Interview with Russian Marxists: Imperialism, Authoritarian Regime and the Left in Russia
Below we publish an interview with the Marxist Group “Class Politics”, a Marxist organization in Russia. Their website is https://mgkp.github.io
Question: How do you view the present political situation in Russia under the Putin’s rule?
Answer: It’s better to answer on every of these questions by separate article. But as we don’t have such materials for this moment and we have only plans to write them we will answer in short now.
In Russia we have an authoritarian regime which serves the interests of big capital. Some time ago we had the anniversary (18 years) of Mister Putin coming into power in the country and there is whole new generation grown which doesn’t know anybody as the actual head of the state except this “national leader”. A part of this generation is coming out now to the street politics. One of the main reasons why they go out to the streets is that there is no possibility to change toppings of power.
In our opinion, it’s wrong to describe this regime as “totalitarian” or stable. Despite of public opinion polls official data which speak about high level of support of Putin by Russian citizens, the regime has to falsify the results of elections and have to make vicious propaganda in mass media. These actions are connected with constant growth of those forces which are in opposition to the current authorities. The main reason of this is the rapid fall of the living standard which is associated with the permanent economic decline in the last three years.
The relative instability of regime is compensated by the absence not only of any genuine revolutionary party of the working class here in Russia (currently, there is no such party in the world too). Moreover, there is not even a reformist (and any other bourgeois) workers’ party in Russia. Thus, the working class is unorganized. Even parties of the petty bourgeoisie and middle bourgeoisie are small and follow the more organized class – bourgeoisie – and they don’t have big public support yet. As a result adopting of such laws as the infamous “Yarovaya package” – which sells total surveillance for Russian citizens to them as a security measure – becomes possible.
However, we think that the next “elections” of president Putin which will take place in the spring of 2018 will be an important political event which, we think, will be accompanied with mass protests. We expect that these protests will be accompanied with repression by the authorities and could provoke growth of disagreements and radicalization of the masses. At this moment, we can see elements of such oppressions in the constant state and police brutality against followers of Navalny (court investigations, beatings, arrests of estates and computer office equipment and agitation materials), and in the form of some last new tendencies when FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation), political police (centers for fighting “extremism”) with participation of pro-authority right-wing ruffians “Cossacks” shut down summer camps of so called “revolutionary left organizations” and feminist women (there were three cases during one month in Russia: in Crimea, Krasnodar region and near Moscow).
Question: How do you see the role of bourgeois opposition forces?
Answer: The bourgeois opposition is represented by few organizations that have petty-bourgeois character. The most famous representative of it and the current factual leader of a big part of this opposition is Alexei Navalny. His organization is opening regional offices for his president election campaign all over Russia with the main goal – fighting “corruption” in the state apparatus. Last time they could organize two very large street actions with this slogan which involved new people to the political fight.
Notably, there was mass participation of secondary school and university students in these protests.
This increase of political activities is mainly caused by the rapid fall of living standard of the masses which has been dropping since 2014.
The so-called left parties and organizations generally aren’t ready to transform this growth of dissatisfaction into class struggle for power and influence in working population. As result such dissatisfied groups lend support to opposition factions of the bourgeoisie. At this moment, it is these forces which help to raise the political consciousness in the masses and direct this hatred against “corrupt politicians” but at same time they help that this process is beneficial for the capitalist class.
Question: What have been the most important protests of workers and poor in the last 12 months?
Answer: If we characterize protests of truck-drivers as worker protests, as some of the “lefts” do, we could apply this as an example to answer to this question. But we don’t count participants of these protests as part of the working class. They are mainly self-employed drivers who work using their own or leased trucks. The employed drivers of large transport companies don’t participate in these protests massively.
In some sense the protests of heavy cargo truck-drivers can be categorized as protests of poor. For example, most self-employed truck-drivers in Dagestan do not work as employed workers at large companies so that the introduction of this tax which they oppose, dramatically shrinks their incomes. Moreover, this region has a high official level of unemployment, which implies a low living standard there.
Our observations suggest that in such a situation when there is no organized mass protest of workers and poor, their dissatisfaction find indirect expression at political meetings of Navalny. Dissatisfied with their position and living standard, they come out to join protest actions organized by him. The majority of participants at such actions see the main reason for their worsening living standard not in the agonizing capitalist system, but in “bad politicians”.
Despite that we can’t give any noticeable examples of important protests in last 12 month from our point of view. However, we think that it is more important how the geography of protests is changing in total. According to data of Center of Social and Labour Rights in 2017 there is an almost finished process of spreading of protests through almost all regions of Russian Federation (before they were registered in majority of regions). Such situation creates conditions for united actions through all country.
Question: What is the state of the trade union movement in Russia? Are there any independent and militant trade unions?
Answer: As before Russians do not know much about trade unions or count pseudo-trade-unions of Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) as trade union one. FNPR is descendant (with ideology and property legacy) of the bureaucratic “trade unions” of VTsSPS (All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions). Subjects of FNPR are not trade unions due to formal reasons too because they usually have in their ranks employers and employees at the same time. But according to International Labour Organization (ILO), trade union is an organization in which only employees can have membership. Ironically, the Russian Federation has adopted ILO conventions. Despite that the FNPR faces situations when “trade union” consisted of workers and at the same time those who manage them when they are exploited. In illustration of it there is such an example: some time ago one of our comrades came to a human resources office of an industrial enterprise (controlled by the state) and saw there such a hilarious picture: on the wall near the working place of HR worker there was the information: “Do not forget to tell new worker to join the trade union!”. As rule, such “trade unions” are organizing assignments to sanatoriums and giving of presents on celebration days - in general that’s all of their “trade union” work.
Speaking about the workers movement we also have to point out that there is widespread unofficial employment in Russia. According to some records there 22.5 millions of those who can work were not registered in the state insurance system in 2014. In other words, there is no clear official information about their duties. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of officially registered employees at work have received parts of their payment under the table. So these workers can’t join trade union and have no opportunity to fight for their basic labour rights in official space. Such a situation is very profitable for the national bourgeoisie.
In our opinion, trade unions could not be independent from one or another ideology. In other words trade union leadership could be under influence of bourgeois ideology and such parties or it could be under the influence of a proletarian party. Because there is no revolutionary party of working class that has proletarian ideology, all Russian trade union movement participants now experience noticeable influence of ruling bourgeois ideology and only small part of it can be called as formally independent of parties.
If we count independent trade unions there are those who are active in fighting for the economic interests of workers. An example for a union which propagates and uses strikes as means of fight, is the trade union Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR). However, is it really independent from the ruling class we’ll see if we take the following example: the president of KTR, Boris Kravchenko, wrote at the end of 2011 about the killing of protesting oil company workers in Zhanaozen (West Kazakhstan) and blamed the Committee for Workers’ International (CWI) for the provocation of Kazakhstan authorities of such actions. We have another example – the political evolution of the famous trade union activist Alexei Etmanov (Interregional Trade Union “Worker Association” (MPRA)). First he “always supported Communist Party of Russian Federation during elections”, later he guaranteed that the A Just Russia Party will receive the vote of all four thousand MPRA members and their families and at last he joined the electoral list of Yabloko party at the last election. What does this say about the independence of these forces?!
Question: What is your opinion on the situation in Chechnya? What is you stance on it?
Answer: To answer to this question we need to start from relations of different parts of society to this question. Nationalist rhetoric is that Russia pays to the Chechnya for defeat at war in the form of subsidies from budget because of that Kadyrov was in armed resistance (which according to propaganda most people in Russia counts as “bandits”) and later switched to federal forces. This position usually does not separate the armed underground, people of Kadyrov and the whole Chechen people. On the background of such extreme Chechenophobia in society this absurd position does not meet almost any criticism (except by official pro-Putin patriots). As an argument they say that Kadyrov’s people use imaginary unlimited power in Chechnya when they do not permit to come representatives of central offices of Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service and Public prosecutor’s office that is against any understanding of law and order. Liberals in their rhetoric use this as populist argument for their position that in Russia there is feudalism and they are for transition to the “genuine” capitalism and presenting Kadyrov as feudal overlord. For example Alexei Navalny not so far ago repeated the widespread common misbelief that Chechnya is getting the highest subsidies among all regions of Russia. This is a clear lie which could be ruined by simple internet search. But during many years most of these right-wing populists couldn’t accomplish such simple task. Vast majority of them believes in the myth about highest subsidies for Chechnya.
There is also the position of human rights activists (this position is shared by Russian LGBT organizations in connection with situation with homosexuals in Chechnya). They speak about total human rights defeat, tortures, mass false blaming about terrorism and repressions to the relatives of those who are guilty according to local authorities. But at that time their demands are limited to demand to ensure execution of Russian Federation laws in Chechnya. At the same time they appeal to EU and such organizations but say nothing about reasons of problems with law and order there.
But in reality these reasons are in need to support occupation regime of Kadyrov in Chechnya. Chechen people fought for the independence for centuries. To uphold the occupation under these conditions demands extreme repressive control by the regime and at the same time the imitation of independence of Chechen people from the other: in fact all representatives of Russian regime are Chechens (but it is tactics of all occupants when they set natives as their representatives), showing care about supporting of Chechen traditions (sometimes too much) and representing themselves as defenders of Chechen and all other peoples from discrimination and keepers of “traditional values”.
At the same time, Kadyrov actively uses the imperialistic confrontation between USA and Russia. For example, he claims that any opposition, demands of human rights and progressive tendencies in society are results of activity of the “West” which is headed by USA. On the other side bourgeois opposition, pointing to Kadyrov, tries to represent all Chechens as barbarians who solve all questions by armed means and that they are guilty that Putin is still in power (according to data of Central Election Commission about 98% of electorate voted for Putin in Chechnya). Among bourgeois opposition there is firm opinion that all Chechens support Putin. And this is a reason why Chechens do not want any association with such opposition - and after that it’s too late to blame anyone about absence of open support of them in Chechnya.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much knowledge about the situation in Chechnya: how many Chechens are against regime there, what is their level of organization and which ideology unites them - all of it is unknown mainly because of closed character of Chechen society due to Kadyrov’s repressions.
We support the right of nations to self-determination (including secession) but this doesn’t mean that Marxists always support its realization.
In case of Chechnya we are for the liberation of Chechen people from power of Putin’s representatives. Only Chechen people can do this themselves. Other peoples of Russian Federation could help by means of overthrowing current regime in Russia. But splitting of large states for creation of many small national bourgeois states can’t be the goal for Marxists. Our goal is - socialist federation of Caucasus peoples.
Question: How do you assess the class character of Russia’s capitalism? Do you see it as a semi-colonial, a sub-imperialist or as an imperialist state?
Answer: The Russian Federation is an imperialist state, which is distinguished by the close connection of a large monopoly capital with the state apparatus.
The leading sectors of the Russian economy, except the military, are energy corporations — oil and gas. These industries, because of their nature, have also huge political influence.
For example, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Intitute (SIPRI) during the period of 2012-2016 conventional arms transfers worldwide reached the highest level since the end of the cold war. In the global arms market imperialist Russia takes the second place after the USA: 33% and 25% respectively. The reason for this is the fact that the Soviet Union invested heavily in the production of arms, which had created a huge complex for the production and development of all types of weapons (one of the main tasks of the USSR was at any cost to become the leader in the arms race). Current adventures in Syria serves as a testing ground for the newest weapons and combat training of the army. Thanks to this “strengths and weaknesses of the new weapons are identified, design is improving”, a lot of new contracts for the supply of weapons are signed, tactics are changing and training of military pilots is improving. Russian propaganda does not hesitate to emphasize this fact.
Another example is how the Russian government deals with debts of the world’s largest oil company Rosneft. The state spends huge funds because after the sanctions it faced limitations to obtain loans from banks of corresponding countries. The cause of this debt is buying of shares in foreign oil monopolies. The goal of such economical policies is to achieve dominance on the oil market. Moreover, all enterprises of the nuclear industry of the Russian Federation are part of of the state corporation “Rosatom”. In 2016, it took first place in the world by the number of nuclear power units abroad. A crucial technical feature of these nuclear reactors is that they can only work with Russian nuclear fuel and during the whole period of NPP operation the buyer country will have to import it from Russia. It’s possible to explain so many orders by the fact that the Russian Federation fully credits the construction and maintenance of NPPs. The loans are often forgiven in exchange to political services.
In the last three years Russian imperialism has been on the rise. Especially noticeable are the gains of the imperialist bourgeoisie in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the CIS countries. Imperialist Eurasian Union was created, as means for strengthening of oppression, robbery and exploitation of the workers of the countries of the former Soviet Union and some satellite countries. All this is accompanied by strengthening of the Russian military machine, which has not happened without the increase of the chauvinistic and militarist state propaganda, which exploits the symbols of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.
Russian imperialism clearly enjoys great prestige all over the world. In countries which experience a weakening of the grip of local authorities or where the local bourgeoisie is fosupport and military intervention is directly interconnected with interests of the Russian capital. At this moment, the Russian bourgeoisie actively expands economical, military and political influence in Syria. For example, journalist’s investigations demonstrate how entrepreneurs closely associated with state apparatus get oil and phosphate fields under their control. Moreover, the Russian bourgeoisie doesn’t hide engagement of its private military goons in their affairs. These facts are clearly evident in the perspective, that the main target of their current military operation is to take important crude oil production areas under control. Oil from this region according to trade deals will be in hands of Russian imperialists.
At the same time the Russian Federation dramatically increases control over the Syrian military apparatus. Even Russian military specialists admit their strong influence on its army.
This happened not only because of Russian military might, but because of clear unwillingness of Syrians to serve Assad’s regime.
Military adventures of Russia did not pass without a trace for the political situation in the Middle East. Russian imperialists have gained huge authority and influence in the region. Even major regional powers such as Turkey and Iran have to make behind-the-scenes deals with Russia. At the same time, such agreements lead both of these countries into direct confrontation with the US and the EU interests. Such situation will force Turkey and Iran in the foreseeable future to join a strategic military-political alliance of imperialistic Russia and China.
Question: How do you characterize the official Communist Party of Gennady Zyuganov (KPRF)?
Answer: The KPRF is communist only by name. It is bourgeois party that supports the current regime in Russian Federation. In fact, this party discredits communist ideas by presenting it’s migrantophobia, servility to the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian nationalism, bourgeois patriotism and state Stalinism as “Marxism of our times”. The KPRF doesn’t focus on the labor movement. Rather, it’s mostly the party of patriots and elder citizens who have nostalgia for the USSR. Over the time the influence of KPRF has reduced and probably will continue to do so in the future, but despite of these changes the authorities of Russia will support KPRF, because of its support for the regime.
Question: Could you give us an overview of the left? As far as we know there are a number of orthodox Stalinist parties as well as some Trotskyist groups.
Answer: The situation in the “left” movement is defined not by random events but by objective conditions which formed in the Russian Federation. There was the Stalinist official ideology that dominated in the USSR for decades. After the collapse of the USSR together with this ideology many started to search information about history of their country and answers to their questions. Most of those who didn’t choose liberalism and Stalinism were searching for answers in religions, sects, anti-science and conspiracy theories. Also at that time (and this is still the case now) there was a widespread apathy and almost total absence of any fight and, as a result, scepticism about possibility to change anything.
In the Russian Federation some small (because of this reasons) sections of international political organizations came into existence. So in Russia communist traditions that were crushed by Stalinism there were imported. But these international organizations have brought not only positive aspects but also brought their inconsistencies and opportunism. As a result after series of splits from them to the right in Russian Federation their descendants appeared to move further to the right. There are many reasons for it: Russian organizations have got these principles as something external, they didn’t have experience to apply them in practice in conditions of absence of mass worker movement so they didn’t understand its meaning in our conditions. A shift to the right took place after they became independent from these international organizations. After such splits these groups have denied tight principles for race to the “wide left” with the aim to create mass “left” organization as soon as possible.
All of this was caused by the absence of a mass worker movement in this country after the final loss of illusions about possibility to turn history back to restore USSR. At the same time “lefts” were unpopular in particular because of their firm associations with Stalinists, patriots, Russian nationalists and fascists - defenders of “soviet” Supreme Soviet in 1993 had such contingent. To add that because of the legacy of the Stalinist USSR Marxism became unpopular as a theory that, in the eyes of the majority, was defeated in practice.
In short we can formulate the conditions for opportunism in Russian “left” movement: small amount of “left” activists, their low knowledge of theory, absence of serious experience of participation in mass movements in particular because of absence of wide worker movement in Russian Federation.
Activists act in closed circle – their extreme small number operating in unfortunate conditions do not open opportunities to practice full activity and hence do not give the opportunity to expand and to change external conditions. Many activists try to come out of these circles by increasing their numbers by any means. For those who do not know theory well it seems as good solution but in practice this only worsens the political problems of this eternal circle existence.
Because of this common low level of development of movement there are many problems - from denial of defending of oppressed groups (in the case of the “Revolutionary Workers’ Party” (RRP) and “Left Block”) to tolerance to the sexism in their own ranks that do not leave the women’s movement any other possibility than to separate from such “leftists”.
The evident manifestation of all our analysis is clear ignorance among “leftists” about maintaining secrecy and information security. For communications and information exchange they use such unreliable means as vkontakte social network, Telegram, Skype, e-mail, websites of organizations without https encryption. Some of them publish openly photos of members of organizations and videos of their meetings in social networks. Another feature that characterizes the level of development of the “left” movement is absence of using of free means of encryption. Passers-by when they enter the pages of these organizations in social networks have the feeling (which is not so far from truth) that these political groups are not so serious. Their extreme openness and constant intention to inform about their routine inner organization activity is strange and dramatically ease the job for the bourgeois repressive apparatus. And this is not a technical question for political organizations and it is more important for revolutionary ones.
The goals of every revolutionary are in opposition to the goals of the ruling regime and it is the cause which provokes the repression apparatus. Therefore it is hard to call someone a revolutionary who does not intend to make the job for the police difficult and who makes it, contrary, easier.
In general, many organizations try to present themselves as parties or large political organizations but in fact their activities do not go further than propaganda and at the same time they often do not have a well defined political line.
All above illustrates the general situation among the “left”. In our opinion we should also characterize their political position and activities. One of questions dividing the “left” in Russian Federation and worldwide is if it is correct to characterize the Russian Federation as an imperialist state. “Worker Platform” (a split from “Russian Socialist Movement” (RSD)) does not think so and many Stalinists do so as well. The “International Marxist Tendency” (IMT), presenting many counter-arguments on their website in fact is also on the side of Russian imperialism when they support DNR and LNR (Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic).
Those “leftists” who characterize the Russian Federation as imperialist state are not for the defeat of it in the Syrian war.
Among all organizations that pretend to follow the traditions of Bolshevism in practice do not use tactics of the united front and do not implement the full transitional program in their work in workers’ and other movements.
As we have mentioned, some of those organizations which intend to grow very rapidly have formed as blocks (“Left Block”). But in this case the size and influence of such organizations are very small too. The reasons are the same - there is no deep understanding how to organize this block and which tasks it has. In practice all activities of block are going in form of separate organizations that constitute itself as if there doesn’t exist any block.
In most “communist” organizations there exist different kinds of Stalinism which dominates there. From apologetics of Stalin to mutations that trying to fix contradictions between Stalin and Trotsky. A good recent example for this is the “Lenin Crew” which are constructing definitions like “deformed socialist state”.
And there are organizations that unconsciously use tactics of Stalinists either due to their low level of understanding of Bolshevik tactics or because of their opportunism. For example, the “Red Guard of Spartak” (KGS) moves away from Stalinism on an ideological level but supports at the same time sectarian tactics of the Stalinist “Communist Party of Greece” (KKE).
Concerning Trotskyist organizations we need to start from the question which organizations can we call as Trotskyist? Here it is possible to the analogy with the KPRF - it has a communist name but isn’t communist in essence. So such groups that call themselves as Trotskyist in fact are not.
For example many pseudo-Trotskyist organizations do not use the tactics of united front, tactical and strategic achievements of the first four congresses of the Third International. So, how can we call them Trotskyist after that?
Partly, the reason for this is simply their lack of knowledge and understanding of the classic Marxist works; others are simply opportunists. For example, the Russian section of the IMT, together with RRP and other “left” organizations, deliberately hides the symbols of their organizations at mass meetings. Some of the Russian pseudo-Trotskyists more correctly call themselves social-democrats. The best example of these reformist politicians under the mask of “Marxists” is the RSD (Russian Socialist Movement). They call the program of the British Labour Party leader Corbyn as “socialist”. At the same time their opportunism is not very smart. For example their program contains the “formal” support for the right of nations to self-determination as well as right-wing imperialist economism - they think that for small regions such as Chechnya it’s better not to separate because they couldn’t implement independent politics due to their small size and weak economy. “Socialist Alternative” (Russian section of “Committee for Workers’ International” (CWI)) prolongs the “great” traditions of CWI - if their US comrades supported during president election campaign Bernie Sanders, a the representative of the bourgeoisie, SA in Russian Federation gives electoral support to Yabloko party candidate since several years.
Thus, there is no proletarian party in Russian Federation. The majority of so-called “left” parties suffer from clear opportunism and sectarian policies. Moreover, Stalinism is still dominating in “communists” circles and “Trotskyist” organizations are clearly Bolshevik-Leninists only by name.
Question: What are, in your opinion, the main issues of a revolutionary program for the class struggles in the coming period?
Answer: We think that the elaboration of a program of the revolutionary working class is the deed of a party of the working class and there is evident a need to create it. Small Marxist group can only elaborate principles on which a pre-party organization can be build.
Here are several key points that in our view must be the basis of the new (something that is well forgotten) revolutionary movement:
Fight for the independence of the working class!
Fight against opportunism and reformism within the workers’ movement!
For implementation of united front tactics in the workers’ and other movements!
Build organizations that will be the basis for the creation of the revolutionary party of the working class!
For the creation of an international revolutionary organization!
Fight for the full transitional program in the trade unions and other organizations of the working class, youth and oppressed!
Thanks for the interview!