On July 1 the vote for amendments to the Constitution of Russia ended. The real goal of voting was to extend Putin’s rule until 2036 and give the illusion of widespread support of the population. Andrei Klishas, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Law, has openly stated that the vote was organised so that members of the elite would stop thinking about “transferring power” away from Putin.
Pro-Kremlin analysts immediately began talking about the end of Russian ‘liberalism’. In reality, liberal Russia never existed. Ever since the beginning of Putin’s reign, the state has held the oligarchy in check. Authoritarianism in the country has been a pattern established by Boris Yeltsin in 1993 when he sent tanks against the Russian Parliament.
It will be difficult to predict exactly what changes there will be after the adoption of the new Constitution and the extension of Putin’s rule. However, as the history of the past presidential election in 2018 teaches us, nothing good can be expected.
How was the vote?
All the propaganda resources vied with each other to claim that the “nullification” of fixed terms for the president was supported by almost 78% of Russians. The result of “78%” was engineered so that this figure was in no way less than the 77% of votes allegedly received by Putin in the election two years ago. In terms of the number of grossly fraudulent results, this voting exercise significantly outperformed previous ones. This is shown by obvious anomalies in the graphs, as well as a glaring manipulation of voting results.
Even if it is agreed that the majority of Russians really voted in favour, you have to say it with the caveat that they voted for those amendments that were most talked about on TV, namely, various social benefits that were already established in law.
An unprecedented campaign for the amendments began on television and on the web. Opponents were not given a chance to say anything and those who distributed campaign material against were detained by the police. Under various pretexts they were given administrative penalties in the form of fines. There have also been many cases of police seizing all available campaign material from campaigners.
The only region to show a majority of votes against was the Nenets Autonomous Region. The reason for this is that the Government of Russia wanted to unite this region with the Arkhangelsk region against the wishes of the population and, above all, the regional elites, whose financing would be significantly reduced after unification.
The second highest region in terms of the number of votes against the amendments was the Republic of Sakha where 40% of voters voted against. However, gross violations were revealed here. In one of the polling stations of the regional capital, the difference between the result obtained and the result that appeared on the official website of the country’s election commission amounted to exactly 1000 votes. The situation was repeated in another district of the city, where the difference was exactly 900 votes. The head of the region’s election commission explained this by saying that the local election commission forgot to enter those who voted before July 1! Of course, no one believes this nonsense; the Russian authorities are simply showing publicly that they do not even know how to lie.
Boycott or a vote against
Those who argued for a boycott argued there was nothing to be gained from calling for a vote against. But a united campaign and mass movement against the amendments could have had an impact on a wide layer of people. The announcement that the referendum was being brought forward to June 25 from the autumn was made with just one month to go. This made organising opposition and protests almost impossible. At the same time, a vote spanning a whole week would allow for government forces to campaign amongst the population. Neither the left nor the liberal opposition was for joining forces, as they did in 2011.
Another question concerns what the representatives of the so-called “active boycott” counted on. A boycott could be considered really only if the situation in the country was moving towards mass struggle when the people of Russia would not be ready to accept the existing situation, and the opposition would have a much greater influence among the population. This is not the case at the moment.
The “active boycott” proposed by some oppositionists did not turn out to be active at all from the word go. The liberal opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, did not bother to hold even one protest, repeating his experience of two years ago. The organisation of left-wing YouTube bloggers – ‘The Marxist Union’ – proposed distributing a leaflet with a huge amount of text in small print, which hardly caught the attention of anyone passing by. The ‘Left Front’ were the most ridiculous, calling on people to stay at home and campaigning for people not to go to the polls in order to protect them from COVID-19!
The crisis of the opposition can only be overcome through workers organising.
If initially the words “active boycott” meant organisation of workers, then from the outset nothing was heard or done. Thus, the tactic of actively boycotting was a failure, since the boycott did not involve any real action. The opposition will continue to adopt this empty tactic from one vote to the next, but this will not bring any benefit. Some workers may abstain as a form of protest but, as a tactic, it could only be effective if the Russian opposition gains influence among wide layers of the population.
It is not simply a matter of government measures being unpopular for decisive working class action to be organised. This has been shown by the crises around the state’s handling of the coronavirus and layoffs, its resort to repression and the plummeting ratings for Putin over the pension reform of two years ago. The Russian opposition, despite its rather significant resources, has lost these chances to express and channel the widespread crystallisation of public discontent.
In 2011, mass election fraud led to big protests. However, this was not enough. After the brutal suppression of an opposition rally on May 6, 2012, on Bolotnaya Square and the arrest of a number of opposition members, the mood of protest quickly subsided. Even then, the Russian opposition and the working people were unable to organise on a coordinated mass scale. Since then, the Russian opposition has become significantly weaker.
Russian workers clearly get nothing out of these pseudo-elections. To win concrete gains, however, workers and young people need to organise and fight – against the dictatorship of Putin and oligarchs and for the building of a party of workers and young people.