By Miguel Lamas, a leader of the International Workers’ Unity-Fourth International (IWU-FI)
The arrest of opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow on 17 January triggered a wave of protests across Russia, with over 40,000 people demonstrating in the centre of Moscow and thousands more in almost every city.
The demonstrators, with slogans against corruption and in favour of Navalny’s release, were violently repressed. The centre of Moscow was closed and 10,000 people were imprisoned.
Navalny became a leading dissident against Putin, focusing his campaign on denouncing the regime’s corruption and repression. He was arrested on his return from Germany after recovering from suspected poisoning. He accused Putin in a video of having built a gigantic $1 billion palace on the Black Sea, which Putin denied. Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s oligarch childhood friend, declared that he owns it.
Some on the left regard Putin as a ‘progressive’ because of his political and economic clashes with the US and the EU. But there is nothing progressive about Putin. He heads a capitalist and dictatorial regime. His clashes are in defence of the new Russian oligarchy’s profits.
Putin consolidated the restoration of capitalism by focusing the economy on making quick profits for his nouveau riche from oil, gas and minerals exports, which in the last two years have plummeted in price.
Putin is trying, like all capitalist governments, to make the people pay for the crisis and not his oligarch friends. Cuts have been made in health care, education and pension reform that raised the retirement age to 65. The average monthly salary for workers in Russia is 245 dollars, for public employees is 125 dollars.
Navalny is part of a liberal bourgeois political movement that is supported by sections of European imperialism. What Navalny does not denounce is that, beyond Putin and the Palace, 98 Russians are mentioned in Forbes magazine, which lists people whose wealth is valued at over a billion dollars. This was got from the over-exploitation of workers, a policy of imperialist expansion in the countries that made up the former Soviet Union and others as well, and from the theft of public property with capitalist restoration. Eight of them are even among the 100 richest in the world. This is pure capitalism. And with all its worst vices, such as the corruption of “friendly” politicians who act in the service of these capitalists, and the repression and over-exploitation of migrants, who are employed in construction and other industrial sectors. Thus, Navalny’s denunciations of Putin’s corruption fall on fertile ground. His video filming Putin’s palace with a drone, which circulated on the networks, was reproduced 100 million times (in a country of 144 million inhabitants).
In the IWU-FI, we demand the freedom of Alexei Navalny and all Russian political prisoners for protesting against Putin and corruption and his repressive regime. We believe the left and workers should not give any political support to Navalny, since his project is to maintain the same social regime, without Putin, but with the same over-exploiting capitalists, friends of the current president.