Moscow: The Fire This Time

The Editors

IN AUGUST 1991, an anti-democratic putsch failed in Moscow. In October 1993, an equally anti-democratic and extremely dangerous coup took place—and succeeded. Not only did it succeed, but the leader and organizer of this coup—Russian President Boris Yeltsin—received the effusive thanks and congratulations of the governments and media propagandists of the West for “the salvation of democracy.”

Behind this smokescreen of democratic rhetoric lies a tragic reality: the fire of repression consuming the seeds of actual Russian democracy. In this issue of Against the Current we offer some perspectives on what has really occurred, relying as much as possible on eyewitness accounts and the voices of Russian democratic activists themselves—some of whom have been arrested and severely abused in an attempt to silence them.

The apparent contradiction of Western parliamentary states hailing the physical destruction of an elected Russian parliament as a “victory of democracy” is, in fact, no contradiction at all. The real overriding priority of Western elites for Russia is the introduction of capitalism. And the most powerful lesson of the past two years of political gridlock between the Russian president and the parliament—the same president and parliament who jointly resisted the 1991 putsch—is that establishing capitalism and creating democracy in Russia are two very different, and quite incompatible, projects. The West’s hope now is that Yeltsin’s coup will create a form of “presidentialist” rule under which capitalist relations can be forced down the Russian population’s throats—for the people’s own good, naturally.

It’s not that Yeltsm supported capitalism while the parliament opposed it. Both supported it. The problem (as Kit Wainer’s theoretical essay in this issue helps clarify) is that the disintegrating bureaucratic elite as a whole, attempting to dismantle the remnants of the Stalinist system while preserving its own privileges, has proven incapable of creating either rational planning or a capitalist market, but only a chaotic mess. When one adds to this the existence of a parliament in which not only contending bureaucratic factions but the growing anger of the population find some expression, even in a distorted form, the possibility of imposing a capitalist market system became almost nil. No wonder then that the ruling classes in the West supported Yeltsin’s dissolution of that parliament

Now the purpose of new parliamentary elections scheduled for December is to provide Yeltsin the necessary democratic cover, while the purpose of repression—the banning of parties, of newspapers, of opposition political organizing—is precisely to ensure that the elections are largely meaningless. We believe Yeltsin’s chances of success in this enterprise are not great. Blowing up representative institutions with tanks is not the same as creating a social base for a capitalist transformation. The more likely result is a further slide to chaos which will ultimately swallow Yeltsin himself

In any case, our immediate task as socialist and democratic activists in the West is to expose the lies of our own governments, in which Bill Clinton and the U.S. corporate media take first prize; to demand the immediate unbanning of all political parties and all newspapers in Russia; and to campaign for the release of all those arrested, particularly the independent trade unionists and pm-labor activists.

Bill Clinton said he stood “four-square” behind President Yeltsin in the decision to destroy the parliament building in Moscow. Compare and contrast this to his policy toward the popularly elected, exiled President of Haiti, Jean-Bertand Aristide, who is to be allowed to return only after being forced to pledge not to “abuse the human rights” of—the military death squads! The predictable result is that the Haitian military has not loosened, but escalated its obscene rule of terror over the population. In supporting Yeltsin’s coup, the West has signaled that he is authorized to impose, if necessary for the brutal capitalist transformation of Russia, the kind of rule-by-terror all too familiar in the Third World.

November-December 1993, ATC 47