Russian Communists Win Bargaining Position
There was no red banner, no triumphant march through Moscow. But Monday was a milestone for Russian Communists, the first time since their party self-destructed along with the Soviet Union that many have felt vindicated.
As official returns gave them the biggest vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, Communists reacted with a surge of pride and a dose of realism, aware that their victory is unlikely to bring down President Boris Yeltsin’s government.
But four years after Yeltsin banned their crumbling party and dismantled the Soviet empire it had ruled for seven decades, those who cling stubbornly to their party cards are again the leading political force here - even if they have renounced the goal of monopolizing all power and property.
Sitting in his office, eerily quiet for a victorious party headquarters, Viktor P. Peshkov, secretary of the Central Committee, went as far as to claim that the party’s comeback signaled the death of anti-communism as a political banner in Russia.
Recalling Yeltsin’s dramatic election-eve appeal that voters reject “the forces of the past,” Peshkov said: “It did not work. Today we can state with reason that Russians are not allergic either to the communist idea or the word communism. They do not view us as bigots obsessed with some harmful doctrine.”
What Russia’s 500,000 Communists are supposed to believe in and what they want for their country were topics of intense discussion Monday in kitchens, apartment hallways and veterans’ centers - wherever comrades gathered on a dark winter day to ponder the sudden clout of Sunday’s mandate.
Most of the talk was about moderation and alliances.
The Communists polled 22 percent of Sunday’s vote with a campaign that appealed to older voters’ nostalgia for the paternalist order of Soviet life. They promised to restore the Soviet Union “voluntarily” and re-nationalize selected industries cut loose from the state under Yeltsin’s free-market policies.
At a news conference, however, Communist leader Gennady A. Zyuganov said he was willing to negotiate his program in talks with “all possible allies and fellow travelers” seeking to form a majority coalition in the new Parliament.
And conversations with party members in Moscow indicated they are not all as bent on sweeping away Yeltsin’s reforms as they are usually portrayed.
Mark I. Ivanikhin, a 73-year-old Red Army colonel in World War II, has voted Communist for more than half a century. He said he voted Sunday not so much for a return to the Soviet past but for a chance that the Communists might finally get it right next time.
“I didn’t vote to start another revolution,” Ivanikhin said. “I didn’t vote for a rollback to Stalinist repressions. I didn’t vote to strangle investors. I voted so we can just evolutionize normally, like other civilized countries do, without breaking things.”
A large man with a square face and engaging stare, Ivanikhin said it is “hard to be triumphant” about the election because Russia’s economic hardships are so great. What he voted for most of all, he said, was a government willing to set any clear goal, capitalist or socialist, for overcoming them.
“But we shouldn’t change the government to do this,” countered Nina Vasilyeva, 68, a Communist who was hanging out at a veterans’ aid office in eastern Moscow with the retired colonel and several other old soldiers.
“Every change will entail some really grave shocks, and we’ll have to start everything anew,” she added. “We should ensure the continuity of the political and economic process.”
The Liberal Democratic Party of extreme-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky may end up with the second largest bloc of votes, about 11 percent. The two largest so-called “democratic parties” that support Yeltsin’s reforms - Our Home is Russia and Yabloko - together garnered 18 percent, according to the incomplete vote count.