By Renfrey Clarke
MOSCOW — Since the August coup and the dissolution of the Communist Party, trade union and left activists in the Russian Federation have accelerated their efforts to build a new, democratic mass party fighting for the rights of working people.
On August 28 these efforts resulted in a meeting of representatives of participating groups issuing an Appeal of the Initiative Group for the Formation of a Party of Labour (in Russian, "Partiya Truda").
Adoption of this appeal was intended to mark the launching of the new party. Further initiative groups are now being established in Leningrad and other major centres. In the near future, the Moscow group will be transformed into the Organising Committee of the Party of Labour, and plans are already being drawn up for a party congress.
The key base of support for the Party of Labour will be the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions (MFP), whose president and vice-president were among the signatories of the August 28 appeal. The MFP is a massive organisation covering 90% of the workers in Moscow Province, which has a population of 16 million people.
Other participants in the new party process include the Socialist Party and the Trade Union and Workers Movement KAS-KOR. The latter current originated in the anarcho-syndicalist movement, later agreeing with the need to build a mass political organisation of workers.
The Party of Labour is also attracting strong interest from former members of the Communist Party who are serious in their commitment to working-class politics. Leaders of the new party indicate that former Communists will be welcome as rank-and-file members. It is not expected that they will be called on to serve in leading posts.
The political positions outlined in the August 28 appeal present a sharp contrast both to the Thatcherite "politics of revenge" that dominate the liberal Democratic Russia bloc of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and to the traditional bureaucratic centralism of the Communist Party.
In the appeal, heavy stress is placed on the need for the organisation to be democratic, with a conscious strategy of developing the participation of the ranks in all major tasks. The Party of Labour, the document states, must be "a party-movement constructed on the basis of initiatives from below".
The new party's founders pledge themselves to fight for
self-management; guaranteed trade union rights; strong powers for the people's elected representatives; and, as a safeguard against corruption, a strict division between state and commercial activity.
An important place in the appeal is given to the right to work — the antithesis of the liberals' plans for mass sackings.
The new party's economic perspectives include a mixed economy with a clear predominance of state and collective property forms. The only mechanism capable of leading the country out of long-term economic crisis, the party's founders maintain, is "an efficient, modern, decentralised social sector". If this is to be created, "uncontrolled, bureaucratic, 'savage' privatisation" must be resisted.
Other necessary mechanisms listed in the appeal include "democratic regulation of the economy, as an indispensable condition for the establishment of civilised forms of the market".
Unlike Yeltsin's liberals, who ignore the oppression of women where they do not consciously promote it, the founders of the Party of Labour pledge to struggle for "the genuine equality of women, guaranteeing them the right to participate fully in the life of society".
The Party of Labour has immense potential. It articulates not only the objective interests, but also to a striking extent the existing consciousness of the mass of Russian citizens. In a recent poll conducted for the British Times-Mirror group, for example, 79% of respondents in Russia agreed with the proposition that large enterprises should belong to the state.
Clearly, the new party — even at its present germinal stage — poses a serious threat to the bureaucratic-liberal oligarchy that is consolidating its power in Russia with Yeltsin's active assistance.
The key question thus becomes: will Yeltsin's "democratic" regime allow the Party of Labour the legal space to organise, propagate its views, and present the population with a meaningful political choice?