The Workers' Movement in Russia:
Facts and Problems

The deepening of the economic crisis in our country, that has led to the collapse of production, huge wage arrears, wages that are not paid for more than half a year or even a year, the rise of unemployment, both open and concealed, has heavily hit broad masses of workers. The majority of the toiling masses have been plunged into misery and starvation. The economic practice shows that the representatives of the administrations of companies, who have now become the holders of the majority of the shares circulating on the open market, are no longer interested in the development and preservation of production. They prefer to speculate with the resources and assets that they managed to accumulate in past years, by investing them in commercial banks in Russia or just to invest them in foreign banks. This only confirms once again the validity of the main economic law of capitalism: the production of maximum profit. Every capitalist tries to extract the maximum profit by investing the minimum of resources. In the conditions of the general crisis of capitalism workers become more and more useless to the capitalists. In August 1998 the economic crisis took a new dramatic turn that resulted in the tripling of prices of goods of primary consumption and badly hit the working class above all. The deepening of the crisis has created the conditions for a growing organized struggle of the working class for its interests.

The Leningrad Region

Like many other Russian companies, the Vyborg Paper-Cellulose Plant was privatized. The international corporation 'Ellis-Luck' purchased 52.6% of the share, 30% were taken over by the administration, the rest were sold to the workers' collective. After the privatization of the company things did not get better; all the way around. corruption and mismanagement were on the rise. A new company which had been in business with the director of the company became the main creditor. First credits were granted at 150% interest rates yearly. If the company failed to make payment the interest rates would go up to 720%. Of course, under those conditions the company could not survive.

In July 1996 the company stopped paying wages and shortly after it was declared bankrupt and sold off. As a result the plant was purchased by a British company 'Nimonor Investment Limited' for just 2.5% of its total registered value. The British company decided to lay off two-thirds of the workers' collective. The plant is meant to provide the Western market with cheap Russian cellulose. The shameless and offensive behaviour of the new owners triggered a wave of mass unrest among the workers of the plant.

A strike began that soon embraced all the sections of the plant. The striking workers proceeded resolutely and consistently. The attempt of 'Nimonor' to take control over the situation in the plant was averted by the organized workers. The workers' collective reelected union officials and gave the union the legal juridical existence which it was denied before. After this the workers' collective set about restoring production. The plant was declared the collective property of the workers. The workers elected a new administration and removed the old one. For the first time in one and a half years, the workers started to get their wages.

But the former owners of the plant and the old administration did not give up. On the contrary, they were ready for the most resolute counter-action against the workers' collective. The workers' union was sued by the former owners and administration. The official media ignored the events or shamelessly distorted them.

The British company 'Nimonor' in the end managed to win the case in court. But the workers stood more militantly than ever at the gates of the plant and did not let in anybody but members of the workers' collective. The organs of state security and judicial system decided in the end not to intervene. The workers have continued their struggle until now.

This is one of the most relevant and representative example of the struggle of the working class in Russia against the arbitrariness of the bourgeoisie. Other plants in Leningrad and the Leningrad region are in a similar situation. Specially dramatic were the events in the plant 'Russian Diesel' and the Leningrad 'Metallurgicheski Zavod' [metallurgic plant, note of translator] The spontaneous resistance of the working class is on the rise in Russia.


After a general meeting-rally of the workers' collective of the meat-processing plant, the workers expelled the director G. Karataev from the plant together with his close collaborators. The argument by the director and company that they remained the owners of the majority of the shares did not impress the workers greatly. When the dismissed director tried to return to his post with the help of the police, he was met by a large crowd of workers at the gates of the plant who were ready to stand to the last. The police decided not to intervene. Having taken control over the plant, the workers' collective turned to legal means of struggle. Lawyers were hired with the purpose of depriving the former director of any rights of ownership of the plant based on some substantial legal grounds. Also they decided to take further legal action in order to bring criminal charges against the former director. It is not clear how events will develop in the future, but no one believes that the former owners can become the masters again.

Mining regions

Miners: 'We want to raise Russia from its knees'

In the summer and fall of last year, all the mining regions of our country were shaken by a powerfull wave of strikes accompanied by other forms o political protest like rallies, pickets, etc.

In the town of Anzhero-Sudzhensk, in May 1998, the miners came out into the streets together with other sectors of the working class. The bourgeoisie with their special police forces failed to disperse the demonstrators who were blocking the main railway communications; they also failed to suppress the strikes.

The miners have remained in a state of struggle for their interests ever since. The miners, with representatives of pits from around the country, for a long time had picket lines at the house of the government in Moscow and set up a tent city at the nearby Gorbat Bridge This way the Russian miners made their demands known to the whole country.

The main slogans of the striking miners were: 'Down with Yeltsin', 'Change the social-economic path of development', 'Reforms only for the good of the people.' Together with these slogans one could also see: 'Long live workers' power' and 'All power to the strike committees.' In these slogans one can observe the different levels of development of the workers' movement in Russia.

As a result of a three-months stand (September-December), the miners formed an All-Russia Strike Committee. To the question of what are the goals of this committee, the Chairman of the Independent Union of Miners of the Republic of Komi and the town of Vorkuta, V.V. Semyonov, replied: 'The goal is to change the system of power and establish the power of the working people. First of all, the president should be ousted, new elections should be called and changes in the Constitution should be implemented. Future rulers should know that they should be held responsible for their actions. The workers' collectives should have control over production. All the economic and social policies of the State should be in accordance with the interest of the toiling people.

'In order to achieve these goals it is necessary first of all to create organizing centres of the working class: strike committees, workers' soviets and independent unions. In order to preserve plants from robber-privatizers, workers should organize into committees of self-defence. Different plants should establish operative contacts in order to interchange information, experience in struggle and organize joint struggle. It will then become much more easier to raise the whole country and put forward social and political demands. To all workers: prepare activists, elect representatives and establish contact with the All-Russia Strike Committee.

'Down with the criminal regime!

'All power to the working people'

The economic crisis is deepening in our country. The prices for goods of prime necessity are going up. The class struggle is taking more and more open forms. Other sectors of the working class are rising to the struggle for their interests. Wages still remain unpaid.


The situation in the port of Leningrad, Kronshtadt, is becoming extreme. The first strike in modern history in Kronshtadt lasted for more than two weeks in the shipyard 'Morskoi' which mainly repairs navy ships. The Ministry of Defence did not pay wages to the workers.

That is the way the clashes started between the workers and the administration. On November 2nd 1998, at 9 a.m., 2,000 striking workers blocked the gates to the shipyard demanding payment of the accumulated wage arrears. The administration claimed there was no money to pay the wages, that there was nothing they could do, and that possibly some kind of compensation could be given to the workers in the second half of November.

Already by 10 a.m. all the power in the factory had passed into the hands of the strike committee. Not even a single person or machine could enter or leave the shipyard without the permission of the strike committee. Squads of organized workers were active in all the sections of the shipyard, guarding the property and preventing the organization of strike-breakers.

On November 3-4, the director of the shipyard, Captain V. Shorokov (who had just returned from a warm month-long holiday in the Mediterranean) ordered all the overseers of the shipyard to make a list of striking workers, and threatened to fire them. He refused to talk with the strike committee.

On November 5, the workers' collective held a new rally: 'Stand until victory' cried the militant workers. Material support for the workers' union was organized.

At the same time, the mass media and unidentified elements fostered a widespread campaign against the striking workers' collective. There had been rumours that the heating system would be cut off due to the strike. But the workers were not impressed by the provocations against them. The administration exerted a tremendous pressure on the engineers and technical personnel of the shipyard to turn them against the workers. The workers of the shipyard, however, got solidarity and support from the workers of other factories.

On November 10th, the director of the shipyard or its representatives showed up at the meetings of the strike committee, but there was no positive response. On the contrary, the administration tried to put pressure on the workers' collective, warning of the financial losses the strike was causing the company, and that the workers would have to bear responsibility for it. The government of the Russian Federation gave assurances that the workers would get their wages back, however no concrete guarantees were given that the money would actually reach the workers. On November 12th at a general meeting the workers' collective decided to continue the strike. The administration then changed tactics, moving from threats to appealing to 'common sense,' proposing that the workers work for those customers who could offer good deals. The workers' collective refused this dubious proposal of the administration.

On November 16th the local government organs, the Deputy Governor of St. Petersburg contacted the striking workers and later the chairman of the strike committee was invited to an audience with the Governor.

After a large number of contacts with the administration and the power structures, the administration and the workers' collective signed an agreement according to which the administration of the shipyard would pay an equivalent of one month's salary as part of the total wage arrears. The next month a similar amount would be paid off and in March of 1999 the administration would pay off the whole debt. The strike committee adopted the decision to call off the strike and resume it if the administration did not comply with the terms of the signed agreement.


The strike of the workers of Department 2 of the 'Sibstankoelectroprivod' plant (Kirov district) lasted for three weeks. The cause of the strike is the most common in our country now: wage arrears accumulated since July of last year. The administration had promised to pay off the debt some time in October.

The striking workers of Department 2 are the most militant in the plant and are respected by the workers of other sections. It is remarkable that the leadership of the local union 'slept though' the strike of the workers. The striking workers had asked for cooperation from the local union but the latter refused based on some technicality. The workers' collective of Department 2 had no other choice but to form a new union; they made contact with a more progressive regional union, 'Proftsentr,' and established a union associated with this regional union in their own department.

The leaders of the new union attended seminars of 'Proftsentr' on labour questions such as: how to demand payment of wages and how to defend labour rights. On the other hand, the administration of the plant refused to establish contact with the striking workers based on the allegations that the strike was illegal, threatening the workers with massive firing. The fact of the matter is that according to the law only a judge can determine whether or not a strike is legal.

The strike was led by young workers. A young turner, Sergei Ostapov, became the chairman of the union.

The resoluteness of the striking workers in the end forced the administration to sign an agreement with the workers. According to the agreement, the workers of all the sections of the plant received three months for wage arrears. Not only that, the newly formed union has acquired de facto competence in the adoption of labour agreements between the workers' collective and the administration.

Yasnogorsk, Tulskaya region.

Yasnogorsk is a small provincial town in the Tulskaya region with a population of about 20 thousand people. The largest plant in town is the 'Yasnogorski Mashinostroitelny Zavod' [Yasnogorsk Machine-Building Plant, note of translator] (4,200 workers), which produces high-quality mining machinery, especially pumps, which are very well known throughout the country.

The situation in the plant is very typical of today's capitalist Russia. Wages have not been paid for more than a year; however the plant never stopped production and the pumps in particular were sold in the domestic market.

While workers have not seen a single ruble for more than a year, they observed how the members of the administration were building luxurious mansions, with swimming pools and elevators, on the outskirts of town. The director of the accounting department of the plant built an elevator in order not to walk from the cellar to the second floor. The mansion of Mr. Petrukhin, the deputy director of production, was mistaken for a school since it was so huge. In fact, the mansion could really be used as a public school for a town like Yasnogorsk. Mr. Petrukhin, like the others, built their mansions with construction materials taken from the plant. These materials were officially meant to be used by the plant for repairs.

Other bureaucrats also got their place in the sun: the chief engineer, Golvanov, the deputy director of the commercial department, Gamaskov, the deputy director of general affairs, deputy of the local Duma, Chugunov.

Nobody knows anything about the whereabouts of the real owner of the plant, the president of the board of directors, a Muscovite business owner by the name of Tkachev.

But everything must sooner or later come to an end. On September 28th, the patience of the workers came to an end when the workers' collective gathered in a general meeting in which they removed the board of directors and appointed their own leader, Lensta Konstantinovitch Roshen, as the new director of the plant, who proposed as his deputy Vladimir Dmitrevich Dronov, a person who enjoys respect and recognition among the workers. Vladimir Dmitrevich knows the plant well since he headed the factory in the past.

The deposed owners sued the workers' collective. The court of course ruled that the decision adopted by the workers' collective on September 28th was illegal for the simple reason that the workers do not hold the majority of the shares, which are under the control of Tkachev and company. The law 'On Joint Stock Companies' should be renamed the law 'On Slave Labour'.

The workers did not comply with the ruling of the court and physically expelled the old administration from the plant. The cabinets were taken over by people elected by the workers' collective. The whole control of the factory passed into the hands of the newly elected director, the newly elected union (the corrupt leadership of the old union was dismissed and a new leadership was elected) and the workers' soviet. Without the signature of the young worker Andrei Guan-Tin-Fa, not even a single machine can leave the plant. Workers' security controls the gates of the plant, so that the former chief engineer Golobanov had to jump over the fence.

The new workers' order in the plant met tough resistance from the official power structures. The local State Duma and the chief public prosecutor banned all activity of the new workers' structures: the local newspaper 'Yasnogorie' called the workers 'terrorists' and called on the police to 'fulfill their duties'. On December 5th, the police 'fulfilled their duties' and arrested Roshen and Dronov. Despite the arrest, the old administration was not allowed into their former offices. The situation remained under the control of the workers' soviet and the union.

Did the workers have a right to revolt? Every honest person would reply 'yes'. But from the point of view of bourgeois laws, they went against the holiest of holies - private property. As a result the whole superstructure of the state came down on their heads.

On December 12th Sapegin threatened the workers in the pages of the newspaper 'Yasnogorie': 'Those elements who, in the course of the past events, violated the criminal code will face criminal charges.' Regarding the wage arrears he argued that this issue 'should not be dealt with isolated from the situation of the general crisis in the country.' It is interesting why only this issue and not the construction of mansions should be dealt with taking into account the situation in the country.

After the arrest of their comrades, the workers' collective sent a delegation to Moscow hoping that the 'truth seeker' and 'fighter against tyranny' Gregory Yavlinski would help them. Unfortunately, they did not take into account that for this 'truth seeker' and 'fighter against tyranny' Yavlinski, private property is sacred, and therefore he would not help workers who are fighting private property. The workers' delegation was stopped at the entrance to the State Duma, and in the end they were not let in. Nevertheless the workers' delegation did not leave Moscow empty-handed. They met representatives of the workers' union 'Defence'. It was only the workers' union that assisted the workers of Yasnogorsk in their struggle and provided them with contacts with other fighting collectives.

Why did the workers' delegation prefer to go to Yavlinski and not to the 'defender of the working people,' 'the fearless fighter against the anti-popular regime,' Mr. Zyuganov? The fact of the matter is that the Tulskaya region is ruled by a so-called 'red governor,' Mr. Starodubtsev, and therefore nobody in the factory had any illusions about the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation, led by Gennady Zyuganov - translator's note) (and now we hope there are no illusions left about Mr. Yavlinski). The local Zyuganovites took the side of the former administration against the workers. During the election campaign the head of the town administration, Mr. Sapegin, had sworn to god that he was a communist, that he would defend the interests of the working people. Starodubtsev came to town to support the election campaign of Mr. Sapegin. The head of the CPRF in town was appointed director of the local open market after the elections. The office of Starodubtsev took a tough stand against the workers' collective of Yasnogorsk, promoting a campaign of information terrorism in the mass media that is under his control in the region. One could imagine what would happen if the Zyuganovites manage to achieve full control over the press.

The workers' collective replied to the arrest of their comrades with resolute actions. On December 10th, the Palace of Culture, where the deposed board of directors was holding a session, was surrounded by the workers. The Gentlemen tried to escape but they were taken hostage by the workers. The general director managed to escape the workers by hiding in the toilet stall. Later in the evening the workers decided to release the former directors as a gesture of good will.

Moreover, the workers released an ultimatum to the local power structures. If their comrades were not set free, on December 11th all railway communications would be cut off. The workers did not manage to cut off the railway communications since the local Zyuganovites called out a large contingent of special police forces.

The local powers tried their best to persuade the workers that they should give up their struggle and welcome back the old board of directors. The deputy to Governor Starodubtsev, Mr. Bogomolov, and the director of the regional department of industry, Mr. Kovaliev, insisted that they were the workers' comrades and refused to use the terms 'Mister'. One can understand them, since these gentlemen regard themselves as red. Mr. Bogomolov called the representative of the workers' union 'Defence', who had recently arrived in Yasnogorsk, and whispered in his ear: 'You are a communist, and we are communists. How come we can't come to an agreement.' It had to be explained to Mr. Bogomolov that a communist is a person who stands on the side of the workers and stands against private property, and that he was wrong to call himself a communist. And this applies not only to him but also to Starodubtsev and Zyuganov and their 'patriotic' clique. Speaking at the rally of workers, Mr. Bogomolov said that he also wanted to get rid of the board of directors, but he that he could not do that since that would not be legal. The workers told Mr. Bogomolov how to get rid of the soviet board of directors. One would simply send a brigade of red investigators and declare this 'soviet board of directors' criminals. There is a lot off material to charge them with criminal allegations. Pumps were sold to mythical companies in return for brooms. If the local powers had wanted to remove the board of directors by legal means they could have done so long ago. Mr. Bogomolov proposed his own candidature for director of the plant, and his deputy as replacement of the old board of directors. However, the right of ownership of the plant would still remain in the hands of the old owners.

The struggle of the workers of the Yasnogorsk plant continues today. But whoever becomes director of the plant, the workers must remain organized. They cannot rely only on their own forces. It is necessary to establish contact with other plants in the Tulskaya region, and not only in their region but with the miners and other workers in order to face the bourgeoisie as a united front of workers. The government fears workers' solidarity most of all.

The Zyuganovites have become the party of power, closely involved with big capital, in the eyes of the workers. In this situation those who regard themselves as communists should clearly divorce themselves from the CPRF, the Patriotic Front and company.

This is a selection of materials designed as an insight into the level of development of the struggle of the working class in today's Russia. These are just separate cases of struggle. However the situation in those factories does not differ much from the situation in the average factory in Russia; they share the same problems. Everywhere the arbitrariness of the parasites has reached unimaginable levels, everywhere wages are not paid, workers are laid off, unemployment grows.

It is observed however, that as the crisis deepens, manifested in the constant growth of prices of products of prime necessity resulting in the worsening of the material conditions of the working class and the working masses in general, the workers' movement is definitely growing, as are the protests among other sections of the working masses. Within the working class there still persist reformist and anarcho-syndicalist illusions (that the situation can be solved by electing a new president and new power structures, or by transforming factories into collective property) as well as natural aspirations, the logical result of the class struggle: 'All power to the strike committees', 'Long live the power of the workers'.

Obviously the paths proposed by reformism and anarcho-syndicalism have no future. The power is in the hands of bourgeois parasites and they will not relinquish their power by means of elections. The 'popular plant' [term used to denote the anarcho-syndicalist illusion, note of translator] would lead to the transformation of the workers into petty-bourgeois, interested in the extraction of profit; it would result in the loss of class consciousness, the decomposition of the working class, but it would also lead the workers' collective and the factory into bankruptcy and would definitely increase the corruption of the state bureaucracy.

Together with the deepening of the economic crisis, class contradictions sharpen and reach unbearable levels, and with them the class struggle becomes more open and acute. Decisive battles are approaching. Today more than ever, the necessity for the unification of the workers' movement with revolutionary theory becomes clearer. This is the task of the Proletarian Party.

Excerpts from 'Proletarskaya Gazeta' No. 1, March 1999. Organ of Russian Marxist-Leninists.

Click here to return to the September 1999 index.