Socialism Today                     The monthly journal of the Socialist Party

Issue 39 contents

About Us

Back Issues



Contact Us



Issue 39, June 1999

Russian Power Struggle

WHEN BORIS YELTSIN crawls out of his sick bed, it's time to duck for cover. This time has been no different.

Yeltsin set the ball rolling at a special meeting convened to plan the millennium celebrations. In front of the TV cameras he growled at his ministers that they were not sitting in the right places: 'Stepashin should be at the top, he's the most important now'. This took place before he had even sacked his former prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov. The latter apparently went at the insistence of the neo-liberals and Yeltsin's daughter for failing to tackle the economic crisis and for being too conciliatory to the communists.

In a sense, Primakov could be entitled to feel hard done by. After all, he was appointed prime minister as a compromise candidate when his predecessor, Sergei Kiriyenko, was forced out after last August's financial collapse. Since then, he has presided over a certain stabilisation in the rouble and industrial production has actually been growing slightly - by 4% since the beginning of the year. The government is even claiming to have settled a large part of the wage arrears bill.

However, it would be wrong to give Primakov credit for this. It is one of the paradoxes of the new Russian capitalism that the collapse of the rouble actually encouraged consumers to turn away from imports and buy home-produced goods. This explains the growth in production, while the budget crisis has been eased partly because oil and gas revenues (in dollars) have also increased.

What really annoyed the neo-liberals was the fact that Primakov had managed to bring the Communist Party (CP) round to support his government, which included two communist ministers. Communist Yuri Maslyukov was even in charge of negotiations with the IMF. Some of the more radical free-marketeers around Yegor Gaidar described Primakov's government as a 'national-communist dictatorship'.

The sacking however, called the CP's bluff. For months they had been threatening to start impeachment proceedings against Yeltsin and Primakov's dismissal was too much to swallow. They were left with no option but to push ahead - only to find that they couldn't muster enough votes even to impeach Yeltsin for starting the war in Chechnya. The communists' strategy has been grounded.

  To make it worse for themselves, they are now making conciliatory sounds in Sergei Stepashin's direction, saying he was a good professional in Primakov's government. So, having attempted to impeach Yeltsin for starting the Chechen war, it now seems they will vote for one of the key hawks behind the war - as security chief, Stepashin attempted to send the army in to attack the Budonovsk hospital when it was seized by Chechens.

The crisis has temporarily diverted attention away from Kosova. Russia's leaders have felt impotent as their 'brother Serbs' have faced the NATO bombardment. When the attacks started, several leading deputies attended parliamentary sittings in camouflage. Vladimir Zhirinovsky flaunted a general's uniform, to which he is entitled only in the far reaches of his imagination. But whilst these politicians have tried to whip-up nationalism, the population have reacted differently. Opinion polls show a huge majority against NATO, but not so much for nationalist reasons. As one poll expressed it, nearly 60% of the population fear the war will spread to Russia. Even amongst the CP faithful, most of whom hold reactionary nationalist views, CP leaders gained no great echo for their war rhetoric on the May Day and Victory Day parades.

Russia is entering a new pre-election period. Parliamentary elections are due in December and parties are beginning to line-up their blocs. Other political life is being pushed into the background. Whilst none of the pro-Yeltsin, neo-liberal parties seem likely to make any headway, the CP also appears to be struggling to maintain its position. If, before the last elections, many workers said they would vote communist because it was the only real opposition, enthusiasm has waned. They now say they will probably vote for the CP because there's no alternative. It seems likely that the 'Fatherland' party - established by Moscow Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov - will take some of the CP vote. Recently, his party gained a majority of seats in one region, pushing the CP into third place. He is trying to combine an image as a 'good manager' with a left-leaning rhetoric. He argues that Russia needs a Tony Blair-style party, with Luzhkov, of course, playing Blair's role.

  By sacking Primakov, Yeltsin has deprived the currently-dominant clique of their best chance of winning the presidential elections next year. Primakov had already pulled ahead of CP leader Gennady Zhuganov in the polls and would have been the safest bet for the maintenance of stability. They may have to risk backing Luzhkov. However, they don't want to do this because he is unpredictable and could attempt to re-divide some of the recently-privatised property in favour of his own stooges.

Of course, Russia is a country where the unexpected is always happening. But despite all the hair-raising scenarios discussed in the press, it looks like, once again, ordinary people will be left for several months without a government as the ruling elite squabble over position and wealth. The only hope is that during the elections, a real alternative - a workers' party - can begin to be formed that will be capable of pulling Russia out of its current mess.

Rob Jones

Home | Issue 39 contents | About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page