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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cold Can't Keep Communists Down

It may have been cold, it may have been windy, but it was still no excuse not to celebrate the Russian Revolution.

"You think the people who did it 83 years ago minded the weather?" Alexander, 70, laughed Tuesday while braving the elements to listen to speeches delivered near the statue of Karl Marx on the square opposite the Bolshoi Theater.

A few thousand mainly elderly communist supporters marched through the city to celebrate the 83rd anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and voice their protest against the harsh living conditions of the last turbulent decade.

Carrying flags and portraits of Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, the marchers led by Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov accused the government of pushing them into a life of uncertainty and economical troubles and destroying the achievements of Soviet times in the name of democracy.

"They threw out the baby with the bath water," said Alexander, who declined to give his last name. Elegantly dressed in a tailored brown coat and cashmere scarf, he said he was among the crowds supporting Boris Yeltsin in the revolutionary times of 1990 and 1991 "until he dissolved the Soviet Union and destroyed our industry."

A big crowd of university students rallied in support of Putin near the Kremlin.

John Smith

But Tuesday’s demonstrations lacked the passion and conviction of previous years, when participants demanded Yeltsin’s resignation, seeing him as the main cause of their plight.

The criticism Tuesday was directed against the hated financial and industrial moguls known as the "oligarchs" and the close circle of Yeltsin’s political friends known as "the Family," but President Vladimir Putin was largely spared. At least one speaker accused Putin of protecting Yeltsin’s inner circle, but he was met with little enthusiasm.

Farther back in the crowd, a group of activists attempted to reconcile two once fiercely opposed groups in Russian society, communists and the Orthodox Church. "Communism is much older than the revolution," said Sergei Golotkoi, 42, who was wearing a cork bulletin board on which he had stuck communist medals together with crosses and icons.

In one hand he waved a red flag with an icon-like painting of Jesus Christ and with the other he helped hold a banner stating: Communism — Christ’s immortal teaching.

"Both the Church and Stalin were in search of the same truth," he said with conviction. "And in this search they made some mistakes," he added, thoughtfully.

While speaking with journalists, Zyuganov squeezed in a comment on the U.S. presidential elections. Interfax quoted him as warning that Russia "could expect new pressure" from the United States if the winner of Tuesday’s elections turns out to be Republican candidate George W. Bush.

State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, however, also a Communist, said a Bush win would be good for Russia.

"For us it means that a serious, constructive cooperation between our two great countries will be continued," The Associated Press reported Seleznyov as saying. "Because all important treaties and agreements between the Soviet Union or Russia and the U.S.A. were signed when the Republicans were in office."

At the same time as the communist rally, an even bigger crowd of university students gathered on Vasilyevsky Spusk, leading down from Red Square to the river, to voice their support for the president.

Wearing yellow stickers saying "Youth for the President," they praised Putin and his "strong hand."

"He’s relatively young and as energetic as we are," said Yekaterina, a 20-year-old applied biotechnology student. "We feel that he has the strength to rule this country and we’re here to show he can count on us. Just like him, we would like to see order in Russia."

All of the students asked said their rally was not organized by a political party.

Red Square itself was cordoned off Tuesday, although a small group of World War II veterans was allowed to march there at the break of dawn. They had marched in the Revolution Day parade in 1941, whose participants had then gone straight to the front.

Later in the day, a few dozen young supporters of the radical Workers’ Russia party led by Viktor Anpilov, wearing red masks and carrying flags with pictures of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, tried to break through rows of riot police on the other side of Red Square near the Historical Museum. There was a scuffle but no major violence.

Nov. 7 was celebrated Tuesday all over Russia, with the merriest demonstration perhaps in Kursk, the capital of the Kursk region. There, Communist Party supporters celebrated the victory of their candidate Alexander Mikhailov in Sunday’s regional gubernatorial election.

Mikhailov won the governor’s seat after the regional court struck his main opponent, incumbent Alexander Rutskoi, from the ballot just hours before the first round two weeks ago.

Revolution Day was the most important Soviet state holiday. After the fall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin renamed it the Day of Accord and Reconciliation.

Zyuganov spoke out Tuesday against the change, saying the holiday’s new name "undermines the achievements of the revolution."

Alexander Belenky contributed to this report.