By Dr David Hughes
To commemorate the centenary of the October Revolution, the School of Social and Political Sciences was pleased to invite Chris Marsden, the National Secretary of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP), to introduce a film screening of Tsar to Lenin, a 1937 documentary record of the Revolution directed by Herman Axelbank. The film features original footage from over 100 different sources, arranged chronologically with narration by Max Eastman. 88 students attended the screening, which was followed by a lively 70-minute question and answer session.
Opinions about the Revolution and its legacy were strongly divided, and students are to be commended for their first-rate contributions. Important issues were discussed, such as historical truth, censorship, and the politics of memory. Critical questions were asked concerning the correct interpretation of 1917, the differences between the First, Second, and Third Internationals, and the fault lines between communism and fascism. Also discussed were the role of nationalism and war in sustaining capitalist social relations, the role of fourteen imperialist armies in undermining the new workers’ state, and the antagonistic relationship between Trotskyism and Stalinism.
The latter stages of the discussion addressed the contemporary relevance of Tsar to Lenin. The end of the Cold War did not mark “the End of History” (Fukuyama) or the end of the “short twentieth century” (Hobsbawm), Mr. Marsden argued. On the contrary, the intervening years have seen historically unprecedented levels of social inequality worldwide, never-ending wars by the leading capitalist powers, and the utter failure of mainstream politics – on both the right and the left – to do anything about these fundamental issues. Tsar to Lenin, it was argued, shows that an alternative – i.e. a state run by and for the working class – is possible, but only with the requisite revolutionary leadership and only from the perspective of proletarian internationalism.
All in all, this was an extremely high-quality session that would have continued beyond its allotted two and a half hours had time not run out. Twelve students (one in seven) came to shake Mr. Marsden’s hand and to thank him in person after the session, suggesting that Marxist ideas alleged to be discredited after 1989 are once again finding resonance within the student community.