From Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 29, 2024, p. 3. Complete text:

NG has learned that the average age of the leadership in the Russian Federation Communist Party’s [RFCP] regional and municipal branches has already decreased to around 50, or by about one-third. This is because the secretaries over 60 or 70 are often replaced by former Komsomol members in their thirties. In Altai Territory, however, there was quite an exceptional case: 77-year-old Anatoly Barsukov handed over the post of Barnaul city committee head to Legislative Assembly deputy Aleksandr Volobuyev, who is only 24. By the way, the first secretary of the Altai regional committee, State Duma Deputy Maria Prusakova, is only 40. Experts believe that the party’s previously creeping rejuvenation is speeding up both for objective reasons and in the interests of certain party officials. For example, those of RFCP Central Committee first deputy chairman Yury Afonin, who is considered a potential successor to 79-year-old Gennady Zyuganov.

Even given the rejuvenation that has, after all, been progressing smoothly in the RFCP in the last ten years, the story out of Barnaul looks extraordinary. Following the city committee’s May 26 report and election conference, the position of its first secretary was taken over by Altai Territory’s ’s youngest ever Legislative Assembly deputy. Volobuyev is currently 24, and he replaced a 77-year-old veteran who restored the Communist cells in this region back in the early 1990s, and who had steered the city committee since 2018. Barsukov, meanwhile, did not leave the party but moved to a leadership position in the district committee that he had once been the first to head. So, in Barnaul the transfer of power on the left proceeded without conflict, at least at first glance.

Volobuyev only joined the Komsomol in 2017, became a party member in 2020, won a seat in the Altai Legislative Assembly in 2021 and became leader of the regional Komsomol the same year. The RFCP explains this and other personnel shuffling by saying that “as the RFCP’s largest party branch in Altai Territory, the Barnaul organization is in many ways a catalyst and model, which means it must approach its tasks with a sense of heightened responsibility.” However, following the reporting and election campaign in Barnaul, the leadership teams of four out of five district committees were updated and, again, given a more youthful appearance. Maria Korchagina (36), an aide to State Duma Deputy Prusakova, took over the Central [district committee]. In Zheleznodorozhny District, Yegor Polomoshnov (22) was elected first secretary. He’s a blogger and journalist who is well known in the city. And, for example, in Industrialny District, the Communists entrusted the leadership position to municipal deputy and social activist Sergei Pilyugin (36).

In reality, the RFCP’s creeping rejuvenation is far from the freshest of news. For example, four years ago in St. Petersburg, 65-year-old Olga Khodunova was replaced by 38-year-old Roman Kononenko. Back in 2014, the Sverdlovsk branch was headed by then-26-year-old Aleksandr Ivachov, who is considered to be a protégé of the aforementioned Afonin (47).

The question is: Why did truly radical changes happen specifically in Altai Territory? There are, of course, over 60 municipal-level election campaigns coming up this year, but that’s unlikely to be the whole deal. It’s most likely that this region remained one of the few truly red ones and needs to stay that way until the 2026 Duma elections. That’s what Prusakova is doing, but she apparently needed more control over party members, which is, of course, aided by generational change. However, this is unlikely to be the only answer to the question of why the rejuvenation processes are accelerating.

Fundamentally, as Georgy Kamnev, head of the RFCP legal service, told NG, “all this talk of a party of pensioners is actually idle speculation.” He himself became the head of the Penza regional committee in 2011 at the age of 27. Granted, he admitted, in Barnaul, Volobuyev’s appointment to the city committee was a kind of paying it forward. At the same time, Kamnev feels that the most productive age for a party member is around 50, which is the age of over half of the regional and city committee leaders. About one-third is made up of young people 40 and under; older party members make up about 20%.

As Komsomol first secretary Vladimir Isakov explained to NG, 20-year-old leaders are still very rare for the RFCP. There aren’t even that many 30-year-olds at the city and regional level. But at the level of district committees and local branches, there are a lot of student-age leaders. And he confirmed that the golden age for a party member in an important position is around 40: People around this age make up about one-third of the RFCP. Isakov gave the following example: In December 2023, Viktor Tsarikhin, a 36-year-old deputy of the Leningrad Province Legislative Assembly, became the Central Committee secretary for organizational work with regions. Indeed, this area is specifically Afonin’s responsibility. Tsarikhin himself reminded NG that the average age in the RFCP is 53 and a half, according to 2024 data. In other words, young and middle-aged people together make up around 80% of members.

Konstantin Kalachov, head of the Political Expert Group, told NG: “Most likely, the RFCP has a global objective to support young people in elections and attract them into its ranks. First, back in the 1990s, it was obvious that the party was aging, and second, since the early 2000s it has been clear that today’s pensioners often vote for the party in power.” That’s exactly why the party needs to demonstrate that it has serious opportunities for young people. And tell them there’s no need to join radical left organizations or go nonmainstream when there’s a legal party with specific career ladders. And Altai Territory is probably a kind of experimental testing ground. But Kalachov also sees municipal elections as a meaningful factor, because that’s where young candidates most frequently appear.

Aleksei Mukhin, general director of the Center for Political Information, told NG that specific interested parties within the RFCP – that same Afonin again, for example – appear to be behind the party’s accelerating rejuvenation. It would be logical to assume that he is trying to thereby strengthen his own positions: “The older generation often feels ageist toward young people. And overall, the RFCP is hoping for an act of God that would direct the protest voting block to fall in line to vote for it. At the same time, the RFCP isn’t aiming to bring younger people into the Central Committee leadership. That became obvious after the presidential campaign [see Vol. 76, No. 12, pp. 3‑13],” the expert stressed. According to Mukhin, it was Afonin who realized after the March election that the “old horse” is “spoiling the furrow” after all [a reference to the idiom “an old horse won’t spoil the furrow,” meaning it is safe to stick with something that has worked before. – Trans.] and that under that same act of God the party leadership was unlikely to choose him for that spot. So his only chance to lead the party in the future after all was to aid in its rejuvenation. “Afonin is working with his ‘young guard’ within the RFCP to achieve a tactical advantage in the future. And during perestroika, it was yesterday’s Komsomol members who blew up the CPSU from within,” Mukhin stressed.