"The year 1917 was an epic, a concatenation of adventures, hopes, betrayals, unlikely coincidences, war and intrigue; of bravery and cowardice and foolishness, farce, derring-do, tragedy; of epochal ambitions and change, of glaring lights, steel, shadows; of tracks and trains...
This was Russia’s revolution, certainly, but it belonged and belongs to others, too. It could be ours. If its sentences are still unfinished, it is up to us to finish them." — China Miéville
One hundred years on from the Russian Revolution we look back at the events that turned the world upside down and how they resonate today with new books from China Miéville and Tariq Ali, and classic texts from the Verso archive, made newly available for the centenary.
All the books on this reading list are 50% off until May 28 at midnight UTC. Click here to activate your discount.
It is the contradictions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it was beginning to develop in Russia, that form the object of Lenin's analysis and of his arguments. If you forget this fact, you can easily fall into dogmatism and formalism: Leninism can be represented as a finished theory, a closed system — which it has been, for too long, by Communist parties. But if on the other hand you remain content with a superficial view of these contradictions and of their historical causes, if you remain content with the simplistic and false idea according to which you have to "choose" between the standpoint of theory and that of history, real life and practice, if you interpret Lenin's arguments simply as a reflection of ever changing circumstances, less applicable the further away they are in history, then the real causes of these historical contradictions become unintelligible, and our own relation to them becomes invisible. You fall into the domain of subjective fantasy
"How to write history knowing what has happened and yet to write as if in each moment anything else might have happened? How to write with open possibility when one knows the ending?"
Esther Leslie spoke at the Tate Modern with China Miéville and Owen Hatherley to launch Miéville's October: The Story of the Russian Revolution on 12 May 2017. This is the text of her reflections on revolutionary time, photography and narrative history.
It is one hundred years since the Russian revolution, or revolutions, in February and October, 1917. An anniversary: the result of the imposition of time on the flux of human activity. China Miéville has written a history of those two revolutions, distributing those busy human moves, those chaotic activities, with another measure of time: the month. October stretches out John Reed’s temporality in Ten Days that Shook the World, extending the days considered to three hundred or more, and so widens the aperture, increases the resolution. Reed wrote about the ten momentous days in around ten days or nights, frenzied, shut away from everyone – and with piles of placards, papers and a Russian dictionary – but he began with the title that referred to time and he wrote it twenty four hours a day.
When we talk of revolution, we talk of time, in various ways. Revolutions, it is said, need to seize the moment, but which moment, what day, when? Revolutions hasten things, speed up things, or they stop them, freeze them in time. Revolutionary time is the time of stopped clocks and new calendars. The revolutionary activist Grace Lee Boggs began every meeting with the question: ‘What time is it on the clock of the world?’
- Clock showing the time the Bolsheviks seized power on October 26 1917, Winter Palace, St Petersburg
One hundred years on from the Russian Revolution we look back at the events that turned the world upside down and how they resonate today.
All the books on our Russian Revolution reading list are 50% off until May 28 at midnight UTC. Click here to activate your discount.
International Women's Day, Petrograd, 1917.
In the year of the pussy, and also coincidentally the centennial of the Russian Revolution, perhaps it was inevitable that someone would characterize the revolution as primarily about pussies. In the New York Times, Professor Yuri Slezkine recently wrote — in one of the few articles that esteemed publication has featured about the Russian Revolution — that: “Most of the revolutionary leaders were young men who identified the revolution with womanhood.” But really, according to Professor Slezkine, it’s all about male revolutionaries’ lust for and hot sex with female revolutionaries. Male is the norm. Men are the actors; women the acted upon.
To accept this characterization is to ignore the ways in which the revolution was about not some imaginary ideal of womanhood, but about many real women demanding their rights and in the process changing history.