Marx sometimes referred to nineteenth-century tsarist Russia as the bastion of reaction in Europe. Keeping the proper proportions, Russia under Putin again plays this pitiful role.
By POI (Russia)
The situation in Russia deserves the attention of any activist in the world, as its significance goes far beyond the country’s national borders.
Russia is directly involved in some of the sharpest points of the class struggle today, with Putin’s hands stained with the blood of at least four revolutions (Ukrainian, Syrian, Caucasian and Egyptian), plus Russian mercenaries in Libya and the support, including with military “experts,” to Maduro’s repressive measures in Venezuela. Moreover, it is one of the few countries in the world where there has been a stable government for many years. In a context of political crises around the world, including in Europe, this situation requires explanation.
For almost 20 years Russia has been in a reactionary situation, that is, when the government and the bourgeoisie not only retain control, but all political initiative. The correlation of forces in the country is clearly unfavorable to the workers and oppressed peoples. There are virtually no real trade-union organizations, there is a large fragmentation of workers and an absence of organizations of almost any kind. Putin has full political control of the country and its institutions. Not only is Russia lagging behind the dynamics of other countries towards political crises and pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situations, but on the contrary, it remains and reaffirms itself as one of the strongholds of reaction in the world, as well as Saudi Arabia or Israel.
Putin government: the product of a counterrevolutionary war…
It is a government that came to power after massacring the resistance in the Second Chechen War (1999- 2000) and, consequently, throughout the Caucasus region, which fought for its right to self-determination. That is, Putin came to power as a result of a counterrevolutionary war, imposing a regime of directly fascist characteristics in Chechnya. As a counter-revolution limited to the Caucasus, it was not enough to impose such a regime throughout Russia, but a strong Bonapartist regime, whose center is the FSB (former KGB), with important autocratic characteristics. Putin’s victory in the war combined with 15 years of high oil and gas prices, which gave the government a strong basis to ensure social stability across the country. He became, thanks to these elements, the great Bonaparte of all Russia. Putin disciplined and centralized the Russian bourgeoisie and from the different regions of the Federation.
We must add the fatigue of the Russian masses, that experienced many strikes and struggles for more than a decade against the policies of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, suffering the terrible effects of capitalist restoration, all the decadence of those years, the brutal decline of the working class due to factory closures, unemployment, shortages, etc. Compared to the catastrophe of those years, the arrival of Putin, delivering the crumbs from the oil and gas boom, meant a relative improvement in living standards (without reaching the pre-restoration level), while completing the return to capitalism which, consequently, deepened the economy’s dependence on the West. All accompanied by Putin’s “justifications” that the Chechnya massacre was part of the “war on international terrorism” in the style of Bush’s worst lies.
… that comes to power to deepen the colonization of Russia and other former Soviet republics
Putin’s most strategic policy, despite the neo-stalinist legends that paint him as an anti-American patriot, is to attract imperialist investments, especially to the oil and gas sectors, to continue to transform the country, an once-great industrial power, increasingly into a supplier of fuels and raw materials to the imperialist and Chinese factories. Indeed, at Putin’s hands, Russia’s economy is primitivizing, making it increasingly a semi-colony that relies on capital and technology from the imperialist powers, including and especially in the oil and gas sector. Today, all sectors of the Russian economy are deeply dependent on imperialist capitals. Even the major state owned companies (Gazprom, Rosneft, Sberbank) are totally indebted to the banks of the imperialist countries.
While Putin applies this proimperialist policy there are contradictions between Russia and imperialism. After all, it is not usual for a dependent country to have so much military power and so much influence in neighboring countries. Imperialism does not like this, it would rather colonize Russia, Ukraine and other countries without having to go through the “middleman” Putin, who charges dearly for his services. Nor does it like a semicolonial country competing in the arms market, selling weapons even to NATO countries such as Turkey. Hence the recurring friction and mutual blackmail. That is, they have a general agreement to implement a policy of colonization of what was once the former USSR, but there are differences in how to do it “concretely”, that is, in relation to Putin’s and the Russian bourgeoisie’s weight in this big business, as “colonization administrators” throughout the region.
A model in crisis
The world crisis has challenged this model based on high gas and oil prices and the attraction of imperialist investments. Especially since 2011, Russia has entered into economic crisis. Fewer inflows from oil and gas exports and, consequently, less crumbs, forced the government to pursue a policy of attacks on the achievements of the working class and the people in general, that had hitherto been attacked, but not so crudely, particularly education and healthcare, pensions and wages.
In this context, a democratic movement, especially of Moscow’s young and middle classes, broke out in 2011/12 against the most suffocating aspects of Putin’s Bonapartism, peaking at about 100,000 people on the streets of Moscow. A coalition of the reformist left and liberals, under the total hegemony of the latter, was formed to lead the protests. To prevent the working class and the most exploited sectors from joining the movement, its whole policy was not to incorporate social demands. It was a progressive movement, but in fact limited centrally to Moscow and the middle sectors. The working class stayed away from the movement.
The Ukrainian Revolution and the Arab Spring threatened Putin’s Bonapartist regime, but it reacted
At that time, the Ukrainian Revolution (2013/2014) broke out, marking the highest point of the European class struggle. And the so-called Arab Spring continued to develop. Both processes posed a great danger to the Putin regime, already hit by the economic crisis and pro-democracy demonstrations. The former President Yanukovych’s fall in Ukraine by direct mass action against all leadership’s will was the first real political defeat of Putin’s career. There were a number of elements to push Putin’s government to a crisis, and that is why he decided to strike back. He sent mercenaries to eastern Ukraine, wrenched territories (Donetsk and Lugansk) from Kiev control, occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula, entered the war in Syria in support of the mass-cornered dictator Assad. The counterrevolutionary virulence of Putin’s response stems from the deadly risk to him that the Ukrainian Revolution reaches Moscow and the Arab Spring the Caucasus, as well as the fear of his role as “administrator of the colonization” of Ukraine, or at least of the east of the country, been disputed.
Putin’s new counterrevolutionary offensive in Ukraine and Syria, coupled with a massive chauvinist campaign by the mainstream media and a relative recovery in gas and oil prices, allowed Putin to overcome the 2012 unfavorable conjuncture and strengthen his government. The different “opposition” forces played their role in the political field, from the totally putinist PCFR (Communist Party of the Russian Federation) to the liberal “antisystem” opposition, where everyone, without exception, actively or by omission, supported the chauvinist and counterrevolutionary policy against Ukraine and Syria.
Putin’s aggressive counterrevolutionary policy allowed him, as we said, to overcome the previous situation, but at the same time generated contradictions and new friction with imperialism, leading to sanctions against his regime, further aggravating Russia’s economic situation. This is explained by an important difference between imperialism and Putin on their policy to deal with revolutionary processes. Since the defeat of the Bush offensive in Iraq and Afghanistan, imperialism has been forced to maneuver in revolutionary processes, having difficulty to repress them directly, manu militari, due to an unfavorable correlation of forces, as in the US and European Union as in the world plan. That is why it prefers to bet on negotiations, elections and demagogic democratic speeches to divert the struggles. It is a policy we call “democratic reaction.” Eventually it resorts to pure and simple repression, but it cannot always do so.
Putin, on the other hand, acts according to Russia’s favorable internal correlation of forces. This gives him some advantages on the ground, as is clear in Syria, for example, where he has been occupying positions on imperialism. But his policy is in contradiction with the world correlation of forces and with the imperialism’s policy in some regions. And the nature of his deeply Bonapartist regime, born of a counterrevolutionary war, prevents him from playing with democratic cards. So he is forced to suppress harshly any fighting process that threatens him. He is, so to speak, less “flexible.” Hence the friction between US and European Union policies, on the one hand, and Russia’s, on the other, in Ukraine and Syria. Even after Trump’s subsequent win and the declarations of mutual sympathy between him and Putin (increasingly less frequent), they have strong contradictions in the international arena. Although this confrontation is not absolute, nor it is excluded that they reach agreements; there are movements by imperialism to approach Putin.
Putin relies on Russian chauvinism
The passivity of the working class, that did not participate in the 2012 movement, also took its toll. With the annexation of Crimea, the incipient social movement of 2012 was completely orphaned and isolated. The absence of antibodies of the Russian people against chauvinism once again demonstrated the correction of Marx’s maxim that the people who oppress other people cannot be free. Many of the 2012 activists supported Putin’s chauvinistic policy against Ukraine. The 2012 economic situation thus ended, the Putin regime was strengthened and even its Bonapartist character deepened. Putin relies on this Russian chauvinism to carry on his oppressed anti-worker and anti-nationality policy. All Putin’s attacks on Russia’s population deepened after the annexation of Crimea, especially the reform of the retirement system, building on the euphoria of the “Crimea is ours!” Campaign. It is the justification in the name of which everything can be endured…
That is why a victory against Putin in the internal arena that is not accompanied by a major crisis of his policy in Ukraine and the Caucasus is not foreseeable, just as it is not possible to expel Russian troops from these regions without this being combined with a large political crisis within Russia. That is, with his policy, Putin has hindered the struggle of the Ukrainians, but at the same time welded the Ukrainian process with the destinies of Russia and all its peoples, including the Caucasus. In addition, Ukraine is the bridge for the workers of Europe, as well as the Caucasus for the Muslim world. That is why the support and solidarity of the workers and peoples of Europe with the Ukrainian revolution, as well as of the Muslim peoples with their brothers in the Caucasus, is essential. The crushing of the rebellion in Chechnya and the Caucasus, as we have seen, was the cornerstone of the Putin regime. And aggression against Ukraine allowed him to strengthen his regime. But Ukraine and the Caucasus are also the Achilles heel of the Putin regime. Putin’s defeat in Ukraine would be the beginning of the end of his rule. The same in the Caucasus.
Unite the workers and peoples of Russia and Ukraine against Putin
A new victory of the Ukrainian revolution could, for these reasons, boost the struggle of the Russian workers and other oppressed peoples against Putin. Together, Ukrainian and Russian workers are capable of defeating the executioner of the Ukrainian revolution, the main responsible for the imperialist recolonization of Russia, defender of the most hated regimes on the planet, aggressor of peoples and nations and an ally of imperialism, who still has under his control the second army (and nuclear arsenal) in the world. Defeating Putin would have repercussions not only on Russia and Ukraine, but around the world because of his international counterrevolutionary role. It would also mean the end of Assad’s rule in Syria and the weakening of the Egyptian dictatorship, which could set in motion a new wave of the Arab spring. It would have a profound impact among the peoples of the Caucasus in their struggle for independence. Defeating Putin is an international task of the working class. At the same time, his defeat would also be the defeat of the last rotten remains of world Stalinism and its satellites, that cover Putin’s crimes.
The contradictions accumulate
The illusions in Putin are shrinking in Russia, and today there is great discontent about the economy, inflation, social services and especially the deeply unpopular reform of the pension scheme. The Russian workers and the oppressed peoples are getting poorer each day. Support for Putin’s international politics is still going on, but no longer enthusiastically. People are less and less willing to accept sacrifices on behalf of “Crimea is ours!”. Isolated but important struggles occasionally occur, such as in Ingushetia (a Caucasus republic bordering Chechnya), or against the building of another church in Ekaterinburg, or against the fraudulent accusations and arrest of a journalist, or the recent marches in Moscow against repression with a turnout of 20,000 people, sometimes with partial victories. Today much of the working class in Russia is made up of immigrant workers from the former republics of the former USSR, many of them Muslims. They are no longer dominated by chauvinistic ideology, as they are their direct victims. There are elements of youth dissatisfaction, showed by their typical expressions against police, bureaucracy, or church action. The weight of chauvinism is also less there. Perhaps the most decisive struggles will arise from these sectors.
Despite these important elements, however, the reactionary situation remains which still provides Putin the possibility of applying his counterrevolutionary policy in the regional and international arenas. The recent rise in oil prices is also on his side. And despite the serious signs of economic crisis, in fact, so far, there is no “bankruptcy” of the country. The crisis is moving so far slowly.
A right policy for Russia today should aim to unify workers with other exploited people in the country, including the middle class and especially the youth, by unifying economic and democratic demands, against anti-popular reforms and against any repression, against the deterioration of living conditions and rights and in defense of national minorities and oppressed peoples within and outside the borders of the Russian Federation. It is essential to expose and unmask Putin’s regime as administrator of Russia’s colonization in the service of the great imperialist powers, while denouncing its oppressive role against the smaller nations and oppressed peoples of Russia, its counterrevolutionary role in Ukraine, the Caucasus or Syria, and also to expose it as the main responsible for the deterioration of the living conditions of the Russian population.
 It is important to remember that the RFCP is not a traitor opposition Labor party according to the classic Stalinist mold. It is a bourgeois party, pro-Russian oligarchs, chauvinist, clerical, an integral part of the Putin regime, with important links with the more reactionary institutions of Putinism how the security services, the armed forces and the Orthodox Church.
 He liberals are deeply pro-imperialist, totally favorable to the Russia colonization process and of submission to international capital, as well as totally in favor of the reforms, such as the pension system.
 In fact, a policy that already came from the American defeat in Vietnam, but that Bush tried to change, without success, to a more aggressive policy.