On Sunday, the day of Presidential elections, I walked round the centre of the city to see what the mood was. If I hadn't known otherwise, I wouldn't have known it was an election day. By chance I stumbled across a pro-Kremlin concert near St Basel's cathedral. Two young guys, who had just left the concert, asked me the way to the metro. They were clearly not from Moscow and had had their way paid for them by one of the Kremlin youth organizations. I asked them what they had come for and they said "here, take a ticket." I took the ticket and passed hundreds of police in numerous cordons chatting with each other and speaking on their mobile phones. Only to arrive to hear singers like Yulia Savicheva and Aleksandr Rozenbaum. The weather was terrible and I joined the stream of youth leaving the concert early. Quite a few times I heard people say, "why did we come?" This was the attitude of the paid-up activists. Imagine how everybody else feels.
According to the official election results, Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's right hand man, won the Presidential elections with over 70% of the vote on a turnout of more than 70%. But no one seriously believes this. On Sunday evening many Russians writing in their blogs on the internet commented on the meaninglessness of the elections - and this is not limited to the minority of left wing activists. People do not relate to or trust politicians. What happens on TV doesn't seem to affect what happens in real life.
Gennady Ziuganov, the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation came second with nearly 18% of the vote, up by 6% from the CP vote in December. Interfax quoted Ziuganov saying that "our activists observed over 200 instances of violations of a criminal character, and we intend to take the matter to court." It is likely that Ziuganov will let the matter rest since going to court won't change anything.
What is important however is that the CPRF yet again showed that it is the only opposition to the Kremlin. It is likely that many of the voters of a Just Russia, a Kremlin project to split the CPRF vote, backed Ziuganov against Medvedev. Putin is not standing down as President and raising the profile of parliament in order to strengthen the position of the CPRF - but this is the concrete result of his actions. This raises again the question as to what the Kremlin will do about the CPRF since the Kremlin cannot tolerate any genuine opposition. There is a faction in the Kremlin that favours basically having a one-party state. But this would be unpopular and would backfire. Another faction favours creating an alternative to the CPRF - but they have tried this more than once without success.
The municipal elections that were also held on Sunday also demonstrate the limits of Kremlin power and foresight. A Just Russia in many areas did not pass the 7% barrier - their campaign was undermined by the fact that they didn't have a Presidential candidate. On the other hand in Amurskoi province, Yakutia and Kalmykia the CPRF vote was double the result it polled in December. Even bourgeois political analysts recognize that attempts to force the party to withdraw its candidates led to increased support for the party. The result of United Russia was generally lower than in December, except for Moscow and Saint Petersburg where the December result was bureaucratically considered too low.
The campaign for the municipal elections showed that people don't like "politics" and are tired of politicians talking all the time. This makes the task of drawing new layers into the party and different campaigns more difficult. But it also means that the state doesn't have stable support. This is apparent from their PR war against the CPRF which they criticize for being a party controlled by businessmen. This is because businessmen are unpopular. But it is United Russia that is run by businessmen who control local government, which makes decisions against the interests of local people. Although it is difficult to organize at this stage, there is tremendous frustration with every aspect of government, whether local or national. This will express itself sooner or later and it can only express itself via the CPRF. No bureaucratic measures can stop this. It is necessary to organize and strengthen this process.
The dominance of Putin
The newspapers carried reports of Putin and Medvedev triumphantly addressing the concert I briefly attended. Instead of calling out the name of the candidate who won the elections, the youth called out Putin's name. This shows who really won the election. Medvedev without Putin's patronage would still be an academic in Saint Petersburg. His political career is a succession of promotions under the same boss and his rise to the Presidency is just the latest example of this. Putin will remain the boss. This was apparent throughout the election campaign, beginning with the announcement that four political parties had decided to back Medvedev. Then, in December, Putin ironically nodded and rubbed his chin as he listened to his yes-men, so-called "political leaders," who look completely ridiculous in their expensive suits talking about their plans for the country. The day before Gryzlov (the "leader" of United Russia) modestly couldn't give a simple answer to a range of simple questions, but then, apparently, boldly takes the initiative, before his master puts his puppet back in his place, out of the limelight.
According to Hegel the absolute monarch had the right to make any decisions he chose, and should not restrict himself to the framework of decisions he had already made. This creates anarchy in government but it is characteristic of the caprice of the rule of individuals, as we see with Putin. Let's take the example of Putin himself defining what cheating is, which he did in September when he spoke to journalists about Anatoly Chubais, architect of the privatizations of the 1990s and now a leader of the liberal party Union of Right Forces (SPS). He began by mentioning that Chubais is now the head of the energy giant RAO UES and then continued:
"As you can understand, this is a company with huge resources, and not only financial, but also quasi-administrative possibilities to influence people. This company is in a position to render not only moral and administrative but also financial support. I hope that they will do this in the framework of existing legislation. But in essence this is hidden support on the part of the government for this ‘right force,' as they call it, the Union of right forces."
This is a little vignette of Putin logic. In the first two sentences he says exactly the same thing but in a different order, as if this adds extra information. And in the last two sentences he clarifies that cheating is called observing the law as long as it is in the state's interests. But what this actually means, since only Putin is able to interpret what the state's interests are, is that cheating is defined as being disloyal to him, Putin, and being law-abiding, whatever methods are involved, is to be loyal to Putin.
When Putin wanted to rally support in society, he couldn't think of anything better than to criticize capitalism himself, lambasting the people who, in the 1990s,
"...occupied important positions and acting to the detriment of society and the state, serving the interests of oligarchic structures and selling at knock-down prices the national property! And they try to lecture us today on how to live when they themselves made corruption the main means of political and economic competition! They are the ones who, from year to year, passed unbalanced, irresponsible budgets, which ended up leading to default, ruin and a massive fall in the living standards of the citizens of our country!"
Of course this is just rhetoric. The very people that Putin was criticizing, such as Chubais and Kirienko, are trusted captains of industry that Putin backs to the hilt. Putin himself was part of the pro-capitalist wing in the bureaucracy in the 1990s when he served in the office of Sobchak, mayor of Saint Petersburg. But he can criticize whoever he likes and no one dares to criticize him. He can threaten to sweep a broom through the mess that capitalism has made in Russia, and then throw his broom away, only adding to this mess himself, and no one bats an eyelid.
Putin is in effect the leader not only of United Russia and a Just Russia but even of Chubais, who tamely let the administrative resource of RAO be used to back Putin. On www.1917.com there is a brief report of the instructions from above in the nuclear power sector to pressure workers to vote for Putin, as if we were dealing with any other industrial directive. As the author noted, the head of nuclear state corporation, former Prime Minister Kirienko, is another member of the SPS too. You can only shrug your shoulders and ask yourself what is more idiotic: for Putin to complain that SPS leaders have administrative resource when they then use it to back his party, or for SPS spokesmen and their friends in the west to criticize Putin for abusing power when SPS leaders are guilty of abusing their own power for the Kremlin party!
The weakness of Putin
Although the Kremlin at the moment wins elections with absolute majorities they don't actually know what they're doing. They are combining old Stalinist methods with an attempt at bourgeois democracy. It makes Stalinist methods just look ridiculous. According to Kommersant today (4/3/08) the local campaign teams in the presidential elections didn't decide anything because "the central HQ did not only vet campaign slogans and billboards, but it also chose on precisely which streets of cities it would be best to site them." The position of the Kremlin is like a drunken man on the beach waving a broken umbrella. The umbrella looks stupid when it's sunny (i.e. when Putin is enjoying record ratings) but it will look idiotic when it rains. Sooner or later there will be a backlash against capitalism and then the hubris of the Kremlin will be exposed for the vanity that it is.
Why is Putin standing down? Because he knows that people are going to get tired of him. But people will still get tired of him as Prime Minister. With Putin pulling the strings through the Duma and Putin's party, United Russia, are intended to act as a check on Medvedev. But the history of modern Russia is one of the meaninglessness of bourgeois parties and the dominance of the presidential administration. Analogies have been made with Ukraine, where President Kuchma stood down and changed the constitution to give the parliament more power. The result has been a stalemate. The strategists of capital are afraid that a similar deadlock could emerge in Russia, which already saw a bloody conflict emerge between the parliament and Yeltsin in 1993. This is why Vedemosti (4/03/08) quoted Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, who made the following statement recently:
"It is absurd that the country is led by two officials - the President and Prime Minister - with overlapping functions and powers. This gives rise to chaos in government and creates a system of destructive imbalance, which weakens the country. It is necessary to abolish the dual-power in the country."
The disaster of capitalism and bourgeois democracy in Ukraine is reproduced in Georgia, where President Saakashvili won recent elections with a massive majority but has seen growing protests against his rule. In Armenia recent presidential elections were won after vote-rigging. Protests against government cheating saw clashes with the police in which eight people were killed over the weekend. In Azerbaidjan the son of former Communist Party of the Soviet Union general secretary Aliev is now President - the first time power has been passed on from father to son in dynastic fashion. In the central Asian states the rulers are either the same as they were 20 years ago during the collapse of the Soviet Union or, as in the case of Kyrgyzstan, came to power after hijacking an insurrection against the tyrannical leader. Belarus also is not an example of a flowering bourgeois democracy - although it is relatively stable.
A comparison with these countries shows the underlying weakness that lies beneath the surface of the political system in Russia. If it weren't for the high price of oil similar convulsive events would be developing here. And this is the perspective. Putin's good fortune doesn't extend to the mass of ordinary Russians, and cannot last indefinitely. For all the pomp that surrounds Putin there is a strong undercurrent of hatred against capitalism that Putin even expressed himself during the campaign, articulating the desire for revenge against the oligarchs who tore up the planned economy. But Putin's hatred of capitalism is confined to words only. For the workers it's another matter. Their bitterness, which Putin for now is able to channel according to his own ends, will rise from isolated, spontaneous outflows of anger into a mighty floodtide, sweeping all before it. A massive swing to the left is inevitable, and the contradictions in Russian politics and society can only be understood in terms of the delay in this process. This delay is the legacy of Stalinism, the disillusionment in socialist ideas following the collapse of the USSR. But the longer the delay, the more explosive the movement threatens to be when it comes.
The example of the impasse of the opposition movements in other former Soviet Republics shows how futile opposition is when it is not based on the working class. Aram Sarkisian, the leader of the Armenian opposition party "Respublika" was quoted in Kommersant yesterday as saying "I didn't even expect the people to be so resilient. Our people understood everything even better than we explained it to them! The energy that is now on the square is spreading throughout the Republic. People have started to believe that they can change their country..." This shows the contempt of bourgeois demagogues for the working class. Later in the day the crowd gathered again, after it had been beaten back once before, and at first shook off the riot police. But eventually the state stepped up its repression - at a time when none of the leaders of the opposition were there, when there was no leadership. Similar scenes took place in Kyrgyzstan in 2005. When the masses actually stormed the Presidential palace their own leaders betrayed them. This is why we insist that the workers trust only in their own forces and methods and place no trust in liberal forces (although these forces in Russia only exist virtually in the shape of Kasparov and his paid-up activists.)
The working class instinctively tries to change society. It has shown its fighting capacity again and again. The question is not if the working class will try to fight back against the puppets in the Kremlin but when this happens. It also depends on whether the Marxists will have prepared in time the necessary leadership and programme to ensure the victory of the working class. This is the task on the shoulders of the new generation of communists in Russia today.
- Molecular changes in Russian society and the CPRF 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)