|A Tale of Two Cities
by John Foster
(Sunday 11 November 2007)
JOHN FOSTER looks at two very different celebrations to mark the 90th anniversary of Russia's Communist revolution.
THE 90th anniversary of the October Revolution was marked last week at a series of events in Moscow and Minsk.
The choice of cities was symbolic in more ways than one.
The Belarussian capital Minsk hosted the first conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1898, while Moscow became the post-revolutionary capital.
Today, the two cities stand in stark conrast. Minsk represents both the past and, in a way, the future. Belarus has defended its socialist heritage and retains its publicly owned industries, housing, land and utilities. Its economy is growing strongly.
Moscow is the heart of capitalist Russia, of its plutocracy and mafia. Every beggar on the street and each garish advertising hoarding symbolises the loss of past achievements and the political challenge of the present.
The difference between the two countries could not have been clearer during celebrations to mark the revolution.
In Belarus, where the anniversary of remains a public holiday, delegates laid wreaths at the statue of Lenin in the main square of the capital.
Two days before, delegates had visited four state-owned workplaces.
One was the new and ultra-modern Minsk horticultural complex, which enables Belarus to be self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit as well as being an exporter of grain to the rest of Europe.
The others were industrial workplaces producing heavy lorries, buses, diesel engines and fridges.
Looking at the hundreds of young men and women working on the Maz assembly lines, Polish comrades marked the contrast with their own country.
"In capitalist Poland, all the young people have emigrated," observed one.
"Our government claims state production is impossible in a globalised economy. Yet Belarus, with no energy or mineral resources of its own, is able to export buses and lorries to the rest of Europe."
The Maz workers were clearly proud of their workplace.
"The nazis levelled everything," we were told. "Belarus was the partisan republic. One in four of our people were killed. Yet our plant was reassembled and started production within a month of liberation in 1944. Everything you see here, the factory, the housing and welfare and sports amenities, we have built since."
Today, income per head in Belarus is more than three times that in capitalist Ukraine. The differential between the top and bottom 10 per cent of incomes is one to five, a statistic that has changed little from the one to four in Soviet days.
In capitalist Russia, to which delegates travelled overnight by train, the income of the top 10 per cent is now 60 times that of the poorest tenth.
Once in Moscow, we were plunged into the middle of Russia's election campaign, culminating in a vote on December 2.
On TV, adverts for Russia's well-resourced right-wing and state-sponsored parties pop up constantly besides those for luxury cars and investment banks. November 7 is no longer marked by a public holiday and there is no official ceremony.
The celebration march and rally through the Russian capital had to be organised by the Communist Party from its own resources. It took place after work in sub-zero temperatures.
The police put the numbers at 40,000, but the demonstrators stretched right across the main boulevards. As they marched arm in arm from Pushkin Square, a sea of red flags and banners swamped the city centre.
The international delegates walked behind a giant 100-foot streamer carried by the women of Moscow proclaiming: "Workers of all lands, unite." They were reinforced by noisy youth contingents from Italy and Greece.
One participant in the march was the widow of former Morning Star and Peoples Weekly World Moscow correspondent Mike Davidov.
"This is the biggest demonstration of any kind in Moscow for years," she said. "It is the biggest gathering organised by communists since 1993, when we rallied to protect the elected Duma against Yeltzin's tanks. The resulting massacre stunned the people of Moscow.
"Now, they are regaining their confidence. Although the demonstration is not big compared to the population of Moscow, it marks an important change of attitude."
Speakers at the rally included Communist Party general secretary Gennady Zyuganov and Svetlana Savitskaya, who, in 1982, was the second woman in space. Both are candidates for the party in the forthcoming election.
Savitskaya spoke of the first man in space Yuri Gagarin, who grew up in a working-class family in war-ravaged Smolensk.
"What chance would that lad have in Russia now?" she asked. "He would have no decent schooling, little chance of a proper job.
"It is for our children that we fight today."