Russia: Communist Party


From Moscow,Cameron Sawyer writes:I beg to disagree with David Crow -- Eva Fitzek described the position of the Russian Communist Party very accurately.  In the last parliamentary elections in December, 2003, the Communist Party got only 12.6% of the vote.  The Communists, in an attempt to reinvent themselves as Social-Democrats during the 1990's, practically renounced Communism as we understand that ideology.  Their election platform in recent elections has included uncharacteristic planks such as further lowering corporate income taxes (already the lowest in Europe).  Ideology in any case takes a backseat to style -- the Communists have worked hard to capitalize on what "brand equity" -- name recognition -- the party has left, while distancing themselves from the concrete tenants of Communism.  A very characteristic statement:  "Without rejecting Soviet history, we have learned its lessons", Viktor Peshkov, quoted on the Russian Communist Party website, cited below.
 
More recently, the Communists have actually attempted to position themselves as liberals opposing the increasing authoritarianism of the Putin regime.  See http://www.kprf.ru/ponomarev/press/21899.shtml.  They are opposed to the Putin regime, but not really on ideological grounds -- they just want to be in power.
 
The really important thing here is to distinguish between Communism and Communists.  Communism is a literally bankrupt ideology, bankrupt in the banal economic sense, and that bankruptcy will be declared sooner or later in Cuba as well.  Whether when this happens "Communists" are overthrown and imprisoned, pushed aside, or remain in power does not necessarily make much difference.
 
Academics writing about Eastern Europe in the early and middle 1990's were often outraged that former Communists became successful entrepreneurs or went on to positions of influence in democratic governments.  I have never understood this outrage, which seems to be based on the idea that ideology was the main reason why people would have been involved in politics in the old regime.  As a person who knows many former Communists, I can tell you that this is not true.  In a totalitarian state where the party is omnipotent, any talented person who wants to do something interesting with his life will either have to join the party, or become a dissident.  Very, very few people are willing to sacrifice their lives to become dissidents, so many, many talented Russians went into party and government work.  
 
And so after the end of Communism in Russia, people with power, and people who have become powerful in the economy of the country, come from all different walks of life.  There are plenty of former Communists in both government and in the economy, although relatively few of these are in positions of leadership (it is an interesting aside that for some very strange reason, many former professors of mathematics, engineering, and physics are in leading positions in the economy: a majority of Russian billionaires are former engineers or professors, and two of Russia's billionaires have the same odd background of dual degrees in engineering and theater).  In both the government and in the economy, you see former dissidents working side by side with former members of the nomenclatura (and I have had such a scene in my own living room -- with the former Communist playing the guitar and demonstrating his remarkable knowledge of dissident songs from different decades of the Soviet era, some of them extremely bitter, and the former dissident -- a famous musician -- answering with Young Communist League songs).  And some of the leading theorists of democracy and elections today were political scientists during the Soviet era.
 
All of this is to say that Cuba may certainly throw out Communism without imprisoning or even firing its Communists, and it might even allow its Communist Party to continue to exist.  Or it could follow the Romanian model and kill them all. 
 
I suspect that in the event, Cuba will take neither of those paths.  My own opinion (and I may not have much right to it, as I know much less about Cuba than many WAISers do) is that in Cuba Communism is a relatively thin veneer over what is essentially a banana republic which uses ideology as a means of attaining more complete domination over the hapless Cuban people.  Castro's gang have Cuba very firmly in hand; comparisons between Cuba and Russia are not apt -- Russia, at the end of Communism, was an advanced industrial civilization already out of the effective control of the regime, and with millions of highly educated citizens unwilling to be oppressed.  Cuba will take something like the Chinese path -- keeping the people firmly under the heels of the regime's jackboots, while reforming the economic model towards the purely practical goal of avoiding final bankruptcy.  I hope I'm wrong, but that's the way it looks to me.

RH: Many people in politics are interested basically in power and a job.  When fascism failed, Brazilian fascists adopted a program of representative parliamentarianism.  When I asked them to explain this ideological reversal, they simply said "Times have changed".

Ronald Hilton 2005

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last updated: June 11, 2005