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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zyuganov: Back to Past?

As the first round of elections approached, the liberal press became more nervous, if not hysterical, about the possible tragic consequences if the communists come to power. Communists have been charged with everything from wanting to renationalize all private business to the possibility of turning the country into a big gulag.

It is useless to point out to the authors of such articles that Russian communists, not to mention democrats, have become wiser over the years and that one can never step in the same river twice. They only respond: "They were in power and we know who they are," or "They want to return to the past, and some of them say it straight out."

Of course, in each of the five Russian communist parties -- which are headed by Gennady Zyuganov, Viktor Anpilov, Vladimir Kryuchkov, Nina Andreyeva and Oleg Shenin -- there are several people who would like to "conquer and divide" what has been lost. But those on the communist margins are not very numerous: The parties of Kryuchkov, Andreyeva and Shenin are simply dwarfs. The largest party to come out most clearly in support of a return to orthodox communism, the Russian Communist Workers' Party lead by Anpilov, does not number more than 50,000.

Such appeals could be carried out by the Russian Communist Party which has a solid influence in the provinces and makes up the largest party in Russia. But this party is in no way like the monolithic Leninist-Stalinist party that made half the world tremble in fear. Today, there are three distinct tendencies within the party -- the orthodox led by Albert Makashov and Valentin Varennikov, the pragmatic led by Zyuganov and Vladimir Semago and the "democratic" represented by State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov and Valentin Kuptsov. The difference between, for example, the orthodox Makashov and the millionaire Semago is so great that they would be very unlikely to dance to the other's tune. But even if the worst case scenario were possible and the orthodox gained the upper hand in the party, they could not repeat the attempt to build communism.

When Lenin and Stalin had begun such a project for the first time, the situation was entirely different. It was a different country with a disciplined party and defense structure, strong and authoritarian leaders who were even glorified, and finally, there was a belief in a grand idea that was shared by many people who were willing to make sacrifices for it. Moreover, the Soviet Union was faced with countries on its borders that were hostile to it, and the power and authority of any country at that time depended not on the quantity of computers or automobiles but on the will of the population and number of tanks. Russia and the world have changed much since then. Russia has neither the military force nor the ideas for new sharp shocks, and the world no longer looks at the country as an enemy.

Where would the orthodox communists need to begin to carry out their program? At first, of course, they would need to put pressure on the opposition within the party. Then they would need to confiscate property, from factories to houses, including dachas, or summer houses. But such people now number in the tens of millions. And it is not so long ago when their ancestors were often led like cattle to a slaughter. They have not forgotten this. Moreover, many now bear arms, whereas the armed forces are disorganized and corrupt. I would not want to witness an attempt to confiscate a dacha from, for example, a member of the ruthless Cobra militia who has recently returned from Chechnya.

But for argument's sake, let us assume that the orthodox communists succeeded without provoking civil war (which the Bolsheviks were unable to do). Bankers and businessmen would flee to the West and many who remained would have to be put in camps. But no number of camps could hold such a large number of people. They would need to arrest many private farmers, who make up a large part of the population and a good half of the Russian intelligentsia. Even Stalin did not succeed in this.

What could we then expect if Zyuganov wins in the second round of elections? For a start, the communists would have to explain their relations among themselves. Zyuganov is the most influential politician in the party. But to remain so, he would need to make some alliances if elected. The more radical sides would most likely be removed from positions of power and a central group would form around Zyuganov and the chairman of the Federation Council, Yegor Stroyev, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Korolyov and Seleznyov. Judging from my personal acquaintance with these politicians as well as their actions and publicly-stated positions, they are far closer to great-power patriots than classical communists. In fact, Zyuganov could be said to be as much of a communist as Yeltsin is a democrat.

It is difficult to judge what kind of concrete measures Zyuganov would take if elected. He would certainly expand the role of the state in the economy and most likely introduce certain protectionist measures similar to those of Japan. Other measures would include an attempt to speed up integration of the Commonwealth of Independent States, for this is considered to be the most serious market for Russian industry. A real war against the country's criminal organizations would be launched and would inevitably involve repressive measures. But any attempts to repress representatives of big business is very unlikely. The communists are wise enough not to kill the chicken that is laying golden eggs. For they understand that the country requires large credits and investment, and for this, guarantees of stability are needed.

Alexander Kakotkin is a freelance writer. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.