Stalin, Khrushchev, left and right

Spectres are abroad in Russia - the spectres of former general secretaries of the Communist Party. To be precise, Stalin and his successor, Nikita Khrushchev.

Immediately after the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a widespread tendency to pretend that the years between 1917 and 1991 never happened. Of course, the past cannot be overcome so easily, and this became clear from a report by Reuters news agency on February 25. This was on the 40th anniversary of Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’ to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s 20th Congress, in which he gave details of some of the crimes committed in the Stalin period.

Reuters reported that the liberal Moscow daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independent Newspaper) interviewed the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) leader, Gennady Zyuganov. The newspaper asked Zyuganov if his party rejected Stalinism. Zyuganov, a major contender in Russia’s forthcoming presidential elections, “skirted the question”, in the words of Reuters. He thought it was “too simplistic to cast Khrushchev as angel and Stalin as devil”. Zyuganov directed more criticism at Khrushchev, saying that his removal from power in 1964 was carried out more democratically than current political practices in Russia.

A colleague of Zyuganov, a political analyst called Yuri Belov, went further: “They tell us Stalinism is repression, but look what he achieved in just 30 years.” Belov admitted that there were “mass repressions”, but it was a “complicated issue”.

Reuters attributed the ambiguity in the CPRF stance to two causes: on the one hand, Zyuganov is eager to cultivate a moderate reputation in the west; on the other hand, Stalin is popular with many of the CPRF’s followers. A demonstration by them and other groups in Moscow on February 25 featured many portraits of a familiar moustached man in military uniform.

Men in military uniform were very much in evidence the previous day too. This was at a congress in Moscow of the Officers’ Union, reported by Moscow NTV. The TV presenter described this organisation as part of the “rightwing opposition” at the start of the report, and later she called it “leftwing”. This was probably not just a slip of the tongue. Anti-Yeltsin politics in Russia is riddled with this kind of ambiguity. As the camera panned across the hall, it showed row after row of bemedalled figures amid red bunting and Soviet flags. The visual impression they made was of a knot of potential rightwing military coup organisers.

The congress was rather annoyed that Zyuganov did not show up, but it decided to hold a “popular and patriotic forum” in March to decide whether to support the CPRF leader’s presidential campaign. Viktor Anpilov, a leader of the Russian Communist Workers’ Party, did appear, and he addressed the members of the Officers’ Union, who listened to him respectfully. This contrasted with a recent attempt by Anpilov to address workers on strike over non-payment of wages due to them. The attempt failed, because they told him to go away.

Steve Kay