No past revolution, she says, can be attributed to professional revolutionaries. Usually it was the other way around: “revolution broke out and liberated, as it were, the professional revolutionaries from wherever they happened to be – from jail, or from the coffee house, or from the library.”
Five great amateurs whose work changed the world, from author of The Amateur, Andy Merrifield.
Throughout May we've been marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution with new books from Tariq Ali and China Miéville, plus Weekend Reads looking at women in Russia before and after the Revolution, the Black Bolsheviks, and lots more. All our Russian Revolution reading is 50% off until May 28.
In this series of posts (Part I below, Part II, and Part III) we ask writers to respond to the Revolution and its importance today.
Do you know your Lenin from your Lunacharsky? Your Krupskaya from your Kerensky? If so, then we have just the quiz for you!
In the centenary year of the Russian Revolution, and to celebrate the launch of Tariq Ali's The Dilemmas of Lenin, we're giving away a huge bundle of Russian Revolution books to two lucky people! One person from North America and one from the rest of the world will win copies of The Dilemmas of Lenin, China Miéville's October, Red Rosa, Moshe Lewin's Soviet Century, The Communist Manifesto/April Thesis, The Prophet, and Revolutionary Yiddishland.
THIS QUIZ IS NOW OVER.
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