Moscow Communists see vote increase after demanding democracy in Russia
Communist Party members and supporters wave red flags during a protest in the center of Moscow, Russia, Aug. 17, 2019. People were rallying against the exclusion of some city council candidates from Moscow's municipal election. | Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

LISBON, Portugal—Major gains in last Tuesday’s Moscow municipal elections for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) followed weeks of protests in the capital in which party members participated. Thousands rallied and marched in Moscow demanding free elections and fair coverage of them by state-run television.

Although Gennady Zyuganov, the party’s leader, has been cautious about criticizing President Vladimir Putin—officially out of concern that protests against him can be manipulated by Western media out to criticize Russia at every turn—younger Communist Party members were apparently out in force at the demonstrations.

Maria Bezchastnaya, CPRF member and journalist. | Svobodnaya Pressa

People’s World interviewed Maria Bezchastnaya last weekend about the situation in Russia. Bezchastnaya, a member of the CPRF, attended the huge Avante! Festival, a massive Communist cultural and political gathering here. She is a journalist who writes for Svobodnaya Pressa, a Russian newspaper. Translated, the name of the publication is “Free Press.”

She said members of the party were participating in the protests happening in Moscow at the time we conducted the interview.

By Tuesday, it was clear that the Communists’ identification with mass opposition to curbs on democracy in Russia helped them in the elections. The party captured 13 seats in the Moscow City Council. That was an increase of 8 seats over the previous elections. President Putin’s United Russia Party won a majority of the seats, capturing 25, but that was a drop of 9 seats since the last election. Other parties captured a few seats with A Just Russia Party taking 3 and the liberal Yablokov Party taking 4.

According to Bezchastnaya, the results for Putin’s party should not have been even as good as they were. “United Russia disguised its candidates,” she said, “running them as ‘independents’ so people would not even know they were from Putin’s party.” The final results for United Russia, then, were actually inflated.

None of this takes away from the fact that Putin remains popular in Russia, with 60% having a favorable opinion of him in most polls. That number, however, is sharply down from the past, and much of it may have to do with popular support for his defense of Russia against what Russians see as unfair attacks on their country in the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets with Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov in the Kremlin in Moscow, July 17, 2015. Though Zyuganov has been reluctant to publicly criticize Putin, younger members of the CPRF are not. | Alexei Nikolsky / RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Bezchastnaya said the government in Russia is guilty of doing much to hamper free elections by disallowing legitimate candidates and intimidating the opposition. When asked about alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections, she noted that Americans “don’t need Russia to make their elections unfair.” She praised the American people for “how they fight for voting rights in the U.S.,” and she said she believed that the state of Georgia, “if elections were fair, would have a black woman as governor.” (Stacey Abrams lost the governor’s race there by a margin smaller than the number of registrations of black voters that were disallowed by a governor who himself was her opponent.)

What about charges that Russia has been interfering in the affairs of Ukraine?

Bezchastnaya said “the Communist Party of the Russian Federation considers what happened in Ukraine in 2015 a fascist coup” and that it rejects the idea that the Russian government is wrong for opposing the right-wing Ukrainian government.

She said the party also rejects the idea that Crimea should be returned to Ukraine. “Crimea is a part of the Russian Federation,” she said, “and the people there voted as such in a legitimate plebiscite.”

Bezchastnaya said the party is also in sync with the government in condemnation of NATO moving troops and armaments right up to the borders of Russia. “This is dangerous,” she said, “and can inadvertently start a war. We support Russia defending itself against these provocations.”

She was asked about the party’s position on LGBTQ rights. Several years ago, the party’s delegates in the Russian parliament voted for laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people, laws put forward by the Putin government.

The law, which has become known as the “gay propaganda law,” was justified as a means of “protecting children” and “traditional family values.” In effect, it outlawed any positive portrayal of homosexuals or same-sex relationships or suggestion that they were equal to heterosexual ones in the media or by organizations.

The law was the Putin government’s way of courting the nationalist far right in Russia as well as members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Every CPRF member of parliament voted in favor.

Russian police officers detain a gay rights activist during an attempt to hold a pride parade in Moscow, May 28, 2011. The Putin government has strengthened anti-LGBTQ laws in recent years, with the political support of the CPRF. | Mikhail Metzel / AP

Op-ed: Russian Communists must stand against LGBTQ persecution

“The party does not favor violating anyone’s rights, and the issue of LGBTQ rights is not one the party addresses officially or as a practical matter. The focus is on workers’ rights, living conditions, and free elections.”

She did say, however, that “many younger people in the party take this issue seriously as do many young people all across Russia.”

It appears that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, like society at large in Russia, has a long way to go in grappling with LGBTQ rights. The party has a cautious old guard on the one hand and, on the other, a growing number of young members who want to throw off old and unjust constraints as they chart a course for the future.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.