Don't Take the Calendar for Granted: Political Idealists Have Set Out to Remake the World

Soviet Calendar (Courtesy Wikipedia)

There have been several times in modern history when political idealists have set out to remake the world. The French Revolution in 1792, for example, attempted to redefine time: “When people who study the French Revolution read about the Uprising of Vendémiaire or the Insurrection of 12 Germinal An III, most simply scratch their heads and wonder, Vendémiaire? Germinal? An III? What’s that all about? Few ever bother to learn what these dates mean. In fact, they are part of the French Republican Calendar, aka Revolutionary Calendar, which replaced the Gregorian Calendar in France from 1793 to 1805.”


The French Republican calendar (French: calendrier républicain français), also commonly called the French Revolutionary calendar (calendrier révolutionnaire français), was a calendar created and implemented during the French Revolution, and used by the French government for about 12 years from late 1793 to 1805, and for 18 days by the Paris Commune in 1871. The revolutionary system was designed in part to remove all religious and royalist influences from the calendar, and was part of a larger attempt at decimalization in France (which also included decimal time of day, decimalisation of currency, and metrication).

For 11 years in the 20th century, the Soviet Union had no weekends: “Unlike the ordinary seven-day week, the continuous week began as a five-day cycle, with each day color-coded and marked with a symbol. The population would be carved up into as many groups, each with its own rest day. The days of the week, as familiar as family members, would gradually be stripped of meaning. Instead, each of the five new days was marked by a symbolic, politically appropriate item: wheatsheaf; red star; hammer and sickle; book; and, finally, budenovka, or woolen military cap. Calendars from the time show the days marked out in colored circles like beads on a string: yellow, peach, red, purple, green. These circles indicated when you worked and when you rested. This was shift work, on the most enormous scale in human history.”


It was known as the Soviet calendar. “The change was advantageous to the anti-religious movement, as Sundays and religious holidays became working days… Each day of the five-day week was labeled by either one of five colors or a Roman numeral from I to V. Each worker was assigned a color or number to identify his or her day of rest.” The entire scheme had the effect of preventing members of the family, even husband and wife, from being at home at the same time. That was probably intentional.

It’s quite possible, argues Eviatar Zerubavel, sociologist and author of The Seven Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week, that the calendar reform tied into a traditional Marxist aversion toward the family. Making family units less integrated may even have been a conscious part of the agenda. In the absence of technology, Zerubavel says, temporal symmetry—“that your schedule and my schedule are in sync, that we are at work at the same time and off at the same time”—is the glue that holds society together. “Here, there was no common rest.” Without it, it was easier for Soviet powers to divide and conquer.

The fall of Stalin did not bring an end to such efforts. In the 1970s the Khmer Rouge began what was arguably the most ambitious effort up until then: the Year Zero project. “The term Year Zero (Khmer: ឆ្នាំសូន្យ chhnam saun), applied to the takeover of Cambodia in April 1975 by the Khmer Rouge, is an analogy to the Year One of the French Revolutionary Calendar.”


The idea behind Year Zero is that all culture and traditions within a society must be completely destroyed or discarded and a new revolutionary culture must replace it, starting from scratch. All history of a nation or people before Year Zero is deemed largely irrelevant, as it will ideally be purged and replaced from the ground up. In Democratic Kampuchea, so-called New People—teachers, artists, and intellectuals—were especially singled out and executed during the purges accompanying Year Zero.

Those who believe such gigantic social engineering efforts are a thing of the past may want to read the New York Times article on the remolding of the non-Han people in 2019 China. “In Xinjiang the authorities have separated nearly half a million children from their families, aiming to instill loyalty to China and the Communist Party.” The methodology will be familiar to the reader by now: to “break the impact of the religious atmosphere on children at home.”

“The long-term strategy is to conquer, to captivate, to win over the young generation from the beginning,” said Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington who has studied Chinese policies that break up Uighur families.

To carry out the assimilation campaign, the authorities in Xinjiang have recruited tens of thousands of teachers from across China, often Han Chinese, the nation’s dominant ethnic group. At the same time, prominent Uighur educators have been imprisoned and teachers have been warned they will be sent to the camps if they resist.

Thrust into a regimented environment and immersed in an unfamiliar culture, children in the boarding schools are only allowed visits with family once every week or two — a restriction intended to “break the impact of the religious atmosphere on children at home,” in the words of the 2017 policy document.


Social engineering is alive and well and with the aid of technology more potent than ever. Moderns may laugh at the attempts to rename the months of the year, days of the week and the seconds of the watch but the 21st century has seen widespread and serious attempts to completely rename the pronouns most speakers use in everyday speech — sometimes under penalty of legal punishment. Some, but not all of them, are given below.

zie zim zir zis zieself
sie sie hir hirs hirself
ey em eir eirs eirself
ve ver vis vers verself
tey ter tem ters terself
e em eir eirs emself

Most people tend to think of time, family and God as eternal or at least slow in revision. But to the men who would remake the world they are but minor inconveniences to be swept away. So Happy New 2020 everyone. Don’t take the coming year for granted. This coming January may be the last you’ll ever hear of if some improvers get their way. You never know when the centuries themselves could be abolished.

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