Who are you?
Today’s communists, whose party (KPRF) was founded in 1993, see themselves as the successors of the later Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) founded by Vladimir Lenin in the 1910s. Since it was founded, the party has consistently had one of the three largest parliamentary groups in the country’s parliament. It was run by the same man during this period – Gennady Zyuganov, who is now 77 years old. In the late 1980s, Zyuganov initially made a name for himself as a leading critic of the perestroika and glasnost policies of the Soviet party leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1996 he almost became President of Russia, forcing incumbent Boris Yeltsin into a runoff election. This election has become notorious due to open US meddling in the election campaign on behalf of the incumbent.
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How did you fare in the last election?
The communists’ share of the vote in 2016 was 13.34 percent, well below the 2011 figure (19.19 percent). Despite receiving less than a sixth of the total vote, they came in second behind the ruling United Russia party.
However, since 2016, the communists have seen groundbreaking victories, including the election of their candidate for governor of Khakassia, a small Siberian republic.
What result are you expected to achieve in 2021? Who is supporting them?
According to the latest polls by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center (WZIOM), the party is likely to receive around 17 to 20 percent of the vote, clearly in second place behind United Russia. According to the communists themselves, however, the two leading factions are almost head to head. No other survey company reported this as well.
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While the party garnered a large number of votes, its support base appears to be focused on certain demographics. Historically, the party has been mainly supported by older Russians who see it as a return to the left social policy common in the Soviet Union. Today, its appeal has expanded to include many younger opposition Russians who do not support the western-leaning liberal policies of other parties.
The faction also sees different levels of popularity in different areas of the country. For example, the Communist Party is relatively strong in the country’s industrial centers such as Ulyanovsk and Omsk, where it is well above the national average.
What do you think?
According to the party program, the party’s focus is clearly on economic policy, and it is focused on improving the quality of life for Russians. The parliamentary group has committed itself to massively increasing the minimum wage, offering all people living space, stopping rampant inflation with price controls and transferring natural resources into public ownership. The program also promises an eight-hour upper limit on the working day while guaranteeing vacation time.
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Recently, the party’s most popular demand has been to abandon the unpopular pension reform that raised the retirement age (for men from 60 to 65 and women from 55 to 63). After months of protests led by communists and some other left opposition political forces, the government finally set the retirement age for women at 60. That small about-face was not enough, however, and some analysts believe it led to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s resignation in January 2020 due to poor approval ratings.
Although politically descended from and inspired by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, those who are driven by leaders like Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, and Leonid Brezhnev often fail to recognize the party’s current policies and beliefs.
In particular, Zyuganov extolled Jesus Christ as “the first communist on the planet” and urged Russians to read and study the Bible. However, religion was officially banned in the USSR.
What else do you need to know?
Despite regular accusations of collusion with the Kremlin, the Kremlin has not been so benevolent of many of the party’s most popular figures. The best known example is the party’s presidential candidate in 2018, Pavel Grudinin.
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Grudinin is the director of the closed joint-stock company “Lenin Sovkhoz”, a 2,000 hectare property on the outskirts of Moscow, where fruit and vegetables are grown. After working there for over a decade, he took control of the company in 1995, which helped him become a millionaire. As a result, many party members did not consider the bourgeois business owner to be a suitable representative of the party.
In July, Grudinin was banned by Russia’s Central Electoral Commission after his ex-wife reported an alleged undeclared investment in Belize. According to the politician, he only came to focus on his finances through his political influence. He replied to the allegations:
“The Communist Party is an opposition party. It scared someone. Someone is afraid of the great effect of the union of the left.”
And Grudinin is not the only one: in February, local politician Nikolai Bondarenko was accused of violating corruption laws after monetizing his YouTube channel “Diary of a MP”. The channel now has 1.62 million subscribers. In his videos, he films discussions with local residents and other politicians, and even records debates in the Saratov Oblast Duma chamber where he works. According to Bondarenko, he was targeted after taking part in a demonstration in support of imprisoned opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
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