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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Return of the Ex-Elite

With Geidar Aliyev's return to leadership in Azerbaijan, it is clear that the former Communist elite is once more in power. Of the 15 new countries which rose out of the ruins of the Soviet Union, only four have leaders who did not hold high positions during the Communist regime. Does this mean that the Communists are once again coming to power?


To understand the current situation, it is essential to define the precise nature of the Communist Party as it was in the past. It was not simply a party, but a power structure: In a recent interview for Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the former secretary of the Russian Security Council, Yury Skokov said "The whole system of government was built according to a very clear-cut plan, on the powerful hierarchy of Party power. The Party structure, like a spinal column, ran through the entire system, and all the rest - the Council of Ministers, the various organs of economic administration - were joined to this spinal column".


The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or CPSU, has ceased to exist as the power it was until 1990, when the Sixth Article of the Constitution of the U. S. S. R. , on the leading role of the party, was repealed. There are communist parties now, but they play an ideological, organizational role, not one of command. Nevertheless, it is possible to claim that it is former Communists who are ruling the country. The reason for this claim is not only that the leaders of the majority of the new states are former Communist bosses, but also that the Communist nomenklatura, the former apparatchiki are, as before, part of the power structure.


During the Communist Party's period of omnipotence these men were reliable instruments of the administration. The staff of the CPSU has not been thrown out of work. Part of it, or to be more precise, almost all of Gorbachev's staff, today holds positions within the Supreme Soviet. Several apparatchiki now occupy posts in commercial organizations. and a significant percentage now work in administrative and governmental structures.


Interesting transformations in the communist parties took place in the Central Asian states. It would be foolish to claim that previously Communist ideology really triumphed in this region of the Soviet Union. In actual fact there was a rigid power structure, a strict hierarchy, characteristic of communist regimes, but which better than any other suited the local customs and the clan structure of the society. The pillars of the former regime understood perfectly that their authority rested, not on the strength of Marxist-Leninist ideology, (which was alien by its very nature to the centuries-old traditions of any of the Asian peoples), but on the favor of the Kremlin and the unconditional support of those around him.


A person with no connections could not attain a position of authority. But a man who had come to power had to reward members of his own clan with key positions in the government. Today it is the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - Sapar Niyazov and Islam Karimov -whose positions are the most stable. In both of these countries there is a party, which though called "democratic", is, in essence, fundamentally communist, but without the communist ideology.


In Central Asia today the communist ideology has evaporated, almost without a trace. Former Party functionaries have parted with communism without any regrets. But the party structure has remained in order to govern, to keep the population in line. and those who even recently honored Marx and his eternal teachings now offer up their prayers in the direction of Mecca; instead of a complete set of Lenin's collected works on their shelves, they now keep a copy of the Koran on their desks. It all happened naturally, casually.


Communist ideas are also unpopular in the European part of the former Soviet Union. At the beginning of last year, I met with Algirdas Brazauskas, leader of the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party. He tried to convince me that communism had no support at all in Lithuania. "And if the majority of the electorate votes for us in the parliamentary and presidential elections, then that will be proof that our party has absolutely nothing in common with the Communist Party", - said Brazauskas. and that is exactly that happened: Brazauskas became president, and his party has a majority in parliament.


In Russia there are several communist parties, each of which claims that its particular brand of Marxism-Leninism is the genuine one. They are distinguished by their penchant for shouting and by their boundless ambition. Certainly, they enjoy the support of part of the society, but the majority of the population nevertheless rejects their claim to power. According to sociologist Igor Klyamkin, no more than 15 percent of the population of Russia supports communist ideology. But it is not that simple.


At a press conference on June 12, Boris Yeltsin said that he did not think a communist victory in the coming elections was likely. Practice, however, does not support this conclusion. In the additional elections to Russia's parliament, and in local elections held this year, the candidates who won were almost always those for whom the communists had campaigned. In Oryol, the former secretary to the Central Committee of the CPSU, Yegor Stroyev was elected head of the regional government. After his election he began to replace all the leaders, giving preference to representatives of the former nomenklatura.


But even if the majority of deputies in the new parliament won on a communist platform, Communist ideology would not rule in Russia. The nation now understands what it means to live in a country where one can live and speak freely. It is fed up with communist demagoguery.


Nikolai Andreyev is editor of the weekly Moskovsky Obozrevatel.