Communist Party of the Russian Federation

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The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (Kommunisticheskaya partiya Rossiiskoi Federatsii), or CPRF, descended from the short-lived Communist Party of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (CP RSFSR). This was formed as an anti-perestroika organization within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1990. Boris Yeltsin suspended it for its tacit support of the August 1991 coup and banned it on November 6, 1991. A group of CP RSFSR leaders headed by its First Secretary Valentin Kuptsov successfully achieved the partial repeal of the ban in the Russian Constitutional Court in November 1992, and the party reconstituted itself in February 1993 as the CPRF. Gennady Zyuganov became party chair at the party's refoundation as the candidate most likely to unite differing party trends.

The party was modeled on the template of the CPSU as a communist mass party, from primary party organizations (PPOs) in eighty-eight of Russia's regions, up to a 159-member Central Committee representing divisional leaders, a ruling seventeen-person presidium, and a number of deputy chairmen below Zyuganov. Internally, it operated on a relaxed form of hierarchical Leninist discipline known as "democratic centralism."

The CPRF's financial support incited much controversy. Officially it relied on membership subscriptions

Table 1.

CPRF election results
SOURCE: Courtesy of the author.
Dec. 1993 Duma12.447
Dec. 1995 Duma22.3157
1996 presidential
first round (Zyuganov)32.0-
1996 presidential
second round (Zyuganov)40.3-
Dec. 1999 Duma24.3113
2000 presidential (Zyuganov)29.2-

and the voluntary work of its membership of some 550,000, but the donations of sympathetic "red businessmen," the material resources of the State Duma, and perhaps even former CPSU funds played a role. Increasingly, as the main opposition party, the CPRF attracted the lobbying of Russia's chief financial-industrial groups such as Gazprom and YUKOS, and, in late 2002, Boris Berezovsky caused a scandal by offering the party material support.

The party's internal composition was no less disputed. Although it was publicly unified, and possessed a consolidated leadership troika based around leader Zyuganov and deputy chairmen Kuptsov (in charge of the party's bureaucracy and finances) and Ivan Melnikov, observers identified horizontal and vertical cleavages throughout the party. In terms of the former, Zyuganov's "statist-patriotic communists," who espoused a Great Russian nationalistic position, were the party trend most influential publicly. "Marxist reformers" such as Kuptsov and Melnikov, who espoused an anti-bureaucratic Marxism, were less visible, owing to their vulnerability to allegations of "Gorbachevism." Much of the party professed the more orthodox communist "Marxist-Leninist modernizer" viewpoint. Moreover, whilst the parliamentary leadership was relatively pragmatic, the party's lower ranks were progressively more inclined to traditionalist militancy.

The CPRF program was adopted in January 1995 and only cosmetically modified thereafter. Though there were many concessions made to Russian cultural exceptionalism, the program committed the party to "developing Marxism-Leninism" and a three-stage transition to a classless society with concessions to parliamentary methods and private ownership seen as temporary. The program was strongly anti-capitalist, promising the socialization of property led by the working class, while also promising the replacement of the 1993 "Yeltsin" constitution with a Soviet-style parliamentary republic, and the "voluntary" resurrection of the USSR. In public proclamations and electoral platforms (usually aimed at alliance with a "national-patriotic bloc"), the party was progressively more moderate, promising a mixed economy, not mentioning programmatic aims such as nationalization, and drawing on populist patriotism and social democracy. The contradictions between public and party faces were controversial within and out-side the party.

The party became a significant electoral force in the 1993 Duma election, and by 1995 its greater visibility and organization, along with a deteriorating socio-economic climate, allowed it to become Russia's leading party and parliamentary group. This was confirmed by regional victories between 1996 and 1997, and by the December 1999 parliamentary elections, although better campaigning by pro-government competitors contributed to a loss of Duma seats. The party mobilized a stable electorate, particularly in the rural southern "red belt," but its inability to appeal to many younger urban voters limited its success. Though leader Zyuganov contested the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections (as a national-patriotic candidate), unfriendly media coverage reinforced this trend.

The CPRF was consistently critical of the post1991 political system and governing elite, particularly liberal figures such as Yeltsin. It was an "anti-system" party in its rejection of many post1991 political values and institutions, and was often regarded as anti-democratic. However, between 1995 and 1999 it increasingly became a "semi-loyal opposition," selectively supportive of more nationalist or socially orientated policies, notably contributing two ministers to the government of Yevgeny Primakov (September 1998May 1999). Its failed 1999 attempt to impeach Yeltsin initiated a decline in influence. It was politically marginalized in Vladimir Putin's first presidential term and in April 2002 suffered a schism. Duma chairman Gennady Seleznyov and his supporters were expelled for forming the competitor socialist movement "Russia," although the CPRF's organizational and electoral support was little affected.

See also: august 1991 putsch; communist party of the soviet union; yeltsin, boris nikolayevich; zyuganov, gennady andreyevich


Devlin, Judith. (1999). Slavophiles and Commissars: Enemies of Democracy in Modern Russia. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

March, Luke. (2002). The Communist Party in post-Soviet Russia. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

March, Luke. (2003). "The Pragmatic Radicalism of Russia's Communists." In The Left Transformed in Post-Communist Societies: The Cases of East-Central Europe, Russia, and Ukraine, ed. Jane Leftwich Curry and Joan Barth Urban. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Sakwa, Richard. (2002). "The CPRF: The Powerlessness of the Powerful." In A Decade of Transformation: Communist Successor Parties in Central and Eastern Europe, ed. András Bozóki and John T. Ishiyama. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Urban, Joan Barth, and Solovei, Valerii. (1997). Russia's Communists at the Crossroads. Boulder, CO: West-view.

Luke March

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Communist Party of the Russian Federation