Business as normal

IT IS likely that events in Russia will give the western media at least a momentary shock just before Christmas. On December 17, the Russian Federation will hold elections to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Opinion polls and local election results both suggest that the most successful party will be the Communist Party of the Russian Federation - the main successor party to the old Soviet Communist Party.

What are the reasons for this? First of all, many people have seen a decline and even a collapse in their standard of living in the past few years. This is especially true of pensioners, who have the least clout of all social groups in Russia. The evidence is that the CPRF does particularly well among people over 50. Nostalgia for the USSR is especially strong in this age group.

The system of political parties in Russia is still not very well developed, with many parties and electoral blocs appearing and disappearing suddenly and having little in the way of grass roots. This is especially true of the groups known loosely as the ‘democrats’, which model themselves on the western market and political systems. The ultra-nationalists are more cohesive, but the Liberal Democratic Party leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, faces a challenge from similar groups in the elections and he is not expected to do as well this time as in 1993, when his party gained over 20% of the vote.

In contrast, the CPRF has its end of the political spectrum all to itself. Other successor organisations to the Soviet Communist Party either are not standing in the elections at all or are unable to raise enough signatures to place their electoral lists on the ballot. The party had no difficulty in raising the signatures it needed, and was in fact the first organisation to be registered for the elections.

What does the CPRF stand for? It is opposed to the economic changes introduced in Russia since the collapse of the USSR. It wants to restore the USSR, perhaps with Russia forming a union with Belarus and Ukraine as a starting point.

Published statements by CPRF leaders as well as articles in its press paint a varied picture - hostility to the current authorities, but also a desire to avoid an ‘extremist’ tag; praise of the Soviet Union’s multi-ethnic nature, but also signs of a narrowly Russian nationalism, sometimes based on the Orthodox Church; hostility to post-Soviet economic changes, combined with a desire to reassure entrepreneurs. The CPRF does not seem very interested in the world outside the former USSR, except as a threat.

The CPRF has played the opposition game with remarkable skill and it has presented itself as the party for the disinherited and the disorientated, whereas forces more congenial to the West have neglected this constituency in favour of the Russian equivalent of the yuppie. Those who wish for a revolutionary party of the working class must look elsewhere however.

Steve Kay