Ever since the advent of the year 2017, much of our free time has been spent looking back to and reflecting on the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s that shaped our decisively leftwing, but never a doctrinaire, world view.
A great deal of this outlook was forged by reading, the guidance of mentors, conversation or correspondence with friends, and the alacrity with which we followed up, often at the cost of formal college syllabus studies, the pointers and suggestions coming our way.
So it was that we began reading with great keenness about the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution (November 7 in the Gregorian, and October 25 in the older Julian calendar) whose centenary is being commemorated yearlong (2017-18) by all socialists who have not become turncoats. Early on in our course of “Red readings”, so to speak, a friend referred us to a slim, 63-page book that proved a most rewarding work we have kept looking up now and then. It was What is Marxism? by Emile Burns published in 1939.
Then followed our exciting, jolting journey with the Ten Days That Shook the World (1919; so next year will mark the 100th year of the publication of this seminal work) written by the US socialist and journalist John Reed. It was at once eyewitness account, reportage, history, and anecdote that made for a riveting speed read—deeply thought-provoking, moving, and disturbing too.
Reed himself and, of course, the people and events he wrote about in the work mentioned above, were focused in the film 1981 Reds directed by Warren Beatty.
Incidentally, we would do well to mention a 1928 Soviet silent film, a buddy told us about but have still not seen—October: Ten Days That Shook the World directed by the auteur Sergei Eisenstein in collaboration with Grigori Aleksandrov. It has music by the outstanding composer Dimitri Shostakovich.
Then we went with Edmund Wilson To the Finland Station in St Petersburg where Lenin returned in mid-April 1917 after a long exile in Europe and plunged himself into actions and events that led to the Revolution. The title of Wilson’s 1940 work, an incisive survey of socialist thought and history from the French Revolution onwards, was a clear nod to the epochal contribution of Lenin in this overall process.
Shall we now file out of this story by looking forward to what 2018 will unfold by way of documentary and full-length films, and articles and books, looking back on the November Revolution? And let us note that the year will be marking another important November centenary—that of the end of the First World War, utterly inappropriately also called the “Great War”. If the adjective “great” is justified in any sense it is only by way of underlining the magnitude of greed and callousness of powerful nations and their political dispensations and business elites that fuelled, directed, and profited from these bloodbaths for more than four years—July 1914 to November 1918.
Let us hope to see a flood of historical documentation on paper or screen that will instil in all of us the importance of rallying round to oppose and condemn the kind of violence and exploitation lands and peoples suffer at the hands of global (read mainly the United States) and sub-regional powers and their satellite chamchaas, especially in Africa, and West and South Asia today. Alas, the region in which we live—the last-named, has seen and continues to see down the decades beginning in the 1980s hate crimes against those who are “different” as regards religion, sect, race, colour, and so on … Shall we resolve to immediately take recourse to registering—in whatever way we can—our concern, and trying to detoxify by peaceful persuasion as many minds as possible? Finally, let us end by remarking that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the killing of one of the greatest internationalists and pacifists the world has ever seen, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi by a bigoted, poisoned “nationalist” mind on January 30, 1948.