The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Russia:
Crisis and Brutal Impoverishment

Jan 4, 2021

The following is a translation from Lutte Ouvrière, the newspaper of the revolutionary workers organization active in France.

Authorities in major Russian cities have said they may run out of bread in the New Year, as demand is soaring. Many consumers use bread to compensate for the fruits and vegetables, sugar and meat they have to do without, the prices of these staples having sometimes doubled, tripled, or even more, in a few months. This comes against the backdrop of a sharp drop in income.

The Russian authorities estimate the drop in purchasing power over one year at 4%. In reality, it is much more, while 30% of Russians, according to the polls, say they are in poverty.

Putin wanted to appear indignant about it during a recent television talk show. He threw it back on the mayors and governors, blaming the messengers for this. He ordered them to safeguard the purchasing power of the population by capping the prices of certain commodities. The consequence is, for example, that sugar at regulated prices has disappeared from stores, while only cane or higher quality sugar can still be found—at a much higher cost, because it is not regulated.

On television, Putin did not say anything about another effect of the crisis: the accelerated depreciation of the ruble, which makes imported products more expensive, without wages following.

The global crisis has hit Russia in a visible way: continuous decline in industrial production, decline in oil and natural gas exports ... In a few months, millions of workers in industry and services found themselves on short‑time working with laughably low salary compensation. Many others have lost their jobs altogether. And the loss of income that went with it drove entire sections of the working class into poverty, as well as sections of the petty bourgeoisie such as small businesses, and independent professionals.

It is in this context that strikes are multiplying for wage increases, or for the simple payment of wages, as was the case in the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR.

Over ten days in December, to name only big cities and big companies, this provoked the strike of the workers of an automobile factory in Novokuznetsk (6 million rubles in arrears of wages), of a paper-cardboard mill in Ussuri (four months of unpaid wages), of the employees of public transport of Rybinsk, of the workers of an oil extraction site in Rosneft, of caregivers from Vladimir, Samu and various other cities.

To make people forget the worsening social situation, the Russian authorities boast of having been the first in Europe to launch, on December 4, a vaccination campaign with its own vaccine, Sputnik V.

In addition to the questionable effectiveness of the vaccine ‑ refused even by the Belarusian ally and client Lukashenko, the population knows that it has been left without aid in the face of the virus, tossed between orders and counter‑orders from employers and authorities for months. The epidemic continues to flare up, to the point that hospitals, saturated in the provinces but also in the richest region, in Moscow with its 12 million inhabitants, can often no longer accommodate patients. Paramedics and caregivers denounce it ¼ and sometimes they too are fighting for their jobs and their salaries.