Socialism may be waning, but not for young Russians

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“There was no genuine socialism in the Soviet Union,” she said. “And it is inaccurate to portray us all as seeking a return to the past. That simply isn’t true. We are for a new, modernized form of socialism.”

The rising popularity of socialist ideas among young Russians has been bolstered by the country’s appalling record on wealth inequality, highlighted this month in a report by the Swiss financial services company Credit Suisse Group AG.

“Excluding small Caribbean nations with resident billionaires, wealth inequality in Russia is the highest in the world,” the report said. “Worldwide, billionaires collectively account for less than 2 percent of total household wealth; in Russia today, around 100 billionaires own 30 percent of all personal assets.”

‘Miss Russia’ speaks out

Analysts say such statistics represent a time bomb for the Kremlin.

“Socialist ideas were discredited in Russia in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but young people are today rediscovering them,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst at the Moscow-based Carnegie Center think tank.

“A few years ago, it seemed that nationalist groups posed the greatest danger to the authorities,” Ms. Shevtsova said. “But now it is clear that it is the new left.”

A growing dissatisfaction with wealth inequality was highlighted this week by stinging criticism of Russia’s rulers from an unlikely source – a “Miss Russia” beauty queen.

“My poor, long-suffering country [is being] mercilessly torn to pieces by greedy, dishonest, unbelieving people,” said Natalia Pereverzeva, 23, when asked to describe her homeland for the annual Miss Earth beauty pageant. “My Russia is a beggar. My Russia cannot help her elderly and orphans. From it, bleeding, like from a sinking ship, engineers, doctors, teachers are fleeing, because they have nothing to live on.”

Ilya Ponomaryov, 37, an opposition lawmaker with the A Just Russia party and a founding member of the Left Front coalition, welcomes the increased popularity of socialist ideas among Russian youths.

“Left-wing groups in Russia openly sought a return to a socialism system in the 1990s, but they were entirely discredited,” said Mr. Ponomaryov. “But people have now again begun to see leftist ideas as a real alternative, and it’s a very positive sign that more and more young people are getting involved.”

He dismissed suggestions that history has proved that it is impossible to build a viable society on the principles of socialism and communism.

“They all got [Karl] Marx and [Friedrich] Engels wrong,” he said of failed socialist states, referring to the authors of “The Communist Manifesto.” “You have to get the economic approach right first before you can build a socialist country.”

But Mr. Ponomaryov acknowledged having “mixed feelings” about the Soviet Union.

“It was a strong state with many social guarantees, but there was far too much bureaucracy,” he said. “But it’s clear things were better in the Soviet Union than they are now. There was no freedom of speech or human rights back then, but there isn’t any now, either.”

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