GLASNOST came to Red Square yesterday, on one of communism's biggest holidays. As the Kremlin leadership looked on from atop Vladimir Lenin's mausoleum, banners crying ``Gorbachev, hands off Soviet power,'' ``Down with the cult of Lenin,'' and ``Socialism? No, thank you'' paraded across Moscow's central square during the annual May Day celebration.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and members of the Politburo, the Presidential Council, and trade union leadership were booed and treated to calls of ``resign'' and ``freedom for Lithuania.'' Also atop the tomb was Moscow's new mayor, Gavril Popov, a radical-reform economist and hero of the informal movement. He got loud cheers of approval.
The unprecedented scene was in stark contrast to all previous formal Soviet parades, where slogans were pre-approved by the Communist Party and participation in Red Square festivities is reserved as an honor for loyal employees.
``In principle, May Day is the holiday of solidarity - the solidarity of workers,'' said Vladimir Martinov, a worker marching in his first May Day parade. ``But during our 70 years, we have perverted this holiday, because we had no such solidarity. And now we have come for our own demonstration.''
The swarms of plainclothes KGB men keeping order looked on in dull disinterest. When asked about the protests, one said he saw no problem allowing all the antigovernment slogans to be displayed in public.
Another was less sure: ``This isn't democracy, this is disorder,'' he grumbled.
He may have been relieved to discover later that the nationwide broadcasts of the May Day festivities ended conveniently, just minutes after the anticommunist slogans began appearing. But Mr. Gorbachev and the other officials stayed atop the masoleum for a full 20 minutes after the radicals entered the square. When the Kremlin leaders filed off, the crowd cheered.
The first part of the parade was handed over to the official trade union movement, another first, and in a break from May Day tradition, speeches were delivered. Trade union leaders stressed the need to guarantee all people's needs during economic reform.
Anti-perestroika banners shouting ``No to private property!'' ``Market economy is the authority of protocracy,'' and ``Prices under union control'' dotted the crowd in this first part of the proceedings.
So in the end, it was a May Day with much for the left and right, but very little for the Gorbachev-minded middle of the road.
The most attention, however, went to some of the more extreme anticommunist banners. Alexander Guslyakov, an engineer holding up the right end of the sign demanding ``Down with the cult of Lenin!'' - complete with dripping blood, says he got a lot of queries from passers by. Mr. Guslyakov made the sign, he says, because ``the ideas of Lenin are still alive, but they failed.''
``You see,'' he continues, ``Lenin is the only thing the party has left, and now, we in the democratic forces want to get rid of him, to pull him out from under the party's feet. This man stood at the beginning of all the tragic things that happened to our country.''
This year's May Day also contained a touch of irony, in light of the recent election of a Moscow City Council that favors radical reform. Within days of the council's taking power, Gorbachev issued a decree denying it the right to approve public demonstrations and giving that right to the USSR Council of Ministers.
Gorbachev, it was assumed, feared that a radical Mayor Popov would approve waves of protest, washing up to the doorstep of the Kremlin. But by opening up the parade to all factions, and inviting Mr. Popov to join him on the mausoleum, Gorbachev defused the issue, for now at least.