MOSCOW -- Thousands of communist supporters from around the world rallied in downtown Moscow on November 7 to mark the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution as the Kremlin avoided commemorating the tumultuous event.
Carrying red flags, chanting communist slogans, and preaching socialism, demonstrators from dozens of countries braved brisk weather as they marched down a main street, passed the State Duma, and rallied in Revolution Square with pro-Soviet songs blaring from loudspeakers and police looking on.
"Today representatives of countries came from all the continents: 131 parties spoke at forums in Leningrad [the Soviet-era name for St. Petersburg] and in Moscow. We passed a resolution on uniting the great powers of socialist triumph," Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the rally.
"And I am absolutely sure that the banner of socialism, the sun of socialism will again rise over Russia and the whole world. It will give an example to communist China which has become the leading power in the world thanks to the ideas of great October."
The embalmed corpse of Vladimir Lenin still lies on view in a mausoleum just outside the Kremlin walls on Red Square, but the government of President Vladimir Putin -- who has criticized the Bolshevik leader and warned against political upheaval -- did little to mark the anniversary.
The communist celebrations come on a momentous anniversary that is going largely unmarked by President Vladimir Putin's government and has drawn shrugs from many citizens of a country that was thrown into upheaval 100 years ago and plunged into seven decades of repressive, often tumultuous communist rule.
The Russian authorities focused instead on remembrance of World War II, staging a military parade on Red Square to mark the anniversary of a 1941 parade after which soldiers went off to the front. Veterans and others laid wreaths at the eternal flame and the tomb of the unknown soldier by the Kremlin walls.
Although it is the second-largest party in the lower house of parliament after Kremlin-controlled United Russia, the Communist Party (KPRF) wields little real influence today and votes with Putin on most major issues.
"All my life I have supported the Communist idea. There is no other idea that could unite in such a way, to make a man a person," said Mikhail Veseldin, an 87-year-old pensioner.
The November 7 centenary of the revolution -- which ushered in more than seven decades of repressive single-party rule from Moscow across a huge swath of Europe and Asia -- came nearly 26 years after the Soviet Union's collapse.
Commemorations of the event were also held in other former Soviet republics such as Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Ukraine. Kyiv is deeply at odds with Moscow over Russia's armed takeover of Crimea and its support for separatists in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
“I don’t live far from here, but I would go anywhere under any circumstances to be here," said Svetlana Panova, a Moscow pensioner. "So many young people, it's great! So many foreigners!”
Analysts say that Putin, who says he has brought stability to Russia and is widely expected to seek and secure a new six-year term in a March 2018 election -- but would be barred from running again in 2024 -- has no interest in drawing attention to a momentous piece of past political turmoil.
Putin, president or prime minister since 1999, has sought to instill patriotism in Russians by drawing on nostalgia for the Soviet era and achievements -- such as its huge contribution to the World War II victory over Nazi Germany -- as well as the grandeur of the tsarist and Imperial eras.
The former KGB officer once called the Soviet collapse the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century.
But he has also criticized Lenin, saying in 2016 that the Bolshevik leader had planted a "time bomb" under the Russian state. And in 2005, he replaced the November 7 holiday marking the revolution with a November 4 holiday called National Unity Day, which celebrates a defeat of Polish forces in 1612.
November 7 is now a working day for most Russians.
With reporting by RIA Novosti and TASS