Russian policy and home affairs have always had a strong connection with the situation in the world and neighboring states in particular. Though, this relation being in fact very close, has never been the determinant factor of Russian political cuisine. It was counterbalanced by the influence of nationalist and pro-Slavic forces, always powerful in this country. So, it is the confrontation of two diametrical political and even conceptual outlooks that constitutes the main characteristic of Russian politics. And anyone willing to understand what is what in Russia must find it indispensable to make at least a brief acquaintance with the major political trends in Russia and their historical foundations.
The first party in the history of Russia was set up in 1897 and was called the Bund (Hebrew: Union). It consisted entirely of members of Jewish community and promoted highly nationalistic and leftist views. Though producing no direct impact upon the course of events in Russia, it played an important implicit part in Russian history. In 1898 the Bund became part of a larger organization called 'RSDRP' (Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party) responsible in part for the collapse of Monarchy in February 1917 and entirely responsible for the October Revolution in November 1917. Standing at the extreme left of the Russian political scene, RSDRP adopted orthodox Marxist program, a rather successful implementation of which made it so very infamous and dreaded around the world. Later this program formed the backbone of CPSU charter (Communist Party of the Soviet Union, this acronym sounds like KPSS in Russian).
Along with RSDRP in czarist Russia there were several other left-wing organizations, among which the most significant were the Mensheviks (minority), as opposed to the RSDRP Bolsheviks (majority), the SRs (Socialist Revolutionists) the leftist SRs (more radical faction of the SRs) and several others.
The democratic center was represented by a set of liberal organizations that sprang up after the Czar's Manifesto of 1905 that legalized political activity in Russia. The sole purpose of their existence was to establish democratic rule in Russia, promote human rights and orient Russian economical, political and social life towards the West. The most important of these parties were the party of Constitutional Democrats and the Union of the 17 of October (the day on which the Czar's 1905 Manifesto was declared). Programs and ideas developed by these organizations served the basis for Provisional government of 1917 lead by Mr. Kerensky.
All mentioned democratic parties adopted their slogans and political views from the West. Thus, communism and socialism came to Russia from Germany while democratic ideas were supplied by Britain and the US. Catching up with whatever the West was up to has always been a major obsession throughout the Russian history. No wonder then that progressive political currents had a strong European and American tincture. But those parties were not alone on the political scene. They left some space for other groupings whose aspirations and ideals were absolutely different from either leftists or democrats. These reflected the strivings of Russian intelligentsia for political and economic origina - founded on traditions and ways of Russia itself and Slavic nations in general. Their opposition to reforming Russia according to the Western standards gained them much popularity among the educated strata of the society. Most of these political organizations bore a distinct mark of nationalism and anti-Semitism, deep-rooted in Russia.
One of the parties of this kind was at one time the largest in Russia, it was called the Union of the Russian People a.k.a. Chernaya Sotnya (Black Hundred). It was proclaimed in their statutes that all Russians were nominally the members of their organization. It was infamous and strongly criticized for numerous 'pogroms'-massacres of Russian Jews carried out by its regional sections in the West Ukraine and Byelorussia. Nationalist parties were the only ones to find support and recognition by the Czar and his Court. Their programs and goals corresponded to those of the government. Even the Emperor Nicolai II himself did not stand aloof from the partisan movement-he was the member of the Union of the Russian People. Political organizations of other orientations stood in opposition to the policy pursued by the official circles. Their activity was impeded by the highly developed state machine that could not anyone express freely his or her thoughts and act according to his or her personal political beliefs and convictions.
The rigidity of the Russian Empire and its fatal inability to adapt to the changing situation both abroad and at home, worsened by world War I, led to the break-down of the state in 1917. The October Revolution and the ascension of the Bolshevik party to power marked the end of political pluralism and relative (very limited in fact) freedom in Russia. All the parties other than RSDRP were abolished and prohibited, no factions were allowed in the RSDRP itself. Soon RSDRP (later known as CPSU) ceased to exist as a party in the proper sense of this word. It came to represent the ruling class of the Soviet Union (nomenklatura). During 69 years of the Soviet Union era (from 1922 till 1991) the Communist Party was the only political organization in the country. Although the USSR had a government, a cabinet of ministers and a constitution, all this was nothing more than various parts of a decorative ornamentation used by the CPSU to conceal its real dominance and power exercised in Russia and the Republics. The country was ruled not from the Kremlin, but rather from Staraya Ploschad (Old Square) where the WHQ of CPSU Central Committee were located. This state of affairs began to change in 1985 when Mr. Gorbachev was appointed General Secretary of the CPSU. Perestroika and glasnost were the key words of the process of reforms under way in the USSR in the late 80s. These reforms were launched by the ruling party itself in an attempt to strengthen its declining influence in the country that found itself on the verge of economic ruin and political disintegration caused by the ever decreasing living standards and productive efficiency. 70% of the Soviet economy were engaged in the armament race which made the allocation of resources very unattractive for consumer products manufacturing industries. To change or to perish was the alternative. The potential for the rule of force has exhausted itself, modern politics is no longer based on sheer coercion - money becomes the major requisite of influence and power. CPSU was smart enough to seize the idea and to do away with its rotten ideology which had always been laughed at by the ideologists themselves. Freedom of speech was proclaimed, democracy and market economy started gradually to replace totalitarism and command economy. These changed encompassed all spheres of economic, social and especially life in the Soviet Union. New organizations, parties, foundations, national fronts sprang up abundantly. The reforms gained momentum, and pluralism became one of the main slogans of these reforms. Pluralism meant CPSU was no longer the monopolist on the political arena. It had to confront many competitors and each of them strove to take its place or (more often) to constrain it so it would make room for others at the steering wheel. Joint efforts on the part of new political organizations and faulty policies pursued by CPSU resulted in the collapse of the CPSU rule and the Soviet Union itself in December 1991 after a group of high CPSU officials attempted a coup in a vain attempt to reassert its power. Consequently as democratic forces shifted into power CPSU was politically terminated as the nightmare of 70 years was blown into nonexistence virtually overnight.
The evolution of Russian multi-partisan system had several major impetuses, the first of which is dated back to March 1991 when official registration of parties was authorized and the second was supplied by the State Duma election campaign of 1993. It is in 1993 that the main factions and groupings existing nowadays came into being. Most of them were successors of smaller and weaker organizations . The battle waged for the electors' votes called forth multiple mergers and amalgamations of similar political groups. The variety of views and programs that was in no way abolished by the process of unification makes it difficult to sort out all the existing parties and organizations. In spite of that it's still possible to make a right-center-left classification. However, most political organizations in Russia adapt their programs to the ever changing situation and very often it is difficult to say for sure whether this or that statement represents the party's consistent convictions or just political conjuncture. This is the reason that more often than not their actions don't agree with their statutes and programs.
Political kaleidoscope of Russia consists of four major political trends:
Democratic parties and movements are guided by the Western ideals and values, they emphasize human rights and liberties and come out for the deregulated market economy. Their economic program is determined by the recommendations of IMF and other Western institutions and it implies that development of Russia be carried out in accordance with standards proper of a democratic state. The most important representatives of the democratic wing in Russia are Yabloko faction (Yabloko means 'apple' in Russian, this is actually an acronym standing for the names of three founders of Yabloko - YAvlinsky, Boldyrev and Lukin), the choice of Russia and the Democratic Party of Russia. Political organizations that belong to the Right Center seek to combine Western approach and models of development with the possibilities of the Russian market. Their adherence to the strategies proposed by Western experts is not as complete as that of the democrats. Despite numerous differences between the former and the latter camps both support and approve of the policy pursued by the President and the Government. Both of them understand that there is now way back: Russia must move forward to catch up with the developed countries of the worlds. Some allowances might be made as to the specific conditions of national development, but not as great as, for instance, Nationalist Patriots assert there must be. The Women of Russia, the New Regional Policy and the Party of Russian Unity and Concord are in the Right Center group.
The Left Center consists of political unions that attach more importance to the realities of the situation in Russia. Most of the movements of the Left Center may be described as Social Patriots. Yet this group is the least uniform of all as it includes rather diverse organizations that hold in common only critical attitude towards radical reforms and westernization of Russia. Communists are part of the Left Center wing. Their program provides among other things for protection of the state's integrity, setting up a government of national concord, domination of the public property. Private property is not denied but it should be based, according to the Communists, on individual ownership. The Communist Party promotes the implementation of social and economic guarantees of rights of the working class, makes efforts to attain the prevention of mass unemployment, to equalize income levels and to prevent inflation. Besides the Communists Party Of Russia, the Left Center comprises the Agrarian Party of Russia, the Russian Way movement, and , in part, the Women of Russia and the Democratic Party of Russia.
Nationalist Patriots are the most radical element of the scene. They try to be liberal and socialistic at the same time. Their salient feature is their total rejection of any foreign and alien values and models of development. Their aim is the revival of national (Slavic or Russian) awareness and the revival of the strong state (it might be set up as democracy, monarchy, presidency or what not). Economic reforms and other like issues find basically no elucidation in Nationalist Patriotic programs. It is not the question that seems to interest them much. Economics remains in the background of their political strategies. Social orientation prevails upon economic objectives. Yet, taking into account that Russia is now in a deep economic crisis accompanied by inflation, unemployment and ever decreasing standards of living, the problem of how to reconstruct the economy and make it work can't be ignored by anyone. Nationalist Patriots understand that as well. But their remedies and proposed course of action can stand no professional criticism. They are intended to win more votes and wider support among <> public. Lets take as an example the minimum program of LDPR (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) headed by dreaded V.W. Zhirinovsky. Mr. Zhirinovsky asserts that his party can improve the well-being of the Russian people by 90% (triple 30%). In one of the pamphlets distributed by Zhirinovsky's party it is explained as follows (quote):
"The economic revival of Russia implies the Minimum Program:
Put an end to any kind of assistance to the foreign countries and the countries of C.I.S. Cease joint Russian-American economic blockade of the countries owing to Russia. This will improve our life by 30%
Stop the conversion of the war machine. Continue manufacturing warfare and sell it on the international market. The US has fraudulently excluded our country from this market having proposed 'liberal assistance' and ' credits' in exchange for our disarmament. Our weapons enjoy great demand on the international market. If we continue selling them it will increase our standard of living by another 30%.
Do away with the organized crime in the course of a few months. Institute visa control for those entering Russia, especially from the crime-infected regions. Restrict access to the Russian consumer markets for foreign agents, because they inflate prices. Let only Russian citizens have access to these markets. Abolish racketeering. This will raise our incomes by yet another 30%.
To restore the economy of Russia it is also necessary to do the following:
Let all the citizens of Russia have equal benefits from privatization. Limit the power of bureaucrats. Create equal opportunities for both state-owned and private (corporate) enterprises. Bring order and law into the state and enterprise relationship.
Develop and implement the tax system that would reflect the interests of manufacturers: they must retain at least 60% of their profits.
Do not disband 'kolkhoz' and 'sovkhoz' and yet do not stand in the way of the reviving farm.
Do not institute private land ownership. Farmers should obtain land only for long-term lease with a right to inheritance but with no right to sell it. All uncultivated land must be re-nationalized."
These few excerpts are enough to get a clear picture of what LDPR and the likes of it are and what they are eager to do to 'save' Russia. Total state control over manufacturers and traders is what they want to achieve. Civil War period communism is the most appropriate description of the regime they would like to establish in Russia. They haven't been successful with it so far only because they have never had real power in the country. Even though LDPR had the overwhelming majority in the first Duma of 1993-1995 (Duma is equivalent to the US House of Representatives or British House of Commons), LDPR couldn't exercise any influence on the state of affairs in the country. Russia is a presidential republic where parliament plays very insignificant role and is often so much as just ignored by the Government and the President himself. Mr. Zhirinovsky is well aware of this fact and it saved him many a confrontation with the executive branch. He preferred not to stay in the way of reforms and even supported Boris Yeltsin in whatever he undertook and planned. LDPR is yet waiting for its chance to come and when the time is right they will without doubt do everything in their power to seize control over the country. One thing is yet missing in their black-and-white picture of the world: the presidential chair under Mr. Zhirinovsky.
However LDPR is not the only ultra-rightist organization enjoying popularity in Russia. It's the oldest one (formed in 1989, reorganized in 1992) and the most (in)famous. That is due to the eccentric behavior of its leader, and also owing to its unrealistic and populist promises. Mr. Zhirinovsky is competing for power in the Right Wing camp with Alexander Rutskoi, Boris Yeltsin's renegade vice-president, who split with Mr. Yeltsin to lead a parliamentary uprising in October 1993 and who now is the head of Derzhava (Great Country) movement. Neither of them is doing well at the moment: Mr. Zhirinovsky has lost his appeal as a populist outsider because of his spell in Duma; his antics there made him look even more like a buffoon. Mr. Rutskoi is handicapped by inadequate intelligence and by accusations that six of his party's candidates during 1995 elections were facing criminal charges or have been convicted . Mr. Zhirinovsky's party was fielding twelve such candidates and there w ere 87 criminals and suspects standing in all.
The split among the Nationalist Patriots was further enhanced in Spring '95 when one of Russia's most popular politicians, gruff ex-general and Afghanistan war hero Alexander Lebed, with a face of a seasoned boxer and a voice of a jet during take-off together with S. Glaziev and P. Romanov consolidated the Congress of Russian Communities by merger with Y. Skokov's Federation of Russian Manufacturers. When Mr. Lebed hollers: "I'm sick of this so-called reform, sick of the squalor, sick of the politicians!!!" he might sound no different from Mr. Rutskoi. Although he claims to be a centrist, the two other members of the Congress' trinity, Yury Skokov a former Boris Yeltsin's ally, and Sergei Glaziev, reformer-turned-conservative, suggest that the Congress is more like an extreme Gaullist party pushing for lots of state intervention and nationalism.
Having thus presented a panoramic view of Russia's political cauldron we may now turn out attentions to the period of time between 1993 and 1995 Duma elections. The winners of 1993 elections at first stood in opposition to the President and the Government. Such a situation gave three possible choices to the President: