Report on the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation

October 9, 2001

Unfortunately these observations comprise a limited view of events at
the December 2 and 3 CPRF Congress and of Russia itself. Regrettably I
was only in the country four days. I spent most of the time at the Congress
and was unable to travel outside of Moscow. Nevertheless the Congress
was a wonderful experience and I am deeply appreciative of being accorded
the honor to represent our

The Congress
took place in the spectacularly ornate House of Trade Unions, a venue
intimately intertwined with the history of the Soviet Union. There were
401 delegates (the number 401 being symbolically awarded to Lenin.) Ten
delegates were excused because they were campaigning in regional Duma
elections. The composition included 25% workers and peasants (a basic
weakness) and 20 nationalities. The few number of women present was not
even noted, and this reflects a persistent glaring weakness.

In addition,
there were 1500 guests, 117 foreign delegates representing 82 parties
from 39 countries (including former Soviet Republics). Several countries
were represented by more than one communist and workers’ party. The Congress
was chaired by Anatoly Lukyanov, former president of the Supreme Soviet
who was imprisoned by the counter revolutionaries in 1991.

Other delegates
who played a prominent role included General Valentin Varennikov, one
of the “coup plotters” who was imprisoned for several years
before being vindicated and Yegor Ligachev, who had courageously tried
to rally the pro-socialist forces in the Party against Gorbachev. To our
knowledge, until now he had only played a role in reviving the CPSU.

In addition
to the Congress deliberations there was an amazing cultural event that
rivaled Broadway (a reflection that the Party still has broad ties among
cultural figures), a reception with a Moscow Party club, an informational
meeting for the international guests and exchanges with many congress
and fraternal delegates.


The Russian
working class and people are struggling through a disastrous many-sided
crisis brought on by the imposition of capitalism. About 70 percent of
the population live at or below the poverty line. There are high rates
of unemployment and underemployment. Many workers are still paid months
in arrears, pensions have been cut or eliminated, and people face starvation
in some areas.

There is
a devastating health crisis due to the destruction of the socialist health
care system. Consequently, a radical decline in life expectancy has taken
place. TB, AIDS, alcoholism and drug abuse are at epidemic proportions.

In addition,
there is a crisis of education, affordable housing and inter city transit
(one delegate insisted he rode his bike from a distant region). Fuel and
heat are sometimes not available or affordable.

In his opening
report, Zuganov said the IMF policies being advanced by the Putin government
were worse than Yeltsin’s. Eighty percent of the state enterprises have
now been privatized. The state enterprises were literally looted by foreign
capital and former government officials.

The Putin
government is launching a drive to privatize the collective farms, (which
has divided the Agrarian Party), forest lands and remaining energy complex.
They are also trying to eliminate nearly 40 social protections and state
social subsidies.

The Putin
government has launched a frontal assault on the labor movement with a
campaign to impose a new labor code, dictated by the IMF. It would replace
the old Soviet Labor code adopted in 1967. It is a horrific law that would
essentially destroy the trade union movement by ending collective bargaining,
lengthening the work week to 56 hours, permitting child labor, and allow
firings of labor militants.

There is
a new crisis that is growing on the horizon: the big IMF loans that rescued
Russia from collapse are coming due and paying them off will require drastic
social cuts.

has the largest faction in the State Duma with 110 deputies. In
1997 they drew 35 million votes in the presidential election. While their
absolute vote increased in the March 2000 presidential elections, their
relative share of the vote (along with the Communist Workers Party) decreased
slightly to 30 percent along with their share of deputies. The
Party lost its majority in the Duma and this is a big concern.

Of course
this can’t be seen in isolation from the millions of dollars of support
Putin received from foreign capital and the widespread voter fraud that
took place. Our election was not the only one stolen.

And the next
largest block is Putin’s governing party, made up mainly of government
officials and academics. Ten percent of the Duma is represented by right
wing property owners backed by foreign capital who are seen as the greatest
danger, and one percent for Gorbachev and the Social Democrats. The pro-capitalist
parties have been losing strength since the March presidential elections.
The CPRF sees a large mass of voters that have broken with Yeltsin, but
are now the center of competition of all political forces.

also has a majority of shares in a governing coalition in 40 of the 88
regional and territorial Dumas. During the Congress it was announced the
party had won in the biggest region, Krasnodar, with 82% of the vote.

The strongest
presence is in the so-called “Red Belt” that stretches south
of Moscow through the industrial region to the Caucuses. Members of the
CPRF have been elected to the town councils and as mayors in many municipalities.

of the Party

has had to fight its way over tremendous hurdles to get back on its feet.
No effort was spared to destroy the Party including dissolution, banning
and confiscation of all its property. The third Congress was held underground.

The Party
competes unfairly against the private mass media monopolies that spew
out anti-Communist slander round the clock. It faces a workplace ban and
anti-Communist terror, including assassination in some regions. This helps
explain why the trade union movement is now dominated by class collaborationist

Still, the
political atmosphere has changed and the Congress atmosphere was likewise
very upbeat and confident. My impression is that the Party organization,
finances and activity have stabilized substantially. The Party has over
400,000 members (this is less than the number 500,000 given a couple of
years ago), growing by nearly 50,000 over the last two years.

New regional
and district offices have been opened up in several areas. Party organization
has been reestablished in every district in the country, and consists
of some 17,000 clubs. Where initiatives are taken large numbers rejoin
once defunct clubs. The big struggle is to fully involve the clubs in

in Moscow where the Party had one million members, only 26,000 have rejoined.
The counter revolutionary forces are strongest here and they command tremendous
resources in the battle.

Party organization
is growing in the military. There were repeated calls for training full
time cadre. The circulation of Pravda is over 2 million, with Soviet Russia
and other Party papers also widely circulated.

There are
steps being taken to federate the CPRF with the Bylorussian and
Ukrainian parties that reflects the efforts to federate the countries.
It was only later that I learned that an effort was being made to establish
a new political center that would be in direct competition with the CPSU.
This has obviously angered those in the CPSU and created a new problem
of unity among the communist forces.

sentiment for socialism

In his report
Zuganov noted the Party had a “guarded position toward Putin”
when he was elected, supporting his positive steps and criticizing his
reactionary policies. But after nine months it is clear the regime is
plowing ahead with capitalist reforms.

Putin is
a master demagogue and there are widespread illusions toward him, including
by some in the Party. His government is riding high on the spike in the
world oil prices that has brought in unexpected revenues.

On the other
hand Putin doesn’t share the rabid anti-communism of Yeltsin.
The streak of independence in Russian foreign policy is not only influenced
by nationalism and widespread anti-Americanism; Putin confronts the tremendous
growth in sentiment for a return to socialism and the reality of a mass
Communist Party with parliamentary clout.

Putin sent
a message of greetings to the Congress and afterward met with Zuganov.
The day after the Congress, he announced that the Soviet national anthem
was being restored and the red flag would fly over the armed forces again,
and then he left for Cuba.

The famous
Russian actor and CPRF Duma deputy, Nikolay Guenko, said, “It would
be a sacrilege, if the police under the red flag would be breaking up
a rally of hungry miners. There should not be a red flag of solidarity
over the city administration building if the city inhabitants perish of
Therefore this tricolor and eagle are adequate for the actual situation
in Russia. The history doesn’t come to the end.”

In a statement
the Party added, “We have no right to allow the hypocritical attitude
toward national sacred objects, their transmutation in the fig-leaf covering
the shame of old policy, which has brought so much disasters and suffering
to the people.” They went on to call for the restoration of socialism.

among the working class

The main
discussion at the Congress was based on a political document drafted by
the Central Committee called “The Immediate Tasks of the CPRF,”
which had been circulated before the Congress. This document reflects
a new level of political thinking in the Party. It projects a class line,
sees the crisis clearly rooted in capitalism, recognizes the role of imperialism
(and US imperialism) and its relationship to the Putin regime. It says
the only solution to the crisis is socialism.

Both Zuganov
and the document were critical of the weaknesses of the Party in relation
to the working class and trade union movement and its work at the grassroots.
The document focuses on rebuilding the Party’s influence in the working
class and rebuilding the Party in the shops. It calls for stepping up
the work in the trade unions and for working cooperatively with the Yeltsin
trade union leadership where possible, but setting up new trade unions
where necessary. It encouraged comrades to run for trade union office.

To mobilize
the rank and file in the face of the pro-capitalist union leadership,
the Party is leading a movement to revive the Work Collectives, and turn
them into grassroots fighting organizations. A Congress of the
Council of Work Collectives met on November 22 and is led by the Party.
They are the key means by which the Party will rebuild its strength in
the shops.

One worker
I spoke with, a welder, said the Party was very involved in the work collective
movement. In his case, everyone knew he was a communist and the management
didn’t try to stop him from being active.

The Party,
in coalition with the CWP, has led the fight against the Putin labor codes
and for defending social protections. Mass demonstrations were held on
November 7, the anniversary of the October Revolution, the main demand
being to block the new labor codes. The trade union movement is being
drawn into the fight. The General Council of the Federation of Russian
Trade Unions warned, “Virtually all trade union rights are eliminated
in this bill.”

The congress
advanced a program of trade union activities, including fighting for a
new strengthened labor code. It called for a multi pronged strategy to
meet the crisis facing the working class:

First, restore
political rule of the people by forming a coalition government of “popular
trust.” The Party’s tactics call for building a united coalition
of workers, peasants, the intelligenicia and small businesses to win power.
The Party initiated a united front called the People’s Patriotic Union,
currently composed of the CPRF, the CWP, the left wing of the Agrarian
Party, veterans, pensioners, the agro-industrial unions, and some women’s
and youth organizations. While not nearly broad enough, first of all among
the trade unions, it is said to be growing.

Second, build
this coalition through action against the immediate crisis. The Party
believes that to overcome the economic crisis, the leading role of the
public sector must first be restored. The Party advocates reversing privatization
and renationalizing the strategic productive sectors and banks. At the
CPRF’s initiative, the Duma passed a new law restricting privatization
of state property worth over $150 million. This prevents the sale of state
owned railroads.

The third
part of the strategy calls for the restoration of socialism and a planned
economy. They are also in the process of drafting a new Soviet constitution.

A turning
point Congress?

It is my
impression that the Congress marked a step forward, and perhaps a turning
point, in uniting the Party around the working class and class struggle
policies. A labor commission was created to help carry out trade union

This said,
they have a long way to go. For example, only three workers spoke from
the floor of the Congress – two teachers and an autoworker from the Kirov
works in Leningrad. The rest were mostly the first secretaries of various
regions, state duma deputies, with an occasional cultural figure, head
of an enterprise, military leader, etc. There are still sharp differences
on some key issues and in the end it will be up to the workers in the
CPRF to ensure a full turn to the working class.

The working
class influence was most strongly reflected in the delegates from the
“Red Belt” regions outside Moscow and to the south. Here, the
party is the most militant and grassroots oriented. Scotty reminded me,
for example, that the Party in Vladivostok is a very militant grassroots
party and has openly defied the workplace ban.

In the “Red
Belt,” the Party either has a governing majority or participates
in governing coalitions. In many cases they have succeeded in substantially
raising the level of production of the remaining state enterprises and
passing laws to defend social protections that couldn’t be won in the
federal Duma. There were repeated calls, including from Zuganov, for the
coordination of the economies of the “Red Belt.”

criticism of work

The discussion
from the floor was sharply critical at times, including of Zuganov, mostly
of the Party’s level of activity and its tactics. The delegate from the
Communist Party of India (Marxist) said it was the most critical discussion
he had heard dating back to Soviet times.

The biggest
criticism was that the Party was not opposing the Putin government vigorously.
Many speakers felt the Party was playing up to Putin and should be far
more confrontational. Many felt the Party was relying too heavily on parliamentarism
and not enough on mobilizing the people. The political document called
for “as much emphasis on mass struggle especially in the trade unions
as in electing deputies.”

There was
little discussion of mass struggles, especially those led by the Party,
which was a source of great frustration for the international delegates.
Although I was told later this is because most speakers took for granted
the Party’s leading role in many mass demonstrations.

For example,
there was no mention of the crisis breaking out in Siberia where tens
of thousands are without heat and face freezing temperatures. Zuganov
never mentioned mobilizing to defeat the Putin Labor Code in his opening
report, although he did address it in his summary.

There are
still appeals to Russian nationalism, without a clear recognition that
within Russia are many nationalities. Nevertheless, based on what I can
gather, I felt Zuganov has become sharper on the class issues. Perhaps
this is because of the criticism from the workers in the party. In his
summary, he proposed the establishment of a Labor Commission to deal with
trade union policy.

There were
some whiffs of anti-Semitism in the Congress, including from Zuganov and
the well-known general. They and others singled out the Jewish oligarchs
(domestic elite capitalists) by name. But this was responded to vigorously
by several delegates who called for expulsion of anti-Semites and for
greater sensitivity toward the various nationalities.

There were
also appeals for developing relationships with religious movements and
recognizing the existence of a large and diverse religious population.

There were
also criticisms that there was “not enough discussion of why socialism
failed,” that the Party had not developed a new vision of socialism,
and that this was a reason for the loss of votes. The Party called for
basic ideological discussions on the mistakes that led to the temporary
setback to socialism. I might add that, generally, the scale of the damage
done by the setback is underestimated, with all its ramifications, for
the entire world, for all the parties, including our own.

surfaced with Zuganov’s recent visit to Iraq and an agreement that the
CPRF struck with Hussein’s ruling Bath Socialist Party, over the strenuous
protest of the Iraqi Communist Party. The CPRF is trying to recreate some
of the state to state relations that existed during Soviet times.

and the Federal Duma

A major problem
concerns how the Party carries out its work in the state Duma. The CPRF
central committee is essentially the Party Duma faction. The first secretaries
of the Party nationally and from the regions double as Duma deputies.
Many felt this hampered the ability of the Party to strengthen itself.
Are they repeating the same mistake of merging the Party with the state?

A few delegates
remarked privately that the Duma deputies seem to enjoy the perks that
come with the office, it makes them feel like they are still in state
power. For example, each Duma deputy has a limo. Most of the full time
Party cadre are those paid by the Duma as staff members of deputies.

Some felt
this contributed to the hesitancy to be more confrontational with Putin.
I can’t see where it would be a good image for the public.

There was
a lot of discussion about the establishment of the “Russia movement,”
which is seen by some as an opportunistic effort to reach out to right
nationalist forces. It was initiated by a leading member of the Party,
apparently without consultation. Some Party deputies who joined it have
since left the Party.

There appears
to be a general weakness in the relations of the CPRF with the youth.
The Kommosmol is just getting on its feet in many areas. But the youth
are by and large at the mercy of capitalist propaganda.


The day after
the Congress, an informational meeting was held for the international
delegates. Zuganov opened and reiterated the main points in his speech.
Kuptsov, the new first deputy, went more into depth on the political scene
in the country. Romanov outlined the CPRF economic strategy.

from the Chinese, Hungarian, Vietnamese, North Korean, Cuban and the Ukrainian
Communist Parties had spoken at the congress. But about 20 delegates spoke
at the informational meeting and generally called for a greater level
of unity of the international communist movement. There was a great desire
by the parties to increase their presence at international gatherings.
Generally there was a warm and comradely atmosphere, anti-US imperialist,
but not anti-American. The old feeling of solidarity is back, but more
down to earth. I delivered greetings there.


This experience
has had a big impact on my thinking toward our international work. Sometimes
it takes an experience like this to shake us out of our complacency.

I drew some
conclusions based on that experience. First, our international department
is altogether too small to deal with the scale of the work. In response
to corporate globalization the international communist movement is being
radically transformed. Unprecedented new possibilities to build world
communist and working class unity exist. We need at least another full
time cadre there and a functioning collective to respond to the new level
of activity and solidarity that is developing.
The whole world movement has been going through a very difficult and challenging
period, beginning with the setbacks to socialism and the new era of globalization.
This experience has profoundly affected most of the parties.

I don’t think
we can prejudge anything or any party anymore. I had to constantly fight
my temptation to view the international movement from the perspective
of ten years ago. We have to approach the world movement in a totally
fresh way.

We have to
be more flexible in dealing with situations where more than one party
exists. This reflects an unsettled situation in many countries. For example,
there are now three parties in Mexico. Certainly many parties are taking
a more flexible approach.

for myself, I think we need to be better prepared going to these meetings.
As the CP representatives from leading capitalist/imperialist country
more is expected of us. Not only to be better informed, but also to have
our materials better prepared for others’ consumption, to have a better
sense of who the priorities are for meeting with, what issues we want
to raise, what’s stirring in the international movement, etc.

The Party
has been guided by the idea that the number one act of international solidarity
is to change the policies of our own government, an approach which I absolutely
adhere to. But I think largely we have gotten away from the many international
solidarity campaigns that were the hallmark of our work in the past. There
is not much to point to aside from the Cuba solidarity campaigns and the
idea for exchanges of trade unionists with China. This is a weakness in
our work that needs correcting and I think it would add fresh energy to
the entire peace and solidarity movement.

I think when we get the opportunities to go to these congresses we should
arrange to stay and travel for a week if possible. This would give us
a much better sense of what is happening. I know that would be the case
with Russia. I would like to make the proposal that we send a reporter
to the Red Belt.


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