Interview with CRAS, Russian Anarcho-syndicalists

The following is an ACG interview with the comrades of the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists (CRAS), the Russian section of the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association. We wanted to ask them about their organisation, the situation in Russia, and their response to the current war in Ukraine.

ACG: For people who don’t know could you just say who CRAS is and what are your aims?

CRAS: In short, CRAS is a small anarcho-syndicalist organization, a kind of pre-union initiative. We have existed since the mid-1990s, supported many labor and social conflicts, trying to familiarize workers with the ideas, practices and methods of anarcho-syndicalism. Our aim is to prepare the creation of an independent, class-based libertarian labor movement in the region of the Earth that bears the name of Russia. We see anarcho-syndicalism as a way to achieve our goal – anarchist communism.

ACG: What was your group ‘getting up to’ before the war, ie what activities have you done?

CRAS: In the center of our activity is the support of the strike movement, social protests in urban areas, the fight against neo-liberal reforms of the authorities. We have some experience in these areas. For example, we actively helped the occupational strike of the workers of the machine-building plant in Yasnogorsk in 1999 – one of the few that was led by the workers’ assembly. In the mid-2000s, we participated in the movement against the construction of commercial housing in Moscow, which destroyed the housing environment. In the 2010s, almost no demonstration against the destruction of affordable health care and education took place without our participation. In 2018, we were at the forefront of the movement against pension reform, calling for a general strike against this neo-liberal reform. Unfortunately, our possibilities are very limited by the repressive laws on rallies and demonstrations, the dominance of bureaucratic trade unions and the general frustration of the population. But we do what we can. Sometimes even more is possible. So, last year one of our comrades in one of the cities even became the inspirer of a small strike at his worker’s place.

ACG: Have you been contacted by other anarchist groups internationally? what kind of tangible solidarity would you like to see from other libertarian socialist movements around the world?

CRAS: We are a section of the International Workers’ Association, an anarcho-syndicalist International, and participate in its work, in its international campaigns and solidarity actions. We did not ask for any material assistance for our activities. But for us it is always very important to exchange information and experience of self-organization, which we can then share with the working people of this country. In addition, it is always very important to feel that you are not alone, but part of a world movement, a world process.

It gives the feeling that you are fighting for a just reason, no matter how hard it is. And, of course, help can always be needed in case of repression.

ACG: A very broad question I know, but from where you are what is the situation you are up against and what forms of actions are your comrades engaged in?

CRAS: Comrades who are members of the CRAS work in various fields and industries. Most of them are workers in the field of education and science, but there are also workers in logistics, in a factory, etc. Unfortunately, we are all scattered around different enterprises and institutions, which makes it difficult for possible joint actions in the labor sphere. In previous years, we were actively operating “on the street”, but now it has become almost impossible. According to Russian law, any group street action must obtain prior permission from the authorities, otherwise it is mercilessly dispersed, and its participants are arrested and put on trial. Already a few years ago, it became very difficult to obtain such permission even for a small solidarity picket, we were repeatedly refused. Since 2020, any street protests are generally prohibited under the pretext of a “pandemic”. What remains is verbal campaigning, stickers, leaflets… And participation in larger protests when they take place. For example, now some of our comrades are participating in anti-war demonstrations.

ACG: Have you been watching/aware of recent western media coverage? Are there any recurring things that the western media gets wrong or that people generally are getting wrong/missing?

CRAS: It would be difficult to demand objectivity and impartiality from the capitalist and statist mass media, be they “Western” or “Eastern”. Of course, in the present war they take a partial and one-sided position. The blame is placed solely on one side, and it all comes down to the presence of specific bad people in the top government leadership. Any systematic analysis of what is happening is completely or almost absent. And, of course, the idea of “collective guilt” of entire population of a country for the actions of the authorities of this country is completely unacceptable. We always say that ordinary people in any country are no more responsible for the actions of “their” authorities than a prisoner is for the actions of the head of the prison.

ACG: It has been reported that in Russia the media has concentrated on the fact that the Ukrainian military had imminent plans to invade Donbas, and has also reported that the US is involved in bioweapons development in the Ukraine. What credence do you give to these reports?

CRAS: Let us first explain how we generally see this conflict. We think, there are different levels of conflict and different levels of inter-capitalist contradictions. At the regional level, today’s war is just a continuation of the struggle between the ruling castes of the post-Soviet states for the redivision of the post-Soviet space. Contrary to popular myth, the Soviet Union collapsed not as a result of popular liberation movements, but as a result of the activities of a part of the ruling nomenklatura clans, which divided territories and zones of influence among themselves, when the usual and established methods of his domination were in crisis. Since that initial division, which was based on the then balance of power, a constant struggle for the redistribution of territories and resources has developed, leading since 1991 to constant wars throughout the post-Soviet region. At the same time, the ruling classes of all post-Soviet states (all of them, to one degree or another, come from the Soviet nomenklatura or its successors) have adopted militant nationalism in ideology, neoliberalism in economics, and authoritarian methods of management in politics.

The second level of conflict is the struggle for hegemony in the post-Soviet space between the strongest state in the region, Russia, which calls itself a regional power and considers the entire post-Soviet space as an area of its hegemonic interests, and the states of the Western bloc (although here, too, the interests and aspirations of the United States and individual European NATO and EU states may not be exactly the same). Both sides seek to establish their economic and political control over the countries of the former Soviet Union. Hence the clash between NATO’s expansion to the East and Russia’s desire to secure these countries under its influence.

The third level of contradictions is of an economic-strategic nature. It is no coincidence that modern Russia is called “an appendage to the gas and oil pipeline.” Russia plays today on the world market, first of all, the role of supplier of energy resources, gas and oil. The predatory and completely corrupt ruling class, purely parasitic in its essence, did not begin to invest in the diversification of the economic structure, contenting themselves with super-profits from oil and gas supplies. Meanwhile, Western capital and states are beginning the transition to a new energy structure, the so-called “green energy”, aimed at reducing the consumption of gas and oil in the future.

For Russian capital and its economy, this will mean the same strategic collapse that the fall in oil prices once caused for the Soviet economy. Therefore, the Kremlin seeks to prevent this energy turnaround, or slow it down, or at least achieve more favorable conditions for itself in the redistribution of the energy market. For example, looking for long-term supply contracts and better prices, pushing out competitors, etc. If necessary, this can involve direct pressure on the West in various ways.

Finally, the fourth (global) level is the contradictions between the main capitalist superpowers, the United States in retreat and China in the advance, around which blocs of allies, vassals and satellites are forming. Both countries are now vying for world hegemony. For China, with its “one belt, one road” strategy, the gradual conquest of the economies of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the penetration of Europe, Russia is an important minor partner. The response of the United States and its allies in the West is NATO’s expansion eastward, reaching out through Ukraine and Georgia to the Near and Middle East and its resources. This is also a type of “belt” project. He finds resistance from imperialist rivals: China and Russia, which depend more and more on him.

At the same time, the domestic political aspect should not be overlooked. The Covid crisis has exposed the deep internal instability of the political, economic and social structure of all the countries of the world. This also applies to the states of the West, Russia, Ukraine, etc. The deterioration of living conditions, the growth of prices and social inequality, the massive indignation of the population with coercive and dictatorial measures and prohibitions gave rise to widespread discontent in society. And in such situations, the ruling classes have always resorted to tried and tested methods to restore the notorious “national unity” and the population’s confidence in power: by creating the image of an enemy and whipping up military hysteria, even a “victorious little war”.

In the light of this general analysis, your specific questions can also be analyzed. Was Ukraine preparing a strike in the Donbass? Theoretically, in principle, Ukraine has never ruled out the scenario of the reintegration of territories that Croatia once used against the Serbian Krajina. But was the Ukrainian state going to do it at the present moment? We are not included in high offices and general staffs, therefore we cannot answer this question. As for reports of biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine, we are also unable to verify them.

A war is going on, and military propaganda from any side can never be trusted.

In addition, these accusations are too reminiscent of propaganda rumors about the presence of weapons of mass destruction, which were used by the US and its satellites to invade Iraq.

ACG: Do you think that Western Imperialism/NATO actions created the circumstances where a war was inevitable?

CRAS: Let’s put it this way: the sides provoked each other, trying to lure the other into a trap. As the head of Ukraine’s delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Yegor Chernev, explained on February 12, Western states were presenting the Kremlin with a choice: “dare a large-scale invasion, or permanently retreat and lock themselves inside their own country.” And further: “There is no need to panic, even if Putin tries to slip out of the American trap and still gives the order to invade. Our army is ready to give the Russians a hell of a reception, and the West’s sanctions response will quickly bury the Russian economy. And then Russia may collapse, and we let’s get peace…” We don’t know if that’s what NATO really intended. But it is clear that even if this was the case, the Kremlin gladly jumped into this adventure, since it is in line with its hegemonic plans.

ACG: What is your view of the Donbas question?

CRAS: Separatism in Donbas emerged from the so-called “Anti-Maidan”, that is, from the movement of 2013-2014 against the liberal-nationalist “Maidan” rebellion in Kiev and its seizure of power. If Maidan was inspired by Ukrainian nationalism, then Anti-Maidan was led by Russian nationalists and received the support of the Kremlin. In other words, no matter what regional contradictions and language problems existed in Ukraine before 2014, the current conflict between the Ukrainian state, on the one hand, and the regimes in Donetsk and Luhansk, is a conflict of two nationalisms, in which forces from outside constantly interfere. Neither side was willing to make concessions. The government in Kyiv categorically rejected not only the idea of a federal structure, but did not even want to grant limited autonomy to the Donbass. For their part, the leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk were not going to return to Ukraine and dreamed of joining Russia. The intensity of this conflict has varied over the years, but in the last couple of months before the Russian intervention, it again escalated significantly. The parties fired at each other, and, according to the OSCE mission, the number of incidents amounted to many hundreds. This was the pretext and prelude for the Russian invasion.

ACG: What is the impact of fascism in Russia? What do you understand about the influence of fascism in Ukraine?

CRAS: Today, in general, it is very difficult to talk about what fascism is, more precisely, about where the line lies separating fascism from modern bourgeois democracy. Yes, in fact, this line has always been unsteady, as Malatesta spoke about. For example, we believe that today the processes of creeping fascisization are going on all over the world towards an “emergency state”. But be that as it may, it cannot be argued that fully-fledged fascist regimes exist in Ukraine or in Russia today. In both countries, authoritarian nationalist forces are in power, pursuing neoliberal and repressive policies. Another thing is that in both countries there are also openly fascist and neo-Nazi groups that do not even hide their historical continuity. And they are to some extent integrated into the structures of power and repressive bodies. Therefore, when it is said in Russia about the Ukrainian pro-fascist detachments Azov, Aidar or Freikorps, it is reasonable to ask why they are silent about the fact that the Russian fascist paramilitary party Russian National Unity from the very beginning supported Russian separatism in the Donbass, and now the fighting in Ukraine, and, for example, the head of the Russian space department, Rogozin, in the past led the Russian ultranationalist Rodina party, which during this period demanded a ban on all Jewish organizations in Russia. And why are the Bandera marches in Ukraine better than the ideas of the Russian fascist philosopher Ivan Ilyin, who is loved in the Kremlin, or the pro-fascist and antisemitic “Russian Marches”?

ACG: Are you in contact with comrades in Ukraine? If so have they said anything specific around International Solidarity?

CRAS: We were in constant contact with Ukrainian anarchists before this war, and we continue to maintain information exchange with some of them even now. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian anarchist movement is strongly split into various groups and currents. Many of them now actually supported the Ukrainian state and even joined military formations. We denounce this practice as a departure from anarchism and internationalism. Others take a more internationalist stance, opposing both states and now working primarily in the field of humanitarian assistance to populations suffering from war. We try to maintain contacts with them, as well as with individual Ukrainian opponents of the war. We consider this extremely important precisely from the point of view of internationalism and solidarity. After all, we are against any war – with the exception of a class war!

ACG: Based on your experiences do you have any advice for the movement in Britain moving forward?

CRAS: It is difficult for us to give any specific advice to anarchists in Britain. If we are talking about the current situation and the war, it seems to us very important that anarchists oppose the support of any belligerent state, oppose any nationalism, including the so-called “national liberation”. Today we clearly see what tragedies these ideas lead to: Donbass declares about “national liberation” from Ukraine, Ukraine – about “national liberation” from Russia, Russia – about “liberation from neo-colonial dependence” from the West, etc. There is not and cannot be any “lesser evil”. And anarchists around the world should remember this and act accordingly.