REVOLUTION INC.

It’s testament to the impact the events of October 1917 had on the wider world that the idealistic concept of a society founded on the blueprint laid out by Marx in the nineteenth century survived the abuses of that blueprint by his ideological heirs. Stalin’s purges of the 1930s were overlooked by the left in the west with the same convenient nonchalance that enabled Che Guevara to become a pop cultural icon in the 60s and kept Trotsky a cult hero; even Mao could be held up as a symbol of revolution in 1968, regardless of the millions of innocent lives being lost in China at that very moment. Perhaps it’s a pointer to the dispossessed and dissatisfied that capitalism leaves in its wake that the search for an alternative inevitably led to the only proven alternative available for decades. At least there was an alternative available then.

Karl Marx was a noted admirer of Dickens in his day, praising the great fictional chronicler of the underclass at a time when the feudal societies of Europe and their belief in preordained Providence still held sway, despite the upsets of 1848; indeed, there’s a great deal in the Communist Manifesto that’s hard to disagree with, even now. The general gist of Marx’s radical rewrite of a society’s structure was seized upon as a viable solution to the failings of the decrepit autocracy that had governed the huge landmass of Russia for centuries in 1917, and it’s no surprise that this naturally excited outside observers, just as similar overseas events had in 1776 and 1789 respectively.

Ironically, it was the First World War – still a year away from the Armistice in 1917 – that dealt the killer blow to the old order rather than the efforts of Lenin. Of the four great Empires that entered into conflict in the summer of 1914 – Britain, Russia, Austro-Hungary and the Ottomans – only the British model survived intact after guns fell silent on the Western Front. Besides, there had been warning signs for years that the hereditary rule of the Tsars was something that couldn’t be sustained indefinitely; when the last Romanov ruler appealed to his cousin King George V for sanctuary following the sudden loss of his Absolutist privileges, it was telling that the constitutional British sovereign refused to help.

Just as the Declaration of Independence in 1776 didn’t abruptly curtail British rule of the 13 Colonies and the battle for them staggered on for another seven years, the October Revolution of 1917 didn’t transform Russia into a socialist state overnight. It took a further five years and a bloody civil war before the formation of the Soviet Union; the period of the so-called Red Terror that echoed the Terror following the French Revolution saw tactics of brutality for dispensing with enemies of the Bolsheviks that exceeded the far-from humane punishment practices of the Tsar, and it needs to be noted that this was undertaken on Lenin’s watch. However, when Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov died at the relatively young age of 53 in 1924, his deathbed reservations over his successor Stalin reflect concerns that Marx’s philosophies were poised to be further discarded in favour of a repressive, authoritarian regime that took the old order to a new level of state control over the individual.

The novelty of – on paper, at least – a Communist State that challenged both the democratic western models of the UK and (particularly) the US remained an alluring alternative to idealistic dreamers during the post-war era; this could encompass everyone from the Cambridge Spies to the counter-cultural figureheads of the 60s and 70s. It’s possible that many of these university-educated radicals were merely revelling in annoying their middle-class conservative parents; after all, the electorate as a whole in this country has always rejected the most extreme forms of Marxism, favouring a moderate compromise whenever it has lurched to the left, as in 1964 and 1974.

It’s also worth noting how the current crop of adolescent Corbynistas fail to see the ironies inherent in their anti-capitalist agenda when queuing up for a McDonald’s whilst scanning their Smartphones fresh from the latest march through Central London; perhaps it’s as symbolic of the times we live in as the fact that The Ramones have been reduced to a T-shirt brand worn by those who’ve never so much as whistled ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’. In the twenty-first century, everything that once meant anything has been marketed as a fashion statement for those members of the masses who seek to make an all-surface/no-substance point whilst imagining they’re somehow smashing the system. In a way, it’s no different from how a long-dead Hollywood star such as James Dean was sold as an eternal icon of cool for the generation that came of age in the 80s. As Jim Lea of Slade said in ‘Flame’, 1974’s seminal cinematic document of the rise and fall of Rock as an art-form distinguishable from the crassness of the advertising industry, ‘I’m no bloody fish-finger!’ In 2017, all heroes are fish-fingers.

A hundred years on from the October Revolution, we now have the knowledge of how those initial admirable ideals were corrupted by the seduction of absolute power, and we have the depressing evidence of how capitalism triumphs all, regardless of the efforts of Cuba, China and Venezuela. It’s a sobering realisation that what could, and should, have been a welcome respite from the often appalling process of how capitalism crushes the individual has simply shown that avaricious human nature dictates the outcome of each ideological advance so that it always reverts to type. We desperately need an alternative, but it seems our species is incapable of coming up with one.

© The Editor

8 thoughts on “REVOLUTION INC.

  1. The problem with both the pure models, capitalism and communism, is that they always lack moderation in their execution, hence they both create opposition and strife.

    Most people you meet in normal walks of life in every country are actually ‘moderates’, they are largely conservative with a small ‘c’, they want to work for adequate reward, look after their families and generally improve their lives over time, but they also accept the need for and benefits of common support systems underpinning the society in which they live.

    The harsh, in-your-face, capitalism says that it’s every man for himself and let the weak go to the wall: the statist communism says you can’t be an individual, we’ll tell you what’s best for you and we’ll provide what we think you need. Neither of those approaches maps onto the basics of everyman, who just wants to get one with his own life in a sensible balance of freedom and caring, moderation in other words.

    So far, the pure communist systems have generally failed, whether that’s the USSR or Venezuela – Cuba hangs on by its finger-nails, China is desperately trying to build a new model of managed capitalism before the original version takes over, North Korea is a dangerous joke.
    So far, capitalist systems have survived better, probably because they have been forced into moderation by their own democratic pressures – they may often generate noisy opposition within, but the fundamentals keep on running because, at that level, they’re closer to everyman than the alternative. I suspect it will broadly remain that way.

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  2. I will make a comment on Venezuela as I live very close and the residents come over to our island to buy toilet paper. What appears to have happened is many people got very rich off the oil revenues, but the majority of people out in the sticks did not see much benefit coming their way. So as is the way of democracy the majority decided that they want a share so they voted for Chavez. This caused the elite with money to move their money elsewhere and maybe even migrate. So the people that knew the system of business (which officials to bribe and that sort of thing) were lost. It is unfortunate, but a capitalist economy is the best we can do (with some social intervention on the part of government) .
    I will look forward to Corbyn being PM it will be interesting times.

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    1. Whilst I wouldn’t expect Corbyn to rise to the excesses of Venezuela, the risk is exactly as you describe – those with money, and thus the ability to shift it, will do precisely that, leaving those who haven’t or can’t to pick up the tab for all the promised goodies, some of it immediately, most of it in the future as the long-term debt-payments take effect.
      As you observe, it would be interesting times – ideally to observe from afar.

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      1. “those with money, and thus the ability to shift it, will do precisely that”… which is why we need a tax on “wealth” on assets that can’t be moved, primarily land, but also property, and possibly a luxury rate of VAT which can be applied to products above a certain price… (trainers that sell at £500 for example). There will be much rending of flash at the idea of a land value tax and corporation taxes based on turnover or revenues taken, but something needs to change and quickly and badly.

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      2. At least once we’ve left the EU, our Chancellor will then have the freedom to vary VAT as you propose – I’m old enough to remember Purchase Tax, which had similar principles. I look forward to the debates about what constitutes ‘luxury’.

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  3. One of the most informed, challenging and insightful internet commentators and youtube channel hosts is called Stefan Molyneux. Check out his posts, particularly his recent one on the Harvey Weinstein scandal; powerful stuff. SM runs what is known as the most widely listened/subscribed to philosophy channels in the world. He is, in my judgment, a wise, compassionate and brilliant man. He is not, in my judgment, “right wing” but he is a Libertarian and recognises, again in my judgment rightly, that the Left is totalitarian and violent in nature and that there are deeply worrying trends towards Marxist based totalitarianism across the West.
    Marx, as he points out by the way, was a deeply unpleasant individual who couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery, which tells you something about a system designed to tell everyone what to do and think and say.

    Anyway, to get to my point, he recently did a bit of “performance art” in a video called “Socialism explained in 24 hours.” This takes the form of him saying the words: “So. You try again. And your retarded system fails, but that’s OK, because it wasn’t really Socialism. So. you try again. But your retarded system fails, but that’s OK, because it wasn’t real Socialism. So. You try again, and your retarded system fail. But that’s OK, because it wasn’t real Socialism.” This goes on for 24 hours.

    Point made.

    By the way editor, sorry I have been away – I have been really ill.

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