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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 47

Lights of Moscow

Tuesday 11 November 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


[(The following piece was written by N.C. fortyfive years ago, published as it was in Mainstream (November 9, 1963). )]

As the Ilyushin 14 touched down on the hard rust of the Siberian snow, the pretty Chinese comrade next to me said: “It seems we have reached Omsk. But don’t be upset by the bitter cold of the Russian blizzard. The Soviet people are as warm in their heart as the tea served out of their samovar.” She spoke fluent English, a medico, graduating from Peking, taking specialised training in Surgery in Moscow.

That was way back in the winter of 1956. The end of October. I was flying from Peking to Moscow after attending the Eighth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the only Party Congress that the Chinese leaders have called in their 14 years of power equalling Stalin’s record in his last phase. Throughout my four-week tour in China that October, every factory I visited, every technical or academic institution I was taken to, brought home to me the overwhelming impact of Soviet aid, almost boundless in generosity.

And what seems today to be more significant was the esteem with which the Chinese personnel those days used to spontaneously acknowledge with gratitude all that the first Socialist State had given them and taught them too. Not all the current angry campaign of the Chinese leaders can wipe off this truth, however unpalatable it might be for them in their present mood of anti-Soviet frenzy.

The long, weary hours of the flight across the dreary expanse of white Siberian winter—the TU 104 jet service was then the exception rather than the rule—made me ponder over the greatness of the November Revolution.

The impression of the Bolshevik Revolution one normally would get from the history books was that of intense dramatic excitement confined mainly to big cities, more particularly Petrograd (now Leningrad) and Moscow. But here, even in the cold of Siberia, one could get a glimpse of its greatness. The land where the Czars used to banish revolutionaries at one time could now launch on a new career of civilisation thanks to the pioneering labour of the Soviet man and the tender care of Soviet science.

By 1956, the exiles from Stalin’s labour camps had started coming back and the staggering revelations of the horrors perpetrated in the name of socialism—boldly made by Khrushchev a few months earlier the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party—had led them to an almost nation-wide ‘Never-again!’ pledge. The strength of socialism was writ large, for the retrospection had come not out of defeat or a change of regime, but by its leadership on their own.

In the friendly warmth of an Aeroflot flight I checked up on my fellow passengers, their occupational who’s-who: leaving aside the foreigners—mostly from fraternal socialist countries, including two German scientists returning from North Vietnam—the Soviet passengers consisted of seven working in factories, one of whom belonged to the senior staff at the giant plant at Magnitogorsk; four were science students returning from Irkutsk; two elderly women and an old man were on light work in collective farms. No Wall Street VIP nor the Maharajah on flying carpet, these are but men and women who toil with their own hands, and the brain workers who stand by them.

In Moscow’s leading hotels I noticed the same feature: the best suites were not occupied by those with the fattest bank balance but men and women honoured for their outstanding achieve-ment in labour or intellect or those who had given their lives in the cause of Communism. And in the foyer of the massive Hotel Moscow, one could see hundreds of ordinary people—men and women from common walks of life. How incongruous would this look in the West End or World of Astoria!

The man of labour is enthroned in Moscow, as the defiant challenge to the world’s Rich. And as I looked out of my hotel window and saw the Red star glowing over the Kremlin, I felt at once the power and the glory of the Common Man outstripping those of the parasite Rich.

This simple truth, this majesty of the November Revolution came to me in all its grandeur as we stood at the Red Square waiting in the morning snow for the great march-past of November 7. The smart turnout of the Red Army men brought back memories that inspired the pages of history, of the defeat of the Western Powers’ intervention against the newly-born workers’ state, right upto the days when Hitler’s hordes were pushed back to Berlin and beyond.

And as the contingents from different walks of Soviet life proudly marched past the great Lenin’s Mausoleum, it was an unforgettable sight. As we stood shivering in the biting cold despite all the warm clothes we had put on, I could not help remembering that those who had stormed the Winter Palace did so in this very November winter of Russia. The bitter cold could not deter them even if it had destroyed Napoleon’s formidable army.

The scenes of joy, of tumultuous laughter and dancing that over-flowed the streets of Moscow that evening past midnight were not just the outpourings of a national festival; they were the grand celebration of a great achievement of mankind, the breaking of the chains of capitalist slavery. How little the Chinese leaders have understood the spirit of the November Revolution that they could prattle about the danger of the return of capitalism, little realising how strong are the foundations of that great revolution that ushered in a new era in human history.

Moscow in the winter of 1956 was emerging into the maturity of revolution. Everywhere I went I could hear exciting discussions about the implications of the Twentieth Soviet Communist Party Congress. The fresh air of freedom that blew into the musty atmosphere of Stalin’s Russia brought in a new life, as it were. The past was being examined boldly and gropings for the future could be discerned.

It was as if the child born in 1917 had grown up into his majestic stature—strong enough to proclaim his own mistakes and ready to learn from them. In the midst of it all the Hungarian upheaval touched off new tensions, new questionings—would the revulsion at the past mistakes lead to a rebound which might take a socialist country back into the arms of capitalism? Was the Soviet action justified? Why could not Hungary sustain the brunt of self-criticism without upsetting the social order, as did Poland.

All these questions could be heard, not only in the small circle of outsiders, but among the Soviet newsmen themselves. One could taste the ferment, for it was in the very air of Moscow. And rightly so; did not Lenin permit, if not encourage, the most uninhibited criticism—the finest of political iconoclasm—even in those early days of the Revolution?

When the workers of Paris formed their Commune more than 90 years ago, Karl Marx hailed the event as the storming of heavens. Today the revolutionary legatees of the Paris Commune—the sons and daughters of the November Revolution—have been literally storming the heavens. The people that could send a Valentina Tereshkova to the kingdom of the stars are the heirs of those who had hoisted the Red Flag on the Czar’s Palace. And not without reason. For the triumph of the Soviet Union today is not just an accident—it has blossomed out of the very system of socialism, where man has ceased to exploit man.

The plane took off about mid-night. I bade good-bye to Moscow—this city of revolution—from my plane window. In the darkness of night with its myriads of lights, Moscow looked like a piece of glittering jewel, a shining necklace of diamonds. I was reminded of what John Reed had reported in his memorable Ten Days That Shook the World: a cart-driver watching the city lights as he drew nearer, cried: “All this is mine!”

Those glittering lights of Moscow, I felt, were indeed the precious diamonds for every worker that strives to break the chains of wage-slavery, and for every decent man and woman in this wide world who recognises the majesty of labour. The lights of Moscow shall never, never fail. n

(Mainstream, November 9, 1963)

When I look

for the grandest day

of my life,


in all

I have gone through and seen.

I name without doubt

or internal strife

October 25,


Vladimir Mayakovsky

(from the poem ‘Vladimir llyich Lenin’)

[November 7 was October 25 as per the old Russian calendar.]

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