Report of Russian Communist Workers’ party at the international conference on the COVID-19 topic
Greetings, on behalf of the Russian Communist Workers’ Party! First of all, allow me to congratulate everybody on the 75th Anniversary of the Victory of the Soviet Peoples, the Red Army, the heroic Partisans and members of the Resistance Movements, over European Nazism and Fascism.
This Victory rescued the humanity from fascist slavery and provided a powerful boost to the liberation movements across the globe. However, the complete uprooting of the Fascist ideology can only be achieved as a by-product of abolishing capitalism.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which is raging across the planet, became a catalyst of economic, political and social crisis of capitalism. It has clearly demonstrated the bankruptcy of capitalism in matters of public protection against global adversities, and inability to effectively assist its own population. It is a typical paradox – that the mightiest imperialist power in the world is also the one most vulnerable one. The whole establishment of the global bourgeois community, turned out to be nothing but a house of cards. Instead of teamwork and cooperation of efforts in this time of emergency, we witness a continuation of competition, rivalry, attempts to transfer the blame on one another (USA – China – Russia), refusal to withdraw sanctions and the continuation of localised military conflicts (Donbass, Syria and so on). Numerous countries, in accordance with their planning and budgets, are in a race to develop vaccines, mostly for commercial profit.
In Russia, the COVID-19 epidemic is gaining momentum. The blame lies on the Russian capitalist government and its social policies. In recent decades Russia has undergone a so-called “optimisation” of the education and public health sectors. In reality this meant cutbacks of educational institutions, hospitals, unavailability of public health services, cutbacks on medical staff, downgrading of their education and qualifications and introducing more and more commercial services in the public health sector.
For example, between 2010 and 2014 the number of beds in Moscow hospitals for infectious diseases has been cut back by a third and continued decreasing. And yet, not more than three months ago, the mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, was campaigning at Moscow City Parliament (the Duma) for further cutbacks of health institutions. And now, Moscow tops the Russian chart of COVID-19 infected patients’ numbers. The city council has admitted that the hospitals and their emergency services are working at the limits of their possibilities. In an attempt to cover up the understaffing of medical personnel and shortage of hospital beds, they advocate to “stay at home” and treat symptoms within the confinement of your habitation. Many hospitals across Russia, especially in the provinces, are overfilled and the situation is close to a collapse.
Unfortunately, there is also a shortage of medical protection equipment. Unavailability of simple medical masks and antiseptics on the capital’s pharmacy shelves has left the most vulnerable at risk for the last two months. At the same time, the Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, has hypocritically stated that there is no deficit and “all of these items are readily available for a simple purchase on the internet” (keep in mind not all age groups have access and are tech-savvy).
However, doctors in Moscow and other cities are providing contradicting and shocking information: the hospitals where COVID-19 patients are admitted are also experiencing the shortage of medical protective equipment. This caused situations where doctors were forced to work without protective equipment, they then caught the virus and became carriers themselves. And since there is also a shortage of COVID-19 tests, the positive results of COVID-19 among medical staff come too late to avoid spreading. The official figures of medical staff mortality amount to dozens, while in reality the true figures are difficult to calculate.
Due to the shortage of medical staff, the government authorities have started forcibly directing medical students to hospitals to assist in treatment of COVID-19 patients. Declining to do so will cause problems with getting student tuition. On top of that, the students are not given out medical equipment and are forced to buy it themselves. By doing this, the authorities are not assisting in the fight against COVID-19 but are rather helping magnify the epidemic. In the last years, paramedic teams have been working in unbearable conditions, coupled with serious overtime and low wages. They have spoken up and fought for their rights more than once, and our party has been of some help in this struggle.
Since the start of the epidemic the situation has changed. The pressure on emergency medical services has increased even more, and these days all attempts to protect their worker rights are met with strong resistance from the authorities. About a month ago, The Labour Union of Emergency Staff in Ryazan’ attempted to start a legal dispute, the outcome of which were threats of criminal prosecution from the authorities.
Right now, we can already ascertain to the fact that fight against the pandemic on the nationwide level started unacceptably late. The reason lies in the internal politics. The Russian ruling regime planned to conduct “a nationwide survey” in April regarding the forthcoming Constitutional Amendments. The essence behind these amendments is redistribution of power among the ruling class representatives, for a further reinforcement of the bourgeoisie dictatorship and official authority of the President. Now the President will be empowered to appoint and dismiss all judges, including the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, all prosecutors from General to Regional. He will personally appoint 20 senators, 7 of which will be put there “for life”.
It is inherent that these measures were approved of by all parliamentary parties of Russia, even the CPRF, whose rhethorics have been long determined by the Kremlin. This “nationwide survey” holds no legal power but instead aims to affirm the legitimacy of the authorities in the eyes of society. At the same time, “nullification” of presidential terms is being pushed, allowing the current President to participate in the 2024 and 2030 elections and thereby to rule his whole life. Encountered by the threat of the pandemic, the authorities ignored the dangers, in an attempt to hold this “nationwide survey” at any cost. Only on the 25th of March did Vladimir Putin admit the dangers of the epidemic and postponed “the survey” to a later unannounced date.
However, while taking up the fight against the pandemic, the ruling class does not want to be held responsible for the severity of the ongoing disaster. The government by all means is trying to avoid declaring the state of emergency, because in that case it would mean taking on full responsibility and covering all costs, including payouts to all those affected by the economic crisis of the pandemic. Instead of this, the government is taking half-measures. For example: Vladimir Putin announced “days of paid leave” from the month of April halfway through May. But this populist decree creates a multitude of legal issues and is neglected by most employers. Furthermore, the population of the country is obliged to follow the rules of “self-isolation lockdown” mode. This means that citizens forced to “stay at home” are responsible themselves for their own subsistence. All such measures, across all of the regions of the country, create contradiction with the current legislation.
Simultaneously, the government is taking active measures in supporting big business by introducing soft loans and loan and mortgage holidays. Other measures are in the pipeline as well, including legal withdrawal of responsibility of capitalists from timely payment of wages. The measures taken to support the population, however, have a populist nature. For example: the government announced a postponement of loan and mortgage payments for the public. In reality however, citizens were still expected to pay the banks monthly interest on loans and mortgages.
The government support measures to big business are taken on the condition that the employers continue to employ a minimum of 90% of their current staff, in hopes of assisting hired workers. But instead (this condition do not apply towards for out-sourced workers through HR agencies, migrant workers) and aims As a result, a 10% employment reduction rate in companies across the country across the board as a norm. Such half-measures of the government already caused a massive wave of employee redundancies and wage cuts.
The unemployment rate in Russia is actively rising. A significant part of small bourgeoisie is either broke or close to going broke; this especially concerns the self-employed people. Nonetheless, in the last months, the private capital in Russia has confirmed that profit is more important than health and well-being of the working people. Capitalists are cutting back on protective medical equipment. As an example, machinists and drivers of the Moscow Metro have limited access to medical masks. The authorities are threatening the public with fines for not wearing masks and gloves, but have not taken any measures to provide this equipment to the public themselves or to create accessible outlets for purchase while masks and gloves continue to go missing from pharmacy shelves.
There are even some egregious cases. Some employers are not allowing their workers to speak about their COVID-19 infection, to save money on treatment and avoid a complete shutdown. There was a huge conflict recently at one of oil and gas fields in Yakutia that belong to the second largest multinational energy corporation, GAZPROM. The incident showed a large number of workers being locked down at one of their sites, they were tested for COVID-19 but the results were covered up. At the same time those employees were forced to continue work without any protective medical equipment. The official responses from the management are mixed and contradictory, mentioning hundreds and then thousands of infected workers.
There have also been numerous cases where the workers themselves were too frightened to say aloud about their infection out of fear of being fired immediately by their employer. Other cases show a massive increase of overtime load under the threat of employment termination. Many employees are transferred to remote work, and because of that, their wages are being cut. Many others are forced to sign any required form of documentation under the pressure of being fired, even an unpaid leave.
In this manner, we observe that’s such infringements of labour law and legislation as well as general civil laws have become the norm today in Russia. We are coordinating our organisations to create organised resistance of workers in workplaces and in no way to allow workers to fall prey to bourgeois propaganda that states that the calamities affect everyone equally and that we must carry on and persevere.
The pandemic is used ubiquitously by bourgeois governments for a swift liquidation of rights and liberties, reinforcement of total control over the population and strengthening of bourgeoisie dictatorships. We find ourselves in a new reality, where a ban on public meetings and events is enforced for prolonged periods of time and the ability to interact with our social network is strictly limited. We should acknowledge that not all communist parties were prepared to perform under these current changing circumstances. Nonetheless, we are trying to actively continue our propagation and advocacy, printing our newspaper and applying intensive efforts on the Internet. We continue to elucidate, that the bourgeoisie exploits and will continue to exploit any misfortune for its own profit and never for the benefit of the working class.
We do our best to support workers’ protests. Our separate organisations are trying to evade bans and restrictions in order to attend protest campaigns and strikes while maintaining sanitary precautions and standards. Our party is the only group in The Left Wing movement who is actively propagating against the Amendments to the Constitution. We suggested the CPRF that we should unite our forces in this battle, but they continue to stay silent and refrain from giving answers.
For now, we are forced to work by trial and error method. Our party continues discussion on the appropriate tactics for our work. We would be very grateful to brotherly parties for an exchange of experience on this subject within the framework of the European communist initiative; we hope the experience exchange will greatly benefit all of us.
For the main part, we think our positions with brotherly communist parties coincide: the humanity will defeat the COVID-19 virus sooner or later because there is an understanding of its corporeality and the role science plays in creating the resistance. However, the virus of capitalism is a danger much greater and much more menacing to society. What we all want and have to do is to elucidate this danger and to create an organised resistance to it.
No hesitation on the chosen path!