Russia's left split between Communist Party and radical groups

 28 Oct 2017 - 9:11

Russia's left split between Communist Party and radical groups

AFP

Moscow, Nostalgic for a Soviet past they barely remember, young Russian Communists still dream of a "bright future" as promised by the October Revolution a hundred years ago.

But a gulf looms between the mainstream Soviet-style Communist Party that has dozens of MPs in parliament and sidelined radical leftist groups.

The Communist Party is currently the second largest in the State Duma lower house of parliament, although with 42 seats out of 448, it is far behind the ruling United Russia party.

Vladimir Isakov, the 30-year-old head of the Communist Party's youth movement and secretary of its Central Committee, said he joined when he was a history student, attracted to the ideology of socialism.

"Without the revolution, there would be no first man in space and no victory in World War II," Isakov said, referring to Soviet achievements.

"Russia would not have become one of the two superpowers of the world."

Back in the Soviet era, the party's youth wing the Komsomol -- an acronym for Communist Union of Youth -- had mass membership. Today it exists in a much smaller form, with some 21,000 members, and is still called the Lenin Komsomol.

Isakov said that most members are in their early 20s and "have already felt the injustice of society".

- Divided over Crimea -

Yet the party rarely criticises Putin's rule, especially since Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, which the Communists enthusiastically supported.

The Communists simultaneously praise the role of Joseph Stalin and support the Russian Orthodox Church, ditching the militant atheism of the Soviet era.

Asked recently if Lenin -- whose embalmed body still lies in a mausoleum on Red Square -- should finally be buried, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov replied: "His body is two metres below ground level in accordance with the practices of the Russian Orthodox Church."

Occasionally the party launches measured attacks on the government's economic policies that swing between liberalism and state capitalism.

The party supports the Kremlin's foreign policy, Isakov said, but opposes its social and economic policies.

"We remain loyal to the ideas of Marx and Lenin," said Isakov.

President Boris Yeltsin banned the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after the failed August 1991 coup when the party's leaders tried to stop the fall of the communist regime.

In 1993, a new communist party was born, led by Zyuganov, a former party official. He declared it the successor to the Soviet Communist Party.

The party experienced a wave of popularity in the 1990s, when millions of Russians were thrown into poverty following hard-hitting economic reforms.

At its peak, Zyuganov came close to winning the 1996 presidential election against Yeltsin.

But Russia's radical leftist movements accuse the Communist Party of losing its independence and serving the Kremlin's interests.

In the winter of 2011-12, radical left groups joined forces with liberals including opposition leader Alexei Navalny at protests to decry Putin's return to the Kremlin.

Yet the far-left also largely backed Putin's annexation of Crimea, which accorded with nationalist and imperialist views of Russia.

Many from the radical left also fought alongside pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.

This has led to a split between far-left and liberals in Russia's opposition circles.

- Opposition to Putin 'in crisis' -

Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the leftist anti-Kremlin group Left Front, was released from prison in August after serving four and a half years for organising "mass unrest" in 2012, when he was a key speaker at protests.

On his release, Udaltsov immediately said he backed Crimea's annexation.

The National Bolshevik Party, a radical nationalist youth movement, was founded by writer Eduard Limonov. Russia banned it as an "extremist organisation" in 2007. It then relaunched under the name The Other Russia.

The party staged bold political stunts, including occupying a part of Putin's presidential administration in 2004. Over 150 of its activists have spent time in prison.

But after backing the Kremlin on Crimea's annexation, Limonov began writing a column for pro-Kremlin Izvestiya daily and appearing on national television talk shows.

In The Other Russia's offices in a dark cellar in Moscow, one of its leading figures Alexander Averin said the opposition to Putin is "in crisis".

The 36-year-old activist acknowledged that Crimea's annexation divided Putin's opponents -- with the left supporting the Kremlin and liberals denouncing the land grab.

For next month's anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, the Communist Party is planning to hold a march in Moscow with international socialists and hold celebrations at revolutionary sites in Saint Petersburg.

Averin insisted that the far-left is planning unauthorised rallies to mark the anniversary.

"We will definitely get arrested," he said with a smile.