Even as it built to a bloody climax, the 18-month struggle between President Boris N. Yeltsin and the Soviet-era Parliament was never as black and white as it looked from either side.
For as soon as Yeltsin defeated his enemies with a tank assault on Russia's White House two months ago, the old, simplified battle lines--democrats versus Communists, reformers versus reactionaries--disappeared. The political fragmentation and confusion of a society emerging from seven decades of communism suddenly became more apparent than ever.
The multiple choices facing post-Soviet Russia will appear for the first time on a ballot in Sunday's election of a new Parliament. There are 13 labels: Four from Yeltsin's liberal democratic camp, three in the center, three in the hard-line opposition and three "special interest" blocs representing women, environmentalists and people with disabilities.
Also competing for 450 seats in the Duma and 178 seats in the Federation Council are independents, many of them well-known local officials appointed by Yeltsin or held over from the old order.
Among the 3,814 candidates are a cosmonaut, an exiled millionaire, an Olympic weightlifting champion, a television faith healer and two Communist Party hacks on trial for the 1991 coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
If the faces and labels are baffling to outsiders, so are they for Russia's 106 million voters. Without the ever-popular Yeltsin on the ballot or endorsing anyone who is, poll takers find nearly half the electorate still undecided whether to vote or, if so, for whom.
Even so, the campaign has clarified seven distinct, representative voices that will have a say in the new politics, whatever the balance in Parliament.
They are candidates who articulate interests, lobbies, causes and sentiments that pollster Grigory A. Pashkov calls "political protoplasm"--the primitive formations that pass here for parties.
At one end of the spectrum is Gennady A. Zyuganov, leader of the resurgent Communists. At the other is Economy Minister Yegor T. Gaidar, architect of the painful market reforms under way now for nearly two years.
Gaidar tells voters there are no workable options in between because Russia "cannot make a leap and stop in the middle of it." Yet he has moderated his program, just as the Communists no longer wage die-hard resistance to privatization. The election campaign is more about how to conduct reform than whether it is necessary.
Arkady I. Volsky of the Civic Union stands for huge spending to modernize obsolete state factories, some of which support entire cities, before throwing them on the mercy of the market.
Mikhail I. Lapshin's Agrarian Party wants to protect millions on collective farms who feel threatened by Yeltsin's decree allowing the sale of farmland.
Beyond economics are issues that split the liberal and hard-line camps.
Sergei M. Shakhrai, once one of Yeltsin's closest advisers, has launched a movement to tap powerful sentiment in the provinces for wresting more autonomy from Moscow.
Liberal economist Grigory A. Yavlinsky opposes Yeltsin's draft constitution, saying it would give the president dictatorial powers. Fascist firebrand Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky favors it, hoping some day to wield those powers to restore the empire within the old Soviet borders.
Of these seven, major players, just two--Lapshin and Shakhrai--served in the old Parliament, chosen by voters under Soviet rule in 1990. None of the others have ever won election to public office, but they all could end up in the new Parliament.
That in itself would make history. Sunday's election may or may not decide which way Russia will go, but it is a landmark step toward a multi-party system that may civilize the clash of the country's disparate voices.
YEGOR T. GAIDAR
Age 37 Party: Russia's Choice Supporters: Pro-Yeltsin liberal democrats and new entrepreneurs.
The defense plant managers were a tough audience, but the candidate would not tell them what they wanted to hear. "There are branches of the economy that are chronically ill . . . that can be left to die," Yegor T. Gaidar said.
An angry murmur spread.
"We're on our knees here, don't you understand?" pleaded one executive in need of a bailout. The candidate replied: Start making things consumers need.
Gaidar, who launched Russia's market reforms two years ago, makes no apologies for the huge budget cuts and rapid privatization that have convulsed the economy and made him a demon to so many.
With backing from Yeltsin's inner circle, he is building the Russia's Choice movement around new entrepreneurs who profit from the changes.
But in his first run for elected office, Gaidar has made some political concessions to his new constituents, backing limited curbs on foreign banks and imports.
"Priorities in Russia are changing," he explained. "A domestic market has taken shape. It should be protected."
The rotund, baby-faced doctor of economics is a scion of Soviet propagandists. His grandfather was a celebrated author of children's books, his father a Pravda correspondent in Cuba. Young Gaidar spent a pampered Soviet career studying ways to abandon the old order.
Under Yeltsin, he applied his monetarist ideas for 14 months until the old Parliament ousted him as acting prime minister. Moving to dissolve Parliament this fall, Yeltsin reinstated him as economy minister.
Gaidar hopes a good showing at the polls will restore his position as head of the Cabinet. That will depend on his political skills. Though a bit clumsy on the campaign trail, he is articulate, rational, combative and darkly witty.
"This government is like a potato," he said. "Either they will eat us in the winter, or they will bury us in the spring."
ARKADY I. VOLSKY
Age: 61 Party: Civic Union Supporters: Managers and workers in state-owned factories.
This clever old industrialist once told an interviewer that he would never write his memoirs because he knew too much, and he looks like he was telling the truth. His heavy face and self-assured but acerbic manner reflect his life's journey from the factory floor to the smoke-filled room.
While claiming to be "more of a worker" than a politician, Volsky has hovered stolidly around the upper echelons of power since he was Soviet leader Yuri V. Andropov's personal secretary in 1983.
Volsky's career is associated with lost causes.
He began climbing the Communist Party ladder at Zil--the Moscow factory whose stately limousines have been superseded by German makes as the car of status in Russia--and in 1988 he was dispatched by Gorbachev to Nagorno-Karabakh to stop an ethnic war that is still raging.
As head of the centrist Civic Union and the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Volsky is fighting the odds again--to save huge state-owned factories that pollute Russia's landscape and turn out goods that nobody wants.
But then, he may muster enough votes from one-factory cities to dissuade radical reformers from closing them down.
Volsky hates it when the press labels him anti-reform.
"It's a lie," he grumbled. He called Gaidar's tight monetary tactics "shock experiments on a great nation." He favors slower privatization, easier credits to industry and subsidies to help defense plants convert to civilian production. "As Englishmen say," he repeated, "it takes 300 years to grow a nice lawn."
SERGEI M. SHAKHRAI
Age: 37 Party: Party of Russian Unity and Accord Supporters: Regional leaders.
For his service to Yeltsin, this stocky lawyer of Cossack heritage became known as the "eye of the potentate."
He wore army camouflage fatigues as Yeltsin's trouble-shooter in the war-torn Caucasus region. He wore sober suits as Yeltsin's lawyer at the Constitutional Court. He drafted decrees for Russia's first elected leader.
But for all that, admitted Sergei M. Shakhrai, "I was never among his closest entourage."
In fact, their relationship has been difficult--and it helps explain why Shakhrai broke with the Yeltsin inner circle and took leave from his duties to form a movement rivaling Russia's Choice.
The two reformers were elected to Parliament in 1990. After Yeltsin became president a year later, Shakhrai was his point man in that increasingly hostile place. Exhausted by overwork and dismayed by the government's conservative drift, he resigned as Yeltsin's legal adviser in May, 1992, only to return that fall.
He never swallowed his misgivings.
Last summer, Shakhrai reportedly remarked at a party that Yeltsin was like a rotten, fallen tree blocking the road to reform, and the slight got back to the president.
Eventually, Yeltsin ignored Shakhrai's proposed constitution and embraced one with stronger central authority.
The lawyer has countered by wooing support for his own candidacy among regional leaders across Russia--men the president had hired him to keep in line.
Yeltsin's constitution is also on the ballot Sunday. If voters adopt it, Shakhrai will fight in Parliament for amendments to decentralize Moscow's power.
Otherwise, he warned, "1994 can be a year of ethnic and inter-regional conflicts and clashes" that tear Russia apart.
GRIGORY A. YAVLINSKY
Age: 41 Party: Yavlinsky-Boldyrev-Lukin Bloc Supporters: Liberal democrats who dislike Yeltsin
This ferociously free-market economist is sick of hearing that Russians are fed up with politics.
"This is like saying the people are fed up with windsurfing," he quipped. "Most Russian people have only seen it on television, if at all."
Should voters send Yavlinsky to Parliament--and polls show his party running second only to Gaidar's--he promises them a run for their rubles by posing as the liberal democratic alternative to Yeltsin.
If Russia continues to privatize industry without anti-monopoly laws, Yavlinsky said, it will end up with "a super-monopolized economy."
If voters approve Yeltsin's draft of a new constitution, Russia will end up with "authoritarian rule under the guise of democracy."
Underscoring his independence, Yavlinsky chose as running mates two Yeltsin appointees who had fallen from grace.
Yuri Y. Boldyrev resigned as the top corruption-fighter, complaining that the government was not serious about rooting out its own rot. Vladimir P. Lukin, ambassador to the United States, was sacked for criticizing Russia's foreign policy.
Yavlinsky has a history as the progressive bad boy of Russian politics. Soviet authorities destroyed a book he wrote criticizing Leonid I. Brezhnev's economic reforms.
He quit Gorbachev's government after it failed to implement his 500-day blueprint for free-market reform.
Foes of the economist note that his ideas have never been tested in real life. And Gaidar says Yavlinsky's current plan would permit too much inflation for the sake of growth.
Yavlinsky makes no secret of his presidential ambitions. But until the presidential election comes, expect him to use Parliament as a platform to change the tactics--and perhaps even the outcome--of reform.
MIKHAIL I. LAPSHIN
Age: 59 Party: Agrarian Party Supporters: Collective farmers and rural residents with a communist tilt.
Take a 32-year veteran of the Soviet agricultural bureaucracy, a country boy-turned-people's deputy with the unshakable conviction that private land ownership will mean nouveau serfdom for Russian peasants.
Flank him with comrades of the old agricultural elite, collective farm leaders and some of the most virulently anti-Yeltsin hard-liners of the defunct Russian Parliament.
Add a platform that promises Russia's 34 million rural voters extensive welfare-state benefits, more agricultural subsidies and strict state regulation of land purchase, sale and use.
And vot --there you have it! A Communist peasants' party, minus the overt Communist rhetoric. This is Mikhail I. Lapshin's Agrarian Party.
It fielded 145 candidates covering nearly every rural region of Russia. Supporters include collective farmers, rural residents and conservatives in provincial cities and agriculture-based factory towns.
They are united by a sense that Moscow's plunge into free-market reform has made them poorer and more powerless than ever, and the fear that Yeltsin's brand of land reform will let foreigners, speculators and gangsters gobble up Russia's precious farmland.
"Who can own land? Peasants? Or will land be the subject of trade and speculation?" Lapshin asked. "Who can buy land? Only those who steal? Or the simple worker or peasant?"
The Agrarians would give a small plot of land free to every Russian, urban and rural, to garden or build a beloved dacha . Collective farms would remain intact, and private land could be sold by peasants only to other peasants--with strict regulations to prevent plantations from forming.
"Private property has a right to exist in the Russian Federation--but not everywhere," Lapshin said. "Only where conditions exist for it."
GENNADY A. ZYUGANOV
Age: 49 Party: Communist Party of the Russian Federation Supporters: Communists and others disillusioned by reform.
Mild-mannered Zyuganov has proven a wily and tenacious survivor, first in Soviet politics, then on the Russian revanchist fringe.
Until the Soviet Union caved in, he had an exemplary political biography: labor organizer since 1961, served in the Red Army, worked his way up the Communist Party ranks to the propaganda department of the Soviet Central Committee.
After the collapse, he landed on his feet as co-chairman of the National Salvation Front, Russia's most influential anti-Yeltsin group. Zyuganov's party was not implicated in promoting the October rebellion against Yeltsin.
Though it was briefly banned, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is the only one of the Soviet Communist Party's offsrping allowed on Sunday's ballot.
Zyuganov argues that the election itself is illegal, but said he is running to keep Yeltsin from getting a rubber-stamp Parliament to legitimize a dictatorship.
The Communists urge Russians to vote against Yeltsin's constitution in the Dec. 12 referendum lest they "wake up in a police state on Dec. 13."
The party claims 500,000 disciplined adherents, 151 candidates and the backing of a sizable minority of the electorate.
Some Zyuganov supporters are longtime party loyalists who hate Yeltsin for "murdering" the sickly Soviet Union.
Others are simply disillusioned by the economic collapse and chaos of the last two years.
"Our objective allies are all those who were robbed and humiliated," Zyuganov said.
VLADIMIR V. ZHIRINOVSKY
Age: 47 Party: Liberal Democratic Party Supporters: Pensioners, nationalists and newly impoverished workers.
The 700-seat hall in Fryazino, a Moscow suburb, was full of workers idled by budget cuts to military industries. By the end of the debate, it was clear which of the four candidates had won the audience.
It was Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, Russia's most outrageous populist, extremist and imperialist. The candidate with the simplest answers. From an obscure law practice, Zhirinovsky leaped to prominence in 1991 with a third-place finish in Russia's seven-man presidential election, winning 8% of the vote on a platform of cut-rate vodka "at every corner."
Still, many dismissed him as a harmless lunatic--until his current, well-financed campaign as head of the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party. With Russia in turmoil, he appeals to pensioners and workers bewildered by sudden poverty and their country's fall from superpower status.
Like a Russian version of David Duke, the ex-Klansman who ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor, his answers play on ethnic animosity: Sell arms to Russia's ex-Soviet neighbors "so they can destroy each other." Build a Berlin Wall to shut out their refugees. Cut off the gas, oil and financial aid so "they will come crawling to us feeble." Restore the old empire without firing a shot.
A national socialist who believes that Hitler gave Nazis a bad name, Zhirinovsky favors Big Government but claims he was never a Communist.
In the spirit of the campaign, his tone is a millimeter more moderate: He no longer advocates dictatorship, seizing neighboring states by force or turning them into nuclear waste dumps.
Times staff writer Sonni Efron and Times Moscow Bureau researcher Steven Gutterman contributed to this report.