Who were the women behind the bread riots that sparked the Russian Revolution? On International Women's Day in 1917, women textile workers left their factories and took to the streets in Petrograd to demand bread and peace. Their actions triggered food riots and a mass strike, ultimately leading to the fall of Tsar Nicholas and changing the course of history. In the centenary year of the Russian Revolution, we present a preview from Tariq Ali's The Dilemmas of Lenin.
- Alexandra Kollantai (1872–1952): Veteran Bolshevik, only supporter of the April Theses; first woman to be appointed ambassador (to Norway).
Women played a major part in both of the revolutions of 1917, and to a much greater extent than they had in 1905. The February uprising was, in fact, triggered by the strike of women in the textile industry in their dual roles as workers and, in many cases, the wives of soldiers at the front. They sent appeals to the metal workers to join them and, by the end of the day, over 50,000 workers were marching in the streets of the capital. They were joined by housewives marching to the Duma demanding bread. It was International Women’s Day (8 March by the Gregorian calendar), that the Bolshevik activist Konkordia Samoilova had made known to Russians in 1913 and that had been celebrated, observed and marked from that year onwards. It was usually a smallish public event in a few cities. Celebrating it with a mass strike led by women workers was unprecedented. There was a special irony involved: Russia’s capitalists had assumed that since women were the most oppressed, docile and socially backward (in the sense that unlike the terrorist women of previous decades, a large majority were illiterate) group in Russian society, they would, according to capitalist logic, make the most obedient and trouble-free members of the workforce. This was a miscalculation. As the First World War continued, so did the need for more labour. The percentage of women in the factories doubled and trebled. The Putilov arms industry was also producing the most militant workers and Bolshevik organisers, female and male.
Today marks the 169th anniversary of the publication of one of the most influential documents in world history: The Communist Manifesto. In this introduction to the new edition, published alongside Lenin's April Theses, Tariq Ali contextualises the period—the eve of the 1848 revolutions—in which Marx and Engels penned their masterpiece and argues that it desperately needs a successor.
As Barack Obama winds down the final days of his presidency, we revisit the assessment made by Tariq Ali in The Obama Syndrome, first published in September 2010 and revised in 2011. The excerpt below is drawn from the first portion of the "Surrender at Home" chapter, which examines Obama's domestic policy.
In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, the pathetic figure of Hermes, the messenger-servant of the gods, appeals to the dissident Prometheus to make his peace with the supreme beings of the time. The response from the chained figure, punished for betraying the secret of fire to humans, is exemplary: “Be sure of this, I would not change my evil plight for your servility. It is better to be slave to the rock than to serve Father Zeus as his faithful messenger.”
Fidel Castro, Cuba's leader of revolution, has died aged 90. We present an extract from Tariq Ali's introduction to The Declarations of Havana, Verso's collection of Castro's speeches.
On 26 July 1953 an angry young lawyer, Fidel Castro, led a small band of armed men in an attempt to seize the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, in Oriente province. Most of the guerrillas were killed. Castro was tried and defended himself with a masterly speech replete with classical references and quotations from Balzac and Rousseau, that ended with the words: 'Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.' It won him both notoriety and popularity.
November 9th is marked in history as the date on which triumphant Berliners breached the Berlin wall. On this day, 27 years ago, crowds began to demolish the Wall and gathered on both sides of the historic crossings to cheer the bulldozers. This was the first critical step towards reunification, which formally concluded nearly a year later, on 3 October 1990.
Tariq Ali’s novel Fear of Mirrors follows East German dissident Vlady Meyer’s life as it mirrors the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. The book is available now, and is one of Verso’s Russian Revolution centenary picks. With the fall of Communism, Vlady’s life begins to fall apart; he is a mirror reflecting the intellectual milieu of an incomparable period. Extracted below is the first page of the novel to commemorate this momentous day in history.