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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communist Party in Crisis

Talk of a coming rift in the Communist Party had been in the air for some time. Yet when State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov was booted out of the party, and the rift became a reality, many people were taken by surprise. During his 10 years as party boss, Gennady Zyuganov had systematically purged the party and its Duma faction not only of his opponents, but of everyone who seemed capable of independent action.

Having successfully dispatched their opponents for so long, Zyuganov's team began to feel invulnerable. They answered their critics with a self-satisfied chuckle, as if to say: "You've been predicting a split in the party for ages. It hasn't happened yet, and it never will."

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What's amazing is not that the rift finally occurred, but that it didn't occur earlier. The party attracts fans of the White Army and champions of Russian Orthodoxy, as well as people who fondly remember the Soviet "friendship of peoples" and take pride in the revolutionary past. Zyuganov holds together the left and the extreme right (under the latter's ideological leadership), while managing to keep "moderates" of all stripes -- from social democrats to run-of-the-mill opportunists -- from bolting.

Journalist Anatoly Baranov, who is close to the Communist Party, has called it a monopoly in the provision of "opposition services" to the public. So long as that monopoly was blessed by the state, everyone knew that to get involved in this particular business, you had to get on board with Zyuganov.

Then the status of "opposition monopoly" was granted to the party of power. After the "Northern Alliance" took up residence in the Kremlin, public discontent -- contrary to official poll results -- began to rise. Sensing the trend, the Kremlin changed the rules of the game. It stripped Zyuganov of his operator's license, if you will. This spring the "centrist" Duma factions run by the Kremlin launched an all-out assault on the Communist Party, culminating in a redistribution of Duma committees. When the Communist Party's leaders called on its few remaining committee chairmen and Seleznyov to step down in protest, their words fell on deaf ears. The party's Moscow organization demanded that the renegades be drummed out of the party.

Seleznyov was followed by other well-known party leaders, Svetlana Goryacheva and Nikolai Gubenko. Gennady Khodyrev, perhaps the most influential of the so-called "red governors," also walked out.

As he exited the Communist Party, Seleznyov predicted that the "party would be Kuvayeved to death," referring to the rising influence of Moscow party leader Alexander Kuvayev, who is literally breathing down Zyuganov's neck. The Kuvayev group achieved a major coup in getting rid of Seleznyov, while Zyuganov is left with the political fallout. But when the "moderates" start fleeing the party, it will become clear that the nationalists who surround Zyuganov are actually few in number and not terribly powerful. Weakened by his battle with Seleznyov, a discredited Zyuganov will be left to take on Kuvayev.

After the chapter on the victory over "the center-right deviation in the Communist Party," the future party historian will proceed to write a section on "overcoming Zyuganovitis." Everything will end as it should, with the triumph of Leninist traditions and self-purification.

What do the internecine battles within the Communist Party mean for society as a whole? The Kremlin is preparing to deal with the Communist Party just as Anatoly Chubais dealt with Unified Energy Systems. Whatever the Kremlin finds useful it will divert into a "moderate opposition party" that will be an opposition party in name only, while in fact serving the Kremlin. The "Kuvayeved" remnants of the Communist Party will be left to live out their time on the political sidelines, with no governors in their ranks, and 15 to 20 percent of the votes in the Duma.

This is only one possible scenario, however. The split has released political energy long blocked up within the Communist Party. A smaller, poorer party could actually emerge more active and effective than before.

And who said that the split would result in just two organizations? The Communist Party's monopoly excluded the possibility of a serious left-of-center or opposition political force of any kind. Now the monopoly has been busted, new political organizations can take shape in response to society's needs and demands. And it is far from clear that the Kremlin's political operatives will be satisfied with the results of their work.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.