A Split in the Family

Russia’s consolidation into a two party system took a small step this weekend when the Communist Youth League (Союз коммунистической молодежи, СКМ) voted 98-1 to support Just Russia at its 6th Congress. Constantine Zhukov, SKM’s leader, told Congress delegates that the decision was because the Communist Party was “in stagnation.” “The Party has degenerated, there is no genuine Communist Party in the county that we can orientate ourselves toward.” Just Russia, Zhukov explained, “doesn’t practice demagoguery, but real politics. In the upcoming elections we will work with Just Russia.”

SKM’s moved quickly gained the support of Just Russia and its youth wing, “Ura!“. “I’m glad that Zhukov had enough courage and wisdom to understand the political situation. Unfortunately, there is nothing except for empty rhetoric and political speculation remaining in the KPRF. It’s an organization which forgot about the interests of the people,” Ura! leader Sergei Shargunov said in his speech at the Congress.

SKM’s announcement to support Just Russia is yet another chapter in the drama of infighting and splits of the Russian communist youth movement. The SKM, which hails itself as the successor to the Soviet era Komsomol, became the youth wing of the Russian Communist Party in 1999. But splits within the youth wing and then between it and the Party quickly erupted. The KRPF moved against Zhukov, replacing him with Iuri Afonin in October 2003. A month later, the All-Russian Leninist Communist Youth League (VLKSM) was formed, formerly splitting it from the KPRF, with Zhukov at its head. The new communist youth group changed its name to SKM shortly thereafter and pledged its allegiance to the All-Russian Communist Party of the Future, which was liquidated in 2005. As of now there are at least three organizations claiming to be the true successor to the Soviet Komsomol. The Communist Youth League, SKM, the Communist Youth League of the Russian Federation, SKM RF, and a small splinter group called the Revolutionary Communist Youth League (Bolshevik), RKSM(b). The only ones that matter in communist political circles are the dueling SKM and SKM RF. The former claims a membership of 10,000, while the latter posts a number of 26,000. It’s enough to make your head spin.

Iuri Afonin, who leads the SKM RF and still supports the KPRF, saw the move as illegitimate and that it would have no real political impact. He told Kommersant that “nothing was lost” with the SKM’s defection. “This congress is illegitimate because the regional leaders of the organization weren’t present . . . All the regions work with us and all headquarters are registered as members of the KPRF.” The Moscow Times quoted Afonin calling the whole move a “farce” and suggested that Just Russia simply bought off Zhukov for “30 pieces of silver.”

Claims that the KPRF are out of touch with young Russians are understatements. Its constituency remains mostly among pensioners, which it rallies support with nostalgia for a Soviet past that could never be reclaimed. Judging from the organization’s rhetoric, it appears unwilling to accept that a new generation of post-Soviet youth has now been born, who have little knowledge of or interest in the past outside of vague feelings of national pride. Unfortunately, for the Communists this pride appears impossible to transform into real political capital.

The generational divide isn’t just between the Communists and potential new supporters, but as the statements from sympathetic communist youth attest, the generation gap is internal. But it seems that the reality is slowly setting in on some level. Gennady Zuganov recently announced that the KPRF will use the images of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Alexandr Lukashenko as its main propaganda symbols during the upcoming election. The move is certainly a scheme to attract left wing youth who hold up these four as symbols of a global leftism and defiance to U.S. hegemony. The KPRF thinks that it can conquer cool. Good luck.