Poll: Russians Want Return of Soviet Rule

A new poll from the Levada Centre brings a result that will no doubt shock some in the West: 49% of Russians would like a return to Soviet government, of the type Russia had until 1991, whereas only 16% would like Western-style democracy (column on the far right below – support for Soviet system shown in red, for the current system in Russia in orange, and for Western-style democracy in blue. Black is ‘other’, and grey is ‘difficult to reply’).

As you can see from the column on the left, Levada has been doing this poll since 1996 and this is the highest ever level of support registered for Soviet-style government. Meanwhile, support for Western-style democracy is well down from its peak in the late 90s and early 00s. Support for the current system has never been desperately high apart from a blip in February 2008 (hopes of change under Medvedev???) and another in March 2015 (post-Crimean bump). But the current system is still more popular than in the 1990s, whereas the opposite is true of Western democracy.

In an article for RT (see here), I discuss how age differences factor into this, as seen in this chart:

As you can see, younger folk are much less pro-Soviet and much more pro-Western. Does that mean that 30 years from now the Russian population will have moved in that direction? Not necessarily. As I say in the article, the 55+ age group contains all the folk who were in their 20s and 30s in the perestroika era and the early 1990s and who were probably the most liberal, most pro-Western generation Russia has ever produced, before or since. These are the types who turned out en masse in Moscow to support Lithuanian independence, who voted en bloc for Boris Yeltsin, and who even gave liberal parties some 30% of the vote in the 1993 Duma elections (unthinkable today). So they weren’t all Sovoks from the start, hating liberal democracy and the West. Something happened along the way. Who knows what will happen to the current 18-24 somethings.

The poll contains a couple of other interesting charts. First there’s this one, which shows whether people would prefer Russia to be a ‘great power’ or to be a country with a good standard of living. As I say in the article, it’s a dumb question, presenting the two as polar opposites, when in fact they are mutually dependent (a richer population = a richer, more powerful state). The fact that Levada presents the two as opposed tells us a lot about its own biases. Still, here it is. Make of it what you will (preference for great power status is in red; preference for high standard of living is in blue – Russians prefer the latter, but let’s face it, who doesn’t?).

Finally, there’s this chart, which shows responses to the question ‘What economic system seems the most correct to you?’ Red is support for an economy based on ‘planning and redistribution’, blue is support for an economy based on ‘private property and market relations’. As you can see, most Russians are economic lefties, favoring planning and redistribution. Support for the free market is at historic lows, and way down from the 48% recorded in 1992.

I think that one needs to treat all this with a degree of caution. I mention in my article that it’s unlikely that many Russians are seriously considering a return to Soviet rule until some guy from Levada phones them up and asks them if they’re in favour. I suspect that the pro-Soviet option is as much a thumbs down to the alternatives as it is a thumbs up to communism. Likewise, I doubt that 62% of Russians would really like returning to the planned economy, although they obviously do believe that free market liberalism has its down sides and that wealth in their country is unequally distributed (as it is).

So, overall, what does it mean? Not that Russians are yearning to return to communism, I think. The Communist Party is most unlikely to win this week’s Duma elections. Rather the poll shows that Russians aren’t too happy with the existing system in their country, but – and this is the crucial element – they don’t see Western models as being any better. Of course, that may change – having swung one way, people may swing back again. But for now, Russians seem intent on going their own way.

23 thoughts on “Poll: Russians Want Return of Soviet Rule”

  1. > most Russians are economic lefties, favoring planning and redistribution.

    As anyone who ever worked in a large firm/corporation can tell you, there ain’t no market inside it: it’s forecasts, centralized planning, target numbers set from the top, and the “linear personnel” trying to reach those numbers. And it works: somehow Walmart and Amazon can predict how much stuff people are going to buy in the next couple months for the whole of the US of A and stock their warehouses accordingly. You can’t get economies of scale without successful economical planning, i.e. the one that would more or less match with the reality, after all, and the economies of scale *do* exist, so…

    This extrapolation is really obvious and self-suggesting, even in the capitalist economy: what is “cyberpunk setting” if not the ultimately centralized and planned economical order? It’s anti-utopia only because the economical and political power does not belong to the people.

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    1. Centralized planning is also imposed by Wall Street. As a former railroad worker, I follow the industry. Starting about 20 years ago, Canadian National railway began a process of asset stripping and work force reductions under the Orwellian name of “precision scheduled railroading”. It was a program to boost share prices while “de-marketing” entire classes of freight resulting in flat volumes of most domestic cargo.

      In the past decade, Wall Street has imposed PSR on the entire North American railroad industry (because of consolidation, there are only 7 large railroads remaining) . Share prices rocket, while employment has dropped. Captive customers pay monopolistic rates and the environment suffers with most freight moving on trucks with far more CO2 and other pollutants.

      Privatized profits, socialized losses. Note that Russia has invested very heavily in its rail network.

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  2. For Russians who sincerely want a return to communism: They will have to build a new Party from the ground up, because the Communist Party has degenerated beyond belief. Zyuganov and his ilk, I doubt if they even believe in socialism any more. Or even believe in anything any more, these old crusts are just operating on sheer inertia!

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    1. And from which cause such building shall arise? Russia already has other socialist parties in separate block, but IMO the “original” party bears the tradition of CPSU even though it is corrupt and impotent – and therefore people will follow it as long as they strive for communism. They’re “left conservatives” of the political landscape and for them to cease existing is to betray the very idea of USSR.

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      1. Thanks, Stargazer, but I don’t really see it that way. If people want to rebuild the USSR, they need to build a party of “New People” (in Chernyshevsky’s words) who have the right ideas and the right mentality. Real Leninists, in other words. And ditch the old Communist Party. It’s dead. Stalin killed it, actually, when he killed off the original members.

        Only one tiny revisionist thing I would suggest: Which is to retire the Leninist notion of the “professional revolutionary”. This idea leads to corruption and concentration of power in the Politburo. I have been thinking about this a lot recently; this is also what killed the Trotskyist movement and turned many national Trotskyist parties into cults, each cult led by a charistmatic leader with a cult of personality.
        New People Party leaders should NOT receive a salary from the Party; membership dues should not go to feed a new elite. Rather, Party leaders, once elected by the membership, should still be expected to support themselves, in whatever manner (e.g., by having regular jobs, or, it’s okay if they are independently wealthy, just don’t expect members to support them with their dues.) Then they do Party business after hours, if necessary. Just like being a PTA mom.

        I would welcome discussion on this point; like I said, it’s something I have been really thinking about a lot lately…

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      2. Professional revolutionary is an oxymoron, which attracts towards either professionalism or revolution. My argument here reflects on the observation of political culture in Russia, where it seems that we returned to the same point we started at so long ago – there’s only one majoritarian Party which seem to occupy almost all key positions in power structure, and also government controls key positions in country’s economy, which means that we are already half-way to Soviet government structure while not even trying to mimic it. Majority of these “professionals” are not driven by ideology – the core of the party and the core principles are important for them as long as they attract money and influence (but the same was true for USSR too, just in different proportion).
        Yes, I know that Communists are divided and there’s a lot of charlatans among them, to the point of being called “Commercial party”. Yet it seems their positions are mostly based on same assumptions that Levada made – their electoral base is a majority of whole generation that grew up in USSR and has a strong sense of nostalgia for times when it was simpler. Newer socialist parties just don’t have such strong core and get replaced easily. Time may still tell otherwise and in a decade the balance may swing the other way, but a decade is more than enough to make huge difference for the country. And on the other hand, if the “communism” is to make a return (compare to today’s China policies), the political landscape will be formed by forces beyond our contemporary comprehension anyway.

        Oh and on “Stalin killed it”, I have entirely opposite opinion to all other Western Mensheviks who judge Russian history from their comfortable lives in capitalist countries. Khrushchev killed it (whether by mistake or by design is up to debate after all). His betrayals and personal vain has mudded the party ranks to the point where the “Real Leninists” found themselves entrenched by corporativism and commercial opportunism, which resulted in series of anti-soviet rebellions at first, and ultimately a failure of ideology. They all are characterized by attempts to loosen political structure and allow some actual freedom of choice to trade some political points for material gain. As opposed to western ideologist hardliners who learned their lesson and are posed to ABSOLUTELY EXTERMINATE everyone and everything that even remotely threatens their eternal dominance. It baffles me how people are not learning such simple truth after so many examples.

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  3. So the 18-24 year group want to follow Ukraine, with the ‘democratic’ west looting all the assets while they dance around in their multi-colored rags celebrating however many genders they want. Indeed, the more, the better as far as the ;west’ is concerned.

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  4. Really?

    Why would anyone trust or believe in any polls. In my view polls don’t measure opinion. They are used to shape opinion. Encourage people to write articles and write ridiculous headlines like the one used for this article

    Why ask these questions?
    Election time in Russia – fill in the blanks

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    1. Guest, personally, I found empirical social science the most interesting field in my postgrad studies. …

      But I surely can understand what you mean. Method, design?

      When I personally conducted polls as a student, people’s hesitations often reminded me of my own. Not the multiple choice type tests, were one answer is correct, but polls were you were are meant to respond to pretty abstract questions on whatever strongly pro strongly contra axis. If you were offered such an axis at all, and yes, no, unsure are the only option offered. Depends?

      Personally, I was polled twice recently on election issues. The first time on the election of our Cologne Mayor’s reelection. And then not too long ago concerning our upcoming federal election this month. I see no point in not responding to such strictly uninvited phone calls. But then, see above.

      Full discovery: I do not answer purely economics related polls ever …

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    2. Pollsters generally don’t lie. Oh, they may ask some very loaded questions – like it was done here with the superpower/high standard of living one, but the answers they publish are true. If you can filter out such manipulation the rest is honest and extremely useful data. *Especially* so if you can compare answers to the exact same question over a long period of time.

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  5. This poll may simply reflect that the sorry condition of the West and especially the U.S. is discrediting capitalism. This used to happen with the U.S.S.R. and socialism; people conflated the two and considered the Soviet Union as representing the be-all and end-all of socialism.

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  6. What Russia lacks is Ideology. Under the USSR system they had a goal. Better standard of living and victory of Socialism over Capitalism. “We will bury you” – Khrushchev to Americans.
    This was a goal worth fighting for. Alas, in the end they failed. A dream to far to hold. But there was something that is lacking in Russia today: Ideology. Something that can put the youth on fire. Back in early Putin years there was the youth movement Nashi. What happened since? All Russia has today is shrill nationalism.
    The west likes to talk about economic stagnation in Russia. I think, reality is: stagnation of ideas. Nothing to look forward to. The nation needs a mission.

    While Russia is stagnating, the west is going through a kind of cultural revolution. They have gone mad over the idea of inclusiveness. They are burning books, pulling down statues, renaming streets, changing names of sport clubs, names of towns and cities, banning certain words. The leaders are constantly apologizing for past history. All done by youth and the elders just look on and allow this to happen. Pretty sad I say. But at least the west, in spreading liberalism and the mayhem that goes with it, has a mission.

    Russia will not revert to the days of communist party control. But for now, all they have is nationalism. Putin’s traditionalist system will continue for at least 3 more years. I think he will not run again in 2024 and perhaps there is someone they are grooming by now. It will be hard to replace him with someone as capable as he is. He was good for Russia. But Russia needs to move on. Fact is, the youth is restless because they don’t have an overriding goal other than economic advancement. Navalny kind of opposition does not offer anything new. All they want to do is bring down “United Russia’s” nomenklatura. But what would they install in their place?
    Yes, Russia needs a mission.

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    1. ” All Russia has today is shrill nationalism.”

      What you mean by “shrill nationalism” in Russia? Examples, please.

      Also, eveyone talking about “18-24 y.o.” as if they are hivemond. Methinks, both you and pollsters mean only members of the tiny urbanite strata. A 19 y.o. from Mtsensk about to go to the army after a marriage is Highly Unlikely ™ to share whatever are the Western fads that you are fretting about.

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    2. I dare say, this is a perfect example of “expert” which has perception of Russia stuck in transitional period of early 00s. All flags are very obviously present, “no ideology”, “stagnating”, “nationalism” and other implications of phantom pains of USSR and post-collapse complexes.
      It’s been 20 years since then, and Putin has been declaring and repeating his mission very clearly and very consistently – building a nation, stable, strong, independent, modern, etc, etc. Which altogether boils down to “increasing wealth of the population” against all odds and arguments. It is rather contrasting with the mission of “developed” first world countries that are thoroughly convinced to live in the end of history, where they no longer need to increase any wealth since they have unlimited access to unlimited wealth machine – aka money printer.

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      1. It is rather contrasting with the mission of “developed” first world countries that are thoroughly convinced to live in the end of history,

        They were, we were, we, the “First World”? …

        No doubt some thought it looked like that, via Reagan, the GOP’s icon hero who successfully won the ideological Cold War. Without loosing one drop of blood or any troops ??? Over the decades, proxies?. …

        Once again, we need ideologies backed by power? … Russia needs?

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  7. In this same “poll”

    Many Russians hold positive views of the U.S. and would like to see better relations, even as they remain skeptical about U.S. power and intentions and therefore Russia should be the strongest.

    What about this for a headline

    “Russians love America despite decades of abuse and sanctions ”

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  8. From the article:

    “For years, Moscow’s Levada Center – officially labelled as a ‘foreign agent’ by the country’s Ministry of Justice over links to overseas funding – has been trying to shed light on how people living in the country think and feel.”

    Dear… everyone! You might have noticed that maestro Robinson fastidiously avoids using the descriptor “foreign agent” for the Levada Center in his blogpost. Please, don’t be deceived by that! Paul Finlay Robinson totally agrees with the Russian authorities and knows, as a former intelligence worker, that Levada Center IS a “foreign agent”.

    That’s why he works for the RT. He’s just very, very shy about it.

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    1. descriptor “foreign agent” for the Levada Center in his blogpost. Please, don’t be deceived by that!

      Where did you get Finlay from? Maybe one of these days, you also tell us why it may matter? If correct at all. What are your first and second names?

      I can see you are trying to hammer it in? Guess: So people understand they should flee this place? Help me out, will you?

      But pray tell, to what extent do first names matter in our context?

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  9. Hmm. Why would the pro-Soviet/anti-capitalist sentiment jump like this from 2016 to 2021? I see no obvious explanation, but apparently something similar is observed in the west.

    Are we in the midst of a 1968-like zeitgeist now? Except this time in the west the Evil doesn’t manifest itself in the old people but in the ‘whiteness’, which makes even less sense? Tsk. Confusing.

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  10. “In 2016, the Russian Ministry of Justice placed the Levada Center on the register of NGOs performing the functions of foreign agents. The center disagrees with this decision and trys to challenge it in court.”

    Are they still listed? Either way, the value of their survey regarding the Russian government is inversely proportional to value of any USD fiat they receive for doing this.

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  11. Off-topic: some readers might be interested in my new post which mostly consists of a Gazeta.ru interview with Franz Klintsevich.

    The topic is the Taliban victory and what it means for the world. (probably nothing good….)
    Franz believes that the Americans deliberately left all that military equipment and stuff behind for the Taliban. Among other interesting opinions which one may or may not disagree with.

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