Zyuganov, Gennady Andreyevich

(1944– )
   Politician. Born to schoolteachers in Mymrino in the Oryol Oblast, Zyuganov graduated from the Oryol Pedagogical Institute with a degree from the faculty of mathematics and physics in 1969. He worked as a schoolteacher before and after his military service in a chemical intelligence unit in East Germany. In the mid-1970s, he assumed a leadership position in the Komsomol youth organization, and developed a sizable political network of fellow apparatchiks. He received a doctorate in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Academy of Social Sciences in 1980. Soon thereafter, he took a job in the propaganda department of the Central Committee of the CPSU.
   In 1990, he grew highly critical of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms and broke from the CPSU, helping to establish a competing hardline Communist party for the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Driven by a conviction that Boris Yeltsin’s admiration for the West and radical economic reforms were destroying the country, Zyuganov formed a group of right- and left-wing politicians under the ideological influence of Aleksandr Prokhanov in the early 1990s. While supportive of the anti-Yeltsin coalition that precipitated the constitutional crisis of 1993, Zyuganov avoided actual participation in the crisis and was absent from Moscow during the period of violence. During the political chaos that followed, Zyuganov, ever the pragmatist, founded the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). With the help of the well-known Soviet-era politicians Anatoly Lukyanov and Yegor Ligachev, he solidified the new party’s image as the rightful heir to the CPSU and captured a respectable share of seats in the 1993 State Duma elections. Zyuganov proved to be an effective leader, not only because of his conciliatory style, but also due to his malleable political views. He sits at the nexus between revivalist Marxism-Leninism, contemporary social democracy, and Russian nationalism. His views incorporate a number of political trends that unite both the “reds” (Communists, socialists, etc.) and the “browns” (neofascists, ultranationalists, etc.), though he is often criticized by both extremes of his constituency for not going far enough. Influenced by Aleksandr Dugin and other conservative ideologues, he tacitly supports both Slavophilism and neo-Eurasianism and espouses anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. He has even made room for the Russian Orthodox Church within his party.
   Over the next several years, he turned the KPRF into the most popular political party in the Russian Federation. In the run-up to the 1996 presidential election, he quickly emerged as the front-runner. Buoyed by Yeltsin’s unpopularity and strong support from Russia’s populous Red Belt, Zyuganov seemed guaranteed to become the country’s second popularly elected president. Yeltsin emerged victorious only after a coalition of oligarchs and stakeholders in the new system rallied to brand the Communists as unstable warmongers intent on starting a new Cold War with the West and engaging in class warfare at home. Despite losing the presidency, Zyuganov’s vituperative anti-Western orientation, which he describes as “technotronic fascism,” went down well among a Russian populace concerned about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) expansion, the war in Yugoslavia, and Russia’s diminished power in foreign relations. His antiglobalization rhetoric also paid dividends during the ruble crisis of 1998, when the Russian ruble was hammered by an economic contagion that began in the Pacific Rim. Zyuganov’s political views have continued to develop over time, as he has sought to expand his political base of support and to grow the KPRF into a party of power. He has heaped praise on Buddhism and Islam as moral compasses that mitigate the crass individualism and consumerism of Western ideologies. He has also avoided the temptation to turn the KPRF into a vehicle for his personal ambitions, making it one of the few genuine political parties in the country. In 2000, he ran against Vladimir Putin for the presidency but suffered a disappointing showing in the race. Recognizing the popularity of the former chekist, Zyuganov sat out the 2004 poll, backing an Agrarian candidate instead. He returned to presidential politics in 2008 to run against Putin’s heir apparent, Dmitry Medvyedev, and did surprisingly well considering the support Medvyedev received from the media and regional governors.
   In the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, it was reported that Prime Minister Putin installed a direct phone line from Zyuganov’s office to his own, reflecting a new realpolitik toward the Communist leader. In addition to his role as first secretary of the KPRF, Zyuganov is also a deputy of the State Duma and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and holds the chairmanship of Russia’s Union of Communist Parties.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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