The Russian Revolution

How Lenin set the course for October

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Vladimir Lenin returned to Russia in April 1917, five weeks after a revolution had overthrown the hated Tsar. Alan Gibson sets out the pivotal role Lenin played in arguing that the revolution must go further than change at the top. His April Theses are an object lesson in audacity and leadership.

‘This is the ravings of a madman.” So said Alexander Bogdanov about Vladimir Lenin’s speech in the days following his arrival at the Finland Station in Petrograd at the beginning of April 1917 — a speech that Pravda published as The April Theses.

Art and revolution

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Roger Huddle is right to be disappointed by the Royal Academy’s Revolution exhibition (March SR). Thankfully, unlike the stolid display on show there, the Imagine Moscow show at the Design Museum makes an effort to bring to life the artistic dynamism that the events of 1917 propelled.

None of the six architectural projects exhibited were ever built, but the fantastic ideas behind them live on in cities across the world, though sadly more often than not without their original political aims.

Revolution: New Art for a New World

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This is a great film for socialists with an interest in art. Written, produced, directed and narrated by Margy Kinmonth, the film focuses on the artistic avant-garde that flourished in advance of and following the 1917 Russian Revolution.

It moves on to discuss the changes in art subsequent to Stalin’s consolidation of power. The film gives a basic political history of the 1917 Revolution and the events that followed.

October 1917

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Books marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution are not in short supply. But this is among the few to praise the revolution rather than seek to bury it.

American Marxist Paul Le Blanc provides an introduction to the collection of articles with an overview of eyewitness accounts and interpretations by historians with varying degrees of sympathy, mostly none.

'Women could feel their power'

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The Russian Revolution brought huge transformations for some of the most oppressed. Socialist Review spoke to Emma Davis about how women began to take control of their lives and lead in the struggle.

What was life like for women in Russia before the revolution?

Peasant women and women workers had virtually no rights in Tsarist Russia. They couldn’t get divorced; they had extremely limited property rights. It was only middle class women who could even consider leaving their husbands.

The beating of women by their husbands and fathers was actively encouraged — the more your husband beat you the more he was said to love you. It was customary for the father of the husband to have sex with his daughter in law.

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932

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An exhibition marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution and its art should be a celebration of one of the most innovative periods in the history of the visual arts and humanity. Instead the Royal Academy has produced a stolid exhibition without any sense of what the revolution overthrew. Also it is supported by modern Russian art collections, which bolster the narrative of communism as dictatorship.

Trotsky said of 1917, “The revolution is, in the first place, an awakening of human personality in the masses — who were supposed to possess no personality…”

Caught in the Revolution

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Helen Rappaport has skilfully woven together the accounts and reports made by more than 80 foreigners who were either visiting or working in Petrograd when, on International Women’s Day 1917, tens of thousands of women walked out on strike and began calling out more textile workers and their male colleagues in the engineering and munitions plants.

Their accounts of the following five days of escalating revolutionary turmoil are fabulous, not because of any political acumen — far from it — but because the revolution itself was fabulous.

'From the slow river into a rapid'

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In February 1917 Russian workers toppled the hated emperor, beginning a process of mass revolt that would lead just eight months later to the overthrow of the entire state machinery. Esme Choonara explains how discontent turned into revolution.

Thousands of workers in the streets, soldiers in mutiny, police stations burned, the prisons opened. These were the incredible events of February 1917 that sparked the Russian Revolution.

The author and journalist Arthur Ransome wrote of these events, “Revolution turns the slow river of political development into a rapid in which the slightest action has an immediate effect.”

Democracy for the people, not for the money-bags

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The centenary of the Russian Revolution provides an opportunity to re-examine important questions. Sally Campbell argues that a deeply democratic impulse was at the heart of the revolution.

According to David Remnick, author of a book called Lenin’s Tomb and editor of the New Yorker magazine, Lenin, the foremost figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917, held a “view of man as modelling clay and sought to create a new model of human nature and behaviour through social engineering”. He quotes Richard Pipes, a right wing historian and critic of the Russian Revolution, who sees it as an attempt “to subject the entire life of a country to a master plan”.

Richard Linsert and the first sexual liberation movement

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The histories of socialism and sexual liberation are entwined, most clearly in revolutionary Germany a century ago, writes Noel Halifax.

The factory system tore apart the working class family. As workers were driven off the land and sucked into the new factories and cities of the industrial age, their ways of living fell apart. Many commentators from both the left and the right noticed this with varying degrees of horror and dismay, from Friedrich Engels in Manchester to the reactionary writer Robert Carlyle in London.

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