MIM Notes 203
Boris Yeltsin resigns: Leaves legacy of capitalist crises, reactionary nationalism
After nearly ten years as president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin resigned his office at the end of 1999, appointing Vladimir Putin acting president and taking steps to ensure that Putin would win the upcoming election in March. Yeltsin was supposedly the anti-corruption official whose 1991 campaign included a platform opposing "Communist" Party privilege.
Ten years later, Yeltsin turns out to have been a thoroughly corrupt mob boss who presided over the transition from state capitalism to so-called "free market" capitalism in Russia. Yeltsin's deal with Putin was straightforward enough. As Putin's first act as acting president, he offered Yeltsin "broad immunity from prosecution, interrogation and searches"(2) regarding the investigations into Yeltsin's bribery, money laundering and embezzlement. "A dozen bank accounts containing more than $15 million frozen by Swiss authorities investigating Russian money laundering are suspected of being linked to Yeltsin."(3)
For Yeltsin's part, the timing of his resignation and his decision to move the 2000 election from June to late March, assured that Putin would be undefeatable, his opponents lacking the time to collect the necessary signatures to run against him. And Putin is a fitting choice of successors. It was Yeltsin that orchestrated the initial invasion and assault on the nation of Chechnya in 1995-96, and Putin that is leading the current military operation there. As if to signal that the era of reactionary Russian nationalism would continue uninterrupted into the 21st century, Putin declined a cease-fire during the world-wide millenium celebrations.
Some say Yeltsin 's choice of New Year's Eve as a resignation day reflected his attempt to position himself in public memory as the leader of 20th century Russia. But to communists, that honor belongs to V.I. Lenin and Joseph Stalin, the former for leading the first socialist revolution to state power and the latter for leading the Soviet Union through the construction of genuine socialism in the 1920s and 30s, and the world to victory against fascism during World War II.
The ex-Soviet Union ceased to be a socialist country after the death of Stalin in 1953. After Stalin, the revisionist state capitalist government claimed to be socialist as it practiced capitalism and organized production relations to secure private profits for the new bourgeoisie. As in all transitions from one mode of production to the next, some remnants of the old system remained. The socialist remnants helped the Russian people to fare better under state capitalism than during the crises of market reforms ushered in by Gobachev and Yeltsin.(1) Worsening conditions unmasked the true nature of state capitalism. Instead of resolving to fight for socialism, revisionists then openly turn toward capitalist 'reforms' allegedly as a means to clean up the mess, when all along they had been fighting for the interests of the bourgeoisie.
Deteriorating conditions under Yeltsin were striking. Between 1987 and 1994, life expectancy for Russian men plummeted from 64.9 to 57.3.(4) 1999 estimates are 58.8 for men and 71.7 for wimmin (down from 74.6 for wimmin in 1987).(5) Life expectancy is a good measure of the overall well-being of a population. And much of the overall mortality in Russia in the 1990s is attributable to wholly social conditions -- conditions for which the people can hold the government and ruling class accountable. In Russia, some leading causes of death in the 1990s included poor health care and sanitation, alcohol- related deaths, fatal workplace accidents, suicides and homicides.(4)
Some of Russia's worsening conditions for the masses can be blamed on the militarist and imperialist aspirations of its reactionary leaders. In order to compete with U.$. and Western European imperialism, Yeltsin implemented corrupt privatization schemes (which transferred state owned industry to Yeltsin cronies) and increased the exploitation of the Russian masses. Yeltsin's economic policies sold the Russian masses to Western bidders, and ensured the flow of capital outside the country. MIM does not expect to see any real change in Russia under Putin, but we are not waving the flag for the state capitalist Soviet Union. The true advances for the Russian people came under the socialist governments of Lenin and Stalin.
We remain hopeful and inspired by the existence of our Maoist comrades in Russia who are leading the struggle against capitalism and imperialism there. We urge you to help our Russian comrades by sending money so that they can publish a genuinely Maoist and internationalist publication there. Donations can be sent to the MIM-led army, PIRAO, address on page 2.
1. MIM Notes 160, April 1998.