First, in order to decide this question we need clarity on the character of Russia in relation to the global imperialist economy. Lenin regarded Russia as imperialist before the October revolution. It plundered its colonies no less than the Western powers. Today those who take the view that the SU succumbed to either state capitalism or semi-feudalism in the first decades after the revolution are inclined to see Russia as imperialist today.
Trotskyists however viewed the SU as a degenerate workers’ state until its downfall at the hands of the bourgeoisie after 1991. The restoration of capitalism was not driven by a national bourgeoisie, but by Western imperialism. So Russia today is a semi-colony of Western imperialism. Its weak national bourgeoisie dreams of a reborn Greater Russian imperialism but the re-emergence of capitalism in Russia is too late and too backward to compete with the US, the EU or Japan other than by building a fascist empire like the Nazis.
Russia’s character says a lot about its current situation. Russia is super- exploited by imperialism and this is the ultimate cause of its economic collapse, the smashing of industry and the loss of jobs and wages. Russia is therefore oppressed by Western imperialism 100 times more than it oppresses the Chechens or other nationalities. Of course a big oppression does not excuse a small oppression. But this imperialist oppression is a material reality that makes the appeals of Great Russian chauvinism influential within the working class.
The second point is that Russia’s relation to the imperialist economy is compounded by a global structural crisis of capital. Therefore the economic ‘shock therapy’ after 1991 was not an optional extra imposed by the IMF (US imperialism) but a necessary application of the law of value (structural adjustment) to restructure Russia’s economy as a source of imperialist super profits to boost flagging profits. The crisis in Russia became intensified as a result and can only be resolved in imperialism's favour at the expense of further severe attacks on workers' jobs and living standards.
Since the Russian masses are superexploited and oppressed by imperialism at a time of global structural crisis, can it be said that Russia faces a pre-revolutionary situation? Of course, such a situation does not follow mechanically from even the most severe economic collapse or hardship. It requires also a working class mobilised as a threat to the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Without that threat to the bosses class rule, the bosses can go on ruling in the ‘old way’ and can hide behind the 'fig leaf' of parliament without openly declaring a naked struggle of force. In Russia today, the workers are not yet mobilised as a force capable of beginning to pose that threat.
In this situation it is normal that the class struggle should take the form of a struggle against national oppression, and that external and internal enemies of the 'people' become the target of ‘red-brown’ politics. This means that Russia’s semi-colonial economic crisis is being resolved in a reactionary way on the basis of the patriotic front which unites all Russian ‘people’ against ‘foreign’ and ‘alien’ influences. If workers do not break out of the patriotic front then no pre-revolutionary threat is posed and Putin’s regime need not resort to open class violence. If they do begin to break out then events can quickly create a revolutionary situation.
If we learn the lessons of the interwar years in Europe about the causes of the rise of Fascism it is clear that a mass workers movement organised by Communists and by social democrats posed a challenge to the weak ruling class. It made it necessary for the ruling class to embark on a fascist front to smash the working class. We had a revolutionary situation in which the power bases of both classes were balanced on a fulcrum. It was only necessary for the Communists to bloc with the social democrats against Hitler to tip the balance of power in the workers' favour.
Had the Stalinists taken Trotsky's advice a revolutionary outcome would have been possible (see Class Struggles in Germany). Instead the Stalinists divided the workers and Hitler captured the vacillating petty bourgeois and the more backward sections of the workers. A revolutionary situation ended in counter-revolution.
What of Russia today? While the economic crisis propels workers into struggle, this struggle is largely coopted by the patriotic front. Before a pre-revolutionary crisis can emerge fully it is necessary to break the best workers from the patriotic front into a workers united front lead by revolutionary communists. As the threat posed by the united front forces the bourgeois regime towards fascism it will be necessary for revolutionaries to counter this mortal danger by manoevering to bloc with all anti-fascist forces, at the same time building an independent revolutionary workers movement.
In Russia today the workers forces are divided between first, those who neutralised and remain part of the patriotic front; second, those like Zaschita that are struggling to form an independent union movement and who bloc defensively with democratic forces; and third, those like Stachkom that call today for an offensive movement based on workers' occupations.
Only a revolutionary party with a Transitional Program based on the theory and method of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky can unite these tendencies around demands that combine immediate and democratic demands with organisational methods that break workers from the patriotic front into the united front, and which direct this movement towards workers control of industry and ultimately the seizure of power.
Down with Putin’s Labor Code!
Down with Great Russian Chauvinism!
For an All-Russian Democratic Fighting Union!
Defend Jobs and Wages by Occupations!
Build Workers’ Factory and Self-Defence Committees!
For a new Leninist-Trotskyist Party!
For a Workers’ and small Farmers’ Government!
From Class Struggle No 36 December 2000-January 2001