If the last hectic months of Russian politics have demonstrated anything at all, it is that for the ‘Left’ (however we define that term) there is one, and only one, organizational forum through which its cause can be advanced—and that forum is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (cprf).

Since its re-foundation in February 1993, the party has gone from strength to strength. With a membership of 550,000, it is almost twice as large as any rival organization warranting the label of a recognized political party. It has 20,000 primary organizations, 2,000 district and city organizations, and is fully represented in 88 out of the 89 constituent parts of the Federation—the one exception being Chechnya. It has fairly good financial resources at its disposal thanks to a number of close links with lucrative business organizations and business people such as the ‘Mosbusiness Bank’ and Vladimir Semago—a casino owner. And, in general, it has good connections with a whole range of powerful social and economic elites.

‘Dissident’ forces inside the cprf, opposed to the leadership of Gennadii Zyuganov have been forced out—‘purged’ would be too emotive a word in this context—leaving the party with a reasonable degree of unity.footnote1 Inside the State Duma, its parliamentary members are generally regarded as the most professional, attending debates more frequently than all other deputies, and being the least susceptible to corruption and abuse of privilege and status; with nine—out of 28—standing parliamentary committees under their control, they are able to exert unparalleled influence on the legislative process. Across the country as a whole, the party has very strong regional centres of support—especially in the so-called ‘red belt’ territory south of Moscow—with communists representing 63 constituent parts of the Federation at the national parliamentary level. According to recent sociological reports, its electoral base of support is proportionally more highly educated than any of its major rivals—including Grigorii Yavlinsky’s yabloko movement.

On top of all this, the party’s performance in elections over the last two to three years shows a strong upwards curve. Having captured 6.7 million votes (12.4 per cent) in the parliamentary elections in December 1993, the party more than doubled this in December 1995 with 15.5 million votes (22.3 per cent); and if the votes gained by other communist forces are included, the total would be near the 20 million mark. In the first round of the presidential elections in June 1996, Gennadii Zyuganov—admittedly as the representative of a broader electoral coalition—increased this base of support to 24 million. And, following the outcome of the second round, the level of support stood at a few thousand votes short of 30 million. This in itself, of course, was not sufficient to win the elections. Nevertheless, few could doubt that the 40.4 per cent of the vote captured by Zyuganov represented anything less than a remarkable achievement in the face of enormous adversity, hostility, threats and explicit media bias. Indeed, many neutral Russian commentators even suggested that this was a tremendous ‘moral’ victory for Zyuganov. The fact that he could construct the kind of electoral bloc that he did, and by and large keep it fairly united throughout the long, difficult months of campaigning, demonstrated real political acumen. From a personal point of view, meanwhile, Zyuganov himself clearly grew in stature as the campaign proceeded, and the gracious magnanimity with which he handled his defeat even impressed his most vociferous of critics. When all is said and done, the communists could certainly make a strong claim that it was only by means of the adoption of their policies that Yeltsin ultimately won. Taken together, then, the evidence over the past couple of years all goes to show one thing: phoenixes do indeed rise from the ashes.

The basis of a successful Communist Party rejuvenation in Russia can be explained by a whole series of factors. Firstly, despite the collapse and disintegration of the old Soviet order and the cpsu—as well as the unconstitutional banning of communist activity—the cprf was the only party in the post-Soviet era with a nation-wide organizational and administrative structure, and with the necessary qualified, experienced cadres to run a party machine. In other words, the massive quantitative depletion of its cpsu-era ranks did not have the same resonance on its qualitative abilities in this organizational sphere. As soon as the party was unbanned, therefore, it was always going to be a key political player.