“October” masterfully depicts the intricacies of the Russian Revolution

You say you want a revolution? It helps to have the passion for power. But first, prepare to have a meeting. Then another. And a few dozen others.

Does anyone keep the minutes? Good. They might be relevant a century from now when a writer like China Miéville comes forward.

British science fiction and fantasy author Miéville, best known as a pioneer of a genre called “strange fiction”, might seem like an unlikely chronicler of the most significant revolt of the 20th century. But Miéville’s academic background and interest in leftism give him the knowledge he needs to handle a potentially mind-numbing task. In his new book October: The Story of the Russian RevolutionMiéville sifts through the extraordinary disagreements, debates, and debacles that have accompanied the Russian Reds at every step of the path to revolution.

Miéville does not neglect the misery, confusion and violence that led to the revolution. He is particularly evocative when recounting the chaotic street scenes.

But much of “October’s” value lies in its grasp of how the intricacies of human decision-making play out in Petrograd (the former and future St. Petersburg), Moscow, and beyond. Nothing is predetermined, neither the rise of Lenin nor Russia‘s withdrawal from the First World War. Even dictatorship, authoritarianism and communism are not sure things.

In hindsight, however, it seems inevitable that Russia waited for massive change even as the men in charge stood against the defenses of denial, refusing to respond fully to the pressures of war and poverty.

Tragically, Tsar Nicholas II pulled off the rare trick of combining absolute power with absolute incompetence. While he found the inner emotion of being eternally in love with his wife, the Tsar blithely ignored the misery of his own country.

At the start of the revolution in February 1917, liberals and socialists in St. Petersburg united with a mass of soldiers, criminals and drunks, “armed with what they found” – a kitchen knife, machine gun rifles, a pole for clearing tramlines. They wanted the legislature, the Duma, to act, but it “does not want, even now, to rebel against Tsar Nicholas II – even against his orders to dissolve”.

As the crisis deepened, the Tsar’s henchmen either facilitated his confusion or tried in vain to make him concentrate. “There is anarchy in the capital,” he was telegraphed. “The government is paralyzed. The Tsar refuses to answer and mocks the next morning’s message: “The situation is getting worse.

It was just the beginning. But of what? This is where the conversation – the endless meetings and minutes – becomes crucial.

As Miéville explains, many Russian leftists believed that revolution could only happen one way. First the bourgeoisie, the middle class, would take power. Then the lower classes would rise. To get to the finish line, socialists had to form an alliance with the privileged and piggyback on them until it was time to drive them out of power so the proletariat could finally take over.

Even a revolutionary named Vladimir Lenin agreed with this idea of ​​a democratic and capitalist revolution to open the way to socialism. However, as Miéville writes, Lenin also had a stubborn tendency towards self-glorification and an aversion to coalitions and compromises which became his trademark, even though he sometimes supported collaboration with rivals.

But while Lenin despised the idea of ​​working together, this incredibly diverse nation was full of voices crying out to be heard and obeyed. Some marched and went on strike. Some sang, played music and read poetry at rallies. And many met in “soviets”.

“Russia that year was riddled with committees, caucuses, congresses, permanent and semi-permanent, permanent and non-permanent,” writes Miéville. “Meetings proliferated and nausea registered well.”

The leaders of the revolutionary movement had a particularly important decision to make. Would they continue Russia’s war against Germany and her allies? It seemed for a moment that the country would continue to fight as even the Liberals balked at the idea of ​​stepping down.

Meanwhile, the violence served other purposes at home. In Petrograd, radicals seized weapons and attempted to arrest government ministers. When they approached the mansion where their allies the Bolsheviks were meeting, one of the participants shouted, horrified, at the idea of ​​militants running alone: ​​“Without the approval of the Central Committee?

As Miéville writes, “How easy it is to forget that people are not waiting for permission to move”.

It’s easy to make fun of all those endless Russian revolutionary meetings. But they are also a sign of serious thought about serious matters, of an uncertain future that could still have been shaped, of a moment in history when history itself lay in boredom around tables.

The moment has passed, taking with it many hopes, dreams and lives. Master in the art of leadership, Lenin – the man who would forever be engraved in the memorial stone – created the rock of a country in 1917. And it took decades for Russians to pull through.