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Trud, March 5, 2003

Who Is Marching Left?

By Vladimir Ignatov

An interview with political analyst Anatoly Golov, YABLOKO party

Which of Russia's political forces can actually be described as "really left wing"? We asked Anatoly Golov, St. Petersburg political analyst and organisational committee member of the Civic Forum of Voters, for his views.

Question: Why are there differences in the political terminology used in Russia and Europe?

Golov: All the European democracies made their way to a balanced political model from "wild capitalism". We are moving towards this model from the side of barrack socialism. That is why our concepts of "left wing" and "right wing" differ from those used worldwide. In Europe, for example, a political "pendulum" has developed: social attitudes swing back and forth. The size of that swing is fairly insignificant - sometimes only 2-3% of the vote. The left, as represented by the social democrat forces, want society to pay more attention to social policy and do more to help the weak. Forces on the right advocate a reduction in the burden on the strong and enterprising: consequently they can make more money and society can develop. As a result, European left-wing forces win elections under slogans of social security; they increase taxes for the strong and social welfare for the weak. However, tax pressure acts as a brake on the economy, and living standards drop slightly. The right-wing comes to power on this wave; they cut taxes and social spending, and the economy becomes more efficient. Then, however, social tension rises, and the social "pendulum" starts to swing to the left again...

Question: And why has "left" as a political term been usurped by the Communists in Russia? Don't any other political forces uphold the rights of pensioners and state sector workers? For instance, we also have social democrats...

Golov: Let's start with the fact that by international standards, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) isn't left wing at all. Actually, in Western terminology our Communists would be called "conservatives". One way or another, they stand for preserving the old ways and seeking to retain things that no longer exist. The CPRF is like a Russian version of the British Tory party, but far less productive. CPRF leaders say: "We want to bring back the past." But they never explain how this can be achieved without restoring state planning, making everyone equally poor and introducing an authoritarian regime. These types of good intentions pave the road to hell.

Question: If the Communists aren't left wing, then where is the left wing in Russia?

Golov: In my view, if we take the European-style social democrat parties in the Duma today, Yabloko is almost left wing in the same way as Tony Blair's Labour Party. Oddly enough, Yabloko is considered right wing here. With impending elections, you can see a lot of party building on the left. A "new left" has appeared in Russia v real left-wing social democrats according to the international definition. These include the united social democrats led by Mikhail Gorbachev, and Russia's Renaissance party led by Gennady Seleznev, and the Party of Life led by Sergei Mironov.

Question: Do you think that these "new left" parties can win some votes from the Communists at the next elections?

Golov: In my view, they can't win many votes for the time being. Most Russian voters are not sensitive to half-tones or nuances. They could be described as politically colour-blind, with a poor perception of colours. They don't see much difference between Zyuganov and Seleznev. However, Russians usually vote for leaders rather than political programmes. They listen to the leaders, and say things like: "I believe" or "I don't believe". Russian parties are groups of "comrades in faith". Many Communists - especially old-style Communists, of course - trust Zyuganov out of inertia.

Electoral laws are such that political parties don't usually fight for "their electorate" or "other voters". They don't need to convince "their electorate" - they need above all to get them to turn up and vote. And winning over "other voters" is expensive in terms of money and time. The real battle, once again, will be for "the swamp": undecided voters. That is why it will be hard for the "new left" to expect to make inroads into the Communist electorate. Everything is clear about CPRF voters: 20-25% will duly turn out and vote according to the lists for Zyuganov's party. But Seleznev may try to win over the Communist electorate, not because they agree with his ideology, but as a form of protest vote. However, already too many parties are competing for this electorate....

I think Gorbachev is about 15 years too late. When he was President, he had a chance to create a ruling social-democrat party based on rational Communists, separating them from the stubbornly orthodox Communist Party members. We might have managed to retain the Soviet Union and have developed along the lines of China. However, there was a lack of foresight and decisiveness at the time; and today there is no longer the same grounds for such an idea...

Question: What kind of concrete tasks should a normal left-wing party set itself to be in demand and fight for real improvements in the lives of its socially unprotected voters?

Golov: In my opinion Russia's key social problem today is obvious: decent wages for workers. Children and the elderly are unprotected primarily because working men don't earn enough to support their children and parents. Economic growth, job creation, ensuring a decent wage - these are the practical priorities for the Russian left.

Question: Which Russian left-wing parties have these goals and the appropriate mechanisms to implement them in their programmes?

Golov: That is the problem - at present, there is no political force offering realistic mechanisms for creating social prosperity; everything happens at the level of slogans. As a result cautious voters will vote for "a bird in the hand" - the pro-government party, which at least promises stability: "perhaps things won't improve, but they definitely won't get any worse".


See also:

State Duma elections 2003

Trud, March 5, 2003

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