The Russian Revolution

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.

October 1917: an echo from the future

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The Russian Revolution, when it is talked about at all, is generally dismissed as a failure with little to say to us today. Sally Campbell argues that this is far from the truth — as long as people are willing to fight oppression and exploitation there are lessons we can learn from Russia.

Having received reports of one student’s recent experience of learning about the Russian Revolution in GCSE History, it seems surprisingly little has changed in the 25 years since I studied it. Students still hear rather too much about Rasputin’s dubious influence over the Romanovs, and far too little about the role of workers and the broader masses in the events of 1917.

How Russia inspired the world

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The Cook Islands in the South Pacific were annexed by the British Empire. On 11 March 1919 the colonial authorities on the main island of Rarotonga sent a telegram to New Zealand: “Serious disturbances by returned soldiers who are taking charge of settlement. Require armed assistance. Can you send warship or other assistance? Fifty armed men at least required.”

'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.

Russia's Red Year

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2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This graphic novel is an accessible introduction to Russia’s “red year” and contributes to an important interpretation of the events.

Most importantly, it puts working class people as the agents of their own change and is sprinkled with small but significant funny events that bring to life how the revolution affected every aspect of the peoples’ lives.

Russian Revolution in pictures

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Sally Campbell spoke to artist Tim Sanders and historian John Newsinger about creating a graphic representation of Russia 1917.

Two and a half years ago Tim Sanders, regular cartoonist for Socialist Worker, approached Bookmarks the socialist publisher with a proposal for a graphic history of the Russian Revolution. This month the result, 1917: Russia’s Red Year, will hit the shelves.

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