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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

So What Is Zyuganov?

Is Gennady Zyuganov a Communist or a Social Democrat? The question is posed by politicians, diplomats, journalists and businessmen. But there are no definitive answers to the question. Let us compare the ideas of the Communist Party leader with those of classical communism and social democracy in East Europe.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation makes one reference to "communism" in its program -- "communism as the historical future of humanity" -- but its leaders hardly ever invoke this phrase. According to Lenin and Marx, a dictatorship of the proletariat should occur after the communists come to power. Zyuganov is not only without a dictatorship of the proletariat but the proletariat itself is no longer the only base of support for the Party.

For Marx, the basic conflict in history was class conflict. For Zyuganov, it is the struggle of civilizations.

Communism views violence as a midwife of history. When Zyuganov reminds people of the threat of social chaos, he is not happy about the prospect in the way Lenin or Trotsky would be. Instead he calls for a union of all patriotic forces.

The communists were always internationalists and fought for the idea of the unity of world history. The current Communist Party stresses Russia's uniqueness and is entering a union with nationalists. The theoretical precursors to communists -- Hegel, Smith, Ricardo, Rousseau -- have, for Zyuganov, been replaced by Russian nationalist philosophers such as Konstantin Leontiev, Nikolai Danilevsky, Ivan Ilich as well as Oswald Spengler, the ideologist of contemporary socialism. Marx called religion the opiate of the people, and Zyuganov stresses that Orthodoxy brought spirituality to Russian history.

For the communists, the main reason that capitalism has no historical prospects is that it involves the exploitation of man by man, the pauperization of the masses. For the Russian Communists, the main goal is not so much to put a stop to the exploitation of workers as the liberation of Russia from colonial dependence. The traditional communist electorate has always been young and urban. Today the Communist Party has only elderly supporters and very little influence in the cities.

It is clear, then, that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is not a communist party. Is it then social democratic? Let us compare it to the new social democratic parties of Eastern Europe.

The Russian Communist Party expresses its opposition to Western civilization, while Eastern European social democrats want to join Western European political and economic institutions. Social democrats have fought for the redistribution of wealth from owners to the lower classes within a consumer society, and the Russian Communist Party condemns consumer society in principle.

Social democrats unconditionally condemn the practice of communist regimes from the 1940s through the 1960s. The Russian Communist Party does not. It has not decided to condemn Stalinist socialism as a criminal regime. Social democrats recognize the parliamentary system as the best kind of political system, and the Russian Communist Party proposes to change the parliamentary system into a Soviet one.

So who is Zyuganov? The authoritarian and totalitarian models of history allow for a more adequate model of him. These include Peronism, the Kuomintang and the Indian National Congress.

Like these movements, the Russian Communist Party considers that it is responding to dependence on outside powers for development. In the case of Peronism, this meant the excessive influence of the United States; in the case of the Kuomintang, the real collapse of the country and its gradual splitting among imperial rulers. (It should be recalled that the Chinese authorities were unable to forbid the sale of opium on their own territory.) In the case of India, it was a colonial dependence of an enormous country with a rich culture.

The Russian Communist Party sees Russia as a semi-independent country and itself as a national liberation movement. Zyuganov's traditionalism and nationalism stem from this. The party's main goal is to free itself from the influence of Western countries, appealing to feelings of nationalism and a sense of the country's uniqueness and promising to follow their own, infamous "third path."

It is revealing to compare the current Communist Party slogan, "Russia, labor, people's sovereignty, socialism" (as opposed to the former Communist slogan, "Workers of the world, unite!") with the Kuomintang's slogan, "nationalism, people's sovereignty, prosperity." The main tasks of the Russian Communist Party are identical to those of the Kuomintang: 1) the fight for independence and preservation of national identity; 2) the fight for the union of the country; and 3) a serious change in economic relations.

Like former Argentinean president Juan Peron, Zyuganov is also proposing the creation of corporations, with unions that are subordinate to the state, and strategic economic development that uses basic branches of industry to achieve independence for the country. Like Peron, Zyuganov calls for the development of branches of industry that are oriented toward the domestic market and refers to businesses that are tied to the world market as "comprador-bourgeois."

Of course, Russia's economic dependence on the United States is in no way comparable to that of Argentina in the 1940s. Unlike India, Russia is, without any doubt, an independent country. Unlike China, Russia is in control of its government, and the new independent governments of the former Soviet Union were created not by corrupt military commanders, but through a peaceful political process often supported by the will of the majority, which was expressed through referendums.

Sergei Markov is a senior researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center. He contributed this comment, which is based on a chapter in his forthcoming book, "Communists in Post-Communist Russia," to The Moscow Times.