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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communists Seek a Place Under Putin

We’ve been predicting the imminent death of the Communist Party for about a decade now, but it nonetheless remains alive. However, despite being the oldest and largest party in Russia, the Communists simply cannot find their place in the new society.

Today’s Communist Party is as much a child of former President Boris Yeltsin as of Gennady Zyuganov. The wise Yeltsin understood that the best way of maintaining his authoritarian power was by creating the appearance of democracy. He needed an "opposition" that would never have any chance of coming to power. He needed Zyuganov’s Communists.

At the same time, Zyuganov and his cronies steadfastly opposed anyone who tried to attack the Kremlin from the left. They successfully absorbed all manner of "extremists" into their party. After the 1993 shelling of parliament, the communists were the only leftist party to participate in elections for the new Duma. All the others were either prohibited from participating or they boycotted the elections in protest.

The Communists also stubbornly refused to join forces with any other opposition groups (except for their own satellite factions). The paradoxical situation developed in which from 1995 to 1999, the oppositionist mood in society steadily grew while opposition forces in government steadily declined because they simply could not (or did not want to) reflect the real situation in the country.

Society moved steadily to the left while the Communists moved inexorably to the right. In the Duma, they were consummate apolitical pragmatists and lobbyists.

They dealt with business interests like colleagues. In his writings, Zyuganov co-opted the rightist idea of restoring the ideals of tsarist Russia, even coining the phrase "great-power patriotism."

When a new regime entered the Kremlin, the rules of the game changed dramatically. The new powers-that-be view parliament as a means of adopting legislation and not just an amusing theatrical sideshow. They have no need for a simulated opposition. In fact, they have no need for any opposition at all.

There is no role for the Communists in the Kremlin’s latest farce except to obey orders. Parliament is becoming less attractive to deputies who are primarily interested in earning extra income by selling their votes. The Communists are being asked to openly support the government, and they are being offered nothing in return except hollow gestures like the resurrection of the old Soviet anthem. Of course, party leaders cannot admit the truth of this situation and so they are reduced to lying, stammering and contradicting themselves.

Party leaders are not worried by the fact that they are losing credibility among the working class. They know that workers have no one else to vote for. What concerns them more are rifts in their own ranks.

They were shaken, for instance, when the formerly loyal Alexander Kuvayev of the Left Wing faction announced publicly that an opposition party should oppose the government. This seems banal enough, but it sent shockwaves through the party. Speaker Gennady Seleznyov and party leader Viktor Ilyukhin have been increasingly going their own way.

Does this mean that the end is near for the party? It is too early to say. Party leaders have become adept at moving from one failure to another without losing control. Zyuganov knows how to cope with criticism and how to put down insurrection. And none of the dissidents so far seems willing to go head-to-head with him.

But, like oligarch Boris Berezovsky, Zyuganov’s party is an unwelcome political inheritance from the Yeltsin era. Now, the value of its shares is falling in the Kremlin. And that should worry Zyuganov a lot.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.