Belarus: Between Imperialist Feuds and Class Movements

The following is a translation of a piece by our Italian comrades, a follow-up to the two articles we have recently published about the situation in Belarus. Since it was written, a number of developments have occurred.

Submitted by Internationali… on August 30, 2020

The body of yet another young man was found, 28-year-old Mikita Kraucou from Zhodzina, whose corpse was discovered with marks of beatings in a forest near Minsk after over a week of searching. Prior to this, his phone was last tracked at the neurological hospital in Minsk. On top of the 5 deaths, around 200 wounded, and thousands of arrests – around 50 people are still missing, with families worried that they might have ended up in the same way as Kraucou and others. In Grodno, where more arrests have occurred, all protests have now been outlawed, but strikes and demonstrations continue on a daily basis regardless. It is clear now that Lukashenko is committed to repression rather than coercion, as police brutality goes on and workers are threatened with losing their jobs if they keep taking part in the general strike (in some places employers have actually tried to lock their employees in to stop them from going out on strike). As this piece by our Italian comrades goes to show, workers are yet to pose a revolutionary alternative to the liberal dead end of "democratic" struggle which inadvertently aims to bring about a government that would continue exploiting the working class of Belarus, with privatisation of industry and consequent job losses likely to follow.

Between Imperialist Feuds and Class Movements

The only possible way to develop a valid alternative society to capitalism is through a very close, dialectical, link between the proletariat – especially when it struggles – and its revolutionary party. Any organisation that is unable to go beyond the logic of spontaneity and trades unionism, even in "revolutionary" forms, won’t have the tools to put forward a correct class approach to a critical analysis of existing social relations. This opens the way to reformism and petty bourgeois ideology, whose only aim is some minor social or economic improvements within the capitalist mode of production, regardless of the economic course that it takes.

When cyclical crises become structural, the superstructure of capitalist society contradicts the very economic relations that generated it, thus narrowing the possibility of any economic deal capable of guaranteeing social peace and stability. In these situations calls for “democracy” really reveal their substantially anti-proletarian and counter-revolutionary nature.

Outbreaks of struggle can be seen everywhere now. They are all linked to the decline of the material conditions both of the working class (in a broad sense) and significant strata of the petty bourgeoisie. Unfortunately, in this class collaboration so dear to the "democrats", it is not uncommon for nationalist or racist ideas to develop. The bourgeoisie therefore can play a smart game by always proposing a single party which, regardless of the label, is always for the bosses.

What is happening in Belarus so far seems to be in this vein.1 Faced with a massive mobilisation – widespread strikes in many industrial sectors, demonstrations, clashes with the police – as far as we know, our class is still not acting independently of the bourgeois forces in the field.

So far, after Lukashenko signed the agreement with Putin to guarantee the "security" of the country, any mediation offered by other countries has been refused. After more than a week of strikes, over seven thousand arrests, five dead and hundreds of injured, the protests continue and, with some industries – mainly those of the state-owned sector – at a standstill, the country's economy is being brought to its knees.

In this shifting scenario, the one positive note is the widespread participation of the working class. The stoppage of production and the interruption of the profit chain is the only genuinely class element in the movement; obviously, however, this is not enough. It is a good start, of course, but more is needed.

Beyond the excessively optimistic assessments of those who would like an immediately revolutionary spontaneous movement – that is, one capable of producing a class political organisation "on the ground" – the imperialist tensions of the area inevitably try to insert themselves into the "disorder", by exploiting the struggles. On the one hand, Putin is well aware – but he is not alone here – just much how the Belarusian economy cannot do without its close economic exchanges with the Russian economy. On the other hand, "the West", i.e. the US and the EU, are preparing to "snatch" another piece of the former Soviet empire from Moscow. In short, the two imperialist gangs are supported and supporting – to put it perhaps too simply – either the bourgeoisie that manages state capitalism (about 70% of the economy) or the one that would instead like to seize state capital (companies of all types), and adopt the so-called "neo-liberal" model. For now, the demonstrators’ demand, according to reports in the mass media, remains the resignation of Lukashenko, which whether satisfied or not, would still leave class relations, exploitation and bourgeois oppression unaltered. Therefore, the possibility that the working class would find itself to be just a "mass of manoeuvre" for one or other of the imperialist factions is, in fact, almost certain; at least as far as we know, from the press and social media.

Moreover, it would be naive to expect the rise of a new revolutionary organisation simply from the current upheavals, especially since, from what is known, it is in fact the opposition, complaining of fraud, police violence and lack of rights, which has succeeded in "politicising" some of the demonstrators including the young, heaping the entire blame for the social malaise on Lukashenko's dictatorial "communist" system, and eroding the basis of consensus still present between the old Stalinist boots and the sectors of society linked to state capitalism ...

As is usually the case, the material reasons that forced the workers into the streets are linked to the worsening economic crisis, to precarious living and working conditions. While having its roots in the material conditions of the class itself, political class consciousness is something that comes later and only if the class party is operative. The advantageous economic agreements with Russia for the supply of petroleum products together with the export of the domestic heavy industry, kept jobs and services until now but the crisis and the international fall in the price of crude oil, with the related losses in revenue, have hit them hard. To this we can add the Covid-19 pandemic since it has multiplied these problems.

The fall in crude oil prices allows new players to arrive on the Belarusian scene and has undermined old alliances. The political hopes of Lukashenko’s opponents, now personified by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who has united the various opposition factions, are framed by this context. Their promises of democratic retaliation and a "free" market try to channel the movement on the streets into a legalistic approach, come with those discredited economic recipes based on "tears and blood" for the working class; although, of course, this is kept quiet by these "apostles of democracy".

Should the workers produce their own independent demands, direct intervention by Russia, like in Hungary in 19562 , cannot be ruled out. The agreement with Putin does not bode well, as troops have already been deployed along the border, even if Putin himself has ruled intervention out. Without it the recovery of control of the country on the Polish model – as with Solidarność in 19803 – with the birth of "independent" bodies (for example, trade unions), would allow reform of the state apparatus, with one faction of the Belarusian bourgeoisie running the country and thus the workforce, in a climate of renewed class collaboration – i.e. class submission – with "social peace" restored.

The lack of a class-based, operational and locally rooted revolutionary political organisation suggests a gloomy outcome in which, once again, the generous and determined struggle of the working class are taken advantage of by one of the bourgeois factions in conflict for control of surplus value and political power.

Class confrontations are determined by objective conditions. In the absence of a communist programme that is rooted in the most conscious sectors of the proletariat, (which in itself does not guarantee the class itself can overcome the disorientation which Stalinism and the post-Stalinist system have left it in) the working class is prey to the professional "consensus makers" deployed by the bourgeoisie to protect their interests. Once this is achieved, our class is faced only with open and brutal repression. Just to give a couple of examples among many: the images of the bodies tortured in Genoa in 20014 mirror those in Minsk in 2020; whilst the police charges against the logistic workers' pickets in Italy this year5 are a photocopy of those that take place against workers fighting in every corner of the planet and under every bourgeois regime.

In the class struggle today a political organisation of revolutionaries is needed more than ever. Otherwise, sooner or later, proletarian strength and initiative, will inevitably be swallowed up and/or repressed by the system.

Translated: CWO with additional footnotes and updated statistics
18 August, 2020



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Submitted by Spikymike on November 14, 2020

Here is another interesting interview with a member of the 'Minsk Socialist Circle' in Belarus:
There are also several other posts about the protests in Belarus from August on the libcom site although non more recently which could usefully be grouped together for discussion.