Coverage of New Soviet Holidays in Bolshevik Newspapers in the Post-Revolutionary Period

Irina Shilova, University of Alberta

After the Revolution, the Bolshevik government put a lot of effort into establishing a new ritual year with a new system of holidays. The Soviet newspapers Pravda and Izvestiia were the most important channels of information for the Bolshevik propaganda of official holidays. Articles published in these newspapers in 1917-1924 demonstrate that the government actively searched for the special dates to replace the numerous pre-Revolutionary holidays, and tried to introduce to the masses anything that could be a reason for celebration. From these articles, devoted to the new memorial days and holidays, we can also conclude that the party was trying to impose the significance of the special dates – which were celebrated the party members before the Revolution – onto every citizen. Thus, they appealed to the inherent human capacity which Eviatar Zarubavel calls “the ability to experience things that happened to groups long before we joined them as if they were part of our own past”(316). Those dates were mostly memorial days for the Bolsheviks’ dead comrades and the anniversaries of workers’ uprisings, which often ended in massacres.

January became a month filled with “sad” celebrations. We can presume that the somber mood of these celebrations had to outweigh the joy of Christmas. On 1 January, the government established a Memorial Day for those who were killed during the First Russian Revolution. On 15 January, both newspapers called for a commemoration of the deaths of Karl Liebknecht and Roza Luxemburg. January twenty second was declared a Memorial Day for the victims of Bloody Sunday in 1905, and the newspapers also reminded readers about the anniversary of Alexander Hertsen’s death on the same day. Thus, when Lenin died on 21 January, 1924, the new Memorial Day was enthusiastically welcomed by the political leadership.

The Soviet press, obviously, pursued three main goals: to declare the importance of the event that had to be celebrated annually, to create a narrative for this event, and to convince people of the beneficial character of celebration itself. Diverse genres and styles were employed to address different reading audiences. However, in the 1930s and later, the newspapers gradually dropped the enthusiastic coverage of January memorial days, because none of them became popular. The party ideologists had neglected the fact that according to the teachings of atheism, the new communist “martyrs” were really dead: unlike the Christian martyrs they could not have an afterlife. The days of their deaths could not be happy celebrations and, consequently, the memorial days failed to acquire a meaning equal to that of Christmas.

Binns, Christopher. “The Changing Face of Power: Revolution and Accommodation in the Development of the Soviet Ceremonial System.” Man. December 1979, V. 14 (4), 585-606.
Izvestiia. Moskva: Izd. T.K.R.S.D.R.P, 1917-1924.
Pravda. Moskva: Izd. R.K.P (b), 1917-1924.
Zarubavel, Eviatar. “Calendars and History: A Comparative Study of the Social Organization of National Memory.” Olock, J.K. ed. States of Memory: Continuities, Conflicts, and Transformations in National Retrospection. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. 315-338.