The complexity of the current political moment in Belarus and the active involvement of the working class in the events were described by us in two previous articles (here and here). But now we also have more detailed reports from the scene, much more vividly reflecting both the nature of the mobilisation of the country’s working people and the impact of this mobilisation.
It is obvious that the scale of the strike, and its influence on the development of the situation in the republic, continues to grow.
By now, there are reports of the development of full-fledged strike actions at MTZ (Minsk Tractor Works plant). The director admitted that the first shift at MTZ stopped work. He doesn’t know if the second shift will work. A 23-member strike committee has been set up.
The workers drew the attention of journalists to the fact that the plant’s management wants only economic demands to be made. Meanwhile, they said, the first requirement is to immediately reform the security forces so that those responsible for the beatings of protestors are dismissed. The second requirement is a change of government in the country.
In the capital, Metro workers have joined the strike and marched on the streets, joined by workers from large industrial establishments.
One way or another, the general political strike that engulfed most of the largest enterprises in the country is an accomplished fact. It is this strike, and not the howling of the liberals or the BNF [Belarussian National Front] that is the real force capable of overthrowing the regime.
Against the background of the growing strike movement, Lukashenko’s statement looks more and more tragicomic: “I am still alive and not abroad.” However, the extravagant bravado of dictators whose earth is burning under their feet is not new in the history of mankind. He was nevertheless forced to announce the release of detained protesters. This move is aimed at calming down the situation in the factories, but could have the opposite effect: the workers will realise that it is their actions that have achieved this and will be emboldened to demand more.
In his speech, Lukasehnko dismissed the strikes. “They told me that at MAZ or MTZ around 20 people decided to speak their mind, stopped working and left. Their supervisor told them: okay, guys, you can go, I have enough people here, your salary will go to them. After that, these people returned back to work,” he joked.
Today, MTZ workers walked out of the factory carrying a large banner that reads: “We are not cattle, we are not trash, we are not dumb people. We are workers of MTZ and there are 16,000 of us, not 20”.
Now only a part of the Russian left, completely blind to the objective reality, can repeat idiotic mantras about “teenagers on the petty-bourgeois Maidan” inspired by either the CIA or Putin. And I’ll show you why.
At present, we are observing how the nature of the protest movement in the republic is becoming more and more proletarian in its social composition, but still remains completely within the bourgeois framework in terms of the nature of its demands. To a certain extent, this is logical, but it also contains a potential serious danger precisely for the workers’ part of the movement.
In order for the reader to better understand the nature of the movement at the moment, I would like to give a description of the events in Zhodino from comrade AM, who saw them with her own eyes:
“Lukashenka’s opponents are very vague in formulating their discontent. The following theses are more or less clear:
“Low salaries. We want to live like in Europe. We do not want to be a part of Russia. We do not believe in [Svetlana] Tikhonovskaya as president. They voted for her, so that later there would be fair elections. Lukashenko got it. He must be tried by the Hague Tribunal. [We] demand to stop the beating of a peaceful protest. It is believed that Tikhonovskaya won.”
“Even today, several hundred people gathered at BelAZ [manufacturer of haulage and earthmoving equipment] at lunchtime on the grounds of the plant, and demanded that the OMON [special security forces] be taken out of the city, shown the voting protocols, [and] new fair elections [be held]. They were approached by the management of the plant and the mayor of the city.”
The liberal opposition is the enemy of the workers
In her message, AM mentions Tikhonovskaya (the main opposition presidential candidate who has now left the country). Due to the fact that the workers themselves mentioned voting for her (albeit without trusting her as a potential presidential figure), one should dwell in somewhat more detail on her programme, which is the concentrated essence of the liberal wing of the protest. This is important in the sense that it provides a major warning to the awakened labour movement in Belarus.
So let us turn to the most characteristic points of this program and try to translate them into a more understandable language, because the programme under the seemingly attractive name ‘New Jobs’ is fraught with many interesting points:
“To create new jobs, a high-quality macroeconomic policy is needed; that is, low inflation, disciplined budget policy, wide scope for private initiative and responsibility for investment decisions.” Thus states part of the programme’s preamble. Let’s decipher some aspects.
‘Low inflation’ means a change in the policy of the ratio of the volume of money issued by the Central Bank to the aggregate of goods in the country in order to increase the price of money and thus stabilise the exchange rate. It is a fiscal policy of cutting down consumer consumption and for the purposeful creation of mass poverty. It may seem that this is a stretch, exaggeration or distortion. It would be possible to assume this if not for such a formulation as: “disciplined fiscal policy”. For those who do not know, in neoliberal language, this means “the destruction of public spending on social services”: medicine, education, budgetary institutions, etc. Does anyone else have doubts about where the liberals are driving? Let’s move on to specific points.
This is what is proposed in the field of recruiting labour: “the right to freely hire workers.” Translated into understandable language, this means: “to allow the employer to freely hire or fire workers without any responsibility.” We are talking about additional stimulation of competition between employees, protected by the power of the state. One can imagine how this will affect the position of workers in conjunction with a “disciplined budget policy”, in which unemployment benefits are unlikely to be a high priority.
And of course, these aspects are accompanied by privatisation, opening of the land property market, liberalisation of prices, liberalisation of accounts, creation of a free trade zone with the EU and Russia, and attracting foreign capital.
Taken together, all these points promise the uncontrolled intervention of the big capital of Russia and the EU (even the current local monopolists will not be able to resist, unless they put the workers in a position of complete slavery), and a colossal impoverishment of the country’s working class.
When some of the workers mention Europe, what they mean is higher wages. This is a serious mistake. The experience of the whole of the former USSR and Easter countries shows that the rule of the pro-Western bourgeois liberals brings mass unemployment, mass migration, destruction of welfare systems, lower wages and destruction of workers’ rights. When the liberals talk of Europe, they mean the wholesale of state property to foreign multinationals, and the unbridled exploitation of labour.
This is where an important caveat comes in. For the rising working class of Belarus, staying within the framework of bourgeois politics means a huge threat to its fundamental class interests. The fall of Lukashenko is a matter of time and one should look at the tasks that lie beyond it. Remaining within the framework of the policy of lesser evil, the working class of the republic runs the risk of finding itself in a position that may be even worse than before from an economic point of view. A neoliberal president who comes within the framework of bourgeois democracy will have deceptive rhetoric about the “people’s revolution” and a power apparatus behind him. This will make it possible to implement the most cannibalistic counter-reforms.
Is this inevitable, as conservative alarmists claim? Not at all. The working people have already shown themselves to be a powerful force. But until now, this force did not yet have its own organs of political control, its own class requirements and its own leadership.
The Belarusian working class can avoid a catastrophe and move forward by breaking with the illusions of bourgeois liberalisation and starting to build its own class democracy, which neither the liberals nor their patrons on either side of the country’s border can push around. Here, I can only reiterate what we wrote in our statement on the situation in the country:
“[I]n order to truly protect their interests, the working class and its organisations, which have received a lease on life in the current conditions, will have to move from defensive to offensive policies, namely: to workers forming their own political bodies (councils) and using them to take control of politics, maintaining public order through the creation of a workers’ militia and control over enterprises. This is the only possible long-term path. The alternative is disaster.”