Russian Communists, out in the cold, want back in


MOSCOW -- The cold, the wind and the snow suited Marina Matkovskaya in a way. So did the taunts of passers-by and even the open abuse of an old man who shouted, "Fascists, fascists!" as she unfurled the red flag of the old Soviet Union.

"We are in the wilderness," said Ms. Matkovskaya, a 54-year-old chemical engineer. "It's almost right that we should suffer, I suppose, because, quite frankly, we made a mess of it. That our successors are doing far, far worse, however, is no comfort."

Ms. Matkovskaya was in the crowd that gathered yesterday morning in a pro-Communist demonstration on Manezh Square outside the Kremlin to denounce the rule of Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, the sharp price increases of 10 days ago, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the demise of socialism.

"These are bitter days for us," Ms. Matkovskaya said. "We see everything that our parents and grandparents built over seven decades being destroyed. We see our country being divided and its pieces auctioned off. We see a president who virtually seized power ruling by ukase like a czar."

The bitterness ran wide and deep through the crowd. It was the bitterness of men and women who felt betrayed by their leaders in the now disbanded Communist Party; it was the bitterness of those who had felt that socialism, once reformed, could work; and it was the bitterness of those who realized that their nation, once a superpower, was now an international beggar.

But, perhaps most of all, it was the bitterness of this nation's "haves," for many like Ms. Matkovskaya enjoyed the privileges that came with Communist Party membership, suddenly finding themselves lumped with the rest of the population as "have-nots."

As one speaker from the pro-Communist group Moscow Labor ran through a long list of foods and consumer goods that are no longer obtainable in Russian stores, even Ms. Matkovskaya snickered.

"Most of that stuff has not been in ordinary shops for two, three or four years, maybe longer," she said. "But everyone had his ways to get it -- mine was through our ministry's 'order department' -- and the trouble now is, first, that the ministry is shut down and, second, that most of the stuff is no longer produced. That's why we ask, what shall we do?"

The rally's solution was a military takeover.

After demanding the trial on charges of treason of former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the ouster of Mr. Yeltsin and the restoration of Soviet rule, the crowd cheered several proposals, including some from middle-rank officers, that the "army fulfill its constitutional duty and take authority into its own hands."

"The army is the guardian of the nation and the only protector we have left," commented Yegor Popovich, 52, a Moscow municipal official.

"Our national survival is at stake, and every single Soviet family feels that threat every day.

"To my mind, this danger is much greater than that we faced in the Cold War, even in World War II. And that threat is coming from our own government."

Mr. Popovich's anger was raw and biting as he assessed where perestroika, as Mr. Gorbachev's political and economic reforms were known, had gone wrong, how "these so-called democrats seized power" and how they "are turning the whole country into a stinking whorehouse."

"They say that perestroika brought us out of the 'era of stagnation,' but no one starved in those days," Mr. Popovich said. "They say that the end of socialism brought us democracy, but who voted for these changes of Yeltsin? They say price reform will promote economic growth, but our economic disintegration is accelerating.

"This is all a political fraud, and Yeltsin is an arch-criminal. He must be deposed, and before the winter is out and we starve. The army may have to do it because our deputies in the Parliament have no more sense or gumption than trained camels in the circus."

The small showing yesterday -- Mr. Yeltsin's Democratic Russia movement filled the same square with more than 250,000 people a year ago -- suggested that any reinstatement of Soviet rule would have to come through some kind of coup d'etat, whether a military takeover or a restoration of the Communist Party, for it seems unlikely to come from an outpouring of popular support.

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