1917: John Reed in Petrograd
Begin by watching a 4 minute clip from the 1981 film Reds. In the film, Warren Beatty stars as John Reed, a left-wing American writer who documented the Russian Revolution in 1917.
Read the following passage from Reed’s preface to his account, Ten Days that Shook the World (first published by Boni and Liveright, 1919):
It is still fashionable, after a whole year of the Soviet Government, to speak of the Bolshevik insurrection as an “adventure.” Adventure it was, and one of the most marvellous mankind ever embarked upon, sweeping into history at the head of the toiling masses, and staking everything on their vast and simple desires. Already the machinery had been set up by which the land of the great estates could be distributed among the peasants. The Factory-Shop Committees and the Trade Unions were there to put into operation workers’ control of industry. In every village, town, city, district and province there were Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, prepared to assume the task of local administration.
No matter what one thinks of Bolshevism, it is undeniable that the Russian Revolution is one of the great events of human history, and the rise of the Bolsheviki a phenomenon of world-wide importance. Just as historians search the records for the minutest details of the story of the Paris Commune, so they will want to know what happened in Petrograd in November, 1917, the spirit which animated the people, and how the leaders looked, talked and acted. It is with this in view that I have written this book.
In the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks (later Communists) promised not just “Peace! Bread! Land!” but to achieve it through a radical reordering of Russian society:
Power will be transferred to the hands of the revolutionary workers, soldiers, and peasants; in that case it will mean a complete abolition of landlord tyranny, immediate check of the capitalists, immediate proposal of a just peace [to end World War I]. (Reed quoting a Bolshevik paper in 1917, 89).
1931: John Scott in Magnitogorsk
By the 1931 when another American, John Scott, traveled to the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin was in power. He pressed forward with agricultural collectivization and achieved impressive industrial gains while much of the West was marred in the Great Depression. Yet it also came at a cost: a pervasive state security apparatus that targeted kulaks and other “purge” victims, sending them to the gulags or directly to execution squads. One place where these projects played out was Magnitogorsk, a city that underwent rapid change as a result of Stalin's First Five-Year Plan (1928-32).
Left: Construction of Magnitogorsk, 1930. Right: Location of Magnitogorsk.
And yet the Soviet Union had again found a way to inspire Scott. With a partner, read selections from the following document (Google Doc) and answer the questions, below.
Everyone reads section A and answers the following questions:
Then read the selection (B, C, or D) assigned to your team. Your task is to draw parallels you can find between Scott and last night’s homework.
Debrief as a class.