From Socialist Review, No. 171, January 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
In Russia’s first multi-party general elections since the collapse of Communism a fascist has won a quarter of the votes for the new parliament, the State Duma.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his Liberal Democratic Party have the following aims: to ban all political parties, strikes and demonstrations; kick out all non-Russians; restore the Russian empire within its 1977, 1941 or even 1913 borders (including Finland, parts of Poland and, of course, all the former USSR republics); scrap all internal borders within the Russian Federation and restore the old Tsarist system of ‘provinces’; stop civil conversion of the defence industry and build up Russia’s arms exports.
In Zhirinovsky’s new book, The Final Thrust to the South, he writes, ‘How I dream of Russian soldiers washing their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.’ He argues to extend Russian territory through Turkey to the Mediterranean and into the Middle East.
Needless to say, Zhirinovsky is a vicious anti-Semite. His party has a youth wing called ‘Zhirinovsky’s Hawks’ who wear a dark blue uniform. He is also closely linked to German Nazi outfits such as Deutsche Volksunion.
Zhirinovsky owes a large vote of thanks to Yeltsin for preparing the ground for his victory: the government has made many of Zhirinovsky’s ideas ‘respectable’. Recently foreign minister Kosyrev made threatening remarks concerning the defence of Russian minorities in parts of the former USSR. This caused president Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to compare Kosyrev’s statement with Hitler’s claims to the Sudetenland in the 1930s.
Yeltsin struck out the word ‘sovereignty’ from the new constitution, removing at a stroke the national status of the republics within the Russian Federation. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Moscow after the October coup is precisely what Zhirinovsky and the Nazis are demanding.
Despite Zhirinovsky’s unexpected landslide there is still a distance for him to go to establish the necessary mass base for a fascist regime. As elsewhere in Europe, strong fascist showings in elections are a warning sign. But Zhirinovsky, like France’s Le Pen, has to translate that electoral support into an organised force on the ground capable of crushing democratic institutions.
Most of those voting for the LDP are still a long way from this. In the main, the fascists picked up the protest vote against Yeltsin and the democrats. A week before the poll 70 percent still hadn’t made up their minds and Zhirinovsky pulled these floating voters.
Zhirinovsky won roughly 25 percent of the vote overall but the turnout was scarcely over 50 percent. Turnout was a mere 38 percent in Vorkuta where militant miners have little faith in politicians any more. In the country’s political centre, Moscow, the democrats won three times as many votes as Zhirinovsky, who also lost in Russia’s second city, St Petersburg.
Zhirinovsky’s party has only 42,000 members and most of this is on paper.
Furthermore, his election rhetoric was populist in the extreme. Thus he kept largely quiet about his real aims, concentrating on law and order, bringing the troops back home and repeated, ‘I am a democrat to the marrow of my bones’.
In the presidential elections of 1991 he offered the electorate free vodka if he came to power. This time he didn’t go quite so far, but the overall message was the same.
Like his counterparts in Western Europe, Zhirinovsky is heavily reliant on putting on a ‘respectable’ non-fascist face in order to win his support. This has enabled him to do well electorally. Russia is far from being overrun by millions of hardened Nazis. But the growth of ‘respectable’ far-right parties can be the seed bed in which hardened fascists grow.
Zhirinovsky understands this very well. Thus his statements since the election have been conciliatory: he is not insisting on places in the government. That way he can keep his hands clean while trying to build a mass movement on the streets.
The election result is a crushing defeat for Yeltsin and the democrats. As a result of their criminal policies one third of the population – 44 million people – live on an income below the minimum subsistence wage, calculated on the basis of a bread and potato diet. This is the real source of Zhirinovsky’s victory.
But it is also the reason for gathering storm clouds in the mining and other industrial regions of the country. A one day strike by 50,000 miners on 6 December, which dragged on for five days in Vorkuta, won across the board concessions over wages and redundancy guarantees from the government.
Any party that calls to ‘ban all strikes’ will have to deal with 100 million Russian workers for whom strike action is the main way of defending their living standards.
Yeltsin is now a lame duck president. Zhirinovsky’s victory has made a military adventure in Russia all the more possible. Will the generals wait two years until Yeltsin’s term as president comes to an end?
Last updated: 4 March 2017