The premier international business newspaper, the London Financial Times (it costs $1.50 a copy, is published and distributed simultaneously in London, New York, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Melbourne, etc. and serves the exclusive needs of the international bourgeoisie) greeted its readers on Feb. 15 with a pair of front page articles under the common heading Tale of two great cities and the leaders trying to restore their fortunes. The stories concerned the economic and social collapse of, in one case, New York City, and in the other case, Moscow.
This reference to Charles Dickens' A tale of two cities is, of course, not incidental. However, what is most remarkable is that the editors of the Financial Times should place the fate of these two cities side by side. The more astute bourgeois analysts recognize the global nature of the crisis of capitalism. They also know that the immediate solutions of the various national governments: budget cuts throughout the G7, constant attacks on the working class, etc., inevitably destabilize the capitalist regimes and lead to even greater crises in the future.
New York City is now undergoing a major amputation of its already torn and hemorrhaging social welfare net. The mayor, Mr. Giuliani, must cut $2.7 bn out of the $30.5 bn city budget. The banks are demanding it, the creditors are demanding it, and Mr. Giuliani must obey his masters. $1.2 bn will be cut from Medicare, the bare bones medical insurance program of America's indigent. More savings will come from firing thousands of city workers, and those laid off from these jobs may in the future be required to do the same work in return for their pitiful welfare checks.
As long as Moscow kept control over the direction of this giant looting party, Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Luzhkov were able to coexist by dividing the spoils amicably, as befits "honest thieves". But now, as the debacle in Chechnia has shown, the center is losing control over the provinces. In any case, the crown jewels of Soviet industry are disposed of already, the oil and gas extraction is dropping, both industrial and consumer goods production is steadily falling to the zero point. Factories are in ruins, machinery is rusting, workers are reduced to tinkering and pilfering the remnants. The oil, gas, rare metals, furs, forestry products, etc. are located out in the provinces and the local sharks everywhere are concluding direct deals with the Western buyers. The idea of the various Dzhokhar Dudayevs, whether in Chechnia, Tatarstan or Yakutia is, of course, to cut out the middleman Ñ Moscow. When this happens, when Russia splits up into small "free trade zones" and "independent" statelets tied to one or another of the capitalist powers, the party for the Moscow bigwigs will be over.
So, mayor Luzhkov (significantly, he prefers to be called "premier"), President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, the millionaire owner of the "Most" banking and media group, Gusinsky and various other "entrepreneurs" have been building up their private armies in preparation for the intensifying fight over the diminishing income from the giant looting party. Yeltsin's private army (a 25,000 strong force under the ex-KGB general Korzhakov) is for now the largest. However, the other contenders are busy with their combinations and maneuvers.
A few years ago they were Communist Party chieftains, directors of state industry and black market speculators. They stole and diverted state property on the sly, while draping themselves in "Communist" phraseology. Now, they have legalized their systematic theft, established the capitalist state structures, got themselves anointed by the Orthodox Church hierarchy (the majority of whose priests until recently served as paid informers for the Stalinist secret police). The newly formed class of post-Soviet bourgeoisie has great pretensions and huge appetites. They want to be just like their colleagues on Wall Street; they imitate the Ivan Boeskys in everything: Mercedes limousines, Pierre Cardin suits, slinky model-prostitutes on their arms, French cognac and cocaine trays in their living rooms.
Only a few steps away from the hard currency stores, restaurants and bars, the business headquarters of "Most" and the various stock and currency exchanges, but across a whole class divide is another Moscow: a city of rapidly decaying apartment complexes, broken down buses creaking along potholed streets, abandoned factory hulks, closed cultural and sports clubs and kindergartens. Here is a world of deprivation, degradation and mounting anger. Families live on the edge, wearing out the clothes they bought years ago, cutting meat, fish and fresh vegetables out of their meals and switching to the bread and potato diet which is the lot of the destitute everywhere, looking for second and third jobs to pay for the basic necessities. The elderly pensioners are selling their pitiful belongings to buy a bit of groats for their kasha; the kids… ah, yes, the kids.
It is the youth of the former USSR who have the most to lose. As the whole society slides to a Third World status, the future of the Russian, Kazakh, Chechen or Ukrainian youth is very bleak indeed. Their schools decay by the month; the Soviet sport palaces and youth clubs are privatized and turned into casinos, exclusively expensive health clubs or parking lots; the summer camps just fade away.
What does future hold for the youth of Moscow and New York? Decaying and overcrowded schools, street crime, drugs and prostitution. Broken families, broken lives, life in the street and on the edge. Perhaps the army, a battlefield in Chechnia or in Panama defending the interests of Wall Street or Yeltsin's secret millions.
Charles Dickens wrote: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". For the sharks of capital on Wall Street and along the Tverskaia it is the best of times. Dow Jones averages are all the way up to 4000 and the owners of Most and Lukoil are raking in untold riches.
For the working class both in New York and in Moscow it is the worst of times. The closing of whole industries in both cities is condemning millions of workers to a slow death. Capitalism is driving humanity to extinction.
Let us extinguish capitalism.