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The Russian left has hardly escaped Stalin’s shadow, but there are signs of change

By Blog Admin, on 30 September 2013

RIAN archive 535278 Laying flowers and wreaths to Iosif Stalin's grave at Kremlin wall

RIA Novosti archive, image #535278
Vladimir Fedorenko / CC-BY-SA 3.0

How are left-wing parties and movements faring in Russian politics? Luke March argues that despite the strength of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF), the left in Russia remains remarkably weak and fragmented. Nevertheless there is evidence of a shift towards contemporary European patterns with a stronger social-democratic movement and less reliance on the KPRF.

Over two decades after communism’s collapse, commentators rarely tire of pointing out the obdurate survival of the Russian Communist Party (KPRF), which remains Russia’s second-largest party. But it is not the strength of the Russian left that is most remarkable – rather its weakness. After all, sociologically, Russia remains rather a left-wing country, with opinion polls showing high support for social equality and a paternalist welfare state. Even former plutocrat-cum-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky has repeatedly called for a ‘left turn’ in social policy. Arguably then, the Russian left should be much stronger than the still-large but now much denuded KPRF. So what is the current situation of the left and why?

The parliamentary ‘opposition’

Symptomatically, the dominance of the KPRF is a major sign of the left’s weakness. This party has long been regarded by left-wing activists as a ‘Frankenstein’s monster’, essentially unable to evolve but blocking newer left-wing trends, because of its intrinsic Stalinism, loyalty to the state and ‘right-wing’ nationalist/religious rhetoric. Although in the 1990s this view was somewhat caricatured, the party has signally failed to evolve in the Putin era. After 2003 it was reduced to its core vote and it has gradually lost all of its interesting and/or reformist figures (who were either purged or left). It is bereft of any political influence (even losing its last governor in 2013).

Under the 20-year leadership of Gennadii Zyuganov, the party now barely pretends to contest for power. Indeed, whereas the KPRF used to advocate fighting the ‘anti-national elite’, it has latterly advocated a ‘popular front’ with Putin at the helm and Zyuganov (who has never held executive office) as PM. The KPRF does remain the only Russian parliamentary party (occasionally) to criticise Putin, which accords it increased support from younger voters.

But its endlessly recycled policies (of which ever-more overt Stalinism is just one example) means that political scientist Vladimir Gel’man’s claim that it is Russia’s ‘most boring’ party is apt. Nor is it in any sense a real opposition any longer. Despite griping about presidential dictatorship, the party distances itself completely from the street opposition, which it sees as ‘orangists’ (i.e. pro-Western forces behind ‘coloured revolutions’). (more…)

The Baltics have found their Nordic niche – should the UK follow suit?

By Blog Admin, on 23 May 2012

1 May 2004 enlargement celebration in Parc du Cinquantenaire

Photo: RockCohen via WikiMedia Commons

 Allan Sikk finds that a new book on the Baltic-EU relationship has excellent insights into micro-processes of accession relevant to anyone interested in how states respond to EU pressures and adapt to EU membership.

Could the experience of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joining the European Union be relevant for the UK? Differences seem to abound – the Baltic states are small, rather remote and their recent historical experiences are obviously very different. However, at a closer look one discovers that the UK and the Baltic states share certain perspectives of the world and even the EU (despite the British elites remaining far more Eurosceptic than their Baltic counterparts). More crucially, both the UK and the Baltic states have a shared affinity to the Nordic countries – an obvious source of inspiration for the Baltic states, but increasingly also for Britain.

Recently, the Prime Ministers of the UK, the Nordic and the Baltic states have twice met for UK-Nordic Baltic summits, initiated by David Cameron in 2011. For someone with an academic interest in Baltic and Nordic affairs, the links are obvious; together with three colleagues at University College London we started an ESRC seminar series on Nordic and Baltic countries a year prior to Cameron’s initiative.

Bengt Jacobsson’s new edited collection The European Union and the Baltic States: Changing forms of governance. (Routledge. 2010) addresses the issue of how domestic politics, more specifically central state administration, has been shaped by the EU accession. Its aim is to go beyond a crude notion of conditionality: that the rewards of membership force states to undertake specific reforms.

Some of the critique of conditionality literature in the opening chapters may be on the harsh side, but the book does provide original insights. It focusses on micro-processes and soft forms of influence – where aspiring member states adapted to formal requirements and, perhaps more importantly, to the Western ways of doing things according to the logic of appropriateness, termed (somewhat cryptically) ‘scripts’. (more…)