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This Isn’t Your Babushka’s Communist Party: Lenin, Marx, and Stalin Get Millennial Makeovers

Vaping Josef Stalin, cool kid Vladimir Lenin, and leather-clad Karl Marx are the new faces of Russia's Communist Party.

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A youthful Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary, wears a large wristwatch and grasps a laptop as he stands next to a young woman holding a mobile phone. Next to the pair is Karl Marx, the 19th-century socialist philosopher, wearing a leather jacket. In another image, a mustachioed Josef Stalin, the former strongman of the Soviet Union, vapes an e-cigarette as a plume of smoke escapes his lips.

This is the new look of Russia’s Communist Party. The images are part of a campaign rolled out earlier this week in an effort to appeal to young voters before parliamentary elections in September by updating the appearance of the revolutionary figures for a new generation of Russians.  

In an interview with L!FE, a pro-Kremlin news site, Igor Petrygin-Rodionov, the party member who designed the posters, explained that he was trying to bring Lenin into the 21st century by depicting him as young, handsome, and athletic.

“I wanted to bring him to life a bit, to show that he was a beautiful and educated man and this is why he succeeded,” said Petrygin-Rodionov during the interview. “He is a character full of energy, maybe even a sex symbol.”

The following image — which shows the updated looks of Lenin and Marx next to a modern, yet ostensibly Communist, young woman — features the slogan: “There is such a party.”

Another poster, in an attempt to show that revolutionary Communism can have a sense of humor, has the leather-clad Marx quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous catchphrase from the Terminator movies: “I’ll be back.”

In mid-May, the Communist Party announced that it would use Stalin’s image during the upcoming election, as the dictator who led the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until his death in 1953 is becoming more popular throughout Russia. It appears that this image of Stalin nonchalantly taking a drag on an e-cigarette is one way the party hopes to use their former leader to get a boost at the polls.

Long seen as the party of the elderly and pensioners, the Communist Party has managed to keep its organizational base throughout Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In more recent years, the party has managed to broaden its appeal, bringing students, business people, and intellectuals into the fold. However, overcoming the memories of repression in the old communist Soviet Union — including labor camps, show trials, and killings — remains challenging.

Still, polls have shown that controversial figures like Stalin are gaining in popularity. A report released on March 1 by the Moscow-based Levada Center, a research organization, found that 40 percent of Russians thought the Stalin era brought “more good than bad,” a 27 percent increase from 2012. In another Levada report published in January 2015, 52 percent of Russians surveyed said Stalin “probably” or “definitely” played a positive role in the country.

Photo credit: IGOR PETRYGIN-RODIONOV/Communist Party of the Russian Federation

Reid Standish is a journalist based in Helsinki, Finland. He was formerly an associate editor at Foreign Policy. @reidstan

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