Communists Return to Power in Moldavia: Hope for a Communist Democracy in the Former Soviet Union?

Monthly Review Foundation Director John Mage (jmage [at] sees in recent events in Moldavia a glimmer of hope for the much-suffering people of the Former Soviet Union.

The February 25, 2001 electoral victory of the Moldovan Communist party marked the first return to power of a Communist party in any of the sovereign fragments of the Former Soviet Union (“FSU”). If you have left wing politics and can use a dose of optimism, this event is a positive portent for—at last—an end to the Mafia capitalist regimes of “democratic reform” that constitute the glory of the U.S. victory in the cold war. The most interesting question is not what the Moldovan Communists can achieve in their sovereign ministate, but what can be hoped to happen as a result in the rest of the FSU community. But, you ask, in 2001 is the FSU a “community” in the sense that the Soviet Union was in, say, 1988? The only plausible answer is “yes and no.” The “no” side is easy enough to lay out, all you need is a current map and almanac. The “yes” side requires more effort.

There are numerous Russian speakers in even those parts of the FSU that have exhibited the most virulent nationalisms (such as the Baltic and the Caucasian ministates), so there is a continuing linguistic community. And the most crucial experiences of the last decade have been shared throughout the FSU. All have experienced the process called “democratic market reform,” characterized by the private appropriation of public property. No part of the FSU has been able wholly to escape the nightmare of illness and death (“demographic shock” is the polite term) characteristic of “democratic market reform.” And in great variation of degree, all parts of the FSU have had a Communist party in opposition to the new national and sovereign governments and their reform programs.

The conditions under which these oppositional Communist parties have survived over the last decade run from outright illegality (as in Lithuania), through semi-legality accompanied by the occasional jailing and torture of Communist activists (as in some parts of the Caucasus and Central Asia), to formal legality tempered by denial of access to the media and falsified election returns (Ukraine, Belarus, Russia itself).

And were you mistakenly to believe the Moscow English language press corps, you would have concluded that these various oppositional Communist parties are ever in the process of disappearing. It is endlessly, and incorrectly, repeated that these CPs are supported entirely by old poor people, and it is indeed undeniable that old poor people are everywhere in the FSU dying at rates that in the past were attained only in times of war, plague and famine. But the Russian party has maintained its core of support at between a quarter and a third of the population, and the Ukrainian party has been growing stronger. In fact, support for these parties is broad based and persistent, and the officially unthinkable notion must be entertained that these oppositional Communists could return to power in the FSU with majority support.

It’s therefore of great interest that on February 25, 2001, the oppositional Communist party of Moldova won control of the government of the Republic by a decisive victory in an undeniably free, democratic, etc. etc. election. Unlike U.S. president Bush II, the Moldovan Communist party actually won more votes than their main opponent; indeed, it even won a majority of all votes cast. No other oppositional Communist party in the FSU has yet achieved this result; it’s an interesting “first.”

Moldova lies between the Prut and Dniester rivers that flow in a southeastern direction to the Black Sea from their sources in the Carpathian mountains. Over the Prut to the west lie the Carpathian mountains and Romania. Over the Dniester to the east (and along the Black Sea coast to the south) is Ukraine and its broad plains. Moldova has had, from the viewpoint of geographical features, the unfortunate historical combination of being both indefensible and a borderland: a borderland between (among others) Greek and Sarmatian; Roman and Goth; Turk and Pole; the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire; Romania and the Soviet Union.

For most of the last 150 years, except for the 20 years between the two World Wars, as a matter of cultural history Moldova has formed part of the hinterland of the Black Sea port city of Odessa. A crucial part of that cultural history was Jewish, and the recent history of Moldova commences with the genocide carried out by the Nazis and their Romanian and Ukrainian nationalist collaborators.

Moldova joined the Soviet Union in 1940, and by the end of World War II its population was decimated and the little that had been previously achieved in the way of industry was totally destroyed. As part of the Soviet Union, Moldova underwent rapid development of infrastructure, agriculture and industry. Electric power became universal, where previously it had reached only the heart of the largest cities. Rapid economic development depended on the supply of raw materials and finished products from the rest of the Soviet Union: coal, gas, petroleum, iron & steel, motor vehicles, fertilizers, cotton and woolen textiles, lumber and paper. In turn, Moldova supplied fruit, wine, canned goods, refrigerators, washing machines, silk fabrics and knitted goods, and “hi tech” industry and science for the Soviet space and maritime programs.

The demolition of the USSR severed these links, crucial for the metabolism of both Moldovan industry and agriculture, which withered. By 2001 industrial production in Moldova was a third of that of 1991. It’s been reported that in 2000 Moldova’s largest foreign exchange earner was its .md internet national domain name, peddled to the U.S. medical industry.

The Moldovan case of nationalist dementia was, fortunately, not too severe. For one thing, unlike e.g. the Esths who share a linguistic community with the glittering consumerism of the Finns, the speakers of Moldavian (almost all of whom also speak Russian) share a linguistic community with the Romanians who remain in an economic crisis of their own. Nonetheless various democratic nationalist parties controlled the Republic in the years since 1991, presiding over the theft and misery in compliance with the “market reform” requirements of the IMF and the world-victorious United States.

An irritant to Moldovan nationalists for much of the 90s was the secession of a small part of Moldova that lies on the left bank of the Dniester, consisting of a strip along the river and the city of Tiraspol, and inhabited by monolingual Russian speakers who could not understand Romanian. This small territory also contained the bases of a Soviet army that has stayed more or less intact and under Russian command. This somewhat sovereign Russian army is among the most odd of the odd statelets that form the western fringe of what had been the Soviet Union. Yet by 2001, few Moldovans gave much of a nationalist damn about this unredeemed riverbank.

The election of February 25 has given the Western intelligence agencies a new and bothersome task; it will now be necessary to undertake to co-opt, or failing that destabilize and subvert, a democratically elected Communist government of a sovereign segment of the FSU. Because there is a sense in which the FSU remains a community, a territory that threatens to break with the “reform” program poses a significant danger to the shining achievements of the U.S. victory in the cold war.

This danger is most acute in the bordering Ukraine, governed still by Kuchma, a remnant of the ‘90s. But Kuchma’s Mafia government is now engulfed in a fog of murder, corruption and public misery and despair. The western intelligence agencies have mustered their ultra-nationalist Ukrainian clients and allies in an attempt to bring him down, and are desperately trying to manufacture a plausible “democratic reform” populist alternative, even if it calls itself “socialist.” But after the miserable last decade, there may not be time left for one more such “democratic reform” fraud. Meanwhile the sole significant political organization throughout the Ukraine is the Ukrainian Communist Party, which has been growing steadily in strength and which probably won the last elections but for Kuchma’s massive electoral fraud.

Yet no one should expect much (let alone miracles) from the Moldovan Communist party. Party chief Vladimir Voronin has promised to tighten state control of the economy, but with understandable caution he has praised Putin and has so far avoided any opposition to the IMF. Instead he has talked of uniting “all honest and decent people” positioning the Moldovan party more against the Mafia than against “reforms.” For those (such as I) who dream of a truly democratic Communist renaissance, Voronin’s expressed admiration for Deng Xiaoping gives some pause. I’m not ready for “Socialism with Moldavian characteristics.” More likely, Voronin is expressing the not surprising opinion, from the viewpoint of the disaster-struck FSU, that the Chinese party is to be admired for avoiding economic and demographic collapse and for maintaining (by FSU standards) a comparatively honest state administration free of U.S. and IMF domination.

The Moldovan party’s program correctly analyzed the disaster of the last decade as arising primarily from the severance of the Moldavian economy from the other parts of the FSU, and calls for a degree of economic and political re-integration with the existing Belarus-Russia confederation. But the shape and direction of the confederation which the Moldovans seek to join is beyond their control, though it’s clear that their interests lie in the oppositional Communist parties of the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia coming to power.

The central question throughout the FSU, the expropriation of the expropriators and the bringing to justice of the murderous criminal monsters who stole the social property built by the hard labor of generations of Soviet citizens, unfortunately still remains off the menu. Perhaps no-one has forgotten the spring of 1996 when it looked as if Zyuganov would defeat Yeltsin and the thefts would be punished, and when Chubais repeatedly and credibly threatened a civil war (and it might well have been a nuclear civil war) in defense of “private property.” It’s also the case that the chimaera of a prosperous private property democratic market socialism, a Sweden-of-the-mind that never existed even in Sweden, still seems to exert a mesmerizing influence on the Communists of the FSU.

It is a source of comfort that in Moscow, as Stanislav Menshikov reports, the “democratic” reaction to February 25th was one of concern lest the Moldovan “disease” become an inspiration for other CPs in the FSU. These “democrats” (the primary architects and beneficiaries along with their Mafia friends and employers of the looting of Russian public property) were also unhappy with Putin’s informal meeting with Voronin on the eve of the elections.

What may be the most important change resulting from February 25 is that the national Moldovan television is now under the control of the Moldovan Communists, who have openly said that they shall end the media blockade of left wing and communist points of view. In the Ukraine, which surrounds the Moldovan Republic on three sides, many (including the entire Odessa region) are within range of Moldovan TV. The Ukrainian Communist Party, which has grown into a major force despite a total media blackout, now may finally have a media window.

Not quite yet liberated territory, the Moldovan Republic may nonetheless play a positive role in a left wing resurgence in the FSU community. Such invitations to optimism must carry a consumer warning label that the last piece of good news to come out of the territory of the FSU was when baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky turned up at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side on April 10, 1989. But if, as in my case, an addiction to glimmers of hope from the FSU remains uncured, pay attention to the still developing story that began on February 25, 2001 in Moldova.