ONE hundred years ago this month (October under the old Julian calendar), revolutionaries led by the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in the Russian capital Petrograd.
In his famous account of the October Revolution Ten Days That Shook the World, the US journalist John Reed wrote of the Bolsheviks’ success that it came through answering the people’s “vast and simple desires” and “in the smoke of the falling ruins, co-operating with them to erect the framework of the new.”
The Russian Revolution, which began with the downfall of the tsar in February and climaxed with the overthrow of the Provisional Government in October, is a historic event that cannot be confined to the past. Reverberations from October 1917, a political earthquake that gave rise to the world’s first socialist state, are still felt around the globe today.
In Britain the centenary of Russia’s world-changing revolutionary year has already been marked through public exhibitions, radio and television programmes, books and concerts. The Russian Revolution Centenary Committee was established by the Marx Memorial Library and the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies to do something unique this year.
Bringing together labour movement, heritage and cultural organisations, our aim is to inform debate about the Russian Revolution’s continuing relevance to politics and society today.
At Congress House in London today a sold-out international conference organised by the Centenary Committee will hear from academics, politicians and labour movement figures from across Britain and around the world.
Among them will be Aleida Guevara March, daughter of the legendary Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. A doctor and veteran of Cuban medical brigades to Angola, Ecuador and Nicaragua, Aleida will be speaking on the theme of the Russian Revolution’s relevance in the world today. The conference will be an opportunity to learn about revolutionary history, politics and culture.
We will also be screening a new documentary Red October: Revolution in Russia narrated by the actor Maxine Peake. Produced by labour movement filmmakers Platform Films, this educational resource will be made available online and for public screenings as a legacy of our programme this year.
Centenaries are not simply occasions for reflecting on the past; they are a time to think about the present and the future.
Addressing Russia’s teachers in 1918, the first People’s Commissar for Education AnatolyLunacharsky wrote of the new revolutionary era that “there is no return to the past.” Lunacharsky’s words ring true today. Russia and the world were transformed forever by the events of 1917, and this is why they still matter.
JIM GLEDHILL Secretary, Marx Memorial Library Co-chair, Russian Revolution Centenary Committee