what moscow looks like 100 years after the October revolution

What Moscow looks like 100 years on since the October Revolution

I managed to make it back to Moscow for a short stint. It has changed a lot and I am quite fascinated by its many contradictions. I also couldn’t help but notice that it’s been almost exactly 100 years since the October revolution, so it’s interesting to take snapshot of where this society is after its big experiment with socialism.

Of course, the Revolution actually happened in what we would call November, but all the same, there was nothing about it. No banners, no meetings, nothing on TV. Just the odd weathered sculpture of Lenin here and there.

1. People are surprisingly chilled out

Compared to 10 years ago, people on the street have an air of calm about them. It could be that I spent a lot of my time going to touristy places, but it seems to be more than that. One’s mind immediately goes to the economic situation as the explanation ā€” but that just doesn’t add up.

trip to moscow review

In the naughties, with oil prices firmly above $100 and more favourable international politics, you had to always keep your guard up. As in, you had to watch what is going on around you or you would have to fight to get things done right. You would get skipped in the queue, you mightn’t get the right change, one of the apples in the bag you bought at the market would be gone off – minor stuff, but it’s very draining. I remember approaching a shop door as a 13 year old girl. It was a glass door, so I could see that on the other side a man was nearing it too, much faster than I was. Then he stopped and just stood there. I opened the door to go through and he nearly knocked me off my feet with the words “How can people be so slow!” What the actual fk?! Anyway, that’s just anecdote to illustrate what I mean when I say you have to keep your guard up.

The naughties, however, was a time when the country was swimming in money. Now, with the sanctions, the rock bottom oil prices, the exchange rate the way it is, with the last remnants of unreplaced Soviet industry disintegrating, it seems that the macro economic situation is very gloomy. Somehow the people don’t mind. Maybe there is less inequality among the people who have lived there for a long time? As in, everyone’s life is worse, but there is less flashiness that grates on people’s nerves? I don’t honestly know. Talking to taxi drivers is always a good way to guage what’s current, only in Russia they’re not very talkative…

2. The silent but telling taxi drivers

A 40 km ride cost me 15 euro.

40 km. 15 euro. That’s 24 miles for $17.

How?! In Ireland, it would cost at least 50 euro.

The answer is as follows.

1. Petrol is much cheaper. In Ireland, unleaded petrol is 1.36 euro. In Moscow, it’s 0.68 euro. That’s exactly half price. And it’s not just selling below market price, Irish prices attract duties and taxes and whatever else.

2. Labour is much cheaper. You know where this is going…

Russian demographics are very difficult to figure out. People don’t trust the census gatherers, so many just wouldn’t participate in the census. The 2010 official population of “natives” is 10.5 million. Plus 1.8 million legally resident immigrants. The estimated number of undocumented immigrants is a million.

My feeling (that’s very subjective, I know, but still) is that the number of people from the former Soviet republics has grown exponentially in the last two years. I have taken seven YandexTaxi rides and six times I had a driver who had clearly moved here within a year or two. They don’t really talk to you ā€” they’re there to do a job. They visibly rely on the satnav lady. I fear to consider how much they are paid.

At one point we were passing a metro depot and there was an advert for the vacancy of a cleaner. The staring salary was 22,000 rubles a month. That’s 325 euro or $385. Per month. I asked my mam about it and she wasn’t even sure that people get paid the nominal amount even, which brings me onto accounting tricks…

3. Fine cuisine with a side of accounting tricks

If you happen upon a restaurant in Moscow and it’s in any way decent, chances are it belongs to a man by the name of Arkadi Novikov. It’s actually scary how many restaurants he holds. They are all themed and well decorated. The food is generally very good. And for what they are, they are very cheap.

arkadi novikov restaurants moscow review
Georgian Hinkali, Harcho soup and Harachapuri went down very well
Characteristically, about half of the floor staff strike me as recent additions to Moscow’s population, coming from those same couple of countries.

The accounting trick isn’t really a trick at all, it’s just stealing. We were brought a bill for 2000 roubles and got a receipt for 500 roubles. The super friendly central Asian man must have been counting on our tiredness and fondness for beer to not notice. Mr Novikov, I am sure, will notice. I guess if you are attracting clients with low prices and that comes from low extremely low labour costs, you have to expect this kind of thing to go on. A far cry from socialism…

4. Zaryadye Park: 350 million euro gone where exactly?

The most recent addition to the Kremlin area is a park. It has a pretty cool floating bridge. A bridge that brings you where you came from – you can reflect on the metaphor…

zaryadye park moscow review

There used to be an old hotel where the park is now. The original budget for the park was approximately 90 million euro, but it ended up costing 350 million (converted based on the Russian Wikipedia page). I am not much of an architect or developer, but I really struggle to see how they spent so much money on a park… More accounting tricks? It did, of course, underwhelm me given the amount of publicity it got. I also heard that the translations are all wrong. The sign for Red Square is in Russian, English and Chinese. The Chinese translation apparently reads Red Sausage. Oh well.

On the other hand, I was very impressed with this feat of Russian design and engineering (not in Zaryadye, it’s in a park called Neskuchnii Sad):

stairs a feat of Russian engineering

You wouldn’t want to have poor depth perception walking down this stairs and I am not sure how functional it would be when it’s covered in ice in winter, but the idea is pretty cool. And then there are hardy Russian roses that manage to blossom in cold October:

Russian roses blossom in Autumn

5. There is a wake boarding station right off the Red Square

The wake boarders do impressive stuff to blasting rap music a few hundred metres from comrade Lenin’s tomb. Interesting changes.

6. Red squirrels are doing well

They come over and ask for food. How cute. People must be treating them kindly then. I didn’t see any of this 10 years ago. Red squirrels are native to Ireland, but were outcompeted by the more adapted Grey squirrel. Most Irish people won’t have seen a red squirrel, but if they can do well in the middle of Moscow, I am reassured they will do just fine.

Red squirrel in Moscow

7. Cosmonauts are still in high esteem

A random children’s playground. There was a little banner to say that this was built after a “mini-referendum”: as in people voted on the theme of their local playground.

moscow cosmonauts are still in high esteem

8. There is no fresh juice anywhere

I really struggled to find not from concentrate juice anywhere. I struggled to find this bottle and it had a security tag on it in the shop! I wanted orange juice, but could only get apple or pineapple. You can get actual fresh juice, but bottled fresh juice is a rare find. A business opportunity for any busy beavers, though I do recall Tropicana being available some years ago. I wonder what made them leave.

moscow doesn't have fresh juice

Ostrich eggs and escargot, on the other hand, are an occupied niche:

ostrich egg in moscow

What to make of it all?

As we can see, capitalism is hard at work despite the socialist dream. The most disadvantaged people of 1917 were the native peasants and factory workers. In 2017, they are more ethnically diverse and still powering the economy.

I have also travelled out towards the Volga and saw some interesting things I will describe soon!

19 thoughts on “What Moscow looks like 100 years on since the October Revolution”

  1. I remember a story told by a former soviet official who was supervising the construction of a hospital (I think) in the surrounding area. He said that all of the required reports were received and the building was near completion. He decided to take a trip to see the building and make sure all was right before the final stages were authorized. when he got to the site he found a hole in the ground that had no foundation even in it. When people are denied a reasonable share of the wealth of a culture, they will find ways to acquire it. All of the inspectors received some of the rubles provided for the construction of the building to file the appropriate reports and, I suspect, had plans to relocate when the gig was up. Padding a restaurant bill is part of a long stream of practices through which the poor extract from the rich. (The rich are apparently aware it is happening and are okay with it as long as it stays withing bounds.)


    1. I mean wow. I had no idea that corruption can take such vast and shameless proportions… So sad really – and yeah, “When people are denied a reasonable share of the wealth of a culture, they will find ways to acquire it” – 100%


  2. Half way between socialism and capitalism is griftism. Petty, and not so petty, theft, rather like a poorly architected pyramid scheme where the neophytes coming in at the bottom to support the weighty oligarchs at the top sadly accept their fate as grist for the grift mill. Until they don’t!

    Thanks for the travelogue. Were the images available for detail viewing? “Pic Collage” (for me) was not viewable.

    The Northwest of the US has a variation of red squirrel too, but they are also being supplanted (and racially blended, it would seem) with the East Coast’s dominate grey.


    1. That’s interesting about griftism. It’s my first time using the piccollage, so I don’t honestly know!

      The squirrel situation is very interesting here. The grey squirrel had almost completely taken over. Then the population of pine martens, native to Ireland, has recently grown due to there being more forestry. The pine martens evolved together with the red squirrel and somehow their increase has lead to the decline of the grey squirrel and growth of the red squirrel population. Odd, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They love the period and the great characters: Tsar Nicholas,Rasputin, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and all the others. It helps them to understand current political issues like freedom of speech and how complex it can be. They have, i hope, a more sophisticated understanding of ideology and economic systems and how these are utilised for power.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That interesting stairway is clearly designed to be SKATED on in winter.
    My take on the previous order of Russia is that it never was socialism, far less communism. It was a dictatorship using the language of socialism.


    1. Ah, I am not that well-versed in political science, but there was free healthcare, free education, equality for the majority like never before. From what I can tell, socialism always involves a strong State, so leads to centralisation and that’s a route to dictatorship. The US and Switzerland are quite uncentralised and I think that’s a huge part of their success.


  4. I can’t help but compare Russia with South Africa. It seems the countries are more than simply friendly with each other. They share the love for accounting tricks. However, I wish we had cheaper petrol. If it wasn’t for huge tax and levy, we would be paying little as well. But the government must build a park… Also known as “the president’s private residence” in some far village. Coincidentally, I was pricing a project for our Arts and Culture, that could cost us, South African taxpayers about R10M for S.A. and Russia to celebrate music, food and fashion, in South Africa (KZN and Mpumalanga) and Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) from this month to the first quarter of 2018.


      1. Ah, the BRICS family that we are šŸ˜Š EU is probably a nicer “family” to belong to.
        I’m actually just in finance for a service provider in Events, Travel, Media, etc. to the government. šŸ˜ƒ It’s only a little interesting… and a lot frustrating.


      1. I didn’t know that about electric cars. I know hubby wouldn’t go for an electric car. He’s a petrol head. That’s a good offer though. The SA government just wants more tax money from us. Imagine if we have to have hurricanes and other natural disasters, too. šŸ˜Š


  5. I think Karl Marx would have liked to look at contemporary Moscow in the following way. He would start with an abstract theory, investigate the reality, and then go back to theory.

    Red squirrels are common up the coast from me in Formby. My theory is that all squirrels are threatened by climate change. So a modern Marx might look at Moscow through the prism of climate change. The Soviet experiment involved an attempt to master Nature, but humans are partly natural and should not view nature so simplistically. Like Western capitalism, the Soviet Union failed to establish harmony with the natural world. The low petrol prices in Moscow do not augur well for the future. Lenin believed in the modernization of the economy, and would have advocated more electric public transport today. It would depend on how the electricity was generated whether or not his scheme would be sustainable. A modern Marx could spend some of his time thinking about the welfare/ pollution trade offs in such initiatives.

    Like any revolution, the Russian Revolution is difficult to think about because we don’t know what would have happened if the Tsar had continued. Further, the Chinese politician Zhou Enlai implied that it is often “too early to say” what important lessons we should draw from major events. But while we philosophize, we can remember that Marx valued acting to change the world. And red and grey squirrels need saving from climate change.

    Liked by 1 person

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