ON MAY 1, 1997, A SCANT HALF-DOZEN YEARS after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I found myself in the Russian capital with a day off from my teaching duties at Moscow State University and decided to head over to Red Square to see what a May Day parade looked like on its home grounds. It proved to be nothing like the televised versions I remembered from the evening news during cold-war days. One of the most sacred and extravagantly celebrated rites of the official Soviet calendar had become a scruffy protest march by a few thousand pensioners. Onlookers reacted to the sight of this aging rabble, carrying their red flags and portraits of Stalin, with what appeared to be a mixture of disdain, embarrassment, and amusement. On reaching Red Square, the marchers devoted the next hour or so to shouting insults at the Kremlin’s current resident, Boris Yeltsin (despised for having presided over the dissolution of the USSR), then sang a few desultory choruses of “The Internationale” before dispersing. History tends to repeat itself, as Karl Marx once shrewdly commented, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce—a maxim that holds as true for the vanished Soviet age as it did for the botched restoration of Louis-Napoléon in 1851.
more from Maurice Isserman at Bookforum here.