"How the close partnership with China is changing Russia’s domestic politics"
Gilbert Doctorow (March 23, 2023)

Earlier today Russian state television interrupted normal programming to provide live coverage of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s report to the State Duma on the Government’s performance over the past months and its priorities for the future. This was followed by a period of Q-and-A during which Duma deputies representing each of the parties in the lower house were given about 10 minutes to respond to the report and to make their own statements or to pose questions.

It is commonplace in the West to assume that the State Duma is a rubber stamp legislative body, that there are no Opposition parties, and that Russia is run by one monolithic party called United Russia. That is because only individuals or groups totally hostile to Putin would be recognized as genuine Opposition by the West, and there are no such individuals or groups in the Russian State Duma.

However, as I have long argued, the jockeying for position among the Duma parties is real and is pursued with vigor. In past presidential elections, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in particular went after power, even though it has eluded them time and again. And despite all of the attempts by the ruling party to break up and siphon away Communist voters, even today the CPRF probably accounts for 20% or more of the general electorate.

With the start of the Special Military Operation, the question of relations between all the Duma parties and the Executive Branch of government has changed, as one might expect in a situation where the country faces an existential threat and the patriotic mood dictates solidarity among the ruling elites. This plain fact was mentioned by each speaker. But it does not mean that they do not vie to influence policy in accordance with their different social, economic and other beliefs while swearing allegiance to the President and his cabinet.

In this respect, I paid special attention to the little speech delivered by Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party.

Zyuganov has headed the party since the days of Yeltsin, whom he almost defeated for the presidency in 1996. His loss then was the consequence of massive irregularities for which Yeltsin’s American advisers and oligarch money bore special responsibility. However, in the face of this dirty politics, Zyuganov chose not to challenge the results and not to put at risk Russia’s still quite immature democracy. He remains to this day a remarkably dignified figure in Russian politics and defender of the country’s working classes. He also was and is a defender of Russian national interests in the world, while remaining an internationalist in outlook, true to the Communist Party tradition.

Several years ago, when I was invited as a foreign expert to attend a conference in Moscow on parliamentarism with invited deputies from what we used to call the Third World, mainly Africans in fact, I watched with great interest how Zyuganov circulated in the cocktail reception. The man was ‘born again,’ smiling broadly and enjoying the kind of event with the kind of people who were regular invitees in the good old Soviet days.

It was this Zyuganov who spoke yesterday in the Duma when given the microphone in the Q-and-A session with Mishustin. He spoke hurriedly, turning back every few moments to look at the clock, because he had a lot to say.

Zyuganov took some time recounting how his party has collected and dispatched many truckloads of humanitarian assistance to civilians in war-torn Donbas, as well as useful supplies to soldiers on the front lines. In this connection, it bears mention that the bill calling for Russian recognition of the Donbas republics of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent states was introduced into the Duma in February 2022 by precisely the Communist Party. As we know, this bill was overwhelming approved and its signing by Vladimir Putin cleared the way for the launch of the Special Miltary Operation just days later.

Zyuganov also used his time at the microphone to insist that the war effort required greater mobilization of the home front and “socialization” of the economy. As he noted, social solidarity cannot be assured when half the country has been left behind economically and takes home just 20,000 rubles per month (250 euros at the present exchange rate). Moreover the budget needs cannot be met without taxing the super wealthy appropriately.

But the most interesting point Zyuganov had to make related directly to the visit of Chinese President Xi on the first three days of this week. The outcome of that visit he saw in the historic commitment of Russia and China to work in tandem to create a multipolar world order, while ensuring the prosperity of their peoples and the flourishing of their respective “civilizations.” In this context, he urged Mishustin to consider that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has long had special relations with the fraternal Communist Party in China. His people know officials in the provinces across China. And his party stands ready to advise the Government on developing close relations with China.

When approached by a television journalist after the parliamentary session, Zyuganov repeated his point about the coming “socialization” of the Russian economy, reintroducing practices that had proven successful in the days of the Soviet Union.

This might sound like the wishful thinking of a dyed-in-the-wool Leftist living in the NeoLiberal Russia that Yeltsin ushered in and Putin never really ushered out. But given the exigencies of war, the Russian economy is in fact being remade not just by enormous orders placed with the military industrial complex for munitions and weapons systems, but also through massive subsidies being held out to businesses to produce subassemblies and components essential to replace now sanctioned supplies for ships, aircraft and whatnot.

These changing realities in the domestic economy align very nicely with an ever closer Chinese partnership. One had to note Putin’s remarks to President Xi at the very start of the State Visit, when the two sat in armchairs and exchanged pleasantries in front of the photographers. Putin congratulated Xi on his recent reelection which he said reflected the high appreciation of the Chinese people for what the country has achieved under his stewardship. Putin went on to say that the economic achievements in China have been stunning, to the point that “one can envy them.”

In the couple of days since, Russian television journalists have expanded on that comment as praise for the competence of the entire Chinese political and economic management. All of this points to the “socialization” of Russia that Zyuganov so hopes for.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2023

Frédéric Herschel
I read every word with the utmost satisfaction and pleasure. A simultaneous introduction to a great man and much greater clarity on Russia. With regard to Putin, considering what he has accomplished and what he will accomplish, it is no wonder that the land of exception has awarded him the highest honor they could: the establishment of a branch of the International Criminal Court in Ukraine.

Frederick Herschel
Your posts are unique. This one is particularly unique. There is a Russian, in Russian, blogger in Crimea who is a military man and a Communist. His blog, which supports the SMO and provides abundant useful military and political insights into the conflict between NATO and Russia, is shunned and completely ignored by all the other bloggers on the subject who share his belief that the activities of the United States in Ukraine are at best insane. Why? Because he’s a Communist. The average person in the United States carries $5,000 in credit card debt charging over 20% per year in interest. That same average person cannot get more than 1 or 2% interest on a savings account from the same bank that issues his/her credit card. Is there protest? Are there people storming the banks with assault rifles? Is there even the tiniest whimper of discontent? No. Quite the contrary, according to these same oblivious debt slaves, the United States is a paragon of “democracy” and the best nation on earth to lead the world to a “rules based order.”