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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

From the Revolution to the Comintern

Subbotnik, the Kremlin, Moscow, May Day [1920?]

Joseph C. Bradley

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in Russian: “4204. Первомайский субботник в Кремле” – [“4204. 1 May subbotnik in the Kremlin”]. Black and white photograph; 9 x 12 cm.

1By spring 1920, the movement of unpaid labor known as the ‘subbotnik’ had become an organized mass phenomenon. Initially, the ‘subbotniks’ had been sporadic local efforts, largely loading and unloading freight and repairing railway lines. These initiatives then reflected revolutionary enthusiasm and the desire to save the revolution from the many threats hanging over it.

2The Moscow Party Committee formed a Department of Subbotniks and by a decree of the Central Executive Committee of the Russian Republic, May Day 1920 was decreed a subbotnik. Subbotniks also accompanied labor mobilization schemes such as Cleanliness Week, Transport Week, and Labor Front Week. Party members were expected to participate; likewise Red Army soldiers garrisoned in Moscow were ordered to work. Non-Party civilians were incentivized to participate by rewards of extra rations of food and fuel. As the movement expanded, so too did the work sites, as participants not only repaired the railways and factory machinery but also engaged in a “spring cleaning” of streets, parks, and buildings.

3Work in Palace Square, renamed Uritsky Square in honor of a martyr of the Revolution, Moisei Uritsky, the head of the Petrograd Cheka or political police who had been assassinated, and work in the Moscow Kremlin pictured here received great fanfare as symbols of the creation of a new socialist society. Lenin himself helped remove timber from the Kremlin, a moment portrayed in a painting by Vladimir Krikhatsky, Lenin at the First Subbotnik. The poet Velmir Khlebnikov wrote a verse with the rather oxymoronic title “Labor Holiday,” and propaganda claimed that, “the trash you are picking up was left by capitalism!” The movement was taken over by the Party (“partified”) and combined elements of voluntarism, mobilization, and coercion. Spontaneity was replaced by ritual and “work performance.” However, the subbotniks became an annual day of spring cleaning of public spaces throughout the Soviet period and are still a festive occasion after the last snow has melted in the Russian Federation.


William Chase, Voluntarism, Mobilisation and Coercion: Subbotniki 1919–1921, Soviet Studies, Vol. 41, no. 1 (January 1989), pp. 111–128.

Lewis H Siegelbaum and Ronald Grigor Suny, Making Workers Soviet: Power, Class, and Identity, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

James Von Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals, 1917–1920, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. (Chap. “Labor transformed”, pp. 151–156).

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in Russian: “4204. Первомайский субботник в Кремле” – [“4204. 1 May subbotnik in the Kremlin”]. Black and white photograph; 9 x 12 cm.
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