The scale of Russia's economic disaster cannot go unreported because it has triggered huge swings on the capitalist world's stock markets and fuelled existing fears of an approaching worldwide slump.
But though the news cannot be ignored by the western media, there
is a concerted effort being made to draw a veil over the cause and nature
of the crisis. We are not supposed to see that the severe crises in Russia
and the former "tiger" economies of Asia are enmeshed in a deepening capitalist
crisis affecting the whole world -- that the problem is in
fact capitalism itself.
Sometimes the crisis is talked about as if we are witnessing a natural disaster -- the Asian economic crisis has been referred to as a "virus" which is now spreading into Russia and from there across the world -- it is made to sound like a strain of virulent influenza. This implies that it is not caused by human beings but is "just one of those things" and all we can do is take plenty of liquids and wait for the fever to pass.
Other pundits blame the crisis on individual leaders or governments -- drunken Boris fits the bill along with corrupt politicians in the worst hit Asian countries.
But, we have already seen in Indonesia that the change from one pro-capitalist leader to another did not end the crisis or the misery of its people. And replacing Yeltsin with someone more sober and capable won't solve Russia's problems either.
Among liberals and social democrats there is a growing tendency to lay the blame on "unregulated free-market policies". That is not very different from former Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath's remarks about "the unacceptable face of capitalism". And in both cases the system of capitalism is let off the hook and support is given to the myth that capitalism doesn't have to be done away with because it can somehow be reformed.
But the reality is that under capitalism the economic and other demands of the leading capitalists, and the ruling class as a whole, drive the politics. And in their turn the demands of the capitalist class are fashioned by the forces which drive the capitalist system.
There is only one purpose -- to maintain the rate of private profit against the tendency under capitalism for the rate of profit to fall. And though many people may not like to face the idea, the needs of the rest of humanity do not matter to this class at all, apart that is from allowing us enough sustenance to produce the goods and the profits.
New technology in production should be a great benefit to everyone, and under socialism it would be. But it too is in the hands of the capitalist class who only use it to cut labour costs and keep the profits rolling in. This makes the crisis of over production, a feature of capitalism, even more intense and the crisis worse.
Recessions and slumps are always treated with the same medicine -- screwing the working class by shaking out labour, cutting wages, slashing state welfare and social provision. It means mass unemployment and a rising tide of poverty. For the Third World and weakest economies it means more and more people suffering from hunger, homelessness and grinding poverty -- for many, including babies and children, it is a sentence of death.
The tragedy has started. In the capitalist countries of Asia unemployment has soared, wages have plummeted and debts have risen. In Russia people are scraping by on the basis of barter and begging. Wages are unpaid, inflation is rising, jobs are disappearing and the people fear death by starvation.
In Britain there is already recession in the manufacturing sector of the economy and jobs are being lost across the board. Production has slowed in the United States and workers are having to fight off the mounting attacks on their livelihoods.
There is no sense or future in a system which survives only by degrading and impoverishing the great mass of humanity. Capitalism has not only failed the people of Russia -- it fails us all.
We need a system that will fulfil people's needs, in which the majority, the working class, hold and use state power to build good, secure and caring societies -- social ism is that system, it is the way ahead and the future we are working to win!
If he is bounced again, and then a third time, the Kremlin may dissolve parliament, impose what it cannot get by a vote and hang everything on an early election.
As talk of uprisings emerge, top level anti-crisis meetings are vainly trying to plug the sinking country with a belated mismatch of "humanised" free market capitalism.
The Duma's lower house, dominated by the reformist Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), voted against Chernomyrdin by 251 to 94 in the first vote.
Half the opposition vote (124) came from the CPRF; Chernomyrdin's Our Home is Russia party mustered 63. But 99 didn't vote, of which 49 were accounted for by the extreme nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Chernomyrdin made his fortune as head of gas giant Gazprom and was Prime Minister from 1992 until five months ago when Sergei Kiriyenko was temporarily installed -- only to be ousted by Yeltsin on 23 August -- to return Chernomyrdin.
Yet only two days before, the Duma began to call for Yeltsin's resignation and that, following a vote of 245 votes to 32, included Chernomyrdin's party.
But since Yeltsin has autocratic constitutional powers, so far guaranteed by bandit capitalism, he remains unmoved, just as he has with no-confidence motions in the past.
In the midst of this uncertainty. the beleaguered US President Clinton flew in for a 48-hour visit last Tuesday and told them to press on with "freedom and free markets" .
It indicates the Group of Seven's preparedness to ride out Russia's suicidal path -- and cut their losses if need be -- until an austerity package can be imposed.
And corporations will sit back, monitor and wait. Several key Western oil companies have said as much, their caution encouraged by the oil price crash.
For some time there has been a recognition in certain US quarters that Russia should be ring-fenced in the event of failure. The push to build relations with oil-rich former central Asian republics and with Iran and Turkey on pipeline routes, is an indication of this. Neo-containment, as a Trilateral Commission report put it in 1995.
While for most Russians Clinton's visit passed unnoticed, the crisis will not end when and if the power vacuum is resolved.
Between now and the presidential elections in 2000, instabilities in the midst of a burgeoning world recession are sure to create more shocks in Russia yet.
Already, Russian army commanders are talking of a situation approaching October 1993, when the White House was attacked resulting in a massacre that still remains covered up. Komsomolskaya Pravda on 29 August said the Defence Ministry is on a high state of alert.
General Alexander Lebed, a likely leading contender in the coming elections, has referred to the possibility of a general revolt in the country, of a "revolutionary mood".
In Der Spiegel on 31 August he called the workers, miners, communists
and other groups mounting nationwide protests on 7 October as "people who
are deadly serious and want to undermine the foundations of the current
Boris Berezovsky, media and business empire boss, said in last Friday's BBC Newsnight interview, that in the year or so up to 2000, Chernomyrdin would be willing to introduce social measures. Lebed supports the move. His army hasn't been paid for five months.
But even if Chernomyrdin concedes to CPRF positions on wages arrears and other social demands, there are no political moves in the Duma for reigning in control of Russia's assets, severing their gangster-capitalist ties and putting them literally out of business.
There is no political or economic infrastructure, in Russia's present condition, capable or willing to solve the longer term internal crisis. This is because since the 1991 break-up of Soviet power, it has been increasingly exposed to Western financial and economic mechanisms
The Duma is only now being promoted in the West as a comparable parliament -- rather than the crude rubber stamp for Russian tycoons that it has always been -- because there is concern to set a plan in motion to prevent complete collapse.
And that has been in preparation for a while. The IMF would like to see the Duma operate its "remedy" as a precondition for further "assistance" which, since 1992, has amounted to $31.2 billion.
Its tough attitude, the norm for developing countries, amounts to the imposition of a structural adjustment programm. Chernomyrdin, Kiriyenko, Chernomyrdin, then whoever, the IMF wants Russia tied down.
While there is no real prospect yet of revolutionary organisation and mobilisation, popular reaction and anger is set to increase. Perhaps trade union leader Alexander Sergeev, member of the All-Russia Strike Committee just set up, has a point.
He was arrested on 11 August in Moscow for organising railroad blockades. He was released only after a banned rally outside the government building. More are to follow, with workers from factories picketing the White House.
In Sergeev's view, workers have the right to self-defence and
to armed struggle to defend their interests.
He warned the government not "to encourage right-wing prejudice," or to suggest that the welfare state is "a charity that delivers handouts to the poor".
He sent a letter to GMB officials saying: "Our welfare state is not based on charity but on the principle of social insurance. When we are drawing an income we make payments under the insurance principle and we are entitled to draw benefits when we are in serious difficulties.
"Under this the vast majoriy of claimants have the right to receive the benefits they have paid for previously.
"During the debate about welfare reform, minister and politicians should be very careful to avoid encouraging the right-wing prejudice that it is only the lazy, the spendthrift and the dishonest who claim benefits.
"Most claimants are decent people who have fallen on hard times. They have earned the right to help and support and should not be stigmatised."
Mr Edmonds seemed to be directing his remarks mainly at the former Social Security Secretary Harriet Harman and her minister Frank Field.
But Ms Harman's successor, John Darling, has also been talking about cutting the welfare budget.
And John Edmonds comments are also seen as a first shot in the debates which will be taking place soon in the TUC and Labour Party annual conference.
He also criticised the government's Green Paper on welfare reform which proposed "reducing welfare dependency as if most people are on benefits because they want to be.
"All recent research has shown the overwhelming majority of claimants are either pensioners or want to get off benefits."
* Prime Minister Tony Blair last week belatedly agreed to attend the TUC conference later this month in Blackpool, to avoid being accused of snubbing the unions.
Previously he had failed to respond to an invitation from the TUC and officials began to think that this would be the first TUC conference in 20 years where the Labour Party leader had not been one of the keynote speakers.
Seven other members of the Cabinet are due to address the conference. Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson changed his plans and decided to cut short a visit to South Africa in order to attend this year's TUC.
The NAM, which welcomes Belarus as its 114th member, is largely comprised of former colonial countries in Africa, Asia. Latin America and elsewhere.
President Gerry Rawlings of Ghana recalled in his speech that exactly ten years ago in Harare, Zimbabwe, the NAM had resolved to make the liberation of South Africa its foremost task.
And as President Mandela said in opening the summit: "In as much as the achievement of democracy in South Africa and our return to the community of free nations is your victory too, we say in all humility and gratitude -- welcome home!"
And the biggest welcome home has been given to Cuba's Fidel Castro who did more than any other non-African leader to achieve the liberation of South Africa.
Addressing the summit, Fidel Castro called for the lifting of economic blockades against any country. He said: "Depriving millions of people including women, children and the elderly of food, medicine and the means to make a living is an extremely cruel act of terrorism, a real genocide. They should be considered war crimes and punished by the international court of law."
Also making strong calls for the lifting of sanctions on Iraq and Libya, were Algerian President Lamine Zeroual and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
A surprise late appearance by Democratic Congo President Laurent Kabila provided him with an opportunity to outline the external threat recently suffered by his country, which has set-back what he described as "the lofty task of taking the Congo from its past ruin and shame to a future of development".
He paid tribute to the unconditional support given to the government and people of the Democratic Republic of Congo by the fraternal countries of Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola and he called on all Third World countries to lend their support to the reconstruction of the Congo, which was confident of victory".
However, the dispute in some areas has sharpened markedly. On GTRM, which maintains the West Coast Main Line From London -- Euston to north of Carlisle (and other areas in the east and west Midlands), a very good union representative, Steve Hedley, has been sacked on trumped-up charges despite an enquiry exonerating him on all four counts brought against him by GTRM managernent.
Steve, who is Irish, was among other things accused of calling a strikebreaker a "Catholic bastard"; apparently the complainant believed he was a Protestant because he has a strong northern Irish accent!
Also, Railtrack CCTV pictures showed his clothing to be totally different from strike breakers' descriptions of what he was wearing at a picket line incident wh ich allegedly occurred when a contractors' van went through a picket line at Steve's London depot.
In addition, accusations that Steve crossed a raiway track with no high-visibility safety vest on were contradicted by one of the management! This charge is especially nasty because Steve has built a deserved reputation as a stalwart on health and safety issues. Yet our brother remains dismissed despite police withdrawals.
This issue, and other blatant victimisations in other companies, which have been similarly unconvincing displays of managements' deviousness, insecurity and desperation, is of glaring importance, not only to rail workers' union RMT, but we suggest also to working class people and their organisations everywhere.
Many reps are openly saying "where is the Labour government while all this is going on? How can these companies, and GTRM is only one of a had lot, be allowed to continue to be responcible for our railways? If they can he so dishonest about people like Steve Hedley, how can the rest of the public trust them, let alone responsible Labour ministers in office?"
Following ever-increasing bad publicity regarding the performance of privatised rail companies (not only in maintenance areas) the RMT can only point to the facts and urge the working class and it's sympathisers to draw the correct conclusions and to act accordingly on these.
The cowboy firms can no longer be allowed to try to "brass it out" as they are clearly trying to do. We draw readers' attention to an article in the June 1998 issue of Labour Research to put some more meat on the bones of our case.
Railtrack, which aims to "save" £80 million in rail maintcenance (i.e. increase profits from state subsidies donated hy the Labour government) this year, bear prime responsibility for this dangerous and chaotic state of affairs on our railway system.
They must be forced to shelve their plans and allow/force their flunky companies on maintenance to concede to the demands of the RMT enshrined in the Blue Book of restructuring demands which was slapped on their desks back in April 1998. This is the only intelligent course at this juncture.
A few other considerations, however, must be made. There is some confusion among many right-wing elements in the RMT's various company councils as to what course should be taken.
The strength of the dispute has knocked back those who have tried to adapt to the new privatised regimes very severely. Jarvis workers have rejected the latest offer of that company recently.
The RMT's decision, at the recent AGM in Carlisle, to set up a national hardship fund around a 25-35 per cent levy on branch management funds for maintenance engineers in dispute, has met with open right-wing hostility in some quarters, for very obscure reasons when they are asked why they so strongly objcct.
Some have even tried to separate the Steve Hedley victimisation issue from the ongoing conduct of the dispute, flagrantly defying the Executive of RMT and isolating themselves, not our member. They are a minority.
Negotiations continue in the various company councils over the Blue Book at present (23 August).
Some companies, like Jarvis, Centrac and Amey are on the brink of conceding as is plain to see. They are more divided by their greed and arrogance than they are united hy their bitter class hostility to the honest working class people and their families and friends who the RMT so clearly represents so strongly.
They are also nonplussed by the growing evidence that the public image of privatisation and "market economics" dogma is cracking before their eyes. And it serves them right!
Patient work, serious explanation, growing solidarity and further concerted industrial action if neccessary will I am sure see our members through to victory in the coming weeks and months of this dispute.
With many thanks.