Whatever attitude one has toward the Russian Revolution, there is no doubt that it changed the entire course of the 20th century. The conditions that preceded this monumental event remain with us to this day.
“Tsar to Lenin” premiered in 1937, and it was the product of years of work by filmmaker Herman Axelbank. The movie is narrated by early United States radical Max Eastman. Its unequaled collection of archival footage provides a sense of the popular participation in, and the scope of, the Russian Revolution.
In February 1917, the working class of Russia overthrew Tsar Nicholas II and, consequently, the centuries-old Romanov Dynasty. The people were motivated by intense opposition to mass impoverishment, political repression and the consequences of World War I, which led to the slaughter of millions on the battlefields of Europe.
The capitalist government that replaced the rule of the tsar, however, continued the war and defended the property of the landlords and capitalists. In October 1917, a second, socialist revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party, created the world’s first workers’ state, inspiring and invigorating the struggles of the oppressed masses the world over for decades to come.
The Russian Revolution — and the complex political problems that arose from it — dominated the 20th century. World history after 1917 cannot be understood without reference to the Russian Revolution and its international impact. Across the so-called Third World, it inspired anti-imperialist movements. In Germany, the failure of the German Revolution in 1923 and the betrayals of the Stalinists paved the way for Hitler’s rise to power. In the United States, the social gains of the 1930s and 1960s were due in large part to the Russian Revolution — the ruling class here was forced to grants reforms for fear of repeating the so-called the Russian experience.
Many claimed that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the end of socialism. Twenty-five years later, what do we have? World capitalism is barreling headlong toward world war. Far-right nationalist and fascistic movements are on the rise. There is a massive effort to censor the internet. Environmental degradation threatens the entire planet. Levels of social inequality prevail that have no historic precedent, with a handful of billionaires controlling more wealth than half the world’s population.
Nov. 7 marked the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution — which occurred on October 25, according to the Russian calendar used at the time. In other words, the conditions that created the Russian Revolution remain very much with us today, which heightens the relevance of “Tsar to Lenin” in our contemporary world.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Nov. 27 print edition. Email Isaac Oseas at [email protected]nyunews.com