Delegations of communists from Brazil, Germany, China, Spain, and more than a dozen other countries marched through St Petersburg to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution with their Russian comrades
A century after the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace and brought down Russia’s short-lived experiment with democracy, communists were again on the march through central Petersburg on 7 November. They carried red flags and banners, but this time, they came without guns. In a testament to the global influence of the historical event, the (ageing) Russian communist contingent was joined by (younger) leftists from across the world.
Young Chinese students marched side-by-side with Russian pensioners, young Argentinian communists, and leftist politicians from Germany. In all, communist parties from more than 15 countries participated, including Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Turkey, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Germany, Austria, China, and Iran. They travelled to pay homage to the birthplace and birthday of the world revolution.
For many, the historical event continues to hold significance: “I’m here today because coming to Russia gives me a special feeling and it means a lot to me. I am honoured to be here,” says a 20-year old Chinese student living in St Petersburg who goes by the Russian name Vassily. He is an active member of the Chinese communist party and is surrounded by a group of friends in the international crowd.
They sing communist songs, wave flags, chant workers’ slogans, and carry banners in their respective languages with pictures of Lenin and Stalin. But as the German, Chinese, and Spanish words float through the crowd, it seems as if the rest of the world remembers the Russian Revolution more than the Russians themselves.
Indeed, the day continues to provoke ambivalent reactions in contemporary Russia. The subsequent civil war, widespread famines, and bloody purges are an indelible legacy for many. In 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin abolished the national holiday that commemorated the October Revolution. It thus came as no surprise when his spokesperson announced that the day was just like any other normal working day for the Russian president. This year, the 7 November celebrations on Red Square were dedicated to the 76th anniversary of the military parade of 1941, rather than the more obvious and historically significant centenary. However, this doesn’t stop Russia’s communists from gathering with their international comrades.
A revolutionary walk through town
The revolutionary march in St Petersburg takes a historic route, passing prominent locations related to the events. The starting point for the march is Finlyandsky Train Station, where Lenin arrived from Switzerland to lead the revolution in April 1917. He was given a big reception back then: workers, soldiers, and his friends from the party welcomed him with red flags.
A little bit over a century later, these same red flags are waving again at the Finlyandsky Train Station, though, these days, the surrounding billboards and rush hour traffic are a more familiar sight. Though Lenin doesn’t arrive by train this year, he still stands tall on the square in front of the train station—where the oldest Lenin monument in the city is located.
From the Finlyandsky train station, the international group of communists makes their way across the bridge to reach Cruiser Aurora—whose blank shot at the Winter Palace marked the beginning of the October Revolution on that historic night. The gathered communists read speeches, raise their fists in solidarity, and sing the Internationale in dozens of languages, as scarlet fireworks rock the night sky for one more time in revolutionary Petrograd.