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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communists March to Same Old Beat




In the sea of red banners and angry faces that flowed through an overcast Moscow to mark what used to be the premier feast of Soviet communism, Revolution Day, one of the few slogans with a constructive bent was the old chestnut from 1917: "All Power to the Soviets."


But after chanting the line a few times with her fist held high, an elderly woman wearing a frayed cloth coat with a red ribbon in the lapel was hard pressed to explain exactly what this meant in the current circumstances. President Boris Yeltsin had to go, she declared, along with the gang of thieves who had stolen her pension, and the West had to stop meddling, and it was time for people to get down to real work.


The woman was among some 9,000 marchers who turned out Saturday for a Nov. 7 march through Moscow organized by the Communist Party, from the statue of Lenin on Oktabrskaya Ploshchad to the old KGB headquarters on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad.


The Interior Ministry said turnout across Russia was more than 270,000 - far less than the 1 million organizers had predicted. St. Petersburg, the so-called "cradle of the revolution" where the Bolsheviks first took power by storming the Winter Palace, apparently led the nation: A modest crowd of 10,000 gathered on the square before the palace, which now houses the Hermitage Museum.


In Soviet days, Nov. 7 was marked with a military parade past Lenin's Mausoleum on Red Square with huge banners proclaiming Soviet achievement and might.


This time, a special edition of Pravda did issue a list of "basic slogans," but instead of the long lists of the past there were only seven, including one that read, "Rid the mass media of the henchmen of the West."


Several years ago, Yeltsin issued a decree renaming the holiday the "Day of National Reconciliation and Agreement." And to keep the Communists from rallying at Lenin's tomb, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov sealed off Red Square with thousands of police, backed by thousands more in riot gear. Even the backup meeting place of the past, the Manezh Square, is now a glittering park and underground mall, so the marchers were relegated to the square facing the KGB building - now used by its main successor, the Federal Security Service.


If there was a theme to the day, it was anger, dismay and confusion. Slogans, chants and placards were a melange of nostalgia and grievance, in which "Power to the Soviets" was just another cry of rage, along with the banners demanding the ouster of Yeltsin, the imprisonment of his "team," the return of power to the "working man."


Scattered among the more mundane protesters were groups carrying ultranationalist or anti-Semitic banners, which have become more pronounced as the economy has worsened. "Yeltsin surrendered Russia to be robbed by Zion," read one placard, while youths dressed all in black proclaimed themselves the Chernosotensky, or Black Hundreds, a name for ultranationalists in tsarist times.


By agreement with the main Communist Party, most of the more rabid communist groups were shunted off to Vasilyevsky Spusk, where several hundred followers of radical organizations like the National Bolshevik Party or Working Russia vented their fury. One speaker roused approving guffaws when he declared that even if Yeltsin died and were buried in Russia, he would dig up the body and throw it to the West, "where it belongs."


The day's most curious event was outside the Russian government building, where several dozen monarchists gathered to pray for those killed by the Bolsheviks in 1917 and to demand freedom for General Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, who was arrested in London.


"He freed the Chilean people of that international garbage, the Communists," explained a speaker, who then expressed sympathy for the people marching under Communist banners elsewhere in Moscow, who were "led on the same road to the abyss, first by communism and then by the liberalism of the West."


Behind the seemingly contradictory mix of communism, internationalism, Russian nationalism and religion at the various points, the unifying strand was the shared invocation of an idyllic past that never was, whether tsarist Russia or Lenin's Soviet Union, and a frustration with a present from which these protesters had been excluded.


According to a public opinion poll by the Russian Independent Institute for Social and National Issues, only 13 percent of Russians still hold to communist ideology, and 77 percent of these are poor. But the poll also found that 40 percent of those questioned still believe that communists can return to power.


In a message issued from a sanatorium in southern Russia, however, Yeltsin suggested that even if they do return, they would hardly be the same communists. In their official platforms, he noted, "They are not only promising a 'bright future' and social equality, but also democracy, and private property, and free enterprise, and a financial market. And not a word about the old values - the war on religion, the hegemony of the proletariat, world revolution."


In addition to the thousands of irate old communists marching through Moscow's center, many more millions were out in playgrounds and streets enjoying a day off, including several hundred Muscovites who queued up for an hour or more to view a new exhibit, "Cezanne and the Russian Avant-Garde," at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.


St. Petersburg's Palace Square demonstration drew to a close by early afternoon, meanwhile, but Alexandra Ketova, 9, was still doing a brisk trade selling a leftist newspaper, Leninskiye Iskri, for a ruble a go. Chaperoned to the square by her grandfather, Ketova seemed uncertain of the day's significance. "Today's a festival day," she said simply.