HE IS A LIFELONG party man whose anonymous ascent through the
ranks brought him only as far as an office in the Communists'
ideology department during the final days of the Soviet Union.
Now the Soviet Union is dead and, for many Russians, so is
ideology. But Gennady Zyuganov, 51, a career propagandist, is
finally making his mark by presenting the once-moribund Communist
Party as the savior of Russia's economy and restorer of its empire.
With Zyuganov at its helm, mesmerizing audiences with his
conspiracy theories of a Western master plan to cripple Russia and
his Utopian promises of painless prosperity, the Communist Party
swept last Sunday's parliamentary elections.
As a party, it has won more than 21 percent of the popular
vote. Once the ballots cast in individual races are officially
tallied and added to the votes for party lists, Communists could
end up with about 200 out of 450 seats in the new Duma, or
parliament, some analysts say.
Zyuganov, a virtual unknown on the political scene only five
years ago, is now the leading figure in the opposition to President
Boris Yeltsin's free-market revisions. His face is on the front
page of most newspapers every day. His comments, delivered in a
slow rumble, are broadcast faithfully on the evening news.
Moreover, through his leadership of what will be the largest
single bloc in the parliament, Zyuganov acquires a bully pulpit
from which to criticize capitalism without having to defend an
alternative. He is widely considered to be the most serious
challenger to Yeltsin if presidential elections are held as
scheduled in June.
In short, Zyuganov is Russia's political star. But it's not
clear whether he is a reconstructed Communist or simply a
The Communist leader's intentions, should he gain power, are
obscured by his message, which changes according to his audience.
In 1990, the hottest days of perestroika, Zyuganov was a
fervent opponent of then-Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's
attempts to revise the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
When many of his party colleagues jumped ship with the collapse
of the empire, he hung on, and when the ban on the party was lifted
in 1992, Zyuganov registered it anew and set about rebuilding it as
a fighting political machine.
Before this month's elections, he assured the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce in Moscow that he would not harm foreign investment in
Russia. He assured Christian and Jewish figures, both from Russia
and abroad, that the Communist Party has shed its traditional
atheism and supports religious freedom.
In the last few years, he has traveled widely in Europe, Asia
and the United States, where he spent a few weeks at Harvard
"He tends to be among the more pragmatic of party leaders and
believes there should be no return to the past, although there are
some things from the socialist ideal worth retaining," said a
Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity. …