#12 - JRL 7026
January 21, 2003
Better Well-Fed Than Red
By Boris Kagarlitsky
The Communist Party's brand name is one of the most valuable assets on the Russian political market. Just about anything or anyone can be concealed in the folds of the Communist Party's banner, from the State Duma Perk Lovers Society to the Tsarist Fan Club.
Come what may, for the next decade or two, people in this country will vote for the party recognized as the official successor to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. And it doesn't matter whether the party's policies are in keeping with the name or not. In fact, the more you can get away with, the more valuable the KPRF brand is. People may not be willing to vote for the same policy packaged under another name.
For the past decade, Gennady Zyuganov and his team have done a good job of pretending to be in opposition. All the while, radical communist groups that enjoyed considerable popularity in the early 1990s were squeezed out and the development of a "new left" movement was successfully blocked.
However, times have changed. President Vladimir Putin has a penchant for straightforward administrative methods and the KPRF doesn't fit very easily into the new scheme of things. So now the Kremlin has had a bright idea: If in 1993, Zyuganov's team was able to privatize the KPRF brand, why not re-privatize the party -- but this time give it to another group?
In fact, the idea of privatizing the KPRF belongs to Boris Berezovsky. Not only did he publicly discuss his plans on the pages of Nezavisimaya Gazeta and in an interview with Zavtra editor Alexander Prokhanov -- he is also known to have met with Zyuganov's chief financier, Viktor Vidmanov, who rushed to London to hammer out the details of a deal with the exiled magnate. However, then other oligarchs got wise to the value of the "red brand" and a pool of oligarchs, organized by the Kremlin administration and close to "the family," put together a consortium to privatize the KPRF.
However, bearing in mind that political parties are not bought and sold at open auction, a complicated scheme had to be worked out, the lynchpin in which was supposed to be Deputy Duma Speaker Gennady Semigin from the KPRF -- who is close to chief the party's apparatchik Valentin Kuptsov.
Semigin is a low-profile figure, but a key player in any behind-the-scenes intrigue. This "patriotic" businessman provides the funds to support approximately 500 KPRF and National Patriotic Union functionaries at national and regional levels.
Until recently, people didn't take much interest in where Semigin's money came from. His position in the party was unassailable until Zyuganov and his coterie uncovered the plot to re-privatize the party and unseat Zyuganov as leader.
Earlier this month, Zyuganov's allies brought the struggle out into the open, revealing details of the behind-the-scenes goings-on. Prokhanov and Sovetskaya Rossiya editor Valentin Chikin published a joint article entitled "Operation Mole" in both their newspapers exposing Semigin's plans to privatize the party. The article was also placed prominently on the KPRF's official website, and a few days later Zyuganov personally endorsed the article.
With breath-taking naivete, Prokhanov and Chikin openly debate whether the money which was accepted as a bribe indirectly from the Kremlin was used effectively or not. At the same time, the authors of the article defend with conviction their right to maintain friendly relations with Berezovsky.
In earlier times, articles exposing "internal enemies" and "traitors" were only published once a conflict was over and the "guilty parties" were already on their way to the Lubyanka (or at least, had been stripped of their posts).
In this case, the matter is yet to be resolved. And it seems unlikely that the different groups within the KPRF will be capable of organizing a civilized discussion on the topic of which oligarchs the party should be taking money from.
Clearly Zyuganov's political survival is at stake -- hence the lightning strike delivered against Semigin. However, even if victory is secured and Zyuganov manages to preserve his position as party leader, the damage will nonetheless be considerable.
Whoever wins in the current battle, the re-privatization of the party is merely a matter of time. However, the eventual victors may well discover that while they have been fighting for control of the brand, its value has plummeted and it's no longer worth what was paid for it.
Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.