Russia: Mass 24 December Moscow demonstration demands free elections

‘Liberal’ opposition block with nationalist right

The following is an edited translation of an article from the Russian CWI website

Socialistworld.net

The record warm weather in Moscow this winter seems to match the political mood which has gripped the country over the last month. Protests have spread like bush fires since last December’s parliamentary election and snow is melting in the heat generated by the Moscow’s protesting crowds.

On the 24 December, up to 100,000 people turned out on the Moscow demonstration. The protests are still growing but the question of what to do next is to the fore and becoming more prominent. Not only is the Presidential election looming in March 2012, but so are the government’s planned budget cuts and other neo-liberal ‘reforms’. The ruling class, in all its different incarnations, is taking all the steps necessary to maintain its profits and to stay “in charge”, while the “non-system” opposition (i.e. those parties not represented in Parliament) are not offering any real alternative to the policies currently being carried out by the Kremlin.

Some media reports described the demonstration in Moscow on 24 December as “very witty”. There were many home-made placards and balloons with caricatures drawn on them that held no particular message but just satirized or made fun out of the ruling elite. They criticized the comments made by Prime Minister Putin (who compared the protesters’ white ribbons to “condoms”). Many carried placards commenting on the mass turnout. The reaction of the authorities to the first demonstration in protest over the election results just fuelled the determination of protesters to turn out in strength for 24 December, even if just to hold humorous slogans.

Of course, there were many other protesters who demanded fair elections or new elections or the resignation of Churov (Head of the Electoral Commission). What the CWI said from the beginning about the opposition parties elected to the Parliament has been shown to be true – they are part of the ruling system, which they confirmed after the first protests on 10 December when not one of their elected deputies have resigned their seats. Moreover, the whole ruling elite, by their refusal to even consider a new election, has helped push the issue into the background. This has made the protest mood more confused but has not meant that the protesters are less angry. Few were taken in by a speech by President Medvedev when he promised some electoral reforms sometime in the future. They understand that his proposed measures have no teeth. Over the past two weeks, even more issues have been added to the list of protesters’ demands. But in the absence of a clear programme, these have just increased the confusion.

“Face of the protest”

Others who came to the demonstration included those protesting at the anti-social policies of the government. There were demands on housing and education and placards against capitalism. But those who came to protest on such issues find themselves in opposition not just to the bureaucratic bourgeoisie in the Kremlin but also against those who have set themselves up as the “face of the protest”, who controlled the microphones and made the speeches.

“I’m not going so as to listen to speeches” was heard more than once in the lead up to the 24 December protests. And indeed, most of the speeches were met coolly. The list of speakers inspired only disgust – why should we listen to Ksenya Sobchak (a well-known privileged ‘socialite’) who spends her time in Putin’s circles. Why should people be pleased at the appearance of Aleksei Kudrin, who until just a few months ago was a functionary in the Ministry of Finance of the hated Putin government? Why, instead of a programme of action, were we forced to listen to a speech outlining the family life of Putin? And why should we listen to the Deputy from the Just Russia party, Ilya Ponomarev, who represented the so called “left front”, and who announced that before he would give up his mandate, it was necessary to decide what to do!

Amongst the more popular speakers at the 24 December Moscow protest was Alexei Navalnii (a famous blogger who coined the unofficial renaming of Putin’s party to the “Party of Crooks and Thieves”), whose words set themselves apart from the others. “We are the power. We will take power. We will demonstrate peaceful, but if they don’t listen to us, we will act differently. Do you agree?” But what is behind these words? What does he mean by “we” – does he include “Prokhorov” – the oligarch, who walked through the Moscow crowds? Does he include the Russian chauvinist, nationalist leaders who will find many reasons to divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them’? Alexei Navalnii did not say a single word about the social problems faced by the majority of those in the Square. All this is a sure sign that those representatives of capital who are urging on Navalnii are also urging on the neo-liberal economic policies, like privatizations and budget cuts, being carried out by the current government. All they are interested in is dividing up the cake between themselves. They have no interest in sharing it with the workers and middle class who make up the majority of society.

The call for ‘Navalnii for President!’ is supported by the chauvinist nationalists, one of whom even repeated this call from the stage. Undoubtedly, Navalnii would like to think he can protect himself during the struggle for power by hiding behind these ultra-right storm-troopers. But the presence of Kudrin and Prokhorov at the Moscow protest (who also until recently denied he was opposed to the Kremlin) and the obvious tendency of a part of the liberals to lean on the ultra-right, indicate that a section of those heading this movement are hoping to find a place within the governing structures. What is important to note, however, is that while Navalnii is clearly seeking a sponsor to back his campaign, when he spoke he was not applauded that warmly by the crowds.

“Left” speakers

The only “lefts” to speak of who addressed the 24 December rally in Moscow were Udaltsov (who spoke by video link from his police cell), Gaskarov and Ponomarov. Gaskarov, although a declared anti-fascist toned down his criticisms of the ultra-right – he did not even mention the now annual 19 January demonstration to commemorate victims of murderous attacks by the ultra-right. This was just one more sign of the block between the liberal opposition and the far right. They joined together to remove any other left speakers from the speakers’ list including Ainur Kurmanov, who, it had been agreed beforehand should speak. While the organisers want to see the left on the organizing committee and to make up the numbers for demonstration, they will not allow the left to speak to the crowds.

The left should stop co-operating with a ‘committee’ where the ultra-right is allowed to play such a role. When the time comes that the majority of demonstrators understand the need to keep the far right away from opposition protests, workers will not forgive the left for co-operating with them on the organizing committee.

In the light of this, it is impossible not to mention the video speech of Udaltsov. When talking about pressing social issues, his views were barely on the left. He called for higher taxes for the rich and for workers to be paid by the hour but he was silent about the presence of the ultra-right on the organizing committee. His continuous attempts to stress that “we” are united is pushing his own position further to the right. Bearing in mind that Udaltsov is one of the most popular left figures, his accommodation to the nationalists will only serve to further discredit the left. This is particularly so because it is clear the liberal bourgeois opposition are attempting to lean on the ultra-right in their bid for power yet the majority of the left are not only doing nothing to prevent this, but are even treating the ultra-right as welcome partners.

The future

The Presidential election is due in March. The authorities are doing all they can to prevent the protests continuing until then. The media is full of empty statements about people being moved from positions within the ruling elite. This dividing up of posts may even allow a number of individual liberal opposition figures to be bought off with posts in the administration if that is seen as necessary to head off the movement.

If, however, the crisis continues and the movement escalates even further and in other cities, a section of the ruling elite may decide it is time to end Putin’s domination, moving in behind the liberal opposition and bringing a section into a government in some form. Unable to and with no intention of solving the social demands of today’s protesters, or of the majority in society, these ‘liberals’ in a government could lean on the nationalists to divert attention from the problems and to divide and rule the masses.

Genuine democracy will only be achieved when workers are able to create their own mass organisations, stand their own candidates in genuine and free elections and all the parties are ‘equal’ not just on paper but in terms of access to the media and with real restrictions of how the pro capitalist parties are financed by big business and use administrative resources. But it is not just the current government that is concerned about how mass protests can develop. The liberal opposition is also worried about the masses. They will find enough common ground to aim to prevent the masses from establishing genuine democracy, not only in parliament but in the economy too.

Masses need self-organisation

The CWI in Russia calls for the self-organization of the mass protests, the establishment of committees of action, democratically run, and for a mass workers’ party. We call for free elections, monitored by democratically elected committees from the workplaces and communities, to a genuine constituent assembly, and for a majority workers’ government to carry out socialist policies.

We oppose not just the current government but the whole capitalist system. As the previous year showed, and undoubtedly the New Year will show, it is capitalism that is responsible for the already low and worsening living standards of the majority. The mass movement needs to be armed with the perspective of forming a mass workers’ party capable of taking power in its own hands, taking the economy into democratic, public ownership and control and to be run to meet the needs of the majority rather than the super profits of the minority.

The March presidential election will undoubtedly act as the next trigger for protests. Now socialists need to use all their forces to strengthen support for their class ideas, not just to prevent different sections of the ruling elite from exploiting the protests but also to prevent the nationalist threat from growing. Of course, events internationally will play a big part; the success of opposition protest movements in other countries will act as an example here, forcing change in Russian society. 2012 has the potential of being the year that marks the beginning of “the end of the old world” and the start of a struggle for a new, socialist era of humanity. Those who sympathise with left ideas should do all in their power to open the door to this new world.

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