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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communist Rally: The Same Old Crowd

A demonstration billed as a Communist Party show of strength fizzled Friday evening, when a small crowd of die-hard supporters braved the slush to weakly cheer and clap for the party's leaders.

Coming off the Communist victory in December's Duma elections, the rally's organizers had been predicting a massive turnout of 100,000 people. But long after it was apparent they hadn't attracted a tenth of that, they stuck grimly to their earlier expectations.

"Keep going! I can't see the end of the column! Comrades, keep moving into the square, don't clog up the street, surely there are 100,000 of us!" cried Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Terekhov, head of the Officers Union, urging marchers on with his megaphone.

But the end of the column came in sight all too soon. Police estimated the Salvation Front!)

At the rally's end, one old woman unscrewed her telescoping placard poll with expert speed; others folded their flags and posters with practiced hands and set off for home.

Grigory Nekhoroshev, a political reporter with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, noted that the "regulars" at such rallies are more likely to support extreme communists like Viktor Anpilov, head of Working Russia.

Such people, Nekhoroshev said, are disappointed in Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party's candidate for the presidency, because he holds more moderate positions.

"They get frustrated with Zyuganov, they say he's not a communist but a social democrat, that he hasn't supported Anpilov, and so on," Nekhoroshev said.

That was apparent Friday evening, as Anpilov's fiery rhetoric was well-received, while Zyuganov's evoked more muted cheers.

Shouting about the IMF's decision to extend Russia another $10 billion loan, Anpilov said, "Where's that money going? For the Russian economy? No! To buy off voters!"

Turning to Zyuganov, who stood with Anpilov and other speakers on a platform beneath the square's monument to Karl Marx, Anpilov bellowed, "Comrade Zyuganov! Be Brave! ... Stand up for a return of power to the soviets! For [collective] rule without presidents or mayors."

Zyuganov in turn struck a vague, more conciliatory tone.

"Our goal is to unite, to complete a final task. I'm sure both communists, and socialists, and workers will be together" for the presidential elections, he said.

That won him perfunctory applause and cheers. But the little emotion released was more often saved for speakers who called for a restoration of the Soviet Union -- easily the crowd-pleasing slogan of the evening.

Demonstrators waved Soviet flags, sang the Soviet national anthem and read aloud the Soviet officer's oath of loyalty.

Although each speaker mentioned the army, the crowd carried virtually no banners with slogans about the armed forces.

This was surprising, since the occasion for the march was Feb. 23, once Soviet Army Day, and now given the more cumbersome title of Day for Defenders of the Fatherland.

Sergei Chugayev, a political observer with Izvestia, bluntly called it "a stupid idea" to try to hold a political rally on such a day.

"February 23 is a strange holiday, it has sort of become a day for men," he said. "You know, March 8 is Women's Day, and people think of February 23 as a men's day. So all the men have been drinking at work -- the women have been treating them, making it a holiday for them.

"So really, only those who are retired or unemployed would show up. All the normal men have been drinking vodka all day," he said.

Other analysts cautioned against reading too much into the low turnout. Sergei Markov, a senior analyst at the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the turnout signified more about the cool, slushy weather than about support for Zyuganov in June's presidential elections.

"Honestly, I don't think it's worth making any conclusions. All these meetings are pretty standard. The same people come -- the people who like meetings," he said.

And although the Anpilov supporters may dislike Zyuganov, they earned just 4.53 percent of the Duma vote in December, against the 22.3 percent for the main Communist Party.

"In the end, whether they're happy with Zyuganov or not, they will vote for him," Chugayev said. "He's their only candidate. They've got nowhere else to go."