Left Movement in Latvia

Left Movement in Latvia

Nationalistic ideology started appearing before the eradication of the Soviet Union’s power in Latvia. At the end of the 1980-s, due to the Soviet center headed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Alexander Yakovlev, anti-communist “people’s” fronts in the Baltic countries were formed. But the point was unique because the protest against the restoration of the borgeois regime in Latvia sprang up among working lower class and committed communists. In 1989 in opposition to the anti-communist “people’s” front of Latvia there was the inaugural congress of the International Front of the Working People of the Latvian SSR or Interfront. It was the beginning of the anti-borgeois left movement in Latvia.

Interfront originated on the 7th of January 1989 at the inaugural congress of the movement. It spoke in favour of the socialist regime in Latvia and keeping Latvia as a part of the USSR. In the summer of 1989 Interfront took part in creating of the United Front of Workers of the USSR. In December 1989 the Forum of the Peoples of the Latvian SSR was formed with support of Interfront, because at the same time nationalists had been formenting social strain between the peoples. But the Forum appeared to be too weak before the snowballing process of the USSR collapse and nationalism enforced by the Latvian government.

In March 1990 Interfront participated in the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia elections. (It was the highest body of state authority in the republic). The best results were achieved in Riga and Daugavpils, where Interfront formed the local authority.

On May 15th, 1990 OMON (Russian: ОМОН—Отряд мобильный особого назначения, Otryad Mobilny Osobogo Naznacheniya, Special Purpose Mobility Unit) dispersed a crowd of Inerfront supporters near the building of the Supreme Council after the Council had accepted the anti-constitutional Declaration “On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia”. It was OMON that no later than 1991 was repressed by the new government.

At the same time Communist Party of Latvia ( the Latvian branch of the CPSU(b)) was losing its power. Most of the ex-members of the CPSU deliberately betrayed the party ideas and sided with the supporters of the nationalistic borgeois republic, whose power was getting larger because of the connivance of the Soviet center. Thereby the Popular Front of Latvia, which hadn’t been really popular with people, became the predominant force in Latvia owing to turncoats from the CPSU since 1990. At the same time there was an extreme decline of life quality, sabotage of the Soviet economic treatments in 1990, collapse of economic life in the republic.

After the failure of GKChP (The State Committee on the State of Emergency; Russian: Gosudarstvennyi Komitet po Chrezvechainomu Polozheniyu) in August 1991 the Supreme Soviet accepted the document of the exit of Latvia from the USSR de facto without recognizing it as a part of the country. Interfront and the Communist Party of Latvia being in opposition by that time menaced restoration of the nationalistic regime, and for that reason they were immediately prohibited. General Secretary of the CC of the CPL (the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Latvia) Alfreds Rubiks was arrested. In Latvia all communists parties have been prohibited now!

When the official process of fractionation inside the CPSU and the CPL had started, communists (and all leftists in general) formed the fraction “Equal Rights” headed by Tatyana Zhdanok in the Supreme Soviet of Latvia. “Equal Rights” continued working even after 1991.

In Autumn of 1991 the Supreme Soviet of Latvia adopted the law on citizenship of the Republic of Latvia and deprived a third of population of their citizenship rights. For the most part, people came under the force of the law were the Russian-speaking population (non-Latvians), living in towns and representing the worker class in large complete facilities. (Add to it that in the 4-5 following years almost all the large factories in Latvia were closed.) Thus the new authority had gotten rid of all impediments to the restoration of capitalism and privatization of public ownership.

Latvian privatization was carried out swiftly. The property was given in exchange for a “privatization check” (an analogue of Russian vouchers). But a Latvian citizen could get more checks than other residents of the country. The lands of the collective farms were divided not into big, but small plots, for the establishment of a system of isolated, small-scale farms. Only Latvian citizens could buy agricultural lands and municipal property, non-citizens were not allowed to do so. Besides, the fact that one could get property by the way of denationalization proved that it had belonged to one’s ancestors till 1940 (i.e. till the Soviet nationalization). Denationalized ownership also could be given only to the citizens. So the inequality between the citizens and non-citizens were created, and as a consequence the ethnic strife between the Latvians and the non-Latvians (the “Russians”) was deepening.

No wonder that the Latvian government has been always consisting of nothing but right (bourgeois) parties since 1991 and to this day.

But the left movement remained popular in the background of the extreme decline of life quality, though the political framework had resisted it.

In 1994, in hard political and social circumstances the Socialist Party of Latvia (LSP) was established. It consisted of the most left-wing public figures, former activists of the CPL – those who defended the Soviet regime in 1991 and after that confronted restoration of capitalism. LSP was a part of the “Equal Rights” faction and its members had seats in the parliament. (In 1993 the Supreme Soviet was reorganized into the Saeima, which is a typical bourgeois parliament.) It was the time of a difficult struggle and great expectations. The main aim of the LSP was to win a niche position in political life (i.e. to take part in elections and place its deputies into government and municipal bodies, because the Latvian authorities did their best to prevent it) and to achieve ethnical equality. Social issues (and especially class struggle) were forgotten and left uncertain abstract future. The result of such an attitude led to the decline of the LSP political activity.

Three main figures of the left (left, not socialist) movement of the 1990-s were Zhdanok, Rubiks and Philip Stroganov. Being imprisoned, Rubiks was less a public figure than a live symbol. There were often public demonstrations for Rubics’ release. Such popular support was one of the factors that influenced Rubiks’ remission for the “good conduct”. As for Philip Stroganov, he was the LSP chairman between 1996-1998, and left a good memory behind to the party activists and supporters.

The informational blockade was a big problem in the 90-s. There wasn’t the Internet yet, and the state or private television, as well as radio ignored and slandered left politicians. Of course, it was impossible to establish your own TV channel or a radio station due to the absence of any large monetary funds. The only way was to issue a newspaper or at least flyers. One couldn’t even dream about publishing a journal. Since 1994 the LSP had manadged to print a newspaper with the symbolic title “The Opponent”. Since 2002 the newspaper “Latvian Socialist” had published. Some journalists working in commercial periodicals placed short items about the left movement, interviewed left politicians. The only left independent newspaper was “Panorama Latvii” (“Panorama of Latvia”; Russian: “Панорама Латвии”) sympathizing with opposition forces both of Latvia and Russia. Through “Panorama Latvii” one could gain rather deep insight into the work of the Latvian left movement. Later “Panorama Latvii” evolved to the right: at first it turned yellow and then got ill with Putinism. Soon after the newspaper stopped publishing.

There we should remind the readers that in 1990-s it wasn’t clear who was left and who was right. E.g., in Russia leftists were associated with “patriots”, on the contrary, in Latvia there were right “patriots”. In this mess any organization could exist under the mask of the “left”. At this time Vladimir Linderman’s quasi-left National Bolshevik Party (“the Nazbols”) akin to Russian Eduard Limonov’s party functioned in Latvia. Having performed several notorious public actions (resembling bullying), the Nazbols’ leaders were ruthlessly persecuted by the government up to imprisonment both in Latvia and Russia. Shortly after that the Nazbols stopped calling themselves leftists. Except for Linderman himself, the single person out of all Linderman’s fellow fighters who had stayed in the foreground was Beness Aijo. He was a Latvian and a “Russian patriot” of African (!) origin. When the Ukrainian Civil War started, Beness, who lived in England at that time, came to one of the people’s republics to take part in hostilities. One can object Beness’ political point of view, but one can’t help respecting this courageous man.

By the end of 1990-s Russian nationalism had started growing in Latvia, which chronologically coincided with the Kremlin’s turn to “patriotism”.

At the same time the faction “Equal Rights” in the Saeima separated into socialist movement supporters and defenders of Russian speakers’ rights solely within the framework of bourgeois democracy.But no longer than in 1998 after the the former CPL chairman Rubiks’ remission had “Equal Rights”, LSP, the National Harmony Party (“Harmony” in the future) united in the alliance “For Human Rights in a United Latvia” (ForHRUL).

In the background of privatization, common unemployment and poverty, Russophobia, violation of non-citizens’ rights, destruction of industry and agriculture, curtailment of vernacular education the alliance ForHRUL found a niche for itself and successfully gained popularity. At that moment theses were proposed by the alliance, especially among the masses, who were afraid of the slightest changes after the breaking point at the end of 1980-s and the beginning of 1990-s. It didn’t matter whether leftists or rightists declared them. So, the appeal to protect the rights of Russian speakers, workers, non-citizens, the unemployed and moderateness of their policy looked actual, and at the Saeima elections in 2002 ForHRUL captured the largest number of votes and occupied 25 seats out of 100. According to expectations, the struggle within the limits of bourgeois democracy restricted by nationalist ethnocracy didn’t give any result. The other 4 right parties united into a ruling coalition keeping even the very “soft-left” politicians out of government. Moreover, there was a split in ForHRUL, not without the interference of the ruling class and their backstage representatives. The National Harmony Party, which in 2010-s was reorganized into the Social Democratic Party “Harmony”, withdrew from the alliance and founded its own faction with the hope that if it showed loyalty and accented moderateness it would become a part of the ruling coalition. In its turn, at the pre-election Congress “Equal Rights”, which firmly defended vernacular education and spoke for cancellation of the non-citizenship institution in Latvia, suddenly accepted capitalist economy, refused to rethink the privatization of the public ownership, stood up for “market” and economic liberalism, in other words for the exploitation of hired workers. Once again “Equal Rights” failed the social aspect of the struggle. By that time the party leaders (Zhdanok and others) had represented the clan of the Russian speaking bourgeoisie. Faithful to the principles at least in word, the Socialist Party of Latvia had to leave the alliance of ForHRU, because it absolutely disclaimed the formula of the admission of the market economy plus the results of privatization approved by bourgeois “Equal Rights”.

Nevertheless the ForHRU dissolution negatively reflected the development of the left movement on the background of the Latvian bourgeois nationalist regime. Staying true to the socialist principles LSP didn’t pay due attention to persecution of Russian speakers, non-citizens, development of vernacular education for national minorities, because of some objective and subjective factors.

Before we wrote only about the so-called “Russian leftists”. In the 90-s there was an attempt to establish a party of “Latvian leftists” led by Juris Boyars. It was LSDSP, which is the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (Latvian: Latvijas Sociāldemokrātiskā Strādnieku Partija). The name was copied by one of the pre-revolutionary parties of Latvian socialists-Marxists, which was founded in 1904. After the revolution the abbreviation LSDSP was taken by Latvian Mensheviks (social-democrats), who called themselves the true heirs and keepers of the traditions (it meant that the Bolshevik were “opportunists and pretenders”). Boyars’ party considered itself as a Menshevik’s heir. LSDSP held a quite effective referendum against privatization of the state electromonopolist “Latvenergo”. Once at the beginning of 2000-s at the municipal elections in Riga LSDSP gain the majority of voices and formed the city government. The previous direction of the city hall were busy with giving money and real property to the right people and the war against the Russian language, but the LSDSP was imitating Western European social-democrats dealt with economic issues to solve some social problems. In particular, social-democrats restarted the nonprofit building in Riga: they completed blocks, left unfinished in 1991. But because of the cooperation with the “Russian lefists”, Boyars’ party lost support of voters and having nationalistic moods fell out of high politics. LSDSP understood this and tried to find a common language with nationalist parties, but then lost even more followers and became one of marginal parties, as they are today. Since there weren’t any active “Latvian leftists”, we turn back to the “Russian leftists”.

In 21 century the second generation of the “Latvian leftists” started taking shape. The first one was formed in the 1990-s and began their social life before 1991. At the beginning of the new century people who participated in political activities were young at the beginning of 90-s, and soon after there were people who weren’t born in the USSR.

The representatives of the new generation didn’t differ in age only. They weren’t members of the CPSU and they had another circle of acquaintances, another life experience, another social status.

In August 2002 the revolutionary left youth started appearing as a part of the far left wing as members of the Socialist Front of the Workers. Concerning parliamentary politics the SFW undoubtedly supported the alliance ForHRU before its split. In actuality the SFW work mainly consisted of direct actions and rallies against the set order. The SFW explicitly supported a rethinking of the privatization, housing denationalization, and after the ForHRU split it maintained the struggle of Russian speaking youth and national minorities for their rights and especially for the entitlement to vernacular education. In fact the SFW was solely a youth entity. That’s why at the very beginning of 2003 it established contact with the most congenial organization in the expanses of the former USSR – the Vanguard of Red Youth (Russian: Авангард красной молодёжи or Avangard Krasnoi Molodyozhi (AKM)). But the SFW didn’t have a clear-cut program, or any ties with kindred movements, well-built organization structure, and its leaders were inexperienced.

In 2004 after the abolition of the disintegrated SFW one of its leaders, Andrey Kudryashov, joined AKM and established its Latvian branch, as since 2002 he had watched the development of the communist movement in the former USSR. At the same time AKM broke away from the Russian nationwide movement “Labour Russia” and reached cooperation with Oleg Shenin’s KPSS, which also split from the opportunist CPRF headed by Gennady Zyuganov. Latvian communists, which were not great in number, incorporated into the political movement called the Latvian Communists’ Union in 1991-1992 and later cooperated with KPSS. It’s natural that the Latvian brunch of AKM and the Latvian Communists’ Union established political relationships and cooperation, which were quite successful in 2005-2006. The сhief of the AKM was simultaneously a member of the Latvian Communists’ Union governing bodies.

In 2003-2005 there was a period of the most intensive struggle for the vernacular education led by Russian school students. AKM also participated in the movement. It was also the period of cooperation with the appeared in 1990-s eclectic National Bolshevik Party, which could be referred to the left wing only loosely, for they combined into themselves the eclecticism of far right movements and protection of oppressed ones. But in political conditions of 1990-s they occupied a niche in the Latvian left movement. Much later the party “For the Native language!” originated in the NBP and united with Eugene Osipov’s party formally refused to position itself as a left party.

The 2005-2006 years were both the time of the greatest development of Vanguard of Red Youth and the time of the hardest repressions and persecutions of AKM members. Requirements to come to the Security Police offices and illegal arrests were typical at that time. In 2006 the Security Police illegitimately tried to arrest and isolate AKM leader Andrey Kudryashov during the NATO summit and was properly resisted. The Security Police built a criminal case for resistance to authorities “on-duty” on this basis against him. The criminal proceedings against Kudryashov were lasted two years. It was closed for the absence of sufficient evidence to arrest him in 2006. Notwithstanding that the case was taken to the court due to enforcement of the Security Police, but in the view of absurdity of the charges it ended up with a monetary fine of at least 1000 EUR at current exchange rates.

The Socialist Party of Latvia looked for extra forces appropriate for further cooperation and parliamentary fight. As the result, in 2005 the LSP joined the coalition of political parties “Harmony Centre”, which was formed by the National Harmony Party split into three parties at that moment. As the parts of “Harmony Centre” all the three parties united into the Social Democratic party “Harmony”.The LSP preserved independence in the framework of the coalition “Harmony Centre” (SC). In 2009 SC successfully started at municipal elections and won the elections in the Latvian capital. The chairman of the coalition “Harmony Centre”, Nils Ušakovs, who had active support and promotion of the LSP members, became Mayor of Riga. On the background of economic destruction and nationalist hysteria he looked quite right, but being merely a representative of opportunism in the left movement, he didn’t tend to implement radical socialist changes. His reforms reminded of redecoration, while the hideous basement of market economy required major repairs. A position in the city government fit for the first one. It’s impossible to introduce radical social changes on the base of Social Democratic reformism. Having augmented its power in the Riga City Council, nowadays the party “Harmony” implements more and more liberal policy, transforms “socialist” populism into “liberal” one, but still sometimes remembers to play with the “social question”, especially intensifying before the next elections. Along with that “Harmony” keeps slowly moving away from its coalition partner – the Socialist Party of Latvia. Nevertheless, the LSP management isn’t ready to break political relationships with “Harmony”, because of the lack of the LSP achievements. Aside from that, “Harmony” successfully cooperates with the right party “Honor to Serve Riga” and has a partnership agreement with the Russian “United Russia” party. The LSP speaks a lot about creating a left bloc with non-party and public organizations, but actually they don’t give a helping hand to existing tiny left organizations. Perhaps, it would be better to talk about a united front of workers with these organizations and independent socialist activists, than with discredited “Harmony”, which doesn’t identify itself with the hired workers, but represents one of the Latvian bourgeois segments.

Describing the left movement in Latvia we should not overlook one more aspect. It’s some “off-system” clubs and ultra-left organizations. There are no Trotskyites in Latvia, but anarchists are represented by small loosely organized societies. By nowadays they keep to the principles of “mismanagement” and so-called “anti-authoritarianism” and preach the universality of “self-organization”. This is the trap they fell into. They don’t see the dialectic laws of social development (namely the nature of transition from one social system into another) behind these principles. The hope for self-organization of an abstract people, denial of the class struggle tacitly lead to political marginalism. One of the unstructured organizations, the Latvian Group of Anarchists (LGA), trying to make the most extra-left group of itself become merely a “left” sidekick of the ruling class. It’s necessary to pay attention to anti-Soviet moods of the Latvian anarchists. E.g., on 9 May 2014 the LGA published an article with a screaming headline, which said that “besides the Red Army soldier-liberator we should remember the Red Army soldier-rapist”. It’s clear that denying the laws of dialectic and class struggle, associating its class propaganda with the ruling class these “fighters for the people’s rights” automatically transform into political marginals and “freaks” in the eyes of the people.Finally, after repressions of the Latvian Security Police, failed partnership with the anarchists, attempts to establish the broad left coalition – the Left Front in Latvia, and surrender of original principles rather shabby AKM tries to reestablish itself as a part of the Social Bloc. The Social Bloc founded as a loose coalition of left activists remained on the ruins of the Latvian left movement had a positive tendency to structuralism. The Social Bloc even adopted its own Programme and Charter, though the organization activists’ contribution was rather lacking. The Social Bloc was linked to the most progressive members of the Socialist Party of Latvia. At the end of 2013 due to cooperation with some of the LSP activists and necessity of intergration into a single party the Social Bloc leaders and activists joined the Socialist Party of Latvia, and just after that they established their own primary party organization. At the beginning of its existence it succeeded in consolidation of few left activists, regularly delivered educational activities raising the level of consciousness in the left movement, effectively participated in both party events and public and political life, opposing Latvian membership in NATO and “ATO” ( Anti-Terrorist Operation) against the DPR (the Donetsk People’s Republic) and LPR (the Luhansk People’s Republic) conducting by the Kiev regime.

The interaction between progressive members of the Socialist Party of Latvia and independent left activists led up to foundation of the movement Socialist Youth of Latvia, which was twice noticed by the Security Police after the rallies for the working class protection and against NATO military policy.

But as it had happened to the Social Bloc because of arising contradictions, different world view, different understanding of Marxism and every member’s role in the Latvian left movement, the Socialist Youth of Latvia separated into party members, non-party ones and detached groups of activists, who understood their party duties in a different way. The Socialist Youth of Latvia ceased to exist as an organisation for it hadn’t any support from both the party and non-party activists.It caused separation of a primary party organization of the Socialist Party of Latvia. In their turn, the activists of the left movement were dissatisfied with the fact that the LSP management continued following the policy of unequal cooperation with the party “Hormony”. All these factors aggravated relations between comrades inside the organisation and affected the defeat of the LSP line.

Some activists sharing communist ideas keep trying to establish a capable youth socialist Marxist organization. In August 2016 the reconstruction of Vanguard of Red Youth began. It’s the only remarkable socialist youth organization in the territory of Latvia nowadays.

The Latvian left activists must understand one thing: it’s very difficult to propagandize (including the media) and organize something when acting alone. If the Marxist activists of the LSP and Vanguard of Red Youth find common ground with the hired workers, if they can correctly express the interests of the working class, become their vanguard, establish a really popular socialist workers’ organization in the future, which are able to crush dictatorship of capital in Latvia. Only time will tell.