Should Russia be communist?

Giovanni Cadioli wonders if the focus on Russia’s more liberal opposition currents is not misguided in light of reports which suggest that the Communists would be the main beneficiaries of free and fair elections.

Gennadiy Zyuganov on Red Square. Photo courtesy of RIA Novosti under Creative Commons License

Gennadiy Zyuganov on Red Square.
Photo courtesy of RIA Novosti, under a Creative Commons License

Of all Marx’s voluminous work, the first sentence of The Communist Manifesto has become the most well-known. “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism”. This ghost does not seem to be haunting western Europe anymore, but the former Soviet Union is a different case.

After the 1991 putsch and the attempted insurrection in 1993 were crushed, communists in the former USSR realised that re-communisation could be achieved only through democratic means.  The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), the most organised and electorally successful successor of the CPSU, has been very active in this sense. In the early 1990s it formed a “red-brown coalition” with ultra-nationalist forces and dominated the Duma until the early 2000s, coming very close to winning the 1996 Presidential election and in the December 2011 legislative elections receiving 19% of the votes.

But what if the communists had won in 1996?

The official OSCE report for the 1996 election is quite at odds with following years, which increasingly focus on mounting violations and electoral frauds. However, if you were to ask Michael Meadowcroft, head of that same 1996 OSCE mission, he would tell you about pressures on him and his team to whitewash the report and about how his opinions were ignored. An academic analysis of the available data can be found here.

Dmitri Medvedev – former President, current Prime Minister and surely no communist – has reportedly admitted that Gennadiy Zyuganov did win the 1996 elections. If he had been allowed to take up the role, much would have been different. Indeed, the “red-browns” had attempted to invalidate the decree that dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991 just a few weeks before the 1996 election, aiming t re-Sovietise Russia and persuade the former Socialist Republics to join  a new Union voluntarily.

Of course, 1996 is gone and so is Yeltsin’s Russia. Now we are in the new millennium and the Russia we look at a different country in many respects. Yet, a report written by Stepan Sulakshin, of the Moscow-based Governance and Problem Analysis Center, seems to prove that the 2011 legislative elections witnessed widespread electoral frauds and that the KPRF did indeed take a plurality of the votes, scoring approximately 25-30%, against United Russia’s 20-25% – while official figures put the KPRF at 19% and United Russia at 49%. Many theories have been put forward to explain why precisely the Governance and Problem Analysis Center, chaired by the silovik Vladimir Yakunin, issued such a report.

What this report surely proves is that the Western press’ almost exclusive focus on the so-called “Liberal opposition” – albeit victims of the Russian electoral campaign’s distortions and legal manipulations in their own right – is seriously misleading. Indeed, the Liberal opposition’s electoral results prove that it never represented any sort of alternative to the ruling Putinist elite and instead, we are faced with the fact that the KPRF has been by far Russia’s most important opposition party.

The relationship between the KPRF and the Kremlin has been variously interpreted and often the communists are seen as part of that “systemic opposition” that the Kremlin tolerates. Often however, this Kremlin-systemic opposition informal alliance has been defined as a conventio ad excludendum, meant to contain the dangerous Liberal opposition.

If one assumes the truthfulness of these reports and therefore the fact that the KPRF has been the force that electoral frauds in Russia seem to have mostly contained so far, a question arises: how many of those who denounce Russian electoral frauds would be ready to see these frauds cease in exchange for a Communist President or a Communist-dominated Duma?



2 thoughts on “Should Russia be communist?

  1. I think that the focus on “fair elections” was possibly the main strategic mistake of the opposition movement in Moscow after the latest presidential elections. It was giving too much importance to the elctoral process, which is actually a very small part of democracy.
    I remember being in a car together with volunteer observers during election day, and as they realised they were recording only minor violations (or rather, suspected violations), they started saying “we’re just giving more legitimacy to Putin” (you’re referring to parliamentary elections in 2011, but there’s no doubt that presidential elections in 2012 would have won with a Putin victory in any case).
    The problem came up more evidently after the elections, when they realised they didn’t have a unifying motto any more. Could you really have more demonstrations under the motto “for fair elections”?
    If, and this is a big “if”, the system was actually more democratic (not just counting ballots without frauds), the whole political system could develop quite differently. Quite possibly, the communists would significantly reform or leave space to other leftist movements… let’s keep in mind that one of the opposition leaders in Moscow is Sergey Udaltsov…

  2. I perfectly agree that fair elections and fair vote count are both crucial elements for the existence of a democratic system and at the same time they are not enough to prove its very existence.

    I also agree with the idea that the protest movement’s almost exclusive focus on “fair elections” and “ballots recount” was a ruinous strategy. Putin did indeed win the 2012 Presidential election – quite surely with less votes than the ones officially attributed to him, but this doeas not change the fact that nobody can rationally challenge the fact that, among the competing candidates, he was by far the one which reveived more support.

    The protesters’ strategy was also ruinous because if after the 2011 elections ballots had been effectively recounted, or if frauds did not occur in the first place, the result would have hardly been more positive for the heterogeneous anti-Putin movement. Indeed, it did not take long for the KPRF – and the other parties of the “systemic opposition” – to position themselves definitely closer to Putin’s “anti-orange meetings” then to the anti-Putin protesters. The KPRF itself warns since years about the dangers of a possible orange revolution in Russia, financed by the West and carried out by “fifth-columnists”.

    But, reading Western reports, one gets the impression that the Russian people are craving for Western liberal-democracy and that only extensive and carefully planned frauds are keeping the existent system in place – that if elections proceeded without frauds, we would see The Other Russia and Yabloko winning 70% of the votes.

    Well, that is just not the case and although there are plenty of elements to argue that, showing data helps supporting thethesis that Western media often show a profound and continuous misunderstanding of Russian political dynamics.
    But this is hardly a news and countless examples could be quoted (among them, ).

    No doubts that if some structural elements of the Russian political system would be different, its party system would change as well – and electoral percentages with it. However, the issue is not whether this system can change, because everything CAN change, but “how” it can change and most of all, whether there effectively exists a general consensus on “how” to change it in the Russian population.

    And effectively Udaltsov was/is a prominent member of the movement, but he was repeatedly criticised by other leaders of the protests and he actually supported Zyuganov, not Prokhorov in the 2012 Presidential election (

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