One thing that many people have overlooked about the current unrest in Russia is the depth of support for left wing values. Is a new red dawn about to rise over the Kremlin?
On Tuesday, I attended the signing of a deal between two generations of Russian opposition forces – the Communist Party and the Left Front movement, one of the more radical political groups to have emerged here in recent years.
Under the agreement, Left Front pledged to back veteran Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov in March’s presidential polls, while he vowed to implement the demands drawn up by protesters at recent rallies against alleged electoral fraud on behalf of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party at December’s parliamentary polls.
Both Zyuganov and Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov attended the signing of what the latter called a “historic moment.”
The two made for very strange allies. Zyuganov, 64, was dressed in a suit and tie and sporting a Communist Party pin. Udaltsov, at 34, almost twice as young as his new comrade, was dressed in a black pullover and jeans and his shaven head only added to his general gauntness – a result, no doubt, of the recent hunger strike he undertook while behind bars on protest-related charges to draw attention to what he said was persecution by the authorities (he has been arrested around a dozen times in the last 12 months or so).
Still, while the two might look very different, they would seem to be ideologically close – the oddly archaic slogan on Left Front’s website urges “Land to the Peasants! Factories to the Workers! Power to the Soviets!”
The deal might have been newsworthy, but neither Zyuganov nor Udaltsov impressed the veteran Russian journalist sitting next to me.
“Christ,” she exclaimed sarcastically as Udaltsov strode into the room, “They’ve let him out of jail for a bit.”
“What does he need all this for?” she went on, addressing her question to no one in particular. “He’s got a wife and two kids – family comes first.”
She then glanced down at a copy of the “historic” deal and grunted. “What a farce,” she said. “Who is going to hand the presidency to Zyuganov anyway? We all remember what his lot was like the last time they were in power.”
“Well,” she said, glancing about the room at the twenty- and thirty-something journalists around her. “I do, at least.”
Left Front and Udaltsov were in attendance again when I was at a rally in downtown Moscow two days later to mark the third anniversary of the murders of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and Novaya Gazeta journalist Anastasia Baburova.
Markelov and Baburova were shot dead in broad daylight by a nationalist gunman across from downtown Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2009, their deaths making international headlines.
Despite freezing temperatures of around minus 10 degrees Centigrade (14 degrees Fahrenheit) there were some 800 people in attendance at the rally, according to the cops. The crowd was a mixture of die-hard socialists like Udaltsov and his gang and participants in the recent poll fraud protests.
“Raise the red flag high! Capitalism must die!” chanted a group of young socialists as we marched towards Pushkin Square and Europe’s largest McDonalds.
I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but the left seems to be making a comeback with the young generation in Russia of late. Communism was pretty much a dirty word among the youth in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but something would appear to be stirring.
After all, it’s now over twenty years since the collapse of the Soviet system – long enough for a new generation who remember little of it to grow into adulthood. Udaltsov, for example, would only have been 14 when the red flag was lowered from the Kremlin’s towers for the last time.
While the youth’s enthusiasm for Communism is a novelty, there has always been nostalgia in Russia for the Soviet years, much of it encouraged by the authorities. Putin once famously called the break up of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
And, just in case we forget, it was the Communist Party that came second to Putin’s United Russia at the parliamentary polls with almost twenty percent of the vote. If the allegations of poll fraud are true, it would only be logical to expect their genuine figures were even higher. As it is, the Communists triumphed in a number of major cities across the country.
So is Russia about to set off on the long road to Communism once more? Right now it seems a long shot – but Russia is nothing but unpredictable. After all, who would have predicted the current protests – and the accompanying widespread political fervor - even six months ago?
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
From lurid tales of oligarch excess to scare stories about Moscow’s stranglehold on Europe’s energy supplies, the land that gave us Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin is very rarely out of the news. But there is much more to modern Russia than billionaire tycoons and political conspiracy. Marc Bennetts’ weekly column, Deeper Than Oil, goes beyond the headlines to explore the hidden sides of the world’s largest, and often strangest, country.
Marc Bennetts is a journalist who has written about Russian spies, Chechen football and Soviet psychics for a number of UK newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times. He is also the author of Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game (Virgin Books).
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