It was already clear from the parliamentary and presidential election campaign itself that President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power would prolong the conditions in which the left operate. During the campaign Putin again managed to employ the trump cards which the KPRF (Communist Party of Russian Federation) and the so-called “patriotic opposition” had considered their own. Putin attracted voters with his rhetoric about Russia’s standing as a great power, and took advantage of growing nationalist feeling fuelled by the military operation in the Caucasus.
This consolidation of presidential authority, however, was linked not only to Putin’s personal image (Putin was the clear winner in comparison with Boris Yeltsin) and the exploitation of great-power, nationalist emotions. Another important factor affecting the balance of forces on Russia’s political stage was the stable economic growth which began in 1999, mainly due to an increase in oil and gas prices (the main sources of export income in Russia) and a number of other favourable economic conditions. The 2008-2009 crisis did not radically change the situation. But social differentiation in Russia is growing and is greater than in the US and 2 times greater than that of Sweden. Poverty is also at very high levels.
Internal political life in Russia during the last decade can be characterised as restricted democracy, in which opposition can only operate within the space strictly limited by the President’s administration.
Changes in the labour movement have also affected the position of the left. In the first decade of this century strike activity was noticeably down; there was no increase in industrial action, because previously almost every strike had been related to delays in wage payments; when the economy is growing or more or less stable such delays are less frequent. The labour movement showed that it was unprepared to put forward any other demands.
Among really active social forces in modern Russia one finds mainly “ordinary” intelligentsia-based movements. Among the most well-known examples is the struggle to save Khimky Forest through the systematic actions and mass internet campaigns of the movement Education for Everybody and through thr protest actions and meetings of citizen networks.
In the current situation we have two more or less left opposition groups (Communist Party of the Russian Federation and Just Russia) in the Duma and various sorts of extra-parliamentary opposition.
A. Membership: the biggest opposition organisation. Formally it has 500,000 members; in reality it has less than 100,000 activists. It holds 20% of seats in the Duma.
B. Economic program: mixed economy with domination of the state in spheres such as raw-material extraction, power plants, education, healthcare, rail and some other transportation sectors; market economy with strong state regulation; high level of social redistribution and guarantees, nationalisation of “oligarchic capital”.
C. Political goals: democratic multi-party system with freedom of speech and other traditional democratic values. In reality, however: support by its main leaders and “ordinary” members for the Stalinist model of the USSR.
D. Ideology: socialist slogans with a substratum of “patriotic” Russian traditional values, support of the values of the orthodox church, Stalinism.
E. Internal relations: authoritarian model, strong centralisation, abolition of any opposition (in fact, a democratic socialist and more radical left opposition does exist within the party, but informally).
F. Real policy: mainly anti-Putin in party declarations, but without any strong anti-Putin activism, pragmatic, mildly left. Voting in the Duma: in economic and social questions – against Putin; in geopolitics – often supports Putin.
G. Extra-parliamentary activity – very weak.
H. Main social base: low-level state employees, poorest part of intelligentsia, sufficient minority of pensioners.
First, we have both the formal (administrative) and real domination of the pro-Putin party United Russia. This success was mainly due to its intention to operate on the opposition’s territory – great power politics, “state patriotism” and other elements from the basically conservative end of the political spectrum – and it was rightly and easily ousted by the authorities, which decided to switch to a great-power model for Russia’s barbaric semi-capitalism (“Capitalism’s Jurassic Park”). This brought about a sharp decline in the position and role of the KPRF in the Duma.
Second, discontent is growing within the KPRF. At the same time, the differences in the political positions of the party’s leaders, members and supporters have become much more obvious than they were.
The discontent is not new. Rank-and-file members have had plenty of reasons to condemn the party leadership and the parliamentary group for their excessive loyalty to the authorities.
The policies of the so-called “red” regional leaders caused even more anger. They were reproached for putting friendly relations with the Kremlin at the top of their agenda, rather than using their powers in the interests of ordinary people – particularly to bring about a radical change in social and economic policy. They were also rebuked for not using their authority to support the political struggle of the left.
Other members of the KPRF (mainly rank and file members of the party in the provinces) and supporters of the radical left opposition (particularly the Russian Communist Workers Party (RKRP)) were highly critical of Putin’s policy from the outset. They pointed out that Putin was relying on economic advisors of the liberal right to draw up his socio-economic programme. Indeed, the practical steps the presidency has taken attest to the fact that Putin is prepared to pursue a policy of further economic liberalisation.
A. Membership: formally 50,000 members, really less than 10,000, a few hundred militants. 7% of seats in the Duma.
B. Economic programme: mixed economy with domination of the state in such spheres as raw-material extraction, education, healthcare; market economy with strong state regulation; high level of social redistribution and guarantees (very similar to the KPRF).
C. Political goals: democratic multi-party system with freedom of speech and other traditional democratic values. JR stresses the role of civil society, but in reality supports all of Putin’s principal political measures and actions.
D. Ideology: social-democratic slogans with some elements of mild “statism” and patriotism. Non-articulated criticism of Stalinism.
E. Internal relations: very dispersed circle of MPs (from former KPRF until it acquired former Zhirinovsky party members), very pragmatic formation of the party leaders; mild authoritarian model; mild centralisation; very diverse types of members (“everybody is in opposition”)
F. Real policy: very flexible and pragmatic, mildly left. Voting in Duma: in economic and social, questions – sometimes against Putin; in politics and geopolitics – supports Putin.
G. Activity outside the Parliament – weak, but greater than that of the KPRF.
H. Main social base: middle-class intelligentsia, minority of pensioners, some middle- and low-level state employees.
The party was created mainly due to Putin’s presidency as an alternative to the KPRF, but now, because of the attack on its leader Mironov, it has become much more radical in its criticism of United Russia and government policy.
There are different forms of the very mild (umbrella-type) and contradictory integration of the democratic liberal anti-Putin groups (Kasparov group, human-rights NGOs, elements of Gorbachev’s social-democratic party, and so on) and radical left groups (Left Front, the Limonov current and some small groups). Main goal: establishing the real democratic institutions and, at a minimum, guarantees for opposition activity. Main forms of activity: protest meetings, demonstrations, internet campaigns. A relatively big role is played by the network of different NGOs and social movements, associated with the Russian Social Forum. Among the most active are:
• Small independent trade unions (teachers, students, air-traffic controllers, car-assembly workers);
• the movement Education for Everybody (network of NGOs and movements against the further privatisation and commercialisation of education);
• networks of regional movements in defence of the rights of citizens (mainly in big industrial cities);
• ecological networks;
• human-rights organisations;
• intellectual left-wing networks (“Alternatives”) and so on.
Main basis for unity: defence of social and civil rights. Main forms of activity: social forums (3 federal and more than 10 regional forums have been organised), united actions (for example, in defence of Khimky Forest), internet campaigns, educational and intellectual work.