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Mass protests in Russia against Putin regime
Claire Doyle, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)
Mass anti-government demonstrations took place throughout Russia on 23 January, with tens of thousands of protesters on the streets, confronting the brutal forces of Vladimir Putin's dictatorial regime. Some 3,000 demonstrators were arrested nationwide.
This 'coming out', called by Putin's arch nemesis, Alexei Navalny, braved the extreme cold and the riot police batons.
Navalny himself came back to Russia on 17 January from Germany, where he had been recovering from an attempted assassination attempt by Putin's agents last August.
He was arrested at the Moscow airport to which his plane was diverted - away from the supporters who turned out to greet him. He was charged the next day with violating his parole by being in Germany!
Navalny is due to appear in court on 2 February charged with embezzlement, which few believe to have substance. He could face many years in prison.
What has angered the authorities as much as his defiant return to Russia has been a two-hour video he launched a couple of days later. It reveals footage of Putin's secret 'palace' on the Black Sea built with 1.35 billion of taxpayers' money. The film was watched at least 80 million times in the first few days of its appearance.
Demonstrators have gone further than demanding Navalny's release and that charges against him be dropped. The cry is now widely heard of "Ykhadi!" (get out!) addressed to Putin, just as it has been in Belarus against the self-declared president, Lukashenko.
"Those who have been demonstrating today," said a long-standing friend of the CWI in St Petersburg, "have seen what happened to protesters who came onto the streets in Belarus and know it can happen to them... One swallow does not mean the summer has arrived; but it is a herald!"
Navalny has networks of supporters and campaigners across the vast Russian Federation. While unable to establish a party as such, they challenge all pro-Putin candidates by supporting almost anyone who stands against them.
Navalny and his team have completely stolen the show from the traditional opposition parties, including the tame 'Communist Party' of Gennady Zhyuganov, and the so-called Liberal Democratic Party, also led by a veteran politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and which is neither liberal nor democratic.
Navalny's campaign, if it gets into full swing, can inflict heavy blows on Putin's United Russia party in parliamentary elections due in September.
Navalny's outlook is not anti-capitalist, he has no affinity to socialism. His support has come mainly from the middle layers in society. He is against the rule of oligarchs and for basic democratic freedoms to create a 'clean' capitalism, but there can be no such thing.
To date there has been little or no organised or spontaneous involvement of Russia's still vast and highly exploited working class in the democracy movement. Nevertheless, Navalny's challenge to the Putin regime is gaining widespread popularity among the youth. It is attractive to all those who suffer the daily depredations and difficulties of life in today's Russia. It underlines the need for building strong organisations in the workplaces and a democratic party of workers.
Concrete demands would include an end to mass arrests and arbitrary sentencing, and the freeing of all political prisoners. Freedom of the press, speech, assembly and organisation should apply at all times and surveillance and spying by the FSB (secret police) must end. The right to organise trade unions must be fought for and established.
The working class and youth will want to use democratic rights to organise, to win change, which will bring them into conflict with the 'liberal' capitalists and create conditions for the growth of genuine socialist ideas.
The elimination of oligarchic capitalism cannot be completed without the involvement of workers and their elected representatives in a major struggle between the classes.
A party based on the working class with a programme to retake industry and the banks into public ownership under democratic workers' control and management is needed to renew the struggle for genuine socialism - not the bureaucratic deformations of Stalinism.
In The Socialist 27 January 2021:
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