Russian Communists See Prospects Improve In Campaign Stretch

The reborn party claims to be the country's largest, and has been climbing in the polls

YURI BELOV'S study is crowded with books, with the works of Leo Tolstoy, Erich Fromm, and his favorite, Vladimir Lenin. A sketch of the Bolshevik leader, drawn by Yuri when he was just a student, sits in a favored lit corner by his desk.

``I consider Lenin a tragic personality, as is the case with all geniuses,'' says Mr. Belov, who with his neatly trimmed graying beard and high, balding forehead bears an uncanny resemblance to the founder of the Soviet state.

But unlike most Russians who have disavowed the former state faith, Belov remains loyal to communism and to the restoration of what he considers its historic achievements - a just social order and the Soviet Union uniting what are now 15 independent nations. He is taking that message to the Russian people as one of 150 Communist Party candidates for a seat in the new Russian parliament in the Dec. 12 election.

Two years ago, the Communists were at their nadir, banned after the failed August 1991 coup, swept away in a wave of anticommunist revolution. But the reborn Communist Party of the Russian Federation claims to be the largest political organization in the country, with 500,000 members.

The Communist election campaign, led by party head Gennady Zyuganov, has been surprisingly effective, with the party climbing in polls and now widely expected to win enough votes to be represented in the new parliament. Together with their allies in the Agrarian Party, representing the collective farms, the Communists could win as much as 20 percent of the vote, observers here say.

Belov is the frontrunner among 20 candidates for the State Duma, the lower house of the new assembly, from St. Petersburg's northern election district. It is an area across the Neva River from the city's Italian-designed palaces and villa-lined canals that houses defense factories, scientific institutes, and vast stretches of dreary prefabricated apartment blocks, one of which, on Bolshevik Prospekt, is home to Belov, his wife, and their cocker spaniel.

Belov admits that in the eyes of his electorate, the Communist Party still bears the blame for much of what has gone wrong in peoples' lives. ``When I address people today, it is still difficult for me,'' he says, ``but the level of mass anticommunism we saw before has gone. We have not regained the trust and faith we lost, but there are no longer angry sentiments against us.''

On the plus side, ``we don't have to do advertising because our opponents do it for us,'' Belov says with a smile. Indeed the supporters of the government are eager to portray this election as again a choice between ``democrats'' and ``communists,'' the latter term used to lump together the wide spectrum of extremist Russian nationalists and communist groupings.

The Communist Party is the most moderate of a number of self-styled successors to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Others such as the Russian Communist Workers Party of Viktor Anpilov and the All-Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) of neo-Stalinist Nina Andreyeva were banned in the aftermath of the street battles in Moscow in early October. Though the Communists were strong supporters of the dissolved parliament and still condemn the ``tragedy'' of the assault on the parliament building, they were never involved in the fighting.

The party, which was officially formed in February 1993, claims to be a new party, not simply a successor of the CPSU. ``Our party has dropped some of the ideas we have outgrown, ideas that history has already passed by,'' says Belov, who also serves the party's chief ideologist.

The Russian Communists no longer talk about establishing a ``dictatorship of the proletariat'' or advocate a completely state-owned economy. While still embracing socialism, their program endorses an economy of mixed state and private property but giving the state sector priority.

Zyuganov, a longtime CPSU functionary, is hitting hard at the proposed new Russian constitution, accusing President Boris Yeltsin of seeking to establish a dictatorship. ``If this constitution is passed, our citizens will wake up on Dec. 13 in an open police state,'' Zyuganov says.

Zyuganov has been instrumental in steering the party toward the rhetoric of Russian nationalism. After a recent trip to Crimea, the Russian-populated region of Ukraine, Zyuganov called for ``the revival of our historic brotherhood without infringing on anyone's sovereignty.'' First of all, that means uniting the Slavic peoples, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, Belov says. The other parts of the former Union could later ``voluntarily'' join a new federation.

Still, the party's appeal is mostly confined to the older generation who have, Belov says, suffered ``rejection ... who have been told their life was in vain.... One of our main functions is the ethical defense of the older generation and the protection of our tragic and great history.''

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