Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 1

The Rise of “Instinctive Demagogues” Threatens Ukraine

by Volodymyr Zviglyanich

The results of the parliamentary elections in Russia have confirmed the data of sociological polls that predicted the success of the Communists and their leader, Gennady Zyuganov. If one regards the Communists and Zhirinovsky’s men as radical opponents of the governmental course and Yavlinsky’s party as moderate opponents then the opposition forces in the new parliament outnumber the Chernomyrdin bloc by nearly five to one. In this situation the government can only hope that the Communists and Liberal-Democrats will fail to establish a coalition and that Yabloko in extreme cases will support the prime-minister. Only under such a disposition of political forces in the parliament will government policy have some chance of success. However, it looks like Russia faces the same stage of "correction" of reforms that took place in Ukraine. (1)

Yeltsin himself prepared the conditions for these results. In 1993, after the forceful dissolution of the Russian parliament, he proposed a new parliament that would exist for only two years. He feared that a new parliament might not be much better from his point of view than its predecessor.

However, the Duma headed by the loyal moderate Ivan Rybkin was not a threat to Yeltsin. Neither was the Council of the Federation, the upper house of the parliament, under the leadership of Yeltsin’s zealous supporter, Vladimir Shumeiko. Both chambers were faithful to the scenario elaborated by Yeltsin’s team– imitating democracy while leaving all real power in Yeltsin’s hands. When Yeltsin understood the suitability of the existing parliament, he organized several attempts to prepare public opinion for the possible cancellation of elections. The public reaction was negative and the Kremlin then decided to hold them. Two days prior to the elections, in his televised address to the nation, Yeltsin urged the Russian people not to vote for the Communists, deeming their possible victory a prologue to civil war. Therefore, the results of the elections on December 17 were a defeat for Yeltsin in his dialogue with the nation.

The roots of the Communists’ success lie in Yeltsin’s craving for power and his mistrust of the representative branch of government. Yeltsin expected that economic reforms would bring some prosperity to the masses, thus undermining the social base of the "red-brown" electorate. However, during the period of Yeltsin’s rule, more than 50 million persons or one third of the total population began to live below the poverty line which was estimated to be somewhere between $20 and $30 a month. Life expectancy in the 90s dropped to 58.8 years for men putting Russia in line, with such states as Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Yemen.

The failure of the program of economic radicalism in Russia led to the enfeeblement of the rational components in the public mind and the decreasing influence on the masses of such "rational" politicians as Gaidar and his "young Turks." Their place is occupied now (like it was in Bolshevik Russia in 1917 and in Nazi Germany) by instinctive politicians like Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky, and Lebed who appeal to the will, passions, and mob instincts of survival rather than to reason and law.

The danger represented by the "new Communists" is obscured by several myths, which have achieved wide credibility.

They are as follows:

* The modern Communists are social-democrats if not of the German and the Swedish type, then at least similar to those in Eastern European where the forces of the left came to power earlier.

* The process of reform is now so well established (especially in the banking sphere) that there is no way to reverse it without bloodshed, which the Communists will not dare to start.

* As explained by Alexander Tsipko, a former adviser to Gorbachev, it is not the Communists who came to power in Russia. Rather, these are gosudarstvenniki (statists), pragmatic leaders, who understand the moral values of their people. (2) These values have been damaged by Yeltsin who destroyed the Slavic core or the Soviet Union. According to Tsipko, Zyuganov "has discovered the transition from Marxism-Leninism… to the ordinary Russian, it is a path towards a patriotic ideology not of an imperial power but of a great power."

Speaking of the essence of the problem rather than of procedure, one should stress first that the Communists in Russia are not liberal left politicians in the European style who respect individual values, law, and Constitution. During his first press-conference after the elections, Zyuganov expressed his dissatisfaction with the existing constitution in Russia. The difference between the Communists in the Eastern European countries and those who came to power in Russia is almost the same as that which existed between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. What the Bolsheviks did with the Mensheviks is known. The KPRF could dispel this impression if it would officially denounce Bolshevism in theory and practice. So far they have not done this and Lenin is still an icon for them.

Second, to change the course of economic reforms in Russia is not as hard as one might imagine. Four years of reforms did not produce a large class of proprietors possessing arms and determined to protect their property. Instead, it produced several hundred "new Russians" whose names are regularly published in the newspaper "Kommersant." What was done with people like these by the Bolsheviks in 1917 is known as well as how the famous Russian banks were nationalized overnight without a drop of blood. Bloodshed, in fact, is not needed at all (who will fight for bankers’ or the "new Russians"?). All that would be needed would be several "show trials" of "blood-suckers" and public support for such actions is guaranteed.

Third, communism in its Russian version and morality are two antipodes. The communist ideology deems moral whatever corresponds to today’s prescriptions of the party. Therefore the re-nationalization of property on which "new Communists" in Russia are insisting will be declared "moral." In this regard they are real pragmatists, but this is a pragmatism of an exclusive, monologue- oriented type which rejects pluralism, tolerance, and dialogue. Such a pragmatism paves the way to dictatorship of one or another type. A stress on the patriotism of a great power rather than on an openly imperialistic policy is a disguise for the traditional zeal to hegemony usually associated with this ideology.

The advent of "instinctive" rather than charismatic leaders in Russia’s politics gives voters a choice between "corrupt stability" (Yeltsin-Chernomyrdin); "moderate reformism," (Yavlinsky and the remnants of the democrats); and "instinctive demagoguery" (Zyuganov-Zhirinovsky-Lebed).

Corrupt stability gave to the "party of power" fabulous material wealth almost instantly and without labor. But it lacks a base of really mass support that is necessary in order to compete for the presidency. The "party of power" could have won this support by offering compensation for savings that were lost during Gaidar’s reforms, and by raising pensions, wages, welfare programs, etc. However, it does not have either the money or the desire to do this. Moreover, it lacks its official leader. Yeltsin, if he decides to run, will have to raise his personal rating within three months from 8 to at least 30-35 percent, which looks almost impossible. Chernomyrdin would face the necessity of finding an explanation for his decision to run after several public claims to the contrary. Both politicians are associated in the public mind with the unprecedented wave of corruption in Russia. Yeltsin also is notorious as the politician who "destroyed" the USSR and started a war in Chechnya.

The "moderate reformism" of Yavlinsky is not a program of action. So far this is rather a center-right project of social order with a stress on governmental assistance to the intelligentsia–the major victims of economic radicalism. Therefore Yabloko and its leader could make it to the second round of the presidential race provided they elaborate a clear version of economic reforms with a stress on ways and means. Mass support for a reform program is crucial both for the proponents of "stability" and "moderate reformism."

Instinctive demagoguery does not need either a rational economic program or an effective bureaucracy for its implementation. The place of a program can be taken by a modified version of the Bolshevik principle, "take and divide" accompanied by demands for the restoration of social justice. The obvious brutality of such a project could be disguised with formal recognition of the equality of all forms of property and references to the Chinese model. The present bureaucracy could be replaced with a new communist nomenklatura from Zyuganov’s shadow cabinet and a special service that will be put in charge of the struggle against corruption. Instinctive demagogues such as Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky, and Lebed have their stable and disciplined electorates. Their message to the people is primitive and free of western liberal terminology. The possibility of a race between Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov in the second round of presidential races in Russia– a prospect that appeared unlikely a year ago–now seems rather feasible. To reduce the likelihood of this happening would require either a polarization of the conflict between these two leaders or, in the case of Zyuganov, a possible split of his party between the orthodox and practitioners.

The results of Russia’s elections and the possible capture of the presidency by an "instinctive demagogue" could threaten Ukrainian independence. During his visit in May, 1994 to the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, Zyuganov told the author that his party has a special department working on Ukraine and that when they come to power, the Ukrainian question will be the first agenda item in the effort to restore the USSR. (3) The consequences of such a policy for Ukraine could be as follows:

1) cooperation between the leadership of the Russian and Ukrainian communist parties to coordinate the eventual curbing of market reforms and return to a mostly state controlled version of economic development;

2) the implementation of Yeltsin’s Edict No. 940 of September 14, 1995 entitled "On the Strategic Course of Russia With the Countries-Members of the CIS" in which Russia’s relations with the CIS countries are defined on the basis of Russian economic, cultural and political hegemony;

3) abolition of the Belovezhsky Treaty of December 8, 1991 on the dissolution of the USSR. Ukraine was one of the signatories;

4) an increase of nationalist rhetoric in the Duma accompanied with demands for a referendum on reunification of the three Slav nations;

5) an activation of the efforts aimed at involving Ukraine in the supra-national bodies of the CIS;

6) speculation on the problems of Ukraine’s "Russian speakers" (especially in the Donbass and Crimea);

However, it is possible to exclude the possibility of military clashes between the two states as the Russian army (as Chechnya has shown) has almost lost its combat readiness. An escalation of the policy of non-military pressure and demagogic hysteria regarding Ukraine, however, could compel Ukraine to withdraw from the CIS and raise the question, on an accelerated basis, of Ukraine joining NATO. This scenario could challenge regional and global security in the event of a negative reaction by Russia to Ukraine. It could also place before the West the necessity of a reevaluation of the balance of forces in the region.


1. On the Ukrainian Model, see Volodymyr Zviglyanich: "Ethnic Economics: Is a ‘Ukrainian Economic Model’ Possible?" Prism, Vol. 1, No. 23, November 3, 1995, pp. 1, 14-15.

2. Alexander Tsipko: "In Russia, a New Kind of Moral Majority: The Elections Were Less a Vote for Communists Than for Decency and Self Respect." The Washington Post, December 24, 1995. pp. C1-2.

3. Personal interview with Gennady Zyuganov on May 20, 1994 in Washington, DC.