Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 12

Zyuganov: The Reluctant Communist

by Nikolai Troitsky

Gennady Zyuganov, Chairman of the Central Committee of the CommunistParty of the Russian Federation (KPRF), has little use for Communistideas. In this, lies both his strength and his weakness.

On the one hand, his dissociation from the ideas of communismmakes his task easier and broadens his constituency . He was noteven nominated for president by his own party, but by a supposedlynon-partisan group of patriotically-inclined voters. On the otherhand, however, dissociation from the red flag and hammer, andsickle complicates his relations with the "red electorate,"without whose votes he cannot even think of victory, so he must,in some situations, depict himself as a "real Communist."This, in turn, leaves him open to criticism from opponents andcompetitors.

Zyuganov impaled himself on the horns of this dilemma, and there’sno way for him to get off it. But history gave him no other choice.

Past Perfect

The present Communist party leader did not hold any significantposts in the nomenklatura. For a long time, he was a simpleinstructor (the lowest rung in the internal party hierarchy ofthe time), and then, at the very last moment, he became the DeputyChief of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee ofthe CPSU. He worked for Gorbachev’s close associate, the well-knownliberal Aleksandr Yakovlev.

The low-level functionary Zyuganov had always been attracted tothe Slavophile camp. In the fall of 1990, he published an articleentitled "An Architect on the Ruins" in the orthodoxCommunist newspaper Sovetskaya Rossiya, in which he subjectedhis immediate boss, Aleksandr Yakovlev, to scathing criticism(pluralism had already reached that high!).

But this was criticism "from the right," not "fromthe left." Zyuganov attacked the mighty Central Committeesecretary, not for his "betrayal of Communist ideals"but because, as the result of his activity, the Soviet Union,"a great superpower [derzhava]" would soon fallapart, and that Russia would lose its "national uniqueness."The fate of socialism did not so much worry the Central Committeeideologue; it was the national idea which attracted his attention.

And then the USSR and the CPSU ceased to exist, and for a time,Zyuganov made himself inconspicuous (it is said that he even quitthe party, just in case). And when everything calmed down, hereappeared in a completely new guise.

Together with the leaders of several dozen tiny patriotic movements(including even the monarchists), Zyuganov created the so-calledCoordination Council of National-Patriotic Forces. After that,he joined the leadership of the Russian National Union, togetherwith the vehement anti-Communist and anti-Semite, former KGB generalAleksandr Sterligov. Finally, he became one of the eight co-chairmenof the National Salvation Front, which was also not connectedwith the ideas of Marxism-Leninism.

But all these patriotic opposition groups burst like soap bubbles.And the ambitious politician needed a strong and influential organization–alever with which he could, if not move the world, then at leastcreate a mighty counterweight to the Yeltsin regime (which theopposition loves to call "anti-popular").

And at that moment, the Constitutional Court rehabilitated theCommunist Party and permitted it to be registered.

The Party demanded a leader. The Leader was looking for a suitableparty. They found each other. And that’s how Zyuganov began tocall himself a Communist again.

Strictly speaking, he was not the one who revived the party andrestored its structures. This had already been done by formerCPSU Central Committee secretary Valentin Kuptsov. He was theone who should have led the party. But Kuptsov yielded to Zyuganov,who seemed to have the mark of a leader. Not all his comradeswere ready to accept this. But Gennady Andreevich gave an impassionedspeech, and the informal "speaker" of the hard-liners,General Albert Makashov put in the deciding word.

From that time on, Zyuganov was forced to maneuver between socialistand nationalist rhetoric. In his main book, symbolically entitledDerzhava [A Great Power], there is nothing Communist. Itreads like something written, not by the leader of a Communistparty, but by a dyed-in-the-wool monarchist. The author’s mainslogan is not "Workers of the World, Unite!" but the19th century Slavophile Count Uvarov’s famous triad: "Autocracy,Orthodoxy, and Nationalism," and instead of "extremisttheses of class struggle" (sic!) he preaches "harmonyamong classes and estates." A concordia ordinem onRussian soil! But Zyuganov further develops his ideas on the needfor "a national-liberation struggle of the Russian people,"which sounds more like the "Black Hundreds" than Slavophilism.

Present Continuous

Gennady Zyuganov should not have been the one to lead the Communistparty, but he became its leader. After that, he saved it fromvarious cataclysms, kept it from being banned, led it from victoryto victory, helped it to create a strong faction in the Duma,and now can compete with Boris Yeltsin on an equal footing.

In the same way, the party did not plan to run Zyuganov for president.His party comrades allotted him the position of prime ministerin a "government of national accord." For the main role,they were looking for a candidate from outside the party. Butthey didn’t find one.

Many politicians were offered the chance to become the "oppositioncandidate": Grigory Yavlinsky (but he categorically refused),General Aleksandr Lebed (but he took too long to think it over,and then his "Congress of Russian Communities" did toopoorly in the parliamentary elections) and finally, Moscow mayorYuri Luzhkov (but he decided not to come out against Yeltsin.)

Nobody wanted to run for president, so Zyuganov had to take onthis role, so ill-suited for him. It was, in principle what hewas striving for; he patiently waited, and at the decisive moment,he could not decline the honor he was offered.

But Zyuganov’s party affiliation was quite a hindrance. He founda way out: he would run, not as a Communist candidate, but asthe nominee of a "national-patriotic bloc." This trickallowed the chairman of the KPRF’s central committee to distancehimself from the party program and from dogmas he could not accept,but to the impartial observer, it still looked unconvincing.

Everyone knows that the "bloc" exists only on paper.In reality, Zyuganov’s campaign is run by his party, and moreover,his campaign headquarters is run by the very same Kuptsov whomthe candidate had earlier edged out of the party’s top post.

Zyuganov has been able to extract himself from this difficultsituation unscathed. Due to his great persistence, he has foundhimself two constituencies at once. On the one hand, he stillrelies on his party, which is far from being as monolithic asit looks from the outside. There are three groups which are fightingfor the leading role in the KPRF: the so-called derzhavniki[great-power nationalists with moderate, pragmatic views on theeconomy], the "socialists," who remain loyal to thefundamental principles of a socialist economy, and the extremeorthodox Marxist-Leninists.

But the author of these lines knows for certain that Zyuganovdoes not enjoy the respect of his colleagues in the party’s leadership.Such leading CPSU figures as Valentin Kuptsov and Anatoly Lukyanov,and ex-Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers Nikolai Ryzhkov(formally, not a party member), remember that they were membersof the Politburo back when Zyuganov was nothing but a simple instructor.They consider him somewhat of a parvenu, and continue tosupport him only for pragmatic reasons. They are not at the party’shelm, but they hold key positions: Kuptsov, for example, has closeties to banking circles, and it is he who, in large part, is financingthe election campaign.

Therefore, Zyuganov has created another constituency for himselfoutside the boundaries of the KPRF. It is the "SpiritualHeritage" movement, and its leader is the 43-year-old directorof the "RAU-Corporation" analytical center, AlekseiPodberezkin. RAU stands for "Russian-American University,"but the organization has nothing to do with the US. The idea ofcreating a training center and bringing in American investment,fell through back in 1990, but the name remained. The RAU-Corporationis a deeply-patriotic institution: analysts from the former SovietMinistry of Foreign Affairs, KGB and General Staff work here.In 1992, Gennady Andreevich himself earned his modest crust ofbread here as a consultant.

Mr. Podberezkin left the CPSU back in 1990. He is a typical derzhavnikand a Russian nationalist. His RAU-Corporation intellectuallysupports politicians who are close to it ideologically and seemto have a bright future ahead of them. For a long time, it workedfor Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi, and after that, even startedwriting analytical notes for Boris Yeltsin, until it found Zyuganov.

His relationship with the "enlightened patriots" from"Spiritual Heritage" has noticeably enriched Zyuganov’srhetoric and has led him away from Marxist ideas for good. Buthe cannot abandon the Communist Party, for then he would be leftwithout a powerful well-branched structure behind him. Even though,at the same time, the Communist "label" severely hurtshis election campaign. But he can do nothing about that. Now,patriots, Communists, and even extreme orthodox types like ViktorAnpilov have been forced to unite behind a single figure. Theyare working together for the victory of a single candidate. Whatwill happen if this victory takes place? And who is Gennady Zyuganov?


So much propaganda has been piled up around Gennady Zyuganov’spresidential campaign that it is very difficult to distinguishthe wheat from the chaff, so to speak. And it is quite hard toimagine what he would do if he came to power.

There has been a lot of speculation, but these are the facts:

Zyuganov has no intention of building Communism. He does not intendto resurrect Gosplan and the GULAG. He hasn’t theslightest desire to abolish all privatization and the market economyat one stroke, or to nationalize all the commercial banks. Thepresent economic and political situation in Russia suits him justfine. The only thing he lacks is power.

Of course, he can’t rule all by himself. And that is why it isextremely important to understand what kind of government he wouldform. Zyuganov has no intention of changing the present relationbetween the legislative and executive branches; he wants to keepthe parliament just as powerless and decorative as it is now underYeltsin, or to strengthen the executive branch even more. Allthis talk about abolishing the post of president, and of increasingparliamentary control over the government, about restoring thesystem of soviets, is nothing more than empty election rhetoricdirected towards specific "Red" audiences.

Odious figures like extremist Viktor Anpilov or radical hard-linerAlbert Makashov (who helped Zyuganov in the past, but–politiciansare notorious ingrates) will not be invited into Zyuganov’s government.He will try not to let in even his more solid party comrades likeLukyanov and Kuptsov. He does not want to give key ministerialposts to influential leaders of his party, and they will not settlefor anything less. This could, of course, lead to conflict withinthe party, but Zyuganov is not afraid of that.

In order to have a reliable counterweight, he will do all thathe can to keep as many of the present ministers as possible inthe cabinet. His people have been conducting secret negotiationswith members of Chernomyrdin’s cabinet, and here and there, haveachieved success. Zyuganov’s emissaries are trying hard to persuadeMinister of Internal Affairs Anatoly Kulikov and FSB DirectorMikhail Barsukov to stay on. He would also like all of the "industrial"ministers (especially Minister of Fuel and Energy Yuri Shafranik)to stay on, and would not object to Minister of Foreign AffairsYevgeny Primakov (although no one knows what Primakov himselfthinks of this.)

The post of Prime Minister, clearly, should go to Zyuganov’s non-partycomrade Aman Tuleev, "if he behaves himself and does nottry to challenge him for the leadership role." Gennady Andreevichhas already promised many posts to many allies (for example, heattracted former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi by promisingto appoint him Minister of Defense), but he can always find away not to keep his promises.

In general, Zyuganov would like to stand before the citizens ofRussia not as a "destroyer" or a revolutionary, butas the "continuer of reforms."

These thoughts are not simply the fruit of the author’s imagination;they are the results of conversations with influential peopleclose to the challenger.

So does this mean that a Zyuganov victory in the elections wouldnot mean a national catastrophe after all?

All the anti-Zyuganov propaganda is based on false premises. Yeltsin’ssupporters are making Zyuganov out to be the heir of the Bolsheviks,and comparing him to Lenin and Stalin. It seems that clever columnistsare forever posing him this "thorny" question: are youready to recognize the right to property as sacred and inviolable?As if the preservation of private property is the panacea forall evils and a no-lose guarantee of democracy! But how can oneforget that the institution of private property was sacred andinviolable in slaveholding ancient Rome, in many Eastern despotisms,and, finally, in Nazi Germany.

As Hamlet said, "Ay, there’s the rub!" There are thingsmore terrible than communism. And now it is time to recall Zyuganov’swords on the "national-liberation struggle of the Russianpeople."

Zyuganov’s real ideology calls for an alliance with national capital.Why should he be against private property? The fact that he andhis comrades are not now in any condition to acquire it, controlit, and distribute it is another thing entirely. In fact, theywant to take power, so they can achieve this right. Throughoutthe civilized world, you have to become a rich man to seek power.In Russia, it’s the other way around: you have to get power toattain real wealth. Zyuganov understands this very well.

Why nationalize the banks if all you have to do is replace theirdirectors? Or come to terms with the present management, but –for a fee.

But what is this "national-liberation struggle of the Russianpeople" [Rossiiskii narod]? Who is supposed to wagethis struggle and from whom must the Russian people liberate themselves?This "Rossiiskii narod" [in the sense of "citizensof Russia"] is nothing but a vague conception, a respectableeuphemism. What Zyuganov really means is "Russkii narod"["Russian people" in the sense of ethnic Russians].And as for "liberation"… Russia has never had a problemfinding "internal enemies." It is easy enough to declarewar, for example, against the Jews or "natives of the Caucasus."

This slogan could be regarded as progressive, if he were talkingabout colonies rising up against their "mother country":it is quite applicable, for example, to Chechnya. Of course, Zyuganovlikes to say at rallies that they have turned Russia into a colony,into a "banana republic" [syrevoi pridatok],and his patriot friends have invented a term for the Yeltsin governmentas a whole–"the temporary occupation regime." But nobodytakes these fairy tales seriously.

The national-liberation struggle of the Russian people againstits oppressors is nothing but run-of-the-mill fascism.

Our intellectuals are uniting against the Communists to defendthe ideals of liberalism and private property. But Hitler hadnothing against the market economy, and did not take over anywherenear all the banks. Only the Jewish ones…


At one time, it seemed that these passages had already becomeobsolete, since Zyuganov had no chance of coming to power. Theofficial media have successfully created the impression that Zyuganovhas run out of gas, has conceded the leadership to Yeltsin, andis already doomed to failure. Clearly Zyuganov is a weak candidate:a poor orator, ungainly, lacking charm, untalented. He has manyshortcomings, but it is too early to pronounce him dead.

He really has slowed the tempo of his election campaign. But notbecause he is tired. KPRF analysts have calculated that Zyuganovis guaranteed to go into the second round. This means that hehas to preserve his strength: after June 16th, there will be,at a minimum, at least three more weeks of hard work with thevoters.

Yeltsin sincerely believes that he can win in the first roundbut this is clearly impossible. Such a mistake could cost theRussian president dearly. After being bitterly disappointed onJune 16th, will he have enough energy left for the fight to come?Zyuganov is younger and healthier. He could win. Then, today’santi-Communists will understand that the sacred, inviolable rightto private property does not guarantee freedom.

Translated by Aleksandr Kondorsky and Mark Eckert