MOSCOW — The curtain came down on an era yesterday, as Russians marked the Great October Socialist Revolution Day for the 78th and last time.
Henceforth, President Boris Yeltsin decreed from his hospital bed, Nov. 7 will be celebrated in Russia as Harmony and Reconciliation Day.
He also ordered a new government commission to recommend ways of commemorating the victims of the 1917 Russian Revolution, instead of its victors.
This move was not popular among the few thousand diehard Communists who turned out with their traditional red flags yesterday for their annual effort to turn the clock back.
"People who do not forget what Great October is have gathered under our banners," declared former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov. "Everything that has been happening in the recent past and present must be stopped as soon as possible."
The gathering across from the Bolshoi Theater - under the statue of Karl Marx that still adorns the square - was a far cry from the glory days of the Soviet Union, when Communist Party leaders used to indulge in orgies of self-congratulation every Nov. 7.
Year after year, hundreds of thousands of specially chosen "advanced workers" would stream through Red Square in the wake of a military parade, as party and government leaders looked on from aloft Lenin's squat red granite mausoleum.
And the slogans that rallied the faithful yesterday, such as the placard insisting "We Are Not Slaves," were plaintive protests from people left out of the new and ruthless capitalist order, rather than the strident calls to action that the Communist Party once issued.
Not that those slogans were always inspired. No. 33 on the list of 71 slogans approved by the Soviet Communist Party's Central Committee for use on Nov. 7, 1980, for example, hardly set the heart beating.
"Toilers in agriculture! Increase production and sale to the State of meat, milk, eggs, wool, and other products! Strengthen the feed-base of animal husbandry!" it urged.
Such slogans, however, did inspire careful analysis by Kremlin watchers in the West. They used to dissect and compare them minutely with earlier versions, in search of insights into the secret workings of the Soviet state.
Communist leaders always betrayed a somewhat inflated sense of their own importance: An official slogan during the 1977 festivities boasted of the Revolution as "the principal event of the 20th century" and "the beginning of the world-historic turn of mankind from capitalism to socialism."
That claim looks a little comic today, but many Russians are still happy with their Revolution. According to a poll this week, a sizable 46 percent of them say that the Bolshevik Revolution played a positive role in their country's history. Only 33 percent wish it had not happened.