Interview with an Activist of the Workers’ Platform, Andrey Zavodskiy

workers' platformAs we had written earlier, our editorial board contacted the representatives of the organisation Workers’ Platform (RP), whose founding conference took place at the end of August. At this conference, RP practically declared itself an independent political group. Representing the group, Andrey Zavodskiy let us interview him.

Andrey, I would first like to ask the most interesting, for me in any case, question. Why did the Workers’ Platform in no way mark its break-away from the Russian Socialist Movement (RSD)? For many side-line observers it is totally unclear if RP left RSD, if it didn’t leave and instead just altered the intra-movement relationship format? A common practice of all serious political powers is the documentation of such important steps. Currently, in the ‘left-wing movement’, as it is said nowadays, there is a certain mood among the intelligentsia which favours backstage decisions on important question, which supports the silencing of the difference of opinions in the ‘don’t wash your dirty linen in public’ style. It’s doubtful that RP would display such political prudishness, after all not many expected it. So, in any case, what is the reason for the silence? Or, may it be that RP is currently preparing a major and serious document on this topic?

Workers’ Platform has been founded as an independent group in January 2014. Since then, an overwhelming majority of RP’s activists in no way associate themselves with RSD. At the present time, formally in the RSD we only have one comrade from Irkutsk. Regarding our documents – the collective exit was preceded by a continuous discussion inside the organisation. In the frame of the discussion about the methods of possible development, groups that found themselves on the polar opposites from one another (who later formed RP and the Open Left) published a series of statements which utmost clearly demonstrated the positions of both tendencies. Those willing to familiarize themselves with these texts can visit the online archive on RSD’s website in the second half of 2013. On our site, you can find a series of documents from the same period from our side: http://workplatform.info/#/post/717 ; http://workplatform.info/#/post/562

As we took the decision to take an exit from RSD in early 2014, the activists of the Platform decided to not attract increased attention of the ‘left’ public to this issue. We limited ourselves to writing a short manifesto (which, at the latest RP conference, was substituted by a full-out proper version – http://workplatform.info/#/post/1718). This decision was not dictated by the will to ‘not wash the dirty linen in public’. In our view, the autumn discussion 2013 inside RSD was a sufficient display of positions by which we criticize RSD and the conception of the ‘wide left’.

As we took this decision, we were emanating from the principle that the left-wing movement in modern Russia is concentrated out-of-proportion on itself. Splits and unifications do not bring in any practical value, since groups that are breaking in parts and then uniting only attract the attention of a limited number of persons; they do not have a place among the workers and substitute real political activism with historical reconstruction. Furious damning statements are written often within the framework of this period of reconstruction. Possibly, given time, RP will make a decision to publish some sort of an analysis of the modern Russian ‘left’, but even then, it’s doubtful that we will give particular attention exclusively to RSD. A significant part of RP has never been part of RSD, therefore, it would at the very least seem strange to give meaning to deeds long-gone, given also the fact that they only affected a part of our group.

What was the catalyst that led to the split? RSD was so amorphous that RP could have continued working and developing inside this structure for a long time ignoring the right wing and using, when possible, the connexions and resources of the right. If I understand correctly, a certain time ago it was exactly so.

A major part of the Platform consists of workers and union activists. We believe that the existence of a socialist organisation is impossible without organisers in the labour milieu. A certain time we subscribed to the illusion that RSD can be reformed and redirected onto the path of transformation toward a disciplined organisation, in which different forms of activism will be organically combined and will take shape around the movement of the workers. In early 2014 there was nothing left of these illusions? RSD comrades clung to their beliefs that left-wingers must form large amorphous political coalitions, spend most of their time organizing around the so-called ‘all-citizen’ protest movements, give priority to information and symbolic work, focus on actionism*. Our point of view summed up states that socialists don’t have a chance to become an influential political power without direct involvement in grass-roots organizing in the workers’ movement. We accept other formers of activism as long as they contribute to the main goal – the creation of a complete workers’ party. As it happened, most of the members of RSD were not ready to use the methods that we, as activists that have a certain influence in the workers’ milieu, suggested to them. Moreover, a significant part of RSD has presented itself as incapable to act systematically in any given domain, whether it was campaigning or organizing or even actionism [sic].

I cannot say that something specific served for us as a ‘catalyst’ upon our exit. In the most literal sense of this word, our farewell from RSD cannot be called a split. In simple terms, the part of the organisation that was always mobilized in the workers’ movement or oriented toward participation in this movement, at a certain point in time, understood that it can continue living on outside of RSD.

With regards to some information resources that we supposedly ‘utilised’, the only resource of RSD was and remains their website. The publishing of the newspaper Socialist was put to a halt quite a while ago. As you can understand, the presence of a website cannot be the reason for participation in the activism of an organisation with which we no longer have anything in common.

How did the right-wingers react, I mean, first off, the Open Left? Ovsyannikov’s reaction seems interesting, whereas he expresses the position of the ‘centre’, as it seems to us from the side-lines.

Since the exit from RSD was not accompanied by ‘loudly-slamming doors’, we did not notice any strong sentiments on the part of our comrades. We were completely satisfied by this position and remain satisfied to this day. Although a trend such as the Open Left in RSD is completely foreign to us, many honest and, sadly enough, demotivated comrades of ours remain in the ‘centre’. We will always be happy to enter into discussion with them. We are working in the ranks of MPRA with that same Ovsyannikov. But with most other RSD members we broke all contact, since there no longer are any points of similarity with them. I assume that our exit from RSD had an appeasing effect on many of that organisation’s members, since the rough character of internal discussions had demonstrated the impossibility of collaborative work and had created a strained atmosphere inside the organisation long before January 2014. On our side, the appeasement that came with the split was also remarkable, since we no longer had to blush in front of the rest of our comrades for inadequate anti-Marxist texts on RSD’s website or for artistic actions of questionable quality.

RP plans to change the format of the political organisation or is the whole deal only about the split from RSD?

In all of its statements and manifestos, RP notes its readiness to collaborate with any progressive left movements. We understand quite well that we are not the ‘only true’ party of the working class, but rather a small consolidated group of Marxists who are ‘tied into’ the workers’ movement. Our goal is the formation of a party capable of actively participating in the formation of a radical workers’ movement, educating politically the labourers and organizing them for the struggle for socialism. Such goals presume that in the future, RP will be ready for unification processes. But with whom and on which principles shall we unite? In this question we hold strongly to the position: don’t put the carriage before the horse. Any unifying processes must be preceded by a stage of intense cooperation and collaborative work. Otherwise, the result of any unification will be the birth of another pseudo-left ‘almost-party’, a great number of which has appeared and disappeared in the last 25 years in Russia.

Are the activists of RP scared of transforming into a regional group with a strong centre in Kaluga and formal symbolic representation in Moscow and St. Petersburg?

First off, let me remark that membership in RP does not presuppose ‘symbolic’ participation and ‘representation’. Some of our individual participants happen to be figures of utmost importance in the workers’ movement of their respective regions. At the given time, we have 3 fully functioning regional groups in Moscow, Perm’ and Kaluga as well as a number of individual members. Each group has its own specifications and specialization, but practically all activists of RP are mobilized within the workers’ movement in one way or another.

Quite recently we published an interview with Sergey Biyec. RRP bid farewell to OKP, a split of another – although small but famous in all Ex-Soviet states – organisation is in the planning. Furthermore, left liberal Jeremy Corbin became the leader of the Labour Party, in Greece ‘extremely left-wing’ imperialist accomplices from SYRIZA party, despite their obvious will to cede the formation of the government to right-wingers, cannot do that, since even after SYRIZA betrayed its program, the Greeks refuse to vote for the right. All of this, in your opinion, is a coincidence or a tendency? Are you ready to approach RRP and other similar groups in the near future, or rather in the distant future? As I noticed many times, in Russia Marxists unite with whomever rather than with one another. What must happen for the situation to change?

The events about which you talk show us directly that Europe has a need for social justice and radical changes. However, is the European working class ready to take the responsibility for making rough and independent decisions? Will a revolutionary organisation capable of taking upon itself the leadership over political and economic processes? Which forms can take such an organisation? These questions stand before the European working class awaiting an immediate decision, since the mood of the masses rapidly changes. In the case of a non-execution of the ‘left project’, the society can support pro-fascist parties, which are also on a rise and are profiting from the impotency of old political movements.

With regards to Russia, as I already mentioned, we are ready to collaborate with all leftist groups, particularly with Marxists, given that we will have grounds for such collaboration. It is not much to unite and call yourself a ‘party’, one must become one. Let’s not lie to ourselves. Leftists (Marxists included) are in a terrible situation in Russia. We don’t exist in the political field. We don’t have any influence on society and in the working class. We don’t even have legal moderately-left parties, which could at least exercise some influence on the mood of the masses. The society is not very receptive toward socialist propaganda because the society has lost even its instinctive self-organising skills and the ability to collectively defend its own interests. At a time when in Finland and other European countries, moderate unions lead hundreds of thousands of workers toward nation-wide strikes, in Russia, the people are ready to reconcile with the fact that they are being paid their salary ‘in bricks’! With that being said, the workers are the only force that is of interest to socialist transformation. There can be not talk of building a revolutionary party before we will manage to assist the workers in forming a force capable of defending at least their limited economic interests.

Sometimes it seems that RP does not have a critical stance toward the union movement. In reality, in the history of socialism there have been cases when communists stood against strikes, effectively using diverse forms of the workers’ movement. In a period of crisis, clearly, unions cannot have mass success, cannot go uphill and win over serious positions. Since Levoradikal will devote a separate article to diversity of forms in the workers’ movement, our editorial board and, of course, our readers, want to ask how does RP see today the development of the workers’ movement? I will explain why I ask this: there are seemingly 3 tendencies inside the modern Russian tendency: 1. Fetishisation of the union movement and of strikes. 2. Fetishisation of actionism. 3. Fetishisation of academic theory.

Maybe, sometimes, we do make such an impression. Some not so distant opponents from the ‘leftist’ ranks even call us the ‘trade-unionist platform’. I will explain. Most of our comrades are active in the unions MPRA, Deystviye, Novoprof. Naturally, a significant part of our activism and publications on the website of our organisation are connected with the trade union milieu, since, at present, we find it very hard to cover several directions at the same time and with quality. However, since we are more closely connected to the modern independent union movement than all of the Russian left, we are better informed of the problems which prevail in this movement than the others. The idealization of unions is weird. These are limited economic organisations, which in Russia, still don’t publicize questions, which are not directly connected to the labour process, as the headline of the day. Despite different ideas, we have never committed ourselves to the idealization and absolutisation of our work. Furthermore, we always salute different forms of worker organizing. For example, in Perm’, our comrades have ties with the local residents’ movement. However, despite the fact that in times of crisis the union movement has little growth potential, union activism is one of the few forms of work which allows to attract workers to collective action. Also, as we become influential in labour collectives, we simultaneously get the possibility to lead campaign and educational work not as outsiders, but rather as ‘locals’. Today the percentage of workers that have ‘graduated’ from the Russian union movement is so paltry (I think, less than 1%). This means that the field for action is still very large. We believe that worker activists are the best managers for a future revolutionary party. These are the people that will join the movement, deriving from their own need for socialism, rather than due to some abstract, often subculture-influenced beliefs of some sort of a ‘better world’.

What is the relationship between RP and ROT Front? Does ROT Front appear to be in any way a ‘live’ subject of the workers’ movement?

Currently, we don’t have any cooperation with ROT Front. We don’t have any information about the successes of this party in the workers’ movement. It may be that we are not in possession of complete information, but we have what we have.

Another important question: how did the war in South-Eastern Ukraine affect the workers’ movement in those regions, in which RP is active? Does the rise in patriotism and chauvinist propaganda calm the workers? In Murmansk, for example, the only independent union in the whole city – a dwarf-sized union of maintenance people –, which existed for years in an aggressive environment, after 2014 had to stop its work, since nationalism and the spirit of ‘national unity’ made the activists’ work absolutely unbearable. Of course, it was a small union, but still, the only independent one in the city, how oh so sad.

Of course, the rise of the national-patriotic hysteria has shown its effect on the moods of many members of the union. However, I, personally, have never stumbled upon substantial problems or a mass exit of members from our organisation, due to the influence of government propaganda. We are usually accused by sycophantic pro-fascist movements that try to replicate NOD and yellow unions, such as ASM, of ‘working for the West’ or ‘selling Russia’s interests’. However this does not do noticeable damage to our work. There are some hilarious examples when a few yellow unions base their entire campaign on national-patriotism. However, the majority of the workers are smart people and understand that naked patriotism will not feed a family. Unions with a nationally-motivated leadership are rarely influential in labour collectives. At the end of the day, workers evaluate the union not on its political orientation, but rather if the union is capable of putting pressure on the employer and ameliorate the working conditions on the job. In the given conditions, with a lack of large Marxist parties, but with widespread national-patriotic propaganda, such ‘political nihilism’ on the part of workers plays out in our favour.

The reduction in car production in Russia has strongly hit MPRA. However, the process of import replacement creates some prospects; increases in quality and quantity of the industrial working class are awaited [sic]. Do you look at the newly-formed situation with optimism or do you think that the promises of development of industrial production in Russia, given the cheap labour force in Asia and Africa, are just a propagandistic trick of the Kremlin? Do you have altogether any contact to the workers of those factories that are opening all across Russia in the framework of the import replacement program?

We evaluate the prospects of an industrial working class in Russia quite optimistically. This is not only linked to the fact that new factories are opening (although quite few for now) in the framework of the so-called politics of ‘import replacement’, but rather that there is an ongoing change in the generations inside the working class. This process is quite slow but unavoidable. We must understand that the main problem of the workers’ movement is not the scarce number of workers. On the other hand, compared with Tsarist Russia, there are very many workers in the modern Russian Federation. If we were to use a ‘larger’ definition of ‘worker’, then in Russia they would constitute an overwhelming majority. The main problem is the psychology of paternalism. While people hope that their problems will solve themselves, while they have faith that the leadership or the government will care for their interests (or, instead of caring, say that nothing can be changed), it is near to impossible to bring such workers to common sense.

Young workers that join the forces of production, bring with them to the factories a young spirit. Not only that they want to ‘earn’ well in return for their labour, but they demand respect from their managers and those with political power. Young workers actively use the internet and can quickly receive new information. That is the milieu, which will unavoidably bring to life even the old industrial centres, that is the milieu which will seek justice, try out different methods of struggle, maybe will become the nucleus of a strong workers’ movement. Or maybe will not. If the modern Russian leftists will not start doing what socialists across the world believe to be the only adequate way to apply their strength – mobilizing.

Not the least important role in the future will be played out by workers of a new type, the notorious precariat, the self-employed population. Techniques for mobilising in these milieus remain unclear, but this means only one thing – we need to try different forms of organizing.

That may be so. We have discussed a wide spectrum of questions. Our readers will now be able to better imagine the political face of the Workers’ Platform. I thank you for the interview and wish you diverse successes on behalf of the editorial board of the website Levoradikal.

Thank you and good luck!

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