By Aleksandr Buzgalin
A PRETEXT FOR ANTI-COMMUNIST HYSTERIA
More than three weeks ago the press carried brief–and imprecise–reports of a pronouncement by Albert Makashov, an official of Russia’s Communist Party (KPRF) and a State Duma deputy, that if it came to it he was prepared to take a dozen or so “nouveaux riches” Jews with him. Makashov, in fact, put it rather more bluntly. Then, just before November 7th, these reports suddenly exploded into an hysterical campaign by the pro-presidential media.
For a week, up to one-third of air time on all news programs and huge newspaper reports thrashed out the issue of anti-Semitism. Simultaneously, there was a general closing of ranks among the communists–among, in fact, essentially anyone who disagreed with the way Gaidar, Chubais, Nemtsov and other retired reformers were dealing with the Makashov issue. No one said, in so many words, that the entire opposition was anti-Semitic. Careful editing, however, of the appropriate sequences and commentary from experts solely from the right-liberal camp gave the viewers and readers that impression. There were also frequent veiled suggestions that the whole KPRF was a fascist organization.
There is no disputing that the Zyuganov wing of the KPRF leadership clearly leans towards a great-power mentality (‘derzhavnost’) and Great Russian nationalism. They tolerate self-acknowledged anti-Semites in their ranks. They did not condemn General Makashov personally, but made a statement in the Duma condemning all displays of racial hatred. This raises the question: Why did all the right-liberal politicians and ideologists and most of the media bear down particularly on Makashov, and particularly because of his declarations about the Jews?
For the last five years nationalism and racism has grown continuously–mainly on the part of the authorities. From the terrible war Yeltsin unleashed in Chechnya to Aleksandr Barkashov’s openly fascist Russian National Unity party, this has been the backdrop. Long before attention was drawn to anti-Semitism, Yeltsin’s team launched a campaign of persecution of the “Caucasian peoples.” If you looked like a Chechen, an Ingush or an Azerbaijani, you would be constantly asked for your papers, arrested, beaten up by the police. This campaign spawned a wave of ethnic discrimination. It should be said that the KPRF, to its discredit, while condemning the policies of the authorities, did not distance itself very far ideologically. But the liberal and media defense of these ethnic groups, who were much more dispossessed and repressed than the Jews, was far more half-hearted than the current clamor surrounding the problem of anti-Semitism.
It is now easy to see that the liberals and media–instead of raising the issue of fighting any form of nationalism–are defending not principles, but “their own kind,” that is, those who have money. The public understands this nuance perfectly well. They understand that if, for example, one of the nouveaux riches or right-wing deputies talked about Bashkiri workers in equally criminal terms as Makashov did about Jewish bankers, there would be no media campaign. The question on why Makashov touched a nerve among liberals has a simple answer: because he was talking about the “sponsors” of the right-liberal elite and journalists.
The issue is made even more important by the fact that the campaign, in condemning anti-Semitism, went as far as calls to ban the Communist Party. Furthermore, the tragic death of Galina Starovoitova, the Democratic Russia leader, has given a new impetus to the search for enemies. The airwaves and newspapers are again full of veiled suggestions, even direct attacks, from “democrats” designed to create the sense of a “red plot” responsible for her death and therefore an assault on the foundations of democracy. The ground is being laid for a further worsening of Russia’s social and political contradictions, accompanied by the threat that these contradictions may develop into a terrible nationalist and racist confrontation. Is this a coincidence?
THE ROOTS OF GREAT-POWER CHAUVINISM
To talk about the deep-seated reasons for anti-Semitism and great-power chauvinism in Russia, we have to go back in history several decades, if not centuries. Stalin and his proteges had a hand in it, but Nicholas II and his clique also played a large part. It was the monarchy which planted an atmosphere of anti-Semitism in Russia on a wide scale. It was the monarchy which encouraged the “Black Hundreds” and shut its eyes to Jewish pogroms in which hundreds of all nationalities were killed, along with thousands of innocent citizens. Television seems to need reminding of this, given the way it has been eulogizing the Tsar for the last few years.
But the important reasons lie not in history, but in the present situation.
First: the collapse of the USSR, which led not to a union of friendly democratic independent nations, but to continual interracial conflicts.
Second: the loss of social and cultural identity among the citizens of a country with an ill-defined economic, political and social system.
Third: the disorganization in the state apparatus, the criminalization of all spheres of public life (we will return to this highly important issue below), the amorality and mendacity of the majority of the representatives of the elite.
Fourth (the main reason): the profound social, economic and cultural crisis. A situation has been created in Russia where the people cannot help asking who is to blame: for the collapse of the economy, the state, and culture and for the wild criminalization of all aspects of life.
The entire present-day propaganda machine is totally sincere in its assertion that the Yeltsins, Kirienkos, Chernomyrdins, Chubaises and Berezovskys are not guilty. They want the best for the country and are doing everything as well as they can. Naturally, mistakes have been made, but on the whole the “path of reforms” is the right one and is being implemented by the country’s best people.
Who is guilty then? The “reds”
But who are the “reds?” In leading the KPRF, Zyuganov and his ilk have created a monstrous hybrid of great-power mentality, conservative reaction (in the spirit of Nicholas II, so revered by today’s liberal intelligentsia), and social populism. Such a volatile mixture could not fail to produce a Makashov, with his calls to destroy a dozen representatives of Jewish capital, especially because there is a motive: Most of the oligarchs are, indeed, Jewish. But a motive is not a reason: Whether Russian, Chechen or Jewish, any “New Russian” (there is only this one social epithet for them all) who contributes to the triumph of criminal nomenklatura capitalism in the country and to the poverty and loss of social and cultural respect of the majority of the population, engenders an atmosphere redolent of the Black Hundreds and the threat of fascism.
Another turn of the screw: In answer to the reds’ great-power and nationalist resolution of the problem, the liberals and their propaganda machine identify left-wingers en masse as fascists–at the same time, significantly, sparing right-wing market-oriented nationalists from criticism. In effect, people are being told: If you want to support the Left and its criticism of the present system, you will also be supporting anti-Semitism. But how can people fail to support the Left, if the Right tells them: “You have to live within your means.” That is, that people should not demand that salary arrears should be paid up, or that pensions and child benefits should be paid on time, because this hampers the balancing of the budget. On the other hand, the tax burden on “New Russians” should be lightened. They should not be prevented from taking capital out of the country and so on, because otherwise they would not be able to demonstrate their initiative and talent. Yet it is considered reasonable not to index-link the incomes of public employees–effectively imposing a 70 percent tax on doctors, teachers, workers and academics, not to mention pensioners, students and others who willfully refuse to live within their means.
Parenthetically, Russian media is sometimes unaware of what it is doing. First it reports that Berezovsky has bought another mansion abroad costing millions of dollars. Then it reports that he is calling for the KPRF to be banned because the communists are trying to pass a law in the Duma banning the export of capital. Another pearl: While pensions and wages for teachers, doctors and professors are being cut to US$500-1,000 per year, an analyst launches an angry attack on left-wingers calling for all purchases over US$10,000 to be registered, arguing that “this would entail getting permission for every ordinary purchase–this would be totalitarianism!”
When ideas of a social orientation for the economy, of fairness (modern market fairness, where the rich pay 50 percent income tax, embezzlers and corrupt individuals are in prison, and pensioners receive the pensions they have earned on time) and of democracy for everyone (envisaging control from below, including control of large-scale expenditure, as practiced in developed countries for some time now)–when all these ideas are tarred with the brush of anti-Semitism and Makashov, it creates a powerful impetus for the public to support anti-Semitism. The principle of reverse logic is set in motion: If you attack those who criticize the Berezovskys, then those you are censuring must be right. There must be something in this anti-Semitism.
This vicious circle leads to terrible results. To the “ordinary” person–but not to the arrogant analysts and experts of the media–it is straightforward: Berezovsky and co., who are responsible for the crisis, take capital out of the country but do not want to pay taxes, and demand that the “reds” be banned, identifying them with anti-Semites and fascists. The “reds” (as represented by Makashov) defend the “ordinary people” and blame everything on Jewish capital. The media gets all worked up, but keeps quiet about those who are responsible for the crisis, in effect taking them under its wing. What conclusion can the ordinary person draw? That the Makashovs are right and that the Jews are responsible for the crisis.
Thus the vicious circle is complete, and both sides–the Makashovs and their defenders, the Berezovskys and their ideological propagandists–stir up nationalist hysteria and increase the threat of a victory for the far right.
RAMPANT CRIME: THE BASIS FOR THE LONGING FOR A FIRM HAND
We mentioned above the criminalization of Russian society as an important factor in the rise of nationalism, but we did not elaborate upon this link, which is a very important one. There is an increasing wave of unchecked criminality in the country. The murder of Starovoitova was just one of many significant examples. Incidentally, the murder of a KPRF deputy did not evoke a fraction of the clamor surrounding the death of the Democratic Russia deputy. People really do want order. At the same time there is a growing sense of exasperation with those responsible for the situation. If outrageous embezzlement and corruption–against a background of terrible crisis–is to remain the norm, we will not have long to wait for overt calls for terror tactics as the only way to impose order.
This is a terrifying prospect for all those adhering to the values of democracy or of socialism, because socialism cannot triumph on blood–this goes against its very essence. What, then, is to be done?
To avoid a fascist version of the order the country needs, everyone needs to understand that it is impossible to build a democratic society without defending, as zealously as in the fight against anti-Semitism, the dispossessed majority from those who have made their lives so desperate. Anyone wanting not to be identified with criminal nomenklatura capitalism must separate the wheat from the chaff. On one hand, there is the problem of fighting nationalism, racism and fascism, where left-wing and right-wing democrats should be united against the Black Hundreds. On the other, there are the acute social and economic contradictions, where the defenders of the interests of the workers–the Left (and there are many internationalists among them, within the KPRF and especially outside it)–appear to be the most important element of representative democracy within the framework of the “democratic” fight against the Right. The most important task facing those who do not want to disseminate lies is to support the position of all democrats in the first case and to shed an honest light on the positions of both the Left and the Right in the second.
In Russia the main opposition force–the KPRF–does indeed show great-power tendencies. This is dangerous. However, it is possible to criticize the KPRF for its Stalinism and the Makashovism, while admitting the reality of social problems and the validity of the Left’s criticism of the current system. It is also possible to censure all left-wingers as fascists, thus provoking a rise in nationalism and anti-Semitism among the majority of the population.
Aleksandr Buzgalin is a doctor of economics and a professor at Moscow State University. In the perestroika period, he was a leading member of the reform wing of the CPSU. He is now one of the leaders of the Democratic Socialist Movement in Russia.