MOSCOW — Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ideas of Marx and Lenin are making a comeback in Russia with a wave of young leftists whose potential for mass appeal seems to have rattled the Kremlin.
The most high-profile of this new generation of leftists, Sergei Udaltsov, made international headlines last month when he and two others from his Left Front political movement were charged with planning mass disorder across Russia based on accusations in a TV documentary aired by a pro-Kremlin station.
All three face up to 10 years behind bars on the charges, which they deny.
“The Kremlin’s persecution of leftist activists makes it very clear that the authorities are wary of socialist groups,” Alexei Sakhnin, 30, a leading Left Front member, told The Washington Times. “Russia has always been a leftist country, and the vast majority of the population would support a moderate socialist program.”
The leftists form a key part of a loose-knit coalition of pro-democracy, economic justice and anti-corruption activists who have opposed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian rule – opposition that Mr. Putin has attributed in part to Western interference.
Widespread nostalgia for the Soviet era among older Russians has allowed the Communist Party to enjoy a significant place in parliament, behind Mr. Putin’s ruling United Russia party.
But the new vanguard of young leftists excoriates the Communists, who continue to sing the praises of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
“The Communist Party has no real desire to attempt to take power and is a corrupted, compromised opposition,” said Mr. Sakhnin. “And their respect for Stalin greatly limits their appeal. We condemn Stalin. That’s what makes us so threatening. There is a real hunger for genuine leftist groups.”
‘Modernized form of socialism’
Russia’s Left Front calls for a socialist economic system, a democratic political system and greater political and economic cooperation with other nations – and the group’s rhetoric seems to have struck a chord among many Russians.
A public opinion survey by the state-run polling firm VTsIOM this year indicated that Mr. Udaltsov was the only high-profile protest leader whose popularity ratings increased since Mr. Putin’s election to a third presidential term in March.
A former KGB officer, Mr. Putin himself has flirted with leftist ideals throughout his 13 years in power. In 2006, he famously called the breakup of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.
Mr. Putin’s campaign ahead of the presidential election this year was based in part on leftist ideas, such as a much-trumpeted alliance with labor unions and promises of social spending.
“Putin’s pre-election campaign was centered on leftist populism,” said Isabelle Magkoeva, 21, a rising star of Russia’s left and an activist with the Revolutionary Socialist Movement. “But the new leftist groups are so dangerous for the authorities because they can expose these fictitious alliances.”
Although Ms. Magkoeva praised former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin as a “great revolutionary,” she offered a negative assessment of the Soviet Union itself, which ceased to exist the same year she was born.