Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Friday, February 17, 2006

10,000 things...and my top ten Revolutions.

Yep, at least 10,000 people have apparently read my blog (according to my statcounter thing). Most don't stay around very long to be honest, but there are a few regulars who seem to keep popping back, which is nice. While, of course, there are more important things one could be celebrating just now, I think reaching 10,000 things is worth posting about.

To celebrate, here are my current top ten Revolutions:

10. Germany 1918-1923 - though this revolution was defeated, it gives the lie to the idea that general revolution was not possible in Europe after the October Revolution. Check out Chris Harman's The Lost Revolution for a good overview in English.

9. Iraq 1945-59 'The last time the imperialist powers installed a loyal regime in Baghdad, it was overthrown by a massive revolt from below...This is the real tradition of anti-imperialism and democracy in the Middle East against the fake radicalism of the dictators and the false freedoms of US 'liberation'. The role of the organised working class in smashing apart the old colonial order has long been hidden from history, but it should inspire a new generation of socialists...Despite the failure of their leaders, the history of the national liberation movements show that change does come from below.' Part of a wave of revolt across the Middle East, see for example in Algeria

8. Slave revolts against the Roman Empire, 73-71 BC Slaves revolting led by Spartacus - what more could you want? Check out Lewis Grassic Gibbon's historical novel Spartacus (1933).

7. The Great French Revolution, 1789 - 1799 The 'daddy' of revolutions. Inspirational stuff. Good collection of material online here. Perhaps read Mark Steel's Vive La Revolution! for a simple accessible and humourous introduction.

6. The Spanish Revolution, 1936 - The seventieth anniversary this year! You want peasant collectives and workers power? Check. You want dead fascists? Check. Tragically betrayed by one J.V. Stalin of course, but still inspiring. Read George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia (1937), while Anthony Beevor's history of the Spanish Civil War is supposed to be very good.

5. The English Revolution, 1640s - Levellers, ranters and diggers - and a dead King. Check out James Holstun's Ehud's Dagger: Class Struggle in the English Revolution for the latest Marxist analysis of this great rebellion.

4. The Haitian Revolution, 1791-1803 - Part race-war, part class struggle, but an inspiration to anyone interested in anti-imperialist politics. Good collection of online stuff here, while John Newsinger reviews Madison Smartt Bell's literary trilogy about the revolt here

3. The Paris Commune, 1871

Good collection of material about this heroic (but bloodily suppressed) first worker's government ever see here

2. The Hungarian Revolution, 1956

The fiftieth anniversary this October! Workers councils against Soviet tanks - which side are you on? 1956 was a crucial turning point in history, particularly for the Left - see here

1. Russia, October 1917.
Some online stuff here, and of course Trotsky is your man to read for the overview and background. For what it was like at the time, you could do worse than check out the American journalist John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World, which was banned under Stalin's regime - as it only mentioned the Great Leader in passing. This is John Reed describing the immediate aftermath of October:

'I went back to Petrograd riding on the front seat of an auto truck, driven by a workman and filled with Red Guards. We had no kerosene, so our lights were not burning. The road was crowded with the proletarian army going home, and new reserves pouring out to take their places. Immense trucks like ours, columns of artillery, wagons, loomed up in the night, without lights, as we were. We hurtled furiously on, wrenched right and left to avoid collisions that seemed inevitable, scraping wheels, followed by the epithets of pedestrians. Across the horizon spread the glittering lights of the capital, immeasurably more splendid by night than by day, like a dike of jewels heaped on the barren plain. The old workman who drove held the wheel in one hand, while with the other he swept the far-gleaming capital in an exultant gesture. "Mine!" he cried, his face all alight. "All mine now! My Petrograd!"'

Labels: ,


At 6:20 am, Blogger Imposs1904 said...

What no 1905?

Portugal 1974-75?

Molyneux 2006?

Congrats on the 10000 hits, unless your sitemeter is powered by the SWP, and then it's only really 2,750 hits ;-)

At 8:49 am, Blogger Snowball said...

1905 and 1975 are like so last year, Darren.

You have to get with the program - its 2006 - revolutions that begin or end in the year '6' are the new 'revolutions that begin or end in the year '5'.

Mind you the St Petersburg Soviet was quite cool.

At 7:20 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Using Marx’s Capital as your source, perhaps you could comment on why the October 1917 was not a Marxist revolution, in a country that mostly consisted of peasants?

At 9:59 am, Blogger Snowball said...

October 1917 was a 'dual revolution' - it was a workers' revolution in the big cities where workers councils - soviets - had formed and were running things.

In the countryside, a peasants revolution was going on with peasants seizing the land etc etc.

The workers side of the revolution can be fitted into the framework of Marx's Capital - though it was Trotsky's theory of 'permanent revolution' which he developed from Marx's 1850 Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League -http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-league/1850-ad1.htm - that really explains how the dual revolution of October fits into Marxism.

Basically, it comes down to the uneven but combined development of capitalism - see Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution. Basically, the Russian working class exerted a collective weight far greater than their size and so led the peasant revolution to victory.

At 12:43 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very clever answer.

I like the bit “can be fitted into the framework of Marx's Capital”

Does that not suggest that Marx’s notion of socialism coming from a developed capitalist society (which 1917 Russia clearly was not) was therefore erroneous?

Not forgetting the key role of the proletariat?

What was the peasantry as a percentage of the Russian population around 1917? I do not remember.

And I am more interested in Marx’s view, rather than subsequent ‘theorists’ :)

At 2:25 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

This is what Marx said in 1890, in a preface to a new German edition of the Communist Manifesto:

"Let us now turn to Russia. At the time of the Revolution of 1848-9, not only the European monarchs, but the European bourgeois as well, looked upon Russian intervention as the only salvation from the proletariat, then for the first time becoming aware of its own strength. The Tsar was acclaimed the leader of European reaction. To-day he sits in Gatchina, a prisoner of war of the revolutionary movement in Europe.

"The object of the Communist Manifesto was to proclaim the inevitable impending downfall of present-day bourgeois property. But in Russia we find - side by side with the feverishly growing capitalist system and the bourgeois land ownership just beginning to take shape - more than half the land owned in common by the peasant.

"Now the question is: can the Russian peasant community, this form of primaeval common ownership of land, although already very much disintegrated, pass directly to a higher communist form of land ownership or must it first pass through the same process of dissolution represented in the historical evolution of the West?

"The only answer to this question possible to-day is the following. If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a workers' revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may then serve as the starting point for a communist development.

"London, 21 January 1882"

Therefore, providing the revolution spread to the West, then the high proportion of peasantry did not need to matter. Tragically, of course, the revolution did not spread to the West.

At 2:27 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Edited to add: Marx died in 1883 - Clearly he wrote this in 1882 - as the letter says - it was published in 1890...

At 4:23 pm, Blogger Adam Marks said...

"Does that not suggest that Marx’s notion of socialism coming from a developed capitalist society (which 1917 Russia clearly was not) was therefore erroneous?"

Well, hmm, Marx's attitude toward the German branch of the Europe-wide revolution of 1848 was that it would be a "revolution in permanence", driven by the working class, or it would be nothing at all, as the German bourgeois were conservative, and not as politically developed as their French counterparts from 1789.

The Russian revolution can only be understood by later 'theorists' such as Trotsky because (1) he was able to explain how very advanced forms of capitalism (Russia had some of the biggest and most powerful factories in the world at the time) could spring up against a background of startling peasant poverty, with attendant lack of education, limited horizons, bigotry and anti-semitism.

But, then you're probably just trolling.

At 4:24 pm, Blogger Adam Marks said...

... and (2) because he didn't live to see it.

At 5:06 pm, Blogger Adam Marks said...

Yeah, the Russian revolutions were great because the working class took power and because a global force to be reckoned with... an' all that BUUUUUUUUUUUT... I also love those pictures of crowds, thousands of people, where everyone is staring at the little magic box that takes your picture. Spooky and funny!

At 6:28 am, Blogger maps said...

Interesting list. What is James Holstun's take on the English revolution? Does he engage with the controversies about its class nature?

Perry Anderson's 'The Notion of a Bourgeois Revolution', which is collected in his book English Questions, is a very good examination of the the differences between the early bourgeois revolutions and the ones that came later, and weren't very inspiring (ie the Bismarkian unification of Germany, the Meiji restoration in Japan etc)

At 1:39 am, Blogger Snowball said...

From what I can remember Holstun has a nice introduction which looks at some of the historiographical debates (including the class nature) of the English Rev. However, I aim to read past the introduction when I get time...

At 12:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgive me if I ignore some of your other commentators here, but I am more interested your views, as a Marxist with a historical perspective.

Given the composition of Russia in October 1917 (the VAST majority of the population were peasants) was it not foolish (based on Marx’s notion that socialist transformation could only occur when the proletariat comprised the majority) to assume that a socialist revolution was 1) possible 2) would succeed?

[Leaving aside later theories, for the moment, and concentrating on Marx’s Capital]

ps: Forgive me if I ignore some of your other commentators here, but I am more interested your views, as a Marxist with a historical perspective on these issues.

At 2:38 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

M - Capital for Marx was a global system - so he always saw developments in Russia as interdependent with developments in capitalism elsewhere.

Given the fact that the proletariat made up the majority of advanced capitalist countries if not Russia by 1917, it was not foolish to attempt socialist revolution in Russia - hoping that it would trigger workers revolts in those countries.

At 3:22 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...


a) If you are between the ages of 13-18 then this particular post shows you have a healthy interest in winning a better world for humanity.

b) If you are between the ages of 18-30, then you need to get a girlfriend.

c) If you are 30+ then you are the living incarnation of Rik from the Young Ones.

Millions have given their blood over millennia in the struggle for freedom - untold sacrifices which you cheapen to the level of a "my fave revolution is better than your fave revolution" student competition.

If you found yourself transported to any of the historical moments outlined above then, I would wager, you would run confused and crying for your mammy.

At 5:49 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The greatest revolution of all times is none other than the Iranian revolution of 1979. Led by a mystic religious leader and supported by millions of his followers, he single-handedly toppled a dictatorial monarch backed by the most powerful superpower on earth and replaced it with a Republic never before heard of in human history. Compared to all other revolutions, this revolution ended with success with its leadership holding on to power for the next ten years after the 1979 uprising to consolidate the pillars of the revolution and to stand strong among nations. The revolution brought forth the new emerging force of Islam and threaten to change the balance of power dominated by the West and its allies.


Post a Comment

<< Home