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Perspective
Volume III, No 3 (January-February 1993)

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Tasks for Russian Democrats
By LEV A. PONOMAREV
Member, Russian Federation Supreme Soviet
Co-chairman, Democratic Russia Movement

During the course of 1992 the organization of political forces in Russia underwent many changes. As a result of a whole series of breakaways, splits, fusions, and unifications, three major blocs were created:

 

  • The left-right opposition, uniting various communist and nationalist groupings;
  • Civic Union (CU--in Russian, Grazhdansky soyuz), uniting three different parties led respectively by Aleksandr Rutskoi, Nikolai Travkin, and Arkadi Vol'sky; and
  • Democratic Choice (in Russian, Demokratichesky vybor) a coalition of democratic forces formed on the basis of the Democratic Russia movement, as well as about 30 other democratic organizations.

The three blocs are about equally represented in the Russian Parliament.

In recent weeks, the political struggle has intensified as a result of the increasingly tense relations between the president (i.e., the executive branch) and the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People's Deputies.

The Seventh Congress showed that both the conservative blocs, i.e., the left-right opposition and the CU, were ready to join forces in order to combat the executive branch. As a result, the democratic factions supporting the president in the Congress--as well as in the Supreme Soviet--ended up in the minority.

It is clear that the Seventh Congress completed the process of creating an additional political party, the "Party of the Soviets." This party's principal goal is to make the soviets all-powerful at the national level as well as at the local level. The Seventh Congress demonstrated this had been its intention when it succeeded in having the following clause included in the Russian Federation Constitution: "The Congress of People's Deputies is the supreme state organ of the Russian Federation" (i.e., not the "supreme legislative organ.") This violated one of the basic principles of the constitution--the division of powers.

The main policies advocated by each of the three blocs referred to above are as follows:
The left-right opposition calls for:

  • The restoration of the USSR in its former borders by every possible means, up to and including force;
  • The end of disarmament and conversion of the armaments industry, and restoration of Russia's military capabilities;
  • The refusal by Russia to participate in any international actions to restrain aggressive acts on the part of the political leadership of Iraq or Serbia;
  • The restoration of the rigid central state management of the economy; and
  • The establishment of fixed prices for basic consumer goods.

In short, the left-right opposition advocates returning to a totalitarian system in Russia. Within its ranks, communists and "national-patriots" have united for the time being with the aim of overthrowing the democratic government. The opposition frequently employs methods that violate legality, such as public meetings at which anti-Semitic banners are on display, and the deliberately provoked riots and violent confrontations with the police. A large number of nationalistic, profascist publications has sprung up against which the Russian Federation Public Prosecutor has begun to initiate criminal proceedings under the pressure of public opinion. Among the groups within the opposition are openly profascist organizations that make use of fascist symbols and possess their own detachments of "storm troopers."

To illustrate the intentions of the opposition, one need only cite the statements of one of its leaders, former KGB General Aleksandr Sterligov, who has said straight out that, in the event of their gaining power, they would not resort to legal procedures to combat their political opponents, but would rely on the experience acquired by their fathers and grandfathers during the 1930s. The experience in question was gained by these politicians' spiritual forebears in Stalin's torture chambers.

The basis of social support of the left-right opposition is comprised above all of pensioners. These are the people who have suffered most as the result of the economic reforms. Moreover, their thinking has been conditioned by many years of living under totalitarianism, and naturally their attitudes cannot be expected to change overnight. However, the opposition also enjoys support among middle-aged and young people. These are individuals who strive to improve their standard of living primarily by means of stripping benefits from those who currently possess them, rather than by earning them by their own abilities and efforts. It was precisely these segments of the population from whom the Bolsheviks drew support when establishing their power in Russia.

In view of the possibility that the economic situation in Russia will deteriorate further, one must be aware that there exists a serious threat of the rebirth of totalitarianism in Russia--possibly in a new shape, i.e., a form of Russian fascism.

The second major bloc referred to earlier, the Civic Union, claims to be in the center of the political spectrum in Russia. What is unclear is the type of center it represents--what its background is, and what future it is likely to have.

The policies of the Civic Union are determined by the actions of its leaders, i.e., Rutskoi, Vol'sky, and Travkin. The principal characteristic of these men is that they rose to prominence in the ranks of the CPSU and made their careers within the seraglio of the party. These men were never dissidents opposed to the totalitarian political system; instead they came to a quite successful political accommodation with it. It was only chance and personal ambition that led them to become leaders of political organizations. Thus their biographies are strikingly different from that of Boris Yel'tsin, who also had been a high-ranking party official, but then rebelled against the party and went over to the camp of its political opponents.

These leaders lack any clearly defined political position of their own, and as a result in practice the CU advocates the same aims as does the left-right opposition--the difference being that the same goals are to be achieved not "by any methods," or "at any price." Consequently, the same list of objectives as for the "left-right opposition" can be reiterated, with qualifications:

  • The restoration of the USSR in its former borders, but not entirely "by any means"; and
  • The slow down--but not the cessation--of the disarmament process and industrial conversion, etc.

Whereas the left-right opposition is opposed to reforms, according to its leaders the CU is in favor of reforms, however for reforms at a slower pace, reforms "without shock," the "Chinese option," and so on. In practice, what is being proposed is a return to the type of reforms that were carried out by Gorbachev and his prime ministers Ryzhkov and Pavlov. However, history in the form of the August 1991 putsch finally put an end to such experiments. Returning to this path would make a catastrophe inevitable, with power in the hands of the red-brown opposition.

The Civic Union does not possess any broadly based popular support. Even within the political organizations that form part of the bloc, large numbers of members do not share the views of the bloc's leaders. The Civic Union is supported by a portion of the liberal-minded communists who have remained faithful to the "socialist choice," by reactionary representatives of the "corps of directors" who see no prospects for themselves in a market economy, and by the mid-level nomenklatura, people one might call the "nomenklatura nachwuchs." Consequently, if the Civic Union represents the interests of a center, in reality this means the center of the spectrum of communist supporters.

The Democratic Choice coalition arose as the result of the lengthy formation process of an alliance of democratic forces around the Democratic Russia movement, a process that was initiated by the movement's Coordinating Council. Almost immediately after President Yel'tsin addressed the Fifth Congress of People's Deputies in November 1991, the Coordinating Council called for the creation of Public Reform Committees (in Russian, OKRR) throughout Russia. At the present time, these committees are the most numerous public organizations in Russia actively promoting economic reform at the grassroots level. Without the work of these committees, reforms at the regional level would never have gotten off the ground. The OKRR bring together people who want to ensure that reforms are carried out and are able to help in practical terms. They include professional privatization consultants, local administration officials, presidential representatives, entrepreneurs, industrialists, and farmers. It is significant that members of different parties and organizations who resigned from Democratic Russia at the behest of their leaders (e.g., rank-and-file members of the Russian Democratic Party--DPR) are working successfully in the OKRR committees.

The two Fora of Reform Supporters that have been held (the first in July and the second in November 1992) were a natural outcome of the activities of the OKRR. The first forum decided to create an organizing committee to establish a bloc of reform supporters, and this committee has the mandate to link the regional OKRR and other similar organizations at the all-Russian level.

Democratic Choice has not yet completed setting up its organizational structure. However, up to the present time the Agreement on an Alliance of Reform Supporters that was drafted has been signed by about 30 organizations backing radical economic reform in Russia, including the creation of a market economy, broadly based popular privatization, legally guaranteed private ownership of land, legislation abolishing monopolies, and the promotion of competition in consumer goods production. In political life, Democratic Choice advocates political stability, firm democratic power, and legality and the rule of law as guarantees of the implementation of economic reform, as well as civil peace and human liberties. The adoption without delay of a new Russian Federation Constitution is one of its top-priority objectives.

The Democratic Choice bloc enjoys fairly broad social support. Above all, it has the backing of supporters of Democratic Russia, which is the biggest mass political organization in the country, as well as the intelligentsia in the sciences, technology, and the humanities, and the most highly qualified workers. Moreover, the bloc has the support of many of the "new entrepreneurs," i.e., farmers, members of cooperatives, and leaseholders. In other words, the social basis of the bloc is comprised of the potential "middle class" of the civic society that is in process of formation in Russia, and this fact firmly places the Democratic Choice bloc at the center of the political spectrum.

By a bitter irony of fate, however, the hardships inflicted by the initial reforms have mainly fallen precisely on these social groups: While affecting the overwhelming majority of the population, the sharp reduction in living standards that has occurred has hit hardest engineers and blue-collar workers employed by "high-tech" enterprises, as well as scientific researchers, physicians, teachers, etc., whose incomes have fallen to the level of the wages of unskilled workers. This phenomenon has resulted in an increase in political apathy--an indifference that constitutes a danger principally for Russian democratic forces.

 

Immediate Tasks
The Seventh Congress of People's Deputies brought about an intensification of the conflicts between the various political forces and stepped up the political struggle. In the address he gave to the citizens of Russia during the Congress, President Yel'tsin referred to a decision taken at the Congress to "carry out a creeping coup d'etat." He had every reason to speak in these terms. As mentioned earlier, the Congress is described as the supreme organ of state power in the Constitution currently in force. In view of this situation, the country faced the prospect of dictatorship by the Congress--which in practice would have meant dictatorship by Ruslan Khasbulatov, the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.

Indeed, one can say that at the present time the real threat to democracy, and the real political organization aspiring to supreme power in Russia, are constituted by the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People's Deputies. The aggressive majority within these bodies has joined ranks around a very dangerous leader who already possesses great power, i.e., Khasbulatov.

The President's address to the people was a highly responsible political act that led to a fairly rapid--albeit difficult--agreement in the shape of the "Resolution on the Stabilization of the Constitutional System of the Russian Federation" that was adopted. To put it very briefly, this agreement provides for the return of the mutually opposed branches of power to the position that existed preceding the Congress, and also authorizes the holding of an All-Russian Referendum on the principal clauses to be included in a new Russian Federation Constitution. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this decision. The adoption of a new constitution and the subsequent election of a new legislature should free the country to a large degree of many burdens inherited from the past that still weigh upon our young democracy.

I believe that the democratic forces in Russia fully realize the responsibility incumbent upon them in connection with the future referendum. There is no room for illusions respecting the intentions of the opposition, with regard both to the date for holding the referendum and to the content of the principal clauses of the new constitution, as well as over the proper observance of the above-mentioned agreement on the stabilization of the constitutional system. Already there have been statements referring to the desirability of holding an Eighth Congress of People's Deputies in March 1993 (i.e., not in April, following the referendum), and of delaying the Constitutional Referendum until next summer, etc. The supporters of the Democratic Choice bloc ought to come out in suppport not only of the referendum, but also--no less importantly--of the original date for holding it. In my view, we ought furthermore to ensure that an additional question is asked in the referendum, i.e., "Whom do the citizens trust to adopt the new constitution: the present membership of the Congress of People's Deputies, a newly elected Congress, or a specially elected Constitutional Assembly?"

Work to inform the public on these issues has already begun: public hearings are being scheduled and these will permit us to define our position regarding the principal clauses of the new constitution. We also plan to set up an appropriate organizational structure that will enable us to carry out a public campaign to overcome the widespread popular indifference to politics discussed earlier. The extent of this political apathy was shown recently during elections in the Dmitrov district of Moscow oblast' as well as in the Krasnodar Region, when massive numbers of people failed to go to the polls.


Unless otherwise indicated, all articles appearing in this journal have been commissioned especially for
Perspective.

Copyright ISCIP 1993




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