'We are facing a nearly impossible choice'

Issue 

By Poul Funder Larsen

MOSCOW — "In general the left is in an extremely difficult position, particularly as regards the coming elections, which by all accounts will be a farce ... We are facing a nearly impossible choice. Either we stay out and keep our hands clean, but at the risk of becoming completely marginalised, or we participate in something which is designed to favour the liberals."

This is how Oleg Smolin, a member of the Russian Party of Labour and a former deputy in the parliament liquidated by President Yeltsin, summed up the choices facing the left in Russia today.

Smolin, who is blind, stayed in Moscow throughout the two weeks of intense political crisis in September and early October. At first he was in the "White House", but along with 120 other deputies he later found himself prevented by Yeltsin's troops from entering the parliament building. From that point, he worked in the building of a nearby district soviet.

"We tried to get back in", he recounted, "but in spite of our status as deputies the special troops cordoning off parliament attacked us with truncheons, and I myself was hit on the head.

"Contrary to what is being alleged, no worked-out plans for armed resistance lay behind the violence on October 3 and 4, either in the White House or among the deputies outside the police cordons. The demonstration simply got out of control, and Rutskoi and Khasbulatov, totally misinterpreting the situation, made their disastrous decision to attack the television centre at Ostankino. What should have been done was to strengthen the defence of the parliament. But instead they ventured into this armed attack, and in return we got an authoritarian regime, not to say a dictatorship."

Smolin has now returned to Omsk, an industrial city in western Siberia. From Omsk he was elected to the parliament, and there he still works as a university teacher.

"The reactions in Omsk to the events in Moscow have been mixed", he explained, "from outright joy to anger and shock, though many people remain almost indifferent. In this country with its strong authoritarian traditions, a certain part of the population will support an 'iron fist' regime, hoping that this will 'put things in order'. What people fail to understand is that such a dictatorship will dismantle even the remnants of social protection of the people.

"Many are now in a state of confusion and apathy. People wanted to get rid of the old bureaucratic elites of the CPSU, and therefore they voted for Yeltsin. Instead they got even more bureaucracy, misery and growing authoritarianism. Now they don't know where to turn.

"The dissolved parliament, however, also has to take its share of blame for these developments. It was the Congress of People's Deputies which granted Yeltsin extraordinary executive powers — powers which were used to dissolve the Soviet Union and wreak havoc in the Russian economy. I warned against this at the congress in May 1991, but at that time the Communists, led by Alexander Rutskoi, favoured such a move.

"The opposition is facing serious repression. Another of the deputies from Omsk, the conservative Sergei Baburin, just came back to town. He had been detained and tortured in the Moscow police headquarters, where they put him up against the wall and faked an execution.

"Apart from the struggle against repression, the most urgent question is the elections to Yeltsin's so-called State Duma. This can hardly be called a parliament, as it has very few powers. For example, it cannot decide issues related to the state budget unless it has permission from the government to do so.

"With most of the Communist organisations banned, it will be difficult to form any serious electoral bloc. We in the Party of Labour have worked closely with the trade unions, but they are unlikely to dare to run in the elections. The government threatened to dissolve them by decree, as well as demanding that they sack their chairperson, Igor Klochkov, who had spoken out against Yeltsin. They were also told to refrain from participating in the elections. The unions have already rid themselves of Klochkov.

"With the unions staying out of the elections, we're left with the choice of running with 'soft' social democratic currents, for example the Socialist Party of Workers, or with moderate centrists. There are no 100% good options."