Russia shifts left

Photo: nein09
Protest at the Kremlin

By Brian Williams

The Western media are presenting the big story of the Russian parliamentary election as being the loss of support by Putin’s United Russia party. It is not – the big story is who United Russia lost support to.

Putin’s regime, and the United Russia party, is a rather classic bourgeois nationalist formation. It strategically defends the interests of capital but on tactics balances between imperialism on one side and the working class of the country on the other. Putin’s administration was therefore the result of a partial step forward by the Russian masses compared to the former Yeltsin regime which was a pure and simple puppet and transmission belt of imperialism.

But a bourgeois nationalist regime such as Putin’s is unstable. Historically its support can be eroded by imperialism on one side or by the working class and its allies on the other. These Russian parliamentary elections clearly represented such an erosion due to the inability of Putin’s regime to deal with the impact of the international financial crisis which has hit Russia since 2008.

But to whom did the Russian people shift? The largest pro-Western party Yabloko, which advocates a return to the total subordination of Russia to imperialism seen under Yeltsin, received 3.3% of the vote, failing to get the 7% necessary to enter parliament. The authoritarian pro-Western Right Cause received 0.6% – the level of a fringe group.

The big gainers were the Communist Party, whose vote went up by 7.6% to 19.2%, and the parties Fair Russia, on 13.2%, and Zhirinovsky’s misnamed Liberal Democratic Party on 11.7%. All presented themselves as more against Western imperialism than Putin’s United Russia.

As Putin’s bourgeois nationalist United Russia lost support this therefore did not go to parties presenting themselves as more pro-Western, that is more pro-imperialist, than United Russia. The loss was to parties presenting themselves as more anti-Western and anti-imperialist. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in Western Europe where losses by social democratic parties, for example in Britain, Spain and Portugal, have been to bourgeois parties to their right.

It is necessary to be clear as to the limits of this shift. Zhirinovsky’s party is an artificial creation of the Russian state designed to attract hard-line nationalist voters – it sided both with Putin and Yeltsin’s administration on all essential issues. Fair Russia is another fake party controlled by Putin designed to attract ‘social democratic’ voters to the left of United Russia. The Communist Party has made huge right wing mistakes – in particular forming an alliance with the imperialist tool and oligarch Khodorkovsky in a struggle with Putin.

In short none of the forces to which Russian voters switched from United Russia is capable of waging a coherent struggle to defend their interests. But the intentions of Russian voters are clear. Faced with the erosion of Putin’s regime they switched to more apparently anti-imperialist and leftist forces, while humiliating those calling for a more cravenly pro-imperialist policy. This is a switch to the left.

Such trends also make clear why Putin decided to retake the Russian presidency from Medvedev. Within the spectrum of the bourgeois nationalist United Russia, Medvedev had closer links to the imperialists, and was more open in his opposition to the interests of the Russian people, than Putin. The Western governments, for this reason, openly supported Medvedev remaining president rather than Putin. But the parliamentary elections show clearly that opinions in Russia were shifting not in a more pro-Western and pro-imperialist direction but in a more ‘anti-’ one. Under the impact of this, to attempt to maintain the dominance of the bourgeois nationalist project, Putin took back the presidency.

The outcome of the Russian parliamentary election is therefore a limited but clear switch to the left – a piece of good news in what remains a powerful state.