Page last updated at 15:15 GMT, Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Moscow Diary: Reds dream of revival

The BBC's James Rodgers watches Russia's Communist Party mark the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution and wonders what challenge they could pose to a resurgent Kremlin. His diary is published fortnightly.


Their ideology led and inspired a superpower for most of the 20th Century. When their regime crumbled, they were briefly banned.

Communist supporters outside Lenin's mausoleum
Russia's Communists hope to come back from the cold

In the last days of August 1991, I watched a stray dog taking a snooze on the doorstep of the Communist Party's deserted headquarters.

No-one could be bothered to drive it off.

Now the Communists could become the sole opposition political force in Russia that is actually represented in the Russian parliament, the Duma.

Current opinion polls suggest they may be the only party, except for the Putin-backed "United Russia", to win any seats in December's elections.

It's a comeback, of sorts - something of a survival story.

Russia's Communists have avoided the fate of some of their counterparts in other parts of the former Soviet bloc. They still exist. They still have an electorate.

By contrast, the Western-style democrats who sought to forge a new Russia in the 1990s are disunited and discredited.

It seems inconceivable that they will get into the Duma.

The Communists they sought to consign to history are still here, even if their longer term prospects don't look great.

Some people think that Communism long ago went into the past... We think Communism is also the idea of the future
Arseny Svidersky

Many of their supporters are drawn from the generation which lost the most from the end of the Soviet Union.

These were people who toiled all their lives to build a Communist utopia, only to find that their reward was a penance of a pension doled out in the harsh, new, capitalist Russia of the 1990s.

With the campaign for Russia's parliamentary election already under way, the Communists gathered in Moscow to mark the 90th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the day in 1917 when Lenin's Bolshevik party seized power and laid the foundations of the Soviet state.

A few snowflakes drifted down as the party faithful queued outside the House of Unions.

People in the crowd told tales of their long-closed workplaces, and the sins of the oligarchs.

Demonstration in St Petersburg, 1917
The revolution that created the Soviet Union is 90-years old

The current presidential administration, they insisted, was an "anti-people" regime.

The future, they insisted, was bright.

"Those who think Communism isn't the future are greatly mistaken," said 68-year-old Lyubov Shestopavlovna.

She was convinced that what she saw as its dedication to justice would guarantee its triumph.

She had few illusions about the present. "The word Communism is not popular," she conceded.

"All the same, socialism will win," her neighbour in the queue insisted.

Then they suggested I was only talking to them because I wanted to say that all Communists were elderly. I found one of the younger faces in the crowd.

Eighteen-year-old Arseny Svidersky had dressed for the occasion - a look inspired by the Petrograd chic of 90 years ago: a red ribbon on his lapel, and a red star on his beret.

President Putin
Vladimir Putin has resurrected lost national pride

"Some people that Communism long ago went into the past," he said. "We think Communism is also the idea of the future."

That was the message from the party leader, too.

"Without the ideals of October, principally respect for labour, for the person, to his dignity, to justice, to friendship of the peoples, the planet will not get out of the difficult situation in which it finds itself," Gennady Zyuganov told me as he paused to talk to reporters on the way to make his speech.

The ceremony began with a rendition of the Internationale - the Reds' revolutionary anthem.

Mr Zyuganov's speech followed. Despite his desire to look forward, his words stressed the successes of the last century: the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany; its achievements in the space race.


Unlike other countries of the Eastern bloc, Russia stopped short of destroying Communism root and branch.

Yes, statues were taken down in the wild days of 1991. But Lenin retained his place of honour in his Red Square mausoleum, and he lies there to this day.

Stalin's tomb is in the Kremlin wall. The KGB, the backbone of the Soviet police state, was never dismantled. Its main successor, the FSB, enjoys huge power in Russia today.

The Communists continue to allege that Boris Yeltsin's re-election as President in 1996 was fraudulent - that after five years of bewildering transition, a majority was ready to go back to the old ways.

Russia under President Putin is a different country. Mr Putin's speeches have convinced many of the electorate that Russia is on the path back to the diplomatic weight which the Soviet Union enjoyed.

The current administration has stolen the Communists' thundering rhetoric about a great and powerful country.

With National Projects to improve housing, education, agriculture, and healthcare, the Kremlin is also seeking to show that it cares for those who haven't had a decent share of the country's oil-and-gas-fired economic boom.

Sixteen years after the end of the Soviet Union, there are still people who mourn its passing.

Hundreds of them were there to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution. But there were empty seats too.

It's hard to imagine that this is what Lenin and his followers foresaw when they took power.

A selection of the comments we have received so far:

Communism has proven itself a failure over the past 70+ years, in every nation it dominated. The astounding growth of Capitalism in Russia and elsewhere belies the hopes of the Old Guard.
Thomas Mayer, Los Angeles, USA

James' words that United Russia Party has stolen much of its rhetoric from the Communists are certainly true. It makes demonstrative steps to revive people's confidence that they will live better in a year. But there is no economic foundation under most of them. They make some pointed efforts instead of changing the whole system. Otherwise the Democrats have bright ideas about changing the system but they don't know how to deliver these ideas to the electorate. Rural population traditionally votes more than the urban, but they don't have any sources of information, but for one or two federal TV channels, that are controlled by the administration. United Russia also uses it's so called "management reserves" to distribute its ideas. So this election is a big challenge for the democrats but they have a delusive hope to receive any seats in the Duma.
Oleg, Moscow

I grew up in Communist Armenia and I lament its collapse. While the notion of a happy and beautiful existence under Communism may shock Westerners, nearly all who lived in those years secretly wish that it would return someday. I know I do!
Henry, Los Angeles, United States of America

I believe that the communists are right, at least I hope they are because capitalism is not serving all the people either. We may rubbish communism, and we should do in its past form, but the ideals at the heart are ideals that we all should be living by. Maybe we will have to wait far into the future but the time will come when the people really do govern the people
john Stevenson, Cairns, Australia

Russia has always been a totalitarian country, and it didn't matter what the word for the position of the person in charge was - Tsar, Chairman of the SovNarCom, General Secretary of the CPSU, President - the way the country is run has always been more or less the same. In: a. February, 1917 and b. under Boris Yeltsin there were chances that the paradigm was going to change, but: a. November, 1917 came, and b. the reforms collapsed before they were completed and before there were any significant positive results. On the other hand - if the majority is happy about how everything goes - then it can not be too wrong. Unfortunately (IMHO).
Alexey, St Petersburg, Russia

Call me old fashioned but I still like the IDEALS of communism. It was the practice that let it down, with secret police, unaccountable state bureaucracy, lack of human rights etc. Of course, democracy is not like that, is it?
Philip Lidbury, Sydney, Australia

Communism always rears its head when large numbers of the population have very little. If Putin, or his successor, play their oil and gas cards right and really do distribute the new-found wealth, then I suspect that the longing for the "good old days" will fade away. Russians are a practical and ingenious people. Give them half a chance and they'll make their country a force to be reckoned with. Communism will be surplus to requirements.
Paul Robinson, Abingdon

Communism had many shortcomings, but science, the arts and education were generously supported in the USSR. A friend of mine from former Soviet Georgia now lives in the US. He is a brilliant theoretical physicist, and was a professor in the USSR. In the US he was often unemployed, and wound up as a computer programmer.
James B. Cole, Tsukuba, Japan

The world was much safer while the Soviet Union Existed. Then, the enemy of the west was well defined, now we are not even sure who our enemies are - with all these rogue states around .Could it be that it is a case of swapping a black dog foe a monkey?
Genard Taylor, Jamaica

I am just wondering how the Russian people still feel nostalgia for an ideology that killed off more than ten million of their own countrymen in the purges that followed after the Communists took power in 1917 and sent more than five million of their own countrymen to various prisons/concentration camps in Siberia, many of whom did not return alive.
Rolando D Siatela, Manila, Philippines

The great thing about the old Soviet Union, and its Communist Party, is that it acted as a counterbalance to the wild ambitions of unfettered capitalism. As long as the Soviet Union existed, there was another way of ordering society in the world, and the West, and the US in particular had to take this into account. The Soviet Union kept our feet to the fire, so to speak, and the chaos we see all around us in today's world became possible only after its collapse. Of course it was far from perfect, but as long as it stood, the world was a safer place. This is what Putin had in mind when he shocked some people in the West by describing the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest political and social disaster of the twentieth century.
Charles Chatfield-Taylor, San Francisco CA, US

Let's just be honest here. Whether it is Tsarist, Communist or Putinist, the idea is a great Russian empire. Power trumps any ideology, and that's what the corridors of power in Russia (whether it is Moscow, St Petersburg or Petrograd - or even Kyiv or Vladimir or Suzdal), ideology takes second chair to power - both internal and external. That's the crux of the Russia puzzle.
Mel, London/New York

The real question will be whether or not Russia will truly go back to Communism circa 1930 or will adopt the Chinese Communism/Capitalism hybrid.
Derek Hanson, Gig Harbor, WA, USA

It seems that Lenin will soon be taken from the Mausoleum and buried in average human way somewhere in Siberia where he was born. But this won't happen before the 2008 elections, as Putin's party is seriously playing 'on the field' of communist electorate to win. As for me, I think the Mausoleum is rather an anachronism than a symbol some 'communist revival', and believe that most ordinary Russians agree.
Dima, Moscow

Yesterday we were told that the communism was about to destroy us. Today, the capitalism is destroying bit by bit our society, way of life, and planet. Our greed is robbing our children of a good future. I can only agree to say that without the ideal of the revolution, we will not get the planet out of the difficult position it is in.
Tophee, London, UK

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MAY - OCT 2008

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