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Russia’s off-parliament opposition seeking to unite

January 30, 2012, 18:27 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

 Russia’s off-parliament movements of radical leftist orientation are gaining in force in the country’s political life. At a Saturday Forum of Leftist Forces, delegates from leftist movements set up a coordinating council and worded guidelines that might serve as a basis “for creating a new united leftist anti-capitalist party.” Experts say the would-be leftist party, a more radical one than the Communist Party, has all the chances to win popular support.The Saturday forum brought together delegates from such movements as the Left Front, the Labour Russia, the Union of Communards, the Union of Communist Youth, Communists of Russia, New Leftists, the Union of Soviet Officers, the Revolutionary Labour Party, and the like. Representatives from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) and the A Just Russia party also took part, either as private persons, or as guests or observers.The forum voiced support to the idea of staging an opposition march and a rally under the slogan “For Fair Elections” in Moscow on February 4. Participants agreed to pool efforts and to march in a single column “to demonstrate the force and unity of the leftist movement.”“We must overcome our disunity, our grievances. This is the call of History,” said Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the Left Front. He called on left-wing forces to consolidate in a new political situation and said a new leftist party might be established some time in future. “Today, we are not forming a new party or a new movement, but we must overcome our disunity, our grievances. This is the call of History,” he said. He also called to pool efforts with “the protesting urban middle class, petty bourgeoisie.”The forum’s final declaration set as an immediate goal the “elaboration of common strategy in the current conditions and adopting a generally recognized ideological platform that in the near future might become a basis for a new united leftist anti-capitalist party.” The Leftists declared their intention to take efforts to have the current presidential republic be replaced by a parliamentary republic, to nationalize big enterprises, to monopolize foreign trade in strategic products.A party of this kind does not look unrealistic. As part of Russia’s political system liberalization, President Dmitry Medvedev has submitted to the State Duma lower parliament house a bill simplifying registration procedures for political parties. Thus, from January 1, 2013, any party numbering more than 500 may be granted a registration, whereas now in order to be registered a party must have at least 50,000 members.Quite another thing is whether such a party will have any prospects. Tens of parties were established in the time of Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin, and almost all of them have gone for good.The Kommersant newspaper cited one of the participants in the forum, Vladimir Ulas of the CPRF, as saying that the leftist movement is to travel a long way before it sets up a united party. “So far, in question is only unification and coordination of actions to stage protest rallies and to put forth common demands. It is vitally important now to have protest action gain in social character and to keep it from drifting rightwards,” he said.According to Georgy Chizhov, a vice president of the Centre of Political Technologies, the would-be party might enjoy popular support in case it proves it is not guided by the authorities. “A Just Russia has failed to do it. The CPRF has not been convincing in this respect for many leftists,” he noted. “So, if a new association of left-wing forces proves to have grassroots management it will not be taken as an artificial structure. In this context, regular arrests only add to Udaltsov’s popularity.”However, representatives from left-wing forces seem to have no common idea what kind of party they want to found. Each one of them wants the would-be common party to be based on the principles of his or her own organization, while the rest are not happy, thinking the same. Thus, Sergei Udaltsov called on the left forces to form a broad federate movement that would embrace off-parliament left-wing opposition. Further on, according to Udaltsov, the would-be leftist movement might unify with parliament parties, such as the CPRF and A Just Russia.Daria Mitina of the Russian Union of Communist Youth, however, described the very idea of ultimate unification of all socialist and communist forces as utopian. “Don’t try to apply the same yardstick to everybody! Let 100 flowers blossom out,” she stressed.A new unified leftist party, if formed, may become a real rival to the CPRF, which, according to radical leftists, has gone too bourgeosified and opportunistic.In the mean time, both parliament and off-parliament left forces seem to be set for cooperation. On January 17, the Left Front and the CPRF agreed that Left Front members would vote in favour of the CPRF candidate for Russian president, Gennady Zyuganov, at presidential polls on March 4, provided the latter meets a number of conditions.The agreement binds Zyuganov, in case he wins the presidential race, to set free political prisoners, to remove chairman of the Central Election Commission Vladimir Churov, to unmuzzle the press, to pass a law on general election of regional governors, and to initiate amendments to the Russian Constitution to amplify the role of parliament and reduce the authority of the president. The Left Front, for its part, has undertaken to form a broad coalition of public forces in support of peaceful democratic reforms to be carried out by Zyuganov.An interesting fact is that, since its very birth in 2005, the Left Front has been ardently criticizing the CPRF. Many of former CPRF members, such as Ilya Ponomaryov, a member of the lower parliament house with A Just Russia, Daria Mitina, a former lawmaker, and Anatoly Baranov, a former editor of the CPRF website, are now members of the Left Front.According to director of Levada-Centre Lev Gudkov, a union between communists and the Left Front is “Zyuganov’s attempt to pick up left-wing opposition, which is now rather amorphous.” The CPRF leader is unlikely to derive any handsome political dividends at the presidential polls, he said. It might add not more than one or two percent of votes, Gudkov added.Unlike the Communist Party, the Left Front is a relatively new movement in Russia. “The Left Front is enjoying not very big popularity, mostly among the youth,” Gudkov said. Although, the Front’s leader, Sergei Udaltsov, has won recognition after he was arrested during a recent rally in Moscow in protest against vote rigging at the December parliamentary elections. “The Left Front is more radical and more aggressive than the Communist Party, which has been acting as a systemic opposition, never casting doubt as to where the boundaries of the very system lie,” the sociologist added.

MOSCOW, January 30