Take a giant skittle, put it in a blue peaked hat and a greatcoat and place it under the statue of Karl Marx opposite the Bolshoi Theatre on a freezing winter's morning in the middle of Moscow. Draw in a strip of grey hair, eyes and a clutch of shoulder pips, and there would stand Colonel Valyerin Borisovitch Stepanov.
Beyond him in the square were about 5,000 others, a fraction of the number who spent yesterday at Communist- organised rallies, ostensibly to mark the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution but really to listen to arguments about what to do about the evils of the free market, poverty and the West.
Communists are not what they used to be, the colonel lamented, as he looked at the crowd of mostly elderly people. The occasional portrait of Josef Vissarionovich bobbed around amid the bright red flags.
The trouble was that all the good party workers were sent to the front during the Great Patriotic War, leaving dregs and no-hopers behind, he moaned. Yet he felt Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, who stood a few yards away, was a "good man".
Strange this, from a military hardliner, that breed of Communist which has never accepted perestroika, or what followed. Did he not mind that Mr Zyuganov, whose party leads the opinion polls for next month's parliamentary elections and who is seen as a presidential candidate, calls himself a progressive and hob-nobs with Western businessmen and politicians? "What's wrong with that? Stalin sat down with Churchill and Roosevelt, didn't he?" he replied.
Mr Zyuganov toed his usual pragmatic line. "It's wonderful to see the open, honest faces of people who have never betrayed the highest ideals of goodness and justice, the red flag ... and the best ideals of Communism", he said.
Above the crowd flashed a giant electronic board - another reminder of how changed Russia is. It carried an advertisement from a rival party, the centrist "Our Home Is Russia".
As his speech closed, there were cheers. But not from everyone. Russia's Communists have their internal rivalries. "Zyuganov is just afraid of the international imperialists and the forces of capitalism," Viktor Ampilov, head of the Russian Communist Workers' Party, said afterwards.
There was probably loudest applause for Bill Davis, of the Workers' World Party's New York branch, who called for the Soviet Union to "rise again".The colonel and the other military men beneath the statue of Marx looked pleased.Reuse content