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This year marks the centenary of the 1917 Revolution in Russia. In our coverage of it, we treat the notion of revolution in the broadest possible sense. Not only did February and October 1917 change the political and socioeconomic system in the societies that made up the Russian Empire; in many respects, they also transformed the world. Today the legacy of 1917 is in the centre of fierce ideological debates and even political struggle. Two issues of NZ, 115th and 116th, focus on the centenary of the most important revolution in the history of contemporary Russia.
Issue 115 establishes a theoretical and regional framework in which to consider the 1917 Revolution as a historical event. A number of its sections share a common thread: a conceptual discussion of the Revolution from a historical viewpoint.
The issue opens with Alexander Kustarev's column Political Imaginary, featuring his essay “One Hundred Years of Soviet Democracy”. A brief survey of Soviet democracy is followed by a rather paradoxical assumption about the relevance of that experience today, illustrated by an example: the idea of “deliberative democracy”, which is gathering momentum as Western multi-party democracy declines.
The first thematic section of the issue, “Revolution as a Form of History”, highlights a theoretical aspect of revolution related to the historical significance of 1917 and universal nature of it consequences. The prominent philosopher and sociologist Johann Arnason analyses the notion of revolution as a historical event, looking at its duration, distinctive qualities and position within the construct of “multiple modernities”, developed in his other works. In his commentary to Arnason's piece, Mikhail Maslovsky identifies links between the construct of multiple modernities and Max Weber's ideas. The discussion of revolution as a longer-lasting event than what it is traditionally considered to be in historiography and political science continues in Georgy Derluguian's article “The Soviet Revolution 1905—1945: Centenary Notes”. Here the 1917 Revolution is given a much wider chronological scope than usual (Derluguian begins his analysis with the prehistoric period before moving on to traditional agrarian societies) and placed in a global historical context. Present-day debates about the significance and indeed the definition of the 1917 events in Russia are neatly captured by the article's first sentence: “At our first meeting in November 1987, Immanuel Wallerstein took me by surprise, asking: «What makes you so sure that in, let's say, 2017, to be on the safe side, on the 7th of November, the capital of the USSR will hold a parade commemorating the events whose very name will probably be greatly controversial by then?»”. The subject of 1917 and multiple modernities is further studied in Igor Kobylin's “The Revolution «Provincialised»: A Civilised Approach at a Postcolonial Turning”. Kobylin examines the mechanism by which the 1917 Revolution was transformed from a global, universally significant event into a purely local, national one, rooted in the traditions of “Russian society” and “Russian culture”; “nationalisation” of the kind that 1917 underwent in the works of Sergey Kara-Murza, a contemporary Russian commentator of a “left-patriotic persuasion”.
This section is complemented by two interviews with philosophers whose research interests include revolutionary theories and ideas of building a just society. Richard Marshall talks to the American philosopher Todd May, who co-founded the theory of poststructuralist anarchism, and to Lisa Herzog, the author of the book “Freedom not just for the Rich: A Plea for a Well-Understood Liberalism”.
The change that occurred in the universalist pathos of the 1917 Revolution as a result of its interaction with national movements, local contexts and various historical and cultural traditions is the subject of another major section of issue 115, titled “The Revolution's National Face”. In the opening article, “The Revolution and the Nation (1917—1920)”, Alexander Shubin overviews the reaction of the “ethnic territories” of the former Russian Empire to the revolutionary events, which, in their turn, acquire various regional characteristics. Konstantin Tarasov's “Anti-Imperial Revolution: Ethnic Provinces and the Demise of the Russian Empire” talks about the same issues, focusing on an extremely important, and often underestimated, aspect of 1917. The Revolution was not merely a movement against the “old rule” and exploiting classes; it was, among other things, an anti-colonial war, a fact that Tarasov demonstrates using several provinces of the former empire, from the Baltic regions to Caucasus to Bessarabia, as examples. Adib Khalid tracks the unfolding of the Revolution and subsequent events in Turkestan. An interesting analogy between the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 and that of Austria-Hungary in 1918 can be found in Alexander Bobrakov-Timoshkin's piece “«Today It's Russia, Tomorrow It'll be Us!»Czech Debates over the Russian Revolution”. It examines in detail the ambiguous attitude to the events of 1917 in Russia that was typical of the main players of the Czech national movement, later the leaders of the First Czechoslovak Republic. Vadim Damye recreates the biography of the Indian revolutionary activist M.P.T. Acharya (1887—1951), the transformation of his political views, his increasingly tense relationship with the Bolsheviks after their victory, and the influence of 1917 on him.
The main theme of the issue's second section finds an interesting counterpoint in “1917 and I”, an essay by the British architecture critic and commentator Owen Hatherley, included in Culture of Politics; an account of growing up in a hardcore lefty family, surrounded by communist ideas. In his essay “A Policeman Born of a Revolutionary Spirit: The Case of Latvia”, published in Morals and Mores, the Latvian writer Pauls Bankovskis reflects on how various revolutionary notions (the titular policeman refers to the armed nation) turned into their complete opposites in post-revolutionary Soviet life. Finally, in Case Study Alexander Suslov offers a fascinating story continuing the general theme of the universal versus the national. Its subject is the work of Henryk Sienkiewicz and his views of the 1905—1907 Revolution in the Russian Empire, including its Polish parts.
The 115th NZ issue concludes with a New Books section, which features reviews of a number of recent releases marking the centenary of the Revolution, contributed by Ronald Suny, Mark Edele, Sergey Dolutsky and others.