Last weekend’s planned “anti-crisis” march organised by the liberal opposition in Moscow was turned into a political protest against terror after one of the organisers, Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Russian Republican Party was gunned down by an assassin as he was walking past the Kremlin on Friday night.
The police and criminal investigation committee were on the scene within 10 minutes but the announced traffic clampdown intended to trap the killer failed to catch anyone. Within hours, the police were issuing statements that made clear that the main direction of the investigation was aimed at blaming members of the opposition, “Ukrainian agents” or even jealous family members and that the “murder could have been committed as a provocation intended to destabilise the political position in the country”. By only identifying these motives, they are ignoring the other possibilities; that Nemtsov was shot on orders of the authorities directly, by a rogue group within the state or by pro-regime right wing thugs.
The murder also takes place in the context of heightened tensions between the nationalist-capitalist Putin regime and the US and other western imperialist powers, which have imposed ‘targeted sanctions’ against Russia over the Ukraine conflict.
Given the past history of the cover-ups of such murders there can be no trust in the current official investigation into Nemstov’s killing. An open and independent investigation into all the evidence and all possibilities should be conducted by a commission of elected representatives from the various independent social, political and trade union organisations so that the killers and those that ordered the slaying can be brought to justice.
While it may be difficult to identify who fired the gun that killed Nemstov (although in past cases low level scapegoats have often been prosecuted without the person who ordered the killings being revealed), it is clear that the political atmosphere of the past period has created the conditions in which something like this was to be expected. Over the past months, ever since the secession of Crimea when President Putin spoke of the existence within Russia of “a fifth column – a disparate bunch of national traitors”, the state controlled media has been dominated by propaganda against the opposition. Special sites have been set up by pro-Kremlin groups with names such as “traitor” (predatel.ru), which list opposition politicians with implicit calls for action against them. Central TV was due to show another programme in the series “Anatomy of protest” which alleges that figures such as Nemtsov are paid agents of the Kiev “fascist” government.
Given that Putin had just declared the 27th February to be a new “holiday” – the “Day of special operations” marking the day a year ago when Russian special forces had taken over the Crimean parliament and replaced the then Prime minister with a pro-Russian - it takes no stretch of the imagination to see that a group of “patriots” could well have taken it upon themselves to deal with this “traitor”. It is just as credible to suggest that the murder took place on orders from within the state apparatus in an attempt to frighten the opposition movement into submission.
The murder of Nemtsov, it seems, was a further blow to the leadership of the “bolotnoi protest”, the movement that developed against the falsification of elections on 2011-12. Some of its leaders are under house arrest, others are in self-imposed exile. Led as it was however by ‘liberals’, this movement does not present a significant challenge to the Putin regime. Indeed Nemtsov was only popular among a layer of the urban intelligentsia. He opposed the war in Chechnya and Ukraine but from the point of view of the interests of a section of the elites. For a period, Nemstov served as deputy prime-minister or regional governor and was closely associated with the disastrous years of ‘shock therapy capitalism’ under President Yeltsin. This left millions of Russians destitute as a new oligarchy looted the state economy.
Precisely because their support in society was limited, the liberal opposition organisers of last week’s planned march were attempting to widen its appeal by making it into an “anti-crisis march” but their demands did not go beyond ‘fighting corruption’.
Of far more concern to the current regime is the potential for a social explosion linked to the current deepening economic crisis. Inflation is running at over 20%, the number of unemployed is expected to grow by 40% this year whilst the regional press is full of articles about lay-offs and wage cuts. Over 20% of employers admit they have cut wages. As well as the working class, the middle classes can face ruin, once again.
The situation at the “Ural Wagon Factory” in Western Siberia demonstrates the danger of this crisis to the Putin regime. This factory gained notoriety in 2012 when the regime bussed in workers from the plant to demonstrate their opposition to the “bolotnoi protest” and support for Putin. An “actual worker” (actually a director) from the plant was held up as a typical representative of the working class who promised to “come and clear the “goats” from the square”. Now over 5,000 workers from the factory have been laid off and others complain that their wages have been slashed from 50,000 rubles a month (about 700 euros) to 20,000 rubles. Although it seems that workers are prepared for now to tighten their belts, this will not last indefinitely.
On last Sunday’s march the CWI in Russia distributed over 4,000 leaflets warning that, “Today, Nemtsov has been killed, tomorrow it will be workers and students” and called for the protest movement to change direction, to orientate to the working class, by combining demands for political democracy with those defending wages, jobs, health and education aimed at taking the banks and big business into public ownership, so that society can be run in the interests of the majority and not that of the profits of the capitalists.