We write this article in the heat of the initial events in Belarus[1], around the “presidential elections”. Without claiming to provide a detailed analysis of what is happening in the neighboring country at the moment, we would like to express some first impressions and a policy outline for a situation that is unpredictable at the moment.

By: POI, Russia    08/16/2020

Belarus is a semi-dictatorship. There is no room for real opposition parties, free trade unions or an independent press. Institutions such as parliament or justice are a façade. Lukashenko and the KGB have been in charge for 26 years (yes, in Belarus the KGB still exists under the same name until today). The three candidates that risked Lukashenko’s re-election were prevented from participating, one was imprisoned and two had to flee the country. The “elections” took place under the total control of Lukashenko’s machine, without the possibility of independent control, without international observers, as has even been the case for two decades. Even with all the repression, the opposition rallies gathered tens of thousands of participants in different cities. It was clear that something was going on. Therefore, the anti-Lukashenko demonstrators have every right to mistrust the official results of the election, which gave 80% of the votes to Lukashenko. Could 80% be true, when the country is in revolt against Lukashenko? He is responsible for the total lack of legitimacy of the electoral process.

The situation in Belarus falls within a larger framework of instability and crisis. Belarus is not an island. It is suffering the effects of the global crisis and the Covid-19 epidemic. There are layoffs, salary cuts, lack of resources to combat the epidemic, which was denied by Lukashenko. Vodka and sauna [2] do not solve that. At the same time, there is a just democratic demand of the people, tired of Lukashenko’s and the KGB’s 26 year power monopoly.

These two aspects of the struggle, the democratic and the social, intersect today with the greatest political crisis Lukashenko has ever experienced.

The struggle for democracy in Belarus represents the beginning of a deeper struggle, for its national independence. Lukashenko cannot guarantee genuine independence for the country, which has thus remained almost an appendage of Russia. Russian companies (especially gas and oil companies) are behaving like owners of Belarus, raising the price of fuel every year. Lukashenko’s main point of support is the KGB, with all its tradition of repression of any dissidence and closely linked to the Russian FSB[3] since Soviet times. And Putin’s regime, without any hesitation, buys Lukashenko’s loyalty through the mega-profits of oil and gas, demanding more and more obedience from him.

The demonstrations began on election day, as the first official preliminary results came out, giving 80% of votes for Lukashenko. They were absolutely peaceful demonstrations. But Lukashenko and the KGB could not stand the people in the streets expressing their will. Over three days, his police and armed forces, especially the OMON riot forces, acted with great violence in the streets of Belarus cities. Seven thousand prisoners, hundreds of injured and two dead in four days of struggle. Lukashenko said on TV that the demonstrators were manipulated sheep, cattle, a small village, no more than twenty people… Belarusian society, numbed by three decades of “order and tranquility”, could not take any more.

MTZ workers on demonstration in Minsk. The sign says: “We are not sheep or cattle or a small town. We are MTZ workers, and we are not 20 but 16,000!”

On the third day, women were already on the front line, defending the thousands of prisoners against violence towards the protesters.

One day later, the working class of Belarus entered with all its strength. Base workers, men and women, disrupted the work of the country’s largest factories, forcing local bureaucrats to listen to them. The list is long, and it reaches all the big cities of the country.

In the capital, Minsk, MAZ (automobiles), MTZ (tractors), MEZ (electrical equipment), MZKT (tractors and trucks), MZSh (auto parts for grain collectors), MAPID (civil construction), Milavitza (textile, lingerie), BelOMO (optical equipment), MMZ (engines). In Grodno, Grodno Azot (fertilizers), Grodnenskiy Myasokombinat (animal protein processing), Busoulya (stone and concrete coverings); in Soligorsk, Belaruskaliy (fertilizers). In Navapolatsk, Naftan (oil refinery), Polimir (chemical industry); in Klobin, BMZ (metallurgy); in Bobruysk, Belshina ( tires); in Petrikaw, Petrikovski GOK (mineral processing equipment); in Khodino, KZTSh (metallurgy, heavy vehicle parts); in Brest, Gefest (ceramic floors); in Baranovich, Atlant (household appliances), Factory 558 (aircraft maintenance); in Jabinka, ZhSZ (sugar mill); in Gomel, Gomselmash (agricultural machinery)… The list already exceeds fifty companies on strike or in a state of strike.

The metro operators of the capital Minsk approved the state of strike, as did one of the train lines. Doctors, women, workers, here is the real force of the Belarusian revolution. They vanquished the threatening power of Lukashenko, who was forced on the fifth day of protests, two days after the start of the strikes, to say that he “listened to the workers” and went on to free the thousands of prisoners, who were greeted with celebration as they left the prisons.

Since the repression was not enough, he moved on to lies, accusing the thousands of demonstrators and striking workers of being puppets financed from the outside “by the enemies”, without giving a single evidence of that. It is the preferred lie of every dictator threatened by an uprising of his own people.

The entry of the working class into the process, with its own methods of struggle and organization, is an example to the whole world. A great lesson of the Belarus revolution, especially for those who believed that the working class no longer had a central role in the processes of social struggle. For it is the union of the workers, with their methods of struggle, and of the oppressed in general that can put an end to the Lukashenko regime. It is these masses, disrupting production, taking to the streets, even with almost no organization, that are changing the country. And not the so-called “liberal” opposition.

The liberal leadership tried to contain the protest within the narrow limits of Lukashenko’s legislation. The opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanosvskaya [4], conducted her entire election campaign around a single point: free elections, refusing to incorporate any social flag whatsoever. More than that, she limited the fight for free elections to the electoral process, repeating at all the rallies that she did not want a revolution in the country. After the announcement of the official results, Tikhanosvskaya was quick to thank the electoral commission that gave Lukashenko victory for “having counted the votes correctly”. The first night, on the eve of the repression, she said that the demonstrators “had already been victorious” by “overcoming fear” and called on everyone to return to their homes. When thousands took to the streets after Lukashenko’s “victory” was announced, to protest the election fraud, she called on everyone to be peaceful and not to provoke a “Maidan” [5] in Belarus. On the night of the same day, when thousands of protesters heroically faced the harsh police repression in the streets, she continued to call on the demonstrators to “be peaceful”. And she still hasn’t called for a general strike in Belarus, the only way to overthrow Lukashenko, which is being built from below.

The protests show that to guarantee victory, the people must overcome the limits of their own leaders. Half-baked measures will not be effective in defeating Lukashenko. This was the case in Ukraine, even during the Maidan. Liberals of all colors had made an agreement with Yanukovych, the United States, the European Union and Putin to keep Yanukovych in power for a few more months, until new elections were held, but the masses in the Maidan, not wanting to wait, overran their leaders (the symbol of this was the booing of Klitschko [6] at the square for his cowardice). And today, a so-called opposition wants to avoid a Maidan in Belarus at all costs. They dream of a “peaceful and gradual” transition to a bourgeois democracy, without revolution, so that Lukashenko will come out “on his own”, in the most peaceful way possible. The opposition, because of the bourgeois character of its politics, is very much afraid of a revolution, afraid that the workers and simple laborers, youth and oppressed, might with their strength and determination, take the leadership out of their hands.

All the official propaganda in Belarus and Russia tries to show Maidan as something negative, which must be avoided, even the so-called “opposition”. Nothing is more false ! Maidan was a legitimate people’s revolution, an uprising against the repressive, reactionary, pro-Putin and corrupt Yanukovych regime. The people’s uprising in Maidan guaranteed democratic freedoms in Ukraine, threatened by the dictatorial candidate Yanukovych. All subsequent problems facing Ukraine are the result not of Maidan but of Putin’s war against Maidan: with the annexation of Crimea and Russian mercenaries in Dombass [7]. The Maidan uprising was only victorious because it got out of the control of the liberal opposition, which tried at all costs to keep it within the narrow limits of Yanukovych’s legality. It was the masses in the streets who rejected the agreement between the Liberals, the EU, the U.S. and Putin to keep Yanukovich in power until new elections, and overthrew him.

If the workers in unity with the oppressed in Belarus showed their strength, showed who can actually overthrow Lukashenko and his entire regime, then it is clear as day that these same forces, workers and the oppressed people of Belarus, must also lead the country, and not a new group of “opposition” politicians who talk pretty but only tell lies. To this end, an independent organization of the working class must be built so that all Belarusian workers have their own political strength and are not forced to opt indefinitely for Lukashenko’s capitalists or the liberal capitalists. A real workers’ alternative is needed, one that puts the country’s economy at the service of the interests of the majority, guaranteeing decent employment and wages for all, especially during the epidemic. That stops the privatizations. That stops paying the foreign debt to the IMF, the EU and Russia, which together are plundering the country. This would make it possible to guarantee more money for public health, education, pensions, housing and public services. Only the working class in alliance with the oppressed can put the country’s industrial and agricultural potential at the service of raising the standard of living of the broad masses and developing the country, not at the service of the profits of the Belarus and foreign oligarchs who defend Lukashenko and who would also have no problem supporting the liberal opposition if necessary. It is exactly this policy of the working class and the oppressed Belarusian people that will make Belarus truly independent.

And in order to impose this workers’ program, we need a workers’ party that can rise to the occasion. This is so far the greatest weakness of the process underway in Belarus. It is the most urgent task for every conscious activist in Belarus.

***

The workers of Russia (as well as any honest democrat) have an obligation to support with all their might the process under way in Belarus against Lukashenko. Take a stand against Russia’s aggressive actions in relation to the country, against Putin’s constant pressure, against the blackmail of gas, against the attempt to absorb the country, against its use as a transit territory for its mercenaries. The collapse of Lukashenko’s repressive and corrupt regime would be a major blow to Putin’s repressive and corrupt regime, just as the fall of Yanukovych’s repressive and corrupt regime was. If the fall of the latter was Putin’s greatest political defeat to date, that of his Belarus counterpart could have an even greater effect. It would show everyone how Putin’s regime, instead of ensuring the “unity of the post-Soviet space”, is driving neighboring peoples further and further apart. Putin is the scarecrow who, in the name of the interests of half a dozen oligarchs, sows division and hatred among the peoples. Putin’s regime has on its hands the blood of the Syrian, Ukrainian, Egyptian, Libyan, Chechen revolutions… And there is a risk that Belarus will be next on the list. Overthrowing this repressive and hateful Putin regime is a task for all the peoples of the region. And the fall of Lukashenko is a fundamental step on this path.

– Lukashenko out!

– General strike until the fall of the Lukashenko/KGB and OMON regime!

– Dissolution of the OMON, down with repression!

– Putin, stay away from Belarus!

– Zhiv’e Belarus! (Long live Belarus!)

1] We use the name Belarus, claimed by the people of the country, instead of the name Belorussia, used in Russia with the obvious aim of preventing the self-determination of the country.

2] Lukashenko occupies, together with Bolsonaro, Ortega and Trump, the group of presidents who denied the existence of the coronavirus epidemic. He called on the people to continue working without masks. He was the only European country that did not interrupt its football championship. Lukashenko said, “What virus? Is anyone seeing the virus? I don’t see it”, which brought back memories of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which occurred near the country’s border in 1986, when Communist Party bureaucrats also said:” I don’t see any radiation. Does anyone see any radiation? I don’t see anything.” Lukashenko proposed vodka and sauna against the coronavirus.

[3] The current name of the Russian KGB (political police)

4] The candidate was Svetlana’s husband, who was imprisoned and prevented from running. She was a candidate and proposed, if the elections were won, to release all political prisoners and call for free elections in the country immediately. She refused to present any program. She said she wanted to free her husband, free elections, and then “go back to cooking for her family”…

5] Maidan Square (Independence Square) in the center of Kiev, the stage of the demonstrations that overthrew Yanukovych in 2014. The term Maidan became synonymous with the Ukrainian Revolution, being highly stigmatized by the media and the governments of Russia and Belarus.

6] Former boxer, then leader of the opposition, then mayor of Kiev.

7] Eastern region of Ukraine, rich in coal and heavy industry.

Translation: Blas ( Corriente Obrera Lit-ci U.S. )