Thomas Bell

May Day in Moscow

Source: The Communist, June 10, 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

MAY THE FIRST 1922, will remain a red letter day in the memory of all who were privileged to be in Moscow and participate in the Labour Day celebration. If the new bourgeoisie and the few representatives of the foreign capitalists present in Moscow had any doubts regarding the mass opinion behind the Soviet Government, these must have been rudely shattered by the magnitude and enthusiasm of the procession of demonstrators, soldiers and workers that passed through the historic Red Square on Monday, the first of May.

There was something in the atmosphere long before Monday that could not be accounted for. Everybody talked about the great day, “next Monday.” And what a day! Everyone, men, women and children, seemed to be out of doors. Never have I seen such a sober and peaceful, though withal, joyous, crowd in my life. It was certainly good to be about on such a day. The sun shone gloriously. All the prominent buildings had special decorations of red bunting and green leaves in which were embedded the photographs of Karl Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and other heroes of the proletarian revolution, while the streets everywhere were lavish in their display of Red. Nor was it a purely national affair. Everywhere one could read the appeals for a United Front, for solidarity with the workers of the world, and other mottoes written in all languages. Internationalism was certainly pronounced. One felt it would have been good to have the Ramsay MacDonald and other leaders of the Second International witness such joyous and exultant scenes. It would have effectively answered their silly twaddle about “unconstitutional” revolutions.

The celebrations were not confined to Monday alone. They were actually spread over the three days, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and carried well into Tuesday morning. On Saturday forenoon I took part in a simple but significant little ceremony connected with the Comintern, which may interest readers of the COMMUNIST. The practice was developed lately for institutions of all kinds to adopt regiments or companies of the Red Army as their own, much as we talk in England of the “Queen’s Own,” of “King’s Own;” etc., regiment. In this case the Comintern was adopting a Company and presenting them with a banner. Speeches were made, and after speaking I had the honour to drive in the first nail into the pole. In the evening more speeches and a sing-song, with supper, and the ceremony was complete. The significance of this adoption will be understood when it is realised that not only the material needs of the company come under the care of the Comintern, but by lectures, classes, and the distribution of literature, their intellectual wants are also attended to.

On the Sunday, after attending a review of the Engineering Military Students and visiting the barracks to witness their handicraft, I took part in an organised propaganda effort of the Moscow Committee of the Party. A number of tramway cars were commandeered with permanent-way waggons attached to them. Delegates from the Comintern were spread over the various cars whose destination was a number of tramway, squares which form a feature of Moscow city. Accompanying each car was also a brass band and a company of improvised actors, and a good assortment of suitable literature.

In reaching one of these circles, the band soon attracted the crowd, and after speeches were made on the significance of May Day, the United Front and Genoa, amusements were indulged in by the artists.

In our car, a kind of initiation Punch and Judy outfit was fixed up, and in place of “fido” and the “policemen,” different characters read imaginary letters to the various ministers at Genoa, much to the amusement of the crowd. Then song and dancing were indulged in, and we went off to the next place amidst strains of “The International” and “hurrahing” by the crowd. This was repeated four times and kept us occupied till late in the evening. One incident here is worth relating as an indication the unity betwixt the army and the workers. As we drew up to one circle we met a company of soldiers who were out on route march. On seeing the car drawing up, the officers wheeled round the soldiers, and bringing them in front of the car they listened to the speeches and took part in the fun provoked by the actors. Afterwards, natural greetings were indulged in betwixt the soldiers and the delegates on the car. It was a magnificent demonstration of the class character of the army and its identity with the working class. These impromptu demonstrations by means of tram cars have a tremendous effect. Men, women and children flocked to hear the Communist message and struggled with each other to get the literature which was freely distributed amongst them.

Monday, however, was the day. As early as six o’clock in the morning the soldiers, singing the revolutionary songs and with bands playing, began to stream into the city. The measured tramping of feet and the gleaming bayonets had the effect of awakening in the onlookers a martial spirit that persisted throughout the whole proceedings. Then later on came the groups of workers from the different districts of the city, men with rosettes and women with red handkerchiefs on their heads singing and shouting as only the Russian workers know how. On the banners were such slogans as “All Power to the Soviets,” “Peasants and Workers Unite,” “We will fight for the Soviets,” and other suitable mottoes all bearing upon the heed for a proletarian United Front.

Everybody was making for the Red Square, where a parade was timed to begin at 12 o’clock, and certainly had there been no organisation to cope with such a mass of people there would have been no parade. But the scale of the day’s proceedings had been widely anticipated. All the approaches to the Square were blocked by lines of soldiers, and only those with the requisite ticket were allowed through. Those who had previously seen a parade in the Square must have been struck with the panorama this year. Instead of the drab grey of khaki uniform, this time the colour in dress was varied and splendid, while the whole effect was intensified by the gorgeous banners of the several adopted regiments. Here indeed was a military parade that for equipment, discipline and efficiency, would compare with anything in the world. But there was an easiness and freedom about the surroundings that marked it off from the stiff mechanical “Reviews” one sees in London or Paris. It is to be hoped the representatives of the foreign bourgeoisie who witnessed the sight will convey a faithful picture to their masters. It will be an effective argument for disarmament.

As Comrade Trotsky, accompanied by several representatives of Soviet institutions and labour organisations, including the Red Labour Union International and the Comintern, inspected the troops, rolling waves of “Hurrahs” swept from one line to the other in the Square. This was not a day for speeches, and one felt glad when it was learned that only Trotsky was to address the troops.

His speech was short, but incisive and effective as characterises the man and Communist. The administering of the oath to the troops to defend the Soviet Republic and the interests of the proletariat was very impressive, while the whole strength of the occasion was added to by the diving and circling overhead of a fleet of aeroplanes.

The dismissal of the Red soldiers after a review by Trotsky is a sight in a life time. As each company passes the tribune, the soul of the agitator and Communist is reflected in the tremendous shouts of greetings he lets out, which is as vociferously responded to by the troops. The man’s lungs seem to be made of leather.

After the Square was cleared of the troops the precession of workers began to defile through the Square, singing the songs and shouting and slogans of the revolution. What a contrast to the days of Czardom! One could not help thinking of the pre-revolutionary times when as demonstration on May Day in Moscow meant the whip of the Cossack, and machine gun and rifle fire bringing certain death to brave workers who claimed their heritage as human beings.

Reflections of these days must have vibrated through the memory of the other men and women, who now could joyfully give themselves up to this “day,” which was indeed their own, without fear or trembling. As each section or district with its banner approached the tribune all eyes and necks were strained to catch a glimpse of their beloved commander-and-chief, and, if possible, to shake him by the hand. Again, as with the soldiers, mutual greetings were exchanged between each section of the workers and the army chiefs, with the voice of Trotsky rising above the cheering and singing, urging the workers forward to renewed faith and loyalty to the revolution.

It is estimated that nearly half a million workers and peasants, men, women and children, walked in procession, which took about four hours to pass through the Square. In the streets and boulevards crowds upon crowds wandered leisurely up and down in proper holiday mood. No horseplay, drunkenness, or “Mafficking,” such as one is accustomed to on fete days in the highly civilized cities of Western Europe, marred the even tenor of the holiday makers.

Everywhere the conversation was centred on some aspect of the revolution, but the dominant note was Genoa. The diplomatic success of Comrades Chicherin, Rakovsky, Krassin, and Litvanoff at the Genoa Conference have admirably supplemented the heroic achievements of the Red Army. The bluff of the bourgeois imperialists in Europe has been called by the practical commonsense attitude of the Soviet representatives. The workers and peasants now see as never before that their future salvation lies in their undivided support to the Soviet Government. They now see that Russia is the real protector of the proletariat and they feel it.

This was amply manifested in the unanimity and harmony that prevailed everywhere.

Not the least important part of the celebrations during the week-end was the special attention given to the children.

All kinds of amusements and festivities were improvised. Rations of white bread, cake end candies were freely distributed and excursions arranged to the parts and surrounding country side, where our “little comrades were encouraged to let themselves go” for the day. Every available automobile seemed to be commandeered for their special benefit. Tastily decorated with red banners and green leaves bearing suitable slogans, these autoes of laughing and singing children vieing with each other in their display of red, were a leering and inspiring sight. All over the city one could hear the joyful voices of the little ones, expressed in song, chatter, or cheering. They were indeed the decoration of the day, the symbol for all the proletariat is struggling and fighting for.

Far into the night and encroaching on the early hours of Tuesday morning processions of young workers took possession of the main thoroughfares, singing the famous revolutionary songs of the Volga and favourite marches of the Red Army. The buildings where the delegates to the Comintern are housed came in for special attention, and as each group approached a halt was made and rousing cheers given for the Communist International.

The capitalist imperialists attach great importance to popular manifestations of public feeling. Let them pause for a moment in their present blind offensive against the working class, ponder over May Day, 1922, and beware!

The Soviet Republic of Russia, the vanguard of the international proletarian revolution, is very much alive!