Goodbye to all that: remembering 1917 in the UK

Spring 2018

The French Revolution left a permanent political, philosophical and cultural legacy on world history. It is already clear that this cannot be said of the Bolshevik revolution, or certainly not to the same extent. Within seventy-five years not only was the nation-state created by the revolution, the USSR, dead and buried, but the political and economic model of that state, and its satellites, was terminally discredited. The very concepts that gestated and animated the Soviet Union – the Vanguard Party, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the ‘People’s Democracies’ of ‘actually existing socialism’ – are historical pariahs, consigned to the rubbish heap of history. This does not mean that the October Revolution and the subsequent creation of the Soviet Union was not a momentous event. On the contrary, it was probably the most momentous event of the twentieth century. But, unlike the great French Revolution, which gave the world the concepts and vision of liberté, égalité, fraternité, and the universal Rights of Man – the foundation of progressive left thought ever since – the outcomes of the Russian Revolution (aside from some of its cultural effluvia such as agit-prop design and Constructivist art) were almost wholly negative. But a centenary is a centenary, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 certainly merited remembrance. It is the scope and nature of that remembrance that is of historical interest. Clearly this varied in different countries depending on historical and political context. Although the commemorations of 1917 (or lack of them) in contemporary Russia are arguably the most relevant and telling, in this short overview I examine how it was delivered and perceived in the UK, in particular on and by its radical left. 

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Twentieth Century Communism 14: 1917 in 2017