Friday, January 29, 2010

All For Sale

The anti-crisis programme of the Government of Russia

by Denis Mironov

THE RUSSIAN government has published its anti-crisis measures for 2010 on its official website but apart from a few news briefs the programme has largely been ignored by the mass media in Russia. In the cities the number of people who have access to online computers is only 22 per cent. Throughout the country as a whole no more than seven per cent are on the internet. At best this plan will be known only to one in five of the population.
It is even more difficult to understand the language of the governmental document. It is a vinaigrette of words; a porridge of general phrases and mysterious expressions that are possibly clear only for the initiated. Only the official statistics can be trusted.
For instance the programme states that “support of social stability and the guarantee of high-grade social protection of the population along with support of the revival of economy, the guarantee of stability of the positive tendencies become the basic priorities of actions of the government in the new year....” At this point the average Russian citizen will certainly yawn and read no further.
But the devil, as they say, is in the detail. If you study this document very attentively, you will suddenly realise that what may seem trifles really do concern us, the ordinary citizens.

General provisions

“The driving force for the steady growth of the Russian economy is named as investment and credit. Not industry nor manufacturing; not agriculture or even trade, but the banks and stock exchanges.
“The economy is still dominated by those factors that provoked its fast and rapid fall in the first place, notably a dependence on global commodities' export prices, low domestic demand [read – a poverty stricken population] and Russian industry's inability to satisfy it [in other words, nothing works], as well as a weak financial system and a lack of long-term loans. The initial stage of the government's anti-crisis policy, in late 2008 and 2009, did include a pro-modernisation component, but was largely aimed at cushioning the economy and the population from the consequences of the crisis, and at preventing irreparable damage to the country's industry and technology.
“This means that as things stand, further growth will be unstable because short-term internal economic risks have not been removed, slower than expected because it will depend on the revival of the global economy, and it will reproduce the economic model the government sought to abandon before the crisis.”

Three reasons why the overcoming the crisis “will be unstable and slower” are specified. Firstly, that the internal risks of the Russian economy in the short-term period have not been eliminated. Secondly, the position of Russia “depends” on the restoration of the world economy and finally that the “restoration” will only reproduce that model of the economy that we had before the crisis began. Therefore we “risk”; we "firmly depend”, and finally we go back to where we started from and where we didn’t want to be in the first place.
The document assures us that “in the Russian economy there is a potential for a fast return to a growth trajectory”. But then adds “The economic crisis has seriously affected Russia's starting position on this modernisation drive, with practically every sector of the economy experiencing some negative effects. Instead of laying down the foundations for innovative growth, the first stage of the Concept (2009-2012 – the long term economic plan for the Russian economy that runs until 2020) will to a considerable extent be spent on restoring the pre-crisis position.”
No, the statements do not match or add up!


According to the government inflation will run at between 6.5 and 7.5 per cent throughout 2010. This is difficult to believe. Even according to official data, inflation had topped 15 per cent in 2009. How it will be halved this year is not explained apart from some crystal-ball gazing like: “The comparatively favourable conditions on the global market combined with the Russian government's effective anti-crisis measures will ensure the consolidation of these positive trends, and a positive dynamic in most macro-economic indicators in 2010” while suggesting that: “At the same time, positive economic changes were accompanied by a rapidly falling inflation rate, indicating that the growth is sustainable and not based on the appearance of new bubbles in the markets.”
“Bubbles”, dear readers, is an expression used in the official governmental document. We will remind them that inflation is an average increase in the prices of the goods over a set period of time. The fixed salaries for state employees and the armed forces, pensions and children’s grants are all based on these very average indicators. It’s not “bubbles” for us.

Unemployment: policy of restraint

The document says that: “In 2010 the forecast number of unemployed people registered with employment agencies will be maintained at the 2009 level (2.2 million)”.
That is certainly the number of people who have registered at the employment offices. But according to official returns at the end of 2009 a further 5.8 million people (7.6 per cent) had no employment and were actively seeking work. According to methodology of the International Labour Organisation they are classified as unemployed. Altogether eight million – an army! How many more millions are part-time or temporary workers; people seeking full-time work in Russia? What will happen if the “social boat” in which all of us float starts to rock? Who will look after them? The internal troops?

How will the economy revive? Well the government paper says that “One of the key goals is stabilising the banking sector and ensuring that companies have access to commercial loans on reasonable terms. To this end, the following policies will be pursued: – consistent cooperation with large and leading companies in key economic sectors aimed at restructuring their debt as obligations under development programmes, developing new products and completing major projects of national importance….”

It’s not clear how this “restructuring is going to take place. No matter. This is more important…

“Government support will only be provided to companies which have detailed business development programmes agreed with partner banks. The programmes should contain measures to ensure financial strength in the short term as well as long-term strategies to boost and maintain competitiveness.”

You see, there can be no economic recovery without the banks!

The paper recognises the most difficult economic and social situation that exists in so-called "mono-towns" or “one-company towns” in Russia where the vast majority work for one employer. There are 400 such cities in Russia. But they won’t all get assistance.
“The government has approved a list of one-company towns to be included in these rehabilitation programmes” but it doesn’t say how many are on this list or who the lucky beggars will be. However the Ministry of Regional Development says approximately 200 will be allocated 10 billion roubles in the form of grants. It is not a lot for such a huge country!

It then adds “the programmes will not concentrate on supporting jobs in ineffective companies, but rather will focus on reorganising these major employers, creating alternative jobs, and diversifying the local economy. This will be done though SME support programmes in one-company towns: industrial estates will be built and business incubators set up”. But how can this be possible if, as it also says, “the social and economic situation has worsened practically in all directions”?

Well it’s all down to “modernisation”. The document talks about “creating the necessary economic conditions to shift economic policy away from anti-crisis concerns towards addressing the modernisation challenge. Such conditions include macro-economic stability and seeing an improvement in those economic institutions that guarantee the expansion of economic activity (the application of laws, minimising bureaucratic obstacles, and a tax system that stimulates growth)” – the Russian government's implementation of measures aimed at speeding up the process of economic modernisation. This means encouraging innovation and investment in the economy, developing infrastructure (transport, energy and telecommunications), the additional stimulation of domestic demand for Russian-made products, improving the situation in depressed areas and the creation of new regional "growth hubs".
This is clearly just verbal gymnastics…but let’s be serious. Let’s look at what really concerns the Russian citizen.
The anti-crisis programme has highlighted the major factors that have contributed to the recession in Russia as the “weak financial system” and absence in the economy of “long money”, that is to say long-term investments and credits.
It states “The long-term stability of the banking system and the Bank of Russia's policy of reducing inflation will allow long-term loans to be issued. However, they alone cannot supply sufficient funds to facilitate economic modernisation. Therefore, it will be necessary to turn to the financial markets.”
And this how…

“The most important sources of long-term loans, the pensions and insurance systems, will be utilised. The state policy for the long-term development of life insurance will be drawn up. The wider use of savings as a source of long-term loans through increased bank deposit periods will be considered.
“It is envisaged that foreign investors should have a role in creating long-term investment resources. This will be accomplished by attracting and supporting long-term foreign investment through setting up joint investment funds involving foreign investors in strategic sectors that require modernisation, including agriculture, the pharmaceutical industry, affordable housing and infrastructure.
“The government will reduce the share of state property in the economy in order to attract domestic and strategic foreign investment. This will be done through privatisation by means of open public proceedings on the basis of tenders and auctions, including the floating of privatised companies' shares in IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) and SPOs (Secondary Public Offerings).”
So now the government is defining where it sees the financial sources that need to be tapped to fund the recovery – pensions, insurance, personal savings and more privatisations… Now we see where the Russian Government plans to get the money!
And this is how:

“One distinct challenge for modernisation will be the restructuring of the state sector: stepping up privatisation and reforming budget-funded organisations.
“Efforts to restructure the state sector, develop and implement programmes for improving corporate governance of joint-stock companies of mainly state ownership and state corporations will be accelerated, as will the privatisation and restructuring of state-sector enterprises.
“Lowering costs and increasing efficiency in the budget will become key aspects of making budget spending more effective. A programme will be adopted and put into effect to cut out ineffective expenses and surplus functions, optimise the network of budget funded organisations, and to reorganise most budget-funded organisations along new lines involving tenders for social services.”
This new economic policy is simply a new stage of privatisation. On 16th September 2009 deputy-premier Igor Shuvalov presented the report to the Russian parliament on the practical realisation of anti-crisis measures.
“We are entering a stage when it is necessary to begin new structural privatisations,” he declared. “We need to transform a considerable quantity of the state unitary enterprises into joint-stock enterprises … it is necessary to structure this practice in a new fashion, and we will continue this work.”
In Russia state unitary enterprises are commercial organisations that use state land but have no legal right of ownership of the state property they use in their business.
There we have it. The directors of State enterprises do not want to be simple “operative managers” of public property. They wish to become its proprietors – for ever!

The author is a writer and journalist and a member of Communist Party of Russia.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Economic Crisis and the Question of Peace

By Eric Trevett

AT TIMES of profound capitalist crises there is an increasing struggle for markets and spheres of influence and in the last century this resulted in two world wars. The rivalry between the imperialist powers was especially strong.
War is a terrible thing but it is also very profitable to the arms manufacturers and it will have been noted that in the 1930s crisis impending war brought the mass unemployment in the major countries to a temporary halt.
Whether we are coming out of recession or not the crisis remains a serious one for the working class. Again the lesson of history teaches us that coming out of a recession does not mean a return to relative prosperity. The Wall Street collapse in 1929 was followed by a decade of depression, and in spite of the New Deal that the Roosevelt administration organised there was a further slump in 1938.
It was only when the United States economy went on a war footing that the high unemployment was resolved through conscription to the armed forces.
This is why the US so-called war against terrorism is so dangerous. We are in the midst of a war in Afghanistan and we have a puppet government in Iraq under the tutelage of the US armed occupation.
Now it is Iran’s turn to be under pressure from the imperialist powers. The US, looking for regime change here, has not ruled out the use of military force. And the Yemen is also under threat with the US and Britain closing their consulates there.
In Europe as a whole the antagonisms between France, Germany, Italy, Britain and Spain and so on have increased as the struggle for markets intensifies. It may well be that membership of the European Union will enable these countries to avoid another catastrophic world war. But the prospects for doing this are threatened by the aims of sections of the British and American ruling classes and there may well be a full scale war in the Middle East.
A major aim of such as war would be to bring the oil under the US and British imperialists’ control – under the control of their private monopolies.
If such a policy is envisaged, the imperialist powers, particularly Britain and the US, would prefer the war to be non-nuclear. This is why they are so keen on condemning Iran for its nuclear power programme. The tactic of scaring people into believing Iran has weapons of mass destruction is again being pursued and the danger is that strategy of lying and deception could possible lead to open war with Iran and other countries becoming acceptable to the people here.
The anti-Muslim campaigns in the press and media may also be designed to disguise the real threat that imperialism is contemplating very dangerous steps in response to its political and economic crisis.
People in Britain are generally honest and are rather gullible, thinking their leaders never lie. It is quite clear they were lied to over Iraq and its so-called weapons of mass destruction, which “could strike at random within 45 minutes”.
The imperialists have never had any regard for the sanctity of their promises and lying come naturally to them, as the native American people found out in the 19th century in the US, and more recently the Iraqi people found out – and the peoples of the world found out.
The peace movement has to face the fact that this is the scenario that is being constructed at the present time. The peace movement has responded positively and consistently against the so-called war on terrorism, which has allowed Iraq to be largely destroyed, with hundreds of thousands killed and wounded – but a “good deal” signed over the oil issue. This deal is not at all good for the people of Iraq, nor indeed for the people of Britain and the US but only for sections of the ruling class in these countries.
In Britain the working class living standards are going to be attacked and it is necessary to step up the campaign against the replacement of Trident. We should make efforts to contact the armed forces at every level. When we call for the main point, the withdrawal of all British troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, the peace movement proves itself to be the best friend of the armed forces. We need to point this out to them.
And we need to point out clearly that the service and sacrifice of those troops in Afghanistan and Iraq makes them into the agents of imperialism.



By Edwin Bentley

THE MEXICAN revolution, which started in 1910 and which was to last in one form or another for some 20 years, started as a local rebellion among peasant farmers and grew to embrace a wide range of progressive causes. This revolution most certainly was not a unified, planned, single-minded action by a highly organised political party. Rather, it was a series of frequently chaotic popular struggles against an economic model that had handed Mexican industry, agriculture and railways over to foreign investors. It was a revolt of women against the stifling conservatism of a totally male-dominated society. It was an uprising to overthrow the power of vastly wealthy landowners who blocked all attempts at land reform. The revolution also dealt heavy blows to the Catholic Church, which had acted as an obstacle to progress and had identified itself with the powers of reaction. It was a time to rediscover a national identity that went back centuries before the Spanish conquest, a time to celebrate and elevate the position of indigenous peoples.

Mexican society flung its windows open to all the exciting new ideas that were blowing around the world in the early 20th century, and adapted them to form a distinctive national character. This identity was to last until the 1990s and the re-introduction of unrestricted market capitalism and the economic anarchy that is so optimistically labelled “de-regulation” and “free trade”. Mexico’s identity centred around national sovereignty in all things, state control of major industries and public services, an often aggressive secularism, equal rights for men and women, and at least a basic social welfare provision.
The Mexican revolution did not lead to socialism, but it did create a nation that supported progressive causes throughout the world. Apart from the USSR, Mexico was the only country to give unqualified support and recognition to the Spanish Republic, welcomed at least 20,000 Republican refugees, and never had diplomatic relations with the Franco regime. In fact, relations with Spain were only re-established in 1977.

However it is certain that the revolution was stalled and prevented from going further by the liberal bourgeoisie that had benefited most from the overthrow of the old order. The Communist Party, founded in 1919, was illegal for much of the period. The new ruling class was made up of lawyers and professionals who were certainly social progressives, but had a real fear of the masses seizing power. They had no hesitation in using force to put down trade union militancy.
It is perhaps not surprising that they were happy to grant asylum to Leon Trotsky at the same time as clamping down on Marxist-Leninists. David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of the artists featured prominently in this exhibition, was even arrested and expelled from Mexico for his alleged involvement in one of the many plots to assassinate Trotsky, who was certainly not welcomed with open arms by Mexican revolutionaries! As the years and decades progressed, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party sank into a mire of corruption and patronage and became a self-serving elite.

It was in the field of art that the Mexican revolution made perhaps its greatest impact on the imagination of the world. Vast murals, monumental buildings, paintings, ceramics, and textiles, and an enthusiastic promotion of completely free artistic expression in all fields made Mexico the centre of innovation. The indigenous culture of Aztecs, Olmecs, and Mayans was fused with European styles to create a dynamic resurgence of national identity.

Printmaking was just one aspect of the cultural awakening of Mexico, but it was an art form immediately accessible to the masses it celebrated. What we see in this exhibition is an affirmation of the dynamism of the downtrodden sections of society once they stop regarding themselves as defenceless victims. This art is empowering and glorifies the dignity of every human being. The enemies of humanity are not invincible; they are paper tigers, parasites that shrivel away when they can no longer leech from the people they oppress.

In this exhibition there are some striking images of the great Emiliano Zapata, who lead the movement for agrarian reform and became a symbol of the revolution. A symbol, certainly, but one appropriated and glorified by the Mexican state to help the people forget that so many of Zapata’s demands had in fact not been delivered.

Readers of the New Worker will find particularly interesting the prints that openly promote class awareness and the struggle against fascism. Many of these are from the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) – People’s Graphic Art Workshop – formed in 1937 by Luis Arenal, Leopoldo Méndez and Pablo O’Higgins as a movement inspired by the triumphs of socialism in the USSR. TGP members had access to printing equipment at the workshop and anyone was free to come along and try out their skills. The collective produced prints for posters, flyers and portfolios which were produced on cheap paper. Their prints often supported the campaigns of workers and trade unions in Mexico. For example, Pablo O’Higgins and Alberto Beltrán collectively made a poster advertising the first Latin American Petrol Workers’ conference, which is on display here. Other printmakers here address subjects such as corruption, the link between capitalism and fascism, and labour conditions. There is one particularly striking and shocking print of a building worker falling to his death from rickety scaffolding

The TGP was particularly committed to the fight against international fascism. Angel Bracho’s striking red and black poster, Victoria! (1945), which celebrates the Red Army’s victory over the Nazis in 1945, is a key example of the TGP’s anti-fascist stance. There are posters calling people to lectures on the fascist threat, and one attacking Japanese militarism with a violent caricature of Emperor Hirohito. A further print that really remains in my mind is of the great Marshal Timoshenko, who organised the Soviet defences to resist the Nazi invasion. Here, Timoshenko is presented as a true hero of the working class throughout the world.

This exhibition helps us all to celebrate our international struggle, as well as providing a powerful lesson in how vested interests can control, manipulate, and eventually suffocate true revolutionary advances. The Mexican revolution promised so much. We must rightly acknowledge its achievements, while also learning from its eventual failure.

Admission to this exhibition is free. It is on until 5th April 2010, after which it will be touring the country