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The Communist Party in Russia Essay

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Updated: Apr 16th, 2019


This research paper considers the development of the Communist Party of Russia (CPRF) over the last two decades. It begins by providing a historical context surrounding the formation of the party in 1993. The paper notes how the CPRF emerged as the successor to the Communist Part of the Soviet Union. A review of the first years of the party and its success at the electoral system is given.

The paper traces the party support over the years and notes that the party made some ideological changes in order to adapt to the new political system. The paper notes that the economy has played a significant role in Communist politics with Communist candidates exploiting the poor economic state of the country to make electoral gains. However, this tact will be unsustainable as Russia’s economy grows.

It reveals that in spite of the party’s poor performance in the previous elections, it is still the most organized party in Russia and the most vocal opposition party. The paper concludes by stating that the Communist party will continue to be a key player in Russian politics at least for the next decade.


  • Introduction

The Communist Party which ruled Russia for much of the 20th century experienced a collapse in the late 1980s following the end of the Cold war. However, the party has been demonstrating growth since the 1990s due to its ability to adapt itself therefore remaining relevant in the Russian political scene.

  • Brief Historical Overview

The collapse of the Soviet Union initiated the decline of the Communist party with the decline reaching an ultimate following the outlawing of the party by Boris Yeltsin.

  • Reemergence of the Communist Party

A number of factors are to be credited with the re-emergence of the communist Party in post-Soviet Russia. The factors are: the suffering of Russians in the early post-Soviet era, the forging of alliances among various communist contendors, and the inherited institutional legacy from the Soviet era Communist Party.

  • Party Support

The CPRF has exhibited support from different quotas in its 2 decade existence. The older generation made up the support base in the parties early years. Citizens with nationalistic sentiments also support the party. Currently, support for the party is based upon ideological values by the members.

  • Ideology

The post Soviet-Era communist party evolved from a Marxism-Leninism ideology to a West European form of social democracy. The party styles itself as a party of patriots dedicated to defending Russian statehood.

  • Future of the Communist Party

The CPRF has experienced a decrease in influence, a situation accentuated by the sizable losses in votes and parliamentary seats in the 2003 elections. However, the party is still the second-largest electoral party. The good organization of the Communit party is its strong point and it continues to be the main challenger to government policies.

  • Discussion and Conclusion

The importance of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has changed over the years and it has lost many voters over. However, it will remain to be a significant participant in Russian politics.


The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of Communist rule in much of Eastern Europe was arguably the most significant political event of the late 20th century. This event led to Russia being transformed from a communist one-party state into a multiparty democracy.

The once dominant Communist Party of Russia suffered a massive dismemberment and went on to be banned from participation in post-Soviet political life (Flikke 275). While most people would have expected this to be the end the Communist Party, it experienced some revival during the 1990s.

The party was able to return to politics thanks to the efforts of dedicated professionals who created a nationalist version of the party. The party has been able to adapt itself to a changed political environment and make a strong showing in the State Duma elections over the decades. This paper will set out to offer a detailed review of the Communist Party in Russia.

Brief Historical Overview

The powerful Communist Party of the Soviet Union began its decline following the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as the first secretary of the party. He was charged with the task of reforming the party and the reform programs he proposed led to a division of the party. While some members demanded for greater reforms, others resisted these changes, which were perceived to weaken the party.

The final blow occurred in March 1990 when the constitutional Act that guaranteed the party’s political monopoly was repealed. Hard-line party leaders and some military officials tried to launch a coup in August hoping to stop this transformation process.

This August Coup failed and in the backlash against the plotters, the Russian President Boris Yeltsin outlawed the party and confiscated its property (Borrero 119). The post-Soviet Russia therefore emerged as a country free of the Communist Party.

Reemergence of the Communist Party

The communist Party reemerged from its illegal status in post-Soviet Russia as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). Under the leadership of Gennadi Zyuganov, this party styled itself as a reformed party that would end the suffering that ordinary Russians were experiencing in the post-Soviet period. Zyuganov’s party declared itself the successor to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

However, this was not the only party to issue such a declaration and Pasynkova documents that a number of communist parties emerged and declared themselves as successors of the CPSU (240). Zyuganov was concerned about this disunity and his party welcomed membership from the multiple successor communist parties in Russia.

Unity among the various communist contenders in these early stages was critical to the success of the CPRF. Zyuganov therefore introduced the dual chairmanship model of political organization that softened internal tensions among the communist contenders and preserved a unity that was based on the rejection of a common enemy (Flikke 278).

The party adopted an “us” against “them” political rhetoric with the party presenting itself as patriots and defenders of a sovereign Russia while the government was presented as enemies of the Russian Empire.

The CPRF quickly took on the role of the opposition and even went on to dub itself the “Russian resistance”. Many people who were opposed to the new government aligned themselves with this opposition force therefore strengthening the power of the party.

The party inherited an institutional legacy following the collapse of the ruling communist party and it was able to consider itself a “successor party”. Pasynkova notes that these new communist party inherited much of the leadership and membership resources of the former ruling party (238).

The public was therefore able to recognize CPRF as the legitimate heir of the communist party. Even so, this new Communist party took great care to avoid being directly associated with the old Communist of the Soviet era since the old party had been blamed for the hardships suffered by many Russians.

In 1994, the government attempted to woo the CPRF leadership to work together with it. These attempts were met with opposition by the CPRF, which protested against the government’s attempt to swaddle it.

In its first participation in the multiparty system, the CPRF gained 12 % of the votes and 45 seats in the State Duma (lower house of the Federal Assembly). This modest victory showed that the communist party still had a following in Russia.

The electoral success of the CPRF in the 1993 Duma Election reinforced its position as the favored successor of the CPSU. The 1995 elections remain to be the most successful for the Communist party. These parliamentary elections held in December 1995 saw the CPRF gain 157 seats in the State Duma and garner 22% of the votes.

Since the Communist party controlled over a third of the seats in the Duma, it was able to influence the president in 1996 to change his pro-Western foreign policy to a Pragmatic Neo-Eurasianist one (Szaszdi 12).

Party Support

In its early years, the party membership overwhelmingly consisted of the older generation. Tsipko states that the pensioners in Russia had suffered the most damage from the new system which had seen them lose the social guarantees that the former social system had assured them of (85).

This segment of the public wanted a return of a communist form of government that would return social guarantees and security to the country. The economically disadvantaged members of the society also voted for the communist party which was critical of the new economic order proposed by the government.

Backes and Moreau illustrate that in this period, the standard of living and especially the amount of income correlated with voting for CPRF (457).

The party is also favored by the segment of the population that wises to see the country restored to its place as a world power. The CPRF holds strong anti-Western sentiments and it views the US as a major adversary of the country. The anti-Western stance taken by the Communist party can be seen by the statement of the party’s Leader Zyuganov who claimed, “The US harbors the aim of weakening and dominating Russia” (Szaszdi 12).

Support for the Communist Party in Russia today is not an outcome of social alienation. Instead, most of the support is based upon ideological values of the members who believe that the socialism Nation envisioned by the party is the best for the country. The communist party’s base is made up of engineers, technicians, clerical works and teachers.

Backes and Moreau note that 33% of the people in this group are the older population aged 60 and above while the remaining portion is 45 years and older (459). Following the steady decline of the party’s membership, the CPRF has changed its approach and is not targeting younger voters.

Backes and Moreau note that CPRF’s efforts at recruiting young voters have been unsuccessful since this group prefers the radical leftist organizations such as the Avant-Garde and the National Bolshevik Party (459). Nevertheless, the CPRF has managed to strengthen its position in recent years with its increased nationalist positions.


Pasynkova asserts that the success of the Communist party in the post-communist era of Russia can be attributed to the transformations that the party has made in its organizational and ideological principles (237).

While still ascribing to the Marxism-Leninism ideology, the party has evolved significantly from the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The party has adopted a West European form of social democracy which supports private equity while at the same time promoting socialism in the country.

The party has been able to mold itself a popular identity as a party of patriots who are dedicated to defending Russian statehood through opposition to the president and the traitorous government (Flikke 274).

True to its ideals, the Communist Party has managed to resist government control and it is the most independent party in a Russia where the president has greater political power than the legislative branches.

Flikke notes that even with the less than a 200,000, the CPRF is the only party in Russia worth of the title “mass party” (274). The CPRF endeavored to perpetuate most of the communist values that the Russians had grown accustomed to.

The party makes use of the ideological propaganda and popular mobilization to gather up its support base especially in times of election. The party also encourages individual dedication to its cause the individual members are the major means through which party values and ideals are spread to the general population.

The CPRF has set itself apart as an anti-reformist and anti-system party calling for a new constitution and a change to the existing political regime. Pasynkova points to the contradictory messages of the party, which declares that it accepts the democratic values and the constitutional rule of law in Russia (242).

However, the CPRF exhibits some major differences from the old communist party of Russia. The party strongly rejects “careerism” which was a core component of old communism. Careerism led to members blindly following the party rule in the hope of moving up the party hierarchy because of their dedication and apparatchik mentality (Flikke 278).

The Communist Party of Russia falls under the programme type of party. A programme party is one which “prefers candidates defending their ideological principles resulting in the highest degree of ideological coherence of their members” (Pasynkova 241).

The CPRF has ideological unity and strong devotion of its members. As a communist party, the CPRF is ideologically opposed to democracy as advanced by the capitalistic West. However, the party has not maintained a rigid ideological stand and it has been able to adapt itself to the new political system.

The party has therefore resisted some democratic reforms while at the same time adapting them successfully in order to act as a democratic party in the post-communist Russian political environment.

Future of the Communist Party

The CPRF’s influence has steadily decreased under Putin’s rule. However, the party has managed to remain in action unlike the small Communist party, which have been completely marginalized due to institutional changes such as the abolishment of the governor elections and the increasing role of the United Russia party (Backes and Moreau 458).

The decline in support for the communist party was made evident in the 2003 parliamentary elections where the party performed dismally. Many observers saw this poor performance as a beginning of the long awaited decline of the party.

Clark documents that in this election, the party suffered sizable losses in votes and parliamentary seats by the party obtaining 51 seats; a figure that was 62 seats lower than the previous elections in 1999 (15).

Amazingly, the party was still able to maintain its status as the country’s second-largest electoral party. Even so, questions began to be raised concerning the future of the party which had been facing declining support over the years.

In its early years, the CPRF heavily criticized the government’s economic program and the communist vote depended very heavily on the state of the economy. Russia’s economic growth and development over the last decade have therefore decreased support for the communist party.

The party chairman Zyuganov promoted the idea that the market based economy was faulty and that it should be abandoned by Russia and a move towards communism encouraged. Since 1999, the Russian economy has performed better and voter support for the CPRF has receded significantly during this period.

Clark asserts that if the claim that improvements in the performance of the economy threaten the electoral position enjoyed by the CPRF is true, then the party should consider a different approach to ensure future voter support (24). If the party fails to do this, it might loss its prominence and become an insignificant player in Russia’s political arena.

In spite of all these bleak prospects for the party, it is still one of the best organized in the Russian political sphere.

Johari points out that while Russia is a multi-party system with a dozen parties taking part in the presidential and parliamentary elections, most parties are known by the name of their supreme leaders underscoring the fact that they are not formed on the basis of some clear-out programme but on the personality of a leader (411).

Ethridge and Howard proceed to articulate that the problem with Russia is that it lacks a competitive party system because of the many parties in place which make it difficult for any party to achieve a workable majority in the national Parliament (385).

The Communist Party of Russia is the only party with an ideology of its own. The more than 20 parties and blocks operating in Russia are disorganized and indiscipline. Fluid parties and electoral coalitions characterize the Russian political scene.

Johari asserts that parties and blocs frequently splinter, join with others, and rename themselves which makes it hard for the public to hold politicians the parties accountable or even know whom to vote for or against (411). The communist party is also the only party that challenges the government on its policies.

Ethridge and Howard note that since the last election in 2007, the only opposition to the president has come from the Communist Party (385). This party is in fact the only one that speaks out against the government’s authoritarian behavior.

The party has made significant gains since 2003; acquiring 57 and 92 seats in the 2007 and 2011 parliamentary elections respectively. More significantly, the party’s support in all electoral districts has exhibited a steady increase.

The Russian democratic system is not yet mature and the major parties will play a significant role in the country’s future. Oversloot and Verheul assert that at the moment, Russia is not yet a true multi-party system and major parties are needed to overhaul the system.

The communist party will therefore play a significant role in Russian electoral politics as one of the more mature and well-organized parties in the country.

Discussion and Conclusion

While the days when the communist Party of Russia was the state are gone, the party still has a major influence as the leading opposition party in Russia. The CPRF was able to keep the identity of the old soviet era party in order to maintain the support inherited from the CPSU and later on change its identity in order to acquire members from a wider spectrum of the Russian population.

The party has managed to shape the political environment in Russia and it is today the most significant opposition force. Owing to the significant electoral success achieved by the CPRF in the post-Soviet period, the party was able to prove its status as a formidable force in Russian politics that had been able to properly adapt to the new political realities.

Even in the face of failure in the 2003 parliamentary elections, the CPRF still remained one of the leading political parties in Russia. The Communist Party has managed to garner wider appeal across regional and socioeconomic boundaries. This is a significant achievement in a Russia where strong parties are non-existent as the party is centered on a single individual and in many cases, has regional limitations.

The paper set out to provide a detailed discussion of the extraordinary revival of the Communist Party in post-Soviet Russia. It has highlighted the revival of the Communist Party following its banishment in 1991. The paper has documented how the party used the tools of state patriotism and broad opposition to gain popularity against the Yeltsin regime.

It has then discussed the political fortunes of the party in the last decade in order to highlight the weakening of the party as it has lost voters. While the possibility of the Communist Party taking power in Russia is currently doubtful, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation will continue to be a significant participant in the Russian political arena.

Works Cited

Backes, Uwe, and P. Moreau. Communist and Post-Communist Parties in Europe. Moscow: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008. Print.

Borrero, Mauricio. Russia. New Jersy: Infobase Publishing, 2009. Print.

Clark, William. “Communist Devolution: The Electoral Decline of the KPRF. The predominance of nationalistic sentiments has resulted in a shift in the party’s ideological stand. Problems of Post-Communism. 53.1 (2006): 15–25. Web.

Ethridge, Marcus, and H. Howard. Politics in a Changing World: A Comparative Introduction to Political Science. NY: Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.

Flikke, Geir. “Patriotic Left-Centrism: The zigzags of the Communist party of the Russian Federation.” Europe-Asia Studies. 51.2 (1999): 275-298. Web.

Johari, Carl. New Comparative Government. Venice: Lotus Press, 2006. Print.

Pasynkova, Veronika. “The Communist Party in Contemporary Russia: Problems of Transformation.” Perspectives on European Politics and Society. 6.2 (2005): 237-247. Web.

Oversloot, Hans and Verheul Ruben. “Managing Democracy: Political Parties and the State in Russia.” Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics. 22.3 (2006): 383–405. Web.

Szaszdi, Lajos. Russian Civil-Military Relations And The Origins Of The Second Chechen War. NY: University Press of America, 2008.

Tsipko, Alexander. “Why Gennady Zyuganov ‘s Communist Party Finished First.” Demokratizatsiya. 4.2 (1996): 185-200. Print.

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