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Russia: Left Likely To Split

The Russian Communist Party and its allies are going through a crisis that may end, according to experts, in a split. This could undermine the left's chances in December parliamentary elections.

Moscow 23 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Three years ago the communists under Gennady Zyuganov seemed such a powerful force that the fear of a leftist come-back contributed to President Boris Yeltsin's reelection. Today, the loose "People's Patriotic Forces" coalition grouping the Communist Party and its allies has been hit by divisions that cast doubt on Zyuganov's continued leadership.

Zyuganov is trying to unite the left around a bloc called "For Victory." However, during the last two weeks, Communist deputies seemed in a rush to distance themselves from their official leader. The Agrarian Party announced it was leaving the communist coalition altogether to join Yevgeny Primakov's and Yuri Luzhkov's bloc "Fatherland-All Russia."

There are many other signs of division.

The organizer of the communists' presidential election campaign in 1996, Alexei Podberyozkin, was excluded from the party for "anti-communist" opinions.

A well known hard-line communist deputy, Viktor Ilyukhin, is considering running independently, with his "Movement in support of the Army."

Two radical leftist coalitions held founding congresses over the weekend. One adopted the name "Stalin bloc -- for the USSR."

Some communists like Ilyukhin deny that the emergence of several blocs reflects growing rifts. They say that the left's possible break-up into several blocs is an electoral tactic, aimed at winning more seats.

Members of the "Stalin bloc," one of the new radical alliances, are more outspoken. Daria Mitina, a Duma deputy from the communist faction and member of a Communist youth league, is joining the bloc. She told RFE/RL that she is dissatisfied with Zyuganov's Communist Party which, in her words, does not "live with its times" and is ideologically too willing to compromise with reform efforts. She hopes that the Stalin bloc will manage to unite many people with socialist views who do not currently back the Communist Party.

"I think that in Stalin, the Stalin bloc found a favorable symbol. Even those who under no circumstances would vote for Zyuganov and his Communist Party would vote for Stalin. He stopped being an exclusively communist ideological figure. He is the symbol of order, the symbol of discipline exclusively, the symbol of the country's economic growth."

Mitina says the creation of a separate bloc is normal, because Zyuganov is trying to keep all the future Duma seats for the members of his party, excluding more radical, or critical, candidates. She says other parties must run on their own, to have a chance of getting into the Duma. She also criticizes the fact that Zyuganov holds all the leading posts, from first secretary to presidential candidate.

"We shouldn't limit ourselves to the sole figure of Zyuganov. For example [Duma speaker Gennady] Seleznev is perceived by a significant majority as a more adequate candidate for head of state. And Zyuganov can just head the party."

Although officially denying any ideological divergence with the party, Viktor Ilyukhin also hinted that he may distance himself from communist ideology ahead of elections. He told our correspondent that his "Movement in Support of the Army" should defend a "patriotic platform" and leave "the communist ideology to the Communist Party."

Yevgeny Volk, an expert with the Moscow-based "Heritage Fund", tells RFE/RL that a split on the left was quite foreseeable. He said that Zyuganov's Communist Party "compromised itself in the eyes of its electorate by failing to play its role as an opposition party." On many occasions, Volk says, Zyuganov complied with the Kremlin's will.

Vladimir Semago, a leftist deputy who left the communist faction last year, tells RFE/RL that these compromises have damaged the Communist Party. He says the party is always late with its decisions and only reacts to events.

"The Communist Party failed to become a leading political force [for the left]. It only bounces off on the Kremlin's political initiatives. Like tennis. A good player plays against a partner. A bad one plays against a wall. Well, the [Russian Communist Party] is the wall against which the Kremlin is playing."

According to Volk, the proximity of parliamentary elections makes it increasingly difficult for Zyuganov to pursue what Volk describes as a "conciliatory policy" toward the Kremlin.

Volk says the People's Patriotic Union includes very different leftist currents and "they all want to be heard." He describes Ilyukhin as a fundamentalist with a nationalist streak and the Agrarian Party as more moderate. Volk says that therefore, "the risk of a schism has been simmering for a long time." He says the Communist Party is under the pressure of diminishing popularity and that it may well end up with fewer seats in the next Duma.

However, Semago says that the split in the ranks of the communists does not reflect any real ideological difference. He says caustically that the "left doesn't have any ideological divergences because it doesn't have any ideas" or any real program. Semago says that reported divisions between so-called extremists or fundamentalists and so-called social-democrats or moderates can not be defined by different policies. He says the real division centers on the "level of loyalty to the Kremlin."