Interview with Boris Kagarlitsky


In this concluding part of their interview with Steve Painter and Jim Percy, Soviet Socialist Party members Boris Kagarlitsky, Alexander Popov and Vladimir Kondratov discuss Boris Yeltsin's challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev's leadership, and the increasing national unrest which is threatening the future of the USSR.

Steve Painter: You say Gorbachev is half way through a process of political self-destruction. What are the alternatives to Gorbachev?

Boris Kagarlitsky: Unfortunately, the only alternative is Yeltsin, if there is any alternative. One of the things that keeps Gorbachev in power is that there are no alternatives.

There's a lot of discussion about the Romanian example. Though there's obviously no comparison between Gorbachev and Ceausescu, there is one parallel: the fall of the dictator would leave a political vacuum that could only be filled from within the very same apparatus, including the security apparatus.

Yeltsin doesn't have any political project of his own. He's not a leader of a party or an organised mass movement or anything like that. He's first of all a bureaucrat and a populist leader.

Yeltsin manipulates the liberals, but the liberals also manipulate Yeltsin, and anyway they depend on each other. It's a strange puppet show in which the puppets are autonomous and their puppeteers are not very autonomous of the puppets.

Yeltsin is the biggest puppet but not even one of the puppeteers. The main forces are inside the same bureaucracy. They work with the liberals, they work with the traditional Communist structures.

The Russian bureaucracy supported Yeltsin when he became the leader of Russia, and the apparatus has not really changed. Of course there is struggle inside the bureaucracy, but some sections of the bureaucracy will probably keep power quite comfortably, and they will very likely get even more power.

The military-industrial complex has its interests, and so does the ideological bureaucracy, which is the most conservative because it has nothing to sell except perhaps volumes of Lenin, Brezhnev etc. There is management, and then there is the economic bureaucracy, which are different levels.

In the party bureaucracy, there are particular groups that are very interested in privatisation, including privatisation of the party property, which is enormous. They are interested in some kind of capitalist solution.

Jim Percy: If Yeltsin becomes president and tries to introduce capitalism, what do you think will be the response?

Boris Kagarlitsky: The Soviet Union doesn't have the conditions for the introduction of laissez faire capitalism. To start with, it doesn't have a bourgeoisie. Something like that might be possible if you had a very dynamic, modern, civilised bourgeoisie. Perhaps then it might be possible to create a dynamic, modern capitalism.

When they say they have to build the bourgeoisie, there is already a contradiction, because the bourgeoisie in the capitalist countries was not built and cannot be built, nor can any other social class. It must grow organically. If you try to build a bourgeois society in the same way you earlier built Communism, you will produce exactly the same result: a disaster.

The bureaucratic oligarchy which is now privatising and dividing up the property, trying to control the property, is still as incapable of producing a dynamic, modern bourgeoisie as it was previously. It remains a bureaucratic oligarchy even after it takes the property under its control.

When the ruling class is connected so closely to the state, democracy is very improbable. You cannot risk a change of government, you cannot risk real pluralism, because then you risk the whole social structure.

So, the liberal project is doomed for two reasons: firstly, it's not going to produce democracy; and secondly, it's not going to produce dynamic development and modernisation.

Jim Percy: The possibility of civil war is discussed seriously. There are forces that want the Russian republic to have its own army; there is discussion of the possibility that the union army might split.

Boris Kagarlitsky: Not only do some forces in Russia want a Russian army, but the Russian Soviet has even demanded control of nuclear weapons based on its territory!

But I don't think it's very likely that the union army will split. In the event of military conflict, it would inevitably split, but the officers, from the top to the bottom, are well aware of that, and they will try to avoid any open military conflict.

The army is afraid of splitting because they can't predict the results, and they know it would almost certainly mean civil war. That's why at a certain moment they might try to remove Gorbachev: Gorbachev is creating the possibilities of a split within the army.

They might try to remove Gorbachev and not replace him. That's one possibility: Gorbachev is removed, Yeltsin is not removed, the army doesn't directly run the country, but negotiates with the republic leaders.

There's another possibility: the army simply asks Gorbachev to resign. Then the post of president would be abolished because this post is not needed by anybody but Gorbachev.

It would be very silly of the army to try to rule directly.

Jim Percy: Supposing the present situation of collapse lasts another year, another winter?

Boris Kagarlitsky: The army might then intervene to remove n public unrest. That would probably be supported by various forces in the political elite, and it would probably pacify the situation temporarily. The army controls a lot of so-called strategic supplies, which include a lot of food. It could rather easily take control over civil supplies. This could ensure the supply of food to the shops for at least a couple of months.

They wouldn't do all that for Gorbachev, although they might be attracted to someone who would offer better conditions for the military.

Jim Percy: If Yeltsin comes to power, do you think he is serious about breaking up the Soviet Union? He says that he wants the union to collapse. But if he had the chance himself to take over and control the structure, or at least some bits of it, would he speak in a different way?

Alexander Popov: Even if Yeltsin wants to keep his word, he would not be able to, because there is a big lobby in the Russian republic to either recreate the union or expand the Russian republic.

This would mean incorporating some neighbouring republics, or parts of them, into the Russian republic. Yeltsin is very dependent on this lobby, and he'll try to find compromises.

But at a certain point he would have to fulfil obligations to this Russian nationalist lobby. This would mean either bringing some republics under Russian control or hegemony, or establishing strict control over some parts of former Soviet territory.

Vladimir Kondratov: The situation in Russia is a mirror image of the situation within the union as a whole.

There are autonomous republics within the Russian republic, and Yeltsin says: "If you want to secede, okay, go ahead and try". But these regions are economically dependent on the centre. In a way, Yeltsin is much cleverer than Gorbachev in his dealings with secessionist sentiment.

The same applies to the republics that are proclaiming themselves sovereign republics. Yeltsin would say, "Okay you can be a sovereign republic". But most of these republics don't have the resources to sustain independence, so they would remain.

The three Baltic republics and Georgia are the only ones that could afford to risk independence.

Jim Percy: What about the Ukraine?

Vladimir Kondratov: If the Ukraine became independent, it would very probably split into three parts — east, west and south — and the east and south would then become parts of the Russian republic.

Only the west would really become independent, or perhaps there would be a permanent civil war, because the east and south would not accept the rule of the west.

Boris Kagarlitsky: Russians are a majority in the east and south, s in these areas would probably prefer the Russians.

Vladimir Kondratov: Yeltsin is already beginning to build a new union, which is from the national and economic point of view much more homogeneous than the big union.

Yeltsin's project is based on the four biggest republics: Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan. The Ukraine and Byelorussia have huge Russian minorities, and Russians are a majority in Kazakhstan.

This new union is already dominated by Yeltsin. He is creating his own little Soviet Union in which there are fewer conflicts of the old type because these are big republics and more nearly equal to each other. They are relatively contented, at least for now.

Vladimir Kondratov: These four republics historically belonged to the Russian state before the creation of the empire. Russian is the dominant language, and they are a compact zone economically. This historical Russia is much bigger than the Russian republic.

I think that in the long run the Russian state will somehow be recreated on this basis, though this could be a very dramatic and bloody process.

If the Ukraine splits, that would inevitably be a very dramatic process, and Kazakhstan would be another problem because historically it is part of Russia except for the southern part, which traditionally has more connections with the Islamic world.

It's possible the Ukraine and Kazakhstan could become two gigantic Ulsters, with the difference that the balance of forces is different.

Boris Kagarlitsky: The present struggles are not for the self-determination of the various nations but for the independence of the various national bureaucracies.

Any democratic solution would, I think, be connected with the collapse of the existing national republican bureaucracies. Sooner or later, people in those republics will understand that the enemy is not just the Russian central bureaucracy but also the local bureaucracy.