Belarus: fourth mass mobilization and great challenges ahead

There is a tough fight going on. The popular will for change needs new steps to defeat Alexander Lukashenko and the authoritarian regime.

By Ruben Tzanoff

For the fourth Sunday in a row, tens of thousands of people take to the streets of Minsk and other cities to demand Lukashenko’s departure and new elections. Previously, the police warned that the number of officers and military men on the streets of the capital would increase. On the very day of the demonstration, 633 people were arrested, some of them in the districts of the capital. The security forces blocked the access to the main central avenues, closed down several subway stations, fenced off government buildings, monuments and cordoned off the Independence Square, where the rallies were taking place.

The attempt to intimidate the population failed again: the massive participation was more powerful than the deployment of the repressive forces and the armored vehicles; the call for the “march of unity” was categorical. Like the previous mobilizations, the one held on Sunday, June 6, was preceded by a week of actions in each place, in which opposition actors continue to join in: this time it was the students’ turn, who, with the resumption of the school year, held assemblies, actions in the universities and traffic blockades. It is evident that there is a strong will to get rid of the authoritarian regime.

No more repression

The repression also continues, which, although it is not massive thanks to the force of the mobilization, is still systematic and brutal. It targets political leaders, labor activists, students and people who are committing the “crime” of expressing their ideas openly. At the time of writing this article, the media are reporting on the kidnapping of Maria Kolesnikova, who was the director of the presidential campaign of Viktor Babariko and is currently a member of the Coordination Council of the mobilizations. According to a witness quoted by the media outlet, a group of masked men intercepted her near the National Art Museum in Minsk, forced her into a van and took her away.

Besides the repressive activity of the KGB and the uniformed agents, there are gangs acting in “civilian” or masked clothes, beating, kidnapping, detaining and mistreating people who are in gatherings or who were previously identified. They do this with total impunity, in broad daylight and in any place, so that it is engraved on the social retina that the settling of scores “can touch anyone.” Repression is also being used against the workers’ movement, since the regime is afraid that the organization of the working class could be organized against it. The official bureaucrats and company directors are the transmission line for the threats of layoffs, suspensions, disciplinary and criminal sanctions. Some activists are arrested, others are warned with appointments to testify at police stations, as a step prior to arrest. Political prisoners “for participating in unauthorized demonstrations” suffer human rights violations.

The last word has not been spoken

There is a very hard struggle going on, on the one hand, there are the mobilized people, who are organizing as best they can, overcoming fear and demanding, tired of 26 years of an authoritarian government, the social sufferings they are enduring with the state capitalism that Lukashenko is executing, with the disasters in the handling of the pandemic, the inequalities and poverty. On the other hand, there is a government that only maintains a minority social support, which is sustained through the state apparatus, the repressive institutions and the lifeguard of Vladimir Putin. Lukashenko is betting on a combination of repression and the erosion of the demands with the passage of time, but the tangible thing is that he has not yet succeeded in defeating the protest.

Independent organizations and Workers’ Party

It is impossible to know how long the conflict will last and what its outcome will be. What is certain is that the government is severely questioned and for a very large social sector the rupture has no return. There is an unequivocal path to confront the authoritarians: the broadest unity of action in the struggle, in this case to make Lukashenko and the Stalinist institutional regime go away and to hold free elections.

The rebellions against other authoritarian presidents in different parts of the world have left a double conclusion: that they are not invincible and that defeating them is not an easy task either, since they cling to power by appealing to the most nefarious repressive mechanisms to keep it. It is true that repression imposes conditions of extreme difficulty, which put people’s freedom and lives at stake: but it is also true that, as on other occasions in history, great challenges do not come when there is already prior preparation to face them with the certainty of victory. In these conditions, obligatory tasks arise for the revolutionary socialists: to support the struggle and to help the emergence of a new political alternative.

Regarding the struggle, achieving the general strike with mobilization would be decisive for tip the balance in a positive direction. So would be the creation of democratic bodies of struggle that coordinate the sectors that are demanding, that are useful for organizing the mobilizations, the demand for the release of prisoners and self-defense. If these organizations are developed, the working class could play a leading role in them. This can be seen from the incursion into the political scene of important detachments of workers from factories, mines, offices, schools and other labor structures, as well as from the role played by organizations like the Independent Trade Union of Belarus.

Since these tasks are very important, they are not the only ones, there is another task that cannot be postponed: to redirect the helm towards the formation of a Workers’ Party. Let it not fall into the traps of the bureaucrats, of the right, nor into the “siren calls” of the present political leaders of the process. Although today they are pushing for Lukashenko’s fall, tomorrow they will not hesitate to hand the country over to the banks, to the international loan sharks, and to trample on workers’ rights in order to guarantee corporate profits, with the liberal recipes of the bourgeoisie and the pro-capitalist petite bourgeoisie. A party that does not give in to the imperialist ambitions of the European Union, the United States, Russia and China; that is equipped with a transitional program, as a bridge between the immediate and strategic demands, so that the workers and the people govern, within the framework of a regime of workers’ democracy with full freedoms and a socialist system, without exploiters or exploited people, without oppressors and oppressed people, without bureaucratic privileges and with social rights guaranteed for all.

A party with these characteristics today would be fundamental for organizing the fight against Lukashenko, for presenting workers’ candidates if there are new elections and for organizing resistance if the regime does not fall immediately, but mainly for disputing power with bureaucrats and capitalists.

The people have managed to wake up from a long nightmare induced by the bureaucracy, in which power recreated the worst chapters of Stalinism. From the International Socialist League we will continue to call on the workers and peoples of the world to support the mobilized Belarusian people, with actions in embassies and consulates, with statements by internal commissions and delegate bodies, by assemblies and trade unions, by student centers, by political parties, mainly on the left, by feminist collectives and for human rights. If the Belarusian people win, those of us who are fighting for freedom and social rights will win.