We are approaching an important date in our country’s history. It is a quarter century since the Yeltsin regime perpetrated a heinous crime. In October of 1993 tanks gunned down Soviet Power, the power of the people. Only mute echoes of that gruesome tragedy reach today’s young generation. But for those who were involved in and witnessed those dramatic events they will be forever alive, the pain will never subside and the soul scars will never heal.
To justify their crime, the people who carried out the government coup branded as “red-browns” all those who rose to defend the Soviet Constitution, the communists and patriots. The people who staged a massacre in the heart of our country’s capital claimed that in this way they were saving the country. However, time put everything in in its proper place. Today we know that a popular uprising had been crushed by the oligarchs, traitors, thieves and crooks; and the losers were not our people but the working people of the whole world.
Reflecting on the causes of what happened in those terrible days let us ask ourselves, how did it all begin? When was the Rubicon crossed? When did violence become inevitable?
Today even people far removed from the patriotic left opposition admit that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a tragedy on a global scale. However, those who staged this monstrous act of betrayal have not relinquished their attempts to justify their actions. Politicians of the liberal persuasion and their propaganda underlings claim that no one protested against the breakup of the USSR. This is a brazen lie. Yes, the Soviet citizens were totally unprepared for such a turn of events. Caught by surprise, stunned by what happened, they did not immediately realise the gigantic scale of the tragedy. However, the “democratic” administration quickly made it clear whom it was serving, and the people did not keep silent.
The first protest actions organised by Trudovaya Rossiya took place as early as November-December of 1991. The protest took on a mass character in the beginning of 1992 erupting into a powerful demonstration in Moscow on February 23. It was led by the communists and true patriots of Russia. The scared authorities which had not expected such a powerful pushback, brutally suppressed the protest. OMON riot police used truncheons to disperse the demonstrators, many of whom were war veterans. The riot police charge on Tverskaya Street was totally unprovoked and meaningless, its only aim being to intimidate the protesters and break their resolve. The result was counter-productive. The people stood their ground, the opponents of the regime united.
As early as March 17, on the first anniversary of the referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union, the People’s Veche (meeting) in Moscow was attended by thousands. The participants vastly outnumbered all the liberal rallies. Manezh Square was packed full. This was the civil response of the patriotic left to the treacherous destruction of a united country.
However, the new rulers ignored the voice of the people. They were preparing to use force to put down the peaceful protest. The capitalist government deliberately escalated the violence. Witness the decimation of the tent camp of protesters in front of Ostankino TV centre accompanied by the beating up of peaceful protesters. What made the action particularly cynical was the fact that the punitive operation took place at dawn on June 22.
Meanwhile the plunder of the national wealth was in full swing. The emboldened grisly band of thieves needed to put down popular protest at all costs.
A fresh attempt at a government coup was marked by Yeltsin’s March 1993 decree establishing a special procedure of governing the country, the notorious OPUS. The move failed. It turned out that it was easier to issue a decree than to run the country in defiance of its Constitution, the Supreme Soviet (parliament) and people’s opinions. In response to this illegal act thousands of communist supporters and patriots gathered on Manezh Square. With their support, the People’s Deputies put Yeltsin in his place. It was then that the ruling clique realised that popular protest could not be stopped by subterfuge, by cooking up a fake decree.
On 25 April 1993 Yeltsin hastily initiated a Referendum which was intended to give him a free hand by approving the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet. Yet in spite of the propaganda aimed at duping the populace, people voted against the dissolution of parliament.
A different scenario was then tried. Many at the time were struggling to understand why Yeltsin needed bloodshed and deliberate exacerbation of the internal situation, which was disastrous anyway, what with the economic crisis and galloping inflation. Today most people understand that Yeltsin “the democrat” could only survive in politics in the context of unlimited despotism. Under the circumstances, this could only be achieved by violence. Blood had to be spilled in order to cross the line, to verify who among the military and security forces were ready to commit any crime on orders, to revel in impunity and unbridled license. This was how the cancerous growth of the “wild 1990s,” arbitrary rule, was engendered.
The lust for unlimited power the path towards which was blocked by the People’s Deputies, led to more brutalities. Yeltsin was casting about for people who would help him to stage a government coup and was testing them “in action.” A demonstration was beaten up on May 1, 1993 on Gagarin Square in Moscow. The demonstrators were accused of attempts to break into the Kremlin although they were marching in the opposite direction, from Octyabrskaya Square down Leninsky Avenue. Tens of demonstrators were wounded and some were reported missing. The Achilles heel of the patriotic left was poor control of the protest movement. We struggled to overcome the treachery of the top leadership of the CPSU. The CPRF organized itself less than a month before OPUS decree was issued. The National Salvation Front united the people’s patriotic and left-wing forces. And all of us, from the leaders to rank-and-file members were woefully lacking experience of tough political struggle.
Thousands of members and supporters of the CPRF cut their teeth in 1993 manning the barricades and fighting policemen who had broken their oath and mercenaries. When the party leaders learned about a planned massacre of defenders of the House of the Soviets and that neither the Interior Ministry nor the military would oppose the Yeltsin junta it was decided to urge people to leave the barricades. But you have to know our people: very few left their positions on the night of October 3 and 4.
However, a lot would happen before that terrible night. On September 21 Boris Yeltsin trampled underfoot the Soviet Constitution. As soon as Decree №1400 On Phased Constitutional Reform was announced thousands of people streamed towards the House of the Soviets. This was true self-organisation. No one called them, no one was building barricades as yet. Most of the Supreme Soviet deputies also came to the parliament building and at an emergency session voted for Yeltsin’s impeachment appointing Alexander Rutskoy as acting president. An alternative government was formed. The Constitutional Court weighed in by declaring Yeltsin’s actions to be unlawful.
The authorities had not expected to meet with such stiff resistance and such massive support for the Supreme Soviet. So no serious measures were taken against the defenders of the Constitution during the first three days. Things changed, however, on the fourth day. Barbed wire fences were put up around the House of the Soviets and street cleaner trucks blocked the approaches. It was the authorities that built the first barricade. It was manned by uniformed police and armed people in civilian clothes wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests.
The longer the stand-off lasted the more troops arrived to man the cordons. There were more and more strange plainclothes armed men among them. A lot happened late at night on day four. Muscovites heading toward the House of the Soviets were detained and even beaten up by a strange “army” whom the people called “a punitive force.”
That night saw an attempt to storm the parliament building and put an end to resistance. The attempt failed. The Interior Ministry battalion deployed near Barrikadnaya metro station refused to fire at civilians. They were conscripts, recent Soviet youths, and they were not prepared to beat and kill anyone they were ordered to kill. A column of trucks was surrounded by thousands of women who had come to defend the Constitution and the people’s parliament. With tears in their eyes, they begged the soldiers, “Boys, don’t shoot!” The puzzled soldiers heeded the mothers’ pleas. Eyewitnesses spoke about bemused officers dashing among combat vehicles and shouting, “It’s over, we’re leaving!”
Yeltsin and his coterie drew conclusions from what was happening. The next morning the riot police started systematically and brutally beating the protesters. Hundreds of people were beaten, many were crippled. Among the victims were some people’s deputies, Viktor Aksnis was seriously injured. The blockade split the defenders of the House of the Soviets into two groups, with some of them trapped inside the blockade and some finding themselves outside. The surrounded ones started putting up barricades.
The deputies of the Supreme Soviet, the Moscow Soviet and Moscow district Soviets tried to act, looking for a way out of the explosive situation. But, unlike Yeltsin, they loathed crossing the line. They did not realise the difference between the GKChP (August 1991) whose members shied away from the thought of bloodshed and the liberal extremists led by Yeltsin.
The organisers of the 1993 coup would stop at nothing and would not settle for a compromise. These predators had seized power and were determined to cling to it. They were already busy dividing the nation’s wealth among themselves. They defied elections, laws and the will of the people. They were ready to kill to keep the capital they had stolen. They had no use for any elections, laws and the will of the people. This was the true face of counter-revolution which had cast off the mask of “democrats.”
Overcoming the hesitancy of the early days Yeltsin and his accomplices were pushing the country towards massive bloodshed. All the constructive forces sought negotiations, with the Russian Orthodox Church offering to be mediate. However, while some saw it as a chance to avoid an escalation of violence others were merely biding time.
The Moscow street was a place where much was decided during those days. Rank-and-file defenders of the Soviet Constitution sometimes did far more than those who happened to lead them and who failed to rise to the challenge. They were not bad guys, but then a good guy is not a profession. They missed the chance which the initiators of the coup almost dropped in their lap.
In the last days of September the supporters of the Supreme Soviet met with horrible brutal treatment. On September 29 54-year-old Alexander Solokha, a Candidate of Physics and Mathematics, a talented scientist and teacher, was beaten up. He died in hospital on October 7. Casual passers-by were attacked. One of the most terrible beatings took place near Pushkinskaya metro station when protesters and people returning home from work were indiscriminately pushed into the metro and were beaten with clubs on the escalators.
In spite of the terror, the wave of protest, far from subsiding, was rising. On Saturday October 2 the focus shifted to Smolenskaka Square where an attempt was made to hold a rally. People were beaten cruelly, but they did not give in. The junta gorillas were pushed back and people quickly built about a dozen barricades. The riot police could not break through them. The protesters dispersed by midnight, but they felt that the pendulum was swinging the other way and many got glimmerings of hope that the coup would fail.
The crunch came on Sunday October 3. From early morning all attempts of people to hold rallies were stopped by riot police. Even so, the number of people gathered on Octyabrskaya Square kept growing. At a certain point all the barriers and cordons were surrounded and isolated, becoming islands in the sea of demonstrators. A huge mass of people filled the square and headed down the Garden Ring towards Krymsky Bridge.
Many claim that the demonstrators were allowed to pass through all the barriers. However, human memory is backed up by photo and video chronicles. The human river flowing down Garden Ring was unstoppable. When the head of the column reached Park Kultury metro station there were still thousands of people on Octyabrskaya Square. Giving vent to pent-up anger from the previous days of terror, the demonstrators broke through all the cordons on Krymsky Bridge and on Smolenskaya Square and the last barricade near the former SEV (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) building . Within an hour the blockade around the House of the Soviets (parliament) disappeared.
But then the protesters’ leaders became victims of their own euphoria. They misjudged the situation. The consequences were tragic. Spontaneous popular protest had practically reversed the situation. However, the parliamentary leaders could think of nothing better than directing the angry crowd to Ostankino TV Centre where an armed ambush lay in wait for them. As a result of this meaningless action the Interior Ministry special forces staged a massacre. Forty-five people on the most conservative estimate were killed. It was an indiscriminate killing spree. Among the dead were Irish journalist Rory Peck, a cameraman with the German ARD channel. 19-year-old Natalya Petukhova after being hit with several bullets, was finished off by a shot in the back of her head. Ambulances throughout the night carried the wounded from Ostankino to the House of the Soviets and the Sklifosovsky Institute.
At dawn on October 4 the defenders of the House of the Soviets were targeted. The official media still refer to it as a storm, but in fact it was murder. The defenders had practically no weapons apart from several machine guns left behind by soldiers and policemen. The parliamentary commission investigating the events found that not a single one of the attackers had died from bullets fired from these weapons. The building could have been seized within an hour. Instead a showcase act so anxiously desired by Yeltsin was staged. His American principals organized a live broadcast of our national tragedy on CNN channel.
There are witness accounts of lynchings of the defenders of the Constitution when they started leaving the House of the Soviets. People were killed the Pinochet way: in hockey boxes, in gateways, at the wall of the historic Tryikhgorka factory and on Krasnaya Presnya stadium. A pall of black smoke from the burning building of a popularly elected parliament was hanging over the capital as a portent of future woes.
Twenty-five years after the coup the exact number of those who died in it is still unknown. The parliamentary commission cites the figure of 130 dead and several hundred wounded civilians, but the majority of them died outside the House of the Soviets. So, the truth about the actual toll has yet to be found out.
The spots of shootings at Krasnaya Presnya stadium almost instantly became a popular Memorial. To cover the tracks of the crime, because the bullet marks were visible on the concrete wall, it was pulled down on the orders of Korzhakov, chief of Yeltsin’s bodyguard.
All this is history, but only partly so. Twenty-five years on, we can and must speak about the consequences of Yeltsin’s coup and the rape of the Constitution and its defenders. Yeltsin’s usurpation of power opened the floodgates for the mayhem and lawlessness of the “wild 1990s” and the example he set spread like a cancerous growth all over the country reaching its remotest corners.
In the absence of checks and balances an orgy of plundering the national wealth, ruining the economy and the social system continued. The 1993 coup opened the way for Chubais who presided over sweeping privatization to the dictation of the CIA. The economy was marking time since 1991, but it was in 1994—1995 that industry and agriculture finally collapsed. Millions of people lost their jobs. People were immersed in abject poverty.
The coup marked the start of one of the darkest periods in our history. Social tensions were rising and the crime rate was rocketing. The war unleashed in Chechnya in 1994 was a direct consequence of the 1993 massacre and the responsibility for it rests on those who masterminded and carried out the shooting down of the House of the Soviets. Starting with terror in the centre of Moscow Yeltsin opened a Pandora’s box: in the years that followed Russia was swept by a wave of bloody terrorist acts: from Budyonnovsk and Beslan to Moscow and St.Petersburg.
It would be wrong to think that the consequences of the destruction of Soviet power affected only our country. The Great October Revolution stirred the whole world charting mankind’s course towards a new life based on justice and equality. The grim echo of counter-revolution, which destroyed the achievements of socialism, reverberated in many countries.
Outside our country, the fraternal Serbian people were the first to experience the consequences of our defeat. In 1995 massive US and NATO bombings forced the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia to capitulate. But Yeltsin’s American friends went further. NATO’s next target was the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999. This was done without a UN sanction in violation of international law. After 77 days of savage bombing the autonomous province of Kosovo was severed from Yugoslavia. The USA organized the biggest ethnic cleansing at the turn of the 21st century.
Thereafter Washington felt it was the master and arbitrariness became the hallmark of American globalism becoming part and parcel of international politics. Followed American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, a wave of “colour” revolutions, the aggression against Syria and finally, the fascist putsch and civil strife in Ukraine.
However, there are also the economy and the social sphere. Few people remember today that until the 1960s the working people in the majority of West European countries were rather poor and the social system was non-existent. In Great Britain food rationing was in force since 1939 until 1953 and in France until 1958.
Vigorous development of social security measures in Western Europe began under the influence of the USSR’s successes in building socialism, developing healthcare, education and pensions schemes. The social benefits that the Western working class gained through tough struggle were a forced concession on the part of capital. Imperialism had to do it not to lose the competition with socialism.
Capitalist reaction in our country prompted world imperialism to cast off its pious mask. The West has realized that social spending was not obligatory. The process of dismantling the people’s gains in Europe has been going ahead with the adoption of new labor legislation in Britain, Germany, France and other countries. What we see in modern Russia — total departure from the principles of social support, free healthcare and education and a fair pension system – all this is the direct consequence of the criminal shooting down of Soviet power staged in October 1993.
However, as Lenin said, “defeated armies are good learners.” I am convinced that the events of 1993 and the feat of our people make us stronger. The defenders of the Soviet Constitution did not die for nothing fighting for truth and justice. They are now in the same company with the Paris Commune fighters and the rebel workers in 1905 who laid down their lives in almost the same place. They lie next to our fathers and grandfathers who defended against Fascism our Soviet power, our beloved country, the USSR. Those who survived believe in the historical perspective of socialism and the communist ideas not only in Russia, but in the whole world. We believe in and we are working to speed up the arrival of a new victory of the working people.