Image: Matthias Berg, Flickr

Where is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Going?

Cracks are opening up in the foundations of Putin’s regime, which is forced to rest on increasingly brutal and arbitrary repression. With the regime entering into a period of crisis, and broad masses of the Russian population openly questioning it, the question arises: how will the Communist Party of the Russian Federation respond?

A new round of political outrage against the Putin regime has stirred up Russian citizens. Against the backdrop of the global economic crisis, Russia is experiencing an ever-worsening impoverishment of the working class, and an increase in bureaucratic and police arbitrariness. Over the past year in Russia, more than a million more people have been pushed into poverty. At the same time the largest Russian oligarchs have enriched themselves during the crisis by millions and billions. Needless to say, there is a direct relationship between these two facts.

The fact that the capitalist system is incapable of solving the problems of working people is becoming more and more evident everywhere. If in the last century capitalism could still allow concessions to the working class in the form of social reforms, today it can only respond with bullets, clubs and growing poverty. The previous gains of the October Revolution are being destroyed ever more rapidly. The level of social security is gradually being degraded to lower levels even than those seen during the Yeltsin period. At the same time—feeling increasingly insecure about its own position—Putin’s Bonapartist regime (mainly the security forces) has passed over into one of both absurdly harsh, and at the same time, inconsistent and chaotic repressions.

Funeral of Yeltsin Image Presidential Press and Information Office
Cracks are opening in the Bonapartist Putin regime. Opportunities are opening up for communists to reach the masses with their program / Image: Presidential Press and Information Office

Contrary to the established stereotype, these are often decentralized and disorderly. For example, during the recent arrest of municipal deputies at a forum in Moscow, it turned out that the mayor’s office was unaware of the decision to make the arrests. The police and the FSB, realizing the complete groundlessness of the arrests—and the fact that they made themselves look like absolute idiots in the eyes of the general public—not only shied away from the question of responsibility, but it seems that they couldn’t even understand themselves how they had happened.

Thus, the police structures—the main support of Putin today—are themselves in a state of chaos. Today we can confidently say that old Russian Bonapartism is entering a period of decay. We are entering that special historical period when a real opportunity opens up for the communists to convey their program to the masses and, in the long term, to take power. Life itself will demonstrate to the broad masses the emptiness of the populist promises of the liberals and their class alien nature.

An obvious question arises: what is the leadership of the country’s largest left-wing force—the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), in the person of its leader, Gennady Zyuganov—busy doing at this very moment? Lots of things: it is organizing a purge in the Perm party and Komsomol organizations, locally appointing the supporters of the right-wing careerist Afonin to leading positions. It is expelling left-wing MPs Loktev and Shuvalova from the faction in the Moscow City Duma. It is preparing an attack on the leadership of the Moscow party organization. And, of course, Zyuganov is once against talking about trying to educate Putin on the party’s “constructive program” for leading the bourgeois state out of its crisis. In general, the Presidium of the Central Committee is busy with everything, except that which would benefit communists in the current situation.

The entire behavior of Zyuganov and the Presidium of the Central Committee, on the eve of the elections and the inevitable social explosion, looks more like an attempt to finish off the party. Naturally, this has caused alarm and indignation among many honest communists, unpoisoned by reformism, in the ranks of the CPRF and the Komsomol. The obvious question arises: is it possible to reverse this situation and turn the party onto a revolutionary course? And if it is impossible, what must be done? Let’s investigate these questions.

The inevitable crisis

The present state and crisis of the party are no accident. They are the result of the policy of the party leadership over many years, and the contradictions that have been present within it—explicitly or implicitly—throughout the period following the collapse of the USSR.

At the center of the present problems faced by the party is the historical legacy of the degeneration of the party’s apparatus and regime, which began in the 1920s. As materialists, we know that in the course of history and in the development of species, changes occur almost imperceptibly from generation to generation. Looking from a great distance at its outer shell, it may seem that we are dealing with the same old Bolshevik party. Meanwhile, the process of decay that has taken place inside the body under the influence of external and internal factors is obscured from the superficial observer. The details and essence of a thing can be invisible from a great distance: be it historical, social or spatial.

lenin and trotsky Image public domain
The present state of the Communist Party has its roots in the isolation and degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the 1920s. / Image: public domain

Failure to notice the historical aggregate of small processes in the party and society in the 1920s is a common mistake made even by many participants in events. Their accumulation passes into a new qualitative state, as individual snowflakes piling on a slope prepare the way for an avalanche. This was the mistake of many left-wing European intellectuals in the 20th century, who failed to understand what was happening to the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet state over the course of their history. Some tried to find in the USSR a “paradise found.” Others saw a “Hell on Earth.” Both missed the most important thing: the real character of politics, class struggle and economics in the Soviet Union. Let us start with the objective conditions in which the USSR developed and the prerequisites for its restoration.

The essence of this process was correctly described by Comrade Ted Grant in “The Nature of Stalinism.” As the classics of Marxism explained, the transition from capitalism to socialism by a single leap is impossible. The movement towards socialism presupposes a certain transitional period during which two phenomena that are characteristic of the previous era continue to exist: the state and the law of value. The working class cannot make this transition simply by using the institutions of the old bourgeois state, it needs its own instrument: the workers’ state. Two months before the seizure of power, Lenin wrote in State and Revolution:

The proletariat needs the state—all opportunists can tell you this, but they, the opportunists, forget to add that the proletariat needs only a dying state—which is constructed in such a way that it immediately begins to die and cannot prevent its dying.

The transitional state inevitably has a contradictory character. The Soviet regime was based on new property relations that emerged from the October Revolution, while retaining, however, many elements of the old bourgeois society. The nationalization of the means of production is the main condition for movement in the direction of socialism, but the possibility of society actually transitioning to a higher stage of human development depends on the level of development of the productive forces. Socialism presupposes a higher level of development of technology, of the productivity of labor and of culture than even the most developed of capitalist societies. It is impossible to build socialism on the basis of backwardness.

In “The Revolution Betrayed,” Trotsky explained the dual nature of the transitional state:

Bourgeois norms of distribution, by accelerating the growth of material power, must serve socialist goals. But only in the last count. Directly, however, the state acquires a dual character from the very beginning: socialist, insofar as it protects public ownership of the means of production; bourgeois,—since the distribution of vital goods is carried out using the capitalist measure of value, with all the ensuing consequences.

Only the victory of the revolution in Western Europe, and especially in Germany, could change this state of affairs. The combination of German industry and technology with the vast natural and human resources of Russia in a Socialist Federation would have created the material conditions for reducing the working day to the levels required for the working class to partake in the management of industry and the state.

But the betrayal of the Social Democrats drowned the German revolution in blood and doomed the Russian revolution to isolation in a separate country. The victory of the bureaucracy flowed directly from this betrayal. Beginning in 1920, the bureaucracy—legally or illegally—absorbed most of the surplus product produced by the working class. In parallel, the broad masses of working people were gradually eliminated from direct control of the state and the economy. Political power and control over the distribution of surplus value were concentrated in the hands of a special stratum—the Soviet party bureaucracy.

In January 1921, Lenin wrote:

I asserted that “our state is not a workers’ state proper, but a workers’ and peasants’ state” … After reading the report on the discussion, I see now that I was mistaken … What I should have said is: “A workers’ state is an abstraction. What we actually have is a workers’ state, with this peculiarity, firstly, that it is not the working class but the peasant population that predominates in the country, and, secondly, that it is a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions.”

In the years following Lenin’s death, the reactionary tendencies expressed by the bureaucracy reached their climax in the complete political expropriation of the working class and a series of massive party purges and persecution of the opposition in the 1930s, which completed the transformation of the party into a governing apparatus with a narrow privileged elite at the head. From that moment on, the Soviet state represented the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy. But as a special form of Bonapartism, it ultimately had to base itself on the conquests that the working class had made in October 1917: defending the nationalized means of production, planning, and the monopoly of foreign trade. The nationalized planned economy was, after all, what the bureaucracy drew its privileges from. In this sense, even though the bureaucracy was standing on the neck of the workers, it had to defend these fundamental conquests as long as economic planning formed the social basis of the regime. At the same time however, its long-term interests were opposed to those of the working class.

Moving more and more away from the working class, and realizing its special economic interests, the party bureaucracy inevitably rushes to the right—towards the restoration of capitalism and private property. Without understanding this trend, we cannot really explain what happened to the party and the Soviet state during Perestroika, when party and Komsomol leaders began a direct path to becoming the “captains” of business during the counterrevolution that ended with the shooting of the Supreme Soviet in 1993.

It might have seemed that the passing of a part of the bureaucracy to open counterrevolution and its break with the party, and the restoration of capitalism and bourgeois democracy, would have presented an opportunity for the communist parties emerging from the fragments of the CPSU to free themselves from right-wing, bureaucratic deformations and return to the genuine Bolshevik tradition. The real course of history turned out to be much more complicated.

Part of the fragments of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, such as the All-Union Communist Party of the Soviet Union of Nina Andreeva and the RCWP, although they had a massive base in the 1990s, found themselves hopelessly stuck in Stalinist dogma. Instead of honestly and critically looking at the history of the party, the leaders and ideologists of these groups preferred to cling to the latest program provisions of the documents of the XXII Congress of the CPSU. Unprepared to face objective reality, they preferred conspiracy theories to a serious analysis of the sociopolitical history of the USSR. Hence the insane dominance of anti-Semitism in many respects among them in those years. All this ensured their degradation from relative mass organizations into small sects having no influence in politics, which are cut off from the new generation of the working class in Russia.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, on the other hand, has been a more complex phenomenon up to the present time. Created on the basis of the main organizations of the old CPSU in 1993, it was originally a complex collection of different ideological groups and groupings of the party bureaucracy. Many of these groupings on the one hand supported Gorbachev until his resignation, but on the other did not take the path of direct counterrevolution.

Centrism was the predominant trend in the party leadership at the time, ensuring the rise of the Zyuganov group as the new party leadership. At the same time, the CPRF attracted not completely communist, and sometimes anti-Marxist elements, however paradoxical it may sound. The latter will play a disastrous role for the party in the coming decades.

During this period, the CPRF leadership proclaimed that participation in elections and seeking reforms would be the main (if not the only) priority of the party, thus setting the party on the path of the Menshevik liquidators. But to what extent was the party leadership really ready to really fight the bourgeois regime, even within the framework of such a purely legalistic approach? The 1996 presidential election was the clearest expression of the readiness of Zyuganov’s ruling clique to betray the interests of the party and of the working class.

According to all the laws of politics, 1996 ought to have been the moment of the end of Yeltsin’s rule. The whole country was engulfed in incessant crisis: salaries went unpaid for months and years; many sectors of industry were paralyzed; hundreds and thousands of conscripts were dying in the senseless meat grinder of the Chechen war; the masses were expressing universal hatred of liberal “reformers;” Yeltsin’s ratings were at their lowest point on the eve of the election campaign. Yeltsin wasn’t even saved by his dirty PR campaign, visiting the territory of Chechnya in order to show that the war was allegedly won (now, decades later, we know that even officially it lasted until 2009, and it has not ceased metastasizing down to the present day). The results of the 1995 parliamentary elections had already placed the CPRF as the largest Duma faction, three times ahead of its closest opponents from the Chernomyrdin NDR in terms of the number of deputies.

Yeltsin should have lost, but he did not. Why? Reference is usually made to the consolidation and actions of the ruling class itself: massive material support was given to Yeltsin from the largest financiers and local bourgeois elites. A dirty campaign of black PR was waged against the communists. Spoiler candidates were nominated (like General Lebed). There was massive vote rigging, etc. All this undoubtedly mattered, but the real turning point occurred at the end of the second round of the elections.

In the summer of 1996, the Electoral Commission announced the victory of Yeltsin in the second round of the elections, almost 14% ahead of Zyuganov. Moreover, Zyuganov enjoyed massive support in the regions, and the support of literally all the anti-Yeltsin forces at that moment. Years later, even the liberal politician Yavlinsky claimed that the victory was in fact falsified:

It is obvious that the elections were not fair. After the hyperinflation of 1992, the shooting of the White House, the outbreak of the war in Chechnya, and loans-for-shares auctions, Yeltsin’s rating was at the level of several percent. However, as a result of the elections, he won. Can you imagine what needs to be done in the country in order to bring the 4% rating to more than 50% in a couple of months? (Based on materials from Kommersant, 106, 2016)

But in such conditions, when there existed all manner of legal and political grounds to challenge the election results, who was it who made the first call congratulating Yeltsin on his victory? Gennady Zyuganov. This was a betrayal. The party bureaucracy gave the victory to the capitalists without a fight. In the face of the surrender of the leadership, the masses were demoralized and disoriented. In the future, Zyuganov would be contradictory in explaining his actions. At times he claimed there was intimidation by the specter of civil war. He even claimed that assumptions about his possible victory were slander. But the fact remains: the party and the working class were betrayed by the ruling clique exactly at the moment when they were one step away from legally acceding to power.

Gennady Zyuganov Image duma gov ru
The bourgeois clique in the leadership of the CPRF around Gennady Zyuganov has been increasingly forced to rest on regular purges of the CPRF membership. / Image:

What lay behind the next of the bureaucracy? Since the restoration of the Communist Party, the ruling elite has firmly clung to its material resources, preventing the mass of rank-and-file party members from full-fledged management, decision-making and control over its work. The new bureaucracy restored its privileges within the party from the very beginning. Attempts to hold serious discussions were hacked to the ground. The Leninist principle of building the organization has always been “bottom up”—from party organizations to the leadership—assuming the utmost inner democracy combined with the disciplined execution of decisions.

But this was precisely the last thing that the Zyuganov clique needed. It needed guaranteed control over the party to protect its own material interests, which were incompatible with Lenin’s ideas and principles of party building. Their particular interests inevitably pushed the bureaucracy into collusion with the ruling class and betrayal of the general interests of the party. Many party members meanwhile were not prepared to throw down a direct challenge to bureaucratic corruption, driven by the motive to defend the party as a whole. But the price was the decline of the party as a whole, the fall in its support among the working class, and an increasing arbitrariness of the party elite.

The consequences of the leadership’s betrayal did not manifest themselves all at once, but rather become more and more obvious and severe as time passes, like a cancerous tumor that gradually grows and leads the body to decline and death. The movement of the Zyuganov clique further to the right only acquired a pronounced character as the years passed. It has been explicitly expressed in such phenomena as:

  1. Merging and cooperation of the party elite with business, up to the nomination of businessmen in the elections at the federal level as candidates from the Communist Party;
  2. Refusal to rely on the working class and put forward a clear communist program in the elections, the actual transformation of the party program into a social democratic one;
  3. Flirting with Great Russian chauvinism and empire under the influence of alien ultra-right elements in the party;
  4. Shifting the support of party financing from membership fees to state funding and the “donations” of large businessmen (at the same time, almost a quarter of the party budget is currently spent on the maintenance of the governing bodies!);
  5. Changes in the Party Charter allowing the Presidium of the Central Committee to arrogate to itself the powers of the party’s supreme governing body—the Congress.
  6. A series of bureaucratic repressions and expulsion in relation to the district and primary branches, as well as individual members of the party and of Komsomol who had the courage to criticize such a treacherous and suicidal path.

The latter methods have become systematic since 2002. In 2008, with the de facto exclusion of an entire city organization in Leningrad, such measures of bureaucratic repression against leftist party members acquired a qualitatively new scale. Over the past period, the Moscow, Penza, Chelyabinsk, Saratov, Tatar, Ulyanovsk, and other organizations were subjected to purges. In Chuvashia, the bureaucratic group of Shurchanov—with the blessing of the Presidium of the Central Committee—subjected the local Komsomol, headed by First Secretary Ivankov, to an organizational purge for the latter’s left-oppositional stance. The list of activists expelled from the party and the Komsomol is one of monstrous proportions.

Does this kind of “purification” bring strength to the party? On the contrary. The “red belt” has long been lost; the number of local organizations is shrinking; and support in federal elections is declining year after year. But for the current right-wing party elite, this does not matter: they would rather be ready to give the party a “shot in the leg” than lose their control and privileges. They thus drag the CPRF into decline and death. For every conscientious member of the party, this poses a dilemma: either the party will eliminate the bureaucracy and strengthen itself, returning to Bolshevik traditions, or the bureaucracy and alien class elements will kill the party.

Alien class influence in the party

In the course of its development, the Communist Party is inevitably subjected to external and internal pressure from the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeois elements. But the most tragic situation for the party comes about when conduit of alien class influence is directly in its leadership. Perhaps the brightest representative of such elements in recent times is the main party hunter of “neo-Trotskyists,” and the founder of the “Russkiy Lad” (Russian Order)—Vladimir Nikitin (member of the Presidium of the Central Committee until 2017).

Nikitin’s persona is indicative of the nature of the right-wing infiltrators in the party, who have caused the party colossal damage over the past years.

A cabinet functionary, having hardly anything to do with the real struggle, he quietly built his career in the 1990s, quickly rising to the highest echelon of the party leadership. Nikitin’s real “finest hour” came in 2007, when, under his direct leadership, the Central Control Commission of the CP launched a campaign to persecute the so-called “Neo-Trotskyists” in Leningrad, which led to the expulsion of the whole city organization. Subsequently, the resolution “On the danger of neo-Trotskyist manifestations in the Communist Party of the Russian Federation” was raised whenever the Zyuganov clique was faced with the task of crushing opponents by administrative methods.

A characteristic feature of this decree was the emphasis on the so-called “Russian question.” By and large, the opponents of the ruling clique were accused of a lack of Great Russian nationalism. How did the official document of the Communist Party approach a line which would have thrown Lenin into a rage? There is nothing accidental about it. It is a direct consequence of Nikitin’s political views and of the tendency in the party that he represents.

Formally declaring their adherence to party principles, in reality they oppose everything that the party should have stood for: Marxism, the cause of the working class, science and progress. What does Nikitin stand for? He answers himself: “The Russian philosophy of perfection.” This is a trick of idealist, reactionary thought, which seeks to replace communist principles in the Communist Party with National Socialism (i.e. fascism). There is no better illustration of who the fighters against “neo-Trotskyism” in the CPRF are.

We take Nikitin only as an extreme example of the destructive, right-wing tendency in the party in close alliance with the Zyuganov clique, expelling real communists from the party and leading it to collapse. We therefore call on every class-conscious party member, when he hears calls to fight Trotskyist influence, to think: “In the interests of which class forces are these calls being made?”

Lenin wrote: “People have always been and always will be stupid victims of deception and self-deception in politics until they learn to seek out the interests of certain classes behind any moral, religious, political, social phrases, statements and promises.”

Having considered all of the above, it is not hard to answer the question: why are left-wing MPs are being subjected to repressions and attempts to expel them from the party? Despite their declared commitment to winning a majority in the elections, the clique in the upper leadership of the party is primarily interested in maintaining its own control and privileges. As long as the right-wing opportunists remain at the helm, the party will continue to face the threat of further decline and withdrawal from Leninist principles, which may end in its complete collapse.

Where are the once powerful communist parties of Italy and France today? They were destroyed by the same right-wing elements in the leadership, who reduced them to the status of small sects unable to influence politics. They have lost contact with the working class of their countries. Such a fate may await the Russian Communist Party if the conscious communists within it do not put an end to the destructive domination of the right.

But does this mean that the CPRF is already a lost cause for revolutionary movement?

Fight for the party, the youth, and for the building of a revolutionary force!

Despite everything discussed here, it would be a mistake to think that the party has finally become nothing more than an appendage of the regime, although the Zyuganov clique would wish it were such. Between the current state of the party and its full withdrawal under the control of the bourgeois apparatus, there is one “small” barrier: the rank and file Communists.

Today, tens of thousands of members of the party and the Komsomol continue to maintain communist positions and strive to build the party’s policy in accordance with their own principles. Although they do not yet pose a direct challenge to the party bureaucracy, it is through them that the dissonance between the top and bottom of the party is expressed. This can be observed in particular in the ranks of the Komsomol, where the party youth is increasingly clamoring for a pure communist program and for it to be carried directly into the working masses.

Marxist Tendency Image IMT Russia
Time is running out to save the Communist Party. Either the rank and file will return it to the healthy traditions of Bolshevism, or the current leadership will drive it towards destruction. / Image: IMT Russia

However, time is running out. The longer the policy of compromises and “small deeds” persist on the left wing of the party, the more likely the party’s final death as a communist force will become. A split with the right wing is inevitable in the long run. But the concrete actions of the left now will determine whether they will come out of it with fully-fledged forces to conduct a revolutionary struggle, or whether they will be forced to build everything from scratch.

What should be done? The following was formulated a long time ago in a political statement by IMT Russia:

The Communist Party can only live up to its name and really fight for power if it returns to the path of Bolshevism and become a genuine proletarian party. This is what we’re propagating among the party ranks and want it to succeed. But we are aware that this will not be possible without the following key conditions: 1) a radical change in the internal party regime towards internal democracy, genuine democratic centralism and a return to the true traditions of Bolshevism; 2) a turn to the working class, to Marxism, to the rejection of political trust in the Zyuganov bourgeois clique, the complete change of the upper leadership, which has politically discredited itself and the party over the years (“Political statement of the Unity Congress of the Marxist Tendency and the Revolutionary Workers’ Party,” Russian perspectives, May 4, 2019).

Today, the content of these lines is not only relevant—it is a matter of life and death for the Communist Party. We call on all honest and consistent communists to fight against the right, the bureaucracy and for a revolutionary Bolshevik perspective for the party!

Down with the traitorous Zyuganovites!

Long live the revolutionary party of Lenin and Trotsky!

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