Remember, Remember the 7th of November

Russia tries not to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution. The event gave birth to the country now admired. But praising it means condoning the rebellious spirit, which is now illegal.

I was born in the Soviet Union with the Seventh of November in my blood as one of the brightest dates in the calendar. Not even Victory Day was so widely observed back then. We had New Year’s for the kids in us, Women’s Day for the ceremonial bow towards women, First of May for the spring holiday, and Victory Day for the battle memories. But Seventh of November reigned above them all with its military parade (same as Victory Day), demonstrations (same as First of May) and something extra that other holidays lacked.

I am not feeling nostalgic now, or am I? In some sense I am, I guess. We were young and naïve, we believed that our forefathers overturned tsarism and exploitation by the landlords, we knew that the Soviet rule gave us all equal access to education, healthcare, and social welfare. We were kids after all and kids are fascinated with flags, tanks, crowds, and parades. I even once took part in a demonstration, but in a small town where participant passes were not required.

Soviet flags on the 7th of November

Then, we saw The Cold Summer of 1953 and learnt more about millions killed in the 1930s-1940s. Not that it wasn’t known before, just not highlighted. Then, everything tumbled down and the Soviet Union was no more. I was still a child to notice acutely and sympathize or celebrate. What followed were the years when we somewhat struggled with poverty (comparatively and relatively speaking), lived through tumultuous times and found ourselves in the 2000s. Years of relative stability and prosperity. Now, we are back to the brink of struggling with poverty, just on a somewhat different level.

It is the Cold Autumn of 2017 and the Soviet Union is back in some sense. We are made to believe that our forefathers overturned tsarism and exploitation by the landlords with a new (maybe not so righteous) twist, we recall that the Soviet rule gave us all equal access to education, health care and social welfare (with the new realisation — this was not always equal access to the best we could have had). We are no longer kids but we all get fascinated with flags, tanks, crowds, and parades (or, shall I say, their reenactments). There is even a slightly wider access to those reenactments provided you have a participant pass.

We are living through the times of reenactment of something from our past but on a slightly different level and with many new twists. The market economy is what makes those with participant passes become rich and feel part of the world. Nostalgic reminiscing about the planned economy is what makes the majority feel deceived but on the way to improvement (by way of going back). No need to be part of the world for this majority, as the world is hostile again.

The feeling is that by alienating ourselves from the rest of the planet (since they alienate themselves from us) and going back to our righteous Soviet rules we might just survive and prosper, albeit through some initial hardships. These sentiments are freely planted through the media into the television-led collective consciousness and find fertile ground there.

The problem is that these sentiments are good for the masses but not intended for the few who have participant passes. Hence, all those propaganda warriors who preach death and hardships here but for themselves choose life abroad. Hence, this ambiguity and doublethinking about the events that exploded and spread with the gunpowder, treason, and plot of the seventh of November. Hence, the fact that we are given back parades, tanks, and flags but not the holiday. That is unless you count those reenactments that serve as the Victory Day repeat to fill the Seventh of November void.

Sailor, soldier and red flags

I come from the generation of kids who were fortunate enough to be born too late for the Soviet sentiments to cement inside our brains. We find bits and pieces but have other experiences from later periods. Not all of us — some are lost to the preaching. We are also from the generation of kids who were too fascinated with flags, tanks, and parades, and those who are disillusioned with the present might gladly embrace the past. I can treat the whole thing as a children’s rhyme now and look into the future (or at least hope for it), while many others only think that they are looking into the future and in fact are facing the past all over again.

Yet there is something obviously different about the attitude towards this date now that we mark its 100th anniversary. The propaganda is such a tricky thing that it makes the people nostalgic about the Soviet past but at the same time denounces the roots of the Soviet rule. Revolution is bad they say. You should not think of repeating the experience as it will bring all sorts of damage to yourself and the country. The Great October Socialist Revolution (as it was called in the past) was more like a coup d’état in the modern interpretation — one political party overthrew another with the help of foreign money. The revolution then provoked years of civil war and destitution.

At the same time, you should be proud of all those things that came into our lives thanks to that revolution back in 1917 — declaratively classless system, universal education, nuclear weapons, space exploration, Soviet ballet, superpower status, and declaratively free healthcare and housing. To somehow reconcile the two the propaganda tells us that industrial growth, space exploration, and nuclear weapons would have come into our lives even without the revolution, just like the Russian Empire already had its internationally acclaimed ballet, as well as kind of a superpower status, or at least that on par with other great empires of that time.

The current internal Russian policy is that of the cautious negation of those history pages that are strongly rebellious, like autumn of 1917. When the modern population may feel the same sentiments of tiredness, betrayal, stagnation, and injustice as crowds of Russians 100 years ago even the slightest verbal nod towards unsanctioned criticism is treated like the call to unconstitutional overthrowing of the government. Any remotely rebellious actions are destined to be nipped in the bud unlike those in 1917. The authorities have learned the history lesson. Putin can claim the supremacy of the Soviet Union but will curse its beginnings because otherwise, he would have to admit that 1) his beloved former country appeared as a result of an illegal act, and 2) his own position can be overthrown with substantial justification and historical parallels. After all, it is rather inconsistent to consider a revolution a good thing for others but bad for you.

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