Russia - Twenty years after the end of the USSR

Apr/Jun 2012

We publish here a slightly abridged translation of an article first published by our French comrades of Lutte Ouvrière in the February issue of their monthly journal (Lutte de Classe - No141)

On December 4, 20 years after the Soviet Union disappeared, there were massive demonstrations denouncing the rigging of the legislative elections by Vladimir Putin. In protesting against the way his regime governs the country, these demonstrations also called into question all the old lies and hymns of praise for the virtues of democracy that accompanied the dismembering of the USSR 20 years ago.

At that time, those who sang the praises of bourgeois society, both inside the USSR and in the rest of the world, extolled a bright future of liberty, democracy, prosperity for the population. It was a deception, a shameful lie - as if capitalism, a system that is leading the world to catastrophe, could bring about such things. Twenty years ago, this was obvious, and it should have been said. Instead, these lies and deceptions were promoted the right, as well as by those on the social democratic left and, unfortunately, even by some circles of the extreme left.

Inside the USSR, a crushing majority of political leaders from the bureaucracy itself joined the chorus in praise of capitalism. They enthusiastically discovered its virtues - some even claiming they would implement a "500 day program of transition to a market economy". On the eve of the break-up of the USSR, almost all of them still belonged to the regime's hierarchy and its only party, which called itself communist. The ruling bureaucrats, not the people of the Soviet Union, pushed for the break-up, seeing in it their own self- interest.

How did all this happen? Why did these events cause such jubilation in the small world of ideologues, journalists, politicians of the bourgeoisie? And why, 20 years later, are these same people so upset by the "Soviet nostalgia" expressed by the people of the ex-USSR? And what has the social impact of the disappearance of the USSR been? To try to understand all of this, it is necessary to go back to the basis on which the USSR was founded in December 1922 and further, to the setting up of Soviet power by the Russian Revolution of October 1917.

From revolutionary Soviets to the bureaucratic degeneration

By 1991, there was no resemblance between the political system of the USSR and the soviets (councils) of worker, soldier and peasant deputies in 1917 which had overthrown first the czar and then the Russian bourgeoisie.

The USSR of Gorbachev, Yeltsin and the other successors of Stalin, was in almost all respects the opposite of USSR which had been built by Lenin and Trotsky. However, Stalin and all his successors owed their existence to the revolutionary and socialist origins of that distant past.

In October 1917, Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party had led the exploited masses of Russia to take power and begin to lay the foundation of a society free of exploitation, that would pave the way to a socialist future. But the Bolsheviks never thought that this future could be built in one country alone, even a country as vast as Russia. On the contrary, they understood that their revolution would be short-lived if other victorious socialist revolutions, especially in the economically developed countries, did not join them. This is why, after the Second International chose to unite with the imperialist bourgeoisie during World War I, the Bolsheviks quickly founded a communist international, aimed at forming a world party of the revolution.

After four years of daily horror on the battlefields, the people and the proletariat of Europe turned against those responsible for the slaughter of World War I: the possessing class and their system. In Finland, Hungary and, above all, in Germany, the proletariat tried to overthrow the power of the capitalist class and replace this power with their own. But they did not succeed, even after several attempts in Germany, so the USSR was left on its own. Everywhere, the social democratic parties came to the rescue of their possessing classes. Where the capitalist class was not able to strangle the revolution, drowning it in the blood of the workers, the great powers stepped in with military force.

In Russia, the supporters of the old order, who launched the civil war after October 1917, were given military assistance by imperialism. They did not succeed in destroying the young workers' state, but they almost completely destroyed the country, which was already among the most underdeveloped in Europe. A great number of militants and revolutionary workers perished at the front, or from destitution. After years of world war and civil war, to survive from day to day became the major problem for the workers, who were physically, morally and politically exhausted. During the 1920s, the working class exercised only nominal political power. With workers no longer having the means to control their own state apparatus, nor even the desire to do it, power fell into the hands of the growing bureaucracy. The state apparatus, as Trotsky said, was transformed within a few years, "from an instrument of the working class into an instrument of bureaucratic violence against the working class".

This social layer, which had usurped power, had no ambition other than to profit from its positions and its privileges - privileges that were quite miserable, but in the context of the nearly general state of famine, seemed enormous. Aspiring to everything that could reinforce their position, parasitically living off the gains of the October revolution, the bureaucrats identified with Stalin's reactionary formula of "socialism in one country". For Stalin and his supporters, it was a way of announcing to the worldwide bourgeoisie that they did not seek to spread socialism.

Lenin's comrades-at-arms, given their loyalty to the ideals of October and thus to proletarian internationalism, had no option but to fight against this negation of Bolshevism. Lenin had died in January 1924. It was left to Trotsky to lead the struggle of the Left Opposition against the Stalinist current inside the Communist Party, the Communist International and at the head of the state. For several years, the communist oppositionists fought relentlessly to save the workers' state from bureaucratic degeneration. But in a situation of retreat in the revolutionary movement, inside and outside the country, they were finally defeated. The Left Opposition was eliminated politically, before being eliminated physically in the camps and prisons of the GPU (the political police) and during the Moscow trials from 1936 to 1938.

Consequences of Stalinism on the workers' movement inside the USSR

In order to reinforce the bureaucratic regime that was to lead the USSR, Stalin had several generations of militants assassinated. Those militants had accumulated political and organisational experience over the course of three revolutions and during the first years of the Communist International, that was unparalleled in the history of the workers movement.

This annihilation had terrible consequences. Inside the USSR, when the working class regained its strength and energy, especially when its social weight greatly increased with the industrialisation of the 1930s, it had no means to use this weight. So far, the traditions and conscious gains made by the working class movement had been transmitted across generations through activists and organisations. This line of transmission was ruptured in a way which was unprecedented. The working class paid a high price for this and carried on paying right up until the end of the USSR. And this still weighs on the working class of the ex-USSR, above all, when it has the opportunity of intervening in the course of political events.

In 1962, for example, when worker riots broke out in Novocherkassk after the government raised food prices by 30 per cent, the regime of Nikita Khrushchev succeeded in drowning the revolt in blood. And though there were similar reactions in several other industrial cities they failed to have any social impact.

The absence of a political tradition had much more serious consequences a quarter of a century later - and on a much greater scale. During the political turmoil of the Gorbachev epoch, the proletariat - the social class which was both the largest and most concentrated in the urban centres of the USSR - remained essentially a spectator. And in 1990-91, when the great miners' strikes broke out in Russia and Ukraine, they were led by the so-called "democratic" fraction of the bureaucracy in its fight against the central power.

In the immediate aftermath of the dissolution of the USSR, when there were yet more workers' struggles, they developed in an isolated fashion, often with workers' backs forced against the wall by one of the many privatisations. There was no organisation to address workers on the basis of their own class interests. Yet a political program expressing these interests was indispensable for workers engaged in fighting; a program of struggle against the attempts to restore capitalism, as well as against the monopolisation of the state-run economy by the bureaucracy and the apprentice capitalists. A revolutionary and communist program, could have opened up a new perspective for workers and for society as a whole. It would have sought to provide the working class with a way to take advantage of the hatred felt by the immense majority of the population towards the pillagers, the friends of Yeltsin, who were grabbing state-owned enterprises and were responsible for the brutal impoverishment of the population. The aim of this program would have been for the workers to contest the leadership of society in order to rid it of the bureaucratic parasites and new owners of the factories - largely considered illegitimate in the workers' milieu.

Today, such a program is just as vital. When tens of thousands of oil workers in Kazakhstan can defy those in power for months, as was recently the case, militants are needed to defend this program. It's just as necessary in Russia, where a section of the population is taking to the streets to reject the regime, even if it is predominantly members of the "middle class" who are mobilised.

... And in the rest of the world

The assassination of the revolutionaries who had made the October victory possible also had drastic consequences internationally. When the social democratic and Stalinist leaderships betrayed the workers' uprisings of the 1930s, there was no longer an international working class movement worthy of the name - at least none which had weight and authority and which reached into all countries, as had the Communist International built by Lenin and Trotsky and their comrades, in the first few years after 1917.

Stalinism gave invaluable aid to the worldwide bourgeoisie, helping it to wipe out the better part of the revolutionary movement of its epoch. This tragedy continues to weigh heavily on the workers movement long after Stalinism, as such, has disappeared.

Nonetheless, despite everything that Stalinism did for the "bourgeois order" (the betrayal of the Chinese Revolution of 1927, the capitulation to Hitler without a fight in 1933, the smothering of the Spanish Revolution in 1936, the restoration of the imperialist order after 1945, the crushing of the workers' movement in Eastern Europe and notably the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, etc.,), the USSR remained a "misfit", outside of the imperialist world. So even in the 1970s, when Brezhnev and his elderly team implemented an entirely reactionary and conservative policy, the USSR nevertheless could be used by liberation and oppositionist movements in many places around the globe, as an "inspiration" and a rallying point. Its very existence was an anomaly and therefore proof that another social and economic organisation was possible.

State ownership of the means of production, economic planning and the monopoly of foreign trade had allowed the USSR to sustain a high rate of development, despite Stalinism and despite the fact that the USSR was cut off from the international division of labour. The country was able to construct a powerful industrial sector, in the same period when the capitalist world economy was in a state of collapse after the 1929 crash and its aftermath. So even this "USSR of the bureaucrats" showed that society could develop on different basis, thanks to the force of a revolution that overthrew the power of the bourgeoisie and expropriated the capitalists.

According to the protagonists of bourgeois order, December 1991 marked the end of a social nightmare that had lasted 70 years. A regime that recognised neither the market, nor private property could not last - so these apologists had been saying all along. So, finally, when the USSR collapsed under the blows of its own leaders, the promoters of capitalism celebrated. Historian Moshe Lewin called the end of the 1900s the end of the "Soviet century". It was a century when the October Revolution and its aftermath "shook the world", as the revolutionary John Reed wrote, and shook it long and hard.

Journalists, politicians, academics, ideologists of the bourgeoisie exulted to see "the greatest utopia of the 20th century overcome", according to a special edition of the French newspaper, Liberation (September, 1991). Academics like Francis Fukuyama proclaimed "the end of history" - nothing less! Since October 1917 had aimed to blaze the trail to a future freed from capitalism, the disappearance of the USSR signified there was no other future except capitalism - so all these people said. But whether they like it or not, the reality of bourgeois society today puts on the agenda the fight against a capitalist system which is leading humanity into the abyss.

The social dictatorship of the bureaucracy and Stalin's personal dictatorship

The victory of Stalinism over the Trotskyist Opposition at the end of the 1920s was not enough to ensure stability for the regime. The newcomers to power had reason to fear that sooner or later their dominant position would be called into question by the working class. Even deprived of its party, the working class still had hundreds of thousands of workers in its ranks who embodied long experience in participating in revolutionary struggles.

Another danger also threatened the regime. The old possessing classes had not given up the idea of taking revenge. And they were encouraged and reinforced by the fact that Stalin had eliminated the revolutionary vanguard. The short-sighted policy of a regime that had broken with Bolshevism, and had no other objective than to maintain its grip on power, contributed to the growth of such danger. Even worse, none of the individual bureaucrats gave a damn about these dangers. Their only concern was to be allowed to profit as much as possible from their positions.

The bureaucrats' privileges, unlike those of the capitalists, were not based on private ownership of the means of production, which is the justification in bourgeois society for the private appropriation of the fruit of workers' labour. Bureaucratic privilege was derived from a parasitic hold over a society transformed by the revolution after the bourgeoisie was expropriated. What the bureaucrats took from the economy, and their anti-democratic way of governing over the society, tended to empty the gains of the revolution of their meaning and to compromise them. But the bureaucrats did not seek to call into question collectivisation of the means of production and exchange, nor the planned economy. Because it was precisely on this base that they lived as parasites and from which they drew their privileges.

The power struggles inside the leading circles, just as the ever-present risk of a successful counter-revolution, created real dangers for the regime, leading it sometimes to take radical measures to assure its own survival.

To protect the social dictatorship of its caste the regime imposed "iron discipline" over the whole of society - with Stalin elevated as the "supreme arbiter". A ferocious military discipline was thus imposed, with peasants and workers sent either to work on collective farms or to build new industrial complexes. Lateness of more than 10 minutes on the job was punishable by imprisonment in a camp. The intelligentsia was forced to applaud the personality cult around Stalin, his whims, and the reactionary ideas he imposed on art, culture and science - or also risk ending up behind bars.

The repressive logic of the dictatorship meant it was obliged also to protect itself against its own privileged caste's irresponsibility. So the bureaucrats soon found that they themselves were under permanent threat of execution.

Each international crisis - the rise of Nazism, the Spanish Revolution, the rush to war and then the invasion by Hitler caused another internal crisis. The defeat of Nazism was achieved at enormous cost to the Soviet people - after the Stalinist leadership had literally decapitated and the Red Army. Reconstruction after the devastation of the war took place at a time when the Cold War was beginning. All these crises helped Stalin impose his personal dictatorship over the society for more than two decades.

Things changed radically with his death in 1953 - not for the working class nor the rest of the population, but for the bureaucrats who no longer lived in fear of their lives or their positions.

Under Brezhnev, who headed the bureaucracy after the fall of Nikita Khrushchev in 1964 until his death in 1982, a consensus evolved between the Kremlin and the entire layer of the privileged: anyone could go about his or her business as long as it didn't compromise the established positions of any one else, or the stability of the system.

The looting by the bureaucracy accelerates

Under the cover of what Gorbachev later referred to as "Brezhnev's stagnation", the bureaucracy was able to increase significantly and with almost complete impunity what it took from society. Powerful clans arose around bureaucrats who became permanent fixtures at the head of republics, ministries, the political police, enterprises with foreign business links, banks dealing with other countries, etc. Becoming permanent heads of veritable fiefdoms, these top bureaucrats established solid business ties with the "milieu" that proliferated in the "shadow economy", and more generally everywhere that those with access to a bit of power could gain greater and greater advantages.

As the ruling circles gave carte blanche to this parasitism, which became organised on a grand scale, it exhausted what still remained of the economic dynamism inherited from the revolutionary conquest of 1917. Under Brezhnev, unbridled pillage caused the economy to run totally out of steam.

In the years after Brezhnev's death in 1982, the last remaining survivors of his politburo, sometimes called "the dinosaurs", disappeared. In 1985, Gorbachev was elected Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party. He declared his desire to restore order to the economy and to society, via "perestroika", that is, rebuilding from the ground up. The mere mention of such a plan was enough to put the wind up a section of the bureaucracy who feared for their income.

In the highest spheres of power, there was a kind of silent opposition. To get around this Gorbachev found allies among the middle layers of the apparatus, promising them more autonomy from the "centre". For similar reasons, Khrushchev had done the same thing during the post-Stalinist "thaw". But for Gorbachev, these measures were not sufficient. So, he turned to the intelligentsia, holding out the prospect of a little more freedom of expression - or glasnost, his other key slogan. The petty bourgeoisie and those intellectuals not content to live on thin air, were promised the advent of "free enterprise".

In the Soviet Union, private ownership of the means of production may have been abolished, but it still existed legally in the form of cooperative ownership (like the collective farms and some kinds of housing). Suddenly a huge number of so-called cooperatives came into being - and behind this legal term were hidden the many small private enterprises.

Power struggles and opposition turmoil

Gorbachev's initiatives raised ,a lot of enthusiasm and whetted the appetites of those petty bourgeois who dreamed of living "like in the West", i.e., to be able to profit freely from their money, or even invest capital in the means of production, as in Europe and America. They called that "aspiring to democracy". This provided an opening for demagogic one-upmanship from some of the "younger" generation of leaders in the ruling party who had supported Gorbachev. Chief among them was Boris Yeltsin, a deputy member of the politburo and a rival of Gorbachev, who took the head of the camp that styled itself "democratic".

While Gorbachev believed that he had won over millions of petty bourgeois with his policy of glasnost, "open debate", "freedom of speech", and then the creation of cooperatives, Yeltsin and his friends posed as self-proclaimed democrats and spoke of the new rule of "democracy" and "liberty", which they boasted about installing.

Censorship was abolished. The number of publications mushroomed to a level the dissidents who had put out the underground "samizdat" would never have dreamt of. Elections were organised with numerous candidates, a practice that had not been seen since before Stalin. Parties other parties than the CPSU, gained the right to exist, even before the monopoly status of the CPSU could be taken out of the Constitution.

Millions of Soviet citizens passionately watched the debates in the Supreme Soviet, which were broadcast for the first time on television. People were eager to learn, from newspapers and books, things that had not been known by most of the public. They were eager to follow the "return of the names" of militants, writers and scientists, whom Stalinism had made to disappear doubly: they were assassinated, and then all trace of their existence was erased from the official history, libraries, etc. And demonstrations protesting against the authorities, which had once been unthinkable, drew very large crowds and multiplied to the point that they became nothing out of the ordinary.

Confronted by this upsurge, which was increasingly directed at the central power, the authorities longer knew what kind of attitude to take. By letting the upsurge continue, they just encouraged their opponents more. But by bringing in the army to carry out a bloodbath, as was done in Georgia and the Baltic Republics, they reinforced nationalist sentiment among local populations and local politicians who demanded independence. And the bureaucrats leading each of the Soviet Union's 15 republics did everything they could to make sure that the massive pressure of the population in demonstrations served to reinforce their hold over their own fiefdoms at the expense of the central power. Local bureaucrats were strengthened by the fact that Yeltsin, the head of Russia, the biggest republic, called on the other republics to "gain as much autonomy as possible" in order to reduce the power in the hands of Gorbachev, who headed the central bureaucracy.

Green light for the bureaucrats to satisfy their appetites

The major issue, even if much of it was hidden from the eyes of the population, was the power struggle which had been going on inside the bureaucracy for decades. Ever since this parasitic social layer had usurped power along with Stalin, it had sought to free itself from all control.

When Yeltsin and his supporters at the top of the apparatus talked endlessly about "democracy", the bureaucrats understood that they would no longer have to tolerate any constraints or control over their own activities, not even from the authority issuing from their own ranks. While the central power weakened and then became paralysed, the bureaucrats put their hands on anything that would give them a quick, large return.

Those in charge of enterprises, government ministries, the KGB, the CP, and the administration of republics or regions - established "cooperatives" and then joint ventures (companies owned by Soviet and foreign capital) even before the privatisation laws of 1992 and 1993 legalised this. Their goal was to rob the public enterprises of their assets. They had no difficulty doing this, since they were "in charge" of the enterprises which they pillaged. Thus, Gazprom, a giant in the worldwide natural gas industry, was transformed into a private company by those in charge of the Soviet Ministry of Gas. Less known, but just as scandalous, was the secret smuggling of huge amounts of money into Western countries as early as 1987-1988 by high officials in foreign trade, the heads of the military-industrial complex, allied with the heads of the KGB and members of the central committee of the CP.

Shortly afterwards, many little banks popped up under the direction of this or that clan from a section of the bureaucracy. Each of these cliques was eager to have its own mechanism for transferring wealth out of the country, without having to submit to any kind of control.

While top officials boasted that they were "democrats", "reformers", or "liberals", they were increasingly advocating a return to capitalism. In fact these foxes were already in the hen house. The USSR did not survive.

The central power in decline

Starting in 1990, the heads of the republics took control over their own "exports" to the rest of the USSR in order to keep their respective fiefdoms' wealth for themselves, as well as to show their opponents in the central apparatus who was boss. As a result, trade between the different regions contracted, and production by enterprises throughout the USSR quickly slowed down. Store shelves were emptied and rationing for the population was introduced. This provoked a crisis that developed into generalised economic chaos, while the leadership of the Soviet state descended into political paralysis. More and more leaders, be they those calling themselves "democrats", or "conservatives", as well as Gorbachev and those around him, declared that it was necessary to end state ownership and economic planning. In reality, these had already been ended by the bureaucracy's plundering of the enterprises. Gorbachev began to speak of "market socialism", in order to avoid bluntly saying: restoration of capitalism. The Soviet Union was on the verge of imploding.

At the same time there was an explosion of nationalisms and nationalist rivalries. Throughout the country officials made proclamations about their republic's "sovereignty" in a kind of competition between different nationalist movements.

In August 1991, a section of the leadership tried to stop the crumbling of the state from reaching the point of no return. They declared a state of emergency. But this only exacerbated the political anarchy. Even in the army, the police and the KGB, there was no one to implement these orders. Three days later, those who had declared the state of emergency either gave up or committed suicide. Yeltsin, who had been demanding for months that Gorbachev resign, had finally outmanoeuvred him. But once the country had broken up into legally independent units, Yeltsin and those around him at the head of Russia didn't have much more control over the course of events than did Gorbachev.

Everywhere, including even where they hadn't thought about it before, ruling bureaucrats proclaimed not just the independence of "their" republic, but the sovereignty of "their" wealth. In republics and regions, they reinforced their hold over their fiefdoms by appealing to the largest ethnic group of the population, at the expense of local minorities. This led to more and more confrontations between peoples who had previously lived side by side. In the Caucasus, Central Asia and Moldavia, trying to impose themselves on the population, the bureaucrats stirred up ethnic conflicts, playing on the resentment of the poor to turn them against other poor people.

In this climate, on the 8th of December, 1991, Yeltsin, Leonid Kravchuk and Stanislau Shushkevich, the respective leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, decreed the dissolution of the USSR. They did it without any mandate, surreptitiously, in a hunting lodge near Minsk. The Republic of Georgia celebrated the decree, while the Baltic Republics had already declared their independence. But others were less pleased by a decision that was taken behind their backs. Kazakhstan, the Soviet republic encompassing the second largest land area, protested.

Nevertheless it was a fait accompli. The highest spheres of the bureaucracy had dismantled the USSR in order to get rid of the central authority. They then divided up the spoils.

Two decades later, the conflicts emanating from this dismembering have not been resolved. The dispute over control of the small enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which turned into war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1987, still continues. Nor has the conflict ended between Georgia and its own republics, Ossetia and Abkhazia, which became protectorates of Russia. Neither has the conflict ended between Romanian-speaking Moldavia and Russian-speaking secessionists in Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed. The conflict in the Fergana Valley and the region around it, which is populated by people from three independent Soviet republics in central Asia, now ruled by despots, also remains unsettled. Not to be forgotten is the mosaic of peoples who make up the Caucasian republics of the Russian Federation and live daily with the fear of attacks and other acts of violence by armed gangs, some of whom have ties to the state. The president of Chechnya, for example, is a religious fundamentalist gangster. The Kremlin gave him a free hand to use gangs of killers to impose order on Chechnya, which has already suffered two devastating wars in 15 years.

There has been an ongoing threat of open war - as actually broke out between Russia and Georgia during the summer of 2008 - or of gigantic pogroms against ethnic minorities like those which occurred in Azerbaijan in 1990 and in Kyrgyzstan in 2010, making these last two decades a living hell for the people of these regions.

The USSR dismembered: 15 republics that are independent... of what?

Today, the different states that came out of the Soviet Union all have one thing in common: they have all suffered as a consequence of the break-up of the USSR.

First, because their production and enterprises were brought into existence and developed within a unified and planned framework and were meant to be complementary and interdependent. Except perhaps for Russia, these separate countries could hardly constitute viable national economies all by themselves.

Second, because hundreds of different peoples and ethnic groups living in eastern Europe, Russian Siberia and Asia had been displaced and mixed inside the same huge country. According to the Soviet constitution, all these peoples were equal, at least as equal as they could be, under the boot of the bureaucracy. Stalinism in this field, just as others, carried out abominations. From 1936 to 1951, a policy was carried out which involved deporting minorities from one region to another, be they Poles, Germans of the Volga, Koreans, Baltic peoples, Karathais, Kalmuks, Chechens, Ingouchans, Balkars, Tatars and Greeks of the Crimea, Moldavians, or Armenians. These peoples faced horrendous conditions. "A giant, murderous transfer which had poisonous consequences throughout the existence of the former USSR", wrote historian, JJ Marie, in his 1995 book, "The Deported Peoples of the Soviet Union".

But the situation grew even worse when the administrative borders of the different republics were transformed into national boundaries. Officials at the highest levels of these new independent entities often played the majority of the population off against one or other minority. Often, the same people who constitute a majority on one side of a border are in a minority on the other side. Officials have stirred up calls for recovering lost territory and nationality, encouraging the hatred of neighbouring peoples.

When the Kremlin negated the right of peoples to self-determination, it resulted almost immediately in two horrific wars being fought by the Russian Army - against the people of the tiny republic of Chechnya, which was seeking its independence. The Kremlin, or rather certain cliques fighting for power, stirred up nationalist tensions in this region, where several different minorities had been located during the Stalinist deportations. Today, the so-called Chechen war has spread to the entire Russian side of the Caucasus.

Even in the most Western regions of the former USSR, the national question has continued to reappear in one or other form. Large Russian minorities in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania today suffer discrimination and sometimes are deprived of their rights, a reversal of the situation produced by the policies of Stalin and his successors, who tried to Russify the Baltic countries.

Of the 12 other former republics of the Soviet Union, those of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) and to a lesser extent those of the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) have seen their ancient conflicts reignited and supplemented with new ones. During the time of the USSR, the economies of these regions developed more slowly compared to that of the rest of the country (even if, compared to their neighbours in countries outside the USSR, the Soviet system allowed them to progress economically, culturally and socially). They also suffered from the vestige of the old clan relations, combined with cronyism on a grand scale and the system of cliques from the Brezhnev period. Some of the most memorable scandals concerning the diversion of state property took place in the Central Asian part of the Soviet Union.

Since the fall of the USSR, this region witnessed corruption and nepotism pushed to extremes never before seen. The clans, often based on family ties, took power, in some cases well before the fall of the Soviet Union (in Azerbaijan and even earlier in Kazakhstan, whose current president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was already prime minister in 1984 and first secretary of the Kazakh Communist Party in 1989). These regimes are dictatorial and generally outlaw all organised opposition. Religion often serves as the official ideology and as a means to control the population. Women have been crushed and pushed back to the Dark Ages. The regimes do not even pretend to respect a minimum of democratic decorum. But this presents no problems for the powers that control these countries today. The only importance they have is that they are rich in hydrocarbons and well-situated for pipelines in accordance with the military, commercial and energy strategies of the West and of Russia.

The immense majority of the people in the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus live in terrible misery under these dictatorial and corrupt regimes. Western governments don't object as their oil companies and other exporters have too much at stake. The barbarism of these regimes guarantees their profits.

By contrast, Western officials condemn the regime of Belarus for being what they call "the last dictatorship in Europe". True, its head, Stanislav Levchenko, tramples on all forms of opposition, imprisons competitors during elections and leads his country with an iron fist. But the West doesn't blame him for that. In this field, he is no different from many other rulers with whom Western governments have good relations. Their only gripe is, that while certain parts of the economy have been privatised, the regime maintains a large public sector.

When it was part of the interdependent framework of the Soviet economy, tiny Belarus's economy became very specialised. When the USSR disintegrated, the only way Belarus could survive as an entity was if its economy remained "state owned". Of course, that was no absolute guarantee, especially after the crisis of 2008. During the crisis, trade with the West was reduced, and Russia imposed draconian commercial and financial conditions. But even if the population of Belarus continues to suffer under a dictatorship, it has so far escaped the much worse social and economic degradation experienced by the populations of Russia and Ukraine.

In Ukraine, as in Russia, the standard of living of the working classes collapsed with the disappearance of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian leaders have hesitated to become too close to the West, which has at times led to warmer relations between Ukraine and Russia. But the current President, Viktor Yanukovych, has not been prepared agree to economic union - as was recently constituted by Russia with Belarus and Kazakhstan. This is despite a great deal of interdependency between the Russian and Ukrainian economies. Most Ukrainian bureaucrats see no benefit in it for themselves. They may have fiefdoms and sources of enrichment in the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine, where the principal economic power of Ukraine is located (mines, heavy industry). But this is exactly what they are trying to protect, and why they don't want agreements that could involve submitting their "business interests" to any outside supervision.

Ukraine flatters itself as the co-organiser with Poland of the next European soccer championship. But the renovation of its hotels, sports arenas and transportation network for this event hardly moves forward. The state treasury has been empty for years, and it is able to offer neither bread nor games to the population. The rapacity of the bureaucrats and successive leadership cliques, along with the effects of the 2008 crisis, have pushed the country to its knees. What was supposed to be the second largest soviet republic has to depend on IMF loans to balance its budget.

The case of Russia

Russia is by far the largest republic, and, with 143 million people, it is the most populous. Economically, it is the richest republic of the ex-USSR. Certainly, it is not as badly off as Ukraine. It has much more petroleum and even more gas, making it the largest gas exporter in the world. This assures it a comfortable flow of foreign currencies. Russia's subsoil contains raw materials used by industry worldwide.

If it weren't for these raw materials, Russia's finances would be non-existent, given the scale of pillage of the economy, which even Russia's leaders bemoan as unfortunate. President Medvedev observed that, since the post-Soviet collapse of Russia's economy, the country has been "in a humiliating state of dependence" on its export of raw materials.

From 1991 to 1999, or less than a decade after the end of the Soviet period, the index of Russian production dropped by half. In all sectors including armaments - which is a paradox for a country that was the second leading military power during the post-war period - Russia has now been reduced to importing a large part of what it consumes and what its industry needs. To pay for that, it can only count on the returns that it gets from exporting petroleum and gas - which increased seven fold between 2001 and 2008 - and to a lesser extent on what it brings in from its exports of minerals, precious stones and wood.

Even here Russia's dependence is obvious. It may export a lot of wood, but it must hand it over to Scandinavian companies for processing. So Russia imports wood products that have a high value added, such as wood pulp for paper. It is only one illustration, among many, of the fantastic drop in productive capacity that has occurred over the 20 years since the disappearance of the USSR.

In the field of agriculture, the effects of the destruction of cooperatives or state-owned structures (kolkhozes or sovkhozes) show up on store shelves. The big stores offer fewer products produced in Russia, and more imports from big Western European agricultural companies. This also is an indicator of the desertification of the rural regions. The state-owned and planned economy had allowed "habitation points" to be implanted and developed, even in regions abandoned under czarism. But by 2009, nearly 10 per cent of the 155,000 villages that had existed in Russia in 1990, had disappeared.

There is a huge gulf between reality and what the "specialists" and other "good doctors" of the market economy predicted during the 1980s. They descended on the USSR to advise Yeltsin and his cohorts how best to replace the state-owned and planned economy, which they described as inefficient, with a system that was supposed to assure renewed growth and development.

This new system certainly allowed swindlers to get rich as quick as lightning. And it enabled Western companies to conclude enormously favourable contracts in petroleum and industry, contracts it took years for their Russian partners to free themselves from. But for all the rest, what they presented as a transition from a collectivised economy toward a supposedly market economy produced a nightmarish situation. The bureaucrats sold off state property for their own profit in a way that brought chaos difficult to imagine in all spheres of society, including at the political level.

Bureaucrats sold off enterprises at bargain basement prices to themselves and plundered them. Enterprises stopped functioning, depriving workers of their wages for months, and they stopped paying their suppliers, forcing cuts on workers at those companies also. What Western advisors to Russian leaders called "shock therapy" was designed to empty the pockets of the population in order to fill the bureaucrats' bank accounts in foreign countries. Prices exploded. In a few months, inflation hit 1,000 per cent and continued to increase to 2,000 per cent. The small savings of those who had some were reduced to nothing, throwing into poverty tens of millions of retirees, workers without wages, and workers in the public or social sectors, which, without subsidies, stopped functioning. Then there were the "reforms", the hypocritical description, designed to legalise the transfer of as much state property as possible into the hands of bureaucrats turned businessmen. They hurriedly liquidated everything that didn't seem profitable enough or immediately resold anything that could produce a big profit.

Who profits from the crime?

"Only 10 per cent of Russia's inhabitants profited from the collapse of the USSR and the reforms that followed", was the title of a recent article in a Russian business journal, which commented on a study done by the Russian Academy of Sciences. These conclusions are so evident, that no one in Russia questions it. Even the Western commentators and ideologues of the bourgeoisie have dropped their predictions of progress and promises of democracy, with which they once filled the media.

Twenty years ago, our tendency was part of a tiny minority which went against the current of these makers of public opinion, conformists and defenders of the established order. We said that nothing good for the peoples of the USSR could come out of the conditions into which it was sinking.

In the text concerning the USSR, dated October 27, 1990, which was submitted to Lutte Ouvrière's annual conference, we wrote, "Were workers to allow the return of capitalism in the USSR, even partially, they would not enjoy the affluence, however relative, of the West. Rather they would experience a lower standard of living, unemployment and the end of the limited social benefits they had before. The standard of living of the population of the USSR as a whole would not go up, quite the contrary. It would go back to the level of the Third World - even if shop windows were filled with Western goods unaffordable for the overwhelming majority. The 'reserved shops' would be open for all, but their customers would be just as exclusively selected... This would be a setback for the world proletariat..".

In March 1991, in an article of Class Struggle entitled, "USSR: An Attempt at a Bourgeois Counter Revolution, Bureaucratic Zigzags - What Policy for the Working Class?", we again wrote: "The only thing that is certain is that if it leads to anything it can only be a society offering a greater possibility of accumulation and enrichment for a few and impoverishment for the majority if not the whole of the proletariat. This greater inequality could be sweetened by a small dose of 'democracy,' of a similar type to that offered to the poor by the big 'democracies' in poor countries like Brazil and India. But even this is not certain".

A document written for Lutte Ouvriere's 1991 conference, a few weeks before the implosion of the USSR, stated: "A proletarian revolutionary organisation in the Soviet Union should include in its program the struggle against privatisation and against the restoration of capitalism. It should use the price which the masses are being made to pay in the current situation, in order to mobilise them on this issue. Similarly, it should defend planning, both ideologically and, if possible, in practice. This is one of the few means, at the present time, of opposing, among the masses, the break-up of the Soviet Union, by showing that there are interests common to all peoples in the former Union which need to be preserved. Only the proletariat can simultaneously defend freedom and diversity and also the broadest possible federation benefiting from common planning".

Two decades have passed and this assessment has been verified. The Soviet economy collapsed. Just after the end of the USSR, its revenue was so low that enterprises were reduced to bartering between themselves.

The Russian economy may have partially revived after its state stopped making payments during the crash of 1998, because its treasury had been ransacked; but the economy remains extremely weak. Russian authorities themselves admit it. Certainly, a layer of small business people has emerged alongside the mass of bureaucrats and millionaires who grew rich under the wing of the state. But this "new middle class" was ruined in 1992/3 during "shock therapy", and again in 1998, and once more in the period starting with the 2008 global financial crisis. And whatever the future holds for this "new middle class", the general situation has in no way been stabilised.

Capital flight, which has continued for 20 years, attained new heights in 2011. According to the Russian Vice-Minister for Economic Development, "80 billion dollars [£50bn] in private capital was removed from the country" in 2011, or more than double the amount in 2010. And no one believes that it will return, wrote the business daily, Vedomosti (November 2, 2011), in an article entitled, "This Money Will Not Return". For the last 20 years there has been no public nor private investment in production. Nor has there been any development of the economy and reinvestment in infrastructure. Although President Medvedev launched a "modernisation" of the economy and released colossal amounts of funding for a "Russian Silicon Valley" located near Moscow, nothing has been done. Public money disappears into the bottomless pockets of the regime's privileged layers - not only because corruption attains ever greater heights, but because the well-off bureaucrats and new bourgeois have no confidence in their own system.

A terrible decline for the labouring classes

The Russian Academy's statement that "90 per cent of Russians" were losers over the last 20 years is no doubt a statistical reality. But it hides the social reality. Because workers in the cities and the countryside had the most to lose from the collapse of the USSR under the blows of the leading caste.

The petty bourgeoisie, who believed or wanted to believe that this collapse would bring them happiness and material comfort and who accepted the role of foot soldiers for the so-called democratic camp - what did they lose, besides their savings, or perhaps some illusions in the affair? Even that remains to be seen.

But the working class lost both materially and socially, and much more than anyone else, from the disappearance of the USSR.

At a material level, it was workers who were hit by the blast of Yeltsin's and Gaider's so-called "shock therapy". All had their wages and pensions gutted by inflation. They also had to face mass unemployment, something unknown in the former Soviet Union. Auctioned off and dismantled, enterprises laid off or, more commonly, simply stopped paying their workforces for months. And when workers finally received their salaries or pensions, they weren't worth anything, given the hyperinflation of 1992-1993.

With the disappearance of the USSR, tens of millions of workers were impoverished and reduced to permanent destitution in regions where there were no jobs left. Millions of Moldavians, Tadjiks, Uzbeks, Ukrainians were forced to emigrate in order to survive. Often, they went to Russia, where they were treated like pariahs, fleeced by the police, and employed in the most labourious and worst paying jobs.

How could anyone be surprised that alcohol and drug addiction ravaged the population! In Central Asia, the many low-paid jobs linked to drug trafficking were often the only way to make a living. Everywhere, people searched for a way to forget the daily hell in an artificial paradise. And since public medical and social services ceased functioning - because they were no longer subsidised and were privatised and unaffordable - the state of workers' health took a huge leap backwards. Diseases like tuberculosis returned with a vengeance. Other diseases, such as AIDS, spread. Nothing was done to fight against any of these diseases. Life expectancy fell steeply to 62 years, a level that had been surpassed more than 50 years before.

In a situation of general unemployment and impoverishment, the birthrate in Russia and Ukraine fell. And the population continues to shrink rapidly. Despite the influx of millions of Russians and immigrants coming from "neighbouring countries", that is, ex-Soviet republics, the Russian Federation's population fell from 149 million in 1991 to 143 million in 2010.

Since Gorbachev, social inequalities have exploded. They form a yawning gulf between a privileged layer (three to four million bureaucrats and bourgeois) and the rest of the population, with more than 21 million people living below the official poverty line. Unemployment officially is eight per cent of the active population. But in reality, it is much higher. Many of the unemployed with tiny benefits or no benefits at all prefer to manage on their own as best they can. Certainly, except in a few places, the worst misery of the Yeltsin era has disappeared. But the worsening job situation due to the world crisis, the new attacks against public services, the increasing erosion of wages by inflation, the privatising of social services (health and education) which now have to be paid for - all this means that even in the big cities, the misery is so rampant, the population has to struggle to survive.

Beyond the individual fate of millions of workers over the last 20 years, the fall of the USSR has collective consequences for the working class. In the time of Brezhnev or of Gorbachev, the working class not only was the largest class in the USSR; it existed throughout the country, often concentrated in giant enterprises. There were hundreds of metallurgy or chemical complexes, such as Uralmach in Sverdlovsk-Ekaterinaburg, where there were 40,000 workers. And they were found in all the large and medium-sized cities.

The privatisations and the destruction of the economy by the pillage of the bureaucrats over the course of 20 years has destroyed a great deal of this industrial network. In the giant old factories, there are only a few thousand or just a few hundred jobs left. And with the end of planning, the rupture in relations between the ex-soviet republics has left the enterprises without suppliers or markets.

Of course, in Russia there are still dozens of "mono-towns" where life revolves around one large factory - towns that were constructed during the industrialisation of the 1930s. During explosions of workers' anger one or two years ago in some of these towns, the entire population was in solidarity with the workers. In a city at the centre of power this could create problems for the government. Now it says that it wants to dismantle some of these cities.

This only underlines the effect of the disappearance of the USSR on the working class: the disorganisation of its industrial base, its dilution in the population, its numerical reduction and the weakening of its social weight. This is in spite of the fact that new enterprises, such as auto companies, which are often owned by Western companies, have been built, creating new industrial centres, like at Kaluouga near Moscow, to take advantage of the low cost of the workforce.

As far as the working class is concerned, the determining factor for its reorganisation remains its combativity and its political class consciousness. After all, in 1917 in the Russia of the czars, a tiny working class, limited to a few big centres, succeeded in bringing down the autocracy and bourgeoisie and to shake the world.

A system that doesn't resemble anything previously known

At the end of December 2011, Russia joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after 18 years of negotiations. The WTO is made up of 153 countries that represent 94 per cent of world trade. Until it joined, Russia had been the only big country that did not belong to the WTO.

Apart from vetoes by Ukraine and Georgia, two members of the WTO that had their own bones of contention with Russia (for Ukraine it was over gas, and for Georgia, over territory), what blocked these negotiations for so long? Russia itself. More exactly, its leaders didn't want to accept the conditions set by the WTO for granting favourable commercial relations. Russia's exports continued to be taxed at a higher level than those of WTO member countries, and it did not receive financing for what it imported. The WTO used these unfavourable conditions as a bargaining chip against the Russian government, which refused to give up its own massive subsidies to its economy (in the industrial and agricultural sectors especially); which continued to protect its banking and insurance sectors (the Russians restricted foreign financial groups from opening branches on its territory that would not be ruled by Russian law); which protected its telecommunications industry; which taxed agricultural and industrial imports that would harm local industries that have higher production costs; and which subsidised the prices of some consumer goods (in energy, food).

In brief, Russia did not want to give up the way its economy had continued to function up - a way inherited from the USSR - most notably, certain state controls over foreign trade. That may have created a handicap in Russia's foreign dealings, but it assured that income was protected by the public authority for numerous sectors of the bureaucracy.

The Russian state finally backed down under WTO pressure. But not because it had given up defending the bureaucrats' interests. The Russian press insists that the bureaucrats were able to obtain measures that can be managed, and to find a way to compensate any losses to certain protected sectors. The authorities themselves are more discreet in what they claim. In any case, the media pushes the idea that the government had no choice but to accept these measures; that if the government wants to attract foreign investment in the most advanced sectors or even for industry, it had to accept the WTO's conditions, imposed by the global industrial and financial groups. Everyone knows that Russia is at a dead end, that the well-off practically don't invest in the country, and have only one motto: "Take the money and run".

Thus Russia has ended up being reintegrated into the world market. But very slowly. And not by the front door, as the great partisans of capitalism promised 20 years ago. It is a reluctant admission, and only as an "emerging country". In other words, Russia is not considered to be as badly off as some other countries, but it is still considered to be economically weak.

It wasn't so long ago that the USSR was one of the two world super-powers. Now, when a big door is opened to its largest remnant, it is always the door of the Western investment banks or rather one of their subsidiaries, set up in a tax haven. While the plunder of the economy and the exploitation of the Russian working class serve to balloon the bank accounts of Russia's "new rich", they also serve American and West European financial capital.

After less than a decade of unrestrained pillage of the economy and continual weakening of the central power the country defaulted on its loan repayments in 1998. The state under the alcoholic President Yeltsin was a picture of ruin.

It was against this backdrop that the ruling Russian circles put forward Vladimir Putin. A product of the KGB, Putin tried to restore the authority of the state by putting down the regional barons of the Russian bureaucracy, who had been behaving like independent powers. He also brought to heel the "oligarchs", who had made fortunes controlling entire sections of the economy and profiting from the complicity of the weakened central power and the support of the bureaucratic machineries.

Among those who looked to Putin were the leading bodies in the various military services (ex-KGB, the army, police, etc.) - the so-called "force" ministries. They decided that they had not been well served by the scramble for control of the economic resources of the USSR. They took advantage of the situation to get their revenge against some of the social climbers who lost their connections in the government when Putin came to power. Vladimir Gusinksy, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, fled abroad or were put in prison after being cut off from the part of their fortunes they could not fit into their luggage - such as their oil companies. Other "oligarchs" did not have to be told twice. Aven Petr, Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Potanine, Roman Abramovich, Alexander Smolensky returned to the state (for a good price) most of the enterprises that they had stolen from it. Leaving for a semi-voluntary, but golden exile, they live a parasitic high life, more or less in retirement in France or Great Britain.

The sweep of the broom wielded by Putin and by the men of the KGB "unprivatised" the Russian economy somewhat, starting around 2000. But it was not re-nationalised, because the enterprises that returned to the bosom of the state are today under the personal control of very high-up bureaucrats.

There are private bosses in Russia, even capitalist billionaires like one finds elsewhere. But much more numerous and with much more power are the heads of public companies, which often issue some stock - they owe their positions to high functionaries close to power, if not heads of various departments.

The central power took back control of the jewels of the Russian economy, first of all the energy sector which provides foreign currency. The men of the "force" ministries were propelled into all the levels of the economic-administrative machinery of the state where decisions are made.

According to a former advisor to Yeltsin, the privileged caste is composed of three and a half million bureaucrats holding responsible positions in the "vertical power" so dear to Putin: in the numerous organs of control, inspection, as prosecutors, in the hierarchy of the police, military, in the information service, customs.

Corruption, bribes, pillage: diverse aspects of the same reality

When they are not at the head of a semi-public enterprise, or even really private ones, these bureaucrats serve as a protection without which no enterprise of any importance could function in the ex-USSR. Regularly denounced by the central power, corruption rots all economic and social life. According to some media, the cost of corruption represents one-third of the state budget! And this plunder of the state, the economy and the population continues to grow. According to the minister of justice, 225 elected local officials were convicted, but only two deputies to the Duma, because deputies are covered by legal immunity. In 2010, 120 investigators, 12 prosecutors, 48 advocates and three judges were convicted of corruption. As for the general of the FSB (the successor to the KGB) who controlled the public institution in charge of the internet, he was just "replaced". He is in prison for being mixed up in trafficking stolen smart phones.

Bribes, the kind of corruption that most affects ordinary people's daily life, have also increased greatly because the lower levels of the bureaucracy don't usually have the means to directly extort money from the state or the enterprises. "Everyday corruption - 164 billion roubles [£3.5bn] were spent on bribes last year in Russia" was the big headline in RBK, (June 15, 2011).

Millions of bureaucrats, who are the backbone of the regime, constitute at the same time, its social base, representing an estimated 12 per cent of the active male population. Having control over the principal sources of revenue, they can leave "free enterprise" for others. Small business owners know not to extend their businesses to the point of drawing attention from those in power. The smallest problem could result in their having to give their business to one or another group of bureaucrats in league with judges who could find a legal pretext to expropriate them. As for the bloody settling of accounts between businessmen, even if these are less covered by the media than during the time of Yeltsin, they have not disappeared.

At the beginning of 2000, when Putin succeeded Yeltsin, promising to bring stability to a state that was in the process of sinking, many bureaucrats applauded. The rest of public opinion was also tired of a decade of deprivation and scandals of all kinds in the name of "democracy". The middle classes, which amount to 20 per cent of the entire Russian population and which had been upset, accepted, according to a Russian journal (, December 15, 2011), "stability in exchange for the monopolisation of power", by Putin. Since that deal coincided with economic improvement, the petty bourgeoisie gave it credit for its improving income. But, the journal continues, "the deal expired mainly because of the economic crisis [beginning in 2008], but also because of the actions of those in power".

In 2008, Medvedev succeeded Putin as president of the Russian Federation. Disappointed by Gorbachev, then by Yeltsin, and finally by Putin, some put their hopes in Medvedev. Medvedev, they said, was modern, younger and seemed reluctant to make the kinds of decisions made by Putin. He even declared that he would run for president in 2012. Against Putin? They had their champion!

Alas! It was Medvedev who, in October 2011, enthroned Putin as candidate of Russia United, the ruling party, probably making Putin the future president. What's more, Medvedev led this same party during the legislative elections in December. This crystallised the frustrations and disillusionment of the "middle classes", leading them to punish the party. And then, when people didn't know anyone who voted for Russia United, but the party still "won" the elections, it was too much.

As soon as the legislative election results were announced, disgust was so great that people took to the streets in big demonstrations. Rather than becoming discouraged by the arrests and convictions of the first demonstrators, even more demonstrators took to the streets crying, "No to the party of crooks and thieves!". There were youth who were demonstrating for the first time and older people also, who said that they hadn't seen such large demonstrations since the fall of the USSR. Much of the crowd was made up of representatives of what are called the intelligentsia (journalists, lawyers, artists, architects, actors, students), as well as the owners of small businesses. And all of those who had been pushed out of power were also there, including former ministers from both the Yeltsin and Putin regimes, liberal politicians, right-wing parties, extreme right-wing nationalists, centre-left formations, and finally a few far-left groups.

From what is known, workers have been largely absent from the demonstrations up until now. Undoubtedly, they don't identify with the well-known people in the demonstrations, who are generally from the right-wing and usually criticise Putin for not installing a bourgeois political system as quickly and completely as they would like.

The workers may have had good reason for not mobilising for these demonstrations. But they had just as good a reason as the petty bourgeoisie - even if they do not have the same reason - for being indignant about the system and to want to combat it.

The only policy for the future: communist and revolutionary

The impact of the demonstrations during the upcoming presidential elections appears to worry the regime. In a speech, Putin denounced "extremist provocations" which would push the state "toward chaos, like in 1917"(!). In playing the "me or chaos" tune, he perhaps hopes to frighten public opinion - including some of the demonstrators - who know all too well that he was the one who restored order in the beer garden, which is what the country had become under Yeltsin.

Putin has just pulled out of his sleeve billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov to run as candidate for president. Prokhorov had been asked only a few months before to head a right-wing opposition linked to the Kremlin. As Prokhorov jumped into the game, Putin took umbrage and had him kicked out of it, just before the parliamentary elections. Prokhorov won a small aura as an oppositionist, who Putin can now profitably recycle. Will a section of public opinion swallow this trick? Or will Putin demand that Medvedev resign and let Putin return immediately as president, posing as the country's saviour in the midst of the crisis (another trick he has used rather successfully on several occasions)? Who really cares?

A far more important development would be the emergence, out of these events which are shaking the Russian political scene, of a new generation of people who would choose to become politically active on the basis of the failures, successes and lessons of the struggles of the past. More importantly, it would be necessary that the workers among this generation, learn to identify those enemies of the working class who appear as "democratic" oppositionists but who are protagonists of a bourgeois society just as hostile to them as the current regime. It is important never to forget how the well-to-do and their regime keep the nationalists in reserve, as a breeding ground for an extreme right that is racist and xenophobic - "just in case".

What is more necessary than ever is that all activists, revolutionary organisations, socialists and communists worthy of this name, find a way during these events to convince workers not to remain spectators, nor to support one or another camp, equally opposed to the working class - as they did two decades ago - but to fight for a policy which represents their own class interests. In other words, to fight for a future not under the rule of the bourgeoisie, big or small, flanked or not by the bureaucracy, but for a future free of exploitation, in Russia, as everywhere else - the communist future that their predecessors opened the door to, nearly a century ago with the victory of October 1917.