October Revolution Centenary in Moscow

Sitaram Yechury

TEN years ago, at the International Meeting of the Communist and Workers Parties (IMCWP), we had suggested in the Working Group in Minsk, capital of Belarus, that a meeting in the year of the centenary of the October Revolution must be held in Moscow hosted by the Communist Party of Russian Federation (CPRF).

While this was almost unanimously accepted, the CPRF was initially hesitant whether they would be in a position to organise this event given the fact that almost all the Communist and Workers Parties in the world would inevitably converge in Moscow for this centenary. Finally, they had mustered both the resources and the organisational capacities to successfully organise this commemoration along the lines of John Reed’s classic account of the Revolution: “Ten days that shook the world”.

Representatives of the Communist Parties began arriving in St. Petersburg on November 1, for the IMCWP meeting and visits to the historic landmarks associated with the October Revolution and the storming of the Winter Palace.  Polit Bureau member and Head of the International Department of the CPI(M),            M A Baby, represented the CPI(M) at this meeting.  I had joined the fraternal party leaders for the Moscow part of the commemoration that was held from November 5 to 7, 2017.  Over 130 delegations, of which nearly 70 were led by the general secretaries or heads of the party, converged in Moscow on the 5th morning to pay homage to Comrade Vladimir Lenin at his mausoleum. They were joined by thousands of Russians who formed long queues on a bitter Moscow’s winter day. 

The CPRF organised a grand programme devoted to the centenary  with the footage of vintage films capturing the historic moments of the revolution, revolutionary songs, music, enactments etc.  Many of Russia’s leading artists participated to render these revolutionary and World War-II military songs with great applause to a selected audience of close to 5,000 in an Indoor Stadium in Moscow.

Due to a large number of participants, many parties could not find time to deliver their observations at the IMCWP in St. Petersburg.  On the 6th, a forum of Left forces was held where these parties have shared their observations along with other non-Communist Left parties and forces in Russia.

VLADIMIR PUTIN’S RESPONSE

On the 7th morning, a massive military parade was held at the historic Red Square by the Russian government. Preceding the march, various events in Russia’s history where Russia scored military victories were enacted at the Red Square.  Clearly, Putin and the Russian government were using this occasion to strengthen Russian nationalism in the run-up to the elections to be held in the country in 2018.

In 2005, Putin had described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “The greatest geo-political catastrophe” of the 20th century.  On the occasion of the centenary this year, his observation carried a different message when he said: “When we look at the lessons from a century ago, we see how ambiguous the results were, and how there were both negative and positive consequences of those events.”  He proceeds to pose a question: “Was it really not possible to develop not through revolution but through evolution?” Clearly, the message is that the preservation of the unity of the Russian State is the overarching priority.  Revolutionary overthrow of a system based on exploitation is neither to be sanctified nor would it be tolerated.

This comes in the light of the growing protests across Russia that have sharply increased, particularly in the run-up to the observation of the centenary of the October Revolution.  The presence of a large number of Russian youth in these activities during these three days there showed that longstanding unresolved economic and social conflicts that surfaced post-disintegration of the Soviet Union could be met and solved with the rise of the ideology of socialism.  This sentiment, we were informed, is gaining a large amount of traction among the poor and the working class. Putin, backed by the Russian bourgeoisie and the post-USSR ruling classes, clearly seeks to stem this tendency gaining popularity. 

But, at the same time, the whipping up of Russian nationalism by invoking the pride of the decisive role in defeating Adolf Hitler and fascism during the Second World War is seen as an instrument for garnering popular support.

The organising of a military parade in the centenary year on November 7was done under the pretext to mark the 76th anniversary of the important history changing military parade held at this very Red Square on November 7,1941. This parade was led by the legendary Marshal Zhukov, before whom, Hitler’s army surrendered.  Stalin and the entire CPSU Polit Bureau was standing at the top of the Lenin Mausoleum.  Stalin receives the salute.  Prior to that, he informs in a short stirring speech that Hitler’s German Army had invaded the territory of the Soviet Union and had neared the gates of Leningrad and Moscow. Invoking a passionate emotion-packed response from the people, Stalin vowed to defeat the fascist armies, liberate the Soviet Union and end the scourge of fascism in the world.  He gave the slogan: “Death to the German invaders”. With this war cry, the Red Army marched to confront the fascist army, drive them out of the socialist Soviet Union to eventually reach Berlin and hoist the Red Flag at the top of German Reichstag (Hitler’s headquarters).  The Red Flag, not the flag of the USA, or UK, or France, that announced to the world Hitler’s defeat.

This epic saga of courage, sacrifices and passionate resistance to fascism continues to evoke a very deep empathy even in today’s generation of Russia.

Once earlier, the Moscow municipality, obviously under Putin’s clearance,  observed a similar military parade and that was on the 90th anniversary of the revolution in 2007, which Russia officially described as the 66th anniversary of 1941!  The 75th anniversary was not observed neither was the 70th.  But the 76th is observed.  Clearly, because this falls in the year of the centenary of the October Revolution. 

PEOPLE’S MARCH

While it appears that almost the whole Russia responded to this military parade enthusiastically, the people’s march organised by the CPRF in the afternoon of November 7, was replete with portraits of Lenin, Stalin and barrage of red banners and flags. Thousands of Communists from nearby countries in Europe had converged in Moscow. I was surprised to find a large number of Indian Communists and sympathizers had come to attend this event on tourist visas.  Bengalis, Malayalis and Punjabis were prominently visible and joined us.  The dominant mood was that of a rejection of the present day miseries imposed by the post-Soviet Union ruling classes in Russia; growing insecurity of the youth, leading to growing crime and drug addiction; and the need to change this situation. Nostalgia for the “Good old days” was both prominently visible and audible through the slogans. 

The ambivalent reactions of the Russian ruling classes and Putin towards this centenary could be better understood as the centenary procession ended in an evening of revolutionary music and songs performed by the most prominent of the Russian artists.  

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