Over the last few weeks the Western media has been raising a hysterical campaign about the alleged "persecution" of the richest man in Russia Michail Khodorkovsky. A lot of words have been written about "the return to the Soviet era", "the end of Democracy", "repressive measures against businessmen" and so on. This is the real face of the so-called "democratic media". When one of their own – a corrupt oligarch that made his money by looting the resources that had been built up by Russian workers – ends up in prison they dedicate pages and pages denouncing this turn of events. But the same media didn't worry too much when Yeltsin and his supporters killed hundreds of their own fellow Russian citizens back in 1993. In fact they deliberately hid from public view the enormity of what happened then.
Since then they have described the first Chechen war that started in 1995 as an "internal affair of Russia" and they also ignored the mass fraud during the 1996 presidential elections. But when Russia's richest man was arrested and sent to prison they raised a hue and cry about the "threat to democracy"!
What they are not ready to recognise is that Russia's evolution towards Bonapartism started not under Putin but under Yeltsin. Then they justified it with the idea that it was necessary to "fight against the communist threat". Of course Putin's moves today do not represent a threat to the capitalist system in Russia. Khodorkovsky is not the only billionaire in Russia, and most of these people feel very comfortable under Putin's rule.
What Putin is doing is moving in the direction of Bonapartism, but it would be bourgeois Bonapartism, i.e. a political regime modelled to defend the developing capitalist system as a whole. Part of this process can involve striking blows against some of the more powerful oligarchs, but it in no way represents a return to any kind of Soviet centrally planned economy.
For the past 13 years the CPRF – Communist Party of the Russian Federation – has been the only real mass opposition force in the country, and even the only real party in Russia. The other Russian "parties" were temporary, short-lived organisations set up by different business groups or organisations of the ruling bureaucracy, such as today's "United Russia" or its predecessor "Russia Our Home" (which is more a figment of the bureaucracy's imagination than a real party).
However, in the recent period the CPRF suffered a split. A group of ruling CPRF bureaucrats refused to recognise the CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov and organised an alternative party congress where they elected another party leader, the governor of the Ivanvsk district Vladimir Tikhonov.
It is clear for all Russian observers that the Kremlin and Putin were behind this split. The state media supported the splitters in different ways. The party was under pressure from the authorities, and the leadership was compromised. Of course the splitters are not real communists with genuine criticisms of Zyuganov's revisionism. Tikhonov is presented as the so-called "Red governor". In reality he is a well-known sponsor of capitalism in its most brutal form in his own district.
Mr. Zyuganov is paying a price for his politics. He is paying the price for his long-term collaboration with the authorities. And his revisionism and nationalism have led him to lose contact with the masses. Zyuganov has always wanted to play the role of "His Majesty's opposition" and has never really organised any serious struggle against the rising capitalist order in Russia. But the Russian ruling class has a very short memory. Their view is that it is good to have Zuganov's kind of opposition, but it is even better to have no Left opposition at all.
This especially the case today when the regime is planning one of the most serious attacks on the Russian working class. The government plan to eliminate social subsidies for 20 million Russian pensioners, disabled people and war veterans and also to dramatically cut the social wage. Even now thousands of people all over Russia are coming out in protest against these "reforms". This explains why the Russian bourgeoisie wants to eliminate the CPRF as of now!
What could Zuganov do? He could appeal to the party masses, he could appeal to the working class. But he refuses to do so. He is a bureaucrat and he believes only in the bureaucracy. He prefers to appeal to Lucifer against Beelzebub. He has asked the Russian Ministry of Justice (which means Putin) to decide which of the two congresses was the legitimate one! So we have the ridiculous spectacle of Putin manoeuvring to split the CPRF, and the CPRF leaders appeal to Putin to do something about it!
Some on the Russian left today are ready to celebrate at this turn of events. Their position is: "The revisionist monster that for years discredited the name of communism is dead and the people will come to us!" We heard the same kind of thing when the Soviet Union collapsed. But it didn't turn out to be a triumph for the left. On the contrary, it turned out to be catastrophe for the left and for millions of people around the world.
The CPRF is a real mass organization for millions of Russian workers and now there is an attempt by Putin to eliminate it. This is the real threat to genuine democracy. It is an attempt to stifle the working class. As in every split many activists will be confused and may abandon politics and will be lost to the left movement. This is all the more the case when the split is not on a principled basis, when it is difficult to tell the difference between the two sides.
Putin knows that the Russian working class is reawakening. His attempt to weaken the CPRF has one aim in mind: to disorient the Russian workers. He wants to remove a point of reference for the working class. Of course he will fail in this. The strength of the CPRF lies not in its present leadership or in its programme. On the contrary, the CPRF is strong in spite of these. Its strength lies in the fact that the workers need a party. This fundamental need means that Putin will not be able to destroy the CPRF.
However, such crises also provide some important lessons. The lesson that is being learnt now is that collaboration with the ruling class and revisionism has a price. That price is going to be paid not just by the leadership but also by the masses. In the face of an onslaught on the part of the regime against the workers, the CPRF will not be ready. It does not have the revolutionary programme that is required to answer this onslaught.
In the coming period the more advanced workers will come to the conclusion that they need a party, they need a mass force like the CPRF, but it needs to be armed with a revolutionary programme and perspectives, and with a leadership that can realise these. If Zyuganov and the CPRF leadership were to base themselves on the working class instead of making appeals to the regime no amount of manoeuvring by Putin could achieve the aims of the regime. It would be the beginning of a new situation. The task is to transform the leadership of the Russian working class. With the adequate leadership no one would be able to stop the Russian workers from fighting back.