For a Decent Life in the new left-wing opposition: a clash on the left


In the latter half of April, the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) surveyed the current support ratings of political parties. Just as on December 7, the day of the parliamentary elections, the leaders turned out to be United Russia, the Communist Party (CPRF), and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR).

Some changes in support levels demonstrated the true worth of the campaign publicity techniques used by the leaders of these parties, as well as their campaign teams – sponsors and political consultants.

The Novye Izvestia newspaper reports that only the CPRF’s support level remained virtually unchanged in the FOM poll, at 12.6% (compared to 12.1% of the vote in December).

Support for United Russia and the LDPR dropped by 3% each, recording 34.2% and 8.5% respectively in the poll (they got 37.5% and 11.4% of the vote in December).

There was a disastrous drop in support for the Motherland bloc (Rodina): only 4.8% of the poll’s respondents said they would be prepared to vote for Motherland (compared to 9.02% of the vote in December). It’s easy to calculate that only 61% of Motherland supporters still retain their preference for it. Twenty percent of those who voted for the bloc led by Sergei Glaziev and Dmitri Rogozin in December are now undecided about their political preferences; 7% say they would vote for United Russia; 6% say they would vote against all candidates; and 3% say they wouldn’t vote at all.

Actually, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (URF) are doing even worse: FOM reports that their respective support figures of 4.3% and 3.97% in December have now both dropped to 2.5%. Over the past three months, the URF has lost over a third of its voters.

Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Globalization Institute, told Novye Izvestia that the current support ratings of the right-wing parties are evidence of the fact that “these parties have no political prospects.” The URF’s success in the elections of 1999 can be attributed to the Kremlin’s support, successful PR, and also the “newcomer effect” – exactly what Motherland experienced in the elections of December 2003.

But now, says Kagarlitsky, voters “have realized what Motherland actually is.”

Mark Urnov, head of the Expertise Foundation, also says that the collapse of support for Motherland is only natural. Among the reasons are the split between its leaders and the unfortunate fact that the Motherland faction in the Duma is practically indistinguishable from United Russia, only sometimes “acting as if it’s an opposition.”

All the same, Sergei Glaziev has no intention of giving up. True, he’s had to surrender the well-publicized Motherland “brand name”: at its second congress, recently held in the Moscow region, the Motherland People’s Patriotic Union, led by Glaziev, changed its name to the For a Decent Life movement.

The Gazeta newspaper notes that the first congress of the Motherland People’s Patriotic Union was held back in winter, soon after the elections: and Glaziev organized it “partisan-style,” not informing Dmitri Rogozin, the other co-leader of the Motherland bloc, who had gone to Strasbourg for a couple of days.

At the time, a Gazeta source explained that “reasons for disputes within the Motherland bloc arose after Glaziev decided to run for president.”

Eventually, this “arbitrary action” led to Glaziev being ousted as leader of the Motherland bloc’s Duma faction; meanwhile, Glaziev managed to get a Motherland party registered by the Justice Ministry in the space of three days, thus keeping hold of the “brand name” for himself.

Thus, until the latest developments, there were two versions of Motherland.

Glaziev’s movement had a tough time picking out its new name. There were many options: For Motherland and Justice; Truth, Motherland, and Justice; and so on. Some congress delegates were in favor of including Glaziev’s name in the title: “You are our only hope.” Glaziev ruled out that option, saying that his surname belongs to his parents, rather than to him. Instead, he proposed calling the movement “For a Decent Life!” – a reference to the Constitution, which asserts that every citizen of the Russian Federation has the right to a decent life.

“As for the word Motherland,” said Glaziev, “that word has passed through a great many dirty hands, and it’s been devalued.”

The leader of the new movement then explained whose hands he meant, says Gazeta. He stated: “Those are the political cuckoos, Dmitri Rogozin and Sergei Baburin. They turned up in the nest of politics and followed the Kremlin’s orders in starting to throw the people the Kremlin dislikes out of the nest. As a reward for their betrayal, the cuckoos have received new appointments, resources, and thirty pieces of silver.”

All the same, according to Gazeta, despite all his differences with his former partners, Glaziev does not intend to quit the Motherland faction in the Duma: “As long as I have some capacity to influence the faction’s decisions, I will not quit it – even though I really want to do so every time I see the faces of Rogozin and Baburin.”

As for the future plans of the new movement, they are staggering in their scope. As the Kommersant newspaper reports, Glaziev said at the congress: “We’ll be able to feel confident once we’re capable of bringing 100,000 people out on the streets… We need to draw no fewer than one million politically active people into the orbit of our organization.”

Glaziev has postponed the question of forming a political party until autumn. And his immediate tactical objectives are somewhat evasive: “For the time being, in order to gain political strength, we need to de-politicize ourselves for a couple of years, retreating from the federal level, where there will be no politics.”

According to Kommersant, Sergei Glaziev is extremely critical of the prospects of the current political regime. At the congress, he said: “The system of political power that was born to the sound of tanks firing in October 1993 reached its logical culmination on March 14, 2004. Putin only finished what Yeltsin started, taking the system to absolute power for one individual.” And such a system makes the main driving force of economic growth – competition – impossible. Hence “monopolies in all areas, price rises, and the degradation of industry.” According to Glaziev, “this regime has no internal mechanisms of development.”

The Russkii Kurier newspaper says Glaziev’s new movement is not doing very well so far in terms of finding allies.

Obviously, Glaziev can hardly hope to restore his erstwhile relationship with Rogozin and Baburin, after what he’s said about them.

Russkii Kurier describes the Patriots of Russia movement, led by Gennadi Semigin, as a meeting-place for everyone who doesn’t like Gennadi Zyuganov. And Glaziev is skeptical about Patriots of Russia: in his view, this project is yet another Kremlin plot.

Neither is there any chance of an alliance with the CPRF, since its leaders cannot forgive Glaziev, their former comrade, for his “betrayal.” Besides, Glaziev has already managed to declare that “the CPRF leadership has become the fifth – or the tenth – wheel on the cart of the current regime.” In Glaziev’s view, this is the natural result of the fact that Zyuganov “played along with the regime in 1993 and 1996,” then “did a deal with the Kremlin and nominated former FSB colonel Nikolai Kharitonov as the CPRF presidential candidate.”

However, Russkii Kurier says there is still some hope of an alliance between the CPRF and Glaziev’s new movement: “something might happen” at the CPRF congress this summer, and then Glaziev could reach an agreement with the CPRF if “Zyuganov and Kharitonov are gone.”

On the whole, the papers consider that For a Decent Life is a rather vague name for a movement. Russkii Kurier notes that this motto was first used by Grigori Yavlinsky’s Yabloko party. Back in 1999, his campaign slogan was “For a decent life in a decent country!” Later on, the same phrase became the “ideological linchpin” for Vladimir Putin’s first campaign, in 2000.

Kommersant-Vlast magazine says Glaziev is too late with his aspirations to unite all Russia’s patriots: the Kremlin has already appointed someone to fill that role – Glaziev’s former comrade, Dmitri Rogozin, now leader of the Motherland faction. As Kommersant-Vlast emphasises, this makes it clear who will be entrusted with leading the left wing in the new two-party system.

Over the past two months, says Kommersant-Vlast, the political weight of Motherland’s new leader has been growing at a record pace. Rogozin gets regular coverage on state-controlled television. He is approached for comments on various political events almost as often as the leaders of the United Russia party.

Even Rogozin’s more dubious proposals – like changing the name of Volgograd back to Stalingrad – haven’t been ignored by state-controlled television. But his most widely-reported quote was the one about intending to turn Motherland into a center left party with broad support, capable of “replacing the marginalized CPRF and offering some decent competition to United Russia.”

This was predictable: as the Argumenty i Fakty weekly explains, United Russia, the current pro-presidential party, which holds an absolute majority in the Duma, will have to pass a number of “extremely painful and unpopular laws” through parliament. This will create a substantial risk of United Russia being unable to win the next parliamentary elections. And after all, it wouldn’t do to have “an opposition from outside the system” take over. Thus, a “new left-wing party” will be brought into play, one that’s supposed to win the elections of December 2007.

All the same, “following accepted practice in democracies,” United Russia should retain “a blocking interest in parliament, to prevent the opposition from amending the Constitution or impeaching the president.”

The CPRF is unsuitable for creating such a party: it would first have to be purged of Gennadi Zyuganov’s “true Leninists,” and the CPRF leadership would have to be replaced with social-democrats. And doing that would be fairly problematic.

Another option is the People’s Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), which consists of a multitude of minor parties. This is where “red millionaire” Gennadi Semigin is building up his political weight; and he has some good contacts in the Kremlin. However, the NPSR’s political influence is not comparable, as yet, to the capacities of the traditional communists in the CPRF.

No wonder Gennadi Semigin said in a recent interview with the Kommersant newspaper that all left-wing parties must unite into one electoral bloc, “otherwise none of them will make it into the Duma at the elections of 2007.” Not even the CPRF.

First of all, as Semigin told Kommersant, it’s uncertain whether the threshold for representation in the Duma will remain set at 7% of the vote: “Already there are some proposals to raise it even higher, to 10-12%.” And besides, as Semigin put it, the CPRF “is not the kind of party that ought to settle for barely crossing the threshold, getting 8% to 10% of the vote.” In order to ensure “substantial representation in parliament, capable of at least blocking any of the regime’s legislative initiatives,” joining forces is essential.

Semigin noted: “The current regime is not the same as the ‘anti-people regime’ of the Yeltsin era. It’s much smarter and harsher.” Therefore, it can only be opposted by a united front.

What’s more, as Semigin admits, voters have changed as well. “They no longer believe the kind of opposition that simply abuses the regime with epithets like ‘anti-people’ and so on. They want an opposition that can get things done.”

And that is precisely why Semigin advocates uniting the left-wing oppositionists no later than autumn this year, in order to “register Patriots of Russia as an electoral bloc in December 2004 or January 2005.” There’s no time to lose: “Developing and promoting a real oppositional bloc within a year or 18 months of the Duma elections would be impossible.”

At the same time, Semigin the realist understands that “the regime will certainly attempt to exacerbate the current divisions between the leftist patriotic forces, playing on the ambitions of their leaders.” He says the Kremlin’s political consultants might attempt to create “yet another Kremlin-backed party – a leftist one this time.” All the same, Semigin believes such a project cannot be successful: “After all, they’d have to create a party that simulates opposition. One part of it would hate United Russia, while another part would love the president.”

Semigin emphasized once again that such a “semi-opposition” no longer appeals to voters: “You have to either support the regime or be entirely in opposition.”

As for Zyuganov’s allegations that Semigin himself is acting on the Kremlin’s orders, Semigin offered a decent rebuttal. He even found it appropriate to quote a piece of folk wisdom: “The thief himself is usually the first to cry ‘Stop, thief!'”

All the same, Argumenty i Fakty considers that the choice of option for creating a “rational opposition party” has not yet been made. According to Argumenty i Fakty, a combination of all three options is entirely possible: “In that case, some major personnel changes would lie in store for the CPRF. Even the party’s name might change by 2007.”

Yet Rogozin is still trying to take advantage of his opportunities, says Argumenty i Fakty: “He is young and ambitious. He is outspoken, but very meticulous about it.” It’s long been noted that Rogozin frequently makes use of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s methods – he says the things that would be inconvenient for the Kremlin to say: “That includes his harsh comments about NATO and the European Union, the abuse he directs at those who oppress ethnic Russians in the Baltic states, and his threats against the oligarchs.”

What’s more, in his efforts not to miss any opportunities, Rogozin has invited the People’s Party to merge with Motherland, and replaced Sergei Glaziev by making Mikhail Deliagin a member of Motherland. Deliagin is described by Gazeta as “a party economist with some extravagant theories.”

Argumenty i Fakty says Rogozin’s problem at this stage is that “he is not supported by the regional authorities in some regions” – for instance, there are difficulties in Tatarstan, and more importantly, in the city of Moscow. And without support at the regional level, it’s impossible to create a nationwide political organization.

Rogozin even permits himself to attack United Russia, says Kommersant-Vlast. For example, look at his proposal to cut the number of Duma committees from 29 to 17, in line with the new structure of the Cabinet, which now has only 17 ministries. Kommersant-Vlast says: “Understandably, the United Russia majority – which had great difficulty in finding Duma leadership posts for all its many functionaries – was categorically opposed to this proposal.” For Rogozin, however, “the priority was to show voters that he wasn’t afraid of attacking United Russia. And he has not been punished in any way for doing so.”

Rogozin’s next move was even more painful for United Russia: in his speech to the People’s Party congress, he not only proposed a merger between the People’s Party and Motherland, but invited People’s Party members who are members of the United Russia faction in the Duma to switch to the Motherland faction.

If those People’s Party members had accepted this invitation, says Kommersant-Vlast, United Russia would have lost its major achievement in the fourth Duma – its constitutional majority. And the Motherland faction would have ended up almost as big as the Communist faction.

The People’s Party, with Gennadi Gudkov as its new leader, has decided not to join Rogozin immediately; but as Kommersant-Vlast notes, the People’s Party was initially created as one of the Kremlin’s center left party-building projects, and its leaders would certainly “reconsider their position if their former curators in the Kremlin request them to do so.”

Kommersant-Vlast has some ideas of its own about why the Kremlin might want to start a new party-building project, three-and-a-half years before the next elections. The first reason: United Russia does not have universal support, by any means – especially not in the regions.

As the results of the latest regional legislature elections have shown, the left-wing parties are still strong in the regions. Combined, those left-wing parties could get no less than 25% of the vote – and the Kremlin’s political strategists are making haste to take possession of these riches, before any outsiders can do so.

There is also another theory. According to Kommersant-Vlast, the formation of a two-party system might be a direct consequence of a kind of two-party structure within the Kremlin itself.

As Kommersant-Vlast points out, the Motherland bloc was developed by the Yeltsin’s Family faction in the Kremlin. The Family faction had been essentially pushed aside from running United Russia by the security and law enforcement faction. So Motherland was intended to boost the political weight of the Family, to give it some chance of influencing the decision regarding who will be chosen as Vladimir Putin’s successor in 2008.

What’s more, if social tension rises as a result of the impending reforms, United Russia could be made a scapegoat for that – so another Kremlin-backed party needs to be held in reserve.

Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s chief curator of political parties, has spoken of “the end of the CPRF.” All the same, Kommersant-Vlast says the CPRF is by no means out of the game as yet.

As mentioned above, the CPRF’s congress this July could see a complete change of leadership, with an emphasis on a more youthful face for the party. And then the CPRF could offer Rogozin’s party some fairly serious competition.

According to Kommersant-Vlast, Gennadi Semigin also has every chance of becoming a significant player in politics. And even though the Kremlin’s plans for the NPSR are not yet entirely clear, Kommersant-Vlast does not rule out that at some point, Rogozin and Semigin might start working in tandem: “For example, Rogozin could be the charismatic leader, while Semigin could be the party’s chief executive and finance manager.”

Lev Gudkov, head of the socio-political research department at the Levada Center polling agency, told Kommersant-Vlast that it’s somewhat difficult to have a serious discussion of the political prospects of Russia’s current parties: primarily because “they don’t represent anyone.” In that sense, Russia still lacks any true political parties.

Even the CPRF, says Gudkov, is no more than a “political organization” – its slogans are practically indistinguishable from those of all the other parties which have come to resemble each other so very closely since 1998. “All of them offer the same selection – they’re all in favor of the free market and social justice, rebuilding Russia’s international prestige, and fighting corruption. The differences are only in the details, and the details are only visible to specialists, not ordinary citizens.”

What’s more, as the Novye Izvestia newspaper points out, party-building itself has become a rather profitable business activity.

Novye Izvestia reports that the InDem Foundation, headed by Georgy Satarov, has identified no fewer than 60 sub-species of political parties in Russia: including environmental, orange, libertarian, and social-patriot.

But Novye Izvestia proposes classifying all existing parties into three major groups.

The first are the “pocket parties” – used by individuals for self-promotion purposes. For example, Iosif Kobzon, singer and businessman, has his own party: the Russian Party of Peace. So does entrepreneur Anzori Aksentiev: the Pan-Russian Socialist Party.

The second group includes parties which are designed by political consultants. Most parties now fall into this category. Some are created by command from above: like the Party of Life, led by Sergei Mironov, or the People’s Party, led by Gennadi Gudkov. Others are formed from below, “in the hope of ending up in good hands before the next elections” – for example, the People’s Will party led by Sergei Baburin.

Finally, there are the commercial parties. In their case, says Novye Izvestia, even the taxation authorities can’t figure out “what proportion of donations to a party goes into party work, and what proportion goes directly into the pockets of the party boss.”

When Vladimir Putin came to power and the law on political parties was passed, a “radical purge of ‘weed parties’ from Russian politics” was launched. The number of such parties was reduced, and region-specific parties became unfeasible by definition – a party can only exist on a federal scale.

All the same, says Novye Izvestia, there is still a demand for minor parties: “For example, the federal giants might have an urgent need for regional branches. That’s where the dwarves will prove useful.”

According to Maxim Dianov, director of the Regional Issues Institute, the small parties represent “a valuable resource for publicity and political strategy.” For example, the Motherland faction in the Duma includes the three main parties that formed the Motherland bloc, but it also has several minor political structures. Another classic example is the NPSR, with almost 200 member organizations.

According to observers, party-building is becoming a profitable form of business these days, thanks to some new legislation.

Dianov explained this to Novye Izvestia: “Parties are not bought outright. What happens is that a regional party might agree to be called a regional branch of a larger party, in exchange for certain terms. Most of Russia’s parties have such branches. But at the very least, they have to pay for office space, and salaries for the leader, the secretary, and some technical staff.”

The prices for such services vary, but they’re generally not all that high. According to Dianov, a party can be created “from scratch” for $100,000 if a good organizer is in charge. Dianov says: “This sum of money would suffice to get a party registered, so it can continue to exist – at least until the first time it’s inspected by the Justice Ministry, when some irregularities might be found.”

Or they might not be found – everything depends on whether a new party structure is in demand.

Thus, demand creates supply. A party’s name and political orientation don’t really matter. In a country with a tradition of the substantial part of politics taking place “behind the scenes,” all voters can do at elections is approve “one faction of the nomenklatura or another, all calling themselves parties” – in the words of Lev Gudkov. And membership of the nomenklatura has always been valued in Russia, and there have always been plenty of candidates willing to compete for it.

In fact, some observers believe the Kremlin’s latest party-building project might even have some positive aspects. Rodnaya Gazeta quotes Mark Urnov as saying that over the next few years, the objective goal of left-wing and patriotic organizations should be “to civilize the sense of desperation building up among the people.”

Under the circumstances, with “premonitions of painful but necessary reforms ahead,” there are two possible paths, says Urnov. The left-wing parties could “appeal to the darker, nationalist aspects of the collective consciousness – and then they would be cursed by Russian history. Or they could work on finding a civilized way of relieving social and political tension.” It all depends on where the voters can be steered. From this viewpoint, the formation of a “new left opposition” is indeed a good thing. And naturally, the regime can’t allow the solution to such an important problem to look after itself.

Gennadi Semigin, Dmitri Rogozin, and (of course) Gennadi Zyuganov seem to agree with the regime entirely on that point.