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90th anniversary of the October revolution


A left-winger, I am supposed to venerate the day of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. But no, I have never felt like celebrating on November 7. And yes, despite all the atrocities and blunders and the totalitarian outcome of the October Revolution, the Russian people have all the reasons to commemorate the storming of the Winter Palace just as the French do to make national holiday of July 14, the Bastille Day, that was followed by the terror in which many innocent French citizens were decapitated.

All in all, we are supposed to celebrate. But for me every November 7 has always been spoiled in this or that way. Back in the Soviet past, the unbearable official parade left no chance for a citizen to be proud of his state’s old or new history, as well as of the sate itself. Soviet leaders, with fat faces capped by “pirozhok” fur hats, standing on the Lenin’s Mausoleum, made me feel ashamed of my native land and inspired relentless drive to leave not just for another country but even planet.

Later the Boris Yeltsin’s regime made all possible to profit from this holiday debasing it and mixing the Soviet vapidity with the new-Russian ambitions. Vladimir Putin canceled the day-off on November 7, and it was a relief – finally the officials got rid of the date that common people considered part of their history. Alas, my glory didn’t last long, for the holiday was soon appropriated by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Gennady Zyuganov’s party exploited the Revolution date as an occasion to hold marches under conservative-nationalist banners – it was as bad as under Yeltsin.

As always, this year I felt an irresistible impulse to leave Moscow on the eve of November 7. The international seminar that we organized together with the Committee for Solidarity Actions in St. Petersburg was a timely occasion to do so. Getting off the train in Russia’s northern capital, I learned the news that the workers of the Ford plant commemorated the Russian Revolution 90th anniversary in their special way – they went on strike.

In mere couple of hours, the managers applied to the court. The workers were incriminated illegal strike (in our country all strikes happen to become “illegal”) and safety violations. Disruption of work, it was asserted, endangered health and lives of the local inhabitants that would have suffered if something blew out, leaked or exploded. Union leader Alexei Etmanov reminded that about one third of the plant’s staff were continuing the work and that the hazardous equipment was operating normally. The enterprise’s attorney complained that the management lost control of the situation at the plant.

To tell the truth, when entering the courtroom together with some of the western colleagues, I was preparing myself for participating in a kind of legal lynching. And I was quite surprised to see an intelligent, nice lady in judge’s robes, who kindly listened to both sides with due regard to their pleas, which seemed to me extremely professional. Still, the foreigners couldn’t grasp why the strike was recognized illegal, as well as what the complains were based on if the equipment was receiving the service. Ukrainian journalist Andrew Manchuk was enthusiastically documenting the debates lamenting that in Ukraine there is no labor movement like in St. Petersburg.

While the hearing was in progress, the Ford workers were on strike. “I am most of all proud of our team,” Etmanov said, “I am confident that as long as we are sitting here, the people won’t break the strike. They all know what they are doing.”

The court recessed for deliberation. In fifteen minutes the judge was back, she declared the strike suspended satisfying the manager’s claim. The Ford’s lawyer hurried up to inform the executives about the success. “The last shift won’t have the time to take part in the strike,” Etmanov summed up, “Anyway, next time they’ll make it. Today it was only a warning strike, after all.”

Next moment the judge returned to the courtroom again and addressed the union members: “There is little I can do for you. It’s all about our laws.”

The snow-covered streets led us to the Palace Square, where ninety years ago the revolutionary sailors encountered the barricades of Junkers. Our foreign guests were astonished at the city architecture. The square was deserted and silent. Only a dummy carriage was moving slowly along its opposite side.

“It feels strange not to find here at least several loonies with flags and banners,” Manchuk sighed.

We spent the evening at the Committee for Solidarity Actions with about a score of colleagues from the left groups and unions. Several people joined us later coming from the rally organized by the Communist Party. “What is happening down there?” – “Nothing special, people are drinking vodka and singing nationalist songs.”

Those gathered in the Committee place were talking tactics and perspectives of the labor movement, what can be done to support the workers. They were also discussing the forthcoming walkouts – dock workers and locomotive crews of the Leningrad region were to go on strike, and the stuffers of the post offices continued the protest action.

Italian participant Rafaella Bolini shared her admiration “It’s a good way you celebrate the Revolution date.”

The day was dying. To be in time for the train I was running across the winter city. On entering the empty compartment I laid on my place without even switching the light–I was tired. I could hear Russian bard songs from 1960s playing, it was something sincere very unlike contemporary commercial music.

For the first time in many years it was a true holiday.

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