Remodernising Russia: the role of the left

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Remodernising Russia: the role of the left

BORIS KAGARLITSKY interviews ANATOLY BARANOV. A left journalist, Baranov in 1996 came under attack from the authorities in the Moscow municipality, after an article he had written for the newspaper Pravda caused the city administration severe embarrassment. Almost immediately, Baranov was sacked from his job with an economics weekly, and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov eventually took him to court.

Since then a great deal has changed. Members of the Communist Party have entered the government, Yury Maslyukov taking the post of first vice-premier with responsibility for the economy. The presence of leftists in the government raises serious questions. Is Russia's wealthy elite trying to save itself through an infusion of "fresh blood", manoeuvring the left into administering the crisis of the ruling system? Or are real structural reforms in the offing?

Meanwhile, Baranov too has taken on a new role — as public relations director for the Russian military-industrial firm MAPO, a state company which includes the enterprises that produce the famous MiG fighter aircraft.

Question: Anatoly, when leftists come to power, they often abandon their principles and become bureaucrats and bourgeois. Do you feel this danger in your own case?

Yes, I do. But there's another view of the left, even less flattering — that all we can do is talk, and that serious matters can't be entrusted to us. If we're perceived as eternal oppositionists griping at every pretext, then we won't be able to convince people that we're correct.

If the present entry by leftists into the Russian government ends in defeat, we can forget about a socialist, social democratic or any other left project in eastern Europe for a generation.

The situation since the crisis that hit Russia in August last year has been exceptionally favourable for a new industrial policy. The rouble has become cheaper, and Russian goods have become competitive. There isn't cheaper labour power to be had anywhere. In industry, in machine-building, a process of expansion has begun, and has continued now for four months. Imports are being replaced by local products.

But an acceleration of this process is being prevented by the low level of effective demand from the population — the flip side of the low wages.

You could say that the crisis has been very helpful to industry. But this situation can only sustain growth for a few months. After that, exports of the products of manufacturing industry will have to grow. This is the only way to put ready cash into the economy, and without this cash, the growth will come to a halt.

It's precisely this growth that the IMF is now trying to stop, delaying the restructuring of Russian debts, and in this way providing support to liberal sell-out merchants such as Gaidar, Fyodorov and Yavlinsky, who have already unleashed a campaign to have the Primakov-Maslyukov government replaced.

Question: And the military-industrial complex provides a way of drawing financial resources into the economy?

MiG aircraft are a marvellous commodity for the foreign market. In terms of value for money, they outstrip any of their western counterparts by a whole order of magnitude. Our low labour costs make it pointless for our main rival, the US, to try to compete with us honestly, so methods that are anything but gentlemanly are being used to try to force Russia out of markets where it has an established presence.

Question: You mean pressure from the NATO military apparatus?

Yes, but not only that. In eastern Europe, the use of Soviet aircraft is a natural thing. Ground systems are already in place, and pilots and maintenance personnel have been trained on the basis of the standards of the Warsaw Pact.

In Germany, on the whole, people understand this. In 1993 Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace set up a joint venture with MAPO-MiG and the Russian state firm Rosvooruzhenie in order to service "European" MiGs and to adapt them to NATO standards. It's true that the contract wasn't particularly favourable to the Russian side, but there's still a partnership. When the time comes to replace obsolete or worn-out equipment, there'll be new Russian aircraft and ground systems.

It's something quite different when the US offers to hand over used F-16 and F-18 aircraft "free of charge" to countries of the former eastern bloc. By the year 2002, the cost to these countries of this "generosity" will be from 1.8 to 3.2 billion deutschmarks, while the cost of modernising the MiGs that they already have would be no more than 250 million marks.

Everyone can see the predatory subplot of this "aid", but it's also seen as an entry ticket to NATO, and NATO is an attractive organisation for former members of the Warsaw Pact and even for former Soviet republics. These countries are being bound to the US politically on the one hand, and technologically on the other.

Question: Since they're using non-economic methods against you, it's clear that MAPO as well has to act on another level. The response has to be political, and that's obviously why you were given this job. What's your political function likely to be?

My role isn't to formulate political goals, but to search for political methods. In Soviet times, when a director couldn't solve a problem by administrative or economic means, the political hierarchy of the Communist Party was called into play, and this was often very effective. Now there's no hierarchy, not even an administrative one. If the vertical system of economic management could be restored, even to a limited extent, a lot of things would be easier.

The reorganisation of MAPO, which the government has agreed to, is very important, and is an illustration of what needs to be done. It's also important for the left. We need to show: look, privatisation has failed, private investments are inadequate, and state companies can work efficiently for the good of the country.

Question: What are your relations now with the people around the Moscow mayor?

Life is now forcing many politicians in Russia to make left-wing declarations, and Luzhkov is no exception. As for the court case, I won it in the end, after two and a half years. The main problem for the left today isn't Luzhkov, who is investing funds from the city budget in order to support Moscow's industries, to create new jobs and to finance social welfare.

Question: Are you saying that more and more, the main problems of the left in Russia today are foreign rather than domestic?

We've seen the completion of a cycle that began with the rejection of everything, both good and bad, that was accomplished during 70 years of Soviet power. People have now lived through a decade without any ideology at all.

You know the advertising slogan: "Pepsi-Cola — Live for Real!". Russians have found that a lack of ideology has become a synonym for a lack of any principles at all, and that in circumstances like this, the bulk of the population always loses out to an unprincipled minority.

The people at the top levels of authority sensed this a bit earlier, and presidential aide Georgy Satarov was given the job of formulating a ready-made national idea. But he couldn't come up with anything, since national ideas aren't dreamt up by the presidential apparatus but come from within society, arise on the basis of objective preconditions.

It's these preconditions for the birth of a new ideology in Russia that I want to help realise in the military-industrial complex, or more precisely, in the aviation industry. This was the area of the former Soviet economy that was most oriented toward the future. It was the child of scientific and social progress, the baby we almost threw out with the bathwater.

Russia needs an ideology of development. The leftists who came to power in 1917 carried through the industrialisation of the country. We have to become a modernising force again, to show that social justice isn't a brake on economic growth but a stimulating factor. However, everything has to be concrete. We have to show in practice that we're correct.