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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

From the Revolution to the Comintern

May Day Celebration, Petrograd, 1918

Andrea Panaccione

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The sign at the bottom of the photograph reads in Russian: “Первый пролетарскiй праздникъ 1 мая 1918 г. въ Петрограде” – [“The first proletarian holiday of May 1, 1918 in Petrograd”]. Black and white postcard; 9 x 14 cm.

1In Soviet Russia 1 May 1918, stood for celebration of the new power arisen from the October Revolution. It became an official holiday when the Soviet State adapted the Russian (Julian) calendar to the European (Gregorian) one and at the same time substituted new revolutionary holidays for the old tsarist ones (the so-called “red calendar”). On 12 April 1918 the Decree on the Monuments of the Republic created a specific committee in Moscow – where the government’s headquarters had been transferred in March 1918 – to quickly arrange the city’s decorations for May Day and to replace signs, emblems, street names, etc. with new inscriptions reflecting the ideas and the feelings of revolutionary Russia. Similar committees were created in Petrograd and in other main centers. On 27 April Izvestiia published an appeal by the Soviet Central Executive Committee with the text of the main slogans that were to characterize May Day celebrations in all Russia and, at the same time, Pravda published the appeal and slogans of what had become in March 1918 the Russian Communist Party.

2This first May Day celebration could not have taken place in a more difficult situation. The BrestLitovsk Peace Treaty of March 1918, which had taken from the Russian state territories of vital importance, was followed by the beginning of the Civil War. Precisely in these days the first units of the Red Army – for whom this 1 May would become the first official parade – were being created.

3Despite the singularity of the situation, it is possible to discern in the celebrations of this day some features and issues that would regularly recur in the history of May Day in the USSR: the mobilization of state and party organs in setting up the celebration of May Day; the political mobilization of the masses on behalf of the objectives that, time after time, were the order of the day; the participation of wide sectors of artists and intellectuals in the decoration and scenography of the cities and in the organization of exhibitions, and their difficult relationship with the tastes of both the masses and the political authorities, even at a time when a party aesthetic theory had not yet been formulated; the contradiction between the proclaimed attribution of a main role to the masses and the prevalence of controls that rapidly eliminated any expression of spontaneity; the unacceptability of the participation of opposition forces (or those in any way critical of the existing power); the intimidating and demonstrative meaning assumed by the presence of the military; the elaboration of a specific language for managing the masses, with terms like “massovodstvo” (the direction of the masses), “massovik” (parades and mass plays organizer), massovii organizator, “rukovoditel”, administrator, “aktivizator” (organizer, supervisor, administrator, “activizer” of the masses).

4All this, along which Lunacharsky’s lyrical invocation that “the whole people will demonstrate to itself its own soul” paved the way for what would later be replaced by other, more concrete objectives.


Anatolii Lunacharsky, O narodnykh prazdnikakh, Vestnik teatra, no. 62, 1962.

Andrea Panaccione, Un giorno perché. Cent’anni di storia internazionale del 1° maggio, Roma: Ediesse, 1990.

Andrea Panaccione, Sul 1° maggio in Urss fino alla seconda guerra mondiale”, A. Panaccione, ed. Il 1° maggio tra passato e futuro, Manduria : Lacaita, 1992, pp. 157–179.

Table des illustrations

Légende The sign at the bottom of the photograph reads in Russian: “Первый пролетарскiй праздникъ 1 мая 1918 г. въ Петрограде” – [“The first proletarian holiday of May 1, 1918 in Petrograd”]. Black and white postcard; 9 x 14 cm.
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