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Russia revives May Day demonstration tradition on Red Square

After the 1917 Revolution, the day of workers’ solidarity was celebrated officially, massively and festively
May Day demonstration on Red Square (archive) Valery Khristoforov/Fotokhronika TASS
May Day demonstration on Red Square (archive)
© Valery Khristoforov/Fotokhronika TASS

MOSCOW, April 29. /ITAR-TASS/. More than two million people will take part in May Day demonstrations of labor unions throughout Russia. A festive march will be staged on Red Square in central Moscow for the first time since 1991. Head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions Mikhail Shmakov told a news conference at ITAR-TASS that Russia is reviving a tradition to celebrate May Day at the Kremlin walls.

“Demonstrations will be held in 1,100 cities and district centers. More than two million people will participate in them and I hope that their voice will be heard,” he said, adding that “regional branches of trade unions add common slogans with their requirements”. In Shmakov's view, despite the more than 100-year history of May Day, a slogan of the fight for an eight-hour labor day remains topical.

After the 1917 Revolution, the day of workers’ solidarity was celebrated officially, massively and festively. Traditional festivities began with welcome speeches of top party functionaries, then a parade was held and the holiday ended with a performance by physical culture activists and a march of workers. For a long time, May Day was a symbol of revolution and class struggle. Now, it is marked in almost all countries as a peaceful holiday of labor. In Russia, International Day of Solidarity of Workers was renamed the Holiday of Spring and Labor in 1992. In 1990, which preceded the last year that demonstrations were held on Red Square, May Day grew into high-spirited political action.

Preparation of the 28th Congress of the Soviet Union Communist Party was under way, heated political debates were whirling in society, the Communist Party Political Bureau tried to scrutinize the experience of sweeping political and economic reforms named Perestroika and to hold a congress without an internal split. All this made the background to May Day events. Then a May Day rally was divided in two parts of activists on Red Square. Most protesters had criticizing, but constructive moods that determined the scale and tonality of the holiday. Other activists pursued insulting goals: black flags of anarchists, three-colored flags of monarchists, portraits of Russia's last emperor Nicholas II and Soviet leader Stalin. And all this happened to the background of a slogan of far-right nationalists towards incumbent authorities, “From an office to prison!”

Demonstrations in Moscow have assembled around 100,000 people in the past. Around 50,000 people participated in a rally on Red Square in 1991 after which the tradition was interrupted for 13 years. Then Mikhail Shmakov headed the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions and said what is reflected in the TASS news archives - that an action “involving Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, Chairman of the Soviet Union Supreme Council Anatoly Lukyanov, Chairman of the RSFSR Supreme Council Boris Yeltsin [late first Russian president] and Chairman of the Moscow City Council Gavriil Popov will be held under the motto Unity, Solidarity, Human Rights for Labor.”

After 1991, the May Day holiday turned into massive political gatherings of supporters of radically minded politicians. For instance, an action dubbed as “a rally of Communist-oriented organizations” was held on Red Square in 1992. The rally began with performance of the Soviet Union anthem and raising the Red Flag and ended with appeals from the leader of opposition movement Working Moscow, Viktor Anpilov, “for early dismissal of President Boris Yeltsin, ousting Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov from power and putting the latter on trial”. Meanwhile, a real full-fledged, massive demonstration on the occasion of the International Day of Workers was staged in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, on May 1, 1992. Hundreds of demonstrators with red banners and with slogans “Future is with Socialism!” “No to Capitalism!” gathered at the Monument of Friendship dedicated to reunification of Ukraine and Russia and appealed to the fight against nationalism and consolidation of workers.