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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

KPRF in Pre-Election Crisis

"We're putting our hopes on the vote-rigging," a Communist Party official sighed. "How's that?" I asked, more than a little surprised. "The [presidential] administration has told the regional authorities to keep our vote total below a certain level. But to make sure we reach that level the bureaucrats will have to give us a top-up."

Needless to say, this grim joke doesn't tell the whole story. The Communist Party may be in crisis, but it still has plenty of supporters who will vote Communist in the parliamentary elections come what may. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the party has never been in worse shape on the eve of an election.

The party leadership is paralyzed by internecine squabbles and a brutal power struggle. The party's dirty laundry has been hung out for all to see. The only message the Communists seem capable of delivering to the public is one of scandal and recrimination.

It's bad enough that the anti-Communist press covers the party's trials and tribulations with evident relish. Now the party faithful are starting to hear about them. Of late, publications friendly to the party have been more than happy to deliver the bad news. During the last party congress, they conducted a lively discussion about the sale of spots on the party list to various oligarchs.

Then last week, State Duma Deputy Leonid Mayevsky went public about the party's ties to Boris Berezovsky. The connection to Berezovsky was old news, but Mayevsky made headlines when he told a press conference that he had personally taken part in talks between Berezovsky and Communist ideologue Alexander Kravets in London.

The leadership immediately expelled Mayevsky from the party's Duma faction. They suddenly remembered that he wasn't a Communist at all, just a businessman and lobbyist for various telecoms companies. Mayevsky's personal motives were all too clear. He had not received the spot on the party list that he felt he deserved, and his relationship with the leadership had soured.

But the story didn't end there. Mayevsky's allegations were taken up by Anatoly Baranov, who asked on the web site Pravda.ru, "What have the heads of the party and the Duma faction been doing for the last four years?" After all, they had recently named Mayevsky the Communist candidate for governor in the Omsk region. "Our comrades in the leadership were thinking only of their wallets," Baranov opined. "As a Communist, I have a question: Why would a party engaged in a serious struggle for power entrust its most private -- I would even say secret, since party finances are always secret -- affairs to God knows whom?"

Baranov is not just some rank-and-file Communist. He is a well-known journalist whom the party had just appointed editor of its official web site, Kprf.ru. Then he delivers a blistering criticism of the party leadership -- and on a rival web site to boot.

Anyone who has even an inkling of the internal workings of the Communist Party -- or most any other party for that matter -- will realize that Baranov could not have delivered such a broadside and gone unpunished unless the leadership itself were paralyzed by internal strife.

A little over a year ago, when party leaders launched their campaign against Gennady Semigin, publications close to the party ran an article called "Operation Mole," which had been personally approved by Gennady Zyuganov. Yet public attacks in the party press did not prevent Semigin from landing a spot on the party list. A nasty exchange followed in the press, in the course of which more names were made public. This led to a fundamental question: If the party had received money from the oligarchs, where was it? What was it spent on?

"Of course there is a suspicion that a majority of the party's leaders have something to hide," Baranov remarked. "If we weren't talking about a majority, certain names would not have made it into the federal party list against the wishes of Gennady Zyuganov."

The voters will have the final say in all this. For now the pessimists are predicting a fiasco on election day, while the optimists hold out hope that many people who have chosen to remain silent will cast their ballots for the party. This has happened before. But this year's election is different. Traditionalists and conservatives who once voted for the Communists have defected en masse to United Russia, the party that pays their pensions, you could say. Even on the left, the Communist Party today arouses such disgust that many people will opt to stay at home or vote "against all candidates."

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.