Communists strut on comeback trail Russian resurgence: Discontent over market reforms has led to a renaissance for Russia's Communist Party, which may win a parliamentary majority next month.

November 08, 1995|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- Celebrating the 78th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and an expected powerful Communist Party comeback in December parliamentary elections, 10,000 Russian Communists marched through central Moscow yesterday.

While just a shadow of the huge Revolution Day rallies of the Soviet era, the showing -- full of hammer and sickle flags and anti-American rhetoric -- was considered not just a nostalgic throwback to the days of superpower status, but a real hint of the future.

Polls show that the Communists are likely to achieve strong gains, if not an absolute majority, in the State Duma, or lower house of Parliament, in the Dec. 17 elections.

Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov, a presidential hopeful, stood before a monument to Karl Marx across from the Bolshoi Theater and pushed the party's populist, anti-reform platform.

Mr. Zyuganov has likened today's Russia to the "pre-Revolutionary" powder keg the nation was in 1917 -- desperate for change.

The Communist marchers yesterday were mostly elderly and middle-aged people who have lost their jobs and endured brutal inflation under the government's market reforms -- and who are considered the most active voters in this apathetic society.

"These are the people who are going to vote for the Communists not because they believe in Communism but for increased pensions and a restoration of the Soviet Union -- the symbols of the past life where they had respect and no economic crises," said Sergei Markov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Yester-day's procession streamed down glitzy Tverskaya Street, passing fancy jewelry stores and night clubs and such famous monuments to capitalism as McDonald's and Pizza Hut.

Those monuments are reminders of a life Communist constituents haven't come close to experiencing under the administration of President Boris N. Yeltsin.

Vyatcheslav, 33, said he has come with his father, Alexander, 70, to Revolution Day activities every year of his life. (Neither would give his last name, saying Russia still is "not so safe.")

In the old days, they were issued valuable coupons for hard-to-get consumer goods -- providing they attended the chilly November Red Square Revolution Day celebrations.

But yesterday, carrying posters of Lenin, they came to support a party they hope will bring them the certainty of a paycheck.

"We voted for Boris Yeltsin, but he fooled us. Democracy doesn't give us any stability," said Vyatcheslav. A radio assembler, he has seen his paycheck -- on the months the factory issues him one -- eaten away by inflation. And when his father was laid off from his truck-driving job, Vyatcheslav had to begin sharing his salary with his parents.

"We'll vote for the Communists, of course. They did guarantee us a paycheck," said Alexander.

That guarantee is a part of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation's populist anti-reform platform as engineered by its leader Mr. Zyuganov.

He promises a crackdown on crime and market speculation, rebuilding links with former Soviet Republics, and restoration of state control of key industries to assure job security for workers.

Mr. Zyuganov is a former Soviet propaganda official who has helped keep his party -- with 500,000 members nationwide -- afloat during the four years since the failed Communist hard-liner coup against Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev ended more than 70 years of communism.

He has engineered the party's comeback by waffling between old Communist ideology and a more Social Democratic stand.

For example, in between his anti-Western rhetoric, he found time last month to appear before the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia.

Though his party colleagues -- and more radical Communist parties -- do want to renationalize and stop privatization, he assured the chamber that he does not support wholesale nationalization of industry, though he would put some sectors, such as energy, back under state control.

Mr. Zyuganov, who heads the party's current 10 percent bloc in the Duma, told them that Russia needs international integration -- both to receive Western investment and to sell products abroad.

Even if the Communists and their allies on the left, who have been discussing a parliamentary alliance, were to gain a majority in the Parliament, it wouldn't be enough to rival the power given the president under the constitution. But, a majority in the legislature can drag its feet and make things difficult for the president.

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