Though it has offices in small towns and cities around Russia, with portraits of Stalin on the wall and hammer-and-sickle flags in the corner, ready to unfurl, its message has remained unchanged as its members have aged over the past 20 years: The glorious achievements of the Soviet Union are being systematically destroyed and only it can save Russia from moral degradation.
The party won 11.57 percent of the vote in 2007, when it also came in second to United Russia, the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The election resul
ts humbled United Russia — which got 64.3 percent of the vote in 2007 and officially only 49.3 percent in December — and left the Communists with a tantalizing prospect of ascendance.
The Communists have been at this juncture before, challenging a weakened Boris Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential race. They failed to seize the advantage then, and this time is expected to be no different. On Saturday, they organized a rally just outside the Kremlin, promising a crowd of 5,000 or more. Though their red flags snapped smartly in the blowing snow, only a few hundred dedicated souls appeared, leaving the wide expanse of Manezh Square bare and windswept. Behind them, the spires of the State Historical Museum and the Resurrection Gate to Red Square once again bore the double-headed czarist eagle their predecessors had struggled so hard to bury.
Communist theory has always maintained that history is on its side, however, and so there was Gennady Zyuganov, the party’s leader and perennial presidential candidate, striding into a room packed with reporters last week with the easy smile of a hot new vote-getter.
“Merry Christmas,” he exclaimed, as if to remind Russians, who celebrated Christmas Jan. 7 and are still hearing Western carols in malls and coffee shops, that at least some Communists have gotten religion, despite the official atheism of the Soviet years.
The December election set off a paroxysm of anger among Russians who called it rigged, refusing to believe that Putin’s party had gotten even close to half the votes. Tired of years of what they have come to see as imperious and manipulative rule since Putin came to power in 2000, protesters took to the streets in demonstrations across the country, throwing into confusion what had been seen as Putin’s easy return to the presidency in March.
Zyuganov, who lost to Yeltsin in 1996, Putin in 2000 and Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 (he didn’t run in 2004), is seeking the presidency once more, buoyed by the election that gave his party 92 of the 450 seats in the state Duma. It had 57 before.