Nick's Reviews > October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

October by China Miéville
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bookshelves: history
Read 2 times. Last read March 9, 2018 to April 4, 2018.

I picked this up because I felt like I never really had a good understanding of how the Russian revolution progressed, and the chance to read about it in a narrative written by a master storyteller who is also an ardent Marxist was too great to pass up.

The book itself does what it set out to do: tell the story of the revolution in a narrative way so that the reader can come away with an understanding of what happened in 1917. As such it is not Mieville's greatest work, but it didn't have to be.

What it did beyond that, though, was to raise questions about what the revolution means today. I was struck by the parallels between the disgruntlement in Tsarist Russia and the disgruntlement that gave rise to the Trump presidency in the US today. The fundamental difference between the two is that the structures that allowed for a Socialist revolution in 1917 have largely been dismantled in our society. There are no unions in factories that can step into a quasi-governmental role. Soldiers in our military have been inculcated to not think for themselves and to believe that questioning the government's decisions is unpatriotic. There are no widely distributed and read newspapers that can share ideas of how things could be different, and the online equivalents today (blogs, fringe sites, partisan news outlets) are too fragmented, hysterical, and lacking in deep thought and analysis to play that role.

Sadly, I think that these lacks make it much easier for an authoritarian demagogue to take advantage of that disgruntlement now than in 1917. In 1917, the leadership of the revolution was wide-spread and contentious. It was much more challenging for any one person to seize control of the revolution, and it ultimately took pressure from external forces to drive Russia into authoritarian hands. Mieville makes it clear that he thinks that with widespread external support for the revolution and an early end to the World War, the revolution might have succeeded; and I think he may be right.

So what is the ultimate lesson of 1917? I think it may just be that the only way to ensure the power of the people and avoid authoritarian rule is to encourage local action and governance, and to never assume that things must be the way they are.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 24, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
May 24, 2017 – Shelved
March 9, 2018 – Started Reading
April 4, 2018 – Shelved as: history
April 4, 2018 – Finished Reading

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