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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zyuganov in Nizhny: No More Mr. Nice Guy

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Central Russia -- If, as many believe, Gennady Zyuganov's "renewed" Communist Party is swept to victory Dec. 17, it will be on the backs of totally unreconstructed, rank-and-file party loyalists.

"I had forgotten such faces existed," murmured Lena, a young Russian woman, after surveying the crowd that turned out for Zyuganov on Saturday in this provincial city set on the banks of the Volga River.

Zyuganov was in town to address the "Interregional Conference of State-Patriotic Forces of the Volga-Vyatsky Region," a distinctly Soviet affair held in the only building in town that still sports the famous triple profile of Lenin, Marx, Engels. An enormous bust of Lenin graced the stage, as well.

The conference was organized by the All-Russian State-Patriotic Union, "Spiritual Inheritance," which seeks to "form a state-patriotic ideology of Russian and other peoples based on the historical, intellectual and spiritual values of Russia." They are backing the Communists in the December elections.

The crowd was composed mainly of white-haired pensioners, all decked out in medals and war ribbons and eager for Zyuganov's retrograde message.

Approximately 2,000 people were wedged into a hall designed to accommodate half that number, with many of the elderly forced to sit on the floor or stand packed against the walls. They all rose to their feet, though, applauding vigorously when Zyuganov came onto the stage.

Over the next hour, the Communist leader's speech was repeatedly interrupted by his adoring audience, who welcomed Zyuganov's caustic assessment of the state of affairs in Russia today.

"Russia is a bleeding wound," he thundered. "Of all the disasters that have befallen Russian during her long and tragic history, this is the worst."

Zyuganov abandoned the mask of urbanity and tact that have won him points with international business groups like the American Chamber of Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] into a great democratic hero, although one look at his face would tell you that democracy had never even spent the night there," continued Zyuganov.

The coming elections were the last chance for Russia to get out of the crisis without bloodshed, he said.

"It is a struggle between two forces: those who have brought the country to this devastation, and those who are for people's power, who love their homeland, and are ready to stand against the destroyers."

In a press conference after his speech, Zyuganov sought to reestablish his progressive image with the media.

He denied that he was trying to drag Russian backward: "I am a scholar. I know you cannot step into the same river twice. But we have to take the lessons of history and go forward with them."

It is exactly a return to the past that many of Zyuganov's listeners seem to yearn for. "I was the head of a production unit at a factory that did defense work. We had 12,000 workers," said one audience member, who declined to give his name. "Now we have 3,000 at the most. We have not received our pay for nine months. The Communists will bring back order, not like these so-called reformers, who cannot see beyond their own stomachs."

Zyuganov was joined at the conference by Vasily Starodubtsev, one of the 1991 coup plotters and No. 3 on the federal list for the Agrarian Party. The Communists and the Agrarians have formed a close union for the elections.

Zyuganov delivered the same message to a different audience later Saturday evening in Dzerzhinsk, a chemical factory town about an hour's drive from Nizhny Novgorod. Another over-capacity crowd filled a hall in the town's social center, half of which was leased to the Khimik-Invest Bank.

The town has been hard hit by the market reforms: Andrei Pilyugin, who is running for mayor, said that half of the enterprises in town were closed.

Pilyugin called himself an independent, but he strongly backed the communists."I am an anti-democrat," he said. "Democracy is a mess. It means destruction, death, civil war and the impoverishment of cities."

Pilyugin, by profession an engineer, now teaches at the local high school. Oddly, his subjects include market reform and marketing.

"The market economy is all a bluff," he said emphatically. "And marketing is just the artificial creation of demand."