Monday, August 21, 2006
Book Learning #19.
10 days that shook the world by John Reed.
Almost literally, a blow by blow account of the Soviet revolution of November 1917, This was recommended to me by the father of a college roommate, way back in the day. We were at a Bristol City game and began to numb the agony by plotting revolution. Ringers’ father told me to read this, one of the greatest acts of journalism of the twentieth century. Him being a journalist and the man who had gotten me into the game for free I vowed to take him up on his advice.
The problem was finding a copy. In the 10 years that followed, I would, from time to time make attempts to seek out the book, still feeling it to be part of an unfinished literary quest, a hangover from a freezing night at Ashton Gate. Many times it slipped from my consciousness only to pop up whilst flipping through channels and seeing red guards ‘storming’ the winter palace or catching a snippet of ‘Dr Zchivago’. I tried Amazon and a variety of other online sources but it was always reported back as out of print or for sale by some weird dealer in South Dakota. As you can only imagine, delight was unbounded when browsing through the Barnes & Noble on 7th ave in Park Slope I found a copy right there. Sitting on the shelf.
Reed was an American journalist, sympathetic to the cause of the Bolsheviks and the Soviets. He recorded events in Petrograd (mostly) and partly in Moscow. Such events as he encounters are recorded in extraordinary detail and a fine tuned journalistic ear. He admits in his preface that the first two or three chapters are rather hard going, a chronology and list of terms used and organizations, and golly, what a lot of organizations. Much of the book reads like a scene from Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” “We, the Judean People’s liberation front reject the proposal etc etc”.
The book covers multiple debates, arguments and even a few gunfights between any of the myriad of different groups aiming for ultimate power in the broken Russia of November 1917.
It’s an amazing read; not least because of some of the insane detail he regales us with,
Trotsky attempting to enter the Smolny Institute without the correct pass “I had it a moment ago” claims the visionary behind international socialist revolution. “That’s what they all say” replies the Red Guard who’s having none of it.
The difficulty getting a taxi driver to take you to the scene of the action “I’m not going there, people are shooting” and where to get a good vegetarian meal in revolutionary Petrograd (a restaurant called ‘I eat nobody’).
I began reading this whilst sunbathing on a yacht, hardly the place to be thinking about the struggles of the proletariat, I ended it on the shores of Lake Michigan which, whilst no winter in Petrograd had a slightly more egalitarian feel to it.
I really wanted to revive the struggle, to establish the People’s Socialist Republic of East Anglia, to throw off the capitalist , Imperialist English yoke, to smash their guns and create a society of equals, based upon a few simple truths and a deadly sinister secret police force with cool leather uniforms.
This book also takes you to another place, another time; an amazing sense of optimism permeates the text. A fine read.