To understand how far communism has fallen into disarray, just compare the 1990 communist May Day celebrations - if they can be called that - with the same celebration just one year ago. Almost nothing is the same.
The May event is traditionally the chance to display communism's pomp and power, usually with ponderous parades full of tanks, soldiers, huge weapons, cheered on by an obedient populace and passing in review of the political leadership.This year it was different. In Moscow's Red Square, for example, the official parade was a lackluster affair featuring the state-run trade union movement. For the first time, the Soviet Politburo allowed ordinary citizens into the square after the parade.
What happened was unprecedented in Soviet history. Thousands of people paraded anti-communist banners, displayed religious symbols, and booed President Mikhail Gorbachev and the Politburo.
The crowd criticized the Soviet crackdown in Lithuania, shouting "Down with socialism." Critics from both the right and left had grievances and there were calls for Gorbachev to resign along with other cries for faster reforms.
Just one year ago on May Day, such a demonstration would have been utterly unthinkable. It is one indication of how much has changed in a very short time.
Clearly, the Moscow leadership had expected some outburst since they authorized the gathering in the first place and preceded it with a toned-down May Day parade that had little of the usual military or communist sentiment on display. But the depth of the crowd's emotion and the size of the demonstration appeared to surprise the Kremlin leadership.
Even more surprising, the former mandatory May Day celebration was missing entirely in some other parts of the Soviet Union, including Leningrad, the birthplace of the Bolshevik revolution, the Baltic states, and the troubled Transcaucasus states.
In Eastern Europe, it was the first communism-free May Day in 40 years. In the past, hundreds of thousands of people were rounded up by police for "spontaneous" May Day parades. This year, they seemed glad to be free of the pressure.
No official May Day parades were held in any of the former communist states. Instead, people used the holiday to take vacations.
There was a small parade in Warsaw organized by successors to the now-disbanded Communist Party. Only about 5,000 people showed up and the paraders were attacked by radical political opponents who threw tear gas canisters and shouted, "Down with communism."
All in all, it was a very different May Day in Europe and showed quite clearly where the people's beliefs lay once they were given a choice. Even in the Soviet Union, let's hope that communism is finally on its last legs.