Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Last Soviet Republic

by Andy Brooks

The Last Soviet Republic – Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus by Stewart Parker, pbk, 248 pp, Trafford Publishing, Oxford. £9.99

THE FORMER Soviet republic of Belarus is an unlikely candidate for the “axis of evil”. But this small landlocked republic, wedged between the might of the European Union and Putin’s Russia, has been branded by US imperialism as an “outpost of tyranny” for daring to defend most of the gains of the Soviet era and for refusing to kow-tow to the dictates of Anglo-American and Franco-German imperialism.
Imperialist venom targets one man – Alexander Lukashenko – who rose from the ranks of the old Belarus communist movement as a principled opponent of graft and corruption to win the presidential elections against all odds in 1994 to lead his country along the path of non-alignment and social progress.
Western diplomatic and economic isolation has backfired and attempts to unseat him by bourgeois and phoney “communist” parties funded by imperialism have all failed.
This is because Lukashenko enjoys immense popularity amongst the Belarusians who have been spared the mass unemployment, privatisation and collapse of education and the health service that was the fate of the rest of the former Soviet Union when it took the capitalist road.
This book by Stewart Parker explains why. There are no oligarchs in Lukashenko’s Belarus. There’s virtually full employment and no one has to emigrate to Western Europe to find work. Over 90 per cent of the farms are still collectivised and most of the country’s industry remains in public hands. Health and education are still a priority in Belarus and the state guarantees low-cost food and housing.
When the counter-revolution succeeded in Moscow in 1991 Lukashenko was the only deputy in the Belarusian parliament to vote against the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He opposed the turncoat communists and bourgeois nationalists who came out of the woodwork to dominate the country in the early 1990s.
His record as a collective farm manager and his “clean hands” in the old Belarus communist party and parliament won the trust of working people who comprise the vast majority of the nine million or so Belarusians who live in this land-locked oasis of social justice in Europe.
Last November 80 communist and workers’ parties from over 60 countries, including the New Communist Party of Britain, attended the 9th international communist conference in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to discuss the relevance of the Russian revolution in the 21st century.
Many of those delegates felt they were stepping back in time when they toured the factories, farms and schools of Belarus. Lenin and the Bolsheviks are still honoured and the socialist sector is still largely intact. But Belarus isn’t in a time-warp nor are its economists trying to create a nostalgia theme-park for those hankering for the “good old days”.
Belarus is a “state of the people” that operates a mixed economy which they call “market socialism” or “social orientation”. Though not on the Chinese scale there are joint ventures with countries like Turkey and the Third World and there is a small self-employed and private sector which caters for some of the needs of the consumer industry.
Belarus bore the brunt of the Nazi invasion during the Second World War and it took the Belarusian people years to recover from devastation. The collapse of the Soviet Union could have led to economic chaos, and for a brief period it did when the tools of imperialism were in charge.
But Parker shows in some detail how the Lukashenko government has worked to rein in hyper-inflation and deal with its energy problems to ensure a secure and decent way of life for the millions of workers and farmers in the country.
And he also explains how genuine mass democracy works in this former Soviet republic and how its government defends the country’s independence; maintains a strategic relationship with Russia – its biggest trading partner – and demonstrates its solidarity with struggling people all over the world.
Though the author is clearly sympathetic to modern Belarus he is not a communist and this shows in his work. His off-hand description of the people’s democracies of eastern Europe as “puppets” and “satellites” of the Soviet Union is simplistic to put it mildly.
He barely mentions the Communist Party of Belarus (KPB) whose eight MPs support Lukashenko’s independent bloc in the House of Representatives or indeed how the other pro-government parties relate to the independent bloc.
But it is an easily readable and important book, essential for any understanding of what is happening in eastern Europe today. It’s well-worth buying or ordering from your local library.