The Russian parliamentary elections have thrown up a few surprising results, the most surprising being that despite systematic electoral fraud, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party only managed 49% of the vote (down from 64% in 2007) and has seen it’s representation in the Duma drop by 77 seats. Clearly the national stereotype of all Russians preferring an authoritarian strongman in the mould of Stalin or Putin is a false one.
If United Russia only managed to get 49% in a blatantly fiddled election, one can only imagine what share of the vote they actually got. Putin and Medvedev, presumably aware of large scale of opposition and apathy now manifest throughout the republic, have thus far responded uncharacteristically cautiously to the vociferous outcry that followed the announcement of the results. There has been no systematic crackdown on the large demonstrations in the major urban centres that have called for the annulment of the results and fresh, free elections.
Any public display of anti-government feeling is usually ruthlessly silenced, but the scale of popular discontent this time round has forced the government to be slightly more conciliatory, by their standards, for now. I can’t for one moment imagine them relinquishing power, but clearly Putin’s popularity is on the wane, and unlikely to recover any time soon. The potential at least exists for him to be successfully challenged in next year’s presidential election, but the government has already started trying to manipulate the process, announcing the candidacy of ‘liberal’ oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov. Standing Putin-licensed candidates is a long-standing tactic of the regime, they provide an outlet for popular dissent and prevent the main man being challenged. And if the party or candidate gets too popular or criticalof the ruling party as in the case of the Right Cause bloc, they can be safely castrated.
The other notable result was the fairly dramatic increase in votes, from the 2007 elections at least, for Gennady Zyuganov’s Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), up to over 19%, an almost 8% increase on the previous legislative elections. They came a creditable second in the poll. Many on the left, desperate for any good news, are hailing the result, for example the Morning Star sees this as a great development. Indeed they have very fraternal relations with the CPRF . The article I have linked is the CPRF in full leftist mode, denouncing capitalism and the ‘corrupt’ regime. On the evidence of what is to all intents and purposes a puff piece, the CPRF is a genuine bastion of principled, leftist resitance to capitalism and the depredations of Putin’s regime.
The truth is though that it is nothing of the kind. The CPRF is no friend of anyone genuinely on the left. Their politics are poisonous mixture of extreme Russian nationalism, old-school Soviet era Stalin worship, overt racism, anti-semitism and glorification of ‘the motherland’ and Russian culture. One can genuinely compare their politics to the ‘left wing’ of the German NSDAP in the 1920s and early 30s (e.g. Nazi ‘anti-capitalist’ Ernst Röhm). What is more, they are basically the officially sanctioned, loyal opposition to Vladimir Putin and the current regime within the Russian ‘managed democracy’ system (i.e. dictatorship with a few democratic trimmings), a party of ‘national patriots’ has it’s uses to Putin and his cronies (usually as a way of squashing genuine leftwing opposition). They are tolerated and at times actively encouraged by the Kremlin.
I think the first thing to observe, from a purely electoral point of view, is that these results aren’t such a great leap forward. The CPRF have polled significantly better in previous post-Soviet parliamentary elections, and are merely recovering ground from their low point of 11.5% in 2007. Zyuganov got 17.8% at the 2008 presidential election (previously he got 32% and nearly won in 1996) and so the 19% vote at these elections is hardly evidence of rocketing support.
The CPRF claims to be the direct descendent of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and in particular seek to rehabilitate ‘comrade’ Joseph Stalin (in that respect, they are more Stalinist than post-Stalin CPSU) According to Zyuganov, where Russia has gone wrong has been that it hasn’t been Stalinist enough, and that the post-Stalin leaders of the USSR betrayed his legacy. In particular Mikhail Gorbachev, with his policies of Perestroika and Glasnost that the allowed capitalism to be restored and the working class impoverished, is to blame for the mess that Russia finds itself in.
Many current leading figures in the party were conservative functionaries in the old regime and long for a restoration of the old days, they are the diehards who would have supported the Gang of Eight in 1991.Take a look at their website and you can see Zyuganov, clenched fist, behind images of the old Soviet flag. It’s all very surreal. In some respects it is comparable with the rather sad, aged followers of Thatcher in this country who think that things would be great again if we got Maggie back or someone like her.
I won’t patronise my readers with a blow by blow account of all the crimes of Stalinist Russia, as I’m sure you are aware of the millions put to death in the gulags, the forced deportation and resettlement of millions of people, the labour camps, the annihilation of most of Stalin’s own party, the bogus theory of ‘socialism in one country’ (Europhobic leftists take note) the assassination of Trotsky, the complete absence of democracy, the suppression of independent trade unionism and the huge police state apparatus that was created to keep the people down. In many respects it is quite easy to argue that liberal capitalism in the West, especially under social democratic governments, was infinitely preferable to ‘socialism’ in the USSR. A party who wants a restoration of a barbaric, dehumanizing tyranny that bears no relation to any emancipatory notion of socialism that I understand is no friend of the left.
That said, the restoration of capitalism in Russia was a complete disaster. A few made obscene fortunes and many were left with nothing, and a state of anarchy reigned in large parts of the economy until Putin got stuck in (and not in a good way, I’ll hasten to add.) Many parts of the CPRF economic programme are perfectly supportable, if one views them in the abstract. They hardly represent the revolutionary transformation that ‘Marxist-Leninists’ supposedly believe in though.
Nation and Class
Probably the most disquieting aspect of the CPRF’s politics has been the eschewing of the traditional Marxist rhetoric of class and the class struggle in favour of extreme Russian nationalism from the outset. It’s why many people see them as a ‘red-brown’ formation (a hybrid of communism and fascism).
A whole milieu of extreme nationalist organisations sprang up after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the communist movement, poisoned by years of vulgar Stalin-inspired Russian nationalism that glorified the autocrats that have ruled Russia and her empire, and drew a direct of lineage between Stalin and previous rulers of the ‘motherland’ (a term that Stalin deliberately reintroduced in Soviet political discourse, something that would have had Lenin spitting feathers if he’d been alive to witness it. Lenin is guilty of many things but his disdain for nationalism and nationalist rhetoric is unimpeachable).
The CPRF was able to make common cause with the ‘patriotic forces’ and stand joint candidates and slates at elections. For instance Narodnaya Volya, a coalition of nationalists that has stated its affinity and ties with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National in France, endorsed the CPRF in the 2007 Duma election. Many leading Russian communists use the sort of language that to be frank, wouldn’t look out of place in the BNP.
Zyuganov himself was heavily involved in the ‘national patriotic’ movement in the immediate aftermath of 1991, and co-chaired the National Salvation Front, a coalition of old school ‘communists’ and hardline nationalists that opposed the move towards Western style free markets and liberal democracy.
Clearly the CPRF’s commitment to exclusive Russian nationalism outweighs their commitment to the Marxist principle of internationalism…….
I’m sure it’s well known to anyone with an interest in progressive politics that gays are treated brutally in many parts of Eastern Europe. Gay pride marches have been banned and viciously attacked with either the local forces of ‘law and order’ turning a blind eye to the beatings being meted or at times even joining in. One would expect that a party calling itself ‘Marxist’ would unconditionally defend gays and other sexual minorities when they were under attack from the state and other reactionaries. Not so with the CPRF. In fact, quite the opposite. Many Communist MPs actually call for the recriminalisastion of homosexuality and a ban on Gays and Lesbians adopting.
Consider some of the statements coming out of the mouths of leading members of the CPRF about homosexuality:
(homosexuality) “contradicts….. moral values of Russian people” (Zyuganov)
“good faggot is a dead faggot” (that little corker is from Pavel Tarasov, at one time a staffer for Zyuganov)
Zyuganov described the 2006 Moscow pride march as “unhealthy”
Zyuganov’s deputy in 2006, Ivan Melnikov had this to say regarding the pride march: “Moscow is not Berlin or Paris. Any displays of unconventional sexual orientation look revolting in Russia.”
I imagine right now Vladimir Lenin is spinning in his grave at what is being said in his name.
One of the flashpoints in the global gay rights movement in recent years has been the Moscow Pride marches. There have been numerous bans, outrageously homophobic comments by the mayor at the time, the now dethroned, massively corrupt and wholly unlamented Yury Luzkhov, and attacks on the marches that were clearly encouraged by the political establishment, including, scandalously, the CPRF.
The behaviour of the Russian ‘communists’ at the demo led the French Communist Party (PCF), hardly a hotbed of youthful radicalism itself, to suspend relations with the CPRF. A brave step, that some of the left in Britain would do well to take notice of. They considered support of gay rights to be a basic, non-negotiable socialist principle. I agree with them. Why doesn’t the Morning Star take a similar position?
It’s hardly a surprise that the CPRF are so virulently homophobic. They consider their politics to be a direct continuation of Stalin’s, and Russia under Stalin was not somewhere to be if you were gay. It was officially outlawed, and there was overt anti-gay propaganda by the government. Stalin himself expressly criminalised homosexuality in 1933, with 5 years hard labour as punishment with anyone convicted of the ‘crime’. And you know when Stalin said hard labour, he meant hard labour…….
“People are outraged by the anti-Russian invasion. They do not hide their bewilderment at seeing that organs of power, means of mass communication, are more and more in the hands of a non-indigenous nationality, individuals with dual citizenship, who enriched themselves unfairly at the expense of the people.”
Need I add anything to that?
This (slightly dense) article illustrates the CPRF’s (and particularly Zyuganov’s) close relationship with virulent ‘nationalists’ (racists). The CPRF have close links with the now banned far-right Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), which organised anti-immigrant demonstrations all over the country, and organized legal defence campaigns for ethnic Russians when they are involved in court cases against non-Russians. They were led from 2008-10 by Alexander Belov, a notorious far-right nationalist politician (convicted in Russia of inciting racial hatred in 2009, and you have to be a serious racist to be convicted of that in Russia I assure you) who has appeared on official CPRF platforms on several occasions.
The links are deep between the Russian far right and the CPRF, and they tell you all you need to know about these Russian ‘communists’.
Far be it for me to say anything positive about that neocon and pro-Likud cesspit, Harry’s place, but this story about anti-semitism (and also more on the homophobia) in the CPRF is very disturbing indeed. Senior members of the party, including Zyuganov, have made outrageously anti-semitic statements. For example, from Zyuganov:
“Communists…rightly ask how it can be that key positions in a number of economic sectors were seized by representatives of one ethnic group. They see how control over most of the electronic media — which are waging a destructive campaign against our fatherland and its morality, language, culture and beliefs — is concentrated in the hands of those same individuals”
Albert Makashov, Communist Deputy in the Duma since 1995, had this to say about the Jews:
(a Jew is) “a bloodsucker feeding on the misfortunes of other people. They drink the blood of the indigenous peoples of the state; they are destroying industry and agriculture”
“I will round up all the Yids and send them to the next world!”
Fairly unambiguous really. Not a lot of room for manouevre or denial there. Former Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke, is reportedly a fan of Makashov’s……..and I haven’t made that up………
Putin’s Boot Lickers
The perception in Russia is that the CPRF is the ‘loyal opposition’ to Putin’s United Russia. They are given space to organise in a way that other more explicitly anti-Putin forces just aren’t in Russia’s tightly managed polity. This article, although published ten years ago, by the prominent Marxist intellectual Boris Kagarlitsky, places the CPRF firmly within the Kremlin’s orbit, pre-, peri- and post- Putin.
They are very useful to the Kremlin after all. They crush any genuine opposition from the left and provide a left-wing cover to the government’s ‘national-patriotic’ policies, e.g. Putin’s war in Chechnya in 2000. In return Putin gave CPRF deputies prominent roles in parliamentary committees and also at the time of the Second Chechen War supported the CPRF’s bid to get one of its deputies elected as Speaker of the Duma. We shouldn’t be under any illusions that the CPRF enjoy such political prominence in Russia because they are so useful, and toothless.
It also suits Putin’s interests to have a party around that unquestioningly revel in the ‘glory days’ of the USSR. There have been times when he has successfully played that card himself (he was in the KGB after all) and he has periodically stated his admiration for the days when the USSR was a global colossus, and his stated intention is to return Russia to such a place of international prominence. The neo-Stalinists in the CPRF naturally lap this up.
It is an absolute disgrace that the Communist Party of Britain are giving platforms to these scumbags. I seriously don’t see any difference between the CPRF and BNP members who support more state involvement in the economy. If sections of the left see any electoral success for the CPRF as something to be cheered, they have lost their minds.
That is what defeat after defeat does to you, I suppose.