Talking about Russia’s Left means talking about a very broad spectrum entailing bolsheviks, stalinists, and classical marxists-leninists as well as neomarxists and anarchists, all locked with each other in fierce, uncompromising battle.
A. Who is who among Russia´s Left
Let’s go through this spectrum, starting off with the politically and socially most relevant organizations.
1. Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF)
The KPRF is one of two left-wing parties represented in the Russian Parliament, the Duma. With 47 MP’s (out of 444) the party finds it quite difficult to influence parliamentary decision-making. Besides she has to come to terms, both organizationally and mentally, with the consequences of the internal party revolt of 2004.
Nevertheless, the KPRF still constitutes the strongest left opposition force, though her huge social and socio-cultural potential remains widely untapped.
Among the problems the KPRF is faced with, the most serious is her age structure: Roughly 40 % of her membership are former CPSU members who just kept their old party tickets. With their passing away the party’s influence is bound to vanish too.
Second comes a great rift between the party leadership and grass root members. Unless the former provides real career oportunities for young talents from among the latter, this rift is likely to grow dramatically in the near future.
Besides the party’s programmatic messages generated years ago turn out to be increasingly out of touch with present-day realities, focussing all too much on national-patriotic rhetorics rather than social issues.
Finally, a grave problem remains the compromising behaviour of party leader Gennadi Zyuganov who so far has preferred to act as a mere systemic opposition leader.
There is, however, a growing awareness among the KPRF leadership, Gennadi Zyuganov included, that the party has to reinvent herself as a less patriotic and more socially oriented antisystemic force if she wants to take the seven percent parliamentary barrier in 2008.
With parliamentary elections already looming large the party becomes increasingly pressured by the Kremlin who started a systematic defamation campaign in which the KPRF is demonized as an extremist, protofascist organization.
Therefore, future success also depends on the party’s future relationship with a number of small communist groupings which on their own lack political influence, though taken together constitute a force, the KPRF must reckon with. This especially refers to the Red Youth Avantgard (AKM), the Communist Youth League (SKM), but also to Viktor Tyulkin’s Russian Communist Workers Party – Revolutionary Party of Communists (RKRP-RPK) as well as Viktor Anpilov’s Working Russia (TR) movement.
2. Rodina (Homeland) Party
With roughly 40 MPs Russia’s second left-wing parliamentary party, Rodina emerged as a Kremlin project on the eve of the 2003 Duma elections designed to minimize popular voting for the KPRF.
As a result of nationwide demonstrations in early 2005 against the so-called monetarization of social goods, Rodina finally wrenched herself out of Kremlin control which triggered off a massive hate campaign by the latter accusing the party of being overtly racist, despite the fact that Chechens and Dagestanis form the greater part of Rodina’s organizational backbone as well as local parliamentary initiatives directed against xenophobic tendencies in Russian society.
Rodina’s gravest problem remains her weak leadership. Heavily pressured by the Kremlin, Dmitri Rogozin stepped down as party leader some weeks ago, leaving Rodina in total turmoil with quite a number of leading personnel,
especially from the Moscow branch, pondering to leave the party for good.
Set up as one of post-Soviet Russia’s first party-like structures, Grigori Yavlinski’s Yabloko has made an astonishing development from a western-style liberal project to a socially sensitive pro-alliance organization with overtly left-wing inclinations, forging close links with the KPRF as well as the NBP primarily on a regional level.
4. National Bolshevik Party (NBP)
Over the years the NBP has turned from a small group of political fanatics into a serious political structure, though by and large she remains an aesthetical project run by bestseller author and event manager Eduard Limonov.
NBP’s rather small membership base is widely compensated for by extremely motivated and dedicated individual activists working within a highly decentralized party structure.
NBP’s social basis entails Russia’s young provincial underdog deprived of any social perspective as a result of the unfolding Kremlin reform process, and therefore more than others ready to self-sacrifice for the common good.
5. New Left
Though very small in numbers, her protagonists insist on being “the only true Left” uniting and leading “all truely progressive forces” of society. Accordingly, neither the KPRF, nor Rodina, nor the NBP, nor Yabloko are considered to be part of Russia’s Left. Instead they are condemned as nerds, opportunists, nationalists or even fascists.
Russia’s New Left is made up by two main groups:
On the one hand, there is a politically rather ambitious group centred around Boris Kagarlitsky, and partly Carine Clement, the principal head of the Moscow-based Institute of Collective Action (IKD).
On the other hand, a politically less ambitious group exists around Alexander Buzgalin’s Alternatives project, as well as a number of local networks such as Rodina-MP Oleg Shejn’s autonomous housing project in Astrakhan or rather minuscule ones, such as the St.Petersburg-based Artistic Cell of the Pyotr Alexeyev Resistance Movement.
B. Russia’s New Left after Boris Kagarlitsky’s “Storm Warning”
At present Russia’s New Left is going through momentous times. Above all she has to come to grips with the wider consequences of a study titled “Storm Warning” published in spring 2006 on the issue of corruption among Russian political parties, co-authored by Counter-Oligarchic Front (KOFR) activist Semyon Shavoronkov under the scientific supervision of Boris Kagarlitsky, then director of the Moscow-based Institute for Globalization Studies (IPROG).
The study the main thrust of which was a thoroughly subjective, unsubstantiated criticism of the KPRF and Rodina, has further split Russia’s Left which, according to Boris Kagarlitsky, was in fact the ultimate aim of the whole exercise.
With his “Storm Warning” Kagarlitsky has totally alienated himself from the KPRF, the leader of which is seeking legal action against him.
Besides the study has thrown the so-called Left Front project into major disarray with communist youth activist Ilya Ponomaryov accusing his so far close ally of gravely endangering the whole project by making unauthorized anti-KPRF statements on behalf of the Left Front.
Finally, the study triggered off a complicated restructuring process within IPROG which so far had served Russia’s New Left as the principal co-ordination unit for her national and international activities. Immediately after the study’s publication Boris Kagarlitsky got fired as director of IPROG by the institute’s founding father and Rodina’s head of policy planning Mikhail Delyagin for having tarnished IPROG’s reputation as a serious research institution.
The 2nd Russian Social Forum, timed by Boris Kagarlitsky, Carine Clement and Alexander Buzgalin to take place in St.Petersburg in mid-July 2006 as an anti-event to the notorious G8 summit, will show whether Russia’s New Left managed to leave behind, for the sake of common action, the trouble created by Kagarlitsky and friends.
C. Russia’ Left and globalization: “alterglobalists” vs “antiglobalists”
As a matter of fact, Russia can pride herself with a sophisticated, multi-facetted anti-globaliztion movement. Yet once again the problem is that this movement too remains severely split.
On the one hand, there are those who preferably call themselves “alterglobalists”. They are very much rooted in what might be called a pro-western or eurocentric attitude towards the worldwide anti-globalization effort, favouring cosmocratic over natiocratic reasoning.
People of this tribe of Russian antiglobalists – Boris Kagarlitsky, Alexander Buzgalin, Alla Glinchikova, Semyon Shavoronkov – participate on a regular basis in the World Social Forum process, where they are accepted by and large as the “voice and face” of anti-globalist Russia.
On the other hand, there are those who consider themselves “antiglobalists” with a strong national or even nationalist attitude. Their nationalism, however, can’t be easily qualified as xenophobic or racist. It rather results from strong concerns about national cultural heritage being annihilated by globalist mass cultural subversion. In other words, their main topic is how to save diverse civilizational values from the onslaught of globalization.
Here lies the principal point of departure from the “alterglobalists” who, in the eyes of the “anti-globalists”, try to solve all problems, social ones included, within the framework of the western set of values.
Russia’s “anti-globalists” form a rather complex movement embracing party functionaries such as Gennadi Zyuganov who in 2002 published a whole book on “Globalization and the Future of Humankind”, intellectuals as diverse as cultural philosopher Alexander Panarin, political philosopher Sergei Kara-Murza, economist Mikhail Delyagin or novelist and publisher Alexander Prokhanov, as well as leading personnel from the Russian Orthodox Church, like Mitropolit Kirill, head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The long-overdue reconciliation of Russia’s “alterglobalists” and “anti-globalists” represents a challenge not only to Russia’s Left but to the worldwide anti-globalization effort as such.