The Communist Party’s leaders have always been prone to optimism. When they were told of an impending crisis in their ranks, they confidently replied that nothing of the kind was possible. When forecasts suggested they would lose numerous seats in the State Duma elections, they just laughed. And when certain pundits ventured to speculate on a possible schism in the party, its leaders replied that such a development was absolutely out of the question.
Now, one by one, the grim predictions are starting to come true. Following the fiasco in the December State Duma elections, in which the Communists lost more than half their seats, the party could no longer deny that it was in the throes of crisis. Rival factions began openly fighting. Supporters of former Duma deputy speaker Gennady Semigin blamed the Communists’ failures on Gennady Zyuganov, who had led the party to its fourth straight election defeat. The party bosses, however, called on their comrades to rally around the leader in order to get through the hard times.
Since neither side presented anything remotely resembling a coherent program or ideology, the battle between them took on the appearance of a street brawl, in which the public trading of personal insults alternated with behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
In the run-up to the July 3 party congress, events unfolded at breakneck speed. Without waiting for the majority of party members to have their say, the Communist leaders started ousting their opponents from the party. However, as it later transpired, they hadn’t ousted everybody: Above all, the expulsion of Semigin did not prevent him and his supporters from preparing their own scenario for the congress.
With less than two days to go to the congress, Semigin’s faction convened a Central Committee plenum. Of 156 active members, 96 attended (80 are needed for a quorum). The plenum removed Zyuganov as leader of the party and replaced him with Ivanovo Governor Vladimir Tikhonov, a decision the Justice Ministry seemed in a hurry to uphold.
The Zyuganov camp fired back with a plenum of their own, registering 91 participants, which resulted in the removal of Semigin’s allies. Since the second meeting also assembled a quorum, the two plenums yielded two mutually exclusive, but equally valid, resolutions. Moreover, quite a number of party comrades managed to show up at both events and lend their support to both of the warring factions.
In the end, two party congresses were held instead of one. Semigin’s supporters walked out of the meeting chaired by Zyuganov and organized one of their own in a different venue. And, lo and behold, both congresses claimed to have a quorum. The Zyuganov-led congress descended into an endless stream of paeans to the party leader, steeped in the best totalitarian tradition; while the parallel congress was just as uncompromising in its denunciation of Zyuganov.
Now the two competing factions face many months of legal wrangling to determine whose party is the real one. It remains unclear whose side the Russian justice system will take, but it isn’t all that important. The Communist Party is finished. The party brand at the heart of the current legal battle is rapidly losing all appeal for anyone except those directly involved in the fight.
It would be wrong to call these events a schism — the right word is “disgrace.”
Unlike the Soviet Communist Party, whose history combines horrifying and disgraceful episodes with tragic and heroic ones, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has been going for 11 years without accomplishing anything of any note. Paradoxically and, in a way, logically, the party’s collapse comes at a time when “red” ideas are becoming fashionable again. However, this could not help the party, long bereft of any ideas or principles.
Neither of the congresses made room for representatives of Communist youth groups, who have made their voices heard in recent protests, or for labor activists. The post-Soviet Communist Party is entering the history books along with the Yeltsin epoch — indeed, as one of the most monstrous products of that period. This party did not find a niche for itself in Putin’s Russia. It neither fit into the new system being built by Kremlin functionaries nor did it pluck up the courage to go into real opposition.
The disappearance of this party is no great loss. And as for the communist idea, there is no need to worry: It will find new, much more capable, heirs.
Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.