Reflections of a “Red Banker”
Prism: Do you feel abused when you are referred to as a "red banker?"
Semago: Not in the least. By the way these two words are absolutely incompatible with regard to their sense. This is just an inconsistent word combination.
Prism: Are there many other businessmen who support the Communist party as you do?
Semago: I think there are many such businessmen. If you take a look at the KPRF election list you will see it for yourself.
Prism: Do you agree with Mr. Runov who (while in the States recently) stated that those businessmen who support the Communist party are doing it just for the sake of their interests of the moment, for example, in the hope of receiving subsidies via the Communist party, forgetting the global interests of their class, the bourgeois class? By the way, the KPRF program calls for private property to be abolished…
Semago: The program of our party does not call for abolishing private property. Actually, this goal is contained in the teachings of Marx. Let’s not confuse two different things. As far as the thesis about the interests of the moment is concerned, I think it is precisely those people who are trying to curry favor with the current government who actually receive government subsidies. For example, the Krasnoyarsk Combine Harvester Plant (which has been a talk of the town recently). In all likelihood, the problems of the plant are the result of certain people using government money for commercial profiteering.
Prism: Many forecast that if the Communist party comes to power in the country (I mean if the party manages to have its nominee elected president of Russia) it will change the rules of the game, i.e., it will abolish private property and nationalize property that has been appropriated by foreign companies in Russia…
Semago: I would like to remind you that foreign companies first appeared in Russia very long ago. For example, Vladimir Lenin launched a policy of concessions and the last such concession dates back to 1947. Later, in 1986-1987 the CPSU Central Committee adopted a resolution which restored a cooperative movement in the country and made it possible, with some limitations, even to operate private firms. All this was invented by the Communists. If we had created all that in 1987 why would we destroy it now in 1996? The democrats claim that the creation of a versatile economy (based on a multitude of forms of ownership) is their brainchild. In fact, they have simply ruined the country with their ill- advised and unprofessional actions. Our task is to improve the situation. Our actions will be based on common sense and on the idea of consolidating the society. Our basic goals are: To achieve economic expansion without appealing to ideology and without any political action. We want our people to live in normal conditions.
Prism: Aren’t you afraid that the voters whom you expect to help you to come to power have a somewhat different opinion and will eventually make you take a path which is different from the one you plan? As far as I know those who vote for Zyuganov are often equally willing to back Anpilov and the latter maintains that all "privatization advocates" should be executed…
Semago: As you can see the KPRF and Anpilov’s party have different electorates. During the past State Duma elections Anpilov’s party received some 4 percent of the votes while Zyuganov’s party received more than 20 percent. However, in principle, we do not differ in interpreting the ideas of Marx and Lenin. We wish our society to accept these ideas gradually and consequentially. Society should evolve moving along a global path of progress and eventually come to accept the ideas advanced by Marx and Lenin. This does not mean that we seek to force the people to accept a certain political and economic formulation. Anpilov’s men are more decisive. We know all too well that a 100 percent state-run economy is detrimental for the society. Being successful in certain directions it dooms other spheres to secondary roles. The fact is that 100 percent state control serves to diminish the role of the individual and although it leads to the strengthening of a country as a whole, it also leads to the degradation of each particular person.
Prism: What will actually change for foreign investors if the Communists come to power?
Semago: There will be more order. We will adopt a parcel of documents designed to have the business of foreign-controlled enterprises regulated and operated within appropriate limits. We will offer certain rules of the game for foreign investors and I believe they will willingly accept our rules. By the way, it is definitely better to play by the rules, even if they are not perfect, than to play without any rules at all. A good example is the cooperation which used to exist between the former USSR and the West. All countries traded and cooperated with us. A reasonable policy based on common sense is always beneficial. I do not think it is right to try revise all the investments made by foreigners in our industries revised. On the other hand I think that the deals of foreign companies appropriating share blocks in our enterprises in violation of the law should definitely be investigated. This is up to the Prosecutor’s Office. Our people have every right to file lawsuits with the courts of law complaining about certain illegal acts of privatization. Such legal proceedings are beyond the competence of political forces and movements, including my party.
Prism: Is it true that your party has compiled a "black list" of foreign companies which, if you come to power, will not be permitted to do business in Russia?
Semago: Why compile such a list? I repeat that we advocate handling the economy on the basis of common sense, not settling scores with somebody. We do not even have a "black list" of state officials although the latter believe we have drawn one up. We are ready to cooperate with many state officials, including the most high-ranking ministerial officials, the only condition being that they should work for the good of the country. We are against the position (which was taken up in 1917) that it is necessary to place "politically like-minded" people everywhere. We are not seeking to have the entire State Duma apparatus altered. If an official performs adequately in his office why seek to have him fired?
Prism: If you come to power which countries will you view as Russia’s allies and which as Russia’s adversaries?
Semago: I believe all our neighbors will become our allies. We will try to cooperate with all countries rather than seek to create the kind of alliance drawing a line between "friends and enemies." A policy of that kind has proven itself to be inefficient. The Cold War is over.
Prism: So, as I have understood you Russia will never again take up a stance of supporting even a bad leader, just in order to spite the Americans…
Semago: I assure you that our program does not call for a confrontation with the US or with any other country. By the way, if we enter an arms race again this will be very detrimental to our economy. Our task is to have our defense industry re-organized so that it, through the process of conversion, will be transformed into a normal segment of the economy.
Prism: What is the Communist party’s stance on the plans for NATO’s eastward expansion?
Semago: Negative. As I see it the idea of NATO’s eastward expansion has emerged because somebody needs it. Russia definitely does not need this. Therefore, somebody else does. I think this idea is not a positive development in international relations.
Prism: What practical steps do you consider appropriate to deter NATO’s expansion?
Semago: I do not think that any practical measures should be taken in this connection. I do not think that we should seek to build up a new military bloc, although some hotheads (for example Grachev and a number of others) advocate this. By the way, we simply cannot afford any saber rattling. In addition, in my opinion the policy of confrontation has proven to be futile. I would rather suggest using economic levers of influence. For example, if the Baltic States decide to join NATO we can reconsider our economic policy towards these states. Probably, this will make them change their mind. However, if NATO countries agree to provide everything necessary to these states to help them in their economic development then let it be so.
Prism: How would you appraise the policy of the present Russian leadership with regard to former Yugoslavia? What would the Communists do if they came to power?
Semago: There is no point in traveling in the world of might-have-beens. However, it should be stated that a lot of mistakes have been made. In the first place it is definitely indecent to betray one’s friends. Our habit of welcoming destructive processes has served us badly, including in foreign policy. At the same time, this does not mean that we should now assume a course of squeezing the US, which is without doubt a very influential state, from the European political scene. Instead of seeking to squeeze somebody we should look for our own niche, assert our own positions and seek to make our own contribution to the peace process. It is simply stupid to look for ways to do somebody harm.
Prism: The program of your party calls for the reintegration of the former USSR states. How do you plan to achieve this goal?
Semago: Let’s call things their proper names. In fact, the USSR and Russia had always been one and the same state. In the present situation the need to reintegrate is dictated in the first place by economic considerations. We advocate a gradual reintegration based on a thoroughly considered policy.
Prism: As far as I have understood you, if the Communists come to power in Russia those American investors who do their business, say, in Kazakhstan today will not have to deal with Moscow in the next two years.
Semago: I think you have got me right. In all likelihood there will be no return to an old-style soviet system of government. The system that will establish itself will be more flexible. For example, I do not exclude the possibility that Kazakhstan will (in the future) enter the Russian Federation in the form of two subjects (northern Kazakhstan and southern Kazakhstan). Similarly, Ukraine may also join the Federation as two independent subjects. Perhaps there eventually will be 27 or 32 new full-fledged subjects of the Russian Federation. In all probability this process will take 10-15 years. It is a common delusion that the Communists, if they come to power, will begin to pull the republics together by force. We will not seek to have a re- integration completed tomorrow or within, say, the next 5 years. The main thing for us is to promote such a process and let it proceed gradually and peacefully over a lengthy period of time…
I am convinced that if our party becomes a sort of a monolith (as the CPSU in Stalin’s time was) it will mean the end of the party. The idea of a monolithic party which rejects all changes or innovations is the wrong idea. I think the party should be a developing organism. Moreover, I believe it is possible that the ideas of social democracy will be accepted (maybe these ideas have already been accepted) by a certain part of the Communist party. However, it cannot be ruled out that orthodox communist ideas will prevail and ultimately determine our course. I advocate diversity of opinions: let them emerge, develop and compete with each other. We should seek truth in discussions, not by a dictate of one group over the others.
Prism: Which parties may in your opinion become allies of the Communist party? I mean, in the upcoming presidential race.
Semago: Hardly any, except for the Agrarian party. By the way, formally speaking, of all the political parties which exist in Russia today only the KPRF can be called a full- fledged political party. In the upcoming elections the struggle will take place between "pure" communists and "pure" democrats. This is why I argue that our society and our political parties have to "nourish" a kind of a social- democratic political center. We will definitely come to that, however, not very soon. The process of development of a political center must not be accelerated by force. This should come as a result of a sensible understanding by the people and should develop from the grass roots, instead of being imposed from the top.
Prism: Aren’t you afraid that the "orthodox communist wing" will gain the upper hand in your party and the party will again become totalitarian?
Semago: The present situation is different from that of 1917-1918. At that time the conditions of a civil war helped the orthodox wing of the party to gain the upper hand. The present conditions, in my opinion, are favorable for social democratic trends to develop.
Prism: Imagine you have come to power. Tell me frankly: Will you ban some parties or movements?
Semago: Definitely yes! We will proceed from general humane principles. For example, we will ban parties which call for the elimination of a part of the nation, which proclaim the superiority of one nation over others, call for war, ethnic hatred, etc.
Prism: Is it true that you plan to run for president in the year 2000?
Semago: By that time I will be 53. I think this is a good age for a person to enter politics on a grand scale. I have a good backup and I think I know what my country needs. I am not excessively possessed by personal ambitions. My credo is to struggle for my ideas within my party.
Prism: Can you tell me how many KPRF members stand on positions similar to yours?
Semago: In the first place all of us, KPRF members, uphold the general communist ideas. At the same time, many of us, perhaps the majority, understand the realities of the modern world, i.e., plurality of forms of ownership and other categories which are rather of a social-democratic nature. This is a sort of a "dualism."