An American Babushka in Moscow: May Day in the Former Soviet Union

When I first came to Russia I was thrilled by any artifact of the Soviet Union, by every Red Star I saw atop a building, by every hammer and sickle bas relief.  The statues of Marx across from the Bolshoi, of Engles standing tall in the small park across from Kropotkinskaya Metro sent shivers up my spine.  But I will tell you that today, on May 1, 2018, they are but hardly noticed remembrances of things past.  May Day is no longer celebrated as a day to honor the workers of the world.  It is a nameless day off.  There is a march going on as I write, but the Communists red flags, like the Communists who carry them, are few.  Instead, the red, white and blue of modern Russian is dominant.  (See picture).


I seek succor from my solitary disappointment in the pages of Countercurrents.  But I cannot find any real comfort in FarooqueChowdhury’s article on May Day nor a glimmer of inspiration in the overfamiliar image of the raised fist.  I read Fred Magdoff’s elucidation of the evils of Capitalism, and find nothing new there.  I remember….everything is remembrance of things past at this point….when I was a young woman inspired by the work of Fred’s father,  Harry Magdoff, and his colleague Paul Sweezy.  The very saying of their names connected me to them, somehow defined me.  But it is all so overfamiliar now; all a remembrance of things and times past.

Neitherdo John Bellamy Foster’ words nor Yate’s prophesizing bring me comfort.   The sorrow I feel at the passing of the Soviet Union and the failure of the workers of the world to rebel against the hellish conditions of their existence, weighs heavily on me this spring morning in Moscow.

I want, want desperately to believe once again what Fred Magdoff says “When people are pushed and pushed down again and as their lives deteriorate, they eventually will fight back.” I remember reading and being moved emotionally and intellectually by Harry Braverman’sLabor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century,  published in 1974 by Monthly Review Press. But if Braverman thought labor was degraded then, he should only see its current level of dehumanization to fully understand exactly how bad things have become.  .  The condition of the working class differs from the condition of the working class in the mines and factories in the early 20th century, only in so far as the environments they work in are cleaner and safer, and this not because capitalism has become more enlightened, but because these most exploited members of the working class now work in fast food establishments.  No less then their historical antecedents they work long hours for wages so low that they need government support to buy food.  They have few if any days off, no paid vacations, and no benefits and no unions.  Moreover, should they even think about rising up to protest the conditions of their existence, they would find themselves confronted by the well armedbuillies of total survelliance states, just as the 19th century workers before them faced the brutal spies of the Pinkerton Guards.

Many seek to escape the desperation and degradation as workers in service industries, by becoming “illegal” small time capitalists themselves and dealing drugs.  Unwilling to work at McDonalds, these small time “illegal” capitalists are put in “McPrisons”, private penal institutions that profit off their incarcerations.  There they work for less, brutalized more, but at least housed and fed.

Remember too, that when Braverman wrote, America was not yet a drugged nation.  What are the statistics?   How many Americans are now addicted to narcotics, legally and illegally?  What percentage of the population is drugged at any given moment of any given day: drugged to stabilize their moods, drugged to mute their anger, drugged to numb them \ from the sadness of their existence, self drugged to escape from the realities of their degraded and dehumanized lives?

I never blame the working class for their condition.  That is not what I am saying; rather, what I am saying is that they are too busy trying to survive, too in need of escape, too intimidated by the state bullying, to make any sort of revolution.  They are too weak to overthrow Capitalism because Capitalism weakens them.

If there is to be a revolution, and there must be, then it cannot come from the degraded and dehumanized working class, but only from the elite members of that working class:  those whose labor has not been completely degraded, those who work with their minds and are difficult to replace, those who bring into being and employ modern day technology.  It is the vanguard of the working class, this finely educated and highly skilled segment, that will make revolution of any revolution is to be made.  They are themselves filled with contradictions.  On the one hand, they are rebellious and defiant,…..that is my opinion and not a fact.  On the other, they see that they can very easily become very rich capitalists themselves: capitalists like Bill Gates and PavelDurov, and  many others who became insanely wealthy by inventing new technologies.  In this sense, they are no different than so many other inventor Capitalist entrepreneurs: think Henry Ford, think Thomas Edison, etc.

Yet for the vast majority, those who will not invent some new app or device, should they ever become organized or develop a class consciousness or moral values which lead them to understand there is something wrong with the fact that so few are so very wealthy while so many go hungry, or that the planet and its inhabitants are being destroyed by the drive for profits, or that the permanent war economy is of no benefit to the masses of humanity, well then, they will rise up, cast their lot with the downtrodden and oppressed, and change the world.  Think Edward Snowdon here.

Yet on this May Day, despite my sadness, I remain a Marxist.

Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.




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