. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reds Rally For a Lost Holiday

Communists turned out in tens of thousands to celebrate the 79th anniversary of the October Revolution last week, but the man most vilified in their speeches and slogans, President Boris Yeltsin, stole much of their thunder without even leaving his hospital bed.

Yeltsin, in his first political act since undergoing quintuple-bypass heart surgery last week, on Thursday renamed the holiest day of the communist calendar -- Nov. 7 commemorates the day the Bolsheviks seized power -- as the Day of Accord and Reconciliation.

In an address to the Russian people released by his press office, Yeltsin called the October Revolution a "turning point" in the country's history.

"Sincere expectations and hopes turned into tragedy, whose victims numbered in the millions. Society split. To this day The announcement apparently came too late for Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov to respond when he addressed some 20,000 of the faithful who gathered on Moscow's Teatralnaya Ploshchad Thursday morning.

Later, however, Zyuganov told Interfax that, far from being divisive, the Nov. 7 holiday had always been "a national holiday for everybody" and that any gesture toward reconciliation on Yeltsin's part was meaningless without action.

"A real, rather than a declared reconciliation in Russian society can only be reached when wages are paid, respect for old people and care for children is demonstrated in fact," he said.

In his decree, Yeltsin also proclaimed 1997 the Year of Accord and Reconciliation, and created a state commission, which he will head, to develop a year-long program of events honoring victims of the October Revolution, the civil war and repression under the Soviets.

But if Zyuganov's performance in front of the Bolshoi Theater on Thursday is any guide, Yeltsin has his work cut out. Zyuganov called the Yeltsin administration "unfit to govern," and appealed to the splintered communist movement to consolidate under the banner of his Union of National Patriotic Forces.

"Two situations are possible now: either utter chaos with an ensuing dictatorship and bloody feuds, or the workers will unite, and together with their political and government leaders will establish a normal, popular government by legal methods," Zyuganov said.

"We choose the second version. We are against violence, war and feuds, but we will not allow the Russian Federation to be destroyed." Zyuganov told his supporters he had a clear plan of attack, but of concrete measures said only that the dominant communist faction in the State Duma would not vote to approve the government's budget for 1997.

Zyuganov also attacked the handling of Yeltsin's heart bypass surgery.

"Forgive me, but they even made a real show out of the president's difficult operation," said the Communist Party leader, who lost to Yeltsin in July's presidential election. "We have seen everything in our history, but this 23-hour president was a comedy played out before the entire world community. It was shameful to watch," he said, referring to the temporary transfer of presidential powers to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on the day of the surgery.

Police estimated attendance at Thursday's rally in Moscow at 22,000, the largest in Russia for the day. But from the podium beneath a monument to Karl Marx, the crowd seemed to swell in the eyes of its beholders.

The master of ceremonies told the gathering as marchers streamed into the square that 300,000 had turned out. First Secretary of the Communist Party's Moscow city committee Alexander Kuvayev joyously upped this figure. "We have checked the figures, and there are nearly 400,000 of us here today," he shouted.

The speakers at Thursday's rally, party leaders and selected "simple workers," served up a familiar mix of nostalgia for the Soviet Union and invective against the "so-called democrats" in the current government, adding a strong appeal for unity among the many parties and movements on the political left.

Even Viktor Anpilov, one of Russia's most unreconstructed hardliners who has been elbowed out of his own party, called for unity. Supporters of the former Working Russia leader, who has frequently charged Zyuganov with selling out to the Yeltsin regime, disrupted the meeting with demands that Anpilov be allowed to speak.

Zyuganov, Nikolai Ryzhkov and other mainstream leaders huddled at one side of the podium, then pulled Anpilov over and apparently gave him the green light.

Anpilov then seized the microphone from a representative of the Union of Soviet Officers and called off the hecklers.