“Order Reigns in Moscow”

Justin Schwartz

AS THE ARTILLERY opened up on the Moscow White House, where in 1991 Boris Yeltsin had defended the same parliament he dissolved two years later, he justified the attack on the barricaded parliamentarians as a suppression of a “fascist-communist rebellion.” Foreign leaders, especially Bill Clinton, have lauded Yeltsin’s destruction of the parliament, and Yeltsin’s version of events has been repeated uncritically in the Western media—with parliamentarians described as “rebels” and the like.

In fact, whatever our view of the now-extinguished parliament, Yeltsin’s action was an attack on Russian democracy. It puts at risk the one solid gain of Gorbachev’s glasnost and the August 1991 revolution: the foundations of democratic struggle over the future of Russia.

Condemnation of Yeltsin’s high-handedness does not mean support for this parliament or its programs. The anti-Yeltsin parliamentary majority was reactionary, chauvinist and corrupt; it failed to articulate a serious alternative to Yeltsin’s pro-capitalist policies.

Vice-president Alexander Rutskoi and speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, the now imprisoned leaders of the “rebellion,” were themselves neither democrats nor responsible, as evidenced by Rutskoi’s call to resurrect the former USSR Because of his mad order to storm the TV station and mayor’s office, Rutskoi in particular must share responsibility for the bloodbath of October 4.

But the issue is the idea of popular rule, expressed in representative institutions and the rule of law—-against the untrammeled power of the executive Yeltsin has now asserted. The parliament was elected in 1990 under flawed by real democratic conditions, as was acknowledged by international observers. Yeltsin too was elected, under rules written by that same parliament.

Polls and referenda indicated that Yeltsin enjoyed somewhat wider support than the parliamentary leadership. But that no more gives him the right to abolish the legislature than it would give any popular, elected Western leader the right to rule by executive decree. It was Yeltsin who acted in violation of the constitution and the law.

What Are Yeltsin’s Motives?

Illegal activity, even violence, may of course be justified by democratic purposes and be expressions of the democratic will. But Yeltsin’s of are to make his will effective in the face of widespread opposition to his economic program, a popular opposition inchoately expressed by the parliament.

Yeltsin’s democratic credentials are further undermined—and his probable intentions revealed—by his actions in the aftermath of the attack on the White House. The Moscow City Council has been disbanded by decree. Elected regional leaders who opposed Yeltsin’s dissolution of parliament have been dismissed, even arrested, on no authority but Yeltsin’s and for no crime but opposing his policies.

Yeltsin has called for (though he has been unable to enforce) the dissolution of all regional authorities pending new elections. The Constitutional Court has been suspended until a new legislature approves a constitution that will meet Yeltsin’s approval.

To say that these institutions, including the parliament, were “holdovers from the old Communist regime” is both misleading and irrelevant The presidency of Russia itself is such a holdover. And none of these institutions had a shied of power (or in the case of parliament, existence) before the democratic reforms that Gorbachev was praised for introducing.

Yeltsin has rolled back these reforms, to gather the kind of unilateral executive authority, based on the army and police, held before Gorbachev only by the generalsecretary of the Communist Party.

Elections Under Repression?

Yeltsin plans to hold elections in December fora new legislative body tobe called the duma, recalling the name of the Tsar’s pre-1917 rubber-stamp parliaments, with a presidential election to be held in June 1994. But opposition parties and organizations have been banned (see information in accompanying articles—ad.). He has again suspended publication of Pravda and other newspapers critical of the government, and withdrawn (for the present) censorship on the remaining pm-government press only after international outcry.

Nor has Yeltsin restricted himself to suppression of “red-brown” opposition. Police arrested and beat Moscow city coundimember Boris Kagarlitsky and other activists of the Party of Labor, democratic socialist opposition to both parliament and Yeltsin. Indeed, Kagarlitsky was being persecuted for opposing Communism while Yeltsin was building his power as a Communist party boss.

Kagarlitsky and some of his associates have been released in response to international protest, but a week after the massacre the police reportedly hold scores and perhaps hundreds of detainees in the Krasnapresnya Stadium, while the whereabouts of others arrested remain unknown.

Yeltsin’s intent is clearly that a new parliament and constitutional court present a democratic facade that will not seriously impede the implementation of his program, nor provide any effective arena of opposition to it The power of the executive is to be primary. Whether he succeeds in this goal remains to be seen, but if he does not he has given a foretaste of his probable response: Dealing with political opposition by administrative and military means is no better a precedent for “post-Communist” Russia than it is anywhere else.

The Specter of Market Stalinism

Had Mikhail Gorbachev done these things, as many worried he might, he would have been anathematized as adictator. But Yeltsin is feted in the West as a democrat. Gorbachev, who declared a commitment to socialism (his conception of socialism was bankrupt, to be sure), refused to join the August 1991 coup. Yeltsin is unabashedly procapitalist; his actions meet approval on these grounds, whatever they mean for democracy.

In 1990, Russian commentators Andranak Migranyan and Igor Klyamkin called fora “firm authoritarian regime” as a condition for marketization and privatization, which they called “democracy’—a sort of Chinese road to capitalism, which Kagarlitsky has called “market Stalinism.” Just as Stalin by terrible force imposed collectivization on the peasantry, the Chinese bureaucracy is imposing a particularly predatory and corrupt capitalism on Chinese workers under the barrels of tank cannon.

Yeltsin has taken the first steps along that mad. The ganster capitalism now developing in Russia, deeply implicated in organized crime, and the IMP and World Bank austerity programs to which Yeltsin subscribes can flourish unimpeded only in the absence of democracy. It is one or the other. Yeltsin’s choice is clear.

In Rosa Luxmburg’s last article (shortly before her murder by a military death squad organized by a Social Democratic government), the great leader of the German and Polish revolutionary left wrote about the suppression of the workers’ uprising in Berlin in 1919: “‘Order reigns in Berlin!’ You stupid lackeys! Your ‘order’ is based upon sand.”

That proved true in a far more dreadful way than Luxemburg could have imagined. The price the world paid for quelling the German revolution was Hitler and Stalin.

“Order has been restored” in Moscow, Yeltsin announced on October 4, 1993. There was no workers’ rising, not least because the last defenders of parliament identified themselves with Hitler and Stalin. Should Yeltsin’s market Stalinism find no effective democratic opposition, the appeal of those grim specters will grow again.

If, however, the new roots of Russian democracy that began during perestroika and in August 1991 have struck as deep as this author hopes, Yeltsin will find such opposition, and Rosa Luxemburg’s final words might ultimately come true: “The revolution will ‘raise itself up again dashing.’ and … it will proclaim to the sound of trumpets, I was, lam, I shall be.”

Doubtless that is too optimistic a result to immediately expect But it is not too optimistic to hope for, and extend solidarity to, popular defense of democracy and the rule of law, the preservation and extension of the basis for democratic resistance to market Stalinism.

November-December 1993, ATC 47