of workers in struggle orientating towards the CPRF is already being confirmed in practice. Alexey Etmanov, the leader of the Ford workers who successfully went on strike at the end of last year, called for a Ziuganov vote in the presidential elections. There is a reason for this. The growth in the trade union movement is forcing the bosses to club together and seek the support of the state, both in terms of police repression and anti-union legislation. The support of Duma deputies to striking workers makes a big difference. It is necessary also to combine the work of a Duma faction with opposition to legislation outside parliament. Trade unionists have no choice but to orientate towards the CPRF because it is the biggest and is represented in the Duma. The same applies to any other workers or groups of people opposed to the regime, such as the inhabitants of hostels whose owners want to redevelop them into luxury flats and send in riot police with Kalashnikovs to forcibly evict people.
The development of the party and the development of the class struggle are inter-linked. In the past the passivity of the working class made the job of Ziuganov easy, while the betrayals of Ziuganov in their turn cut across the potential of the working class to fight back. But now we have entered a new period. The leadership of the party, which is itself not homogeneous and does have a left wing, will not be able to stop the tide of new militants from forging their own struggle independently or from entering the party. And the shift to the left outside the party will have an effect inside the party, which in turn will strengthen and organize the spontaneous opposition to capitalism in society.
Among the youth on the Russian left (and even more among the ex-youth) there are strong criticisms of Ziuganov and a cynical attitude towards the perspective of the transformation of the mass organizations. V.I. Lenin explained many times that the mass organizations are the vehicle in which the masses express themselves politically. Instead of saying that Lenin was wrong, the usual argument of the left outside of the CPRF is to say that the party is not a mass organization. It's apparently a bunch of careerist bureaucrats and pensioners. But the resistance of bureaucrats will melt away before the pressure of the masses entering the party. What is decisive is not the existence of bureaucrats but whether or not the workers are armed with a programme of transitional demands and a leadership. As for the influence of pensioners in the party, yes, a layer of pensioners still vote for the party, which is not a bad thing. But anybody with the faintest connection with the party knows that most pensioners have switched to Putin. What does this mean? Most of the pro-Putin pensioners have fond memories of the USSR. In their eyes a vote for Putin is not a vote for capitalism. This shows the potential for a swing back towards the CPRF.
Activists who argue that the existence of the CPRF is a reactionary barrier to the formation of a genuine mass party of the working class should study these results seriously. Support for the CPRF is growing among a layer of the population in the cities that is getting fed up of the empty promises of United Russia. A vote for the CPRF is a means of bolstering the CPRF Duma fraction to put more pressure on the state to deliver on its promises. It is an expression on the political front of the mood of trade unionists who feel that they can fight to improve wages and conditions on the industrial front. The results of the CPRF and the trade union movement are both beginning to reflect the new mood in society, and these processes will feed into each other in the future. This will lead to a reaction by the Kremlin, which will exert tremendous pressure on the right wing of the party to cut across any displays of solidarity. But in carrying out the Kremlin's orders the right wing will isolate itself within the party. It will be elbowed aside. In helping trade union activists the CP will change itself. And vice versa. The unions should organize the left in the party because an organized left wing in the CPRF will help the work of the unions.
The struggle for every last reform under capitalism will not strengthen capitalism. On the contrary, it will expose the inability of the system to improve living standards for the masses - while the billionaires will continue to rake in their profits. The undercurrent of hatred to capitalism, which is disguised by high economic growth and Putin's high ratings, will flood into active opposition to capitalism. And it will flow into the international struggle of the working class, which is at the moment showing the way forward.
We must be prepared for sharp turns and sudden changes. But we must also be prepared to patiently struggle against the stream in preparation for revolutionary events in the future. We cannot say in advance exactly when the movement of the working class will explode. This is inevitable. But it could be delayed by the lack of leadership. Even if we suppose that the most likely variant is the continuation of the gradual accumulation of discontent, and the slow evolution of the CPRF on a new track, this does not contradict the perspective of a new, socialist revolution in Russia. This is the path to progress, all other ideas for progress are utopian or counter-revolutionary.
The CPRF today does not represent the CPSU, the party that destroyed the planned economy, but the memory of nationalized property relations, the child of the October revolution. We must re-establish the traditions of Bolshevism, linking the demand to renationalise industry with the need to carry through the modern edition of the Russian Revolution.
- Russian Presidential Elections: a caricature of bourgeois democracy by Misha Steklov in Moscow (March 4, 2008)
- Russian workers begin to organize fight back against capitalism by Besedoval Yevgenii Utkin (March 4, 2008)
- Russian Ford workers – a beacon to the working class as a whole by Tom Rollings (February 11, 2008)
- Ford: Global Company, Global Struggle by David May (February 11, 2008)
- Russia: Key strike at the Ford plant in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) by Alexey Petrov (December 4, 2007)