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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 April 2000

Putin the potential dictator

AS WAS expected, acting President Vladimir Putin won Russia's Presidential election. He gained just over 52% of the vote, just enough to secure victory in the first round. ROB JONES reports from Moscow what conclusions workers internationally should draw from the election campaign and its aftermath.

PUTIN REFUSED to publish his political programme before the election, claiming (correctly, of course) that it would only be criticised. His campaign team issued no election posters and he failed to take part in the televised debates with other candidates. These he claimed were a form of cheap advertising like that "for tampax and snickers".

He did, however, practically monopolise the mass media. He was shown visiting textile workers in one city, travelling on a new train in another. He flew a jet fighter to Chechnya, dismissing claims that this was a stunt afterwards with the comment that this was just the cheapest, fastest way to travel.

The other candidates were scarcely mentioned, and even when they were only to be scathingly attacked. Gregorii Yavlinski, for example was revealed to have had plastic surgery and to have suffered tuberculosis when young, in a crude attempt to imply that his health was as weak as Boris Yeltsin's.

In second place with just under 30% of the vote was Communist leader Gennadi Zyuganov. Although he managed to maintain the level of votes his and associated parties gained in December's parliamentary elections, his campaign was spectacular only for its impotence.

He had no criticisms of Putin's economic policies and fully supported Putin's brutal attacks on Chechnya. Many people believe he stood with Putin's support just to provide a semblance of real choice.

Just under 6% was gained by Gregorii Yavlinski, the main liberal candidate. For the so-called democratic reformers, in reality pro-capitalist neo-liberals, this was a blow. Right-wing parties won nearly 20% of the vote in December. Many of these voters defected to Putin.

One of the most cynical campaigns was run by Governor of the Kemerovo region, Alman Tuleyev. Tuleyev was Zyuganov's running partner in 1996. A former communist party boss who has made his peace with the current regime, he was encouraged to stand to deflect votes from the left.

His campaign adverts were full of red images, calling for defence of the working class. Yet only recently, Tuleyev was sending riot police against workers in his own region who dared to try and defend their own rights. He gained 3%.

Humiliated was Russian nationalist Zhirinovski, scraping together only 2.7% of the votes. He was originally barred from standing because he had incorrectly declared his family wealth. The decision to allow him to stand was taken at the time when the Kremlin was fearing the 50% turnout barrier would not be passed.

It was felt that Zhirinovskii's participation would attract a small increase in turnout - his electorate is lumpenised, disgruntled and declassed people who would probably not vote for other candidates.

There are two reasons why Zhirinovski did so badly. Firstly, although he has presented himself as being in opposition to the Kremlin, he has consistently supported it in crucial votes.

He openly welcomed Putin's nomination as acting President. Secondly, much of his nationalistic electorate has defected to Putin.

THE ONLY major surprise was the low number of people who voted against all candidates - smothing that can be done under Russia's electoral system. Until the last stages of the campaign, there was a large layer of people who indicated they would do so.

There was even an active campaign by a number of artists and political observers, who argued, correctly of course, that there was no candidate worthy of support. Ultimately, only 1.5% nationally and 6% in Moscow did vote against all. In the final days before the election, the mass media waged a campaign in which those campaigning against all were labelled traitors.

Many people did indeed change their minds at the last minute, some saying that as Putin was going to win anyway, better to help him get through in the first round and avoid the expense of a second. Others voted for other candidates, thinking it more important that their opposition to Putin be recorded.

Although Putin won, the fact remains that 48% of the electorate voted against him. It is clear that in some regions, particularly in the Caucacus, there was widespread fraud, where, if official statistics are to be believed, huge numbers voted for Putin despite the Chechen war.

But Putin's victory can not be put down just to fraud. There are no real political parties in Russia. Instead, the different political interests use the regional and national state structures under their control to mobilise votes.

Regional governors are expected to supply a certain proportion of votes - or after the election, they fall out of favour. Significantly, in this election this "Party of power" was united behind Putin, thus helping ensure his victory.

This was made possible because of the relative stability and even growth in the economy. The tripling of world oil prices has given the Russian government a huge windfall, allowing it room to manoeuvre.

Industrial production has increased, wage arrears declined and it is even claimed by the government that 1.5 million new jobs have been created in the past year. This factor, plus the lack of alternative offered by the Communist Party gave Putin a clear run.

The other factor that can not be dismissed is the Chechen war. The launching of this war strengthened Putin's image as decisive, prepared to take harsh but necessary measures.

Nevertheless, the initial support for the war amongst the vast majority of the Russian population is beginning to be replaced by scepticism as the Russian army is bogged down in mountain fighting and the realisation is dawning that there will be no quick end. Support is further undermined as people realise that the war was planned and provoked by the Kremlin rather than a response to terrorist attacks.

Putin is frequently referred to, even by Russia's capitalist elite, as a potential Bonaparte or Pinochet - ie a dictator. He himself speaks about the need to strengthen market reforms but with a strong state.

He has warned people who plan to disrupt his plans - workers who strike, for example - that the state will be used against them. As the war drags out and the economy returns to its natural state of stagnation, even the capitalist class may find, as they did with Yeltsin, that they have a President out of control.

There will be more analysis of developments in Russia in a future issue of Socialism Today, the monthly theoretical magazine of the Socialist Party.

Kazakhstan

THE TRAGEDY of the Russian presidential elections is that once again, the working class have been left without their own party, capable of launching a challenge to the new capitalism, to fight for the interests of all Russia's oppressed and struggle for state power.

After five months, the strike at the Metallist factory in Kazakhstan has been suspended. The government agreed to allow the factory extra credit and some wage arrears were cleared.

From the 5,000 workforce, strike leaders estimate that over 1,500 took an active part in the strike, blockading roads, taking parts in picketing. Six workers from the factory, including members of the CWI participated in local elections as "Workers' candidates" and were elected to the city council.

Winter however is brutal in Kazakhstan, with temperatures dropping 20 degrees below zero. This made active participation more difficult. Participation began to drop off.

Nevertheless, the regime remained under pressure. Zemlyanov, the communist deputy who represents Uralsk declared an indefinite hunger strike in the Kazakhstan Parliament in solidarity with the strike.

Pickets were held in Moscow, Kiev and in Western Europe. Strikers received messages of solidarity from over 25 countries.

The determination of the strikers, their leadership and the international pressure forced the government to make concessions. Management too wanted a settlement - the factory makes rifles and orders were high after Kosovo and linked to Chechnya.

The decision to suspend the strike was therefore made with the threat to restart if wage arrears begin to rise again. The trade union committee at the factory which was slow to support the strike has been reelected and Ionur Kurmanov elected secretary.

Ionur is a member of the Russian sister organisation of the Socialist Party and part of the Committee for a Workers' International, the international socialist organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated.

In the past he has been persecuted and imprisoned for his opposition to the regime and his activities in the workers' movement.

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In The Socialist 7 April 2000:

Rover: Workers' action to save jobs

Council elections: Our Socialist Alternative to Labour

Bosses profit - while workers suffer

Putin - the potential dictator


 

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