Documentary Film About Russian Revolution

Dear Readers:

And continuing once again with the theme of the Russian Revolution.  (I seem to be on a roll, but hey hey, we are only one year short of the Centennial Anniversary!)

Well, one of the commenters on the Kremlin Stooge forum posted this youtube video, which is a wonderful documentary film about the Russian Revolution of 1917.   I didn’t have a chance to watch it, until yesterday.  It is an hour long, and really needs to be watched in one sitting.  Who has a spare hour nowadays?  Make the hour, I order you!

Even if you don’t agree with the communist politics which are espoused therein, but happen to be a history buff, then still watch the video.  It is fascinating to see people whom we have only read about in books, walking about on the screen, in context.  There are even nude scenes of Tsar Nicky (I kid you not!) where the Monarch and his cohorts are swimming around in a lake, showing off their bare heinies to the camera.  This is interesting stuff.

Background Info

The documentary footage was put together by a producer named Herman Axelbank, and narrated by Max Eastman (he of the grating but overly-dramatic voice).   The film is in English and was targeted to an American audience of the time (1937).   Putting a correct propaganda spin on it, the film is “Trotskyite” in its essence.  According to the wiki entry:

Tsar to Lenin is a documentary and cinematic record of the Russian Revolution, produced by Herman Axelbank.  It premiered on March 6, 1937, at the Filmarte Theatre on Fifty-Eighth Street in New York City. Pioneer American radical Max Eastman (1883-1969) narrates the film. The film, suppressed after its premier by the Stalinists of the American Communist Party,  was only available in a shortened format in the Library of Congress until its re-release in 2012 by the Socialist Equality Party (US).

Trotsky and Stalin: Eternal Rivals

The heroes of the movie are Lenin, Trotsky, and the revolutionary masses.  Stalin appears only once, towards the end.  Nothing bad is said about him, but his lack of screen time in itself is a snub.  Which may be one of the reasons why the American Communist Party took such a dislike to this movie.  One can only speculate.


A few more words about Max Eastman, the narrator of the film.

Max Eastman  is a very interesting character in his own right.  He was at the heart of the American radical and communist movement of that era.  And he wasn’t even Jewish! (Don’t be fooled by his dad’s name Samuel Elijah Eastman – they were a family of Congregationalist Protestants from upstate New York.)

Max Eastman, with Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay

Max followed a certain pattern of radicalization:  From left-wing causes such as feminism and poetry, he moved onto socialism, then communism.  He ended up in Greenwich Village, New York City, living in a loft with an actress wife and other artists.  They were like the group of young people in Puccini’s opera La bohème, except that they were communists.

Max was a fervent supporter of the Russian Revolution, but later became disillusioned, initially by some ugly realities of Soviet life that he witnessed first hand; but primarily by the Stalin purges of the mid-1930’s.  That was sort of the crunch time for many American radicals.  One had essentially 3 choices:

  1. Become a Trotskyite – Go, Team Bronstein!
  2. Support Stalin ALL THE WAY  (including purges) – Go Joe! or
  3. Drop out of the movement

Max Eastman picked Option #3.

According to his wiki entry, Max eventually wandered over all the way to the other side of the fence; became a supporter of capitalist free-market economics, and an anti-Communist.  Even wrote articles for the right-wing National Review – gasp!   But that’s something that people don’t understand and can’t comprehend about intellectuals:

Namely, they always have a choice.  An intellectual can support the working class today; wake up tomorrow and decide he supports the capitalists instead.  Nothing all that strange about it – the mind is a flexible thing.  Heck, even workers and peasants can switch sides, inside their own heads.  The only thing they can’t do, maybe, is get a job as a journalist.

As Lenin used to say:  “Facts are stubborn things.”

Things to Watch For

When you are watching the movie, here are a couple of things to watch for:

  • At 33:00 minutes in Lieutenant Schmidt makes a cameo appearance.  Russian literature buffs will recognize Schmidt as the father of Ostap Bender; as well as of Shura Balaganov, Mikheil Panikovsky, and several other dutiful sons.
  • At 45:00 minutes in, Admiral Kolchak is gifted with a live goose, by a group of grateful peasants.  Again, literary buffs will recognize this as a scene right out of Ilf and Petrov, except that it was Panikovsky who stole the goose!

And before I leave you to enjoy the movie, I have to make just one other point.  And this occurred to me last week, when I was putting together the “April Theses” posts.  I probably should have mentioned it then, but better late than never.

Namely, I believe that for 100 years now, people have been MIS-translating into English the Bolshevik slogan “Вся Власть Советам!” as “All Power to the Soviets!”

I believe that this is actually an incorrect translation.  The Russian word власть (“vlast”) has two meanings – an abstract one (“power”) and a more concrete one (“government”).

In his April Theses, Lenin was proposing, not some abstract concept, like the Soviets should suddenly acquire super-powers and shoot up into outer space; but rather a concrete and even prosaic idea:  That the Provisional Government should be overturned, and that the network of soviets (=councils) should assume governmental authority.  Like pass legislation, make foreign policy, and pretty much rule the country.  That sort of thing.

Hence, the translation should have been:  “Transfer all Government functions to the Soviets”

And with that out of the way, please grab your popcorn and enjoy our feature presentation:

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