In a Znak.com interview with Anastasia Melnikova, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov explained why his party alone of all the parties represented in the Duma only the Communists have called for a no vote in the July 1, 2020 referendum on the constitutional amendments. In the interview, Zyuganov criticizes Putin and his record. He also criticizes Russia's presidential system that confers too much power on the leader and has claimed that Putin has more power than the tsar, the pharaoh and the Communist Party Secretary General in Soviet times combined. The advertised devolution of power is a sham; a greater centralization of power is taking place.
Zyuganov reserves his hardest punches for Putin's Achilles heel – the Russian economy and the wealth and power of the Russian oligarchs as contrasted with the millions of Russian paupers who must be fed. Zyuganov claims that he sought to convince Putin and the United Russia Party of the need for amendments that would correct this situation but was rebuffed. It should be mentioned that Putin, in his June 23, 2020, address to the nation sought to blunt this criticism by announcing a series of economic policies including some form of progressive taxation. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Gennady Zyuganov (Source: Rbc.ru)
- The bill on amendments to the Constitution was adopted by the State Duma already in early March. Why only now have the Communist Party and yourself, as its leader, begun to actively protest this?
- You are posing the question incorrectly. We were never opposed to introducing amendments to the constitution. We didn't accept the Yeltsin Constitution, that we considered soaked with the blood of the defenders of the parliament and reeking with the smoke of the war in Chechnya. The 1993 Constitution like a plastic bag was pulled over our country's head and it was strangled by it for almost 25 years. When (Vladimir) Putin took the initiative, dismissed the [Medvedev] government and announced constitutional reform, we [the Communist Party] took an active part in this process and prepared 108 amendments.
I support a strong and holistic state, decent retirement, our party introduced 15 amendments that would have fundamentally changed the country's social economic policy for the benefit of all citizens... For example, our party insisted on the adoption of a law on the nationalization of the mineral resource base, but United Russia refused. How did it happen, that the huge wealth serves only 200 pockets? This is absolutely abnormal. Why don't you have a right to a share on the sale of gas, oil and diamonds. Why? We insisted that the strategic sectors where pricing is formed should also be controlled by the state, so that children of war are supported, but they also refused this. I was certain that United Russia would accept something out of our suggestion, but they brushed off everything."
Railroading The Constitutional Amendments Can Produce Anarchy
"And when the amendment on resetting [Putin's] presidential terms [to zero] was introduced, we unanimously voted against it. Putin is holding the office for 20 years already, he has four more years ahead of him. Let him keep his promises: pull the country out of the crisis, overcome the difficulties associated with the pandemic...
Airport names were discussed by the Parliament for six months, but constitutional amendments were reviewed in just two months...It is necessary to approve a new constitution only by referendum, and not with some sort of voting that opens the way to anarchy, disorders and Ukrainization…
- In addressing Vladimir Putin, you said that the president has 'more authority than the tsar, pharaoh, and general secretary combined.' But in the USSR, too, there was one party, one leader. And the change of power often occurred only due to the death of the Secretary General. Now the situation is almost practically the same (...). Would you express dissatisfaction with the president, if our country was governed by a Communist, and not by a member of the United Russia party?
- You shouldn't compare. These are two completely different systems. Putin says that in the USSR there was a dictatorship of the proletariat, and the Communists now are also for dictatorship. This is not true. The dictatorship of the proletariat was prescribed only in the Lenin's and Stalin's Constitutions, because the Soviets were unable to sieze the power when the [World War I] Entente [powers] along with 14 countries occupied us together with the [White leader Admiral Kolchak and his gang, And the dictatorship of the proletariat took the form of Councils of Workmen's Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies, where all social strata were represented.
Later, as soon as we defeated foreign enemies and reconstructed the state and won in 1945, and the state became highly literate, it became clear that there was no need for a dictatorship of the proletariat and already in the Brezhnev constitution is was written that power belonged to the councils, who represented the interests of all the country's social strata. I don't know whom Putin is consulting, but they do not know history.
- But nevertheless, the question of irreplaceability would be less acute for you, if the head of state were a Communist?
Renewal and replaceability must be compulsory. But this process should have qualitative preparation, and to prepare a good specialist, you need a minimum of 10-12 years.
- The parliamentary opposition does not frequently allow itself to openly criticize the president personally. Now, on the eve of regional elections and elections to the State Duma, are you trying to earn political points?
- Nastya, our party has always served the people and the state. My personal point of view is that without a strong state our country cannot exist.
- You have not answered. Is your criticism of the president an attempt to gain political points before the election cycle?
- It's not about political points; points are not the main thing for me. The main thing is that our native land should live and the people should be prosperous…
Did you personally discuss the introduction of constitutional amendments with Vladimir Putin?
– We discussed. In December we met four times and in January. In Russia, much depends on the first person and it does not matter if it is the tsar or the [Communist Party] secretary.
- How did these meetings with Putin go? Were you satisfied?
-Putin knows how to conduct a personal dialogue. For example, when had some slashing fellows by him, who advised him to amend the constitution, and dissolve the Duma, I openly told him that the crisis would aggravate, oil prices would fall, the ruble would fail, and national projects would stall if three election campaigns were declared immediately, who would occupy himself with day-to-day administration. He paid heed…
Even If There Is Electoral Fraud, The Communists Will Remain A Constructive Opposition
- (...) If you and other opponents of amendments to the Constitution after July 1 realize that your voices were not considered, that there were obvious falsifications, will the Communists become less loyal to the current government? Should we expect boycotts of the parliamentary voting?
- What makes you think that the Communist Party is loyal? We did not vote for Putin as president, we did not vote for him when he became prime minister, we voted against Medvedev's appointment, we voted against their course, we put up our own team at every election. And what about the boycott? Does it mean to do nothing when our country has millions of paupers, who must be fed? Who needs a boycott? Do we need to wait until we have a riots, like Maidan [in Ukraine]? Would you like that? We would be worse off… I will fight for the adoption of our amendments, for the people's support on the elections. The more people give us their votes, the faster we will get out of this mess!
-You have again mentioned your amendments. Can you name then three main amendments, whose inclusion in the country's basic law are fundamental to you?
- The land should serve every person. Secondly, I favor progressive taxation. Thirdly – It is necessary to approve a law of universal education. Furthermore, taxation and tariff policy must be fair.
- All this you want to prescribe in the Constitution?
- Well, it is not compulsory; they can be adopted as laws.
- What amendments would you like to introduce to the Constitution?
- Power belongs to the people, property also belongs to the people. Russians are a nation-forming nation, [whose state] language is Russian. What held the Russian empire? - God, tsar, fatherland. As soon as the tsar renounced the crown, the Bolsheviks took everything. What maintained unity? - One party, one ideology, one property, one foreign policy, one security system. What keeps us together today? Our victory [in World War II] and the Russian language.
- Putin has already introduced the amendment on the Russian language. Statement, that the people are the only source of power in Russia is already in the text of the previous Constitution.
- It is not true! The president has all the power and now the devolution of authority is done in a way that it externally exists, but in reality, does not. Yes, the Duma will participate in the appointment of ministers, but the president can kick them out as he pleases. That's all! Previously, the Duma appointed the Accounts Chamber, now this right has been taken away. Previously, there was the supreme constitutional court that you could not force nor bend, and now they are reducing [its power]. All the judges, all the security officials as before, are appointed by the same person. And he is beyond anyone's control!...
- One of the 15 amendments for which the Communist Party is campaigning reads: "Payments for housing services should be no more than 10% of the total family income." This amendment, in my opinion, is rather populistic. Also,-- such a requirement could be enshrined, for example, in the Federal Law, why amend the Constitution for it?
- Maybe, it is not needed in the Constitution and it should be approved in a federal law. Many people are no longer able to pay for housing services. And if they fixed the rate at no higher than 10% of family income, one can know and make calm calculations. How many taxes does our country have! Nowhere [in the world] is the tax burden so heavy!...
- According to a VTsIOM survey, 39% of Communist Party supporters said, that they would vote against the amendments, but 43% said they would support the amendments. What do you think about these results? Do you consider them reliable?
- This is complete nonsense! VTsIOM is accountable to the authorities. I know the mood in my party, I held an all-Russian meeting, gathered everyone, asked to speak out, everyone said that they would vote "against"…
- In early June, political scientist Nikolai Platoshkin was arrested, who, although not a member of the Communist Party, was at least considered a supporter of left-wing forces. As far as I know, Platoshkin has a serious conflict with the leadership of the Communist Party, he had significant disagreements with you. However, you have publicly supported Platoshkin. Why?
- You see, there is an iron rule: with your charter you don't go into another monastery. Each party has its own charter, and I don't meddle with anyone. When a person [Platoshkin] has not held a single serious rally, but feels competent enough to school the rest … in my opinion, this is incorrect and false… But, what they are doing with Platoshkin is a total outrage! (...)
- Are you disappointed in Vladimir Putin?
- I was sure that he would get rid of oligarchy, but he didn't succeed. I was sure that on the 75th anniversary of the Victory, he would never close the mausoleum with wooden plywood, fencing himself off from the great fathers of the victory. I want the emperor [Putin] to show his will in difficult times. Recent initiatives (starting with pension reform) undermine stability in the country and confidence in the supreme authority. Political consultants, specialists, and Putin’s information services are not working well.
- So are you disappointed?" Yes or no?
- All the last president's moves are not just disappointing, but depressing.
Soviet Era Was Better Than Now
- Our country's current situation, does it remind you of the late USSR, perhaps the Brezhnev era?
- I would divide [Brezhnev period] in two parts: the first with [Alexei] Kosygin was magnificent. If Brezhnev would have left five years earlier, [Yuri] Andropov would have become [CPSU General Secretary], and we [Russians] would not have go through these nasty times.
If he [Vladimir Putin] would have used his colossal experience in the interests of citizens, and not of the oligarchs from his clique, this would have been great. But he didn't get rid of this bunch, this is his biggest misfortune, both his personally and that of the entire country. There is "Bironism" around the throne, a collective Bironism.
- Is [Putin's period], according to your estimates, worse than the 90s?
- Not just worse! Back then we were mighty, a great power! Yes, there was a crisis of political leadership. Yes, it was necessary to repair the steering mechanism in the first place. The CPSU was not a party, it was a system of state and political governance. It had to be properly repaired, but when [Mikhail] Gorbachev began repairing all the "rooms" at once, it became impossible to live anywhere...
 Kremlin.ru, June 24, 2020.
 Znak.com, June 22, 2020.
 Ernst Johann, Reichsgraf von Biron (Bühren) was a German adventurer, who became chief adviser to the Empress Anna Ivanovna (reigned 1730-40). He installed a coterie of fellow German adventurers, who discriminated against the Russian nobility and repressed their opponents, by imprisonment, banishment to Siberia or execution. Biron was hated by the Russian population.