The struggle for new blood and the future of Russia’s Left; A new candidate is helping to reinvigorate Russia’s left-wing politics ahead of the presidential election, but what space will there be for voices and movements from below? (excerpt)

Kremlin and Saint Basil's File Photo

( – Christopher Moldes – February 28, 2018)

Christopher Moldes got his MA in Slavic and Eurasian Studies, and is a writer and translator living in the Washington, DC area in the United States. He is a contributor to Global Voices’ RuNet Echo project.

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In a televised interview broadcast before the Communist Party of the Russian Federation’s (KPRF) party congress, Gennady Zyuganov, the party’s head, announced that the KPRF had already laid the basis not only for the 2018 Russian presidential elections, but also beyond. Curious phrasing for a party that had only just put forth a candidate with less than three months to go before the elections. Still more curious was how Zyuganov deflected when asked a question about whether or not he intended to run, as he has in all but two of Russia’s post-Soviet presidential elections:

“I am the leader of one of the largest parties. This isn’t any one person’s party. If Zhirinovsky [head of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party] leaves, it all falls apart. It’s the people’s party, for the people and defense, and we have created a powerful, authoritative organisation.”

The party’s congress took place just before New Year, and one of its main tasks was to rejuvenate the party that has actually been “one person’s” for some time. After an abortive announcement earlier in the year, Zyuganov took a step back and was not the party’s pick for presidential candidate at the December congress. That honour now belongs to one Pavel Grudinin, a relative unknown and head of one of the few collective farms, or sovkhozy, operating privately in Russia today.

After so many years at the helm, what’s prompting this change? Overall, it’s been a trying year for Zyuganov: a public spat with Chechen leader Ramzan Kaydrov over whether or not Lenin should be buried, a seemingly singular focus on a “back to the USSR” mentality at the expense of a broader electoral platform, and for the first time, a dip in popularity – the bombastic Vladimir Zhirinovsky now slightly outperforms Zyuganov among the Russian electorate. This is part of a larger tendency of the party’s decline: whereas once the pro-Kremlin United Russia party saw the KPRF as its main political opponent, given how the party forced the 1996 elections into a second-round runoff and their continued (though diminishing) presence in the Duma, it seems the Kremlin now believes that any viable competition to Putin’s 2018 presidential bid has yet to ripen.

These recent setbacks speak to a larger malaise that has set in among the party base, which is dissatisfied with the party’s leadership as they have been since its first days on the political scene. From its founding in 1993, the KPRF has had to delicately balance managing the expectations of its rank-and-file members and the electoral needs of the party’s leadership. Ostensibly operating within a multi-party system, the Communists had to adjust their politics in the pursuit of enlarging their electoral share, a process described in great detail in Luke March’s biography of the party, The Communist Party in Post-Soviet Russia. Under Zyuganov’s leadership, the party adopted more moderate views and outmaneuvered more radical groups, often co-opting their members for party aims. This cynical approach to grassroots movements colours the party leadership’s relationship with local members and activists to the present day.

To get a sense of the party’s criticism from the left, I spoke with Yevegeny Myshayev, a municipal KPRF deputy in Moscow, and Vladimir Zhuravlev, an activist from Left Block. Though their views are by no means uniformly accepted across the KPRF and overall Russian left, they do demonstrate the tensions inherent between party leadership and the rank-and-file, and leftist activists outside of the party….

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