Who are they?
Founded in 1993, today’s Communists believe themselves to be the successors of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, created by Vladimir Lenin in the 1910s. Since its formation, the faction has consistently been in the top three most-represented parties in the country’s parliament. It has been led by the same man – Gennady Zyuganov, now 77 years old – throughout that time. Zyuganov initially made his name in the late 1980s as a leading critic of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost policies. In 1996, he almost became Russian president, taking the incumbent Boris Yeltsin to a run-off. That election has become notorious due to open American interference in the campaign on behalf of the incumbent.
How did they do last time?
In 2016, the Communists’ vote share came in at 13.34%, a considerably worse result than it received in 2011 (19.9%). However, despite receiving less than one-sixth of all votes, it came in 2nd place, behind the ruling United Russia party.
Since 2016, though, the Communists have seen landmark victories, including winning the governorship of Khakassia, a small Siberian republic.
How are they likely to perform in 2021? Who supports them?
According to recent polling conducted by the likes of the state-owned WCIOM and FCOM, the party is likely to receive around 17-20% of the vote and come in a clear second place behind United Russia. However, according to the Communists’ own data, the two leading factions are almost neck-and-neck. No other survey company has reported the same.
While the party receives many votes, its supporter base appears to be focused around specific demographics. Historically, the party was mainly supported by older Russians who see it as a means of returning to some left-wing social care policies that were common in the Soviet Union. Nowadays, its appeal has broadened to many younger opposition-minded Russians who don’t support the Western-facing liberal policies of other groups.
The faction also sees varying popularity in different areas throughout the nation. For example, the Communist Party is relatively strong in the country’s industrial centers, such as Ulyanovsk and Omsk, where it polls much higher than its national average.
What do they believe?
According to the party’s manifesto, the vast majority of its policies are related to the economy and focused on improving the quality of life for Russians. The faction has pledged to massively increase the minimum wage, give free housing to all, stop rampant inflation with price controls, and return natural resources to public ownership. The manifesto also promises to set an eight-hour cap on a working day while guaranteeing vacation time.
In recent times, the party’s flagship proposal has been to cancel the unpopular pension reform, which suggested a rise in the retirement age (for men from 60 to 65 and women from 55 to 63). Eventually, following months of protests led by the Communists and some other left-wing oppositional political forces, the government backtracked somewhat on the female pension age, making it 60. However, that small U-turn wasn’t enough, and some analysts believe it led to the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet in January 2020 due to low approval ratings.
However, while they are descended from and inspired by the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, current policies and beliefs espoused by the group can often be unrecognizable to those pushed by the likes of leaders Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, and Leonid Brezhnev.
In particular, Zyuganov has praised Jesus Christ as “the first communist on the planet,” asking Russians to read and study the bible. In the USSR, religion was officially forbidden.
What else do I need to know?
Despite regular accusations of being in cahoots with the Kremlin, recent times have not been so kind to many of the party’s most popular figures. Most prominently, the party’s 2018 Presidential Election candidate Pavel Grudinin.
Grudinin is the director of Lenin State Farm, a 2,000-hectare sprawl of land growing fruits and vegetables on the outskirts of Moscow. After working there for over a decade, he gained control of the enterprise in 1995, which helped him become a millionaire. This meant that many party members believed the bourgeois business owner was not a suitable representative for the group.
In July, Grudinin was barred by Russia’s Central Electoral Commission after his ex-wife blew the whistle on an allegedly undeclared investment in Belize. According to the politician, the focus on his finances has only come as a result of his political influence.
“The Communist Party is an opposition party. It has scared someone. Someone is afraid of the great effect of uniting the left forces,” he said after the allegations.
And Grudinin isn’t the only one. In February, local politician Nikolay Bondarenko was accused of breaking corruption laws after monetizing his YouTube channel, ‘Diary of an MP’, which now has 1.62 million subscribers. In his videos, he films discussions with residents and other politicians and even records debates inside the chamber of the Saratov Oblast Duma, where he serves. According to Bondarenko, he was targeted after attending a protest supporting jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny.
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