In Minsk, in the summer of 1992, I spoke to a militia officer (our term for the local police) who worked at the department responsible for the fight against organized crime. As a writer I was particularly interested in the activities (and thought patterns and language) of the newly emerging private business. The officers of the department were well informed, and they were in a despondent and confused mood. “I returned recently from the U.S.A., where I spent some time working in an American police department,” the chief of the unit told me.” An American policeman explained to me what we here in Belarus should be doing. ‘You want to build capitalism,’ said he, ‘good.’ ‘But where will your people get money to start a business, or to buy factories from the state? From what you tell me, they cannot obtain money legally. So you, the cops, should close your eyes to crimes that only involve money. Your job now is to see that people don’t kill each other in the streets—nothing more. When the ones who have stolen enough money take power they will adopt their own laws. And then you can do your best to achieve law and order in the country.’”
The militia officer who told me the story made no comment on it. Although the sentiment had been placed in the mouth of an American policeman, it was clearly far from new even then among the Minsk militia. But I felt an acute helplessness in trying to put this simple and cynical thing into a rational explanation. True, we had been unhappy with the ways things were, but did we really want to build capitalism?
Four years later my daughter wrote a school essay on an economic theme. She wrote that capitalist reforms had resulted in an economic disaster. The teacher, in correcting mistakes, underlined the word “capitalism” every time it appeared. The teacher had no objection to the description of the results of the process as a disaster; it was obvious to everybody. On the other hand he didn’t object to the word reform, something had obviously changed in the society and the word “reform” was the polite approved usage despite the evident contradiction. But he completely rejected the word “capitalism.” Why? There was no explanation. Maybe he thought the word “capitalist” was an invention of an old Soviet fairy tale, and like the word “magical” did not refer to something that existed. Or perhaps he thought that it was impious to use the word capitalism in close proximity to the word disaster? Surely, it wasn’t that he thought the “reforms” were socialist?
It seems that the only thing that is now clear to everybody in the general muddle of ideas is the reality of the economic disaster, but the voices of the people on the Soros payroll telling us that it is the result of not enough capitalism have persuaded no one except those who want to get on the payroll. This is a great strength in Belarus in the midst of a dreadful situation: a widespread refusal to disbelieve the evidence of the superiority of socialism we once tried to create, despite the horrible local and Russian television, despite the never-ending Western propaganda, and despite our nimble, if vulgar, opportunist president, Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarus is one of the republics of the former Soviet Union and has a population of about ten million people. Before the Soviet revolution of 1917, Belarus was among the poorest and most depressed regions of the European part of the Russian Tsarist Empire, and therefore of Europe. There was practically no industry, little agricultural improvement of the kind that had already been long achieved in western Europe, and crop harvests were unimaginably low. Eighty-two percent of the population was illiterate.
Development began quickly under the Soviet republic, and much had been accomplished even before the Second World War. Most people were either brand new city dwellers and discovering schools, movies, theaters, and our first clumsy and crude attempts at Socialist public culture, or lived in villages where some visible improvements such as schools, medicine, and the occasional tractor had appeared. When in 1939 the western part of Belarus, which had been part of Pilsudski Poland, was united with the Soviet republic, there was no question but that the villages of the eastern Soviet sector were the more prosperous and advanced.
The great trauma of Belarus was not collectivization or purge trials but the Nazi invasion and the Second World War. Whole cities, towns, villages, and industrial enterprises were turned into smoking rubble. An unspeakable nightmare of torture and massacre began first against the many Belarussians of Jewish descent, who occupied not only a leading place among the intelligentsia but also among the industrial working class and (despite the stereotype), in many parts of Belarus, an important role in agriculture. No substantial village in Belarus escaped the sight of the fascists hunting and killing children, first the Jews but quickly enough their neighbors as well. In our still extensive woods a remnant of the brave youth, of all ethnic groups in Belarus, gathered to fight the partisan war. By the time the Nazis were driven out in the second half of 1944, one quarter of the population had been killed, and in most of the republic, every substantial building destroyed.
Within one generation’s lifetime, from 1945 till the end of the 1980s, Belarus became a developed country with a major part of the Soviet computer industry, an advanced science and space/military industry, and a diversified consumer industry from televisions to toys, with (as a result of the disaster of the war) relatively modern plants. The greatest achievement was in agriculture. In the period of the last Soviet pyatiletka (1985-1990), Belarus agricultural productivity had developed at the highest rate in the world. Our collective farmers worked more productively, by any measure, than the farmers of the countries of the European Union. The miracle had a simple explanation: the advantages of large collective farms.
By 1994 the gross agricultural product had decreased by one third. That year one grain harvester combine and fifteen tractors were purchased in the whole republic, in comparison with the end of the 1980s when collective farms bought 10,000 new tractors annually. The lack of fertilizers cut yields. But nevertheless, the sick Belarussian village is still an object of envy in the villages of its neighbors—the economic situation in rural Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine is worse than ours. Collective farming has been preserved due to a firm (if passive) resistance not only from the collective farmers themselves, but from every sector of our society. Yet the overall economic situation is grim. The decline has been arrested, but even the most optimistic projections only predict reaching 1990 levels in 2010. The science of which we were so rightly proud is steadily being destroyed; thousands of capable scientists emigrated in the search for a better life, and the rest live on the brink of poverty, exploiting only their enthusiasm. Young people cease to study science as employment prospects disappear. The industrial shops are at best on part-time production and not infrequently locked, the equipment rapidly becoming out of date. The general decay is marked by a severe decrease in investment in industry, particularly in engineering and high technology. Each year the republic eats out a slice of the national wealth created in the Soviet period, and takes no steps to replace it. There is a deficit in the foreign trade balance and debts are starting to accumulate, especially to Russia. Ordinary people can hardly make ends meet. The median wage (which, unlike Russia or the Ukraine, is not in arrears) in the republic at the end of 1997 was barely over subsistence levels, and the median pension was well below.
Nobody wanted such a life. But what did people want, what was the beginning? “The more democracy—the more socialism!” was the enthusiastic slogan at the beginning of Gorbachev’s “perestroika.” Looking back, the socialist noises were part of a masquerade of ideas (to use a phrase of Karl Marx); it was social regress masquerading as “reform.” Counter-revolution and social regress will not be advocated openly by those who seek to benefit by them, not even to themselves; and now we can all see that under the mask “open society” lay the plunder of billions of dollars at a speculative shot, starving pensioners, tuberculosis epidemics, and death.
Revolution clarifies the consciousness, the counter-revolution darkens it. Looking back, it is obvious that a cloud of obscurantist confusion descended when the Soviet media came under the control of Gorbachev’s close adviser, the sinister Alexander Yakovlev (now widely believed to be a CIA “asset”), in the late 1980s. There seemed to be a general attack on reason and logical thinking. The mass media were filled with mystics, occultism, magicians, and wizards. Charlatans and quacks masqueraded as prominent scientists, and some of the latter, in turn, tried to play the role of magicians, announcing discoveries and mysteries well-known 150 years ago. The coup of 1991 hit book publishing a blow from which it never recovered, and what remained of rational intelligence on TV disappeared, with the void filled by low-rate entertainment nonsense. The individual and society in general were converted into drugged somnambulists, while thefts of epic proportion took place and the weak and old fell into unimagined misery. Reason and language were turned upside down as the “democrats” began to exercise their control of the mass media. Revolution in the former USSR now requires a clarification of the simplest things, a preliminary clearing out of the most primitive concepts.
Let’s examine from this point of view the personal history of the first Belarussian president, Alexander Lukashenko, and the political system established by him in the republic. A young director of a state collective farm, Lukashenko appeared on the political stage in the period of so-called “democracy” cultivated by Gorbachev at the very end of the eighties. This was the time when in all non-Russian Republics of the USSR, “people’s fronts” (in Belarus, the BNF) appeared with marvelous simultaneity. They were opposition political organizations different in numerous ways but all based on a nationalist, anti-communist ideology. Much later, information appeared that suggested Yakovlev and Gorbachev had assisted in the creation of all these fronts. In Russia, the first of the avowedly bourgeois parties officially registered was the “Liberal-Democratic Party” of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Today we have evidence that this party was created with the help of the Committee of State Security on direct orders from Gorbachev. In 1991 several platforms (factions with contrary programs) appeared in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union itself. Even these were “guided” in their creation. We all became witnesses to, and subjects of, a unique historical experiment. Gorbachev “shaped” his democracy, imagining that he was moving pawns on a chess board. His democracy and “pluralism” were nothing but the constant balancing between antagonistic political and social forces. He imagined that he could raise up figures on his right as unpalatable alternatives. The unstable alcoholic Yeltsin was scripted in the same role for Gorbachev that Zhirinovsky was later, more successfully, to play for Yeltsin.1 His brainless logic of balancing was at first just a theoretical toy, but he was led into such labyrinths that by the end he became the toy himself.
In this time of muddled ideas, plots, and indistinct hopes, Lukashenko appeared. He learned quickly. At first he tried being a nationalist. In 1990 he took the floor at the same meeting with the leader of the BNF, Z. Poznyak. He talked of making “the sovereignty of Belarus of constitutional character,” a gesture toward the separation of Belarus from the USSR. However, the agreement with the BNF didn’t last long—the young politician had a good nose for the moods of the society. As a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, Lukashenko faced a crisis when that body was asked to vote on the shameful Belovezhskaya deal of late 1991, in which Yeltsin, the President of the Ukraine, and the Speaker of the Belarus Supreme Soviet met and agreed to demolish the Soviet Union. The name of Lukashenko is listed among those who didn’t take part in the vote. The key change in his destiny took place in the succeeding period of overt political reaction in Belarus, when the Soros-funded nationalist “people’s front” attained complete control over the mass media and the legislative activity of the Supreme Soviet, and only the executive power partially escaped their hands. The Communist Party of Belarus was outlawed by these “democrats.” The Party of Communists of Belarus, the organization the Belarus communists then created more or less underground, was not registered as required by law and worked, in practice, illegally. This was the time of hysteria of anti-communism and nationalism. The representatives of the BNF, headed by Poznyak, enjoyed a spell of unchallenged hegemony in the Supreme Soviet. Lukashenko alone had the courage and foresight to oppose them, suddenly awakened to the deep popular revulsion towards those who destroyed the Soviet Union. His colleagues didn’t treat him seriously; he seemed to them a kind of a political clown. Lukashenko sensed the underground current building in the society and expressed it in primitive form (“Let me see! One day we’ll have a reckoning with those Belovezhisters!”). One more role: a nationalist in 1990; a democrat in 1991, saying in public—“I’m glad that everything is ruined” in 1992 Lukashenko was the preserver of Soviet achievements, at first hesitantly and then ever more firmly as he saw the public’s response.
In 1994 there was the first public election of a president in Belarus. Lukashenko’s campaign was marked by two vivid symbols: he declared himself the only man who had voted against the ratification of the Belovezhskaya agreements, and declared himself a warrior against corruption. The revulsion against the BNF nationalists, corruption, and the misery that “free market” policies had produced was enough for an overwhelming victory in the presidential race—more than 80 percent of the vote in the second round. In practice it eventually became clear that Lukashenko’s anticorruption pose was as much a stretch of the truth as his claim about his famous but nonexistent vote. Not one from among a list of seventy self-enriching officials, set out in a report on corruption that Lukashenko trumpeted across Belarus, answered for his deeds once he became the president.
This famous report, by the way, was prepared by a special committee of the Supreme Soviet. The job of compiling and writing was done by three volunteers: a politician, a representative of the militia, and a journalist. V. Novikov, the secretary of the Party of Communists, was the politician. Excluded totally from the “democratic” media, with no platform in the Supreme Soviet, leading a more or less illegal party, he used the cooperation Lukashenko offered to express the communist attitude toward the situation in the country. Novikov was the primary author of the report. It was he who made it vivid and forceful. The report was major news, and the Belarussian newspapers could not avoid reproducing it. It made Lukashenko the most popular person in the republic. The report contained everything…or almost everything that could be said without mentioning such prohibited words as “capitalism” or “socialism.” The report stopped just short of conclusions; but nothing else could be done, given what was acceptable to Lukashenko. He formulated his position as “I am not with the left and I am not with the right. I am by myself.” The old Gorbachev line—the best politics is being in the middle. The communists tried to establish cooperation with this young politician. Novikov discussed with Lukashenko the situation in the republic and tried to show how any struggle against corruption was doomed to failure in a transition from socialism to capitalism, a transition that despite all flowery language cannot be anything but criminal sharing of the loot. Only a change of socio-economic course could stop these destructive processes, a change that came from below, that relied on the cooperative spirit of the workers and the collective farmers as the base on which to resist and later to build.
But Lukashenko had no really “socialist” goals when publicizing this famous report. Yes, he declared socialist values in his speeches and as a reasonable politician, perhaps even a cynical one, wasn’t afraid to do so. He sensed the vague and contradictory state of the social mentality at this critical moment. With the drumbeat of procapitalist propaganda never ceasing, antagonistic notions coexisted in most minds. The Soviet “undemocratic” epoch was based on an idea of social justice and social responsibility that most people deeply felt to be “democratic.” And they were uneasy at the burial of the principle of fundamental human equality under the new undemocratic consciousness of the “democratic” epoch, whose main feature was possessive individualism and the supposedly unavoidable and eternal triumph of inequality. That’s why the campaign of Lukashenko promised at one moment socialism and at another capitalism, terming it “acceleration of reforms.”
After his 1994 victory Lukashenko abruptly turned to the right, adopting the “structural adjustment” program of the IMF for Belarus. Prices went up and the standard of living down. Preparations for the “reform” of housing and communal services began. The popularity of the president dropped suddenly. There were two ways out. The first was the Russian way, to ignore the interests of the people entirely, to rely on the thin layer of the criminal bourgeoisie and the purchased intellectuals as the only social prop of the regime. This path, to become a prisoner of the criminal monsters created by one’s own policy, was unattractive. The second way was to maneuver to the left in the hope of keeping control over the situation. Lukashenko chose the second way. He slowed down the “reforms” demanded by the IMF and in the spring of 1995 started speaking about “market socialism.” Of course he never attempted to explain what he meant by “market socialism,” a singularly empty phrase. Lukashenko began to repeat the same gestures which had brought him success in the election. Always being above the fight, always maneuvering, and always keeping his goals vague—these were his tactics as a politician. After all, such logic has a history as old as the world itself; it is the logic of every adventurer.
In 1995 Belarus elected its first parliament after the Soviet period. The results divided the legislature into three more or less equal parts. The nationalist BNF was completely repudiated, and didn’t manage to win a single seat. The other bourgeois parties had a bit less than a third of the seats. Then there were the “independent” members grouped in the fraction “Agreement”—primarily local bigwigs and notables without a political program of their own, but ready to support Lukashenko (for a reasonable price) in everything. And there was the Party of Communists with nearly a quarter of the seats, and their allies the agrarians; together the left had more than a third of the seats. The block “Agreement” could swing the parliament—either to the left or to the right—when it was convenient for the president. When the communists took an example from their Russian comrades in the State Duma and proposed the formal denunciation of the Belovezhskaya agreements, the fraction “Agreement” (at Lukashenko’s directions) joined with the bourgeois parties to defeat the proposal.
But the economic process had its own imperatives, and capitalist social relations spread and grew deeper. Lukashenko’s administration began to talk of the state as an eternal harmony of capital and labor, and in ideological nonsense reminiscent of the BNF of a harmony arising (of course) from the national peculiarities of the Belarussian people. Seven plenums of the Central Committee of the PCB proposed cooperation to Lukashenko on the basis of mobilizing opposition to the IMF privatization program and for the defense of what was left of social security, but in vain. The eighth plenum of July, 1996, resolved to make the transition to open opposition.
When Lukashenko’s right opponents, the BNF and “democrats,” criticized him for the slow pace of “reforms,” they called him a communist in essence. But Lukashenko before the 1995 legislative elections said that he hoped neither BNF nationalists nor communists would be elected. The communists now openly criticized Lukashenko for the steady and relentless expansion of capitalism. By 1996 illusions and hopes for the curative effect of “reforms” had disappeared. Decay and stagnation were evident to everybody. At last the public received a clear opportunity to compare on the one hand the “red” president who pretends to stand above the class and economic conflict, and on the other the communists, finally and decisively taking the left side, i.e. with the people, against privatization, against capitalist relations of exploitation. The popularity and influence of the PCB rose steadily, Lukashenko counterattacked, and by the fall of 1996 the tension was patent.
Lukashenko’s solution was quite simple: a constitutional “reform” by referendum, the end of an elected legislature with a role in government, the right of the president to alter and to adopt laws by means of a simple decree. The authors of this constitution declared their masterwork a bourgeois-democratic constitution. Well, it was really bourgeois, but it contained nothing remotely democratic. In his letter to the chairman of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), Lukashenko revealed his inner purpose to curry favor with the West. He wrote that his constitutional reform was necessary to put an end to all the remnants of the “Soviet system in Belarus.” And this was true.
The referendum campaign brought matters to a head. Communists came forward in defense of democracy, and the state mass media strictly controlled by the presidential administration (70-80 percent of the total newspaper circulation, plus TV and radio) unleashed a campaign against the party and its leaders. The brunt of the charge was that the communists were colluding with the bourgeois parties and even the widely despised nationalists of the BNF. Letters appeared from indignant readers blaming the leadership of the Party of Communists for betraying the interests of socialism. First secretary of the PCB S. Kalyakin was personally cursed and damned for his signature under a declaration in defense of democracy. It seems he dared to sign the document together with a BNF leader, Khodyko. But it turns out that this document was written by Kalyakin. It was an appeal to democratic forces on the basis of the position of the Party of Communists. So to be exact, the rest signed onto a declaration prepared by the communists. This is no minor fact, but a detail of great importance for the struggle in the future. In the autumn of 1996 the Party of Communists of Belarus, the largest one in the republic, strengthened its position in society and turned into the leading political force. It stood, with the full attention of all of Belarus upon it, both for real democracy and at the same time against the “reforms,” privatization, and the spread of bourgeois social relations.
The campaign lasted for weeks, and the Lukashenko newspapers were daily full of angry accusations against party secretaries Kalyakin and Novikov. The communist press had been seized during the “democratic” rule of the BNF, and, despite the growing role of the party, virtually its sole source of funds remained its impoverished members, funds barely sufficient to maintain its weekly, Tovarishch. The party was hard pressed to make its position known. This position was that the struggle for preserving representative institutions and democracy depended on the balance of social forces. The question was whether the formal election system would turn into the means of struggle for socialism leading to the real sovereignty of the people, or would it become an ordinary management tool of control by capital, as in the West? Influenced by the views of the great internationalist Marxist Rosa Luxemburg, the communists argued that it was precisely to combat the nationalist and bourgeois program that democratic representative institutions must be preserved. A period of bureaucratic rule by the president would only postpone confronting the great question of capitalism as against socialism. In fact, a presidential dictatorship, they insisted, would limit the activity of the left and would strengthen capitalist forces in preparing the ground for the bourgeoisie returning to power with the institutions of formal bourgeois democracy reinstituted, but without any scope left for real participatory socialist democracy.
Lukashenko benefited above all from the revulsion against the capitalist “reformers.” He himself had once been a founder of a Democratic Party in the autumn of 1991. His supporters explained that this party was intended to resemble the U.S. Democratic Party! But that enterprise failed. In those days parties appeared and disappeared quickly from the political stage. This experience made Lukashenko reject the idea of having his own party as useless. Besides, he noticed that as time passed people begin to treat the word “democrat” as a swear-word. Public opinion research conducted recently in Russia showed that 55 percent of the whole population were “against democracy”! Thus the masquerade slogan of “democracy,” the cloak under which capitalism was restored, has ended by justifying its opposite.
Meanwhile social protest was weak, vague and aimless, and this was the most vivid evidence of the concept substitution that had taken place in the society. A girl wrote a desperate letter to a newspaper “against the coal pit” that killed her father. She hates the pit, but not the state criminals who made miners, once an honored and even privileged stratum in the Soviet society, into a mass of stunned, starving beggars. People who are against “democracy” are unable to understand what they struggle against. In autumn 1996 I took part in a campaign for the election of the Supreme Soviet. This was a by-election taking place in the atmosphere of agitation and aggressive propaganda for the constitutional referendum. I saw that people in Belarus had the same feelings and attitudes as in Russia. Many people quite sincerely had come to believe that the national legislature symbolized that “democracy” which appeared to be the main cause of the new hard and senseless quality of their lives.
But even such moods didn’t help Lukashenko win the referendum, and his people had to falsify about one million votes. This was the number of ballot-papers added to the urns between six and ten o’clock in the evening. Supposedly a fifth part of all voters voted at that time, as opposed to the two to four percent in every other election. But there was a real victory for Lukashenko nevertheless. The great lie has become an essential part of the political processes. The amount of lies foisted upon the people’s consciousness from the beginning of the famous “perestroika” has been so overwhelming that people long since stopped reacting to it. It’s all now taken with the same helpless feeling as bad weather. In the days of confrontation between Lukashenko and the Supreme Soviet, after the communists had gone into opposition and an impeachment had become quite possible, it turned out that democracy in Belarus belonged to no one. The bourgeois class was still too weak to seize it and deal with it as their own property. But, on the other hand, the people didn’t recognize its child in this sickly thing named “democracy” and turned away. That’s why the communists couldn’t effectively organize their supporters for the defense of a freely elected Supreme Soviet—the people kept silent.
Lukashenko’s imagination is fascinated with notions of an autonomous state, “neither left nor right.” In the world press there are still comments on an unguarded interview he gave a couple of years ago (he later learned to watch his words) to the German newspaper Handelsblat. He said, “The German order was being created for centuries. In Hitler’s time it reached its peak. This coincides with our understanding of the presidential republic and the role of the president in it….” But this must be understood as a daydream of untrammeled bureaucratic power, not an historically informed comment. Fascism at its core is a reaction of capital to the threat of a revolutionary labor movement. There is no basis in today’s social conditions in Belarus to create a fascist order; no large capital, no dispossessed petit bourgeoisie, and as shown by the failure of the BNF to gain support, no wave of ethnic nationalism. This crude remark he now regrets is just a variant on Lukashenko’s vulgar vision of a state floating in air, something “between socialism and capitalism.”
Today Belarus is a bureaucratic state with a few elements left of masquerade democracy. Only very small scale privatization has occurred in industry, leaving public property under bureaucratic control. There is even the appearance of a form of bureaucratic property under no apparent control. The economic department of the presidential administration controls a lot of the most profitable enterprises in all branches of industry and services, duplicating the traditional Soviet economic functions of the Cabinet of Ministers. The financial and economic activities of the administration are not taxable and can’t even be audited. The volume of the funds circulating inside the administration is unknown, but specialists estimate it as equal to 40-50 percent of the whole state budget. This money is at the relatively unchecked disposal of the president. For example, the constitutional referendum of the fall of 1996 wasn’t financed from the state budget. Expenses exceeding 800 billion rubles (about 40 million dollars) were met by the president from uncontrolled sources. But this is not a state somehow independent of capital; this is a power not only co-existing with, but fusing with, private capital. And Lukashenko has recently issued a decree to begin more substantial privatization in industry.
As the presidential administration sought to swallow productive economic activity, so it sought to swallow the system of political parties. The left wing of this new presidential party system is represented by the pro-president communist party. The vigorous attempt to split the Communist Party at the time of the constitutional referendum was partially successful: about one-tenth of all members of the PCB left to form a new communist party (CPB), described by its leader V. Chikin as “the real recovered communist party, fully supporting its president A. Lukashenko.” The program of the party is ephemeral and without significance. Chikin first declared that the members of his party were ready to build capitalism together with the president. Later, on second thought, the leaders of the party adopted a most revolutionary program which nevertheless didn’t spoil their quite friendly relations with Lukashenko. Those who joined the new party hoped for a flood of state support, but they had made a mistake. Of course they got some material support, but it was exceedingly sparse. Still, this pygmy party without any future satisfies Lukashenko completely. He wouldn’t want it to be, would not permit its becoming, a real political force. But now he owns his own personal communist party. This curious fact doesn’t interfere with the anticommunist campaign conducted in the presidential mass media, a nauseating continuous paean to bourgeois values and ideas. Yet in spite of all the president’s efforts, the Party of Communists of Belarus survived, and preserved its membership and its organizational unity.
Meanwhile new attempts were made to create other pro-presidential parties. The role of presidential party in the middle of the political scene was given to a bourgeois party of “liberal democrats,” a twin brother to the convenient buffoon Zhirinovsky. But the president still neither needs nor has his own organization in the right wing. He continues to fight against the BNF “people’s front” and the other “democrats” who pull out their supporters to fight the police under the nationalist white-red-white flag. Those public quarrels are proudly displayed on TV, increasing the popularity of the “red president.” Lukashenko needs the BNF as much as Gorbachev in his time needed Yeltsin, and Yeltsin needed Zhirinovsky. That’s why the street fights coexist with the continuing BNF propaganda in the mass media. The presidential state has no reasoned argument with the nationalism of the BNF. It has nothing to contrast with the ideology of its enemies, only the same concept of the Belarussian national state but without the BNF. Both Lukashenko and the BNF dream of a national capital which will guarantee social justice and class harmony. But there are differences which do not allow Lukashenko to unite with the BNF, apart from the popularity he gains from their street disturbances. The BNF is oriented to the West. Its leaders have now emigrated to the United States. As for Lukashenko, he is oriented to Russia, and his goal is to advance the warped statist structure of today’s Belarus as a remedy for the national salvation of Russia.
The Belarussian experience shows quite vividly that real democracy, as the sovereignty of the people, is no gift from the heavens above. It must be born in struggle, as with the Russian Soviets in the time of the October Revolution. Its final victory will be the democratic structure of the socialist society—and that’s all. And our impoverished and resourceless party in some sense has never been stronger than it is now, when it can offer no privilege or benefit to its activists.
The future of Belarus is unavoidably united with that of Russia. The Russian regime, shaken by underground shocks and tremors, seems to examine and envy the Belarussian experience. But it’s not possible to turn the clock back to Gorbachev’s days. Yeltsinism in Russia consolidated a Russian capitalism, the most cruel and cynical the world has ever seen, and one that no longer has any need for the intermediate personalities of the epoch, like Lukashenko. In Russia the power of giant criminal concentrations of money has felt its strength. And this new unspeakably brutal “democratic” capital will not abide a bureaucracy recovering control over it. On the other hand, the really democratic Russia, its people, have been receiving a forced education in elementary social concepts never successfully taught in the Soviet era—a very dangerous phenomenon for politicians like Lukashenko, Yeltsin or Gorbachev. It is a positive fact that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has established itself as the main political force of the country, though the path ahead is full of the most serious dangers.
The present calm in the political life of Belarus won’t last for ever, the resources accumulated in the Soviet era will be finally exhausted, the bill will come due. Endless maneuvering among different social classes is an ungrateful business and Lukashenko realizes perfectly well that high approval ratings are a transient thing. His popularity in Russia, at some distance, is perhaps already higher than in Belarus. And this makes him keep an eye on the political summit of Russia. Perhaps he dreams of cheating everybody once again by changing places and levels of responsibility. But to be cheated one must be ready to be cheated, and we have learned a lot since we were deceived by Gorbachev. And as for real history, for knowledge of how it develops, we must return to Marx. Our recent past proves that.
- Gorbachev helped Yeltsin, his open political enemy, to the key post of the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Russia. He achieved this end by telling Yeltsin’s rival, a communist candidate, to withdraw from the election after several indecisive ballots. It proved a brilliant platform for the Yeltsin forces.