By GERRY FOLEY
The election of ex-KGB official Vladimir Putin to succeed Boris Yeltsin as president of Russia was notoriously predetermined. This was not only because he continues to ride a wave of chauvinism directed against the Chechen people and because of his total control of the media.
All of the major components of the old Stalinist bureaucracy and the new-rich pirate capitalists growing up in its shadow more or less combined behind the new strongman, overcoming the split between the neo-Stalinists and the “liberals” that has existed since the failed neo-Stalinist putsch of 1991.
The Communist Party candidate, Genadi Zyuganov, Putin’s major electoral opponent, did not offer a real alternative. The CP has converged with Putin on all his main policies, including the Chechen war.
The imperialist powers also welcomed Putin as a man of “order,” who could guarantee the continuation of the process of restoring capitalism.
Thus, all the bandits plundering Russia united behind Putin, while the victims atomized by the Stalinist dictatorship and impoverished by the Stalinist bureaucracy’s attempt to restore capitalism had no one to represent them. It was no contest.
Increased political clarification
However, in one respect the Russian presidential elections represented a step forward-that is, they represented an advance in political clarification. They made it clear that the old Stalinist bureaucracy and the parasitic new capitalists are a common enemy of the masses of the Russian people, that there is no fundamental difference between the “democrats” and the neo-Stalinists.
The forces that fought against the Stalinist dictatorship are beginning to reorient toward fighting the new imperialist-backed parliamentary dictatorship of the heirs of the bureaucratic system.
For example, in advance of the presidential elections, a group of dissidents headed by Elena Bonner, widow of Andrei Sakharov, the most famous of the Soviet-era dissidents, issued a declaration condemning “the new Stalinism.” The Italian left daily Il Manifesto published excerpts from this document in its March 2 issue. They began with the following statement:
“The great paradox of recent Russian history is a form of Stalinism that the West has supported by backing the democratic and market reforms instituted by the various governments presided over by President Yeltsin.”
The declaration continued: “Under the Stalinist system, about a third of the population got only symbolic or fictitious payment for its labor. Today it is two thirds….
“Under Stalin about 20 million people were shot or lost their lives in labor camps, in exile, or from deprivation. Today, because of the disastrous living conditions, the population is decreasing by a million persons every year. And to this has to be added the number of victims of the two Chechen wars and the terror instituted throughout the country by the Mafia….
“In Stalin’s time press freedom was denied and free elections were banned. Today, all this has been granted, but the price of papers, plus the impoverishment of the population, has led to a 40 percent drop in the circulation of the press. Moreover, almost all sources of information are under the control of oligarchies linked to the state authorities.”
These dissidents, who have fought their whole lives for democratic rights, were not impressed by the “democracy” instituted by Yeltsin, with the approval of the “democratic” Western powers:
“Under President Yeltsin, the government heads have been ‘elected’ within the president’s ‘family.’ The result of such ‘elections’ is the success of KGB colonel Vladimir Putin. Under the Putin government, a new phase of modern Stalinism has been initiated.
“Authoritarianism and militarism are gathering strength. Special units like the FSB [the successor of the KGB) are being set up in military detachments. Even the educational system is undergoing a reorganization that involves reintroducing military training.
“Anti-Western and nationalist propaganda is playing a bigger and bigger role, as are the state security services. … The media portray the civil liberties organizations as antipatriotic (especially because of their positions on the war in Chechnya) and as linked to the interests of the West. Three quarters of these organizations have been outlawed.”
In Russia, “anti-Western” propaganda is not necessarily anti-imperialist. The post-Stalinists have borrowed reactionary themes from the Slavophile arsenal. The new Russian rulers, moreover, need a certain dose of anti-Westernism to back up their nationalist credentials, just as the Western leaders make hypocritical references to Chechnya to maintain their democratic and humanitarian credentials.
By reintroducing military training into the schools, the current rulers are returning to the example set by Brezhnev of replacing the vestiges of socialist ideology with so-called military-patriotic education that involved celebrating the victories of the Tsarist state, mainly against the “yellow perils” from the East but also against invaders from the West.
The real position of the Western rulers, moreover, is evident from their unconcealed satisfaction at Putin’s electoral victory and their expressed confidence that he is basically taking the country in the right direction.
It is interesting that the “new Stalinism” in Russia is being presided over by a relatively young former KGB officer. In Belarus, Lukashenko’s neo-Stalinist regime is essentially made up of cadres from the KGB. According to opposition leaders I talked to in Minsk last August, even the old CP bosses are afraid of them.
Certainly the CP trade-union leaders in Belarus are afraid of Lukashenko’s “young wolves,” because the later are trying to do away with even the principle of collective bargaining and replace it with contracts between individual workers and their bosses. One wonders if Putin will try to follow this pattern in Russia.
In the last period of the old Soviet system, the KGB, under Andropov, tried to increase its effectiveness as a repressive body by refined psychological techniques. In the course of this, it apparently developed the Stalinist system’s most sophisticated political operatives.
The rule of the bureaucracy became increasingly the rule of the political police. This tendency seems to be continuing under the “new Stalinism” and is based on an attempt to convert the old Stalinist bureaucracy into a new capitalist class.
However, in Russia, this cynical political elite cannot restabilize the state machine in any enduring way. The breakdown of the economy and the political structure has gone too far. (In Belarus, the attempt to restore capitalism has been much slower, and the opposition itself rejects privatization on the Russian model.)
The regime is making attempts to harden up elite units of the army and the police. But in general, all of the state forces have been demoralized by the disastrous decline in the standard of living and the general dilapidation of the infrastructure, which the decaying bureaucracy and the parasitic new capitalists are not powerful enough to stem.
The campaign in Chechnya is symbolic of the relativeness of the restabilization of the state under Putin. The army was able to take the Chechen capital of Grozny, at the price of destroying it. But it has not been able to crush the rebellion.
In the last week of March, the army lost 45 men to the rebels, one of the highest tolls in the war. The Chechen resistance continues, and the “new-KGB” state faces smoldering resistance from workers and oppressed groups in many areas, which could easily burst into flame.