Can Russian anti-militarism end the war in Ukraine?

6 March, 2022

Police detain a Yandex rider at an anti-war rally in Petersburg
Police detain a Yandex rider at an anti-war rally in Petersburg

The anti-militarist movement in Russia is proving capable of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Its adherents are showing true heroism in the face of an increasingly brutal repression. But its citizenist approaches condemn Russian anti-militarism, as it is today, to political impotence. And yet…

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A young and often heroic resistance….

First trial for participating in an anti-war rally. A 24-year-old Moscow waiter.
First trial for participating in an anti-war rally. A 24-year-old Moscow waiter.

The day before yesterday the Russian government shut down Мы не одни (“We are not alone”), a site that had by that time collected via the Internet over 1,162,000 signatures from individuals and 160,700 manifestos from professional and social groups against the war. Less than 24 hours later another group presented a million signatures to the Russian presidency collected in person and documented on paper.

With the laws passed in the previous two days all signatories can be criminally prosecuted. Those who have been detained previously for participating in a “No War” rally will face sentences ranging from 3 to 5 years of hard labor, depending on whether or not the protesters as a whole resisted the detentions. Although actual resistance is rare, police routinely report it.

Those of you who follow our channel on Telegram can see the continuum of rallies and repression that has been going on since the 24th in all major Russian cities. Thousands of people are still detained and most of them are being prosecuted. According to our sources, this very morning police were still raiding homes at least in Petersburg and Moscow in search of “organizers”.

The first trials began on Thursday: a young waiter in Moscow and a dozen young people, most of them precarious workers and students. Although tens of thousands of people of all social classes and ages are taking part in rallies and acts of repudiation, the leading role is still played by the youth and very much influenced by the university student body. For this reason, criminal repression has been joined by academic repression: from Saratov to Peters hundreds of students are being expelled from universities these days.

…but necessarily impotent

Antimilitarist demonstration this morning in Novosibirsk.

However, despite the stoic heroism of hundreds of thousands of people, the results of this kind of mobilization can only be frustrating..

Alarmed by the rising numbers of protests, which continue to grow despite massive repression, Putin appeared yesterday at a “meeting with stewards” to try to calm the waters. He promised that there would be no forced conscripts and that martial law would not be decreed in the country as had been rumored.

All as credible as his claim that in Russia, unlike in Ukraine, everyone can protest without fear. It is true that defectors and opponents of the war in Ukraine suffer brutal and murderous repression and that, according to the US press, more than 130,000 Russian-speaking Ukrainians have fled to Russia these days to escape ethnic cleansing by the Ukrainian army. But in Russia, although repression follows legal procedures, ritualized in the state courts, it does not stop aiming at – and achieving – the civil and psychological death of thousands of opponents of the regime.

Nothing else was to be expected. Put in the Gandhian terms that dazzle the democratic petty bourgeoisie into thinking of non-violent citizen resistance, today’s Russian anti-militarism gathers masses of individuals without managing to condense a real political force. In these citizenist and individualist terms, in spite of the notorious heroism of so many people, the opposition to the war can only aspire to saturate, one detainee after another, the courts of political repression. It is a sad demonstration of the notorious political impotence of the petty bourgeoisie.

And yet…

Strike yesterday at the Gemont plant of Nizhnekamsk, in Kazan

Although the daily life of the petty bourgeoisie is directly affected by the sanctions, in Russia the war is hitting above all the workers who have been especially hard hit by the reconfiguration of Russian national capital.

The labor news of an ordinary day is horrifying and representative of the degradation of conditions of the working class in Russia. Even today, Sunday, we can read about malnutrition among Siberian workers, and the last two mining accidents in an almost daily and never-ending series. And at the ” last minute” we discover that hundreds of sailors have been trapped in Vladivostok due to the closure of the activity of the big maritime multinationals and the shuffling of air traffic, as a consequence of the sanctions.

We are only in the first moments of the impact of the sanctions. Sanctions which the Russian ruling class evidently wants to impose mostly on the workers. But the attitude of the workers does not seem to be complacent.

Just yesterday a wildcat strike broke out at the Gemont plant in Nizhnekamsk in Tatarstan. Most of the workforce at this factory is made up of Turkish and Turkmen migrants who negotiate their wages in Turkish lira but are paid in rubles. Faced with a one-third drop in the value of the ruble, the company lowered wages on Friday (they are paid weekly) using the exchange rate of a week ago. The forceful response of the workers, shown in the video above, immediately made the management back down and restore the missing wages.

It is important to note the wildcat nature of the strike. This was not because there were no unionized workers. Rather, it is because you can’t go anywhere with unions. In fact the public sector unions are advocating for the sanctions to lead to a reduction in migrant labor. Those in the aerospace sector, while promising the state “peace in the factories”, are trying to lead the concern of the workers towards solidarity with the refugees arriving from Ukraine, adopting the warmongering and nationalist discourse of the regime. A discourse well fed by the cultural workers’ unions, by the way.

Nor is this a particularly Russian phenomenon. Unions –like feminism– have been the first to recruit for the war for more than a century. In the US this week the main metalworkers union joined Biden in stifling the ongoing strike in the oil sector while calling for a focus on war production. And in Britain the unions “demanded” direct financial aid to the Ukrainian war effort from the government.

As the guardians and managers of labor power they are, in the face of war the trade unions around the world necessarily close ranks with the state of which they are a part. In that capacity they have been the first to discover the “latent danger” that workers represent for the regime and its bid for war.

The Russian anti-militarism we see today does not stand much chance of leading or uniting the workers under its impotent methods. But if the workers begin to gain awareness of what is happening despite the information blockade and repression, and begin to incorporate into their demands the immediate end of the war… the situation could change radically.

1905 and priest Gapon

Bloody Sunday 1905. Cossacks charge against the demonstration organized by Gapon at the gates of the Winter Palace.
Bloody Sunday 1905. Cossacks charge against the demonstration organized by Gapon at the gates of the Winter Palace.

Does this sound too difficult? Let’s look back for a moment.

1905. Russia is at war with Japan over Korea and Manchuria. The Tsarist regime is entrenched and the bourgeoisie, which believes it is time for it to gain power, encourages a trade union of police origin, led by an Orthodox priest, to demonstrate on January 9, leading workers in procession to the gates of the Winter Palace. The platform of this mobilization went little beyond the traditional peasant “pleas” and was rejected by most groups claiming to be socialist as “apolitical”.

But, once in front of the Palace, the army ordered the demonstrators, with the pope and dozens of religious icons at their head, to disband. When they did not do so, the army charged, leaving the square full of corpses. It was “Bloody Sunday”, the trigger for the 1905 Revolution.

The historical demonstration of January 9 took place in a way that no one could have foreseen. The priest whom history had placed at the head of the working masses, for a few days, in such an unexpected way, marked the events with the stamp of his personality, of his opinions, of his ecclesiastical dignity. And these appearances concealed, in the eyes of many people, the real meaning of the events.

But the essential significance of January 9 does not lie in the symbolic procession that advanced towards the Winter Palace. Gapon’s cassock was an accessory. The real actor was the proletariat. It begins with a strike, unifies itself, formulates political demands, goes down to the streets, attracts to itself all the sympathies, all the enthusiasm of the population, clashes with the armed forces and opens the Russian Revolution. (…)

The January massacre had an especially notable and profound influence on the proletariat of all Russia. From one end of the country to the other ran a grandiose wave of strikes that shook the body of the nation. (…)

According to a rough estimate, the strike spread to 122 cities and towns, to several mines of the Donets and to ten railroad companies. The proletarian masses were shaken to their foundations. The movement swept away a million souls. Without having a definite plan, often without even formulating any demands, breaking off and starting again, guided only by the instinct of solidarity, the strike reigned in the country for about two months.

LD Trotsky. “1905: Balance and Perspective”, 1906

The experience of 1905 will be crucial for the fact that, faced with a new war, revolutionary defeatist slogans will appear on all strike platforms from 1916 onwards

Down with the war! War on war! must spread with force throughout the length and breadth of Russia. The workers must remember that they have no enemies on the other side of the border; everywhere the working class is oppressed by the rich and the power of the owners… Long live world labor solidarity!!!!

Quoted by Alexander Shliapnikov

Are the anti-militarists of the Russian petty bourgeoisie the new Father Gapon?

Police in Novosibirsk arrest a journalist at an anti-war demonstration this morning.
Police in Novosibirsk arrest a journalist at an anti-war demonstration this morning.

Not so much is different between Gapon and the anti-militarist petty bourgeoisie who have the leading role in the protests. Like Gapon, the opposition figures of these days draw their strength from dragging along the weaker sections of the workers.

In 1905 they were the newly proletarianized workers of the small workshops. Then, coming from the countryside, they kept the religious framework. Today they are the workers with less experience of struggle, the youngest and most precarious; those who still feel close, by age, to the democratic student of the opposition youth bohemia.

But all it takes is for a spark to jump over the democratic and union siege to ignite the force that is already bustling restlessly in thousands of factories and companies all over the country. When it happens, the only real alternative to the regime and to the war will then become present, uniting the Moscow rider and the Kazan metallurgist, the Yekaterinburg nurse and the Ural miner.

Of course, no political analyst, no opposition holy man, can see it. As then “there is no political prejudice they do not accept with closed eyes, only faith in the proletariat seems to them a prejudice”. But really, it is within reach.

nos

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