In Russia, Communists Are Standing Up Against Putin’s Fraud

In Russia’s general election, the Communist Party surged to a strong second place. But the party’s rise has also made it a target for Vladimir Putin’s government — including through Putin's massive interference in the electoral process.

Supporters of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) protest the Central Election Commission's decision to remove KPRF candidate Pavel Nikolayevich Grudinin from the federal list of election candidates. (Anton Novoderezhkin / TASS via Getty Images)

Interview by
Denis Rogatyuk

At first glance, Russia’s political landscape remains unchanged after the general election. The contest brought an easy victory for the pro–Vladimir Putin coalition, buoyed by the president’s continued bases of support as well as state harassment and repression against his most visible opponents.

Official results released on September 24 showed that Putin’s brand of nationalism, conservatism, and statism remains hegemonic. While the flagship pro-Putin party United Russia fell slightly below 50 percent support, losing nineteen legislators in the Duma (parliament), it still took 324 out of 450 seats. The main advance was for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), which took 19 percent of the total vote — its strongest score since 2011 — and elected fifty-seven deputies (up fifteen). Among other parties, the social-democratic “A Just Russia” took 7.5 percent, the centrist “New People” 5 percent, and the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia its worst showing in recent history, with 7.5 percent backing.

With this result, United Russia retained its Duma “supermajority” — a two-thirds parliamentary majority enforcing the dominance of Putin’s government and allowing it to make further constitutional changes. However, United Russia’s partial setbacks, the peculiarities of the new electoral system, and the legal and political persecution against a strengthened Communist KPRF, all point to a changing political landscape.

Jacobin’s Denis Rogatyuk sat down together with Yaroslav Listov and Vladimir Kharchenko to discuss the KPRF’s electoral advance, the challenges it has faced, and whether there is a “red dawn” on the horizon.

Denis Rogatyuk

Could you tell us about the KPRF’s election campaign — what policies did you focus on?

Yaroslav Listov

We focused primarily on two sets of policies, with both our “Ten steps toward people’s power” program and a further set of policies focused on the immediate conditions facing the country.

Our primary vision is that Russia’s future should be a socialist one. Here we acknowledge the achievements but also the mistakes of the USSR, as well as the socialist experiments around the world. We have wide support for this within Russian society.

Our second slogan was a demand for state control of prices and state-led economic development. We believe it is the state’s responsibility to develop the infrastructure, medicine, and education necessary to build up human capital.

Our third proposed policy was the cancellation of [the Putin government’s] pension reform, which has effectively robbed five years from the current young generation. Among other policies for the youth, we also proposed the cancellation of standardized university entrance exams and distance learning.

Faced with the economic fallout from COVID-19, we proposed a whole series of measures to assist the working population. The Russian state provided economic relief and financial assistance only to the large banks and huge corporations. But we above all need to support ordinary citizens, who have suffered the most: they’ve lost 15-20 percent of their income even as the oligarch class of a few hundred individuals has increased their wealth by 17 trillion rubles ($237 billion).

Denis Rogatyuk

In the weeks leading up to the election, we saw a lot of pressure against the Communist Party from state authorities. This was particularly evident with the disqualification of the Duma candidacy of Pavel Nikolayevich Grudinin. What were the main reasons for this? Are the current authorities threatened by him — and the KPRF in general?

Yaroslav Listov

The pressure has been building since the 2018 presidential election, when Pavel Nikolayevich had solid results and emerged as a popular new left-wing leader. He’s not simply someone who stands by his communist principles, but he’s also demonstrated that even under capitalist conditions, it is possible to use socialist methods to improve workers’ lives.

This has been illustrated with the “Lenin Sovkhoz” [agricultural collective] that Pavel Nikolayevich currently directs here in the Moscow region, where life has been shown to be drastically better compared to other towns and cities. The state authorities feel threatened by this example.

So, we expected pressure, but not these kinds of measures. Pavel Nikolayevich was disqualified under the electoral law that prohibits political candidates from holding shares or bank accounts in foreign entities. This law was proposed and implemented by United Russia. But while it has been used against the opposition, we are also aware of several of its own MPs having holdings in foreign companies. The accusations against Pavel Nikolayevich are dubious, and we have presented legal evidence that he does not possess any offshore accounts or shares in any tax havens, including Belize [as claimed].

Denis Rogatyuk

How would you evaluate the KPRF’s election results?

Vladimir Kharchenko

We saw that the citizens of Russia familiarized themselves quite well with our program and showed their support for it. There isn’t a single region where support for the KPRF didn’t grow. We also saw the authorities made various attempts to change the results in their favor. We stood up in defense of the votes we’d received from citizens, leading to an increased tally that, according to our estimates, topped 25 percent across the country. However, the authorities assigned us just under 19 percent.

It seems impossible that the vote for United Russia continued rising throughout the count, while those of all opposition parties fell. All the opinion polls prior to the election demonstrated 22-25 percent support for the KPRF, while United Russia rarely scored much above 30 percent. So, its final [official score] of nearly 50 percent seems inconceivable. It’s also important to note that there are four major regions of Russia where KPRF defeated United Russia despite the pressure against us — the Khabarovsk, Altai, Mari El, and Nenets regions.

We should understand that within the specifics of the Russian electoral system [divided equally between proportional and first-past-the-post seats] it is very difficult to win in the single-constituency seats. However, showed our ability to do so. We won in nine constituencies and would have won seven more in the Moscow region if it wasn’t for the electronic voting [overturning the results from paper ballots].

Denis Rogatyuk

Among the new MPs who’ve been elected, do you see any promising youth leaders who could lead the party in the future?

Yaroslav Listov

Among those reelected is Yuri Afonin, who led the Leninist Komsomol [Communist youth wing] for more than ten years, then went to work for the party and is now the first deputy leader of the KPRF central committee. Also among the newly elected youth leaders is the first secretary of the Komsomol, Vladimir Isakov, who won the election in Tula, as well as the coordinator of our Pioneer organization, Maria Drobot.

In Tatarstan various youth leaders also won, among them Artyem Prokofiev and, in Moscow, Denis Parfyonov. A whole bunch of regional secretaries of the Komsomol were elected in regional parliaments, since the regional elections ran concurrent to the federal ones. Altogether, forty new youth deputies were elected in the various regional parliaments, among them Maria Krusakova and Oleg Mikhailov. The youth has been very well represented in these elections.

Denis Rogatyuk

What do you think about the allegations of massive fraud in these elections?

Yaroslav Listov

Well, the KPRF did not recognize the final results in a number of regions, including Moscow, due to the incidents involving electronic voting. We do not agree with the lack of transparency and the inability to properly audit this new system. Another case involves the Rostov region, with a large population of the former residents of Donbass. Our support in this region, as well as in the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, is a lot higher than what was shown by the Electoral Committee, as for years we have supported the citizens and refugees of the Donbass regions with humanitarian aid.

In many other regions, we saw a truly disgusting sight. Using the pretext of the pandemic, they announced a three-day-long electoral process. We know of incidents in Moscow where individuals were forced to vote electronically, under their employers’ supervision. In other regions, like St Petersburg, we witnessed an anomalously high level of votes from citizens with disabilities voting electronically for United Russia. We saw a lot of ballots being thrown out. Our legal teams are continuing the battle for recounts and new elections in the regions where they witnessed and have evidence of fraud.

Denis Rogatyuk

In this new political situation, what are the KPRF’s plans, both in terms of defending working people’s rights, and building its own hegemony?

Yaroslav Listov

We shall continue with our program and our agenda to abolish the neoliberal pension reform, and to abolish the repressive laws against mass demonstrations. In recent years, the Communist Party has been the only political organization holding mass rallies on a regular basis, despite the authorities’ attempts to pressure us.

Among other initiatives that we want to pursue are the support for young workers through the “my first workplace” program, a reform of the social housing law in support of young families, and a new state-led health care initiative for children. We often joke that MPs’ salaries should be collected through crowdfunding, and the medical operations for children should be paid out of the state budget, and not the other way around.

We also oppose the idea of holding Russia’s financial and gold reserves in the United States, and believe we should follow China in using these reserves for investment in mass infrastructure projects that would provide jobs and income. We believe in the revival of the Soviet Union on the conditions of parity and equality among nations. We are the only party which has maintained contacts and connections with all existing communist and left-wing organizations of the former USSR, despite the repression they face in countries like Ukraine and the Baltic states. In comparison, United Russia finds itself without allies.

Furthermore, we have formed major parliamentary factions in twelve regional parliaments, deprived United Russia of an absolute majority, and are defending working people’s interests. In the upcoming 2022 municipal and regional elections, we hope to strengthen our success, and then develop it in preparation for the presidential elections in 2024.

Denis Rogatyuk

What is your opinion of Alexei Navalny, and how would you evaluate his influence on Russia’s political scene?

Yaroslav Listov

We do not agree with the political position that he takes and the ideology that he shares. It is not an ideology of and for working people; it is, in many ways, ultraliberal and Western-oriented, and we do not cooperate with him politically.

But we do support his campaign for the fight against corruption. Indeed, Navalny utilized the initiative that we started regarding the adoption of Article 20 of the international declaration of the fight against corruption, which Russia ratified. We’ve also taken a part in the coalition “in defense of the elections,” which includes many candidates belonging to various political organizations.

We must understand the politics of Alexei Navalny were formed from what Russians call the “towers of Kremlin” — the fundamental pillars of political power. Not only has he previously worked extensively for the state authorities, but his actions have played right into their hands, as when Navalny calls unauthorized protests, the state begins to tighten the screws around the cities.

We recognize that the court case against Navalny is political, and we stand against any political repression. We stood against the repression during the 2011 mass protests, and actively stand against it now, too. What we believe in, above all else, is that freedom and rights should be afforded to all, without exception. The law cannot be used as a tool in political battles.