Remembrance of May Days Past
I woke up this morning and realized it was May Day — and was unutterably relieved things have changed from the May Days of my childhood.
May Day was a holiday — no work/school — being International Worker’s Day. I remember dreary days with nothing on the TV but the might of the USSR and its satellites, in fantastic display.
Troops and groups of workers, flying red flags paraded before podiums ornamented with red paraphernalia, a seemingly invincible might, a proud and unquestionably enthusiastic multitude of workers and soldiers, of farmers and peasants. It seemed the whole world was submerged in red for the occasion, and our own local idiots would demonstrate and commit acts of senseless violence, which was the reason I resorted to the TV. Mom wouldn’t let me go out.
(I believe people in Seattle and other US enclaves afflicted by the Marxist bug still make themselves a nuisance on May Day. As in Portugal at that time, this is mostly the sport of students and “intellectuals” not of anyone who has ever done an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.)
Usually, the unctuous and respectful narration in Portuguese said things along the lines of “look upon this parade and despair.” “Now we see the blah blah missile, an improvement on the whatever missile and a symbol of Soviet industry and science.”
Or it could be the new tractors or the new tanks that were thus described, and always, always, in the narration, was the assumption that the numbers coming out of the USSR were real, and that it was a model of creativity, influence, and efficiency. The May Day displays convinced everyone — more or less — that the future was inevitably communist. How could the disorganized, muddled, flailing efforts of capitalists match it? Didn’t we know how often we worked at cross purposes? Look at all the Soviet workers united! And look at how proud Soviet workers and soldiers were!
This was the seventies, and in 20 years all that might, all that “efficiency” and all that pride would be revealed for what they were: a hollow shell, a projection of force abroad, a shout of defiance from a dying, sclerotic regime, upon which the dead hand of the past and the even deader hand of Marx weighed like the agonies of death.
However, the scene setting was fantastic. And because no contrary words made it out of the totalitarian hell that was the USSR, the world believed it.
Meanwhile the US, with its moon landings, its large and wasteful cars, its loud-and-proud tourists abroad, was treated as a braggart, and it was assumed that the good things we saw were exaggerated, while the bad things that the US’s own press said about the country, the bad things that Jimmy Carter himself often said in speeches (“malaise” and getting used to lower expectations, etc.) was the absolute truth. The US often got compared to Rome in the decadence of the Empire (whose structure was more similar to the USSR but never mind.)