Belarus: whether the regime is authoritarian or democratic, it’s the same capitalist exploitation!

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Draped in nationalist flags

Since the victory of Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential election of August 9 2020, a victory linked to massive fraud and intimidation, the population has come out onto the street, following calls from the opposition. Tens of thousands, waving the national flag, have been protesting against the regime and demanding “free elections”. Before the election, the main opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, had already been attracting large crowds to her meetings. Shortly after the election results were announced, the trade unions linked to the opposition called for a general strike. As with the demonstrations, strikes have spread across the country, even hitting emblematic plants like Bel AZ (mining machinery) and MTZ (tractors). The “last dictator in Europe”, in power for a quarter of a century, has been brutally repressing the demonstrations, multiplying arrests and beatings (some of which have led to deaths).

Lukashenko, the leader of a country under Russian influence after the implosion of the USSR, is today under siege. Thirty years ago the regimes of eastern Europe collapsed one after the other, a striking expression of the disarray of the state apparatus lyingly called “Soviet”, and of the bankruptcy of its imperialist strategy. But the regime in Belarus has remained in power, mainly through ferocious repression. The fact that the last vestige of Stalinism in Eastern Europe is today being shaken shows that an anachronism is on the verge of coming to end under the repeated blows of the same process of disintegration of imperialist alliances which led to the disappearance of the Eastern bloc. Once again a country in a strategic situation as far as Russia is concerned is hoping to move closer to the West, and this is generating ever more chaos, in the image of the current dislocation of Ukraine[1].

The pro-western opposition, led by Tsikhanouskaya, has made use of the calamitous economic situation (mass unemployment, growing job insecurity, etc) and the government’s disastrous management of the Covid pandemic, to bring the population into the street and call for strikes. But the working class has nothing to gain by allowing itself to be dragged into conflicts between factions of the Belarus bourgeoisie, each one supported by imperialist vultures ready to swoop on their prey.

On the contrary!  All the so-called “revolutions” to win freedom from “communism” or the Russian big brother have ended up with democratic regimes which are no less bourgeois, regimes of exploitation which, under the whip of the crisis, have made the conditions of the exploited even worse. All the so-called revolutions in favour of democracy have been the theatre of particularly cynical imperialist manoeuvres: when it was not the western bloc using its pawns to weaken the opposing camp, it was the USSR pushing the leaders to move aside in order to hold on to its influence, as in 1989 when the “socialist” Ceausescu was pushed out to make a way for a pro-Russian clique. In 2004, long after the explosion of the USSR, the “Orange Revolution” broke out in Ukraine, bringing to power profoundly corrupt pro-western elements like the apparatchik Viktor Yushchenko and the “gas princess” Yulia Tymoshenko. The “Orange Revolution” led to a civil war, Russian military intervention, the fragmentation of the country and general chaos and poverty. Today, these countries are mostly run by authoritarian regimes presiding over deplorable living conditions and massive unemployment.

In Belarus, the pro-European bourgeoisie is also using the population as a makeweight for manoeuvering against the existing government. On 14 August, having fled to Lithuania, Tsikhanouskaya announced the creation of a “Coordinating Council” to ensure a peaceful transfer of power and the holding of new elections. For the democratic wing of the bourgeoisie, it’s all about removing Lukashenko from power and lulling the working class with the promise of elections. But elections hold nothing for the working class, whether they are carried out according to “international norms” (as demanded by the Coordinating Council) or are openly fraudulent, they remain a pure mystification, whose only function is to reduce the proletariat to powerlessness. In the end, it’s the bourgeoisie and its class interests which win them. The contradictions of capitalism don’t go away; the exploitation of the workers, poverty and war don’t vanish simply because the bourgeoisie has organised “free elections”.

You only have to look at the pedigree of the “praesidium” of the coordinating council to recognise this. Apart from Tsikhanouskaya who has been rushing to make contact with the western chancelleries to back her “revolution”, the most visible personality is none other than Svetlana Alexievitch, formerly a very disciplined writer under Brezhnev and a member of the official Union of Soviet Writers, who conveniently changed her tune and denounced the “reds”, which won her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. The council also includes lawyers, a trade unionist (leader of the MTZ strike committee) a former minister (Pavel Latushko, another one who has felt the wind changing) and a leader of the Belarus Christian Democratic Party, an organisation of fanatical homophobes. 

But aren’t strikes taking place in the factories? Strike committees and general assemblies – isn’t that the proof that we are witnessing a proletarian movement? This is the argument put forward by the left parties, the Trotskyists in particular?[2] But it’s not enough for workers to be present in a mobilisation to make it a movement of the working class. In reality, the strikes were entirely piloted by the trade unions, in particular the Belarus Congress of Democratic Unions whose goal, concerned with the “future of the country”, is to ensure “a rapid transfer of power” and to “help the country emerge from its acute political crisis[3]. It was the unions, guard dogs of capital, who called the assemblies and pushed the strikes with the sole aim of forcing Lukashenko to step down. The Belarus Congress of Democratic Unions is also linked to many international trade union organisations (International Trade Union Confederation, International Labour Organisation) and benefits from the long experience of these union bodies in controlling the working class and sabotaging its struggles.

These strikes are neither a “step forward” towards nor the premise for a class movement. This is a rotten terrain which disarms the proletariat on all levels, which delivers it with hands tied to the bourgeoisie. Apart from the illusions it is sowing in Belarus itself, the ruling class is also using it everywhere in the world to make workers think that bourgeois democracy is the highest goal of politics.

The working class cannot choose one bourgeois camp against another, it cannot allow itself to be dragged behind the unions or the most “democratic” of bourgeois parties. The attacks against the living and working conditions launched by the Lukashenko regime are the same that democratic governments are imposing across the world. Capitalism is a system in crisis which has nothing more to offer humanity.

The only alternative to capitalism’s slide into barbarism is the world proletarian revolution which is the only route to a truly communist society. But the road that leads to it is long, difficult and tortuous. The working class can only set out on this road by fighting for its own demands, especially against the austerity policies of the state, so that it can arm itself with the experience of confronting the bourgeoisie and the obstacles it constantly puts in its path, such as trade unionism and the defence of democracy. It’s vital for the proletariat to draw the lessons from these struggles if it is to recover its class identity and prepare the ground for future revolutionary struggles.

But to move in this direction, it is also indispensable for the class to re-appropriate the lessons of past struggles, such as the ones in Poland in 1980.

40 years ago, a strike that began at the Gdansk shipyards spread like wildfire across the whole country. The general assemblies were really massive and sovereign. The negotiations with the Jaruzelski government were held in public and not in secret state alcoves. The mass strike was ultimately defeated by the “free and democratic” trade union Solidarnosc which led the workers into the maws of repression. After the fall of the eastern bloc, the first “free” election (and generous American finance) brought the Solidarnosc leader, Lech Walesa, to the presidency of the country. Under his government, austerity policies multiplied.

Democratic or authoritarian, left wing or right wing, all factions of the bourgeoisie are reactionary, even when they are led by an apparently sympathetic teacher of English. Today in Belarus, like yesterday in Poland, the exploited have nothing to gain from supposedly free elections! With Tsikhanouskaya or Lukashenko, it’s the same capitalist exploitation!

EG, 31.8.20


[1] We will come back in another article to the imperialist stakes involved with Belarus and the weight of decomposition in these events. The attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny, a pro-European opponent of Vladimir Putin, is part of the same dynamic of imperialist rivalries.

[2] Here it is highly regrettable that this deformed vision of the class struggle has been taken up within the proletarian political milieu through statements which see this mobilisation of the workers as a “first step forward” instead of denouncing the bourgeois nature of the movement and the very dangerous trap it represents for the proletariat. In an article “Between imperialist feuds and class movements”, the comrades of the Internationalist Communist Tendency claim that “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”.

[3] Alexander Yaroshuk – On the creation of a national strike committee: procrastination is death!”, from an interview on 17 August on the site Belarus Partisan relayed via the site Médiapart


Mobilisations for 'democracy'