The Failed Dream Of A Russian Revolution

Photo: Wiki Commons

aljazeera.com Exactly one hundred years ago today, in the evening of October 25, 1917, the Winter Palace in Petrograd (today’s St Petersburg) was stormed. This event marked the beginning of the Great October Revolution, one of the most significant political events of the twentieth century that shaped the course of history for decades ahead.

Leading up to the events of October 25 was another revolution in late February 1917, which brought to power a group of leaders from bourgeois political parties that formed a provisional government headed initially by Georgy Lvov, a liberal reformer, and then by Aleksander Kerensky, a socialist. In early March of that year Tsar Nicholas II, who had ruled imperial Russia since 1894, abdicated. Five months later, Russia was pronounced a republic.

Although the provisional government did introduce some reforms on the political front, prompting even Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin to declare Russia in April 1917 “the freest country in the world”, it was the Red October Revolution that turned the old order completely upside down by inaugurating a socialist regime and making Soviet-style communism a global ideological and political force that lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.

Still, one hundred years later, the rise of the Bolsheviks to power continues to divide scholars, the chattering classes and even the educated public. There are several issues that are particularly divisive, such as whether the October Revolution was a popular insurgency or essentially a coup, and whether Stalinism evolved naturally from the basic principles and political strategies of Lenin or was an unexpected development.

Likewise, there is still a great deal of ambiguity, disagreement and confusion over the nature of the regime that flourished in the Soviet Union after Lenin’s death in 1924. For example, did the Soviet Union represent an “actual socialist society”, a “degenerated workers’ state”, or simply a “totalitarian state economy” in which the communist ideology functioned as a mere instrument of political legitimisation and imperial rule?

When it happened, the Great October Revolution produced global hysteria, untamed enthusiasm and hope about the possibility of the creation of heaven on earth (a new utopia) in equal measures. For the bourgeois classes everywhere, the inauguration of the Soviet regime was anathema to core values of the “western civilisation”, while for radicals and communists it signified a natural culmination of the inevitable march of history towards human freedom and a social order devoid of exploitation.

No room for mourning or celebration

On the centenary of the Great October Revolution, an objective evaluation on socialism and the legacy of Soviet communism gives no room for mourning or celebration. It was essentially the epic story of an impossible dream that turned in due time into a political and historical nightmare because of the interplay of a vast array of factors that included “backward” socioeconomic conditions, outside intervention, an absence of democratic traditions, and misconceived notions about socialism and democracy. Hence, while you can easily romanticise about the October Revolution, the cold reality of history smacks you in the face.  Read more

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Folkstreams ~ A National Preserve Of American Folklore Stories

The films on Folkstreams are often produced by independent filmmakers and focus on the culture, struggles, and arts of unnoticed Americans from many different regions and communities. The filmmakers were driven more by sheer engagement with the people and their traditions than by commercial hopes. Their films have unusual subjects, odd lengths, and talkers who do not speak “broadcast English.” Although they won prizes at film festivals, were used in college classes, and occasionally were shown on PBS, they found few outlets commercial theaters, video shops or television. But they have permanent value.

They come from the same intellectual movement that gave rise to American studies, regional and ethnic studies, the “new history,” “performance theory,” and investigation of tenacious cultural styles in phenomena like song, dance, storytelling, visual designs, and ceremonies. They also respond to the intense political and social ferment of the period.

Many of the films are linked to significant published research. Folkstreams draws on this material to accompany and illuminate both the subjects and the filmmaking. And the films themselves add powerful dimensions to print scholarship. They offer a direct experience of unfamiliar worlds. Many of these worlds are now receding into the historical past. Folkstreams mission is to preserve these films, these worlds, and these stories.

FOLKSTREAMS INC is a 501c3 non-profit organization.

Go to: http://www.folkstreams.net/

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Imagining Our Way Beyond Neoliberalism: A Dialogue With Noam Chomsky And Robert Pollin

Prof.dr. Robert Pollin

This is part two of a wide-ranging interview with world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin. Read part one here. The next installment will appear on October 31.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, racism, inequality, mass incarceration and gun violence are pathologies that run deep inside American society. How would a progressive government begin to address these problems if it found itself in a position of power in, say, the next decade or so?

Noam Chomsky: Very serious problems, no doubt. In order to address them effectively, it’s first necessary to understand them; not a simple matter. Let’s take the four pathologies in turn.Racism certainly runs deep. There is no need to elaborate. It’s right before our eyes in innumerable ways, some with considerable historical resonance. Current anti-immigrant hysteria can hardly fail to recall the racist immigration laws that at first barred [Asians] and were extended in the 1920s to Italians and Jews (under a different guise) — incidentally, helping to send many Jews to gas chambers, and after the war, keeping miserable survivors of the Holocaust from US shores.

Noam Chomsky ~ Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Of course, the most extreme case for the past 400 years is the bitter history of African Americans. Current circumstances are shameful enough, commonly held doctrines scarcely less so. The hatred of Obama and anything he touched surely reflects deep-rooted racism. Comparative studies by George Frederickson show that doctrines of white supremacy in the US have been even more rampant than in Apartheid South Africa.

The Nazis, when seeking precedents for the Nuremberg laws, turned to the United States, taking its anti-miscegenation laws as a model, though not entirely: [Certain] US laws were too harsh for the Nazis because of the “one drop of blood” doctrine. It was not until 1967, under the impact of the civil rights movement, that these abominations were struck down by the Supreme Court.

And it goes far back, taking many strange forms, including the weird Anglo-Saxon cult that has been prominent for centuries. Benjamin Franklin, the great American figure of the Enlightenment, pondered whether Germans and Swedes should be barred from the country because they are “too swarthy.” Adopting familiar understanding, he observed that “the Saxons only [are] excepted” from this racial “defect” — and by some mysterious process, those who make it to the United States may become Anglo-Saxons, like those already accepted within the canon.

The national poet Walt Whitman, honored for his democratic spirit, justified the conquest of half of Mexico by asking, “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico … to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race? Be it ours, to achieve that mission!” — a mission accomplished by the most “wicked war” in history, in the judgment of General-President U.S. Grant, who later regretted his service in it as a junior officer.

Coming to recent years, Henry Stimson, one of the most distinguished members of the FDR-Truman cabinets (and one of the few to oppose atomic bombing) “consistently maintained that Anglo-Saxons were superior to the ‘lesser breeds’,” historian Sean Langdon Malloy observes in his book, Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb — and again reflecting not-uncommon views, asked to have one of his aides reassigned “on the slight possibility that he might be a Hebrew,” in his own words.

The other three maladies that you mention are also striking features of US society — in some ways, even distinguishing features. But unlike racism, in all three cases, it is partially a contemporary phenomenon.

Take inequality. Through much of its history, the US did not have high inequality as compared with Europe. Less so, in fact. That began to change in the industrial age, reaching a peak in 1928, after the forceful destruction of the labor movement and crushing of independent thought. Largely as a result of labor mobilization, inequality declined during the Great Depression, a tendency continuing through the great growth period of regulated capitalism in the early postwar decades. The neoliberal era that followed reversed these trends, leading to extreme inequality that may even surpass the 1928 peak.
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George Orwell ~ Homage To Catalonia

Chapter 1

In the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona, the day before I joined the militia, I saw an Italian militiaman standing in front of the officers’ table.

He was a tough-looking youth of twenty-five or six, with reddish-yellow hair and powerful shoulders. His peaked leather cap was pulled fiercely over one eye. He was standing in profile to me, his chin on his breast, gazing with a puzzled frown at a map which one of the officers had open on the table. Something in his face deeply moved me. It was the face of a man who would commit murder and throw away his life for a friend–the kind efface you would expect in an Anarchist, though as likely as not he was a Communist. There were both candour and ferocity in it; also the pathetic reverence that illiterate people have for their supposed superiors. Obviously he could not make head or tail of the map; obviously he regarded map-reading as a stupendous intellectual feat. I hardly know why, but I have seldom seen anyone–any man, I mean–to whom I have taken such an immediate liking. While they were talking round the table some remark brought it out that I was a foreigner. The Italian raised his head and said quickly:

‘Italiano?’

I answered in my bad Spanish: ‘No, Ingles. Y tu?’

‘Italiano.’

As we went out he stepped across the room and gripped my hand very hard. Queer, the affection you can feel for a stranger! It was as though his spirit and mine had momentarily succeeded in bridging the gulf of language and tradition and meeting in utter intimacy. I hoped he liked me as well as I liked him. But I also knew that to retain my first impression of him I must not see him again; and needless to say I never did see him again. One was always making contacts of that kind in Spain.

I mention this Italian militiaman because he has stuck vividly in my memory. With his shabby uniform and fierce pathetic face he typifies for me the special
atmosphere of that time. He is bound up with all my memories of that period of the war–the red flags in Barcelona, the gaunt trains full of shabby soldiers
creeping to the front, the grey war-stricken towns farther up the line, the muddy, ice-cold trenches in the mountains.

This was in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write, and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance. Later events
have obliterated it much more completely than they have obliterated 1935, or 1905, for that matter. I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. Read more

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Kunst is Lang ~ Patricia Kaersenhout

De beeldende kunst is als een altijd doorstomende trein die zich een weg baant langs stromingen, niches, uitspattingen en extravaganza. Het tempo van afwisselingen en opkomende kunstenaars is hoog, de zendtijd voor hedendaagse kunst bescheiden. In de uitzending van Kunst is lang zoekt Luuk Heezen samen met mister Motley de verdieping op met een hedendaagse kunstenaar. Een gesprek over het werk, over vreemde ideeën, over de vooroordelen binnen kunst, en over het (doodnormale) dagelijkse leven van de kunstenaar.

Patricia Kaersenhout is een Nederlandse visueel kunstenaar en cultureel activist. Ze studeerde sociale wetenschappen aan Amstelhorn Amsterdam en beeldende kunst aan de Gerrit Rietveld Academie. Haar werk onderzoekt sociale onzichtbaarheid als gevolg van de Afrikaanse Diaspora. Ook richt ze zich op het kolonialisme in relatie tot haar eigen opgroeien binnen een West-Europese cultuur. De rode draad in haar werk is een onderzoek naar de Afrikaanse Diaspora, die ze in verband brengt met de geschiedenis van de slavernij, racisme, feminisme en seksualiteit.

Gast: Patricia Kaersenhout
Streamer: Elsemarijn Bruys
Kunstenaarsvideo: ZaZaZoZo

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Wanneer kunst religie en politiek raakt

It is precisely this balance between exile and the emotion of the privileged which forms the unique originality of our ‘Breathing in Reverse’. As this will be clear already, there is no past or future in Exile, only an immediate present.

Op 21 februari 2007 was ik op uitnodiging van Joseph Semah aanwezig bij de lancering van zijn kunstproject Next Year in Jerusalem: Ein Projekt in 12 Kirchen in Niedersachsen in de Markuskirche Hannover. Hem was gevraagd in dialoog te gaan met twaalf kerkgebouwen in Niedersachsen, van Hannover tot Osnabrück, vanuit het idee dat hedendaagse kunst het geloof kan verdiepen en extra aandacht kan genereren.
“Es sind vor allem künstlerische Äußerungen gewesen, die unsere Kultur geprägt, weiterentwickelt und immer wieder auch herausgefordert haben,“ sprak de toenmalige Landesbischöfin Dr. Margot Käßmann, onder wier patronaat het kunstproject stond.
Hoe moeilijk het is echt in gesprek te gaan met de ander, bleek tijdens Joseph Semahs performance in de City Kirche St. Jacobi in Hildesheim. Tussen tweeëntwintig blauwe bergen (het aantal refereert aan de tweeëntwintig letters van het Hebreeuwse alfabet) bewogen zich, rug aan rug, een bisschop, een imam en Joseph Semah, respectievelijk citerend uit de Bijbel, de Koran en de Thora. Deze blauwe bergen hadden al eerder gefigureerd in het buitenproject HaR VeKaCh-ChOL TzILO (A Mountain and Its Blue Shadow, 1987). [i]

In Hildesheim werd het tussen de blauwe bergen een heel getrek en geduw, waarbij soms het Hebreeuwse, dan weer het Duitse of het harmonieuze Arabische gezang domineerde. En heel soms kon je in de kakofonie van de stemmen een nieuwe versie beluisteren, een fascinerend geheel. Na de indrukwekkende interventie in de kerk werd de alledaagse realiteit meteen weer zichtbaar: tot een echt gesprek tussen de bisschop en de imam wilde het niet komen. Angst voor de ander en gebrek aan kennis leek het onmogelijk te maken.

Ik heb Joseph Semah steeds beter leren kennen in dat wat hem drijft. Zijn filosofische, theologische, politiek-culturele onderzoek is verbonden aan de positie van de ander, in zijn geval de derde ballingschap: Irak, Israël en het Westen.
“De gast (in ballingschap) in onszelf is vóór alles een kunstenaar met woorden, omdat woorden het medium zijn waarmee hij zijn naam heeft leren verheimelijken, zijn twijfel verbergen, en zijn angsten verminderen door zijn eigen behoefte om te participeren in het westerse paradigma te bekritiseren.
Maar de gast in ballingschap zal altijd blijven verlangen naar de nostalgie van een verloren paradijs. De westerse kunstgeschiedenis wordt gedomineerd door de bronnen en betekenis van de christelijke erfenis. Als je je dat realiseert dan wordt het evident dat het oeuvre van kunstenaars dat onderdeel is van het westerse paradigma vanuit die erfenis wordt gelezen, getoond en geïnterpreteerd. De kunstwerken in het publieke domein zijn ‘geritualiseerd’ en verbonden met een bepaalde ‘heilige’ tekst. Dat maakt het kunstwerk gelijktijdig leesbaar maar ook schimmig en diffuus.
Door ‘versluierd’ uit deze christelijke bronnen te putten, ze onzichtbaar te maken, blijft het christendom een grote rol spelen in de maatschappelijke, culturele en politieke context. In deze context wordt het onoplosbare dilemma van de gast manifest. Enerzijds wordt hij gedwongen te zwijgen over zijn hoogstpersoonlijke wijze van ‘lezen’, anderzijds maakt hij gebruik van de westerse tactiek om opgemerkt te worden zonder te worden ontdekt.” [ii]
De ‘nieuwkomer’ voelt zich niet erkend en blijft een gast in ballingschap. Read more

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