Site map
0The virtual community for English-speaking expats and Russians
  Main page   Make it home   Expat card   Our partners   About the site   FAQ
Please log in:
To register  Forgotten your password?   
  Survival Guide   Calendars
  Phone Directory   Dining Out
  Employment   Going Out
  Real Estate   Children
   June 21
News Links
Business Calendar
Phone Directory
 Latest Articles
 Archived Articles
Analysis & Opinion
10.11.08 Capital Punishment
By Roland Oliphant

It was a euphoric atmosphere. There were more flags than could be counted, a brass band, and vans blaring Soviet marching songs; thousands doffed their hats to sing the Soviet National Anthem. They may have been stripped of an official national holiday and obliged to rally on Theater Square rather than on Red Square, but Russia’s communists are still able to put on an impressive show for the anniversary of the October Revolution.

The interesting trait of today’s communists is not their love of old fashioned pageantry and red flags, or their defiant idolization of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, but rather their role as the largest opposition party and the main representatives of a portion of the population overlooked and disaffected by official policy: the poor and the elderly. And as committed anti-capitalists, the events of the recent months have – they hope – made them especially relevant.

Two things seemed to have motivated the thousands of mostly elderly men and women who gathered to march through central Moscow under red banners and posters of Stalin and Lenin. One is nostalgia and loyalty to the ideals they were brought up with. The other is, fittingly for Marxists, less ideological than economic: they are poor and have suffered perhaps more than any other segment of the population from the post-Soviet reforms. As a socialist party the KPRF, at least in principle, defends their interests.

Marx and Lenin would presumably approve. An opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation in the run up to the Duma Elections last year found that the KPRF’s key supporters are poor, have only an elementary education and probably live in villages.

But they are also predominantly elderly, and that presents an obvious demographic challenge, especially in a country with such a low life expectancy.

“It is not a myth. The demographic question is a serious problem for the communists,” said Olga Kamenchuk of VTsIOM, another pollster. The communist vote peaked in 1996, when Gennady Zyuganov, the KPRF leader, nearly won the presidential election. Since then, says Kamenchik, younger and middle-aged voters have abandoned the more extreme parties of both left and right for more moderate parties that promote the same ideas in a more palatable form.

The Communists are doing what they can to cultivate a new base - the ceremony on Theatre Square culminated with Zyuganov presenting party cards to new, young members of the party – but in the meantime they have to make do with a dwindling core of elderly supporters.

The KPRF has had to adapt in recent years. Its ability to overtly challenge the Kremlin has been severely limited, like that of the other parties in the Duma, by its dependence on financial donations, and “no one in their right mind would donate money to a party that was not approved of by the Kremlin,” said Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center. It has also moved to the right, eulogizing the imperial achievements of the Soviet Union, taking an anti-Western line and occasionally even flirting with the Orthodox Church. But for all this they are still communists, and they hold dear certain basic values.

Among them is the idea that capitalism will fail and socialism will triumph, and the dramatic tumble global capitalism has taken in recent months comes as a sweet vindication. “The first world crisis of capitalism provoked the First World War, and ended with the victory of the great socialist October revolution. The second crisis produced fascism in Europe, and ended with the victory of the Soviet Union and the creation of a world socialist system,” Vladimir Ulas, a KPRF State Duma deputy, reminded the crowd on Theatre Square.

The crowd cheered that statement. The economic crisis is, in principle, better news for the communists and their openly anti-capitalist stance than for any other opposition group. In October the German media reported that publishers in the country had seen a rise in the sales of Das Kapital. And the communists’ constituency coincides with those most worried by the crisis. “The most worried about the crisis are the socially vulnerable; the elderly, those with low incomes, and those with less education. These are also the people who support left ideas,” said Kamenchuk.

Unfortunately, however, they have had a hard time making hay out of similar economic troubles in the past. “When we faced economic discontent in 2005 with the pension reform, the movement was very much from the grass roots; the Communists and other parties tried to capitalize on it, but they were met with suspicion. People wanted to resolve a particular problem and they knew who they had to deal with: Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. They did not need a go between,” said Lipman.

Regular monthly and weekly polls by VTsIOM show the KPRF’s opinion ratings staying firmly around seven percent in the past two years, including recent months in which the crisis has become headline news. And, largely thanks to the centralizing tendency that Kamenchuk says has eroded the communist vote since the 1990s, it is unlikely that the current crisis will give them any opportunity to increase those ratings.

One key to the Kremlin’s firm control on Russian politics is its well-practiced ability to pre-empt political sentiments of all colors. “The communists would benefit if there was no alternative propounding the same views,” said Kamenchuk, “but as long as centrist parties continue to talk about social support and social care, the part of the electorate oriented toward these values will remain with them.”

The KPRF is only one of many parties hoping this balance can be overturned. As well as rival left-wing groups eager to condemn the vagaries of capitalism, liberals have expressed a hope that they can challenge the Kremlin over the crisis. Nationalists have also taken up the subject, pointing the finger variously at Americans and Jews for causing it, and at migrant workers for exacerbating it.

Thankfully, says Lipman, the chances of either side making meaningful gains are slim. “I’m not saying that it is impossible,” she said, “but to change the status quo the impact would have to be big – really big.”

At the moment, though, the crisis is still something people hear about and worry about, but not something that causes them pain. What the actual impact will be, and how deeply it will be felt and how quickly the country recovers are, as Lipman drily put it, “anyone’s guess.” And so is what triumph the third crisis of world capitalism will bring the Russian Communist Party – or any of the other marginalized political groups who see a promise of opportunity in a time of hardship.

The Kremlin, though, is taking no chances. On the same day the Communists marked the 91st anniversary of their revolution in Moscow, President Dmitry Medvedev in St. Petersburg ordered the police and security services to crack down on any unrest caused by the crisis.

“The law enforcement agencies should keep track of what is happening,” he said, “and if someone tries to exploit the consequences of the financial crisis … they should intervene, bring criminal charges. Otherwise, there won't be order,” the Moscow Times reported. The president, at least, is determined to avoid any precedent set in 1917.
The source
Copyright © The Moscow Expat Site, 1999-2024Editor  Sales  Webmaster +7 (903) 722-38-02