updated 3/12/2005 5:02:19 PM ET 2005-03-12T22:02:19

After decades of hammers and sickles, red flags and wordy slogans, Russia’s Communists are looking to a propaganda device Lenin and Stalin never dreamed of: cell phone text messaging.

The Communist Party is struggling to regain influence and broaden its aging support base, and its leaders on Saturday called for a fresh propaganda push to attract younger Russians and gain attention despite being largely shut out by the Kremlin-dominated news media.

At a party plenary meeting outside Moscow that focused on propaganda — a word that in Russia evokes images of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution — first deputy chairman Ivan Melnikov said the Communists should turn to methods such as graffiti and cell phone messaging.

Cell-phone nation
Members of the party’s youth wing “could use telephones to send political jokes or rhymes, or attract attention to events — anything that motivates a person to send the message along to someone else,” Melnikov said in comments broadcast on NTV television.

Cell phones are now widely used in a country where people struggled 15 years ago to find two-kopeck pieces to feed pay phones.

Many Russians — from savvy Moscow schoolchildren to their grandmothers in the countryside — are proficient at using short messaging service, or SMS, to send messages to family and friends. Such messages — known here as “esemeski” — are particularly popular among teenagers and young adults.

Melnikov also said the party should make more use of the Internet, NTV reported.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said the party, known since the 1991 Soviet breakup for street protests dominated by elderly people carrying red banners, should shed outdated slogans and tailor its language to specific groups, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

'Sell the brand'
Zyuganov called on his comrades to smarten up their propaganda efforts, using artistic images, satire and advertising. Using a phrase from that capitalist tool, he said they should seek to “sell the brand” of the party, according the news agency.

Melnikov said the party should do more to draw attention to its activities in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. He said it should consider “transferring certain methods of street protests to the assembly hall” in the Duma.

The Communists survived the collapse of the Soviet Union, winning the support of millions of pensioners whose savings were wiped out by inflation in the early 1990s, along with workers whose salaries were paid months late and impoverished collective farm employees. The party espouses a blend of communism and Russian nationalism.

Shrinking influence
The Communist Party presence in the Duma shrank following December 2003 elections that gave the pro-Kremlin United Russia party a massive majority of its 450 seats, and the state control over the nationwide television networks has hobbled efforts by the Communists and other opposition groups to get their messages to the people.

“We must now conduct ourselves more sharply, more clearly and more loudly,” he said, so that “it would be impossible not to hear us, impossible not to show us” on television.

Melnikov’s calls for the use of modern means to increase the party’s popularity came during a speech that hewed to a Soviet-era tradition of long addresses at party conferences. He spoke for an hour and a half, NTV reported.

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