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The Split in the CPRF: Two Views


Two Congresses and a Funeral

Boris Kagarlitsky

The Communist Party’s leaders have always been prone to optimism. When they were told of an impending crisis in their ranks, they confidently replied that nothing of the kind was possible. When forecasts suggested they would lose numerous seats in the State Duma elections, they just laughed. And when certain pundits ventured to speculate on a possible schism in the party, its leaders replied that such a development was absolutely out of the question.

Now, one by one, the grim predictions are starting to come true. Following the fiasco in the December State Duma elections, in which the Communists lost more than half their seats, the party could no longer deny that it was in the throes of crisis. Rival factions began openly fighting. Supporters of former Duma deputy speaker Gennady Semigin blamed the Communists’ failures on Gennady Zyuganov, who had led the party to its fourth straight election defeat. The party bosses, however, called on their comrades to rally around the leader in order to get through the hard times.

Since neither side presented anything remotely resembling a coherent program or ideology, the battle between them took on the appearance of a street brawl, in which the public trading of personal insults alternated with behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

In the run-up to the 3 July party congress, events unfolded at breakneck speed. Without waiting for the majority of party members to have their say, the Communist leaders started ousting their opponents from the party. However, as it later transpired, they hadn’t ousted everybody: Above all, the expulsion of Semigin did not prevent him and his supporters from preparing their own scenario for the congress.

With less than two days to go to the congress, Semigin’s faction convened a Central Committee plenum. Of 156 active members, 96 attended (80 are needed for a quorum). The plenum removed Zyuganov as leader of the party and replaced him with Ivanovo Governor Vladimir Tikhonov, a decision the Justice Ministry seemed in a hurry to uphold.

The Zyuganov camp fired back with a plenum of their own, registering 91 participants, which resulted in the removal of Semigin’s allies. Since the second meeting also assembled a quorum, the two plenums yielded two mutually exclusive, but equally valid, resolutions. Moreover, quite a number of party comrades managed to show up at both events and lend their support to both of the warring factions.

In the end, two party congresses were held instead of one. Semigin’s supporters walked out of the meeting chaired by Zyuganov and organized one of their own in a different venue. And, lo and behold, both congresses claimed to have a quorum. The Zyuganov-led congress descended into an endless stream of paeans to the party leader, steeped in the best totalitarian tradition; while the parallel congress was just as uncompromising in its denunciation of Zyuganov.

Now the two competing factions face many months of legal wrangling to determine whose party is the real one. It remains unclear whose side the Russian justice system will take, but it isn’t all that important. The Communist Party is finished. The party brand at the heart of the current legal battle is rapidly losing all appeal for anyone except those directly involved in the fight.

It would be wrong to call these events a schism – the right word is "disgrace".

Unlike the Soviet Communist Party, whose history combines horrifying and disgraceful episodes with tragic and heroic ones, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has been going for 11 years without accomplishing anything of any note. Paradoxically and, in a way, logically, the party’s collapse comes at a time when "red" ideas are becoming fashionable again. However, this could not help the party, long bereft of any ideas or principles.

Neither of the congresses made room for representatives of Communist youth groups, who have made their voices heard in recent protests, or for labor activists. The post-Soviet Communist Party is entering the history books along with the Yeltsin epoch – indeed, as one of the most monstrous products of that period. This party did not find a niche for itself in Putin’s Russia. It neither fit into the new system being built by Kremlin functionaries nor did it pluck up the courage to go into real opposition.

The disappearance of this party is no great loss. And as for the communist idea, there is no need to worry: it will find new, much more capable, heirs.

This article was first published in the Moscow Times, 8 July 2004



The Mole Has Surfaced: The Attack on the CPRF

Ed Griffiths

THE COMMUNIST Party of the Russian Federation, with 560,000 members and roughly 110 million voters is one of the world’s largest non-governing Communist Parties. It is also the only opposition party represented in the Russian State Duma. Last weekend saw the party hold its 10th congress, in Moscow’s Izmailovo conference centre.

The proceedings of congresses are sometimes newsworthy, sometimes – whisper it – slightly less newsworthy. This one, though, was almost overshadowed by a naked attack on the CPRF. It was aimed at disrupting the congress and breaking up the party. And it was organised less by the clique of ambitious mid-ranking party officials who could be found to front it than it was by the Kremlin.

The form the attack took was the convening of an "alternative" congress, spuriously validated by an "alternative" plenary meeting of a handful of central committee hacks, which obediently sacked the party leadership – including its chairman Gennady Zyuganov – and installed a new team.

The "alternative" CPRF chairman is Vladimir Tikhonov, governor of the Ivanovo region in European Russia and rarely thought of as a party heavyweight. Behind him stands Gennady Semigin, a multi-millionaire who was recently expelled from the CPRF over allegations that he was trying to subvert it into a social democratic "loyal opposition". Behind him lurks President Vladimir Putin.

Revealingly, the "alternative" congress was held at an undisclosed location, presumably in order to avoid embarrassment over how few delegates were in attendance – but it was still graced with the presence of "observers" from the Ministry of Justice.

The CPRF represents, by its very existence, the systemic crisis of Russia’s post-1993 political order. No bourgeois democracy can flourish while the main political opposition is a party that refuses to play by the rules of the bourgeois democratic game.

The CPRF regards the Russian constitution as illegitimate and the Russian declaration of independence as illegal. Its candidate at this year’s Russian presidential election stood on a platform of introducing Soviet power and gained second place.

There have been repeated suggestions that the Kremlin would like to promote the formation of a patriotically-minded social democratic party which could edge the CPRF out and play the role of a tame parliamentary opposition. Semigin and his supporters in the "alternative" CFRF – now being dubbed the "alternativshchiks" – would, in this reading, now be played up through the media as a new non-threatening left.

The other interpretation is that the Kremlin’s aim is less to replace the CPRF than simply to destroy it. And this, on the face of it, seems more plausible.

The "alternativshchiks" hardly make a credible leadership for the Russian opposition. Semigin is a little-known oligarch who owes his status as standard-bearer for the CPRF right wing less to his own merits than to the failure of more senior and more charismatic predecessors. Tikhonov is all but unknown outside his home region and the others – Astrakhankina, Potapov, Kuvayev and Knysh – have already been exposed as participants alongside Semigin in what has been called Operation Mole.

Meanwhile, the alternativshchik position has been denounced by a string of high-profile CPRF members and supporters. These include Nikolai Kharitonov, the 2004 presidential candidate, the editors of main opposition newspapers Sovietskaya Rossiya and Zavtra, Valentin Kuptsov, who recently stepped down as the party’s deputy chairman and who briefly led it before Zyuganov, and veterans of the left-wing CPSU opposition in the Gorbachov era, including Starodubtsev, Lukianov and Ligachov.

It is alleged that Semigin and others spent up to 60 million roubles (£1.2m) a day on anti-Zyuganov publicity in the run-up to the congress. It would take dramatically more to make Semigin and Tikhonov look like serious national politicians.

Tikhonov has even come close to admitting both that he’s working with the regime and that he doesn’t really think that the "alternative" CPRF is going to fly. Defending himself against the charge that Putin put him up to it all, he told one interviewer: "Needless to say, I had no discussions with the president’s staff before the congress. But, since all these events, yes, I have talked with a representative of the administration. I think the Ivanovo region will now enjoy better conditions." It seems that its governor certainly will.

The alternativshchiks are now petitioning the Ministry of Justice to deregister the real CPRF in favour of their "alternative." Given that they have better friends in higher places than Zyuganov, it is quite possible that they will succeed. But this will be no more than a purely bureaucratic and legalistic victory. A series of regional CPRF conferences has overwhelmingly rejected Operation Mole, with fewer than 10 per cent of party organisations backing calls for a change of leadership.

According to the credentials committee at the official CPRF congress, only 61 delegates – a fifth of the elected total – failed to show up. That is therefore the highest number who even could have attended the quasi-secret "alternative" congress.

There is little chance of the alternativshchiks carrying a significant proportion of the party membership. When the CPRF expelled Gennady Seleznyov, a senior and well-liked party official who had become much too close to the regime in his capacity as speaker of the State Duma, his new Rebirth of Russia Party proved a total flop. None of Semigin, Tikhonov, Astrakhankina, Potapov and Knysh has anything like the stature or credibility with the party rank and file that Seleznyov enjoyed.

The real importance of this episode is in what it reveals about the modern Russian state. Operation Mole and the "alternative" 10th congress are part of an elaborate and probably expensive state-sponsored attack on the only real opposition party in the country.

The illusory stability of Putin’s Russia is belied both by the existence of a mass party of "irreconcilable opposition" and by the attitude that the authorities take towards that party.

The "alternative" congress was backed up with a wave of minor acts of sabotage directed against the CPRF – there was a mysterious "power cut" at the Izmailovo conference centre, meaning that Zyuganov had to deliver his political report by torchlight in a hall with no functioning air conditioning, and CPRF and other left-wing websites have been the object of attacks by hackers with the aim of preventing any dissemination of reports from the official congress.

But the longer-term consequences for Russia’s communist left will, quite possibly, be positive. Operation Mole is now out in the sunlight for all to see.

Zyuganov, correctly, is making no attempt to paper over the cracks or whine about "restoring party unity". Tikhonov and Potapov have been smartly expelled from the party and others are likely to follow.

Whether the alternativshchiks get the name or not, the belief in the mainstream of the Russian left that there can be no reconciliation with the existing political system will probably be strengthened rather than weakened.

The increasingly comradely alliance between the official CPRF and the more radical Russian Communist Workers Party – Revolutionary Party of Communists (RCWP-RPC) is worth 10 alternativshchik media stunts.

Zyuganov, addressing the 10th congress of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, accused Semigin and his cronies of wanting to "deprive the party of its social-class character – in essence, to liquidate it as the representative of the oppressed masses and of the progressive tendencies of social development".

The struggle for the future of the, Russian communist movement is far from over. But Russia’s communists have already made it clear that they will not accept the institutionalisation or social democratisation of their party.

This article was first published the Morning Star, 8 July 2004