MOSCOW -- Sporting a Lenin pin and extolling Marx over a latte in a bustling downtown cafe, Andrei is every bit the modern-day Russian communist. And don't expect the 19-year-old to get teary-eyed about the demise of the Soviet Union.
An aspiring university student, he has lived most of his life under President Vladimir Putin and his views have nothing to do with an abstract "nostalgia" for a country he never knew. He admits the Soviet Union "made mistakes" but insists horrors like the Gulag or the Great Terror don't discredit communist ideals.
Flanked by two fellow activists who occasionally chip in to cite Engels, Andrei recounts how he was just 13 when he set out to join the Komsomol, the Communist Party youth group whose earthy, leather-booted, pistol-toting partisans fought in the Russian Civil War that raged after the Bolshevik Revolution and claimed up to 12 million lives.
In a white hoodie and jeans, Andrei, who asks that we not use his full name, says he was drawn to the Komsomol by anger over how his liberal-minded mother and father subsisted -- working blue-collar jobs as a house painter and a driver -- in the capital of one of the most socially unequal major economies in the world. He himself worked summers in a crane-making factory from the age of 14 to save up for college.
"I've seen how the state deals with common people," says Andrei, who recently finished compulsory military service and hopes to start university this fall. "I was at the bottom of our society. The injustice we have in this country -- tiny salaries and pensions -- of course it makes you ask why this is the case."
As he rattles off grievances, one could mistake him for a liberal opposition activist: He rails against the "persecution of dissidents," condemns state propaganda's "militarization of society," and abhors colossal sums spent on national defense rather than a collapsing education system.