Welcome Back, Lenin! - An Alternate History of the 1996 Presidential Election

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Cyclone, Jul 15, 2010.

  1. Cyclone I am not a Democrat.

    Nov 14, 2006
    Welcome Back, Lenin! - An Alternate 1996 Presidential Election

    "[A]ll too often the beliefs of the "born again" Russian Marxist-Leninists were disregarded by Western observers of contemporary Russian developments. If it was commonly thought before perestroika that the Soviet order could never really change, it was just as frequently assumed after 1991 that communism in Russia was somehow dead and gone forever."
    - Russia's Communists at the Crossroads

    Having cast his vote, President Yeltsin had a few drinks and went to bed. The next morning, an aide woke him up. "Mr. President, I have good news and bad news," says the aid. "What's the bad news?" asks Yeltsin, his hands shaking. "Zyuganov got 55 percent of the popular vote." "Oh God, no! Well, what's the good news?" "You got 65 percent."
    - Russian joke from before the first round of voting in 1996.

    The CPRF
    The difficulties which faced the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in its formative years were numerous, but so too were its advantages.

    The CPRF was temporarily banned by Yeltsin in 1993, and its papers were shut down, preventing it from effectively competing in the elections to the Duma on December 12. It was constantly attacked with visions of the worst of the Soviet past by Yeltsin's 1996 Presidential campaign; a past which it had to hold onto, as those nostalgic for it were the party's base. It was divided between what would be most easily described as Gorbachevists, Zyuganovists and Leninists, each of which was a vastly different tendency. Outside the party, there were numerous anti-parliamentary Communists constantly attacking it for social-democratic deviations.

    On the other hand, the CPRF was fortunate to have suddenly purged itself of its "careerist" elements; anyone who was in the CPSU for personal advancement would not join a fledgling opposition party. It was capable of appealing not just to the left-wing of Russian politics, but also to the right: for nationalists and traditionalists, what was more nationalistic or traditionalistic than the party of Stalin? It could call upon a history which not everyone - and certainly not everyone who wouldn't vote for Yeltsin - looked back on poorly.

    The CPRF Program, adopted at its Third Congress in January 1995, showed heavy influence of the Leninists. It did not mention political pluralism or a mixed economy, as some drafts had, but rather mentioned the end of the exploitation of man by man, a classless society, and scientific planning and management. On the other hand, the party's Presidium contained relatively few Leninists, and its Secretariat contained only one (of five members). The party had also come under fire from the ultraleftists outside (and for that matter inside) the party for its social-democratic tendencies, so the platform is most likely both a concession to the weak Leninists within and an attempt to prevent criticism from the left.

    Zyuganov represents, naturally, the Zyuganovist tendency within the CPRF. It would perhaps be best described as social democratic and nationalistic. The exact degree to which Zyuganov is and is not a social democrat can be debated, but he has put forward a firmly peaceful and legal policy for the advancement of the CPRF, and pushed for a mixed economy rather than a centrally planned one. Comparisons can (and have) been made to the strategic policies of communists during and immediately after WW2. In 1996, he pursued a political campaign that united a broad spectrum of progressive forces in Russia, from the center-left to the ultraleft.

    Zyuganov is also quite anti-Presidency; when he attempted alongside other anti-Yeltsin forces to form a coalition, he stated that the Presidency should be abolished altogether. Later this lightened to simply bringing it under the control of the legislative branch. This could perhaps be attributed to his experiences during the October 1993 showdown between the legislative and executive forces which ultimately resulted in the victory of Yeltsin.

    Elections in Post-Soviet Russia by Gregory Lynch (published 2001)
    ...however, most historians now feel that the greatest mistake of the new oligarchs in Russia was with respect to the events leading up to the 1996 Presidential election. While there were numerous opposition candidates, among them Alexander Lebed and Grigory Yavlinsky, the political campaign of Boris Yeltsin was capable of convincing the oligarchs to support him, even in ways which were illegal. This mistake was mirrored by the United States, which pushed through a $10.2 billion dollar IMF loan that helped Yeltsin's campaign.

    Of course, the fact that Yeltsin was the wrong choice should have been obvious, even then. He lacked significant support, getting single digit numbers in the polls at the beginning of 1996. He was responsible for huge losses to the day-to-day lives of people at every level of Russian society - workers, soldiers, and state employees in particular. Unemployment skyrocketed, the elderly lost their savings due to hyperinflation, and the state could not pay its employees. While it is possible that Yeltsin could have won the campaign, the sheer amount of aid that the United States and the new oligarchs in Russia gave to Yeltsin would have been far better given to Lebed or Yavlinsky. Their reasons for siding with Yeltsin appear to have been simple blindness, cultivated by Yeltsin himself, to the fact that there were other viable non-Communist candidates.

    In the end, they bet on the wrong horse. Yeltsin suffered a heart attack on June 27, and was quickly rushed to the hospital. This was directly between the first and second rounds of voting, and demoralized his supporters when the news was leaked. Although the source of the leak was never discovered, the administration of Zyuganov soon called the investigation off, leading some to believe that a member of his party had somehow discovered it and informed the press. In the end, it is all conjecture; what is important is that between the first and second round, one of the candidates suffered a serious loss in apparent ability to govern, and as a consequence was rendered political dead weight.

    As a consequence of this, Gennady Zyuganov eventually beat Yeltsin in the run-off 51-37, a vote total which most likely should have been higher for Zyuganov, but was artificially decreased due to fraud, particularly in the ethnic republics [Author's Note: See Alexander Peterson and Jason Stockholm's study titled Voter Fraud in the 1996 Russian Presidential Election for more information]. Nearly 12 percent of the public voted for no one, implying very real dissatisfaction at the process which took place, wherein there was (in many's eyes) only one "real" candidate...
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2010
  2. The Vulture Banned

    Aug 11, 2009
    The Wilds of Kr'rundor
    Hmm, interesting. . .
  3. LeX Well-Known Member

    Sep 13, 2007
    Aha. This is an interesting point of history that nobody seems to care about. Glad you're writing a TL on it.
  4. Whanztastic BohemianAmerican Defenestrater

    Apr 13, 2009
    Ft. Dearborn
    Or knows about. So what happened OTL? Yeltsin had an heart attack but they were able to hide it until after the election?
  5. Kome One Knight Stand Kicked

    Oct 21, 2008
    Oooh, interesting.
  6. Cyclone I am not a Democrat.

    Nov 14, 2006
    Yep. Historically his disappearance from the public eye after his heart attack between the first and second rounds of voting was characterized as "exhaustion" from campaigning.

    I was considering letting Zyuganov win by outright killing Yeltsin, but I think his electoral chances were probably best against Yeltsin. Yeltsin has a tougher time getting the ultranationalist vote (a significant base of support for Zyuganov) than Lebed (next down the list in terms of votes in the first round) would have, and his anti-communist base isn't going to vote for Zyuganov no matter what.
  7. putins apprentice Well-Known Member

    Jun 1, 2010
    I like it. Keep going with this it could become very interesting
  8. Cyclone I am not a Democrat.

    Nov 14, 2006
    Red Justice, White State: A History of the Russian Federation by Mikhail Ulyanov (published 2009)
    From Chapter 5: The Transfer of Power
    ...The results of the second round of voting were a clear victory to Zyuganov, although it represented a record high of voter apathy. In total, 39.6% percent of the electorate failed to show up to vote, and 11.4% of those who did did not vote for Zyuganov or Yeltsin, casting invalid ballots or selecting "against all." This lead to some United States political commentators to joke that "most people voted for nobody," so "nobody should be the President." Of course, the hypocrisy of this (no US national election since 1968 has had voter turnout of even 60 percent) obviously flew over the heads of nationalists desperate to try to paint Zyuganov as having illegitimately taken power.

    Picking out what is most strange about the election of 1996 is difficult. Was it the fact that communists managed to gain a majority of the voters for the first time in post-Soviet politics? Was it the large increase in voter apathy between the first and second rounds of voting? Was it the fact that the Yeltsin campaign faced its "June Surprise" despite tailoring the second round of voting to occur only two weeks after the first for the exact purpose of preventing such a thing? Was it the fact that in a political system and culture which, to put it mildly, overwhelmingly favored the incumbent, the opposition won? Certainly, these are all unusual.

    I would argue that the most peculiar element is the sheer peacefulness and order with which the transfer of power was committed. To be sure, legally speaking Zyuganov should have become the President. But Yeltsin had previously shown a great willingness to use force where he felt it was necessary to maintain democracy (or, as his critics would say, to maintain his own power). Contemporary media also played up the possibility of a civil war if Zyuganov was elected. Did Yeltsin allow Zyuganov to ascend to the Presidency because of a desire to maintain order, rather than plunging the country into civil war? Was it due to his personal exhaustion as a result of his recent heart attack? Was it because the "voters had decided," and they had decided against him? Yeltsin himself, ever desperate to look as good as possible, claims that his reason was the latter. However, it is worth noting that Yeltsin remained out of the public spotlight following his heart attack until after he underwent surgery in September of that year.

    Worth also noting, particularly for the degree to which it has been glossed over in the West, is Zyuganov's constituency. Of course, much ado was made about the age differentiation: Zyuganov's supporters tended to be the older generation, nostalgic for the days when Russia was number one (or number two). But the fact that Zyuganov picked up relatively few votes in the urban centers is often glossed over. Zyuganov's constituency was much more focused in the insular, traditionalistic countryside, rather than the outward-looking cities, despite the fact that communism is a political ideology traditionally associated with the working class. This key weakness would greatly effect the policy decisions which Zyuganov and the CPRF made after their acquisition of power in 1996...
  9. Urban fox Well-Known Member

    Nov 3, 2006
    The Grand Duchy of Kilmarnock
    Anything that gets rid of Yeltsin is good for Russia, it can start to recover from Yetsin's gross misrule far sooner than OTL.

    The CPRF getting voted for in a free election in post-U.S.S.R Russia is also a major political event that will have a major effect on other post Soviet SSRs. Also the idea that Communism is dead in the post Cold War era has been shot down in flames too.:D
  10. Cyclone I am not a Democrat.

    Nov 14, 2006
    Belarus and Russia - Bridging the Gap by Stepan Ioffe (published 1998)
    ...as I have explained in previous chapters, culturally, Russia and Belarus are extraordinarily close; while nationalists in Belarus want to emphasize their uniqueness, this tendency is not followed by the general population, where over 58.3 percent speak Russian in their homes and only single digit numbers use Belarusian alone. Economically, the two countries are again heavily linked, though Belarus pursued trade with all the former Soviet states...

    ...The central problem was simple political infighting. Lukashenko, it seems, did not like the idea of playing second fiddle to anyone. Zyuganov did not particularly admire Lukashenko's somewhat heavy-handed ruling style (some sources suggest Zyuganov felt that Lukashenko's behavior in 1996 was very close to Yeltsin's in 1993), nor his great power in Belarus. The original negotiations floated the idea that Zyuganov would become the president of the union, and Lukashenko would become its vice president. This broke down almost immediately, as Lukashenko was worried that he would never get his chance in the sun and Zyuganov was not very attached to the Presidency at that point.

    Eventually, in January 1997, a plan was adopted. It called for the two countries to unify currencies in 2003, assuming the economic situation in Russia had improved (specifically if it had returned to at least its 1992 levels) and the economic situation in Belarus had not declined "significantly." It further called for them to put together a mutual constitution that would be pieced together by the Belarusian and Russian parliaments by the end of 2002, then put to a popular referendum in both countries by the end of June 2003. In effect, the two countries seem to have agreed to put off the act of de facto political unification (which Belarusian opposition forces call "annexation") until their political victories have been entrenched; Presidential elections are scheduled for in 2000 in Russia and in 2001 in Belarus.

    Of course, the loss of power for Zyuganov or Lukashenko would almost certainly spell disaster for the two county's political unification, unless their successors were very similar. The understanding between the two regimes is founded in large part upon their similar political situations, as two post-Soviet countries seeking (or having achieved) a return to a mixed economy with a large state sector. Without their similar economic policies, it is probable that the union would become impossible despite their close cultural, social and economic ties. Of course, it is ultimately up in the air whether the union will happen at all...

    Author's Note: Historically, a lot of this happened between Yeltsin and Lukashenko in 1999. However, the dates they set for economic and political unification were later, have since been delayed and passed, and are probably never coming. Lukashenko had initially hoped to become Yeltsin's vice president and launch a campaign to become President in 2000 against the old, ailing and wildly unpopular Yeltsin; however, when Putin came to power, the situation changed and Lukashenko's odds of becoming the President of the Union State shrank to virtually nothing. Similar economic policies accelerate the planned economic unification (as well as the fact that it looks as though Russia's economy may come out of the shitter), and Lukashenko is really hoping that the Russian elections in 1999 and 2000 will give him some sort of opportunity. If they don't, he figures he can push for a more decentralized union.
  11. Alikchi Lurker Extraordinaire

    Jan 21, 2004
    Indian Territory
    Very interesting stuff, keep it coming please!
  12. Urban fox Well-Known Member

    Nov 3, 2006
    The Grand Duchy of Kilmarnock
    Ukraine (or at least the central and eastern parts of it) and Kazakhstan might also desire closer ties to Russia in this Union-State as many Kazakhs and Ukrainians either spoke Russian or simply were Ethnic Russians. Georgia’s separatist enclaves Abkizia and Ossetia might try the same.
  13. Cyclone I am not a Democrat.

    Nov 14, 2006
    There will definitely be a focus in Russian foreign policy on reclaiming the near east, though it will obviously be quite a bit harder for them to do in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan, since despite their close ties, they aren't quite as close as Belarus.

    Return of Socialism to Russia!
    August 12, 1996, Workers World Newspaper
    The people of Russia, in spite of opposition from their self-ordained rulers both inside and outside the government, have successfully signalled to the world that they are in firm opposition to the destruction of their economy by these counter-revolutionary forces. In a result which should shock only the most ignorant, the Presidential candidate of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), Comrade Gennady Zyuganov has been elected.

    While some in the imperialist media claim (without evidence) that Zyuganov has been elected falsely or on unfair grounds, this is a bald faced lie.

    In 1993, Boris Yeltsin used his position as head of state to order the shelling of parliament, at that point still a powerful organ of working class power. Further, he banned the CPRF until only briefly before the December 12 parliamentary elections, and most of its papers were suppressed, with only Pravda returning to its regular schedule on December 10. Under these circumstances, it is little surprise that the CPRF failed to gain significant ground in the Duma.

    However, in the second post-Soviet election to the Duma, the CPRF became the largest political party by far, taking over a third of its seats while its nearest competitors clocked in at about a ninth. Even the old excuses used to claim that the legislative election of 1990 did not represent the heartfelt support of the vast majority of the people of the Soviet Union cannot be applied - this was a bourgeois democratic election, the sort which the United States has long claimed to support.

    It is also unsurprising that the working class movement in Russia has taken to the political successor to the CPSU. From 1921 to 1985, the Soviet Union experienced no economic recession - that is, no periods of negative growth - unlike in capitalist societies where recessions are regular. It was only due to Gorbachev's bowing to capitalist and counterrevolutionary elements within the party itself that the Soviet Union experienced a real economic decline in its final years.

    The gentle but very destructive decline of the Gorbachev era turned into a torrent of desolation with hyperinflation and huge spike in unemployment after Yeltsin seized absolute power following the failed attempt by leftist forces within the Communist Party to maintain control. Since the Soviet Union was a worker's state, employment opportunities were guaranteed to all workers, and minimum wage was more than sufficient to pay for the cost of living. However, thanks to Yeltsin, the situation was reversed, with large numbers becoming unemployed and regular pay for state employees being frequently suspended.

    While the imperialist media has made much of workers being paid not to work in the late Soviet Union, this situation did not arise until the Gorbachev years, when capitalist infiltration of all organs of the party and state was effectively legalized due to Glasnost and Perestroika. This resulted in economic irrationalities common in capitalist countries but hitherto unheard of in socialist countries, and these irrationalities naturally produced contradictions. Workers being paid not to work was ultimately a consequence of capitalism, not socialism.

    With so many economic and political conditions pushing the need for a return to a planned economic system organized in the defense of workers and farmers, as well as clear outpouring of support for the CPRF in polls in the previous year, it is unsurprising that Zyuganov has been elected President. Indeed, it would seem natural. However, there is very real evidence that there was voter fraud - in favor of Yeltsin.

    One American statistician, Alexander Peterson, noted recently that "voter fraud in some of the ethnic republics almost certainly occurred," and that "these numbers are distressingly unlikely to have occurred naturally without Yeltsin or his supporters illegally intervening." In one example given of a rayon in Tatarstan, "1,782 and 8,046 votes for Yeltsin and Zyuganov respectively" in the first round of elections, while the second round saw "12,098 and 832 votes for Yeltsin and Zyuganov respectively." Considering that the second round saw only slightly decreased voter turnout and had fewer candidates, the possibility of such a shocking change in Zyuganov's votes is virtually nil. Despite the claims that Zyuganov was only elected due to voter fraud, it would be more correct to say that he won despite voter fraud.

    Imperialists in the United States and in the West in general attack Zyuganov not because he is an authoritarian or because he is a former member of the KGB. These lies are just disguises for the true reasons for their attacks: because he is a socialist, because he fights against United States imperialism, and because he is putting the working class of his country before the rich of other countries.

    Russia is very fortunate in that they have taken a major step towards returning power to the working class without any violence. Though this step is a transitionary one in the struggle for socialism, the Worker's World Party stands in solidarity with the struggles of all poor and working people across the world against capitalism and imperialism, including in this case.

    Cuba and Russia Deepen Ties
    August 20, 1996
    Ivan Melnikov, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new Zyuganov government, met with Fidel Castro today in Havana, in an attempt to improve ties between the island nation and Russia. Representatives of the Zyuganov administration stated that the talks were "productive" and "signalled the possibility of a renewed and mutually beneficial relationship."

    From shortly after the establishment of Fidel Castro's dictatorship following the Cuban Revolution in 1959 up until 1990, relations between Cuba and Russia had been overwhelmingly positive. Russian aid to Cuba included not just military and economic aid, but granted them a market for sugar (their primary export), sold them large amounts of oil and even provided them with access to nuclear weaponry during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, aid to Cuba stopped, and its lucrative trade with the Soviet Union disappeared. Cuba then entered into what it calls the "Special Period in Time of Peace," an economic crisis which has only worsened.

    The term "Special Period in Time of Peace" is derivative of the "Special Period in Time of War," an economic plan of action originally devised in case of United States invasion. Because of the Special Period, there has been a great loss in access to food and oil among the public of Cuba, sparking speculation that the Castro regime may collapse soon.

    This renewal of positive Russian-Cuban relations may signal a recovery for the Cuban economy, which has thus far suffered significantly with loss of trade with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was Cuba's primary source of oil, to an overwhelming degree, and that oil was in large part the basis of Cuba's industrial economy, which has slowly ground to a halt during the Special Period.

    Washington analysts believe that this will worsen relationships between the governments of the United States and Russia. While the Clinton administration recognized the results of the recent election of Zyuganov, that does not mean that the two governments are on close terms.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2010
  14. BlahBlahBlah Your temporally displaced counterpart

    Jul 14, 2010
    Unceded territory
    Very interesting! Consider me subscribed.

    What effect will this have on leftist movements across the globe?
  15. FDW Banned

    Jun 27, 2009
    San Francisco
    Interesting, consider me subscribed.
  16. Cyclone I am not a Democrat.

    Nov 14, 2006
    Now that would be telling. ;)

    I will say this though: I am pretty sure the first significant (well, depends on your definition of significant, I suppose) extra-Russian political change will be in early 1997 in a certain former Communist country. It will not be a result of any direct intervention or ideological tendencies on Russia's part, but rather it's general "fuck NATO/the West" foreign policy that got kick started about four years earlier ITTL. A cookie if you can guess which country.

    Update coming soon.
  17. Cyclone I am not a Democrat.

    Nov 14, 2006
    Russia Plans Food Aid For North Korea
    August 28, 1996
    Russia is currently looking into how best to assist North Korea, which has recently been ravaged by floods, destroying much of the country's farmland. Already having faced famine for the past year, the situation in Korea recently worsened with the massive torrential downpour of the past two months, with July's rains reaching up to 30 inches in some districts according to aid officials.

    Earlier this week, President Zyuganov stated that "we wish to help the people of North Korea in this time of great difficulties for them. No moral nation can stand by while others starve. Without hesitation, we will help the people of North Korea." Russia has today has begun bilateral talks with the United States and China on how to best help deal with the food crisis that has emerged, and how best to distribute aid to the population.

    As well as coming almost immediately after Zyuganov's ascension to the position of Presidency, this comes on the back of recent news regarding torrential rain and flooding that began last month and has worsened the food crisis even further.

    The Korean Worker's Party, which rules in North Korea, attended the CPRF's Third Congress on January 21-22, 1995. Gennady Zyuganov responded to questions earlier this morning, and denied that the aid was ideologically motivated. Rather, he stated that the reason was simply that "people are starving."

    Editorial: Russian Foreign Policy In The DPRK
    August 29, 1996
    In the wake of the recent decision by Russia to help North Korea, a country just recently struck by major natural disasters, commentators describe it as either "socialist internationalism" or "old communist bloc Soviet garbage," depending on how they view socialism. This reaction is understandable, especially considering how soon after Melnikov's visit with Castro this comes. But is the decision really related to the ideological bent of North Korea?

    I don't believe so. North Korea occupies a strategic position for Russia and its collapse would seriously harm Russian interests in the region. While most of Zyuganov's current targets for aid, trade and alliances are former Soviet allies, that is only natural. After all, former Soviet allies are often persona non grata in Washington circles, as is the case with Kim Jong-il. Without the United States to rely on, these countries are naturally easier to pull into the Russian camp.

    Zyuganov's seemingly purposeful avoidance of any ideological reason for his pursuing renewed bilateral relations with North Korea and Cuba is a symbol of this. He does not want to restart the Cold War, merely to put Russia back on the world stage.
  18. Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy Banned

    May 26, 2005
    Patarlagele/Bucharest, Romania
    Zyuganov's opening himself up to serious domestic criticism. Russians are not so well off that they can afford to send food to North Korea. It's be even worse if he resumes the oil subsidy to Cuba. Then again, he might be in a position where he can ignore what they think. What sort of political changes are the communists pushing through?

  19. Cyclone I am not a Democrat.

    Nov 14, 2006
    It's worth noting that he hasn't actually done anything yet, just made moves towards doing things (especially with respect to Cuba). Putin started forming decent bilateral relations with the North Koreans and Cubans in 2000, and the economy was actually worse in some ways.

    It's also worth noting that this is the beginning of what historically turned North Korea into an impoverished, starving pariah state (as opposed to an economically okay pariah state). OTL ironic posting about Glorious Juche feeding the people can trace its factual basis to the '95 and '96 floods, which more than halved agricultural production and set North Korea on the long, slow road of starvation (which wasn't helped by the '97 drought or the '06 and '07 flooding). What is going on in North Korea at the moment is very serious business, and it was recognized as such by contemporaries.

    Finally, reestablishing a large Russian sphere of influence is important to Zyuganov and the CPRF, and it was about half their campaign (the other half being "Yeltsin sucks, and just look what he did to the economy!"). If you put together the various left-wing parties in a coalition, they don't have a majority, but add in the ultranationalist LDPR and they do. There is definitely enough people there to support expanding Russian influence.
    Changing (correcting) the economic model of Russia is the number one concern for the CPRF at this point, any other concerns (the mainstream of the party doesn't really have many) are distant from their minds. Their end goal is a mixed economy with a firm emphasis on social justice. In the short-term, they want to get people's savings back, stop hyperinflation, and make sure state pensions come when they're supposed to.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2010
  20. I Blame Communism Banned

    Nov 12, 2008
    Feeescinating... I'll be following this, alright.