at a distance

In this linocut, based on a still from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis, the heroine Maria is bringing children to witness the gardens of the rich. Maria is adored by the oppressed workers. The hero, in pursuit of love for Maria, descends into the hell inhabited by the workers and, though love, becomes the mediator between the propertied and the proletariat.

Fritz Lang’s film was criticised at the time for its naivety. Cutting the block, I listened to the audio version of China Mielville’s October, a fast paced narrative of the two revolutions, a decade before the film, that first forced the abdication of Tsar Nikolai Alexandrovich Romonav, the “bovine” Emperor of All Russia, and then replaced the provisional government with that of the Bolsheviks. Through this, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, “Lenin”, having returned to Petrograd to acclaim, is now in hiding in Finland while the counter-revolutionary plot by General Kornilov is foiled by the city’s workers and soldiers. Lenin guides the revolution, demanding rule by the soviets (workers’ and soldiers’ committees), an end to economic injustice and purity of purpose. He rails that the Bolsheviks must support a bourgeoise revolution as a pre-condition to a proletarian one, but not collaborate with that bourgeoise government. He tacks and shifts his ground, fine tuning his writings in response to events, ever sensitive to the subtle twists in political mood, seeking the precise historical moment when to act decisively for a workers’ state. But in exile, he receives news late, writes always behind the times and his tardy essays are used selectively by others to justify their contrary actions. I am minded of that other spiritual guide to a revolution that eventually acquired an empire, Paul, on the road and in exile, working on hearsay and old news, writing letters to admonish his first century adherents and converts.

10 responses to “at a distance

      • I was thinking that Lenin had some good ideas and insightful observations, but they were twisted and used by those who only wanted the same old thing–power.

      • Yes. Writing this I was mindful of the scale of the destructive murderous actions of the Communists in the old CCCP. But none of that had yet happened when these events took place nor I guess could it be imagined. Though I was struck by the way reactionary forces resorted to pogroms to whip up populist anger – a consistent theme through this.

      • The epilogue to this book does not neglect to recount and challenge the bloody history after the October revolution.
        Lenin, weakened by strokes, writes a warning and calls for Joseph Stalin to be removed as General Secretary.

      • I read another book by China Mielville that I liked a lot–this sounds like it’s worth looking for. I’ll check the library to see if they have it.

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