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Communists mark Russian Revolution’s 100th anniversary

Russian supporters of communism holding posters depicting Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Moscow.
Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
Russian supporters of communism holding posters depicting Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Moscow.

MOSCOW — Russian Communists and left-wing activists from around the world marched through central Moscow on Tuesday to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution, in a pale shadow of grand Soviet demonstrations on Red Square.

The mood at this year’s celebration was more subdued than that of previous ceremonies, despite the milestone anniversary and the global feel as organizers invited representatives of left-wing movements from 88 countries. The day also highlighted the stark contrasts between today’s Russia and the ideals embraced in the revolution 100 years ago.

Holding red flags and portraits of Lenin and Stalin, several thousand activists moved through the city’s main thoroughfare, toward the Kremlin. Instead of marching to Red Square, as happened for decades during Soviet rule, they turned left, stopping for a rally at Revolution Square, where a monument to Marx stands.

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Despite the more low-key nature of the event, some noted positive changes.

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“During the Soviet times, we were told to go to these rallies,” said Tatyana Korolyova, 63. “Now we are doing it at our own will. This is better now that we have free choice.”

For generations of Russians, Nov. 7 was one of the country’s main holidays, with demonstrations held in every major city.

The main, heavily choreographed parade was held on Moscow’s Red Square with tanks and missile launchers rumbling in front of Soviet leaders, saluting them from Lenin’s Tomb.

This year, the government has shunted the revolution’s anniversary off into the realm of art exhibitions and research papers. Instead of a Communist demonstration, the event in Red Square on Tuesday instead honored the Nov. 7, 1941, military parade that was held at the time when German troops were standing on Moscow’s doorstep.

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President Vladimir Putin quietly avoided the celebrations, instead attending routine meetings in the Kremlin. In 2005, Putin moved the Nov. 7 public holiday to Nov. 4 and declared it Unity Day. Critics say that the new celebration is ill defined, and many Russians are unsure of its meaning.

Despite his absence, Putin’s presence was still felt at the rally, with some younger Communists shouting, “Russia without Putin,” and “We don’t need the thief Putin, we need a living Lenin.”

At the rally, Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov said that the red flag would inevitably fly again over the Kremlin. “We were all betrayed in 1991, but we didn’t put our heads and hands down,” Zyuganov said from the stage, referring to the fall of the Soviet Union. “I am absolutely sure that the banner of socialism will fly over Russia and the whole world.”

Sergei Grankin, 17, wearing a Russian sailor cap, agreed. “We are in opposition to the current government, and together with my comrades we will do everything for a revolution to happen again,” he said.

“The government we have now is temporary,” said Grankin, who is still a student but already leads a youth Communist group in Moscow.

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For many who had come from abroad, the occasion was their first time in Russia, so some features of Russian life were surprising.

“Russia doesn’t look like a socialist country,” said Philip Astvald, 30, a forklift driver from Sweden who comes from a family of communists. “You can see that income disparity here is huge. It is still a very special event for me — the whole communist movement was born here.”

For some Communist supporters, the rally was an occasion to sell their old books and pins — something that would not have been tolerated by the Soviet government three decades ago.

For other activists, it was a chance to share their own problems. Irina Laputina, 52, said she had paid for a new apartment in Moscow that was never built.

“My father was a worker who built many buildings in Moscow, and I don’t even have an apartment now,” said Laputina. “This would never happen in the Soviet times.”