The celebrations of the 1917 centenary were striking for both their diversity and the diminishment of the event they commemorated, from Moscow’s low-key celebrations, to the missing or halfhearted remembrances organized in the former Soviet and socialist countries, to the West’s many platitudes—all of them stridently contradicting the initial energy of 1917. Embarrassment and hollowness were the key words in Russia, where, in 2017, 1917 was presented either as a “world historical event” illustrating the country’s greatness and importance by the very fact that it had taken place there, or it was buried under occasional studies of local events, with very little room left over for ideas. In the remaining post-Soviet states, as well as in the former socialist countries, silence often fell on what was until recently a hot terrain of polemics and damnation, well represented by successive waves of destruction of monuments celebrating the “Russian Revolution” that culminated in the Ukrainian Leninopad of 2013–2014, and by the opening of museums recording the suffering caused by the regimes that 1917 had brought about, albeit indirectly, from Budapest and Warsaw to the Baltics. The diversity in the “memory” and judgment of the October Revolution was particularly marked in the western and eastern parts of a continent that was formally, if partially, integrated into the European Union, whose contradictions and problems are also the product of the diverse historical experience that 1917 generated. In these countries, as well as in the United States and Canada, the waning of a once-powerful myth was embodied in the triteness of celebrations that often repeated old clichés and delusions, as well as in the meagerness of intellectual debates that lacked the vitality of those that accompanied the 1789 bicentenary. These debates often ignored the interpretive revolution that took place in Soviet history in the decade following 1991. Moreover, the lack of reception of the results of these new interpretations is in and of itself proof of the lessening of the appeal of an event that perhaps few want to think about, not least because in the past it had provoked so much cogitation and so much disappointment. The diversity and multiplicity of its presence, however, still attest that 1917 was truly a world-historical event. Because of this, we have, and have had, many 1917s since the very beginning and well beyond the traditional binary oppositions of February versus October, Reds versus Whites, and so on. Nineteen-seventeen’s many 1917s were immediately present, too, in the minds and writings of contemporaries, and they continued to live, differentiate, and multiply in the following decades in major political, intellectual, and historiographical debates both within and outside academia. In this essay, I try to reconstruct the main lines of this evolution, following a chronological order marked by often dramatic changes in the ideas, interpretations, impressions, and readings of an event thus endowed with a life cycle of its own. I first analyze the interwar years, when the accent was still on the revolution and its possible meanings and readings. Then I examine war and victory as a turning point that opened the way to the gradual but unstoppable replacement of 1917 by 1945. Finally, I assess the marking of 1917 in the post‑1991 era. Authors and ideas were selected on the basis of their relevance; it goes without saying that the selection was influenced and restricted by the limits of my knowledge.

A Century of 1917s: Ideas, Representations, and Interpretations of the October Revolution, 1917–2017

andrea graziosi
2019

Abstract

The celebrations of the 1917 centenary were striking for both their diversity and the diminishment of the event they commemorated, from Moscow’s low-key celebrations, to the missing or halfhearted remembrances organized in the former Soviet and socialist countries, to the West’s many platitudes—all of them stridently contradicting the initial energy of 1917. Embarrassment and hollowness were the key words in Russia, where, in 2017, 1917 was presented either as a “world historical event” illustrating the country’s greatness and importance by the very fact that it had taken place there, or it was buried under occasional studies of local events, with very little room left over for ideas. In the remaining post-Soviet states, as well as in the former socialist countries, silence often fell on what was until recently a hot terrain of polemics and damnation, well represented by successive waves of destruction of monuments celebrating the “Russian Revolution” that culminated in the Ukrainian Leninopad of 2013–2014, and by the opening of museums recording the suffering caused by the regimes that 1917 had brought about, albeit indirectly, from Budapest and Warsaw to the Baltics. The diversity in the “memory” and judgment of the October Revolution was particularly marked in the western and eastern parts of a continent that was formally, if partially, integrated into the European Union, whose contradictions and problems are also the product of the diverse historical experience that 1917 generated. In these countries, as well as in the United States and Canada, the waning of a once-powerful myth was embodied in the triteness of celebrations that often repeated old clichés and delusions, as well as in the meagerness of intellectual debates that lacked the vitality of those that accompanied the 1789 bicentenary. These debates often ignored the interpretive revolution that took place in Soviet history in the decade following 1991. Moreover, the lack of reception of the results of these new interpretations is in and of itself proof of the lessening of the appeal of an event that perhaps few want to think about, not least because in the past it had provoked so much cogitation and so much disappointment. The diversity and multiplicity of its presence, however, still attest that 1917 was truly a world-historical event. Because of this, we have, and have had, many 1917s since the very beginning and well beyond the traditional binary oppositions of February versus October, Reds versus Whites, and so on. Nineteen-seventeen’s many 1917s were immediately present, too, in the minds and writings of contemporaries, and they continued to live, differentiate, and multiply in the following decades in major political, intellectual, and historiographical debates both within and outside academia. In this essay, I try to reconstruct the main lines of this evolution, following a chronological order marked by often dramatic changes in the ideas, interpretations, impressions, and readings of an event thus endowed with a life cycle of its own. I first analyze the interwar years, when the accent was still on the revolution and its possible meanings and readings. Then I examine war and victory as a turning point that opened the way to the gradual but unstoppable replacement of 1917 by 1945. Finally, I assess the marking of 1917 in the post‑1991 era. Authors and ideas were selected on the basis of their relevance; it goes without saying that the selection was influenced and restricted by the limits of my knowledge.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11588/768039
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