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From Communism to Anti-Communism

 | 
Andre Liebich
, 
Svetlana Yakimovich

From the Revolution to the Comintern

May Day Celebration, Petrograd, [Nevsky prospekt?], 1920

Andrea Panaccione

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “1 мая 1920” – “1[er] mai 1920” – [“1 May 1920”]. The banner in the center reads in Russian: “Петербургский Губернский комитет” – [“Petersburg Provincial Committee”]. Black and white photograph; 10 x 15 cm.

1The man in the Astrakhan hat in the middle is Grigorii Zinoviev, President of the Executive Committee of the Comintern since 1919 but here appearing in his role as the Bolshevik in charge of Petrograd. The winter clothes worn by Zinoviev and those in the forefront of the demonstration suggest that it was a cold May Day in the northern capital that year but the absence of snow on the ground practically excludes an October anniversary celebration and thus May Day, as indicated on the photo, is not improbable.

2In 1920, Soviet Russia was undergoing the final phase of the Civil War and the problems related to the economic reconstruction of the country began to become a priority. 1 May reflected this new climate emphasizing the theme of work and the characterization of the day as “vserossiiskii subbotnik”, the voluntary Saturday work that had been extended to all Russia after some earlier avant garde experiences. In 1920, the regulation of voluntary work in the subbotniki, for which a committee (Glavnyi Komitet po vseobshchei povinnosti) had been appointed, contradicted the exaltation of voluntary work; moreover, the generalization of the commitment to work incorporated in the very name of this institution completely denied its voluntary character.

3The “spectacularization” of communist work inaugurated in 1920, i.e., the notion that work should be admired and that the masses should be incited to work, would remain one of the constant features of Soviet celebrations of 1 May and would contribute to make this day the greatest occasion for tourism and political pilgrimage and for spreading the image of the socialist society in the world. One of the first among the countless well-disposed visitors to Moscow would summarize, in 1920, the nature of the substantial difference between celebrations in Russia and in capitalist countries: “The meaning of this May Day is different from that of the capitalist countries,” he wrote, “under capitalism, the proletariat demonstrates its socialist will by interrupting its work, while in socialist Russia it does so by intensifying its work”.

4These were only the first signals of a theatrical and ritualistic exaltation of labor, while, in reality, the celebration was organized in such a way as to control and subdue labor, to impose this new understanding of labor upon common sense as expressed by an old Russian proverb: “work is not a wolf, for it does not run away into the woods”.

Bibliographie

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.

James Von Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals, 1917–1920, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “1 мая 1920” – “1[er] mai 1920” – [“1 May 1920”]. The banner in the center reads in Russian: “Петербургский Губернский комитет” – [“Petersburg Provincial Committee”]. Black and white photograph; 10 x 15 cm.
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