Disillusion in Russia

The Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, announced on February 15 that he plans to stand in the country’s presidential elections scheduled for June 16. There was doubt as to whether he was wise to do this - both because he has been ill recently, and because opinion polls suggest he has little chance of winning.

Russia is still heavily embroiled in the conflict in Chechnya. Boris Gromov, the general who supervised the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, told Interfax news agency that Russian losses in Chechnya are running at a higher rate now than Soviet losses in Afghanistan.

Sections of workers who once supported Yeltsin (such as coal miners) have turned against him as a protest against economic distress. Many of them have not been paid for months. The gulf between rich and poor is increasing rapidly and crime is spiraling out of control

According to Russian TV, Yeltsin tried to present himself as moderate when he announced his candidacy. He said the “extreme right” wanted “reforms at all costs”, while “the extreme left is for the destruction of everything that has been done, under the banner of social revenge”.  He called for the “tragic mistake of 1917” to be avoided - he wanted no new clash between “Whites and Reds”.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation

(CPRF), Gennady Zyuganov, said that he was “certain about the victory of a united leftwing candidate in the upcoming presidential elections”, as long as “all popular and patriotic forces were to unite” (Interfax report). Zyuganov also said that if such a candidate, likely to be himself, were to win, economic “reforms” would continue - that is, capitalism.

Despite grumbling about the CPRF leader’s moderation and his party’s “arrogance” towards other groups, it seems likely that smaller communist groups such as the Russian Communist Workers’ Party will back Zyuganov for the presidency.

The leader of the pro-western Democratic Choice group, Yegor Gaidar, said that Zyuganov was likely at the very least to make it into the second round of the presidential election, and he thought Yeltsin made a mistake in deciding to stand again.

There is nervousness in the west and in some parts of Eastern Europe about the current Russian political situation. For example, according to Interfax, the defence minister of Estonia, Andrus Oovel, expressed alarm about the number of potential Russian presidential candidates who favoured reviving the Soviet Union in some form. Some western investors (and incidentally the BBC) are nervous about possible instability affecting their Russian operations.

However, it cannot be said that Zyuganov and his party have a root-and-branch hostility to capitalism, and much CPRF policy is actually shared right across the Russian political spectrum: for example, hostility to the eastward expansion of Nato.

Hostility to the west should not be confused with socialism or communism.

Steve Kay