Sunday, 24 September 2017

Imagining the Revolution.

In this centennial anniversary of the Russian Revolution, David Ruccio asks:

It's clear that people are unhappy with capitalism. And yet, Ruccio's question is a really difficult one to answer.


The question's difficulty, however, doesn't mean we can afford to leave it unanswered. Joey Eschrich gave it some much needed thought. Part of the problem, Eschrich thinks, is that:
"Everyone is interested in patching leaks in the hull of capitalism, making things better in one way or another—which is often inspiring and exciting work. But let's be real: Nobody is putting cash on the barrel to hear about a radical redistribution of social and economic resources."
The problem, as Eschrich explains, is that inspiring and exciting as that work may be (and as well-meaning, educated, and qualified as some of those doing that work are, I'd add), it assumes TINA to capitalism. That assumption, I'd further add, seems as unquestioned as it is fatalistically embraced; what's worse, it may prove self-defeating in the end.


Speaking for myself, I guess part of the answer to Ruccio's question is that we are too worried and disillusioned and demoralised and afraid to be hopeful. To put this in Peter Frase's terms (as quoted by Ben Tarnoff):
"The ruling class tells us that the future is inevitably bright; left-leaning curmudgeons reassure themselves that the future is inevitably gloomy."
As a left-leaning curmudgeon, I'd say that with climate change, automation, rising inequality, the curtailment of civil rights and the rise of the surveillance state and the Right, the pathetic state of what passes for Left nowadays, and now two rabid chimpanzees pointing at each other with nuclear weapons it's a lot easier to imagine dystopic futures, including Frase's "exterminism".

Still, however hard, maybe we should try thinking outside the square: the future is not set in stone, after all.


Thankfully, Richard Wolff seems to be doing just that. Eillie Anzilotti:



My imagination is a bit rusty, but I too shall try. I, however, pick something easier. Given that I think in terms of pictures, it's in those terms that I invite readers to join me.

So, picture yourself in Paris, May 1968. Or imagine the Battle of Stalingrad or the Normandy landings. What are the first things coming to your mind?

You probably thought of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, yes? Marshall Zhukov or general Eisenhower. But whatever you thought, I could bet you didn't think of 11 million French workers striking, or the anonymous Soviet/American soldiers in the photos below, or sweaty workers in a shipyard in Richmond or a munitions factory in Siberia.

Left: A; Centre: B; Right: C.

When people think of the Russian Revolution they think of images like this:

Larger-than-life characters: a historical hero or a monster, depending on where you stand in the ideological spectrum.

Whatever else those characters might have been, that's not how I think of the Revolution, Russian or not. This is:

Anonymous, unremarkable faces, whose names have been lost forever. That is the humble stuff of which history is made: common people, not angels, with all their failings, capable of mistake, fear and cruelty. The little people who for a moment grew to become titans, beyond their limitations.

This is what we can be:

Image Credits:
I believe the last 5 pictures to be in the public domain. If I am mistaken please drop me a line.

[A] "Into the jaws of death" (1944). Author: Chief Photographer's Mate (CPHoM) Robert F. Sargent. Source: Wikimedia. Work in the public domain.
[B] "Victor's flag" (1943). Author: Georgii Zelma. Source: Wikimedia. File licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-W0506-316 / Georgii Zelma [2] / CC-BY-SA 3.0
[C] "A 'Wendy Welder' at the Richmond Shipyards" (1943). Author: Ann Rosener, U.S. Office of War Information. Source: Wikimedia. Work in the public domain.

My usage of these or of any other picture does not imply their authors' endorsement of me or of the use I made of their works.


  1. The first article is a damning indictment of futurism and futurists. The task of imagining and fighting for a better future is left to activists. People like Richard Wolff. People like you :)

    1. Thanks, Bob, for your kind words. :-)

      But I'm neither in the same league as Richard Wolff nor is that a job for people like him only: that's a job for all of us.