Russia: what’s next after the dirtiest campaign in decades?

The current elections in Russia have been marked by the dirtiest campaign in decades. Having previously declared liberal opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s supporters extremists, the Putin regime has now turned the full force of its propaganda and police apparatus against the Communist Party.

Against the will of leader Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is becoming a focal point of the opposition to the regime, around which all currents are gathering, both liberal and left wing.

Under these conditions, the need for Marxist ideas and a clear communist programme is growing within the party. It can be said with confidence that the results of these elections will fundamentally determine the place of the Communists Party in the Russian political process for the coming years.

How we came to this point

The upcoming elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federation promise to become an important turning point in the development of the political regime that has existed in Russia since 1993, and in the general socio-political situation. The current moment is marked by several important trends.

Firstly, the process that was gradually taking shape in post-Soviet Russia – namely the concentration of power and protection of the interests of the oligarchic capital born in the ‘90s – has now developed into its final and most complete form. This is coinciding with a collapse of confidence in the system by the masses.

This system, which began to emerge following the Yeltsinist military coup in 1993, ultimately coalesced into three parliamentary parties – United Russia, LDPR and Fair Russia – which completely dominate Russia’s political scene today. Since the ‘90s, they have been unambiguously and unquestioningly subordinated to the will of the executive power and big capital, with Bonapartist, authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin at their head.

The president and his parliamentary lap dogs are the determined managers and rabid defenders of the interests of big business. The dominance of oligarchic capital, and the concentration of political power in the hands of Putin’s clique, were further consolidated with the constitutional referendum in June-July 2020, which allowed Putin to run for additional presidential terms.

Putin’s authority is based on the security apparatus of the Russian state. But for a time he could also depend on his personal popularity, which was rooted in his early days as president, where Russia saw growth coming on the back of a deep economic crisis in the ‘90s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the basis of this, a broad section of the population maintained illusions that Putin was a ‘good Tsar’ surrounded by ‘evil Boyars’. However, the crisis of Russian capitalism is making the utter rottenness of Putin’s regime increasingly impossible to ignore.

Vladimir Putin 2 Image The Presidential Press and Information OfficeThe crisis of Russian capitalism is making the utter rottenness of Putin’s regime increasingly impossible to ignore / Image: The Presidential Press and Information Office

Part of the liberal opposition, in the person of Navalny, conducted investigations into the personal corruption of Putin and his entourage. This helped undermine Putin’s propaganda image as an “ascetic national leader”. The full picture of the enormous class polarisation of Russian society, where the appalling extreme poverty of the majority of the working people coexists with the opulent lives of the ruling class and the president, is emerging for everyone to see.

Superimposed on these revelations is the colossal impoverishment of the working population, combined with the unrestrained rise in prices for basic consumer goods. By the end of last year, according to Rosstat, a quarter of the population spent most of the family budget on basic needs, such as food, utility bills, etc. Secondly, in the first quarter of 2021, the number of overdue payday loans rose from 5 million debtors to 7 million.

These two facts are clearly related, since in most cases loans taken via credit cards or microloans are used to cover families’ housing and food, which were previously provided for by household wages. In a short period, millions of working people were forced to resort to payday loans just in order to survive, and now they cannot fully pay them off, since the real level of their wages is plummeting ever lower, driving them closer and closer towards debt slavery to the banks.

This explains the growing understanding by the masses about the essence of capitalism itself. Repression, poverty, degradation, hopelessness and historical deadlock are all that the representatives of capitalist interests – that is, president and the majority of Duma factions – can offer to the people.

It is this understanding that generates a growing mood of protest among the masses against the entire existing order. This may still take the guise of parliamentary illusions, or totally irrational forms, but the tendency towards radical distrust of the current system is clearly maturing in society. It is inexorable and will inevitably lead to a widespread increase in class conflicts in the next period.

This creates the ideal conditions for the Communist Party to make major electoral gains. But it faces two powerful obstacles: the compromising policy of the Zyuganov clique in the party leadership, and political repression by the regime.

Repression and dirty tricks

The first obvious sign of the growing discontent of the people is the colossal decline of support for the ruling United Russia party and its satellites. Even according to the estimates of sociological agencies fed by the Kremlin, at present its approval rating is in the region of 30 percent.

Even before these elections, the ruling party was not able to achieve power and the desired majority in elections other than by such methods as falsification, police violence, vote rigging, removal of strong opposition candidates, bribery, driving forced state employees to vote, etc.

At the moment, they are doubling down on these methods, and combining them with direct repression of the most radical left-wing, as well as liberal sections of the opposition. They fight with all manner of dirty political tactics against the only legally operating opposition party (CPRF), and use the pandemic as an excuse to curtail independent control over the voting process.

Anti clerical protestAnti-clerical protest in Moscow with speakers from the IMT and leading left figures from the CPRF

To remove the most dangerous candidates from the elections, the authorities use a number of underhanded tricks. Legal proceedings on charges of extremism were opened against the most famous member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Bondarenko, whose YouTube channel is the largest left-wing political channel in Russia.

A criminal case was opened against Bondarenko under the article of “extremism” for a video exposing the United Russia manifesto, which he posted 10 years ago! Moreover, the video was recognised as extremist only in 2013, that is, two years after Bondarenko published it. It took more than a month for Bondarenko to fight off these fraudulent charges. The same technique was used earlier against the Tyumen deputy Yukhnevich, who planned to be nominated as a candidate for parliament. He was less lucky than Bondarenko, as he was fined and barred from standing. The list goes on.

Also, in order to undermine the activities of the Communist Party as much as possible, the police regularly detain party supporters and subject them to administrative fines and arrests when they go to street rallies and meet with candidates. For example, on 29 July, a member of the International Marxist Tendency in Moscow was detained by police at a rally along with 30 other participants on charges of violating the rules for holding public events. Such detentions in Russia can have serious consequences: a person detained three times can face criminal charges.

In these examples, we see a practical expression of the authorities' fear of the Communists. In particular, what they fear is that the Communist Party, or elements within it, should become a focal point for the class struggle, which is brewing underneath the surface of society.

Fight as a united front!

This state harassment and repression only strengthens our resolve, and that of the left in the Communist Party, to fight against the Putin regime and for a socialist future.

For example, every week, Valery Rashkin and a number of left-wing deputies hold a rally in the centre of Moscow against political repression and the existing government. IMT supporters regularly participate in them, distributing our newspaper and leaflets among the audience. Under the impact of repression, more and more members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and the Komsomol are becoming open to our ideas.

The Marxists have also exploited the electoral plane to propagate our programme. In Tver, IMT member Georgy Khovansky has been nominated to stand for the city council by the Communist Party. And in Moscow, despite our limited forces, we played an active role in the campaigns of two candidates from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation who are representatives of university trade unions, Mikhail Lobanov and Nikolai Volkov. Today, in their constituencies, they have a real opportunity to defeat Putin's henchmen.

As part of Volkov's campaign, the IMT organised a large anti-clerical rally in the Moscow district of Zyuzino, with speeches delivered by our comrades, Volkov and an independent deputy of the local council, Konstantin Yankauskas. This successful event was achieved despite the fact that the authorities ordered local utility workers to tear down our posters.

All of this does not mean that we have limited ourselves to the election campaigns of the left Communist candidates. The Marxists used these elections as a platform for promoting our revolutionary politics. For instance, at a major rally in the centre of Moscow on 15 August, we called for the Communist Party to carry out a consistent programme based on the legacy of the Russian Revolution: the complete nationalisation of the means of production and the organisation of a democratically planned economy; the replacement of the police with a workers' militia; the complete expropriation of the oligarchs and the largest Russian monopolies under the control of the working people, and the release of the repressed left-wing political prisoners.

These ideas are receiving an important echo amongst the most determined and militant layers of the Communist movement.

What next?

It is already clear that an unprecedented level of fraud awaits in this election. As we wrote above, since 1996 there has not been such a dirty campaign of vilification and lies directed against the Communist opposition. All this is because the ruling class sees, despite the continuing relative political apathy, the sympathies of the people are slowly but surely tilting towards the left.

This can be seen in a recent poll, which indicates that almost two-thirds of Russians (62 percent) state their preferred economic system as state planning and distribution. This is the highest level of approval ever recorded. By contrast, 24 percent lean towards a system based on private property and market relations.

Furthermore, just under half of Russians (49 percent) said they would prefer the Soviet political system. This is the highest proportion recorded since the early 2000s. Only 18 percent chose the current political system, a figure that has halved since 2015. Meanwhile, only 16 percent believe that the best political system is “democracy modelled on Western countries”.

How does the leadership of the Communist Party plan to respond to the intensified political repression they are facing? They announced in advance that they were planning to hold protests throughout the country. We've heard this before. In fact, we've been hearing this for the past 10 years. In the end, this boiled down to one-off rallies, where big words were spoken that did not lead to any practical results. For the Zyuganov clique, the meaning of these events is to give vent to the growing mood of protest in order to then betray the workers, as we have seen many times. If it were not for the compromising and half-hearted attitude of the top leadership of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, we could even talk about a real chance for a Communist majority in the current Duma, albeit not an absolute one.

There are more decisive and sincere figures such as Rashkin, Bondarenko, etc. However, for all their radicalism, they restrict themselves firmly within the framework of institutional bourgeois politics, and therefore, in the final analysis, they do not offer a true alternative road forward.

Our task as Marxists is to participate in the protests by the Communist Party, but we also say to the workers that the present leaders of the party will betray them, as they have done in the past. The only solution is to re-establish the Communist Party on the basis of true Marxist and Leninist ideas, with the reintroduction of a revolutionary socialist programme!

The crisis of Russian capitalism is being reflected inside the Communist Party, which is seen by a growing layer as the main point of opposition to Putin on the political front. Despite the limitations of its leaders, the party has gathered around itself the most militant and progressive elements of society. By fighting alongside Communist Party candidates in these elections, and advocating for the genuine traditions of the Bolshevik Party, we stand to win the best of these elements to the ideas of revolutionary Marxism.