Soviet-Style May Day Celebrations Making a Comeback under Putin

May 1, 2014
Photo by AP/Ivan Sekretarev

Staunton, May 1 – Today, for the first time since the end of the Soviet Union and reflecting what Russian commentators say is a patriotic “wave” and “nostalgia” for the USSR, a May Day parade is passing through Red Square — although Vladimir Putin is not atop the Lenin Mausoleum, as his Soviet predecessors were, because it is closed for reconstruction.

But a new poll suggests that this and similar May Day parades elsewhere in the Russian Federation may not be exactly a manifestation of unqualified support for the Kremlin. While few Russians say they are ready to protest, 70 percent told the Levada Center that they wouldn’t participate in any pro-regime actions either.

However that may be, the recrudescence of Soviet-era traditions like May Day, the awarding of Hero of Labor medals, and the return of the historical name to the All-Russian Exhibit Center are clearly evidence of the direction the regime wants to go, even if it proves a direction that far from all Russians want to follow.

In a preview of the May Day holiday published yesterday, noted that Aleksandr Mazunov, the deputy chairman of the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions, said that the parade would proceed according to “a classical, nostalgic schema,” with columns of “toilers” converging on Red Square where they would be greeted by leaders on a platform next to the GUM department store.

RBK Daily reported that officials had decided to have the parade in Red Square this year, for the first time in 23 years, because of “the upsurge of patriotic attitudes” in the country, and said that the main slogans would include “I work in Russia and I Invest in Russia” and “Worthy Work – Just Pay”.

Vladimir Rodin, a KPRF deputy, said that the decision of the authorities to allow the parade in Red Square was “quite unusual.” He said that in the recent past, the Communists had been able to hold these marches only away from the center, and he suggested that this year’s event would “strengthen the unity and defense capability of Russians.”

According to Kommersant,
there will be 92 May Day events in Moscow on more than 50 squares as well as many more in other Russian cities. And Novyye izvestiya reported that the slogans are likely going to include everything from anti-immigrant sentiments to working class demands to calls to visit Crimea.

Beneath that diversity, however, a commentator in Politicheskoye Obozreniye said, is a working class protest against the impoverishment that many in that group have suffered over the last two decades and their nostalgia for the Soviet past, feelings that sometimes parallel and sometimes conflict with the Kremlin’s goals.

In an article in “Rossiiskaya Gazeta,” Aleksandr Shubin, a textbook writer, argued that May Day shows that “the idea of the solidarity of workers has in no way gone out of style.” Workers still must struggle and his proposed May Day slogan is “social rights are more important than international conflicts”.

That may not be the message the Kremlin wants to convey or to hear, and other writers suggested it may not be the one most Russians share. An article in Vedomosti titled “The Brezhnev of Today” said that the “phenomenal level of support” for Vladimir Putin personally is reinforced by such Soviet-type marches.

Under conditions of relative well-being, the paper said, enthusiasm for great power displays are popular because “they do not require” from Russians any “sacrifice” or “limitation on consumption” as was the case “in Stalin’s times.” Instead, the sense that “they fear us means they respect us” allows Russians to feel good as long as the costs of such policies are still low.