Splintered proletariat: Bourgeois democracy against workers’ solidarity

Vladimir Frolov Chairman of the Socialist Party of Latvia

In the end of the XIX century, in the Governorates of Livonia and Courland of the Russian Empire (part of territory of the today’s Latvia), capitalism was rapidly developing. As refers to the population, Latvia was only 1.5% of all inhabitants of the Russian Empire, but it produced 5.5% of all industrial production. 62 300 workers were employed in large industries of Latvia. In the society of Latvia, its basic antagonist classes were composing themselves, the bourgeoisie and the industrial proletariat. In the course of irreconcilable confrontation, each of the parties soon began to form their own organizations and to nominate their leaders.

Historic roots of ethnic contradictions in the left and communist movements of Latvia

At the head of the Latvian bourgeoisie, were representatives of the best-off layers, which founded, in 1868, the Riga’s Latvian Society, Māmuļa (Dear mother). The members of this society were not separating themselves from the Russian monarchy, regarding it as the bulwark of their interests, both class and emerging nationalist.

Opposed to the Māmuļnieki, the New Trend movement of Latvian democratic intellectuals was formed. They were the first to begin the Marxist propaganda, in the Baltic Governorates, and contributed to birth and development of the social democratic movement. The newspaper Dienas lapa (Daily Leaf) became the centre of ideas of the New Trend. It was edited by the future founder of the Communist Party, Pēteris Stučka, and Latvian revolutionary and translator, Jānis Rainis, who later became the veteran of non-Bolshevik trend of the Social Democracy of independent Latvia.

The beginning of the revolutionary movement, in the Baltic Region, or the “Baltic turmoil” goes back to the years 1880. The property relations created by that time, the nationalist and social strife became a powerful factor in the development of the interest of the local population in the ideas of the Social Democrats. They felt their strong support in the masses of urban and agricultural workers, among farm labourers. And, what is important to note in order to understand further ways of development of the Latvian Social Democracy, as early as since the year 1901, here operated several organizations not only of Latvian but also of Russian and Jewish Social Democrats.

The relationship on the issue of unification of forces was different. So, Russian Social Democrats demanded as well the unification of Latvian Social Democrats with the centrally managed party. Latvian Social Democrats understood that it was necessary to unite all Social Democratic organizations in a single party, in the struggle against the tsarist regime of Russia, nevertheless their desire to retain at least some degree of their national seclusion was still strong and they saw this union only on the basis of federation.

The marked difference in positions proved not to be overcome in decades. During many years, continued internationalism was decisive in the activity of the Latvian Social Democrats, and then of the Communists. But the ideal roots of the tilt towards the national interests kept on preserving themselves and lead later to an acute crisis of the Latvian Communist Party, in 1959, to its split in the course of the process of disintegration of the USSR gaining strength in 1991.

In June 1904, in Riga, Latvian Social Democratic organizations had their first illegal congress which created the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (LSDWP). During that time, it united about 2500 persons, 70% of whom were workers. The congress created the party on the national and federative principles. The central organ of the party, inside the country, was the newspaper Cīņa (Struggle), and abroad it was the magazine Sociāldemokrāts edited in Switzerland.

The Social Democracies of other ethnic nationalities, within the territory of Latvia, operated as Russian organizations and the Bund. V.I.Lenin who decisively struggled against the federalism of parties submitted to criticism the decisions adopted by the LSDWP.

At the same time, during the shortly emerged revolutionary events of the year 1905, in Latvia, the local Social Democrats headed the broader masses of workers and peasants. Evaluating the results of the revolution of 1905, V.I.Lenin wrote: During the revolution, the Latvian proletariat and the Latvian Social Democracy occupied one of the first most remarkable places in the struggle against the autocracy and all forces of the old regime, it was in the frontline of the armed insurgency, it contributed the most to rising the movement to the highest stage of the uprising. It was, more than anybody else, involving the Latvian agricultural proletariat and the Latvian peasantry into the great struggle against the Tsarism and the landlords (Lenin V.I. Complete works, V.19, P.305, 306).

The Latvian Social Democrats tightly connected the success of their performance, in the Baltic Region, with the victory of all-Russian revolution. They proposed to create a Social Democratic Republic of Russia, where Latvia would be integrated into as an autonomous region or land. It was not in vain therefore that the most remarkable Latvian Social Democrat and poet Jānis Rainis proposed the slogan of Free Latvia in a free Russia, during that period.

Two years after the LSDWP was founded, the opinion about the necessity of the unification of all forces was formed in the Social Democratic movement of Russia. During the IV (Unification) Congress, in Stockholm (April – May 1906), the LSDWP, the Bund and the Polish SDP were incorporated into the united party of Russian Social Democracy. As an autonomous territorial organisation within the RSDWP, the Latvian Social Democracy adopted a new name, Social Democracy of the Latvian Land (SDLL).

The formal unification covered temporarily but did not finish the discrepancies within the SDLL. During periods of growth of revolutionary activities, those were softening down, and during low seas of revolution and increases of the reaction, those were increasing as well.

Errors of political tactics caused serious damage to the unification of the party and to its authority among the workers. It can be very clearly seen in the decisions, in the field of agrarian transformation, and their practical implementation by the Latvian Social Democrats and, later, also by the Communists.

So, in the course of the events implemented by the government of ISKOLAT, in 1918, landlord properties were confiscated and soviet farms were being created in those. It happened in accordance with the position held by Latvian Bolsheviks (P.Stučka, F.Roziņš, etc.), who, even before the October Revolution were against the division of the landlord properties, considering that those should be maintained as large agricultural enterprises. In practice it lead to the fact that peasants were simply stealing the collective inventory to their households and ignored working on collective farm lands. The custom of farming at private households established during centuries among Latvian peasants could not be overcome by a resolution of the ISKOLAT. Besides, it was in contradiction with the decree “On Land” approved by the II All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which dealt about the division of the nationalised landlord properties among the peasants. Such hurry in revolutionary transformations, in a peasant environment very sensitive to any innovation not only shunned their representatives from the Latvian Bolsheviks but also brought additional misunderstandings in their own party lines.

Regrettably, the desire for most early introduction of new socialist transformations, without sufficient political work to prepare the masses to accept them, was also manifested in the activities of the leading sections of the Latvian communists during later periods.

Ambiguity of moods concerning the Soviet power, after the liberation of Latvia from the Hitler occupation, was expectable. Among the population who welcomed the Red Army there were many persons who hated Hitler, but the issue of political regime had no crucial importance for them, at that moment. There were also those who, hating the Nazis and welcoming the Red Army advance, hoped that, after the war, there would not be the phenomena, in the structure of the new life, that they had not liked, during the period of 1940 – 1941.

A part of the inhabitants was of an anti-Soviet mood (nationalist layers in cities and countryside), who aimed at re-establishment of the bourgeois order of the “old Latvia”. At the same time, these forces understood the lack of prospects of their situation and the senselessness of the fight with the winners. Therefore, the Red Army approaching the territory of Latvia, representatives of the highest level of the German collaborators, as well as those who were against the Soviet order but were not connected with active collaboration, left together with the Germans or immigrated into various Western countries.

And the retired warriors of the Latvian Riflemen Corps 130, former partisans and clandestine resistance members formed, during the post war years the basic carcass of the ethnic personnel of the Soviet Latvia. Soon after the war, in February 1946, the elections of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR took place, when the Latvian people had the possibility to express its will. An overwhelming majority of the native population of Latvia, despite the threats and terror of the “forest brothers” (armed nationalist groups, including former Nazi collaborators), took part in these elections, proving by that de facto its will of living and participating in social processes within the Union of SSR. This confirmed the opinion expressed by the President of the USA, F.Roosvelt, who proposed to Stalin arranging a plebiscite in the Baltic republics and who had no doubt about that the peoples of these countries would vote for incorporation into the Soviet Union the same strong way like they had done it in 1940 (Transcription of talks between I.V.Stalin and F.Roosvelt of December 1st, 1943. The Soviet Union, in international conferences during the Great Patriotic War of 1941 – 1945. The Teheran Conference of the leaders of the three allied powers, USSR, USA and Great Britain. November 28 – December 1, 1943).

It should be considered an indisputable fact that Latvian communists have always been sufficiently substantiated theoretically and politically the program of the national issue. The internationalism of the Latvian Bolsheviks and the Latvian Red Riflemen is well-known.

But, regrettably, during the post-war period of the socialist construction, in the Republic, a different approach towards the practice and speed of implementation of the industrialisation of the public economy, the importance of the ethnic factor, in the political party work, under conditions of growing internalization of the labour collectives, emerged within the party leadership. The roots of discrepancies of approaches to correlation of the national and the international, during a concrete moment of the socialist construction, turned out to be quite alive, since the time of the old disputes between Latvian and Russian Social Democrats.

This circumstance lead to the crisis of the leadership of the Latvian SSR, in 1959, having required a particular revision and discussion of its results, at a meeting of the Presidium of the CC of CPSU and at the plenary session of the CC of Latvian Communist Party. The according personnel and political resolutions, finally, turned out being insufficient in order to correct the errors committed by Latvian communists and to renovate complete confidence of the workers towards the party.

The defects and contradictions of activities of Latvian communists that were hidden in a most decisive way, during many years, revealed themselves again in the end of the years 80, beginning of the years 90 of the last century and lead first to the split, and later, to the absolute defeat of the Communist Party of Latvia, in the political crisis, which concluded with the disintegration of the USSR.

The influence of the national issue in the activities of the Latvian Socialist Party in the current circumstances

Mistaken representatives of workers of the countries, where the ruling classes are yet only aimed at joining the European Union, often candidly believe that the declared principles of civil liberties and human rights are certain sacred values there. And any country having similar problems will get rid of them after joining this "club of democratic values".

On the other hand, there are European parties of the left spectre, from Social Democratic to Communist, which took to opportunist positions and assumed principles of bourgeois democracy as the basis of their activities, accepting those not only as a tool for struggle but also as their ideological platform.

In this sense it would be worthy to pay attention to the situation in Latvia, in which, as in some countries of the capitalist revenge, the situation of the democratic principles became a kind of a "magnifying glass" clearly showing the lies dealt by the propagandists of the bourgeois freedoms and values.

In August of 1991, literally from the first hours (!) of re-establishing of the bourgeois order, prohibition was implemented not only for the Latvian Communist Party (its leaders were arrested), but also for all social organisations suspected as not being loyal towards the new bourgeois power. Even children and youth organisations were prohibited, as well as the society of the veterans of the Second World War and of the anti-Nazi partisan resistance movement.

In addition, in several major cities (Daugavpils, Rēzekne), and in the administrative districts of the capital, where, due to proletarian composition of the electorate, Councils had been elected with majorities of elected members being Communists-internationalists, those were dissolved. Instead of legally elected (besides, elected according to the new laws, on an alternative basis!) bodies, governmental managers were appointed. In July 1992, without any judicial procedure, 14 elected members of the faction of Equal rights, who were against the restauration of the national bourgeois power, were expelled from the Supreme Council of the Republic. The bourgeois "democracy" was introduced through the bourgeois dictatorship, in Latvia.

All power bodies were called temporary because next ordinary elections were already near, which, as the new bourgeois authorities declared, would be truly democratic, being possible for the inhabitants to elect those who they would like to elect. Nothing of this kind, of course, happened.

Firstly, under the pretext of the principle of succession of the bourgeois state of Latvia of the years 20-30 of the last century (the continuity), the parliament of the "renovated" Latvia removed citizenship and corresponding rights to elect and to be elected from more than 700 000 (one third!) of the inhabitants of the country. The situation had special cynics to it because citizenship was removed from those who had elected the current members of the Parliament. Due to historic causes, in general those who lost their civil rights were Russian-speaking residents of the cities and workers of the major industrial enterprises, who were isolated through this from the possibility of influencing the political situation of the country.

Secondly, several thousands more, members of the prohibited organisations, were left without their passive election rights (rights to candidate), based on the retroactive use of law. Besides, in order to set national communist separatists and cowards without principles quietly waiting for final winners free from this prohibition, a special law did not use party membership as a ground for the prohibition, but the formula of "active actions" was specified. Cowards and traitors of the former "communists" were necessary for the bourgeois authorities…

Besides, it should be taken into account that all financial and tangible assets of the prohibited Latvian Communist Party: bank accounts, premises, printing installations, vehicles were confiscated, the newspapers closed, the access to the electronic media blocked. The bourgeois "democratic elections" were implemented through the limitation of the basic rights and freedoms of a considerable part of the electorate.

With all that, during the parliamentary elections of 1993, the Socialist Party, having united representatives of the left and democratic forces, could join the Parliament with seven elected members (the Saeima of Latvia has 100 elected members). Several our comrades became elected members of local authorities.

Besides clear social class targeting of these prohibitions (as already mentioned, local councils were dissolved where workers were majority of the electorate), the action implemented by the bourgeois authorities had an evident nationalistic colouring, from offering ethnic privileges in the field of employment, public service and distribution of tangible assets, during the process of denationalisation, to frank xenophobia when regulating the language use and organising the education.

A series of laws and legislative amendments, in the field of the language use, in fact put Russian out of the official communication and the higher education. Later, first in part, and in fact completely up to now, the use of any language besides Latvian was becoming not allowed under the threat of fines and firing, in other social fields: private general schools and higher education centres, private entrepreneurship. This year, Latvian will be the only teaching language of those public educational facilities which previously had the status of "ethnic minority schools", in the upper grades – completely, excluding certain number of teaching hours for the proper native language.

In order to understand the acuteness of the problem, one should take into account the fact that Latvia never has been mono-ethnic and monolingual territory and country. The situation of the languages used by the population somehow recalls Belgium: varied ethnical composition, in the East, even with Russian and Byelorussian majorities in some local authorities, almost totally Latvian rural areas of the central and Western part, and a considerable number of Russian speakers of the capital and the sea-side cities. In Riga (year 2018) live 46.8% Latvian and 37.1% Russian inhabitants. Representatives of the rest of the ethnic groups (the most numerous being Byelorussians and Ukrainians) also use Russian language for communication.

("https://infogram.com/etnicheskij-sostav-naseleniya-rigi-1hmr6glo3qqz4nl" )

Today Latvia takes part in several imperialist unions and organsations, like the EU and the Council of Europe, in fact openly ignoring the articles of the international conventions and declarations in the field of the human rights and the rights of the ethnic minorities, which are declared in words by those unions and organsations. Including, the most fundamental acts like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Violated: Art. 2 (Latvian language law), Art. 11 (law retroaction referring the Communist party and Soviet social organisation membership), Art. 15 (Laws on citizenship), Art. 19 (prohibition of ideology and evaluation of historic events), etc. (http://www.un.org/ru/documents/decl_conv/declarations/declhr)

Properly told, the Latvian authorities have violated ALMOST ALL (!) articles of this basic international act on rights, but this has not lead to any sanction implemented by the “iinternational community” nor by the mentioned international organisations, besides some “recommendations” which are not obligatory for anybody.

Of course, the persons sharing the communist ideology would find nothing unexpected in this; the Marxists know well the false and hypocritical nature of bourgeois democracy and the true attitude of the capitalists and their hired politicians and officials to the rights of people. Nevertheless, a reaction of European Social Democrats and “left” liberals is not difficult to imagine, should there be an administrative change in school education from French into Dutch, in already mentioned Belgium, and the angry parents would be officially told to go away to France and teach their children in French there …

Later, having obtained the power, literally from the first years of re-establishment of the bourgeois statehood, the ruling politicians began explaining that industries had been artificially imposed and Latvia can easily do without all those plants. The employees were advised to take easy the liquidation of those, moreover, in front of the prospect of employment in the field of public management. It is true: a separate state needs much more officials-managers, than a republic of the former Union, and the number of public management employees, in Latvia, increased almost five times compared to the Latvian SSR. And it is a prestigious job with a high salary.

Here emerge other factors of bourgeois technology of splintering the unity of workers – the ethnic (linguistic) factor and citizenship removal. That is how look, for example, the differences of possibilities of employment for the citizens and non-citizens (aliens): Later, having obtained the power, literally from the first years of re-establishment of the bourgeois statehood, the ruling politicians began explaining that industries had been artificially imposed and Latvia can easily do without all those plants. The employees were advised to take easy the liquidation of those, moreover, in front of the prospect of employment in the field of public management. It is true: a separate state needs much more officials-managers, than a republic of the former Union, and the number of public management employees, in Latvia, increased almost five times compared to the Latvian SSR. And it is a prestigious job with a high salary.

Here emerge other factors of bourgeois technology of splintering the unity of workers – the ethnic (linguistic) factor and citizenship removal. That is how look, for example, the differences of possibilities of employment for the citizens and non-citizens (aliens): "https://www.russkie.org.lv/sites/default/files/rights-differences.pdf" "pdf (Annex 1)

Certainly, all Latvians could not become officials of public management. But, in the process of deindustrialisation of Latvia and growth of unemployment, in the productive sector of economy, any job of the public field (from education and medicine to servicing of engineering networks) was becoming attractive due to existence not only of higher salaries but also of social guarantees. All in all, in the public budget area of Latvia, around two hundred fifty thousand employees are employed (of approximately one million of all working population). Besides, such areas of private business, like, for example, road construction, some branches of transportation and similar fields exist in fact due to public contracts and, therefore, depend on the ruling politicians.

A well calculated policy of the bourgeois authorities hindered the counter-actions against developing petty-bourgeois elements, within the worker environment, the overcoming of indifference of some and being afraid of loss of job and repressions of others. The process of cutting of social guarantees took place rather slowly, during the first years after the restauration of capitalism, residual socialist achievements of the workers remained. The higher education became notably payable only in the end of the years 90 of the last century (a part of specialties went on paid from the public budget, but only studying in Latvian). The passing to a totally payable medicine, in general, is planned only this year. This allowed retaining illusions referring to “being cared about by the state”. With reference to salaries and social guarantees of the employees of public management, a part of those was preserved, other (for officials of middle and higher levels) were replaced with higher currency remuneration, which surpassed many times the public servant salaries that existed during socialism.

After joining the European Union, possibilities emerged of use of considerable financial resources in the form of grants and subsidies. And the rural farm owners in general were offered a possibility of retirement aged 50 (the rest of the categories of workers saw their retirement age increased up to 65 years for 2025, in 2018 it being 62 years 9 months). As was already mentioned, the absolute majority of the rural population are Latvians. This is why the employees of a factory, destroyed during manual deindustrialisation, had very different possibilities depending on their ethnic origin: being simply thrown out in the street or to get employed in the public sector, having obtained additionally hereditary farming household with all mentioned benefits and opportunities.

Even the widely discussed today "educational reform" is aimed not only at mobilising the Latvian electorate on the basis of nationalist emotions but also at offering working places for the teachers who became unemployed due to the liquidation of small Latvian rural schools. To offer it at the expense of the Russian teachers who were fired from the city schools where the education now must be in Latvian…

As a result, we have the bourgeoisification of the Latvian part of workers, who were bought by handouts from the "national state", and the marginalisation of the Russian proletariat engaged in an elementary survival.

The appeals of the bourgeois power to the "ethnic unity of Latvians" regardless of the class stratification of society are backed by tangible material advantages, being practically impossible to break such views only by ideological, educational and propaganda work. The Russian-speaking part of the working people who have been left without these advantages begin to rely on capitalist Russia, positively perceiving not only some elements of the Soviet past preserved there, such as the celebration of the victory over Nazi Germany, but also the liberal, imperialistic, nationalist aspects promoted by representatives of the Russian ruling class.

The internationalist political tactics of the SPL, in this situation, are sometimes perceived as the notorious "sitting on two chairs". If we use this image to explain our position, the SPL does not sit but it stands between two chairs: one is occupied by Latvian workers, the other by Russian speakers. Both "chairs" have one leg broken off by the efforts of the Latvian and Russian bourgeoisie, who try to tilt them in their direction or at least rock them. And we try to prevent it, keeping this shaky support of the modern proletariat of Latvia…

Of course, in each country, the situation with interethnic relations among the working people and the influence of this factor in the class consciousness is significantly different. An appeal to the national self-cosciousness of the masses can be progressive in countries struggling for liberation from imperialist aggression or against manifestations of neocolonialism. In the countries of the former USSR, nationalism manifests itself as a uniquely reactionary factor, which is being successfully used by the local and globalist bourgeoisie in order to oppose the unity of the working class.

It is quite obvious that, from the time of the emergence of the socialist state, in Russia in 1917, and up to the bourgeois counterrevolution of the years 90 of the last century, the behavior of the masses of working people, in the USSR and in the former socialist countries of the Eastern Europe, demonstrates to us that this factor is clearly underestimated in Marxist theory and it requires a serious research. The importance of this factor was pointed out by V.I. Lenin: “Bourgeois and bourgeois-democratic nationalism, in words recognizing the equality of nations, in fact defend (often secretly, behind the backs of the people) certain privileges of one of the nations and always strives to achieve more benefits for "their" nation (i.e., for the bourgeois of their nation), to the separation and demarcation of nations, to the development of national exclusivity, etc.. Speaking most of all about “national culture”, emphasizing what separates one nation from another, bourgeois nationalism divides workers of different nations and fools them with “national slogans“. (V.I.Lenin, Complete works, vol.24, p. 236)