Why does the Russian Revolution Matter? [by China Miéville]

[From The Guardian]

Besides anything else, the socialist uprising in Russia in October 1917 is an extraordinary story. The culmination of the transformative months of that year, beginning with February and the abrupt popular overthrow of tsar Nicholas II and his regime, it’s all intrigue and violence and loyalty and treachery and courage.

But what of that prevailing sense that these giant events occurred worlds away and eras ago? Since 1989 and the downfall of Stalinism, mainstream culture has consigned the revolution to the tomb and celebrated its interment – thereby concurring with the spurious claim of those sclerotic, despotic regimes draping themselves in its mantle that they represent something other than the revolution’s defeat. Are these giant events now just baleful warnings? Something else? Does the revolution even matter?

It matters. Because things were different once. Why could they not be again? Even as someone fascinated and inspired by the Russian revolution, of which this year is the centenary, when I am asked why it still matters, what comes to me first is hesitation. A silence. But as well as words, a key to understanding October 1917 is a certain wordlessness.

We may know in our marrow that it matters, but it feels defensive, sententious, dogmatic to glibly “explain” the revolution’s “relevance”: a too-quick-off-the-mark propensity to “explain” everything is not a problem of the left alone, but it’s particularly galling when coming from radicals committed, at least in principle, to rubbing history against the grain, counter-narratives, the questioning of received opinions, including their own. (One salutary impact of recent extraordinary political upsets – Corbyn, Sanders, Trump, the French presidential election, with more to come – has been the carnage of political givens, the humbling of the know-it-all.)

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Gramsci and the Russian Revolution

[From Jacobin magazine]

What did a young Antonio Gramsci think about the Russian Revolution?

Eighty years ago, on April 27, 1937, Antonio Gramsci died after spending his last decade in fascist prison. Recognized later for the theoretical work in his prison notebooks, Gramsci’s political contributions started during the Great War when he was a young linguistic student at the University of Turin. Even then, his articles in the socialist press challenged not only the war, but Italian liberal, nationalist, and Catholic culture.

At the beginning of 1917 Gramsci was working as a journalist in a local Turin socialist newspaper, Il Grido del Popolo (The Cry of the People) and collaborating with the Piedmont edition of Avanti!(Forward!). In the first months after Russia’s February Revolution, news about it was still scarce in Italy. They were largely limited to the reproduction of articles from news agencies of London and Paris. In Avanti! some Russia coverage used to come out in the articles signed by “Junior,” a pseudonym of Vasilij Vasilevich Suchomlin, a Socialist  Revolutionary  Russian exile.

To supply the Italian Socialists with reliable information, the leadership of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) sent a telegram to Deputy Oddino Morgari, who was in Hague, asking him to go to Petrograd and get in touch with the revolutionaries. The trip failed and Morgari returned to Italy in July. On April 20, Avanti! published a note, written by Gramsci, about the congressman’s attempt to travel, calling him the “red ambassador.” His enthusiasm about the events in Russia was visible. Gramsci at this point considered that the potential strength of the Italian working class to face the war had a direct connection with the strength of the Russian proletariat. He thought that with the revolution in Russia, all international relations would be fundamentally changed.

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The Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933-2017) and the fate of the ‘60s generation

[From the World Socialist Website]

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the best-known Soviet poet from the 1960s to the 1980s, died at 83 from cancer on April 1, 2017, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Yevtushenko, born in 1932 in the small town of Zima in Siberia’s Irkutsk region, became one of the leading Soviet poets of the “thaw period” under Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. Those years were bound up with official condemnation of the “cult of personality” around Joseph Stalin and the widespread hope within the Soviet people that the country could be renewed on a socialist basis.

In one of his most renowned poems, “The Heirs of Stalin,” published in 1961 at the time that Stalin’s body was removed from the mausoleum in Moscow’s Red Square, Yevtushenko wrote:

Let someone repeat over and over again: “Compose yourself!”
I shall never find rest.
As long as there are Stalin’s heirs on earth,
it will always seem to me,
that Stalin is still in the Mausoleum.
[Translated by Katherine von Imhof]

Yevtushenko’s father was a geologist of Baltic German origin. His parents divorced when he was 7 years old. The boy’s original last name was Gangnus, but his mother changed it to her family name after they moved to Moscow at the end of the war.

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Renowned Soviet avant-garde art collection comes to Moscow

[From The Jakarta Post]

Vladimir Lysenko’s painted bull stares with flat black eyes like a double-barrel shotgun, one of his horns festooned in a mosaic of bright rectangles, the tip of his tail stretched toward a glowing orange globe that may be the sun.

Over the years, the painting has become one of the most renowned images of the artistic ferment that bubbled under the strictures of insipid Soviet social realism. But until recently, anyone who wanted to see it had to travel to an isolated, gritty city in Uzbekistan’s desert.

This month, more than 200 paintings from the Savitsky State Art Museum of Karakalpakstan went on display at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, a rare traveling exhibit from the gallery widely regarded as having the world’s second-best collection of Soviet avant-garde art.

“This exhibition opens completely new, and not very well researched, layers of art that are linked to the international avant-garde,” said Pushkin museum director Maria Loshak.

The show also draws attention to the history of the Savitsky museum, which is as remarkable as the works it holds.

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