Political parties and electoral associations. December 1995


Russia today has some 60 registered political organizations which call themselves parties, a further 50 which consider themselves to be "political movements" and a swarm of other organizations registered as "social" or "social-political associations". There is no fundamental difference between "parties", "movements" and "associations", although there may be some differences between these entities in terms of member registration requirements and individual or collective membership.
Theoretically, a member of a movement or association may be a member of other movements, associations and parties, while a member of a party may be a member of other movements and associations, but not of other parties. In practice, many politicians are simultaneously members of several parties and, indeed, the statutes of some parties allow their members to be affiliated with parties having similar political programs. Generally, parties do not mind if their members also happen to be, say, members of the Beer Lovers Party.
Parties typically have registered membership, that is, a party member is only a person whose name has been entered in appropriate registration lists. A member of a movement or association is typically defined as any citizen who considers himself or herself to be a member. Movements allow other organizations, including parties, as collective members, but in practice some parties also allow collective membership.
Of the four major political groups in Russia, two - the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) - are registered as parties, one - Our Home Is Russia (NDR) - as a social-political movement and one - Yabloko - as a social association. These differences do not carry any special privileges or imply any discrimination. The important thing is to have all-Russian registration status: a party or any other organization registered as a regional or inter-regional organization has no right to take part in federal elections as a distinct entity.
The vast majority of Russian parties and movements consist of only a few people each, and some parties have only one member - its leader (who will usually be able to produce a list of his party's members who have either long forgotten about what was just an episode in their lives or never knew they were members).
Only the four political organizations mentioned above have made it to the State Duma of Russia on federal lists of candidates. However, representatives of about 40 parties and movements have been elected to the Duma as independent candidates or on the tickets of other parties.
There are 10-12 parties that have real political clout, with another 5-6 being of some importance as pseudonyms for some notable political figure carrying political weight of his or her own. However, even large parties - with the exception of the CPRF, the Agrarian Party and, probably, also the NDR - are identified with their leaders: the "Yavlinsky party", the "Zhirinovsky party", the "Gaidar party", the "Khakamada party", the "Boris Fyodorov party", the "Svyatoslav Fyodorov party" and so on.
When discussing political orientation, the popular Western terminology of "the right" and "the left" is little suited to Russian realities. To begin with, according to a tradition dating back to the late 19th century, the "leftists" in Russia were considered to be those who were "the largest distance away from government and the closest to the scaffold". Before 1917, the left in Russia consisted of communists, and in the 1960s-1970s, the "left" became a blanket name for all dissidents, from Roy Medvedev (who belonged to the left in the Western sense), to Solzhenitsyn (who would be considered a member of the political right in the European sense). Now these terms are increasingly used in Russia in the European sense, but there is still some lingering confusion. Yegor Gaidar is already aware of himself as a "right-winger", while his closest ally Alexander Yakovlev, a man of the older generation, still refers to Zyuganov's communists as "right-wingers". When President Yeltsin ordered Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Duma Speaker Rybkin to create two pro-Yeltsin blocs - the "right center" and the "left center," respectively - Chernomyrdin initially - and mistakenly - called himself "left-center" (the slot intended for ex-communist Rybkin), apparently believing that the "left" was good and democratic, while the "right" was bad and Stalinist.
There is, however, a more fundamental objection to the use of the "left-right" terminology. The political landscape in Russia is not a straight line, but more like a triangle. One apex is the democrats, another the communists and the third, the patriots. While the democrats can be described as "right" Western-style, and the communists as "left", some of the patriots lean to the left and others to the right, and yet both belong in the same camp. The political forces in-between these apexes are, naturally, called "centrists".
As current usage has it, democrats in Russia are those who advocate continued or resumed reform leading away from totalitarian socialism toward Western-style free-market democracy.
The communists are made up of those groups who want to see a complete or partial restoration of the political and economic situation that existed prior to 1991.
The patriots, nationalists and national-patriots are those who sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with the free market economy, but in any case believe that restoring the great Russian state is more important than rehabilitating the economy. The patriots, for their part, are divided into ethnic patriots (ethnic nationalists) and imperial patriots (imperial nationalists). Ethno-nationalists see a future great Russian state in ethnic and racial-ethnic terms, while imperial patriots put the ethnic, racial and national characteristics of the state low on the list of their priorities or dismiss them altogether.
Until recently (about 1993) the "centrists" were those whose position was wishy-washy and who vacillated between the main opposing forces, leaning to the winning side. At present, the "center" is more stable and independent of the apexes of the political triangle: the "centrists" are those who want to consolidate the results achieved so far in the belief that reforms have by and large been completed, and who do not want a return to the pre-Gaidar past.
All the four political camps are seated in the State Duma. The democrats are above all represented by Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko, as well as by individual deputies who are members of Yegor Gaidar's Democratic Choice of Russia (DVR) party, Boris Fyodorov's "Forward Russia!", the Republican Party of the Russian Federation (RPRF) led by Vladimir Lysenko, Irina Khakamada's association Common Cause, Konstantin Borovoi's Economic Freedom Party, and so on.
The communists are represented by Gennady Zyuganov's CPRF, Viktor Anpilov's Russian Communist Workers' Party (RKRP), the left wing of the communist-patriotic bloc "Power to the People!", led by Nikolai Ryzhkov, and partly the Agrarian Party of Russia (that party's moderate wing has recently gravitated toward the "center").
The imperial patriots are represented above all by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's LDPR, the Russian All-People's Union (ROS), whose leader is Sergei Baburin, as well as by the Congress of Russian Communities (KRO), led by General Alexander Lebed.
Ethno-nationalists in the State Duma do not form a coherent group. They are five or six people who are members of the LDPR, ROS or even the CPRF. Outside the Duma there exist two considerable ethno-nationalist parties: the semi-fascist National Republican Party of Russia (NRPR) of Nikolai Lysenko, a former Duma deputy, and the avowedly pro-Nazi Russian National Unity led by Alexander Barkashov.
The centrists in parliament are Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia (NDR) movement, Yekaterina Lakhova's Women of Russia, and Sergei Shakhrai's Party of Russian Unity and Accord (PRES). Between them, they provide an organizational umbrella of the "ruling party," the post-communist elite of administrators and economic managers who are quite happy with the present regime of state capitalism. The "center" also includes Ivan Rybkin's Regions of Russia movement and the Russian United Industrial Party (ROPP) led by Arkady Volsky and Vyacheslav Shcherbakov. Most of the members of these parties are managers of industrial enterprises, low- and medium-level bureaucrats and provincial business people who resent the selfish policy of the ruling economic elite and would like to see a change in that policy in their favor. However, they, too, reject radical experiments advocated by Gaidar or Yavlinsky and dread the prospect of the comeback of the regional communist party committees' rule.
Other parties worthy of note are Svyatoslav Fyodorov's Party of Workers' Self-Government (PST) and the Social Democratic Party of the Russian Federation (SDPR). By Western standards, the ideology of the PST can be described as left-wing social democratic. Its place in the Russian political triangle is somewhere between the "center" and the moderate patriotic communists. The SDPR, one of the oldest Russian parties (1990), has been effectively split. Its right, liberal wing, is part of Yabloko, and it has even managed to put four of its deputies into the Duma on Yabloko's ticket. The left (social democratic) wing of the SDPR tried to mount an independent campaign, but lost.
In addition to these more or less traditional parties, Russia has the charmingly named Beer Lovers Party (PLP) and other organizations with even more exotic names. The movement Subtropical Russia, for instance, has proclaimed as its goal the introduction in Russia of eternal summer and the reduction of the temperature at which water boils to 50 degrees Centigrade (to save electricity). Then there is the Brownian Movement which stands for universal harmonization of living matter and inorganic nature based on the theories of the English physicist Robert Brown. Incredibly the previous State Duma had 4 PLP members and two members of Subtropical Russia, and the new Duma at least one member of the PLP and one member of Subtropical Russia. As for Brownian Movement - its ideologists suppose that all the nature - animate and inanimate belongs to its ranks, including, therefore, all the State Duma members.
This text was written in December 1995 and translated into English by Federal News Service for "Maximov's Companion to the 1995 Russian Parliamentary Elections".
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