Belarus: fraud, political crisis, labor unrest

Thursday, 03 September 2020 11:30

Belarus: fraud, political crisis, labor unrest


We have now had three weeks of intense agitation in Belarus, fueled by the rejection of the electoral fraud with which President Lukashenko intends to extend his mandate. It has been 26 years since he took office for the first time in 1994. Street demonstrations have been setting the pace since August 9th and, far from weakening them, the regime's brutal repression has brought about the opposite. On the streets, the middle-class youth play an important role, but all observers point out the irruption of the workers' movement, especially its most concentrated battalions in industry.


The marches and protests, which brought about 100,000 people onto the streets of Minsk on Sunday, August 23rd, are a sign of a spontaneous movement, with confusion of objectives and with a leadership weakened by the lack of structure of the nationalist/liberal, pro-market-reforms opposition, whose electoral figure is the opposition candidate, Svetlana Tijanovskaya, currently in exile in Lithuania. The movement has national extension and is not concentrated only in the capital, Minsk.


Interstate antagonisms


Belarus is a country of 9.4 million inhabitants, a former member of the USSR and then an historic ally of Russia. It’s the junior partner in this alliance, but we should not think about the relationship as we are used to: Belarus is home to major centers of industrialization of Russian raw materials. One element that encourages the current crisis is the slump in oil prices at the beginning of the year, as Belarusian refineries export oil by processing the crude oil they obtain at subsidized prices from Russia. In addition to this close economic relationship, which has had its ups and downs in recent years, both countries are also bound by military agreements and historical cultural elements.


It is because of this relationship with Russia that many, including the Bonapartist Lukashenko, are labelling the recent protests as "pro-Western" or pro-European Union, trying to equate them with the so-called Euromaidan that erupted in Ukraine in 2014, leading to the president's resignation and later a civil war. The truth is that the mobilizations do not demand the country's entry into the EU, which was explicit in Ukraine in 2014, and do not even raise anti-Russian slogans. Tijanovskaya itself, from Lithuania, has been careful to disassociate the positions of the opposition from a confrontation with Moscow, making it clear that these are protests that are limited to defending democracy pure and simple, that is, bourgeois democracy of which the only experience the country has is... the governments of Lukashenko, what a paradox.


The European Union (EU) has been loosening the sanctions it applied to Belarus for years owing to violations of the political freedoms of the so-called "last dictator of Europe", in a context of reviewing relations with Russia itself, a country with which Germany has important productive links, particularly in terms of the supply of raw materials, especially hydrocarbons. In view of the current process, the EU authorities have limited themselves to issuing declarations and on Friday 28 August voted in favor of sanctions for some figures in the regime.


Putin, for his part, has to be careful in his relationship with the country. Although he supported Lukashenko and last week made progress in threatening direct intervention in the crisis, he must, on the one hand, maintain his relationship with Trump and the EU, and on the other hand, give more weight to stabilizing Belarus than to Lukashenko himself, which is why a sector of his political party is developing links with the Belarusian trade unions that are participating in the mobilizations through the trade union bureaucracy of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of the Russian Federation (FNPR).


The USA, for its part, has not taken a clear position. The weight of the internal crisis of imperialism cannot only explain this, but it is a determining element in the series of political, regime and state crises and class struggle processes that are going on in the world. The imperialist disorientation, in the face of the presidential elections in November and with a Trump government quite weakened by the consequences of economic recession, the mishandling of the pandemic and the process of struggle against police brutality and racism, is a central element of the international conjuncture.


A whole series of political currents, the leftover from Stalinism and all kinds of populists, are focused on the antagonism between the USA and the EU, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other, in order to condemn the mobilizations in Minsk and other cities and to give their support to Lukashenko and his regime, which has just arrested 7,000 demonstrators, killed more than 3 and still has disappeared in the latest repressions. The dump of history is the only place where these nostalgic people of the Gulag can be welcomed, they have nothing to do with the revolutionary left and the vanguard of the international labor movement.


The imperialist offensive on Russia, and above all on China, has to be seen from the point of view of the historical process, not from the bourgeois logic of geopolitics. It is about the problem of assimilation of the former workers' states, whose explosive contradictions are developing in all kinds of specific manifestations in various national territories, with certain characteristics. We are talking about processes as different as those in Hong Kong, Ukraine and now Belarus, but which are an expression of a whole historical stage. We will return to this central problem of the world situation below.


Elementary forces


Belarus, like other former workers' states, underwent a process of privatization of industry in the beginning of the 1990s. However, this process of "cold" capitalist restoration was limited early on, leading to the re-nationalization of a large part of the enterprises as early as 1994. Today, state capitalism in industry reaches between 75% and 80% of the sector. This is a process of renationalization that was also carried out, although later, by Russia under Putin's command. These elements serve to point out that the Belarusian proto-bourgeoisie is particularly weak, and there are no so-called "oligarchs", who monopolize entire branches of industry (although not heavy industry) as was the case in the Ukraine. The sectors of this proto-bourgeoisie together with petty-bourgeois layers are the base of the opposition candidate, who in fact comes to replace her husband, a businessman arrested by the regime.


Another difference with Ukraine, which is important from the sociological point of view, is the relative weakness of the agricultural sector and of raw material production in general, in relation to industry. The industry inherited from the USSR remains in Belarus, and is competitive in some branches such as the manufacture of heavy machinery and tractors, and in the semi-processing of primary products. This relationship is quite eloquent when taken to figures: agriculture, fishing and forestry represent 6.6% of gross production, while industry accounts for 26%. The service sector, the one with the greatest weight in the economy, supports another important fraction of the working class, which has even played an active role in the protests, such as transport, and also large petty-bourgeois sectors.


When we talk about the economic weight of industry, this is also reflected in politics. Because all the fighting factions have an active interest in winning over the working class. We already talk about the Russian trade union federation, but a similar activity is carried out by the bureaucracy of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC, to which the Argentinean CTAs and CGT are affiliated), especially its European branches linked by a thousand and one ties to the imperialist states and bosses of the EU. Also, the nationalist/liberal opposition is calling for a strike to get support in the factories, while Lukashenko had an unpleasant surprise when he tried to take a bath of popularity in his visit to the tractor factory in Minsk, and now he sends the local authorities to negotiate with the workers.


The workers' actions have been important, including strikes, assemblies at gates, workers' columns at the marches and meetings with the management and local authorities to demand the release of prisoners and to reject the sanctions on workers who participated in the mobilizations, although the call for a general strike was not completed. Such is the weight of the trade union measures that after the first demonstrations of this kind Lukashenko had to release the first detainees. What is new is that this kind of struggle is developing in a country where the right to strike is not legally recognized and where repression is the order of the day. While the state ownership of companies has been maintained, Lukashenko has been implementing a program, in agreement with the IMF, the USA and the EU, of successive reforms, liquidating collective bargaining, imposing fixed-term labor contracts, increasing the retirement age and driving down the real wage due to inflation and devaluation.


For the time being, the actions of the proletariat are against having to pay for the fights between the leading factions. They use the opposition to confront their bosses. The nationalized trade union organizations do not play a role; therefore, the workers have formed workers' committees, which aim at being influenced by the opposition. The struggle for a leadership that allows the intervention independently from the working class becomes urgent, and it is at the same time an internationalist task that we, the revolutionaries of Europe, Russia and the rest of the planet, must support with all seriousness and audacity.


Between capitalist assimilation and imperialist decomposition


The fall of the USSR meant for many currents the full capitalist restoration and the total historical reversal of the October Revolution. However, the process turned out to be much more tortuous for the capitalists, because it took place in an advanced stage of imperialist decomposition. Privatizations, as a process of economic reform without resorting to an open counter-revolution to destroy the foundations of the state apparatus that emerged from October, and from the successive revolutions that expropriated the bourgeoisie and ended its domination in certain territories throughout the 20th century, proved to be a failure as a gamble of imperialism. So, this process of assimilation to capitalism continues to develop, without the proto-bourgeoisies of the various former Workers' States, especially Russia and China, having succeeded in becoming new ruling classes. This is not defined nationally, but in the world arena. The proletariat, in its turn, still constitutes a reserve to face the restoration processes under way, even if it has been used on different occasions as a basis for maneuver by one or another sector of the restorationist bureaucracy and/or the petty bourgeois layers allied with imperialism. The main cause of this tragedy is the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the international proletariat.


It is curious how we read again about the objective revolutionary situations, this time from the hands of the PO (t) and Altamira, a declared old enemy of Nahuel Moreno, when discussing the processes in the former Workers' States. What Altamira forgets is that in order to establish objective tendencies, which are not discarded, it is necessary to define what the transitions are. When Lenin was discussing this problem, he had already defined the higher stage of capitalism, imperialism, as a transition between capitalism and socialism. In the Belarusian process, we must consider the problem of assimilation, which makes the discussion of transition much more complex. Not only because the role of the former Workers' States is not defined in the sense of whether or not the proto-bourgeoisies will be able, on the basis of an inescapable violent conflict, to conquer a position as a capitalist class in the world market and state system or will be relegated as pitiful semi-colonial sub-bourgeoisies (and this is the program of imperialism). We can even take the hypothesis of Leon Trotsky, who argued that the counter-revolutionary leadership that would lead the restoration processes, in its contradiction of not being able to conform in class, would generate, in its relation to the tendential laws of the world economy, a capitalist chaos. This last hypothesis is for us the one that comes closest to the real process. And in the face of this chaos, what is imposed is to twist this tendency on the basis of a conscious revolutionary leadership.




Far from this discussion, the organizations of Latin American centrist Trotskyism, in their notes, abstract the class character of the state in Belarus, the process of assimilation and the contradictions established by imperialist decomposition, to repeat what they say elsewhere: it is a process "for democracy" where the working class must intervene "independently". They are still trapped in the scheme of transcending democratic revolution into socialist revolution that Moreno or Guillermo Lora taught them. They can even raise slogans like "out Lukashenko", as the New MAS does, where it is necessary to ask "for whom to come? The (official) Partido Obrero talks about promoting "a political alternative that belongs to the workers", while the PTS does not even refer to the workers, simply talking about "the political independence that the movement achieves from the liberal and populist opposition", are they talking about an independent candidate in the next elections? The discussions at the Latin American conference of the FIT-U make us think so.


The crisis opened by the electoral fraud in relation to democracy as a political form is a starting point to promote the workers' struggle against the capitalist restoration and its enforcers, whose differences in any case are in the speed of this restoration. Lukashenko's dictatorship is repressive, it imprisons the fighters and represses them. Can't the workers of France and the yellow vests, the black movement of the BLM and the Chilean workers pose that the bourgeois democracy does exactly the same? The problem of the relationship of the masses with politics is raised from the relationship of the proletariat with the levers of the economy. No stalling is necessary, the historical character of the October Revolution is still alive. The workers' democracy is a thousand times higher than the bourgeois parliamentary elections, and if the workers, who have become the axis of the situation in the country, can develop this experience, it is from hitting Lukashenko and the pro-imperialist opposition in production, with the general strike and advancing in the workers' control of the economic branches. It is clear that such a process cannot be stopped in Belarus, because until the end the contradiction of imperialism and Putin's own survival goes through the process of assimilation from Russia. Therefore, it is necessary that the struggle is strengthened by the intervention of the Russian proletariat and that of the whole region, with the strong support of the European and American working class, denouncing loudly the real content of exploitation of imperialist democracy. It is in this sense that the Belarusian proletariat must fight for its independence, class independence as a subject in the historical process, not only by raising "social and economic" demands but also by postulating its political leadership on the basis of the administration of things, from which true democracy, proletarian democracy, springs. The struggle for a Socialist Federation, recovering the best of the experience of the USSR, as a political form of the dictatorship of the proletariat in its international development. To the end, the struggle of the revolutionaries is for the regeneration of the communist vanguard, taking up again the tasks left to us by Leon Trotsky, fighting for the reconstruction of the Fourth International. In the light of the complex and very rich processes that are developing before our eyes, it is that we call the currents that are claiming for the dictatorship of the proletariat to an International Conference to discuss the urgent challenges that we are facing.


First published in August 29, 2020.

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