We often explain that we will work for “majority” and “conscious” revolutions. Majority: which implies “revolutionary-democratic” processes. […] Conscious: which requires the preparation of the revolutionary rupture by a series of confrontations where the masses go through the experience of the superiority-even partial-of socialist solutions compared to capitalism.
-François Sabado, “Components of Revolutionary Strategy”
Advanced by the workers of the Ford plant in Vsevolozhk on the eve of the parliamentary elections (in early December 2007), the slogan Don’t Vote! Strike! was a precise and capacious reply to certain vital questions. For example, it became clear what was meant by the “active boycott” to which leftists have long been making abstract appeals. An answer was given to the question, “Which is better: not to go to the polls or to go and invalidate your ballot?” This question has, up until now, been followed by the useless, apathetic answer, “Go or don’t go. Tear up the ballot or don’t tear it up. All the same we’ll be deceived.” A weighty word has also been uttered in the debate about whether there is a working class, and if there is one, who should represent it and how it can be given a voice.
It is likewise important that the rise of the workers movement in 2007 (and the Ford strike as its culmination) manifested the new sociopolitical structure of the opposition. Instead of the trite division into a conscious, active minority and a passive, inert majority, two majorities came to the fore as it were. The first majority was formed by counting the votes in the elections. This majority is comprised of private individuals who voted for the party of power-that is, who voted for “stability,” for their hope in the future, etc. (Which, moreover, is normal and not at all worthy of the typical condemnations on the part of the “opposition.”)
There is another majority that exists in parallel with the first. You encounter this majority when you strike up a conversation with a passerby on a picket line or with a fellow passenger in a train. In such random encounters, people usually say more or less the same thing: THE POOR ARE GETTING POORER THE RICH ARE GETTING RICHER THE AUTHORITIES SERVE ONLY THEMSELVES NO ONE DEFENDS THE INTERESTS OF SIMPLE WORKERS. Personally, in the past year I’ve heard such statements in different parts of Russia and the EU-from a Russian woman who emigrated from Kazakhstan and now works the night shift at a chocolate factory in Berlin; from a doctor at an elite Moscow clinic, traveling to Nizhny Novgorod to visit his ailing mother; from a young Kabardinian chap who transports cars from France to Russia. And so on. This isn’t the grumbling of philistines. This is the maximum quantity of conscious political utterance that people are capable of-alone or for a brief moment (on the way to or from work, or during a lunch break), when they have fallen out of capitalism’s monolithic reality, out of their own bourgeois daily lives, out of the structure of production. It is during these idle moments that people constitute another majority-as workers, as proletarians, as a “class-in-itself.” The conscious actions and slogans (uttered from inside this daily life) of the new trade unions were addressed to this publicly silent, passively voting majority. At the same time, however, these actions and slogans became the voice, the expression, and the representation of this majority.
In a recent interview (“The Unions Will Get into Politics Sooner or Later”), the leader of the union at Ford-Vsevolozhk, Alexei Etmanov, said that among the strikers there were people who sympathized with all possible ideologies and political parties (including the ruling party). This is an important detail because the “indiscriminateness” with which the authorities choose their enemies has today reanimated the alternative liberal concept of a classless, suprapolitical solidarity amongst and with all the “victims of the regime”-be they Viktor Shvyrev, the leader of the strike committee at the Voronezh Excavator Factory, who was beaten to within an inch of his life by the police and later died from his injuries; Vasily Aleksanyan, the fatally ill ex-vice-president of Yukos, who was until recently denied medical treatment by the prison authorities; or some skinhead chieftain or another, murdered by the Organized Crime Unit. Mass disenchantment with “politics” makes this alternative ever more attractive, the more so since the situation in Russia (and, moreover, in Europe as well) is quite unambiguous. “There are no elections” because, whatever party comes to power, all that it can do is redecorate the inevitable neoliberal (dis)course to its tastes.
While it does not offer any sort of “political” alternative at the moment, the workers movement does, nevertheless, offer a principally different version of the supra- and non-political. Not an escape from “politics” as the exhausted sphere of competition amongst parties (which represent the interests of classes that have, allegedly, become things of the past), or as a realm that is secondary to “universal human” rights and freedoms, but the promise (albeit not the guarantee) of a politics of struggle on the part of the majority in the workplace for THEIR rights and paid for with their own money. It is this experience of the majority (which naturally encompasses any number of minorities) that is, for us today, more important and more amazing than all the experiences of “minority” that have taken place in Russia during the past fifteen or twenty years. These include the experience of the minority of liberal reformers and haute bourgeoisie who trampled the independent trade union movement in embryo during the late eighties, as well as the experience of the struggle for the rights of ethnic, sexual, and other minorities under the banner of “identity politics,” which has not taken root in contemporary Russia.
Whether the two majorities I have described merge (will they merge? Or, for a start, will the private individual and worker in each of us find a common language?) and, if they do merge, what exact political forms this alliance will take-these are the principal questions for leftists as they look to the future. What must happen is that, in the coming era, these two majorities conduct a dialogue about politics, about opposition and civil society.