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University of Toronto · Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies

Toronto Slavic Quarterly

Irina Shilova

Building the Bolshevik Calendar Through Pravda and Izvestiia

The calendar is a unique instrument of the regulation of social life and of political control. Robert Poole writes that the study of calendrical changes, especially in periods of political and social upheavals and revolutions, “can bring spectacular results.”[1] The study of the new calendar which the Bolsheviks created after the Revolution of 1917 confirms this statement.  On December 2, 1918 [2] the Council of People’s Commissars issued the Pravila ob ezhenedel’nom otdykhe i prazdnichnych dniach  (“Regulations for Weekly Rest and Holidays”), in which they introduced the list of the new Soviet holidays.[3]  These holidays did not appear from nowhere: before their official announcement there was a period when they were created – that is, a period of initial organization and propaganda.  The biggest part of this propaganda emerged through the Soviet major newspapers Pravda and Izvestiia.   The anniversaries of many revolutionary events were presented in these newspapers as special dates.  For example, the funeral for the victims of the February Revolution of March 23, 1917; Lenin’s return from abroad on April 3, 1917; Karl Marx’s centenary on April 21, 1917; and even the ten-year anniversary of disbandment of the Second State Duma on June 3, 1917, as well as many other dates and events, were presented at that period in Pravda and Izvestiia as worthy of annual commemoration, and, consequently, the dates associated with them as viable for inclusion into the new Soviet calendar.  In this article I investigate the process of legitimating the system of the new Bolshevik holidays in Pravda and Izvestiia that brought about the documented establishment of the first Soviet state calendar in the above-mentioned “Regulations.”

Printed media from the post-Revolutionary era are an important source for studying the creations, functions, disappearances, and establishments of the new Soviet holidays. [4] If the goal of this investigation were to explore the holiday as an event, it would be more productive to compare every new holiday’s coverage by the newspapers with different political orientations, by memoirs, private correspondences, diaries and official reports.  However, my analysis of material is limited only to Pravda and Izvestiia: this limitation allows investigating not only changes in the system of the holidays, but also the Bolshevik party’s and the Soviet government’s policies in creating a new ritual calendar, because these major newspapers reflected these policies to the greatest extent.  Reading the newspaper coverage against the background of the state printed calendars, which presented the new ritual year as a law, also contributes to a deeper understanding of the Bolshevik policy in choosing the system of holidays wherein they produced the text of “Regulations for Weekly Rest and Holidays,” the document that paved the way for creation of the state Soviet calendar.

However, by studying the newspaper material, we can only make those assumptions which concern information the Bolshevik ideologists intended to bring to the public.  This information does not necessarily reflect their goals in creation of holidays, nor does it reflect how they were really celebrated and how people accepted them.  However, such an approach does give us a well-defined perspective on the dynamics of development of the Soviet calendar. Amitai Etzioni rightly notes: “Holidays have a special methodological merit that makes them particularly attractive to students of societies: They provide indicators that help us to ascertain the attributes of large collectives.”[5] However, in order to recognize these indicators correctly, it is necessary to study the holidays in the process of their establishment or disappearance.

In the post-Revolutionary years, different calendars were printed; among them were not only the traditional Church miesiatseslovy, but also those that were published by people and organizations that were in opposition to the Bolshevik party. One such calendar, for example, was the Kalendar’ Al’manach na 1918 god (“Calendar-Almanac for 1918”), in which we can find scorching criticism of Bolshevik politics. [6]  However, in this study I will turn to the official state printed calendars that were published by state publishing houses. Among them the best-known were Kalendar’ kommunista (“Calendar of a Communist”), Kalendar’-spravochnik kommunista (“Calendar–Reference Book of a Communist”), Kalendar’ derevenskogo rabotnika  (“Calendar of the Country Worker”), Kalendar’ derevenskogo kommunista (“Calendar of the Village Communist”), Krestianskii nastol’nyi kalendar’ ‘Krasnaia derevnia’ (“Peasant Top-Desk Calendar ‘Red Village’”), and the simply entitled Kalendar’ (“Calendar”). The most important of these for my investigation will be the “Calendar of a Communist,” which they began to publish in 1923 very regularly and in large editions.

The new printed calendar had to replace sviattsy; thus, instead of the names of Christian martyrs, beside the dates many calendars provided the names of revolutionaries and Bolsheviks, the dates of their births and deaths, and their deeds.  The Kalendar’ derevenskogo kommunista na 1926 god (“Calendar of the Village Communist for 1926”), for example, actually replaces sviattsy by providing the new revolutionary names.  These names were invented after the Revolution and were derived from the popular political terms and names of famous revolutionaries.  For example, beside the date “1 May” is printed the following information: in 1890 on this day was the first celebration of May Day in Europe, in 1916 – the demonstration against the war in Berlin, and Karl Liebknecht was arrested.  In the same cell of the calendar grid are given the new names: “Danton, Marat, May, Phillip, Kommunara, Maiia, Tamara.”

In the most of the Bolshevik calendars up to 1929, the first page contained a list of special dates; this was divided into three parts. In the first part the six rest days, which were proclaimed as the state holidays in the “Regulations,” were listed; in the second part – the religious holidays, which were also rest days; and in the third part were the revolutionary anniversaries – that is, the working days, but marked in the calendar as special ones. Unlike religious holidays, which were gradually diminishing, the number of revolutionary anniversaries-working days was increasing toward 1929.

The “Regulations for Weekly Rest and Holidays” introduced a new system of holidays – in Russian, prazdniki.[7]  The word ‘prazdnik’ was used in the Russian pre-Revolutionary calendars to designate the Christian Orthodox feasts as well as state celebrations of the birthdays of the Tsar family’s members; in colloquial Russian, however, this word had a much broader meaning.  It meant a rest day and special working day; in other words, any special day or event for the community, as well as for the life of an individual. [8]  In Bolshevik printed calendars published up to 1925 this word was used only for designation of the religious feasts and New Year’s Day. [9] After 1926, they were called bytovyie prazdniki (’holidays of the everyday life’). The new Bolshevik holidays were not called prazdniki, but godovshchiny (“anniversaries”), nerabochiie dni (“non-working days”), dni otdykha (“rest days”), and krasnyie dni (“red days”). Rejection of the word prazdnik is very significant and can be explained by the fact that it was associated with the religious and imperial holidays of the pre-Revolutionary calendar. The Bolsheviks wanted not only to change it, but to replace it by a new, completely different calendar. However, the printed calendars demonstrate their authors’ difficulties in avoiding the use of the word prazdnik.[9]  They manage to avoid the word in the grids indicating the dates, but in articles devoted to the explanation of new Soviet holidays’ meanings they use this word much more often than the new terms for the special dates.  We see the same practice in the newspapers: in articles about new special dates, authors use “prazdnik” even for the memorial days (for example, in the articles about “Bloody Sunday,” the Memorial Day devoted to the commemoration of victims of the public massacre in Petrograd in 1905.) [10])  In this study I will use prazdnik for designation of holiday, feast, memorial day, rest day, family celebration, and festival, because all these English words can be translated into Russian as ‘prazdnik.

We can distinguish a few shorter periods in the development of the Soviet state calendar over the whole Soviet period. Its first variation of 1917-1929 can be called the ‘Bolshevik calendar.’  In September 1929 the Soviet government made a decision concerning its ultimate change: they introduced a five-day week, excluded all religious holidays, and decreased the number of common rest-days to five. The result was the ‘Stalin calendar,’ which marked the new period of five-year plans. Although this decree introduced a five-day week (later changed to a six-day week), this proved unsuccessful, and in 1940 the seven-day week was brought back; its system of the holidays, meanwhile, which were introduced in 1929, existed up to 1954. This calendar was partially and gradually modified during the period from 1954 to 1970s and, up to the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse, functioned with minor changes.

The development of the Bolshevik calendar of 1917-1929 can in turn be divided into three periods. The first began in February 1917, with its end marked by the above-mentioned “Regulations for Weekly Rest and Holidays” issued in December 1918. The second period spanned January 1919 to January 1925, when to the already considerably shaped calendar was added the date of Lenin’s death (January 21), called Den’ traura (“The Day of Mourning”). This date had immense ideological significance at the time; all holidays in 1924 were presented to the public under the unifying slogan Net Lenina! (“We do not have Lenin!”). In subsequent years this slogan disappeared, but Lenin’s name was always used in discourse concerning Soviet holidays, thus giving them a common element.  In 1924 another change was made in the calendar: the Christian holidays were scheduled according to the Gregorian calendar.  The Soviet government based this on a decision made at the All-Russian Church Council in June 1923 concerning the acceptance of the Gregorian calendar by the Russian Orthodox Church. [11] In January 1923 the Church switched back to the Julian calendar, but the state calendar did not reflect this. As a result, almost all the religious holidays became working days, and this became another very strong instrument for the Bolsheviks’ battle with the Russian Orthodox Church. The third period of the Bolshevik calendar spanned January 1925 to September 1929, when the new calendar took its roots in the Soviet society while new special dates – although working days – were added almost every year.

In this study I examine the first period of the Bolshevik calendar’s development.  During this period the base for the new Soviet calendar, which was then in use until 1929, was formed and the Bolsheviks’ intentions in the calendar change became already clear. The February Revolution can be seen as the beginning of this shaping, as it introduced the political freedoms that allowed the Bolsheviks to begin to organize and form the new special dates. The most important measures that provided these opportunities were the permission of newspaper publication and the organization of public demonstrations.[12]  Along with the day of the Bolshevik coup on October 25, 1917, the Bolshevik government already had a rather long list of special dates which was extended in the following, 1918, year.  The reform of the ritual year in December 1918 was a result of these activities.

Building the new ritual year was viewed by the Bolsheviks as a part of building a new society. The old calendar had to disappear as the old society disappeared.  Therefore, before creating the system of new Soviet holidays, the new government changed the calendar as a measurement of time. Thus it was on January 24, 1918 that the decree of changing from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in Soviet Russia was issued. This decree stated:

For the purpose of establishing in Russia the same measurement of time that almost all the advanced nations use, the Council of People Commissars has decided to introduce into civil use the new calendar at the end of January of this year.[13]

If we take into account the haste with which the calendar reform was introduced (it was discussed already on November 16, 1917) as well as the terrible economic situation in the country (which the reform only worsened, because it brought new problems to the administration on all levels) we can presume that the introduction of the reform was less a business decision and more a political and symbolic one.

The“Regulations for Weekly Rest and Holidays” issued on December 2, 1918, stated:

Work is prohibited during the following holidays, devoted to commemoration of the historical and social events: a) 1 January – New Year; b) 22 January – Day of “9 January  1905”; c) 12 March – Overthrowing the Autocracy; d) 18 March – Day of the Paris Commune; e) 1 May – Day of International; f) 7 November – Day of the Proletarian Revolution. [14]

The special dates for this list, as I already mentioned, were indeed marked as special in the major newspapers.[15]  Recognition of these dates was made not only by publishing articles with information about the new prazdniki, but by visual and rhetorical methods as well: the announcements were printed in a larger font, and the signal phrases were often repeated. For example, when the Bolsheviks organized the demonstration against the Provisional Government, scheduled for June 18, the June 17, 1917 issue of Pravda published this announcement: Zavtra demonstratsiia! (“Tomorrow a public demonstration will take place!”); then the article follows, which explains its goals, as well as the list of slogans. In the issues of the June 20 and the 21 they then published articles with titles that reminded readers about the dates of the event: Krestiane 18 iiunia (“The Peasants on June 18”), Ulitsa 18 iiunia (“The Street on June 18”), Vosemnadtsatoe iiunia  (“Eighteenth of June”), and a poem Na Nevskom 18 iiunia  (“On the Nevskii on June 18”). It seems that the newspaper purposefully repeated the date in order to make the reader remember it, which would help later on if it was necessary to include the date in the state calendar.

The fact that the process of building a new calendar took place largely in newspapers is evident from the discussion in their pages concerning the search for that most important day which could be proclaimed as the beginning of the new era.[16]  Paul Ricoeur defines one of the most important characteristics of any calendar a designation of “a founding event, which is taken as beginning of a new era – the birth of Christ or of the Buddha, the Hegira, the beginning of the reign of a certain monarch.”[17] The search for the most important date began from the very first issues of both newspapers: in the first issue of Pravda on March 5, 1917, the editorial K momentu (“To the Moment”) begins with the statement: “On February 23 the Great Russian Revolution began.” Another article in the same issue begins from exultant sentence that describes the events of the February Revolution as almost fantastic celebration:

How fast everything has happened! As a fairytale, as a fantasy – beautifully and solemnly.  In one day people have experienced as much as in other time they would not experience    even during the whole year, and these few days are as an abyss which divides us from the past.

The day of the Revolution had to be completely different from any other days in history: not only did it have to be triumphant, fantastic, and fairy-tale-like, but the time itself should not follow the law of nature, so that the experience of a whole year could be squeezed into one day.  Such hyperbole helped symbolically to build a more significant boundary between new and old eras.

Women played a great role in spreading the rebellious mood in Petrograd during the February revolution. Thus, the same article points out that the most important changes in the mass uprising happened on International Women’s Day:

On 23 February – on Women’s Day – the strike was announced at most of factories and plants. Women were in a militant mood… They were appearing at the factories and plants and were taking [men] from working places. In general, the Women’s Day was outstanding, and the revolutionary temperature began to climb.

The coincidence of one of the important days of the Revolution with the International Women’s Day was so promising for the creation of the first day of the new era that the idea to connect the beginning of the Revolution to this particular day was, obviously, very popular among the Bolsheviks: many articles in Pravda repeated this idea.  We can presume that this intention stemmed from the two main reasons: first, the amalgamation of the two prazdniki in one was the general Bolshevik policy while creating a new ritual year.  This policy was not one of the Bolsheviks’ original inventions, but rather another case of a general practice characteristic of any political regime, namely that “if an event coincides with a date already symbolically charged with meaning, it can often give a new twist to an old set of customs.”[18] Second, for the Bolsheviks it was very important that their calendar be analogous to the traditional agricultural and religious calendars, where the beginning of the new era was associated with the birth of a god or rebirth of nature (and, consequently, with the image of mother). Thus the celebration of International Women’s Day, when women symbolically gave birth to the Revolution, united the traditional Christian and newborn Bolshevik ideology.

The second issue of Pravda, from March 7, 1917, begins with the editorial Velikii den’ (“The Great Day”), which is written in the form of slogans. This article explicitly states that the women’s uprising defined the fate of the Revolution and that the first day of the Revolution is the Women’s Day.  The article Privetstviie russkoi rabotnitse (“Greetings to the Russian Working Woman”) in Pravda on March 10 again states that the real prazdnik of the Revolution happened on February 23:

Comrade working women!  The bright sun came out this spring for us as well, and for us the dawn of freedom became radiant. And the dawn began precisely on our Women’s Day, February 23.  We were the first who went to take our male comrades away from their working places on this day, we were the first who poured into streets, to the city Duma, stopped the streetcars and called the public to join us. Our holiday was the first day of the general strike, which then did not stop until the complete collapse of the old regime. We were happy, comrades! As they say, everything starts from our light hand.

In reality, the first day of the Revolution was difficult to pinpoint because the public unrest in Petrograd took place over a long period. The Bolshevik press used this situation as an opportunity for appointing the day of the Revolution on the International Women’s Day. However, they soon gave up this idea and accepted the days of the February Revolution as February 27 and 28.

The idea of special significance of the days of the Revolution is seen in many articles published in March and April of 1917. For example, in Pravda on March 10, 1917, the article Revolutsiia v Moskve (“The Revolution in Moscow”) informs the reader: “1 March. Moscow experiences a great historical day. From morning the streets are full of people.  Headed by military regiments people march through the streets carrying red banners.”  In the short note Soldatam-Deputatam (“To the Soldier-Deputies”) in the same issue of Pravda, the editors ask all the soldiers to fix the events of the days of the Revolution in writing:

Comrade soldiers, representatives in the Soviets of Workers’ and Solders’ Deputies!  It is necessary to keep in the people’s memory what was done during these great days by workers and peasants in grey soldiers’ overcoats. Bring to the editor’s office of “Pravda” information, short stories, descriptions of events that you witnessed.  Let military regiments’ marching off for the sake of freedom from the Tsar’s autocracy be forever reflected on the pages of history.

Before the October coup, the February Revolution was presented by the Bolshevik press as a great prazdnik, and even its half-year anniversary was a cause for celebration. On August 27, 1917, the newspaper Rabochii (a contemporary title for Pravda at that period) published the slogan Segodnia polugodovshchina nashei fevral’skoi revoliutsii  (“Today is a Half-Year Anniversary of Our February Revolution”): in fact, the entire issue is devoted to this anniversary. The editorial of this issue provides a day-by-day description of the February events in the form of a diary, with the dates marked by a black font. Alongside the editorial is another long article which is also written in the form of a diary, Dnevnik soldata (“The Diary of a Soldier”). This article presents the same information as the first one, but is written from the point of view of an ordinary soldier who shares sentimental details about his emotions and confusions.  Such a deliberately private description of events contributes to the illusion that this political event is a private one, brought about by the activities of this ordinary soldier and others like him, and thus deserving a mass celebration.

According to a long list of meetings published in Izvestiia on August 26, 1917, the semi-annual anniversary of the February Revolution was celebrated quite widely. However, on November 7, 1917 – that is, just two weeks after the October Revolution – in the article Dve revolutsii (“Two Revolutions”), in Pravda, I. Bezrabotnyi argued that the February Revolution was merely the first part of the larger proletarian revolution, the results of which were used by the bourgeoisie. Pravda and Izvestiia took the same position on the first year anniversary of the February Revolution: on March 12, 1918, Pravda published six large-font slogans which assured readers that the importance of the February Revolution lay only in the fact that it was the first stage of the proletarian revolution and that the working people have to defend its achievements:

Today is the first anniversary of the Socialist revolution. Workers and peasants! Stay on guard of the achievements of the Revolution, defend your Soviet power, remember that it is not enough to obtain peace, freedom, land, it is necessary to protect them from enemy. Be ready for the defense of Russian Socialist Republic from all its enemies… with guns in your hands. Remember that the world revolution is not far away, that the proletariat of the whole world hurries to our help!

All this shows that one year after the February Revolution, when the event was still fresh in the minds of the working classes who made it happen, it was impossible to reject the February Revolution as the real revolution and explicitly put the October coup above it.

It is also worth noting that in the “Regulations for Weekly Rest and Holidays” of December 1918, the date of March 12, 1917 is called not a day of the Revolution, but rather a day of Nizverzheniie samoderzhaviia (“Overthrowing the Autocracy”). The date existed under this name in the list of the new Soviet holidays up to 1929, at which point it lost its status as a rest day.  However, the earliest change in semantics of this prazdnik was the Bolsheviks’ refusal to see it as a beginning of the new era.  Already in April 1917, when it became obvious that the February Revolution had not produced the results that the Bolsheviks expected, they turned to May Day as a possible date for designation of the beginning of the new era.    

May Day, before and after the February Revolution, was the most important prazdnik for the Russian revolutionaries. After the February Revolution it became possible to celebrate it openly. Thus, the new vision of this prazdnik was offered by Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich [19] in the article Gotov’tes’ k pervomu maia (“Be Prepared for May Day”), which was published in Pravda on the front page on March 29, 1917. While pointing to the major significance of this prazdnik for revolutionary movements around the world, he gives instructions as to what must be done during the celebration:

The prazdnik of the First May is the biggest proletarian world prazdnik… We all have to be ready for this prazdnik… No work should be allowed on this day… It is necessary to work out the plan for the city-wide demonstrations, gatherings, meetings in living quarters, districts, plants, factories…  There are only three weeks left before the prazdnik, and, comrades, we must not waste a single minute.

In order to mark the new chronological point as May 1, Pravda initiated an unauthorized reform of the calendar: the issue of Pravda of April 18, 1917, was dated “1 May (18 April) 1917.”  The demonstration devoted to May Day in 1917 was also organized on April 18. In the poem Pervoie Maia ( “May the First”), published in Pravda on April 18, 1917, Kuz’ma Terkin describes this spring celebration using the traditional idiom vstretit’ Novyi God ( “to meet the New Year”):

With a loud song of victory

We’ll meet new May Day!

Alongside this poem is published a free translation of Walt Whitman's poem “Song” where the beginning of the new time is also marked:

Let darkness disappear, long live light!

We are the heralds of the new times!

The New Year celebration is traditionally connected with the rebirth of the sun and nature in general, and in the Pravda’s articles the phrase vozrozhdeniie Internatsionala (“the rebirth of the International”) was repeated numerous times.

Another important theme of this prazdnik was a push to stop the war which also contributed to the meaning of May Day as a dividing point between the old era of suffering and the new era of happiness:

That is why the meaning of the May Day celebration this year is so great. By triumphantly celebrating this day, the Russian working class will again prove its firm will to put an end to the insanity of the war … in the face of the whole world, to express its protest against the bloody slaughterhouse …  This joint demonstration of the socialists of all countries … will be an unprecedented celebration of the ideas of International. [20] 

The articles that covered the demonstrations emphasized only their great successes. For example, in Izvestiia on April 20, 1917, the editorial 1 Maia v Petrograde (“1 May in Petrograd”) states:

On the day of May the first, the eyes of all nations were directed to Russia . The celebration by the whole country on the day of the proletarian prazdnik of May Day of 1917 proved to the whole world that the slogans of the Russian proletariat had become the slogans of the country, that the call … to stop the war is the call … of the whole Russia .

This article points not only to the great number of people that participated in the demonstration, but also to the signals of ‘proletarian victory’ such as the participation of the representatives of different social groups, as well as the slogan Da zdravstvuet Internatsional! (“Long Live the International!”) on the Mariinskii Palace, which was occupied by the Provisional Government. The article explicitly stated that the demonstration achieved its goal of sending a message to other nations to stop the war. Thus the meaning that the Bolsheviks placed on the celebration of May Day in 1917 was very substantial: this prazdnik was meant to demonstrate that the world revolution would really happen, that the new International would be created, that the Bolshevik political platform was supported by the whole country, and that the main aim of the Bolshevik party was to stop the war. All these shades of meanings belong to the category of cardinal change, which was always a characteristic of the genuinely popular mass celebrations.  As Mikhail Bakhtin writes: “[T]through all the stages of historic development feasts were linked to moments of crisis, of breaking points in the cycle of nature or in the life of society and man. Moments of death and revival, or change and renewal always led to a festive perception of the world.” [21]

By 1918 the Bolsheviks had again changed the theme of this prazdnik (as well as the themes of all prazdniki) upon acquiring political power.[22]  On April 23, 1918, the editorial in Pravda stated that the celebration of May Day in subsequent years should differ from the previous ones.  The article asserted that the old slogans should be changed to reflect the new political situation. It argued that the first main slogan should be Kto ne truditsia – tot ne est! (“He Who Does Not Work, Neither Shall He Eat!”), because the Russian proletariat had already taken the reins of political power.  It also argued that the slogan Voina – voine! (“War on the War!”), which reflected the Bolshevik determination to end the war with Germany , should be replaced by Da zdrzvstvuet spravedlivaia voina – v zashchitu sotcialisticheskogo otechestva! (“Long Live a Just War for Defense of the Socialist Fatherland!”). Likewise, the call for the establishment of socialism, should be replaced by the slogan, Da zdravstvuet Sovetskaia respublika, provodiashchaia sotsialism v zhizn’! (“Long Live to the Soviet Republic That Brings Socialism to Life!”).

In the first decade after the Revolution, the treatment of May Day by Party ideologists also reflected their hope for a world proletarian Revolution. As this hope gradually disappeared, the enthusiasm for its celebration decreased. [23]  In 1926, for example, the propaganda for this prazdnik in Pravda was minimal, and was actually replaced by propaganda for Lenin’s birthday: the communist ideologists used the fact that Lenin was born in April and tried, although unsuccessfully, to replace Easter celebration by the celebration of the birth of  Lenin as the ‘new God.’  However, after 1926 the importance of May Day was reestablished in both newspapers with different semantics of the ‘celebration of labor.’

After the October Revolution, the idea of establishing November 7 as the beginning of the new era became quite popular. [24]  Mikhail Koltsov, in his article S Novym Godom . . . (“Happy New Year . . .”), published in Pravda on January 1, 1925, while rejecting January 1 as the beginning of the new year, explicitly stated: “This unjustified ritual will soon be canceled…  [We] will go farther, our own way, with our own history and our own chronology, not from the birth of Christ, but from the birth of the Revolution.” However, this idea had already been put forth in 1918, when the first anniversary of the Revolution was organized. The article K pervoi godovshchine Oktiabr’skoi revolutsii  (“On the first Anniversary of the October Revolution”), published on October 22, 1918, in Izvestiia, began with the words: Revolutsia – novaia zhizn’, novaia era (“The Revolution is a New Life, a New Era”).

The Bolsheviks did not conceal their hope that the first October anniversary could trigger the world revolution.  In Izvestiia on November 3, 1918, for example, we read:

The workers and peasants of Russia , while preparing themselves for the anniversary of their Revolution, are fortunate to prepare themselves for the universal prazdnik of working people – the prazdnik of the world socialist revolution. The October Revolution becomes a world revolution. The October date – this red date in the revolutionary calendar – establishes the beginning of the new chronology not only in Russia . The prazdnik of the October days is a worldwide prazdnik.  We are “on the eve.”  On the eve of not only the Great Anniversary of the Revolutionary Chronology.  We are on the eve of the triumph of the proletarian International.

The articles that cover the organization of the celebration of the first anniversary of the October revolution persistently repeat the idea of making it prazdnik edineniia i dovol’stviia (“holiday of uniting and content”).[25]  Many other articles announce that during the days of the celebration people will receive a larger daily ration and that free lunches will be served.  There are also many articles that discuss contemporary theatrical performances.  Notably, the most important event was to be the symbolic burning of the old regime on the night before November 7:

Information for readers and authorities in the districts: on the first day of celebration, on the evening of November 6,  there will be no demonstrations, but only meetings, lectures, concerts, and performances. After them, however, it is suggested that the celebrations should be finished by gathering on the main squares of every district, and the theme of these evening gatherings should be a symbolic annihilation of the Old Regime and the birth of the New Regime of the Third International. [26]

Figures made of straw really were burned even on the Red Square:

The crowd begins to move toward Lobnoie Place:
“Now they will set fire to the village kulak.”
 “Look, look, here he is.”
 Some kind of a straw figure appears above people's heads, and one of the members of the Committee of the Poor brings a torch to it. [27]

The most explicit statement about the plan to make November 7 the first day of the New Year is formulated in the article Obrashcheniie k uchasheisia molodiozhi (“Address to the Young Students”), published on November 2, 1918:

Right now the solemn, tragic and happy overturn is happening, about which Marx said that the whole history of humankind is an ordinary introduction to it. There is nothing strange in the  idea that from now on the chronology should start from the special day 25 October (7 November), but not from the birth of Christ, which has lost its meaning for us. What the Great French Revolution did not achieve—the complete renewal of the earth’s face—the Great Russian Revolution will achieve.

This indicates that the anniversary of the October revolution in 1918 was planned as a rehearsal of the prazdnik, which had to replace the celebrations of Christmas, New Year and Maslenitsa. The birth of the New Regime had to replace the birth of Christ, and the dates – the 6th and 7th –  in November perfectly corresponded to the dates in January when the Orthodox Christmas is celebrated.  All of the traditional features of the New Year celebration were reported in the newspapers: night carnival, the striking of the clock, plenty of food, fireworks, a noisy and happy crowd, a fully decorated city. The traditional burning out of a straw figure during the Maslenitsa celebrations, which symbolized the end of cold season and the rebirth of the warmth, was replaced by the burning out of the symbols of the old regime.[28]

Newspaper coverage of New Year’s Day, January 1, shows that the Bolshevik ideologists viewed this day merely as a starting-point for counting the calendar days – that is, without any real significance as a holiday. This idea was later reflected in the calendars as well:

The Prazdnik of the new year has its origins in the historical period of slavery, not in Christianity at all… New Year’s Day has its significance only for the counting of the years, but for such purpose we can choose some other day, for example, the anniversary of the October revolution. [29]

The first day of the New Year was designated in the “Regulations” as a rest-day. However, reading issues of Pravda and Izvestiia from post-Revolutionary years, we can conclude that creation of this rest-day was merely a reaction to the political situation of the time, comparable with a permission to celebrate the religious holidays. The new government did not dare reject all traditional holidays in the new calendar until 1929, when New Year’s Day was finally rejected as a rest-day.  This holiday, indeed, could be used to replace Christmas and Epiphany, however it is obvious that the utopian idea of starting the new year from May 1 or November 7, and the beginning of the new era in 1917, remained popular until 1954. However, the official ideology could not change the population’s perception of New Year’s Day as a great feast.  It was celebrated privately in the Soviet Union even during the darkest period of the Stalin’s purges. As to a symbolic beginning of the new socialist era, the date of November 7, 1917 was presented as such throughout the Soviet Union’s existence, especially in the propagandistic educational texts.

Another two prazdniki listed in the “Regulations” have a very different history.  One, the Memorial Day for victims of the “Bloody Sunday” of January 9, 1905, lasted about 40 years before being rejected as a rest day by Khrushchev’s government.  The other, the Day of the Paris Commune, ceased to be a rest day even earlier, in 1929. Analysis of newspaper material devoted to these two prazdniki demonstrates that both special dates had one common feature: they were created by the Bolsheviks in response to their opponents during the political struggles of the first years after the October Revolution.

The introduction of the January 9 Memorial Day in the Bolshevik calendar has an interesting history in itself: obviously, it was created as a part of a January 1918 policy aimed at eliminating the Constituent Assembly.[30]  The Bolsheviks dispersed the Assembly on January 5, 1918, and their political opponents organized the demonstrations and protests against this Bolshevik action on the following days.  The dates of all these events were very close to January 9, and the opposition doubtlessly used this fact to blame the Bolsheviks for betraying the ideals of the 1905 Revolution.  Writing a “response” to those accusations, the author of the article Trinadtsataia godovshchina (“The Thirteen-Year Anniversary”), published in Pravda on January 9, 1918, attempted to justify the Bolshevik rejection of the goals of the First Russian Revolution:

The Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois revolution, in spite of the fact that it was created by the hands of workers and peasants…  [T]he radical political demand of the working class of that period was the Constituent Assembly… The thirteenth anniversary of  January 9 coincided with the collapse of the Constituent Assembly, which was left behind on the back-yards of history by the mad rush of the new revolution. The working class already outgrown the baby’s diapers in which it was wrapped up even in the mad year of 1905 . It does not limit itself to revolutionary-democratic claims…  Its previous modest ideal, the democratic republic, no longer satisfies the needs of current life.

In the same article the author articulates the reason why January 9 should be a new national prazdnik and a rest day:  Only we [31] are the followers of the deeds of our great comrades, who died on 9 January thirteen years ago. They died not in vain. A beautiful flower rose on their tombs. This flower is the Great Russian Revolution.”  It is likely, that the new government was afraid of the possibility of widespread demonstrations that would have to be put down by military force.  Such events would in turn produce an association with the violent suppression of the demonstration on January 9, 1905, an association which would have been very undesirable for the Bolshevik party. This is likely an explanation for the extreme actions that were performed in order to declare January 9 as a prazdnik. In the January 9, 1918, issue of Pravda, we find a curious announcement: “Special Committee of the defense of the city of Petrograd.  8 January, midnight. The Petrograd Soviets of Workers’ and Solders’ Deputies decides to announce the day 9 January as a National prazdnik of the Working and Peasantry Russia.”

It is striking that an exact hour of making of a decision was released to the public. We can presume that the decision was made extremely hastily in the eve of January 9, when the Bolshevik authorities realized that the demonstrations in Petrograd’s streets would be inevitable on that special day.  Consequently, the Bolsheviks tried to convince the reading public that the prazdnik was, indeed, planned at least one day prior to the actual day of its celebration.

In the next issue of Pravda, on January 10, 1918, in the short article Den’ 9 ianvaria. Miting v Keksgol’skom polku (“9th of January. The Meeting in the Keksgol’m Regiment”) the journalist describes his own impressions from participation in meetings devoted to the celebration of the new prazdnik. The most interesting detail of this description is that no one word is said about the events that took place on January 9, 1905. For example, the author states: “On that day I happened to visit four such meetings. Everywhere only one question was an issue: will the people’s authorities manage their responsibilities?”  The author could not even hide the fact that even the speaker at the meeting did not talk about the event of 1905.

Perhaps this hastily created prazdnik would not have been secured in the calendar if the first stage of the struggle with the Russian Orthodox Church had not occurred.  In response to the decree of the separation of Church and State, which was issued on January 20, 1918, in Petrograd and in Moscow on January 28, large processions were organized, at which people read Patriarch Tikhon’s first proclamation, an address to Orthodox Russians about organizing a defense of their faith and Church. There is no doubt, that the new government was concerned about the possibility of these processions being repeated in subsequent years.  In that context, the annual commemoration of those who died during the religious processions in 1905 can be seen as a strong counter-response to the Church’s policy. [32]

Lenin’s death on January 21, 1924, breathed new life into the Memorial Day of January 9, 1905. A year after his death, on January 22, 1925, Pravda published two long articles.  The first, Vladimir Il’ich Lenin i Gapon (“Vladimir Il’ich Lenin and Gapon”) [33] was written by Nadezhda Krupskaia; the second, Lenin i leningradskiie rabochiie (“Lenin and the Workers of Leningrad”), was written by Grigorii Zinoviev. These articles clearly show that the Bolsheviks tried to connect Lenin with the event of January 9, 1905.  Both articles were carefully printed on the same page; both were published on January 22 (Memorial Day for the victims of Bloody Sunday); and both were devoted to the subject of Lenin’s leadership of the Russian workers.  Krupskaia’s article implies that Gapon was not the real leader of the Petrograd workers at that time, and that he initially was not able to organize people for revolt.  The suggestion is that if Lenin had been there, the massacre would not have happened and the Revolution of 1905 would have been a victory for the Russian proletariat.  Zinoviev’s article, meanwhile, argues that there was an almost supernatural connection between Lenin and the workers in Petrograd at the time of the First Russian Revolution. As he puts it, “As a genuine proletarian leader, Vladimir Il’ich understood a working man in Paris, in Krakow, in Zurich, in Moscow – in any place where he happened to live.”

These articles each offer to the reader a connection between the two events. The calendars also show that from 1926 onwards both Memorial Days were celebrated under Lenin’s name. The Easter pattern, with one day of death and grieving, and another of resurrection and joy, was repeated in this union, when resurrection by divine force was merely replaced by resurrection by people’s memory. 

As we have seen, this particular Memorial Day of January 9, 1905, was special in that it helped to counter the special religious dates while at the same time emphasizing the significance of the day of Lenin’s death.[34]  Later, after Stalin’s death, this rest day was excluded from the list of the state holidays and quickly forgotten. By that time, the anniversary of Lenin’s death had also lost its ideological weight, while his birthday (April 22), which was associated with “leninskiie subbotniki,” and “leninskiie voskresniki” [35] became more important for the propaganda machine due to the general Party policy of blending together the working and spare time. Subbotniki and voskresniki were the ultimate embodiment of such amalgamation.  

The next prazdnik among the six rest days announced by the “Regulations” was the Day of Paris Commune, which was to be celebrated on March 18.  This was the most artificial of state holidays: not only did it have no roots in Russian cultural history, but the ideas of Paris Commune were obviously popular only among a selected few professional revolutionaries. The creators of this prazdnik did not even know exactly when Paris Commune was established.  In the original text of the “Regulations” (and in Izvestiia, where it was published), the date of the prazdnik is March 10,[36] whereas in the Sobraniie Uzakonenii (“Compilation of Regulations”)[37] it is given as March 19. This prazdnik was created with the aim of establishing a precedent for the creation of a republic similar to Soviet Russia.  Furthermore, the Bolshevik policy of terror looked somehow more justifiable against the background of the events that took place in France in 1870: the horrors of the suppression of the Paris rebels by government forces could serve as an explanation for the ‘red terror’ of the new Soviet government.

On March 16, 1918, Pravda published an 'excerpt' from Marx's book The Civil War in France 1870-1871;[38] this was essentially a short summary of Marx’s ideas about Paris Commune. Here the reader learns about the organizational structure of the Paris Commune, its army, and the communards’ struggle with the clergy, as well as the free education that the Commune introduced.  All of these measures corresponded perfectly with the societal and political changes recently made by the Bolsheviks.  In 1919, the articles in Pravda and Izvestiia developed the idea of similarities further: Izvestiia allotted the whole page to the 48th anniversary of Paris Commune, with four articles were devoted to it. The content and layout of these publications also demonstrated the Bolsheviks’ interest in establishing this prazdnik. The first article, U federal’noi steny (“By the Federal Wall”), is a short historical piece about the events in Paris in 1870-1871. It describes in detail the rout of the Commune by the French military forces, with special emphasis on the public massacres:

Twenty five thousand men, women and children who died in the battles or were killed after the battles; at least three thousand men who died in prisons, prison hulks, forts or from diseases they caught in prisons; thirteen thousand of convicted, most of whom for life; seventy thousand women, children and elderly were left without providers who were expelled from France: in general, no less than one hundred thousand victims. [39] 

The author then goes on to suggest that the Russian Revolution is a continuation of the Paris Commune:

Today, forty- eight years after the beginning of the Paris workers’ struggle, the deeds of the Paris Commune triumph in Soviet Russia. The day March 18 is a prazdnik over the whole territory of the socialist Republic.  The Great October Revolution of 1917 is a logical continuation of the class war of the French communards.

The second article, Parizhskaia kommuna i vozmozhnost’ revoliutsii v sovremennoi Frantsii (“The Paris Commune and the Possibility of Revolution in the Contemporary France”), provides an optimistic prognosis of the contemporary revolutionary movement in France . The third article, Parizh i Versal’, Moskva i Parizh (“Paris and Versailles, Moscow and Paris”), suggests a parallel between the political situation in Paris in 1871 and that of the post-Revolutionary period in Russia .  In this article, the author implicitly suggests that if the Revolution in Russia should fail, a ‘Russian Versailles,’ that is, the Russian bourgeoisie, would kill millions of people: “If they had achieved it, the world would have been shaken by grief and anger, because in this case the Moscow River and Neva River would run red with the blood of working people.” The fourth article, Rabochiie v Parizhskoi Kommune (“Workers in the Paris Commune”), once again emphasizes the number of victims among working people after the rout.  It also discusses the devastating economic effect the civil war had on France, and concludes that “Thus, French industry was destroyed for many years to follow because of the victors’ blind anger and spite.”

Together, these four articles suggest that if the Russian Revolution should fail, life in Russia would not be improved economically, that millions of people would likely be killed because of the “bourgeoisie’s revenge” and that even those who survived would suffer because of the economic crisis.  In his conclusion, the author articulates his hope that the Day of the Paris Commune will be a real prazdnik: “We are fighting, we will win: it will be our best revenge for the Commune’s death and the best commemoration for the next, forty-ninth anniversary of its establishment.”

The Bolshevik printed calendars also had the list of those prazdniki, which were working days. They were not included in the list of the “Regulations,” but were printed under the title Godovshchiny (Rabochiie dni) (“Anniversaries (Working Days))” in the calendars. The process of their shaping was also reflected in both newspapers. They were the Day of the Red Army (February 23), International Day of Working Women (March 8), the Day of the Lena Massacre (April 17), and the Day of the Press (May 5).

In January and February of 1918 Pravda and Izvestiia enthusiastically covered the regime’s efforts to organize the Red Army. Although the Dekret ob organizatsii Raboche-Krest’ianskoi Krasnoi Armii (“Decree of the Organization of the Worker-Peasant Red Army”) was issued on January 15, 1918, [40] and was published in Pravda and Izvestiia on January 19, 1918, Pravda announced the Day of the Red Socialist Army on January 28: “Today is the Day of the Red Socialist Army.  The Red socialist Army is a loyal instrument in the struggle for the Revolution, for socialism.”  Both newspapers published long lists of meetings devoted to the organization of the Red Army, and this also contributed to the idea that the day of celebration should be on January 28 (February 10 by the New Style).  Some weeks later, however, Pravda proclaimed the day of the Red Army to be March 22, 1918, perhaps due to the new wave of recruitment:

Workers! All poor working people of city and country!  Only after the creation of the strong Red Army you will manage to hold the victory over the gentry and bourgeoisie. Today, on the day of the Red Army, tell … your enemies that you will defend socialism, land and freedom with guns in your hands.

The day of the Red Army was not an official prazdnik in 1918, and, significantly, Soviet high officials did not issue a government decree about this special day even in 1919.  It is difficult to say whose silent decision the coverage in Pravda and Izvestiia reflected, when they both proclaimed this particular day, February 23, as a prazdnik in 1919. The choice of this date was another demonstration of the Bolshevik blatant policy of creating an illusory reality for people.  February 23, 1918, was a most tragic day for the Bolsheviks and the Red Army. This was the day on which the Soviet government received a humiliating ultimatum from the German government after German troops had made a 300-kilometer advance into Russian territory along the whole front line. [41] The ultimatum was hastily accepted on February 24, 1918.[42]  The establishment of the Day of the Red Army on February 23 more likely happened because it coincided merely in numbers with the day of the ultimatum of 1918 (according to the New Style) and of which the women in Petrograd went out into the streets  and so hastened the February Revolution of 1917 (according to the Old Style). The party ideologists tried to change the meanings of both events and used the new prazdnik as an instrument for this change.[43] 

In the book Nashi prazdniki, published in 1977, there is an explanation for the choice of the date:

On these days [18-19 February 1918] on the approaches to Pskov, Revel, Narva and other parts of the front, the regiments of the young Red Army showed the firm and heroic resistance to the German Kaiser’s  army; as a result, the enemy was stopped.  23 February became a historical date as the Day of the Red Army, as the day of its birth.[44] 

In other words, the day of Bolshevik political and military bankruptcy was turned into a day of the Bolshevik triumph.

Another prazdnik that was presented in the Bolshevik printed calendars as an ‘anniversary’ – that is, a special, but working day – was the International Day of Working Women (a Soviet version of the International Women’s Day).  It was established in 1910 at the Second International Women’s Congress, but in Russia it was not even known until 1917. The memoirs of Major-General A.P. Balk, the last Gradonachal’nik of Petrograd, demonstrate this.[45]  Describing the days of the February Revolution from February 23 to 28, 1917, as well as the beginning of the insurrection, he notes that among the demonstrators were many women: “In the crowds there are many ladies, even more working women, students, but relatively fewer, in comparison with previous uprisings, working men.”[46]   He also admits that on that day “There are no red flags; the agitators and the leaders of uprising are not seen. At the end of day we still could not understand the cause of the people’s protest.”[47]  At the end of his February 23 entry, he provides an opinion of another General: “General Globachyov has reported to me once more that for him the reason for today’s manifestation is completely unknown and that perhaps tomorrow nothing will happen.”[48] Thus it seems that no one among Petrograd’s authorities knew about the International Women’s Day. 

This prazdnik was enthusiastically advertised in both newspapers, starting from March 1917. However, in the 1918 newspapers, its meaning had changed: it now came out from the shadows of the February Revolution and became a prazdnik with its own independent semantics.  In 1918 there were still a few mentions about its connection with the February Revolution, but the call to include women in political activities prevails.  Political and social tendencies clashed during the time of its shaping. The Bolshevik goal was to make it a day of the celebration of women’s involvement in political life, but people in general, and women in particular, wanted to see it as a celebration of femininity and motherhood. Pravda on March 6, 1924 stated:

The International Day of Working and Peasant Women is the prazdnik of the whole proletariat. Its aim is one of general campaigning among working women and of uniting them around Soviet power, of involving [them] with the R[ussian] C[ommunist] P[arty]. It would be a real mistake to suggest that the day of working women is exclusively ‘women’s’ day with flavor of feminism…  The RCP does not create any women’s organizations.

L.F. Tul’tseva, in her book Sovremennye prazdniki i obriady narodov SSSR (“The Current Holidays and Rituals of the Peoples in USSR ”), written in 1985 – that is, after many years of immense popularity of this prazdnik – writes about the history of its establishment:

As time went by, the celebration of March 8 took on some features of private life. In 1927 the working women celebrated this day as their own prazdnik, cleaned their houses, prepared the feasts, put on the best clothes. The family features of the celebration of 8 March continued to develop during following years. In addition to the general meetings, gatherings, manifestations there were parties and gatherings with games, dance, songs on many factories.[49]

The author could not write that the main appeal of the prazdnik was its orientation towards female beauty and motherhood, and carefully chose the ‘middle’ ground of the family orientation.

Another special date fixed in the Bolshevik printed calendars was the anniversary of the workers’ massacre by military forces at the gold mines near the river Lena on April 4, 1912. In April 1917, Pravda published a number of short notes about meetings at the plants and factories to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Lena Massacre and to discuss current events. For example, the article Den’ Leny. Rezoliutsia (“The Lena Anniversary. The Resolution,” April 6) states:

We, some 4000 workers and solders of the Vasiliostrov District, came to the meeting for commemoration of the comrades, killed at the Lena mine, on 4 April, 1912, decided: 1. The Soviet of Workers’ and Solders’ Deputies has to demand that the Provisional Government put on trial all instigators of the Lena massacre. 2. Regarding the decree of the Provisional Government… on the transformation of district and rural police into the people’s militia, we state that… in opposition to this decision… all people should be armed.

Following this is a list of requirements and suggestions for the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviets. On April 13, 1917, in the article Den’ Leny (“The Lena Anniversary), the author writes that the workers at the meeting were greeting Lenin’s arrival.  In 1918 and following years the event was also covered with the same emphasis on present-day issues, that is, was presented as a ‘lesson’ for the workers in their class struggle.

There were two other reasons for the keeping this date as a special one in the ritual calendar.  The first is that the Lena events happened in April, the month in which Easter was most often celebrated. This Memorial Day by its very existence placed the workers’ death alongside that of Christ. The second reason was that the Soviet press made it known that Lenin chose his pseudonym because of the name of the river Lena, where he was in exile in 1897-1900.  Lenin’s return to Russia from abroad on April 3, 1917, one day before the anniversary of the Lena massacre, contributed to the possibility of creating a new special day in the calendar, which could help to connect the Bolshevik leader with the Russian workers.

In 1917, Pravda moved to celebrate the ‘Day of the Press’ on May 5.  On that date in 1912, the first issue of Pravda was published.  In 1917 Pravda asked its readers to celebrate this anniversary by way of financial support for the Bolshevik press.  However, by 1918 the tone of the articles devoted to the Day of Press had undergone a drastic change to a sentimental mode. For example, the article Ko dniu rabochei pressy (“To the Day of the Workers’ Press”) begins with this declaration of ‘love’ to Pravda: “The first love is never forgotten.” The poem by Demian Bednyi, Vogzdiu. Tovarichshiu Leniny v den’ rabochei pechati posviachshaiu  (“To the Leader. (“Dedicated to Comrade Lenin on the Day of the Workers’ Press”) is also written in lyrical style. The article Rabochaia pechat’ i proletarskiie pisateli (“The Workers’ Press and the Proletarian Writers”) is an emotional reminiscence of the organization of Pravda in 1912.  It is written in the relaxed tone of victors who know that they have done their job well. Although the Day of the Press never became an official rest day, it remained firmly entrenched in the Soviet calendars. During Khrushchev’s reforms of the ritual year it became one of the many professional prazdniki, and its revolutionary significance disappeared.

It should be pointed out that most of the prazdniki mentioned above were celebrated in spring. During the fall, only the Anniversary of the October Revolution was celebrated, while January saw only New Year’s Day and January 9.  Fall and summer prazdniki were gradually added to the calendar during the period of 1925 -1929, but were not actually rest days. All this shows that in establishing the prazdniki, the Bolsheviks targeted the two periods that contained the most important Christian holidays: Christmas and Easter. 

The prazdniki that were working days were the fastest-growing and most dynamic group in the Soviet calendar.  They variously appeared and disappeared from the Soviet calendar depending who was in power (i.e. Lenin, Stalin or Khrushchev). Their quota was equal to the number of days in the year, since potentially every working day could be a prazdnik. In fact, the most notable increase in the number of such prazdniki occurred in the post-Stalin period, when many prazdniki associated with particular professions were added to the calendar. In the post-perestroika years the number of prazdniki associated with single groups within society had a tendency to grow as well.

In post-Revolutionary issues of Pravda and Izvestiia we can find not only coverage of those prazdniki that later appeared in the printed calendars, but also those that were not developed into the real prazdniki. However, the press tried to draw the public attention to them as to the ‘potential’ prazdniki.

On March 23, 1917, a funeral was conducted for the victims of the February Revolution, and both newspapers presented this as a potential day of national mourning.  In both newspapers the funeral was described as a grand demonstration.[50]  Although in 1917 Pravda and Izvestiia marked this day as a potential special day in the ritual year, by 1918 the newspapers had already ceased to mention the funeral, perhaps because of the general rejection of the February Revolution as a “real revolution.”[51]

Lenin’s return to Russia on April 3, 1917 was also presented in Izvestiia as a prazdnik in the article Priezd Lenina (“Lenin’s Arrival”). The description of the people gathering at the Finland Station in Petrograd is strikingly similar to those that later describe the processions that occurred on May Day and on June 18, 1917.  For example, the names of the plants, factories and military regiments that sent their representatives to the meeting, as well as the descriptions of flags, speeches, and happy people, are all similar. The particular significance of the date of Lenin’s return was that Easter in 1917 was celebrated on April 2, and it opened the possibility of creating a holiday that could replace Easter.  In 1918 Pravda attempted to remind to the readers of the first anniversary of Lenin’s return to Russia , but this short article was merely a summary of the year-old article. This feeble attempt to create a prazdnik clearly associated with Lenin was obviously a failure.  Such a holiday was not created until 1924 and was, actually, associated with his death.

On May 14, 1917, Izvestiia announced a new special date: the Day of the Red Carnation. They called for the “city’s democratic people” to buy a carnation. This was a fundraising effort for printing soldiers’ books, and shows that already by May 1917 the idea of creating a special day for recognition of soldiers was in place. A similar attempt to fix a new special date was made in Izvestiia on June 3, 1917, on the anniversary of the dispersal of the Second State Duma in 1907. The article Desiat’ let (“Ten Years”) offers the dates of the events first, and only describes the events themselves afterwards.  Two slogans are significantly united here: “On 3 June, 1907, the Second State Duma was disbanded, on 3 June, 1917, the meetings of the First All-Russian Revolutionary Parliament began.”

Both newspapers discuss very carefully the organization of the demonstration on June 18, 1917.  This date was never given a name, and was left in the press and history books merely as the day of demonstration, although the main slogan of the day was short and meaningful: Chleba! Mira! Svobody! (“Bread! Peace! Freedom!”)[52]  Nearly every article concerning this event in both newspapers includes the date “June 18.” A year later, in 1918, only one article was written about the demonstration which was in fact devoted to a different subject, namely, the Bolshevik disagreement with the leaders of the Second International. Thus this date also failed to be special calendar date, although it was intended to be so.

The first major prazdnik organized by the Party after the October Revolution was the one that had to commemorate the signing of the peace agreement between Soviet Russia and Germany . The celebration was planned for December 17, 1917 (December 30 according to the New Style). Pravda clearly stated that the goal of event was the making a new annual holiday: “This remarkable day of the first demonstration devoted to peace will be immortalized in bright pages in the annals of the Great Russian Revolution.”[53]

There is no doubt that the Bolsheviks counted on the fact that the prazdnik commemorating the end of a devastating war would be able to replace Christmas and New Year’s Day;[54] as a result, they placed a great amount of hope on this celebration.  According to repeated announcements in both newspapers, the groups of demonstrators had to follow in a strict but elaborate order. They even printed an evening issue of Pravda that was completely devoted to propaganda for the demonstration. However, this highly desirable prazdnik turned out to be a complete failure. The Soviet delegation left for Brest-Litovsk for the peace negotiations with the Germans on January 9, 1918, only to learn that Germany “demanded the transfer to German control of Poland , Lithuania , Livland, Kurland and part of the territory inhabited by Ukrainians and Belorussians.”[55] Although Trotsky did not sign the agreement, the Soviet delegation was forced to do so later, on March 3, 1918, under even harsher terms.  Thus there was nothing to celebrate the next year on December 30, and the potential prazdnik was deliberately ‘forgotten’ by Soviet propaganda.

All these potential prazdniki, although not necessarily developed into holidays or even special dates, nonetheless created an alternative list of the dates which the Bolsheviks could use for the creation of the new ritual year.

As we have seen, the first variation of the Bolshevik calendar of 1918 was composed of very different special dates.  New Year’s Day was included, although it was a very old civil prazdnik introduced by Peter the Great. May Day was also known to the Russian workers even before the Revolution. Two other holidays, the Day of Overthrowing of Autocracy and the Day of the October Revolution, were created to commemorate the very current events of the 1917. Two other holidays, the Memorial Day of January 9, 1905, and the Day of the Paris Commune, though associated with important historical events, were nevertheless included into the calendar because of unexpected turns in the political situation.  Those prazdniki which addressed a large number of people, on the other hand, such as the International Day of Working Women and the Day of the Red Army, were not chosen as rest days – that is, they were perceived by party ideologists as of secondary importance. The Day of the Lena Massacre was also a working day, although it was commemorated a revolutionary event no less important for the revolutionary movement in Russia than “Bloody Sunday.” The most carefully organized demonstrations, those which were expected to become annual holidays, were forgotten almost instantly. The calendar also included ten non-working days for the celebration of the religious feasts, that is, it retained a substantial part of the pre-Revolutionary Christian Orthodox calendar.[56]

The salient inconsistencies of the Bolshevik calendar reflected not only the chaos of revolutionary times, but also how its creators pictured their own work, for they doubtlessly viewed the post-Revolutionary calendar as a temporary phenomenon.[57]  One justification of this hypothesis is the fact that the calendar of 1930 differed radically from the Bolshevik calendar of 1918-1929.  For example, the ten rest days that people were allowed to use as religious holidays were excluded. Three prazdniki – New Year’s Day, the Day of the Overthrowing of the Autocracy, and the Day of the Paris Commune – also lost their status as rest days. Only the Memorial Day of January 9, 1905, May Day, and the Day of the Proletarian (October) Revolution were left as rest days.[58] In the explanatory note to the Postanovlenie SNK SSSR ot 24 sentiabria 1929 g. o rabochem vremeni i vremeni otdykha v predpriiatiiach i uchrezhdeniiach, perechodiashchich na nepreryvnuiu proizvodstvennuiu nedeliu  (“Decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of USSR of September 24, 1929, on working time and resting time in the organizations that accept an uninterrupted week of production”), which legitimated this new Stalin calendar, it is written that “for the majority of workers and employees of those plants and organizations that switched to the uninterrupted working week, the religious prazdniki and almost all the other prazdniki have lost their historical meaning of the common rest days and celebrations.” [59] Thus the preliminary calendar of 1918-1929 had played its role and had to disappear.    

The process of shaping the Soviet calendar had its own logic, however, one which was defined by Bolshevik policy.  This logic can be understood by analyzing the Kalendar’ kommunista na 1930 god (“Calendar of a Communist for 1930”) and Kalendar’- ezhegodnik kommunista na 1931 god (“Year Calendar of a Communist for 1931”).  These were state Soviet calendars, created at the beginning of the new Stalinist period of the Soviet calendar.  In the former calendar, the five-day week was introduced, while only five revolutionary common holidays remained.  In the latter, even greater changes were added: the dates associated with the history of the Communist Party, the Young Communist League, the Communist International, the International of the Trade Unions, and the Soviet Congresses were presented in detail, while the majority of the special historical dates were presented as of a secondary importance. The number of every year was dual: the first indicated the number starting from Christ’s birth, and the second from the establishment of Soviet power. For example, the year 1931 had also the number “The Fourteenth Year of the Proletarian Revolution.” Thus this new “Stalin” calendar was similar to the traditional one only in the numbers of days and months. The symbolic function of the calendar, meanwhile, became completely different: even the traditional calendrical units, which were originally based on natural seasons and rotations of the moon and the sun, were replaced by the units created by the communists.  These units were the dates of congresses of the various communist organizations. Moreover, all the holidays, rest days and working days as well, were united by the same semantics of the development of the revolutionary movement in Russia and in the whole world.

The decree “Regulations for Weekly Rest and Holidays” of December 2, 1918, was a product of the Bolsheviks’ efforts toward the creation of a new ritual year, first of all, through the press.  The main goal of the coverage, devoted to the special dates and prazdniki, was to demonstrate that every prazdnik really happened: each one was announced, its meaning explained, and its celebration and outcome were subsequently covered as well. It was unimportant whether these prazdniki became popular or were supported by people, because according to the newspapers, they did exist. The Bolshevik calendar that the “Regulations” legitimated derived from the existing, at least, in Pravda and Izvestiia, new special dates. 


1.  Poole, Robert. Time's Alternation: Calendar Reform in Early Modern England . London: UCL Press, 1998. 7.

2.  The dates before February 1, 1918 (when the calendar reform came into effect) will be given according to the Old Style, and the dates after February 1, 1918 – according to the New Style.

3.  Dekrety Sovetskoi vlasti. Tom 4. Moskva: Gos. izd. politicheskoi literatury, 1957. 122-124.

4.  The media material allows studying these processes on the micro level, while the printed calendars allow this only on the macro level. 

5.  Etzioni, Amitai. “Introduction. Holidays and Rituals: Neglected Seedbeds of Virtue.” Etzioni, A. and J. Bloom eds. We Are What We Celebrate. Understanding Holidays and Rituals New York: New York UP, 2004. 1-40. 8.

6.  Kalendar’ Almanach na 1918 god: Satira i iumor. 1918.

7.  Prazdnik – sing., prazdniki – plural.

8.  In Dal’s dictionary the meanings of the word ‘prazdnik’ include both, working and rest days. Dal’, Vladimir. Tolkovyi slovar’ zhivogo velikorusskogo iazyka. Tom 3. Moskva: Gos. izd. inostrannych i natsional’nych slovarei.,1956. 381.

9.  In order to differentiate the calendar as a cultural phenomenon from the calendar as a text, I use the phrase “the printed calendar” when I indicate the later.

10.  Prazdnovaniie 9 ianvaria. (“Celebration of January 9”). Pravda. January 27 (15), 1918.

11.  Roslof, Edward E. Red Priests: Renovationism, Russian Orthodoxy, and Revolution.  Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2002. 107.

12.  Orlando Figes and Boris Kolonitskii write about the period between the February and October Revolutions: “There was an explosion of newspapers, many with a circulation of millions, brochures, song books and dictionaries on political themes.” Figes, Orlando and Boris Kolonitskii. Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917. New Haven: Yale UP, 1999. 7.

13.  Dekrety Sovetskoi vlasti. Tom 1. Moskva: Gos. izd. politicheskoi literatury, 1957. 403. This and subsequence translations from Russian are mine.

14.  Dekrety Sovetskoi vlasti. Moskva: Gos. Izd. politicheskoi literatury. 1957. Tom 4. 122-124. In addition to these six rest days, the local authorities were allowed to schedule another ten rest days, according to the local traditions and religions.

15.  The manifestations were organized on many of these special days. Their organization was, obviously, one of the most important ways that the Bolsheviks chose for agitation of the masses during their struggle for power. On December 6, 1917, in Pravda, in the article Dve revolutsii (“Two Revolutions”), I. Bezrabotnyi, writes explicitly about this Bolshevik tactics:

Long before taking the whole responsibility for the fate of the country on themselves… the Bolsheviks, who constituted the minority in the Soviets, used any opportunity to put a question of political power on their agenda. They chose for this the strategy of pushing from below on the Soviet majority by organizing demonstrations.

16.  Eviatar Zerubavel points to the importance of the establishment of the beginning of the historical period for social groups and notes that the calendar plays a great role in the establishment of such a beginning. Zerubavel, Eviatar. Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003.

17.  Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative. V. 3. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985. 106.

18.  Aveni, Anthony F. The Book of the Year. New York: Oxford UP, 2003.  86.

19.  Vladimir Dmitrievich Bonch-Bruevich (1873-1955) was one of the editors of Pravda and Izvestiia and often wrote in these newspapers on the subject of the new holidays.  His wife, V.M. Velichkina (1869-1918), had already collected the literary works before the February Revolution, with intention of using them in the new Soviet calendars: Pesni revolutsii. Sost. V. M. Bonch-Bruevich (Velichkina). Moskva: Izdaniie Komiteta pamiati V.M. Bonch-Bruevich (Velichkinoi). 1919. 6. The text of the “Regulations” was obviously Bonch-Bruevich’s work, because the document has three signatures: those of V. I. Lenin, the secretary and V. D. Bonch-Bruevich.

20.  “1 Maia i voina”  (“1 May and the War”). Izvestiia. April 29, 1917.

21.  Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. by Helene Iswolsky. Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1965. 9.

22. The yearly change of slogans for prazdniki was a part of the Bolshevik policy in creating the new Soviet ritual year.

23.  The slogans, designed for May Day, continued to change quite radically until 1922. See: Lane, Christel. The Rites of Rulers: Ritual in Industrial Society – The Soviet Case. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981. 166

24.  It is widely accepted that the most important prazdnik of the Soviet ritual year was the anniversary of the October Revolution. However, before this happened, years of propaganda were required. The most complete picture of the creation of this anniversary as an event that suited the ideological needs of the Communist Party is given in the book: Corny, Frederick C. Telling October: Memory and the Making of the Bolshevik Revolution. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2004.

25.  K prazdnovaniiu godovshchiny oktiabr’skoi revoliutsii (“Toward the Celebration of the Anniversary of the October Revolution”) Izvestiia. November 2, 1918.

26.  K prazdnovaniiu godovshchiny oktiabr’skoi revoliutsii (“Toward the Celebration of the Anniversary of the October Revolution”) Pravda. November 1, 1918. 

27.  Prazdnik Oktiabr’skoi revolutsii. Moskva. Illiuminatsiia. (“Celebration of the October Revolution”). Izvestiia.  December 1, 1918. 

28.  In the articles of the pre-anniversary period there are persistent descriptions of the content of the daily ration for November 7. The contents vary, but butter is included in every one. Traditionally, a lot of butter was eaten during Maslenitsa week.

29.  Kalendar’ kommunista na 1925 god. 159.

30.  The peaceful demonstration of citizens of Petrograd that marched toward the Winter Palace to hand a petition to the tsar about the terrible economic situation of working people ended with a massacre. This day is considered to be the beginning of the Russian Revolution of 1905-1907.

31.  The words “imenno my” are printed in bold in the original text.

32.  In Russia, January 6 (January 19 according to the New Style) is the Epiphany, a very important prazdnik, especially for peasants,. The Bolshevik policy in creating the new prazdniki was to place them in dates close to the religious ones.

33.  The priest Gapon was an organizer of the procession.   

34.  This is one of many cases which give the early Soviet calendar a quality of an obituary.

35.  “Subbotniki” were organized on Saturdays, and “voskresniki” – on Sundays, when people had to work for free. Lenin participated in some of the first subbotniki.

36.  Izvestiia. December 5, 1918.

37.  Sobraniie Uzakonenii i Rasporiazhenii Rabochego i Krestianskogo Pravitel’stva. 1918; # 87-88. 905.

38. Marks, K. Grazhdanskaia voina vo Frantsii (1870-1871g.)  Moskva: Otdel Pechati Mosk. soveta rab. i krasnoarm. deputatov, 1919.

39.  This paragraph is printed in bold in the newspaper text.

40.  Dekrety Sovetskoi vlasti. Tom 1. Moskva: Gos. izd. politicheskoi literatury, 1957. 352-358.

41.  The Russian Revolution 1917-1921. 180.

42.  Dekrety Sovetskoi vlasti. Tom 1. Moskva: Gos. izd. politicheskoi literatury, 1957. 497.

43.  The International Day of Working Women did not suffer from this replacement, because it was already associated with March 8, not February 23.

44.  Sinitsyn, V. G. ed. Nashi prazdniki. Moscow: 1977. 76.

45.  Balk, F.P. “Gibel’ tsarskogo Petrograda: Fevral’skaia Revolutsia glazami gradonachal’nika A. P. Balka,” Russkoie proshloie: Istoriko-dokumental'nyi al’manach. Kniga 1. 1991. 7-72.

46.  Balk, Gibel’ tsarskogo Petrograda 26.

47.  Balk, Gibel’ tsarskogo Petrograda 27.

48.  Balk, Gibel’ tsarskogo Petrograda 28.

49.  L.F. Tul’tseva. Sovremennye prazdniki i obriady narodov SSSR. Akademiia Nauk SSSR. Seriia “Strany i narody.” Moskva: Nauka, 1985. 34.

50.  Orlando Figes and Boris Kolonitskii also write that the Mars Field, where the bodies of the victims were buried, became a central location for the great public gatherings of 1917.  In January of 1918, the demonstrations of protest against dispersal of the Constituent Assembly took place there as well.  Figes, Kolonitskii. Interpreting the Russian Revolution. 47.

51.  Only some calendars indicate this day as that of the funeral – for example, the Kalendar-spravochnik kommunista na 1923 god  (“Reference-calendar of a Communist for 1923”); the following year, however, in the Kalendar kommunista na 1924 god (“Calendar of a Communist for 1924”) this event is not mentioned.

52.  See, for example: White, James D. The Russian Revolution 1917-1921.

53.  Istoricheskaia manifestatsia v chest’ vseobshchego democraticheskogo mira  -- 17 dekabria  (“Historical Manifestation in Honor of Worldwide Democratic Peace – December 17”). Pravda, December 19, 1917.

54.  The potential prazdnik was conveniently situated between the two dates.

55.  White The Russian Revolution 1917-1921. 178.

56.  The chaotic nature of the early Bolshevik calendar is reflected in the fictional works of the post-Revolutionary period. Vladimir Mayakovsky, for example, wrote many propagandistic works on the subject of the new Soviet holidays.  However, in his most intimate poems he examines his private feelings on the background of the traditional calendar narrative, based on life, death and resurrection of Christ.  The unstable nature of the new Bolshevik calendar is also the theme of many works of Mikhail Bulgakov; while Boris Pasternak investigates the symbolic meaning of the special dates in the new Bolshevik calendar and their illusory natures as well.

57.  Even accepting the Gregorian calendar was seen as a temporary measure. For example, in the Zametka k dekretu o vvedenii v Rossiiskoi respublike novogo kalendaria  (“Note to the Decree on Introduction the New Calendar in the Russian Republic”), printed alongside the “Decree” in Pravda on January 25, 1918, is the following:

It is obvious that for Russia it is absolutely necessary to switch to the New Style that is accepted by the advanced nations; as to the scientific improvement of the calendar, if such need will occur, this should be done by the future international congress of socialists, which will elaborate its system and propose its adoption all over the world.

58.  Starting in 1929, May Day and the Anniversary of the October Revolution were celebrated for two days each.

59.  Zakon o religioznych obiedinieniiach RSFSR. Moskva: Bezbozhnik, 1930. 126. Postanovlenie SNK SSSR ot 24 sentiabria 1929 g. rejected the traditional week with its common six working days and Sunday as a common rest day, thus rejecting the calendar division on weeks. Every working person had to have his own five-day week with one day of rest. As a result, the production of goods supposed not to stop.


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