Prigozhin’s attempted coup: a statement by the Organisation of Communist Internationalists

We have received the following resolution by the Organisation of Communist Internationalists, written earlier today, after Wagner PMC Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin declared a rebellion, and moved columns of troops in the direction of Moscow. The situation has now somewhat receded: Wagner troops halted their advance and it has been announced that Prigozhin will enter exile, following hasty negotiations. As the comrades write, this episode was a struggle between two sections of the Russian oligarchy. Yet again, the oligarchs have proven that they have no interests in developing Russian society or in improving the conditions of the Russian masses. Their sole concern is to maintain themselves by leeching on the labour of the workers and poor, by robbing and plundering and by repressing any real opposition from the masses. The only way out of this impasse, the only way to raise the workers from their dire conditions, the only way to fight war, corruption and general decay, is for the working class to take power into their own hands, to expropriate all of the oligarchs, and to use the country’s vast wealth for the benefit of all. That is, by way of a socialist revolution.

Today, 24 June 2023, an attempt at a right-wing putsch began in Russia. After considerable confusion, the Russian ruling class rallied around the President, and denounced the coup attempt as an “unexpected betrayal” and “a stab in the back” against the nation.

With new operational reports coming in every hour, there is no point in recounting them. First of all, it is worth stating an indisputable fact: there are already well-armed right-wing paramilitary formations in Russia, with experience of combat operations, ready to question the existence of the current government.

Russia has come one step closer to the civil war, which the regime has so often used to intimidate the people and from which it has promised to protect us. However, it was not the opposition that initiated this, but the big business and right-wing elements that have grown up thanks to the restoration of capitalism in Russia and thanks to Putin in particular.

At first glance, the Wagner rebellion appears to be similar to Mussolini’s march on Rome, but the analogy would be superficial. Wagner PMC is a private army, the fruit of modern free-market capitalism, in which the state is trying to outsource the maximum number of its functions to private business. Unlike the numerous volunteer detachments of the separatist movement in the Donbass that emerged in 2014, the Wagner PMC emerged as a commercial power structure to provide physical force support for the aggression of the oligarchs in Syria, when that country was engulfed by civil war. According to a journalistic investigation by The Bell, the idea of ​​creating such a commercial structure was born in the army at the top of the Ministry of Defense back in 2010.

If we discard the claptrap with which patriots and a network of military correspondents have surrounded the name of Yevgeny Prigozhin, then he is, first of all, an oligarch. Using numerous connections with Putin’s circle, he built a huge business empire, starting as a caterer, then moving into real estate, and finally multiplying his fortune with contracts from the Ministry of Defense. Even his large-scale media activities have never been separate from his business interests. Access to military contracts had to be paid for. Prigozhin was a useful man for Putin and the Ministry of Defense, always ready to do the dirty work without drawing attention.

Why did he cease to play this role?

Putin's Bonapartist regime is a system of repression by the bureaucracy, that is, by the state, which lords it over the economically dominant class. The state’s monopoly on violence acquires special significance here. Outsourcing the functions of the Department of Defense in times of war directly undermined this principle. More and more systemic contradictions, giving rise to conflicts, arose between the Ministry of Defence and Prigozhin, the main cause of which was not politics, but money.

Shoigu [Putin’s Minister of Defence] imposed contracts on volunteer formations, which inevitably cut Prigozhin off from financial flows and threatened to turn him into a purely decorative character devoid of power. Prigozhin countered financial blackmail with a fight that he launched on the media field. Given his media resources, and the inequality of media resources, this was a one-sided game.

In his real economic programme, Prigozhin is no different to Putin. But in his agitation, Prigozhin appealed to all those dissatisfied with the military leaders, that are so often completely mediocre. Above all, his words have emboldened the “war til victory” crowd: those who, like Prigozhin, advocate the militarisation of the economy, general mobilisation and the introduction of martial law. The only thing that applying such a ‘programme of action’ could actually achieve would be to swing the mood among working people and military personnel from passive support for the war to active rejection. Compounded by the inevitable economic crisis and political instability, this could lead to a revolutionary situation.

This represented at least one possible danger and unintended outcome flowing from Prigozhin’s actions. A real revolutionary situation, however, is characterised not only by open opposition to the authorities and the inability of the leadership to rule as it used to, but also by the loss of control on the part of the ruling class, up to the emergence of dual power.

So far, however, Prigozhin’s coup has not provoked the masses to enter the scene. At the moment, power remains consolidated, and the ‘Prigozhinites’ are politically isolated. The course of history has accelerated, but we have yet to see a sharp deterioration in the standard of living of the masses, large-scale disappointment on the part of the majority of Russians in the Putin regime, and a sharp increase in their political activity. Today, the working class remains a spectator in this dramatic theatre, or rather, circus. Neither side in this conflict calls upon the masses to actively participate on their side, but would prefer them to be enthusiastic (but impotent) supporters on the sidelines.

The situation that has arisen is a crucial test for the Russian left. Only this time, their own lives may be at stake. Here, the standard excuse about this being a battle of “the toad and the viper” is inappropriate [the “battle of the toad and the viper” is a Russian expression, meaning that not supporting either side, we have no reason to take action]. In fact, it means inaction – criminal inaction. It is time to grasp the bull by the horns.

We do not call for the masses to choose between Prigogine and Putin. We call for action: independent, political action in the interests of the working class. Every Russian communist must honestly answer themself: am I ready?

What is to be done?

First, clear, real world political demands must be formulated and promoted among the masses. In the current situation, we cannot call back on ‘practical activity’ that does not contribute to the politicisation of the masses and to a systemic growth in the class consciousness of the masses, such as the slow construction of trade unions, social cooperatives, and the like. This approach was outdated yesterday. Today it makes no sense. The main social and economic contradictions of modern Russia can only be resolved by political means.

Secondly, we must leave the cosy spaces on the internet and in local initiatives, and enter real life. We are aware that in modern conditions it is very difficult and even dangerous to conduct open political propaganda. But work on YouTube and on the internet has begun to replace real work for activists, turning left-winger into mere content consumers. The internet alone has never been an engine of the left movement in Russia, and cannot become one. How many people were brought to their organisations by the thousands of LiveJournal blogs? How many of the subscribers of top bloggers have become political activists? Mere handfuls. In turn, every personal contact, every live posting, each participation in a labour conflict, and even the smallest collective action, not to mention each honest and open espousal of one’s position among one’s peers, raises the awareness of the masses far more effectively than a dozen YouTube videos.

Thirdly, the left and the entire working class needs an unequivocal and openly anti-war position, which must be offered to the people. Yes, that comes with serious risks and the threat of persecution. But recent events have shown better than any statements the destructive significance of the ongoing war and prove that, if the left fails to conduct anti-war propaganda in real life, their position will never become popular among the majority.

It is naive to believe that at the moment of crisis, the masses will happily come running to promoted media personalities. They will go to those they know in real life whose work they have seen with their own eyes. Of course, we will find fewer initiates that way than the number of commenters garnered by the top media personalities, but these initiates will not just stand on the sidelines. They will become political activists.

Fourthly, in addition to socio-economic demands, we must raise democratic demands. We are fighting for a genuine workers’ democracy, from the top to the bottom of society. Active propaganda for an anti-war position, for the ideas of communism, workers’ democracy, the rejection of militarism, will set in motion the detonator of the revolution: the youth.

For most activists, the moment has come to decide. Do we remain on the sidelines, hoping that the next mobilisation or the next bomb will bypass us? Or do we take part in the construction of a revolutionary cadre organisation, independent of the capitalist class and the officials, and not blinded by either their ‘patriotic’ or their ‘social’ rhetoric.

We must bring a class-based and anti-war agenda into the workers’ collectives and trade union organisations now. We must protect and develop the independence of our free-thinking student collectives. But in order to fight against the arbitrary authorities and their reactionary ‘alternative’, we ultimately need a political organisation. Form solidarity groups in your workplace, discuss current events, join existing political groups raising progressive demands!

The activists of our organisation were among the first to oppose the war; initiated the formation of the coalition of Marxist internationalists; organised numerous campaigns in defence of political prisoners, in particular, couriers’ leader Kirill Ukraintsev; and held a unity congress in May, forming the Organisation of Communist Internationalists (OKI). We proved by deed that it is possible to resist the regime while in Russia. We set out our vision and our requirements in the programme of OKI. If you agree with all of the above, join the Organization of Communist Internationalists.

  • Against Putin! Against Prigozhin!
  • Peace to the workers’ communities. War on palaces!
  • If we don’t, then no one will!

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