Russian Party of Labour looks to unions, greens

October 23, 1991

A declaration calling for the formation of a Russian Party of Labour was launched in Moscow at the end of August. Among the signatories were well-known socialists — including leader of the Socialist Party Boris Kagarlitsky and ANDREI ISAYEV, a leader of the Confederation of Anarcho-Syndicalists (KAS) — together with leaders of the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions (MFP) — among others its chair Niko Gonchar, who is also a chairperson of the Moscow City Council. Isayev was interviewed by POUL FUNDER LARSEN in Moscow on October 1.

What has been the reaction to the initial appeal for a new Party of Labour?

Independent Newspaper and Moscow News ran articles indicating that this was just another "Communist" project and that all other parties of course also wanted to protect working people. In Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Party of Labour was dubbed "the heir of the CPSU".

The people who signed the first declaration were actually all in opposition to the CPSU when it existed.

Neither is it correct to say that we are just another party defending working people. All the other parties that have so far been set up either claim to defend the rights of the people as a whole (as did the CPSU) or the interests of private entrepreneurship. If there had been other parties defending the workers, we would have participated in founding them.

We have also had many positive reactions. An initiative group of support has been formed in the trade union of aviation workers. We have also received information that similar initiative groups have been founded in Moldavia and Donetsk — while the idea of founding a group in the Baltic states is being discussed. But these groups must act independently, because they operate in independent states.

The call for a new party was signed by leaders of the MFP, the Socialist Party and KAS. Does this mean that these organisations as a whole support the initiative?

The first declaration was signed not by the organisations, but by people as individuals. None of the organisations have so far discussed affiliation.

Some activists from the left wing of the Social Democratic Party have supported and cooperated with the project. There are also links to the Green Party: we are now discussing the possibility of forming an electoral bloc between the Green Party and the Organising Committee of the Party of Labour if elections for the soviets are called in November. We see the Greens as our potential collaborators.

Now many former Communists want to participate in setting up the ult question. There are rank-and-file Communists, who sincerely believed in the building of communism and wanted to protect the social rights of working people. They may be somewhat biased, but they are honest people, much more honest than the leaders of the party bureaucracy now jumping on the capitalist band wagon.

On the other hand, there is in my opinion a danger that many former party functionaries will join the new party. I don't want the Party of Labour to end up like the PDS in Germany. Personally I think there should be a limit to the admittance of former party functionaries, but this is my personal view, not shared by all activists.

Have there been any reactions on the part of the independent workers organisations, for example the Independent Union of Mineworkers (NPG) or the Confederation of Labour (KT)?

The NPG is now a conglomerate of widely differing political forces. I think it is unlikely that the new leadership will endorse the party, but we hope that the project will attract support from the group in the NPG which in July opposed corruption within the union and demanded a purge of the leadership and an extension of trade union democracy. In the nearest future there will probably be set up a Russian Independent Union of Miners, and we think it should be possible to enter into closer relations with this union.

Unfortunately, the KT is in decline. This is linked to its all-out support to Yeltsin. Now this camp has won the battle and new contradictions are shaping up; but it is very difficult for an activist in the workers movement suddenly to oppose Yeltsin if he has been supporting him all the way through.

It seems that the centre of your initiative is in Moscow. Do you see any immediate possibilities of gaining additional support from elsewhere, for example through the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR)?

It is likely that the Party of Labour throughout the next period will be a strong branch in Moscow and weaker supporting groups in other cities. This is unavoidable, because it is primarily in Moscow that intellectual left-wing groups have been formed, and it is only in Moscow that the leadership of the trade unions have so far supported the project.

The MFP is not going to participate as a whole, but we are working to set up some structures within the MFP which can become collective members — as the party will contain both an individual and a collective membership. The Committee for Political Action within the MFP — which is today a political discussion club uniting trade union activists on different levels — could become such a collective member.

The leadership of the FNPR is strongly pro-Yeltsin; but they are ho could as well endorse Gorbachev or anyone else in power. The Yeltsinites are advancing the concept of "a strong executive power", which the Party of Labour must reject because we want a strong representative power and a protection of the rights of workers during the process of privatisation. For that reason, the leaders of the FNPR are opposed to our project.

There have been contradictory statements concerning the character of the Party of Labour, some of which have suggested that it will be a traditional parliamentary-type party.

It will be a party with the character of a movement, where there is the possibility for collective membership and where the decisions of the leading bodies are not binding for the local organisations. It will be a federalist party not building on democratic centralism. Our party must, even in its structures, demonstrate new types of social relations.

The call for a Party of Labour comes at a time when there is no strong radicalisation within the working class, when the struggles are sparse and the independent workers organisations and other progressive movements are still embryonic.

For the time being, the formation of a powerful mass workers party is not possible. But in the nearest future the government will unleash a strong attack on the rights of working people: the number of unemployed may reach 40 millions, a considerable number of enterprises will be closed, and the standard of living will drop while work intensifies. Under these conditions, there will be outbursts of real movement among the workers.

We consider it important that there will exist structures to which the workers can turn when the resistance against these policies breaks out. I think that within the next few months we will see an economic crash, which can be the beginning of this movement.

What are the next steps in the process of setting up the Party of labour?

The initiative group for the Party of Labour has approached the leadership of the MFP with a proposal for strong demands to the government of the Russian republic and the city of Moscow.

A very considerable part of workers in Moscow have wages below subsistence level, which is officially 300 roubles a month, but which the MFP fixes at 410 roubles a month. Therefore, the first demand is that the minimum wage should be at least 300 roubles a month.

We also demand that, in the case of privatisations, at least 50% of the stocks should be handed over to the labour collective. If the privatisation means that more than 30% of the workforce gets laid off, the labour collective should have the right to take over the property.

Finally, we unconditionally demand from the mayor of Moscow that he eople who have finished school and not found a job, and for soldiers who are being demobilised this autumn. There will be tens or hundreds of thousands of these people in Moscow, and no program of employment has so far been worked out.

We are proposing these demands as a package to the MFP, and we suggest organising a mass demonstration in Red Square at the end of October or the beginning of November in support of these slogans, and in defence of the soviets, which are being deprived of their influence by the strong executive power. This doesn't imply that we are content with the present form of the soviets, but we defend them as a principle.

In the middle of October the MFP will consult with the trade union centres of the major cities and discuss support for the Party of Labour. We think most of them will reject this, but probably three or four trade union centres — the ones in Leningrad, Kazan and maybe in Sverdlovsk — will express their support for the party.

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