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The Russian Elections and the Revival of Russian Communism

posted 8 Dec 2011, 02:24 by heiko khoo

It is fifty years since Yuri Gagarin took mankind to the heavens, and twenty since the collapse of the Soviet Union. These events played a decisive role in the fate of humanity.

So the revival of the fortunes of the Russian Communists in the recent parliamentary election should be seen as an event of global significance. A horrified Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State, bemoans the continued strength of ‘hardline communists’, whose support is based on popular discontent with the consequences of the dissolution of the USSR.


The economic decline began in 1991 and it took ten years before the Russian economy returned to the same level of production. During this time the masses were impoverished, and the wealth produced by the blood and sweat of the Russian workers was swindled out of their hands by such means as voucher-based mass privatisation, which was followed by a wider transfer of state owned assets to private hands. This resulted in a tiny handful of oligarchs gaining personal ownership of the nation’s natural resources and monopolies. The business class engaged in massive capital flight, laundering their money through Western markets.


The end of collectivism and the rise of capitalism acted like an epidemic stalking the nation, former communist countries underwent the world’s worst peacetime mortality crisis in the past 50 years, resulting in millions of additional male deaths in the 1990s. To this day, life expectancy in Russia is below that of 1961, when Gagarin flew to space in the era of hope, collectivism and dignity.


In 1961, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union worked out plans to overtake the USA by 1980, laying the basis for a 6-hour working day, free housing, transport, energy and a society of abundance. The dreams of the early 1960s were not realised, due to the over-nationalisation of the economy, combined with corresponding bureaucratic structures of economic coordination, which generated lethargy and passivity instead of dynamism and innovation. Prices were unresponsive to market impulses, and the poor quality and quantity of consumer goods reinforced a tendency towards general social listlessness. When capitalism took power in the 1990s, the social benefits of the universal planning system in health, education, housing, and scientific development were systematically eradicated; the resistance against this destruction was minimal. 


The government under President Yeltsin did all it could to assist the plunder of national resources, claiming that shock therapy was required to rapidly install a new ruling class, for fear that gradual change would provoke a Communist comeback. In the Presidential elections of 1996, the oligarchic entourage mobilised their finance and resources to ensure that Yeltsin scraped to victory against the Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov. Widespread fraud was used assist this electoral victory, but Western leaders expressed no concerns about this and declared the vote to be ‘free and fair’.


An economic collapse in 1998, connected with the Asian financial crisis, saw the Russian currency devalued and savings collapse. Yeltsin stepped down in 1999, handing the Presidency to Vladimir Putin, who presided over an era of booming state revenues. He reordered relations between political power and the oligarchs, demanding that the billionaires refrain from direct political opposition. Bolstered by a rise in energy prices, Russian GDP returned to 1991 levels in 2001 and then nearly doubled in size, before the world economic crisis hit in 2008. Economic growth brought real improvements in living standards, a reduction in unemployment and a halving of the number of those living in poverty.


The growth has nevertheless been grossly uneven, and the fruits of this growth unequally distributed. 22 Oligarchs own $216 billion, while 80 per cent of the workforce earns less than $250 per month. The provision of facilities in healthcare, education, transport and scientific research are a pale shadow of those in late Soviet times. 


In the late 1980s, it appeared that the Soviet system simply did not work and that the high level of investment in social provision was economically unsustainable. Twenty years later, China has proven that a Communist Party in power can continuously develop the economy, modernise infrastructure and improve real living standards. The Russian masses and the leadership of the Russian Communist Party are well aware of this. 


Even though the election on December 4th was rigged, the doubling of votes for the Communist Party to 20 per cent indicates that an outright electoral victory is now a foreseeable prospect. The key to such a victory will lie in the party’s capacity to galvanise societal discontent and anchor itself in the everyday struggles of the masses.


To this end, the Communist Party should think big. Its task is not to continually laud the Soviet past or any of its leaders, but to draw up concrete plans for the reorganisation of society by democratic and socialist means. In factories threatened with privatisation and cities needing regeneration, alternative developmental plans should be elaborated. Such plans can be worked out in detail by Communists, trade unionists and other democratically elected representatives of the masses, in cities, towns and regions throughout Russia. In this process, Chinese state enterprises and local and national government bodies should be contacted to help provide skills and resources to elaborate a comprehensive Sino-Russian plan of collaboration, development and progress. Then the Communists can present these plans to the electorate as the foundation of a socialist economic strategy.


The programme of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the speeches and writings of its leader Gennady Zyuganov, call for the nationalisation of the banks and all strategic industries, and for the restoration of universal and world quality, free education, health care and scientific research. The declining authority of Russian capitalism’s political representatives provides Russian Communists with the opportunity to ride on the wave of discontent, cracking the image of invincibility that Vladimir Putin and his entourage try to cultivate. If the Communists are seen to be more democratic, closer to the masses, and capable of stimulating Chinese rates of economic growth, their support will rise and a modern and successful Soviet Russia can be born.