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Chris Brandt, Kunal Chattopadhyay, Lindsey Colleen, Cliff Connor, Pete Dolack, Gary Johnston, Sheena King, Paul Le Blanc, Matt Meyer, Barbara Mutnick, Mary-Ellen Sanger, Moe Seager, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Peter Solenberger
By Chris Brandt:
The 20th century was the graveyard of
ideologies. Fascism. Nazism. Stalinism. And our own undead—corporate
capitalism—that is taking too long to die. Of all the ideologies in whose
names so many vicious wars have been fought and crimes committed, only the one
that preceded Stalinism still has something to teach us. It is that history—of the October Revolution one hundred years ago—that Steve lays out for us in
Steve's poem tells the history of that
revolution, from 1917 to World War Two, and tells it from the inside by a
composite character, a Russian worker who experienced all of it. So it is
an ambitious poem, but also a brave one, for it does not shirk the telling of
the revolution's betrayal, the brutal treason from within by those who had the
means to seize power but had not the vision or the courage to relinquish it to
the people for whom they claimed to be constructing a Utopia.
The question the poem asks—not in so many
words, but by its very existence—is, what are we doing to make the
world a cleaner, healthier, more equitable and more beautiful place? It is only
from where we live that we can make revolution, begin the world over again as
Tom Paine put it, for revolution must always be begun again, forever. This poem
is one of the ways to do that.
Chris Brandt is a poet resident in New York City and actor-manager of the Medicine Show Theater in Manhattan.
* * * * *
By Kunal Chattopadhyay
A poem is not an essay. Steve Bloom’s “One Hundred Years,” however, looks
back at an older tradition of narrative poems, where events are described. From
the Mahabharata or the Iliad and the Psalms of the Old Testament through later
orature, narrative poetry originated in the stage of human culture when the poet
was speaking to masses of listeners. This was not istoria, though the debt of
Herodotus to Homer is clearly discernible. But Thucydides made a sharp
distinction between the poet, who sang what he felt like, and the historian, who
was careful about facts.
When today we think of writing narrative poems with history as our subject,
of course, history in turn impacts our writing. Steve Bloom looks at left wing
historiography of the Russian Revolution when he reflects in his long poem about
the revolution. At the same time, this is in a sense the continuation of a
subaltern tradition—the voice of the working class, defeated only a few years
after the revolution, reminding the present that the great revolution was not
the same as the Stalinist counter revolution. Bloom reminds us that it was the
collective proletariat, supported by soldiers, rather than the leaders, who
played the major role in the October insurrection. We hear of our past, made
living. We are reminded that the struggles of the exploited, too, are fit
subjects for long poems. If the Russian revolution was an abject failure why
then do bourgeois professors, ideologues, and journalists constantly feel the
need to shout that it was a failure? Is that not because there constantly peeps
out an alternative narrative, of how toiling people toppled regimes and created
their own rule, imposing a democratic structure the like of which the world has
not seen in any subsequent case for a century? Let the poem carry the reader
back to those wonderful months and, yes, even to the aftermath in which the
struggle was defeated, because despite that defeat—as the poem reminds us—the
struggle itself, along with its vision of a more just and equitable world, can
never be erased from history, from our memory or our hopes for the future.
Kunal Chattopadhyay is Professor of Comparative Literature Jadavpur University,
and a member of Radical Socialist (India)
* * * * *
By Lindsey Colleen
The more we work on your poem, the more we like it. It is a wonderful
mixture of pressing narrative, the whimsical, and the analytic. It also captures
the vastness, the depth, and the speed of a revolution, partly through the
close-up images of actual individuals, partly through the delicately chosen
quotations from the greatest writers of the time, and focused on the essential
question of the working class organizations taking power.
Lindsey Collen is a Mauritian activist and poet who is part of a team with
Aanas Ruhomally that is translating “One Hundred Years” into Mauritian Kreol.
* * * * *
By Cliff Connor
One Hundred Years: The Struggle to Remember the
The centennial is upon us, but who would know?
Where are the festivities and speeches, the parades and
pageants, the conferences and colloquia, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary
of the historic watershed of the twentieth century?
Officialdoms of East and West are whistling softly through their
respective cemeteries. The high priests of elite and popular culture are
pretending to have forgotten. Revolution? What
It’s too soon. One hundred years is way too
No matter that every person who participated in or witnessed it
is dead and gone. It has not been forgotten. Not by a long shot. The
overpowering official silence is backhanded testimony to the power of its
The October Revolution of 1917 divided Russian society with a
line of blood that engendered enduring hatreds among its enemies, not only in
Russia but everywhere in the world. It unleashed passionate emotions that have not
abated to this day. The current Russian government is deliberately ignoring the
centennial because—and this is its official reason—“Russia remains too
divided over the consequences of that fateful year.” [NYT, Mar. 10, 2017]
Victor Hugo described the indelible memory of the French
Revolution as “the great fearsome specter of the ages.” No matter how often you
try to erase it from history, he said, “it’s back the next day.” The Phantom of
reborn in the man who has
no job, in the woman who has no bread, in the girl who has to sell her body, in
the child who hasn't learned to read; he's reborn in the garrets of Rouen; he's
reborn in the basements of Lille; he's reborn in the unheated tenement, in the
wretched mattress without blankets, in the unemployed, in the proletariat, in
the brothel, in the jailhouse, in your laws that show no pity, in your schools
that give no future.
Oeuvres Complètes (Paris, 1910), vol. XV,
524. (My translation.)
So long as the underlying conditions that generated earthshaking
rebellion in 1789 and 1917 persist, the Ghost of Revolution Future will remain a
formidable cloud on the horizon. Small wonder that the enemies of revolution who
control the world’s governments would like to forget—and would like
everyone to forget—the momentous events of 1917 that
transformed Russia and turned the world upside down.
Those agents of
forgetfulness reflect the fears of a handful of billionaires who today control
most of the world’s resources. Who, meanwhile, will speak for the billions of
humans who remain mired in hunger, disease, oppression, and grinding poverty—who yearn for twenty-first-century revolutions of their
In various parts of the world, some political parties that trace
their origins to the Russian Revolution may observe its centennial. Some
historians and journalists will undoubtedly commemorate it with valuable new
books and articles to defend the factual essence of the Revolution against
rightwing ideologues who trash it.
But adequately remembering a great transformation requires a
subjective as well as an objective dimension. “Bliss it was in that dawn to be
alive,” William Wordsworth tells us, describing the euphoria of 1789 in France.
How did the Russian Revolution feel to those who experienced
it? 1917 needs poets as well to impart to us, one hundred years on, the
emotional memory—the excitement, the jubilation, the passion, the
rapture—of those liberating days of
In One Hundred Years, Steve Bloom has given us
an epic poem worthy of the October Revolution.
Cliff Connor is the author of A People's History of Science
* * * * *
by Pete Dolack
Peace. Bread. Land. Sound simple? They are anything but.
and that is the whole slogan. As with many things that seem so simple, some are
inclined to say: Why, anybody could have thought that; or done that. The only
response is: So why didn’t they? Or you?
No, the Mensheviks didn’t think
of that. Nor the Socialist Revolutionaries’ leadership. Certainly not the
bourgeois parties—such words would be unthinkable for such folks. They still
are. Revolutionaries ought to think up such words. In the weeks and months
following the February Revolution, it was the Bolsheviks who did.
that flowed “All power to the soviets!”—another slogan. Another slogan so simple
that few others could think of it. Or say it.
What do these “simple”
slogans have to do with one another? Everything. For, as Steve Bloom writes in
his epic poem celebrating the 100th anniversary of the October
“All power to the soviets!”
Because only soviet
will bring us peace,
epic poem about a revolution? A revolution whose outcome vanished a
quarter-century ago? That’s a big challenge. Yet it is a poem we are discussing
here; yes an epic poem that tells a story often told in a fresh way, a vivid
way. Vivid, indeed, because a revolution based on human need, human want, human
desire must be told in a human way.
Consider the lines just before those
Finally, if you truly want to
the simple ways
in which daily life is
The rich cannot now, for example,
even get their
to stand in line for them.
walls of restaurants signs appear:
No tips taken here. Just because
has to earn his living
by waiting tables, that is no reason
to insult him
by offering a tip.
Russia was a country in which servants were
expected to stand in line for several hours a day to obtain basics on behalf of
their elite employers, wearing out their shoes despite a pair of shoes costing
several months’ salary. Louise Bryant, John Reed’s partner, makes a couple of
appearances in Steve’s poem, but there’s an additional note of hers that comes
to mind here. After returning home to report on the revolution, she wrote this
about her host’s attitude toward her servants when one complained about her
shoes wearing out: “My hostess thought the girl was extremely unreasonable. ‘She
ought to be beaten with a knout,’ she said.”
A knout is a hardened whip
that was frequently used in Tsarist Russia to administer severe, and sometimes
fatal, floggings. Not rarely in public. Such was the ancien régime of
We can, and do, and must, tote up all the political, economic,
cultural and educational inequalities, the living nightmare of Tsarist Russia,
where a cruel despot ruled as a direct representative of God. Those
inequalities, those nightmares, are comprised of human suffering, immense human
suffering. And so it was human beings—flesh and blood people whose lives had
been stunted—who made the revolution, who put their bodies on the line, who
stood up to centuries of cruelty, who organized themselves and put themselves in
An epic poem about a revolution that will live in history, and
inspire, can only be a poem about humanity, and dignity. And so One Hundred
It is no secret that the revolution did not turn out the
way those human beings raising themselves up, those who would stand in line no
more nor accept tips, expected. It did not turn out the way the Bolshevik
leaders thought it would, so many of whom paid with their lives at the hands of
the dictator who would one day take control of the revolution. The humanity of
those leaders is not forgotten, either:
Yet Nadezhda Krupskaya, his
subsequently tells us to have no illusions.
Had Lenin lived even a
few years more
he, too—far from having a city
renamed in his
would have ended up in prison,
or in exile (an observation she
the purge trials and executions begin).
If, if, if; we can’t replay history. But it didn’t have to be that way. But we can mourn
what could be, what can be, what shall be if we don’t want barbarism.
yes, socialism or barbarism. Rosa Luxemburg is another subject for another day,
but her three words stare at us as fiercely as a century ago. Three simple
words, again: peace, bread, land. So we arrive at the beginning. We arrive at
words, with words. We’ll need more words if we are to avoid barbarism. More
words than “peace,” “bread” and “land,” as worthy as those words have been. We’ll need
art, too, to help us understand the past. Steve Bloom has risen to the occasion
by creating his “One Hundred Years.” It is a most worthy human act.
Pete Dolack is the author of It's not Over—Learning from the Socialist Experiment.
* * * * *
By Gary Johnston,
Recounting one hundred years and the early days of the Russian Revolution
in a poem is a striking idea and Steve Bloom has certainly done his homework in
bringing the history of those days to life. The “Epilogue” section shines in
particular, and brings together the preceding sections with a sense of what is
gained and what is lost when those without power challenge the status quo. The
poem is also able to lay out how the best works of men can be corrupted. “One
Hundred Years” is excellent and well done, a poem as history and testament.
Steve should be proud of his work.
Gary Johnston is a New York City poet and editor at Blind Beggar
* * * * *
By Sheena King (Preface for the print edition)
Steve Bloom worked with me as the
editor of my memoir-combined-with-poetry (Submerged, forthcoming
as of this writing from Delphine Books). He is also a fellow
poet/lover of poetry, and a friend. In all of these capacities we
have had discussions at length about the classics, the masters,
poetic form, and our shared disappointment that poetry as an art is,
at present, under-appreciated and badly neglected in our culture.
Steve has critiqued my own poetry and patiently, with subtlety but
also with persistence, compelled me to stretch myself and grow as a
writer—in particular to take risks.
With his latest poem, “One Hundred Years,” Steve is following his
I can say with considerable confidence, having had the opportunity to
read a body of his work over the years, that this piece is Steve's
most ambitious and accomplished to date. From the very first question
with which the narrative begins (“How long is a century?”) he had
me hooked. Originally, after opening the envelope in which the poem
arrived and noting the number of pages, I had determined that I would
read a little that morning and then put the rest aside to finish in
the evening. No chance. As soon as I started I was drawn into the
narrative and literally could not put it down.
“One Hundred Years” not only gives us a history lesson—one that
I personally had never properly appreciated—it also offers the
reader a way of connecting with and feeling as if we are part of that
history, something I had not expected when I first began to read. As
an African/French American-Indian woman presently
resident/incarcerated in the USA I had no trouble identifying
personally with the struggle of the Russian people to be heard, to
matter, to take what they needed for themselves because no one was
going to give them anything.
Poetry should evoke powerful feelings, and this poem actively engages
our senses as it pulls us further and further, deeper and deeper into
its narrative. Very few poems have had such a profound effect on me.
I literally felt as if I was transported back in time—to a moment
one hundred years ago. My feet were tired and sore, burning from the
endless marching through the cold with well-worn shoes. I could
feel the bone-crushing cold, the hunger for food and for words, the
deep striving for equality and for peace.
then I came upon the surprise that was waiting for me at the end, the
way Steve signed off: “Stefan Abramovitch” (“son of
Abraham”)—Russifying his first name and adopting the
Russian manner of identifying male offspring. That deepened the entire
experience for me, once again
emphasizing that this is a history that we are all part of. It made
me smile to myself, something I badly needed at that point in order
to deal with my righteous anger after being immersed, even for such a
relatively brief time, in the Russian Revolution of 1917—with all
of its heroism and all of its tragedy.
Absolutely one of the best poems I have read, ever. Bravo Steve.
Sheena King is the author of a forthcoming memoir, Submerged.
* * * * *
By Paul Le Blanc (Afterword for the print edition)
At the start of the centenary of the Russian Revolution, I was pleased to
offer an introduction for a collection of writings entitled October 1917:
Workers in Power, which includes an important and substantial essay by the
late revolutionary theorist Ernest Mandel, whose writings Steve Bloom edited
twenty-three years ago.
With the approaching end of the same anniversary year, I am pleased again
to be able to write this afterword to “One Hundred Years,” an unexpected lyric
accompaniment to the earlier volume, catching us up in its poetic narrative of
hope, struggle, tragedy and triumphant renewal. It is a wondrous story in which
masses of “ordi-nary” and truly extraordinary working people, out of hunger and
oppression, reach out to shape history into a better and hopeful future.
I know little about poetry, but perhaps I should share such meager
knowledge here. When I was a child, I “knew” that poems were supposed to rhyme,
yet as I matured in the 1950s and early '60s I “learned” that while many good
poems do not rhyme, all truly good poems should reflect a gap between
the individual (each with our small personal voice) and the grand sweep of
history—or be dismissed as truly contemptible “agit-prop.”
Despite this, I stumbled upon such anomalous constructions as Carl
Sandburg’s The People, Yes, not to mention strident revolutionary
verses of Vladimir Mayakovsky and earlier opinionated poems of Alexander
Pushkin—or, back to the 20th century, sardonic agitations of Bertolt Brecht and
stark lines from Victor Serge. In my youth, from the pre-1960s to the
post-1960s—at the intersection of subjective and objective, personal and
political, love and revolution—I kept bumping into an accumulation of poetic
transgressions: Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima, Leroi
Jones/ Amiri Baraka, Marge Piercy, Carolyn Forché, and all too many others. And
then South Africa’s revolutionary poet Dennis Brutus took up his exile in my
native Pittsburgh, becoming a vibrant pres-ence in my life.
While one who has known and often argued a political point here and there
with Steve Bloom over the years may wonder about the meaning of this activist
comrade keeping such company, the stubborn fact of his poem is here, pulling us
along in its narrative whether we like it or not.
It speaks in the voice of the dead—those who were part of the history of
the revolutionary workers' movement a hundred years ago. My own memory is
stirred—the blurred image of my great-grandpa Harry Brodsky, a Russian Jewish
garment worker who fled the Russian empire in the face of pogroms and Tsarist
oppression, but whose heart was always with the Bolsheviks. (There were also
stories in my childhood about his dear friend, the long-departed Uncle Nathan,
whose heart had been with the Mensheviks.) There were others I later met, such
as Morris Lewit and the love of his life Sylvia Bleecker—both teen-age
participants in the Bolshevik Revolution until the tides of history (and the
counterrevolutionary White armies) swept them into the United States, where they
helped build movements of heroic early Communism and the later Left
These were among the hundreds, the thousands and more whose voices echo in
this poem. And I have heard similar echoes in what is said by the
living—including among Russians who guided a study-abroad group I was leading in
March 2017 in St. Petersburg and Moscow. One, independently of what I had
initially arranged, insisted on leading us to the massive monuments that
powerfully affirmed her people’s resistance to the Nazi onslaught in the epic
siege of Leningrad—and it was quite important, apparently, to call it by that
name: Leningrad. Another told me that among her family had been
Communists who had deeply believed in the revolutionary ideals—and that she
herself continues to wrestle for the truth that remains embedded between the
extremes of romanticized Stalinism and uncompromisingly bitter anti-Communism. A
third, an anti-authoritarian scholar, led us on an incredibly informative tour
through the Museum of the Revolution, and he emphasized to me that there must be
and will be another Russian Revolution in the foreseeable future.
This poem cannot stand in for an objective account of what actually
happened. The poet himself tells us “I compose a poem for you, not a rounded
history,” adding that to get at the details we “may refer once again to the
great books.” I hope some readers will indeed feel inspired, after experiencing
the poetry of the Russian revolution, to study its history more deeply than they
otherwise might have.
In his post-poem list of the “great books” are eyewitness accounts by John
Reed and Louise Bryant, and one could add that of their friend Albert Rhys
Williams, Through the Russian Revolution—outstanding interpretations
which caused one of our country’s greatest socialists, Eugene V. Debs, to
emphasize that in Russia “the day of the people has arrived.” Bloom also
mentions Leon Trotsky’s amazing three-volume History of the Russian
Revolution, which came out around the same time as (and is complemented by)
the honest two-volume account by conservative journalist William Henry
Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution 1917-21. For more recent histories,
one could cite Alexander Rabinowitch’s classic The Bolsheviks Come to
Power—or new volumes appearing in 2017, such as Steven A. Smith’s
studiously objective Russia in Revolution or China Miéville’s
Yet sometimes less is more—setting aside the clutter in order to focus on
one detail can cut closer to essential truths. Just as “one picture is worth a
thousand words,” so can a poem’s succinct imagery speak volumes. Noting that the
brutalizing counterrevolutionary onslaught “scarred substantial portions of our
flesh” and that frostbite from the freezing civil war battlegrounds in the
Russian winter could result in missing fingers and toes, the poet notes that
such absent digits can make it harder to grasp things and to maintain one’s
balance. Which brings to mind much of what is shared in Arno J. Mayer's massive
and magisterial study The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and
This leads us to the murderous bureaucratic tyranny that has been labeled
“Stalinism”—which drove some one-time believers to write of The God That
Failed and another, Robert Conquest, to document with an anti-Communist
twist The Great Terror. There are, however, others who wrestled with
and documented the same horror without joining in the vilification of 1917.
Among these have been Victor Serge, E.H. Carr, Isaac Deutscher, Moshe Lewin, Roy
Medvedev, Vadim Rogovin, Tariq Ali—and now, in poetic form, Steve Bloom. The
tragedy is not permitted to obliterate the triumph.
In this, all those who continue to struggle for a better and hopeful future
can find in the author of this poem a soul-mate. Referring to “a gamble we
lost,” he insists: “Yet our willingness to accept that risk at least gave us a
chance to win.” There are thousands and millions and perhaps more who are likely
to accept the poet’s challenge to “take the power into your own hands and,
thereby, renew the long-cherished vision” of a world inhabited by the free and
Paul Le Blanc is the author of Lenin and the Revolutionary Party and other works
related to labor struggles (A Short History of the U.S. Working Class),
anti-racist struggles (Black Liberation and the American Dream and A Freedom
Budget for All Americans), and more. October 2017 will see the publication of
his study October Song: Bolshevik Triumph, Communist Tragedy, 1917-1924.
* * * * *
By Matt Meyer
21st Century revolutionaries of all continents, ideologies, cultural
backgrounds, gender definitions, and grassroots communities cry out: “We are
tired of waiting.” From those borne of the 1960’s who incorrectly asserted that
an international transformation was just around the corner, to the youth of
today who feel that no radical change is possible, this sense of weariness
permeates too much of the left; it stands in the way of doing the work we need
to collectively engage in. At this watershed centenary anniversary of the
historic Bolshevik victory, Steve Bloom’s epic poem reminds us that our
long-past Russian comrades had their own moments of weariness and worry, of
impatience and hopelessness. Their drive to carry on, to stand up against great
reactionary opposition, tremendous repression, and apparently unwinnable odds,
should be an inspiration even now to all who fight for lasting social
change—whatever our political persuasion or tendency. Steve Bloom’s work
lyrically places us on the front lines of yesteryear, giving us perspective and
hope to more ably confront the front lines currently before us.
Matt Meyer is an internationally noted author and organizer: PM Press and
Africa World/Red Sea Press.
* * * * *
By Barbara Mutnick
I’ve been a fan of Steve Bloom’s
poetry and music since he made his work public. So when he announced
that he was working on a poem this year to commemorate the hundredth
anniversary of the Russian Revolution I was taken with the idea.
Early in July I attended an informal salon at Steve’s house where
he read the current draft of the poem, by this time of epic
proportions commensurate with the subject matter, and solicited
comments from us. I became an enthusiastic supporter.
Polls for years
now reflect that the majority of young people favor socialism over
capitalism. It’s not surprising that today's youth want the
opposite of capitalism, which has offered them: the 2008 economic
collapse; one after another police shooting of Black citizens, choked
or gunned down for no reason other than being Black; the rounding up
by the government of immigrants like themselves or whom they live
with, work with, and go to school with; and the lack of any
appropriate response by those in power to the crisis of global
warming, as mega storms and record high temperatures and fires
What can these millions of millennials
and others look to as examples of socialism? One answer is Cuba, the
island that against all odds has hung on to a government representing
the mass of the people even with its minimal resources being reduced
and attacked by the behemoth to its north.
While Cuba is maligned by the
government and media, almost no mention is ever made of the events in
Steve Bloom’s epic poem about the Russian Revolution. There has
been precious little mention of the 100th anniversary of this event
including on the left. No doubt more will focus on this important
date as the anniversary approaches, but likely not enough to give
this time in history its due.
The beauty of
Steve’s work is that it
captures the dramatic events that led to the first time the working
people took power and formed a government in their own interests.
captures not only the events but the characters and the array of
political forces. It captures the struggles, triumphs, and the
tragedy of the revolution. Most importantly, in poetic form it
captures the lessons of the Russian Revolution of one hundred years
ago: how unique and how important!
Barbara Mutnick is a long-time activist for social justice and socialism
* * * * *
By Mary-Ellen Sanger
Your tribute to the centenary of the Russian Revolution is shot through
with voices. I felt at times that I must rise from my seat, and read your lines
striding through my living room. I felt this poem everyway, everywhere.
“Here we are,/and our children too./Kill us in
the street for marching/if you will./Better to die here, now,
quickly,/than slowly, from starvation,/because we have no bread.”
“Who will give us peace?!/Who will give us bread?!/Who will give us land?!”
Through your narrator, we hear in thunderous detail the before-during-and
after events of February and October 1917 yet it is simple lines like these that
stop me in my tracks, demonstrating (once again) your ability to not only make
us feel things . . . but to make us think:
“Revolution tests the meaning/of all of our truths.”
“I have been told that it is brave/to end
a poem with a question./Yet doesn’t every revolution/end with a
Thanks for sharing this with me, and—with you—I hope that we may always
look for answers . . . and hear the strength of the voices in these pages that can
only with difficulty be kept bound in a book for their movement, their march,
their waving banner to keep . . . on . . . questioning. I think this publication will
always be dog-eared.
As it was long ago I studied the Russian revolution, I learned a thing or two along
the way. Thanks for inviting us to be present with this narrator (as I strode
through my house)! I will sit down now . . . (but not for long).
Gracias y suerte,
Mary-Ellen Sanger is the author of Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree: Stories from Ixcotel State Prison.
* * * * *
By Moe Seager
Nail it Poet!! All Power to the
People. keep the beat on the pulse of life.
Moe Seager is a poet
living in Paris, France.
* * * * *
By Russell Maroon Shoatz (Introduction for the print edition)
I have been wrestling with how best to introduce Steve Bloom's poem, “One
Hundred Years”—a poem about a revolution. I'm not schooled in poetics. I am,
however, a student of history and of revolution, and also of popular culture. So
I have decided to compare some passages from the poem which refer to moments
that are also captured in two film classics. One is Reds, starring
Warren Beatty as the revolutionary journalist John Reed, with Diane Keaton as
his partner and fellow journalist Louise Bryant—both of whom spent time in
Russia during the October Revolution and play leading roles in Steve's poem.
Then there is Doctor Zhivago, starring Julie Christie, Omar
Sharif, and Rod Steiger as fictional characters caught up in
powerfully-portrayed scenes based on the historic events Steve writes about
here. It is striking to me that while there are parallels between the poem and
the two films, there is also a depth to this historical experience that the
films do not and cannot touch, but that Steve is able to make us think about
through his words.
The poem says: “We march in the streets because we have no bread and we are
Doctor Zhivago suggests how one such march might have turned out.
It is a gripping portrayal of the repression and subsequent radicalization of
the starving Russian people.
Steve's poem then leads us forward through truly tumultuous and
ground-breaking historic events. In the process his narrator tells us: “We do
not even begin to understand until Lenin arrives from exile. . . and proclaims
his ‘April Theses’ . . . ‘All power to the soviets!’ . . . because the entire
problem of our revolution, at the present moment, can be reduced to the question
In Doctor Zhivago we see mutinous soldiers reading about these
discussions—in the Bolshevik Party, in the soviets, and among the masses—with a
young rebel explaining to an old-timer why Lenin's presence is so important.
The poem: “Meanwhile we have been living through a time unlike any we have
known before. . . . You would be amazed to see the workers—forty-thousand
workers—at the Putilov factory who will stop what they are doing and listen
whenever an orator comes to speak to them.”
In Reds, John Reed is portrayed as the orator at one such
gathering, speaking through an interpreter.
The poem: “Louise Bryant, another journalist from the USA who travels to
Russia along with Reed” tells us that “all we have to eat is cabbage soup and
black bread. We are always thankful for it, however, afraid that perhaps
tomorrow even this will no longer be available.”
In Reds we witness Bryant's character as she is transformed by
The poem: “How much longer is this unbearable reality going to last? The
soldiers have mandated us to tell you that if peace proposals are not presented
immediately and seriously the trenches will empty and the whole army will simply
Earlier in Doctor Zhivago there is a scene showing the soldiers
abandoning their trenches, killing any officers who try to stop them.
In all these ways the narrative of the poem and of our popular films is
And yet, as noted, there is a depth to these events captured by Steve in
“One Hundred Years”—with a little help from actual participants like Victor
Serge and Alexandra Kollontai—that neither of our two films is able to
adequately portray. I became most conscious of this as I read section IV titled
“Aftermath, Part One: ‘Flame on the Snow.’” The poem: “Allow me to illustrate
[our troubles] for you by quoting the poet and novelist, the honest participant
in and chronicler of our revolution, Victor Serge, who, during the winter of
1920-21 composes these lines.” There is nothing in Reds or Doctor
Zhivago that even comes close to the account given by Serge and quoted
Section V of the poem: “When our trial by fire begins (almost immediately)
the boldest fighters . . . rush to the front lines. . . . A majority of them do
not return.” In Doctor Zhivago, the estranged husband of the beauty
Lara-Stronikoff is one of these bold fighters. And yet the film is unable or
unwilling to really help us comprehend the meaning of subsequent events, while
the poem then proceeds to confront this directly: “For every revolution there is
an opposite counterrevolution.” With these words Steve begins his investigation
into the tragedy that is a historical partner with the heroism of the Russian
revolution. Nothing in Reds or Doctor Zhivago can even begin
to measure up to the words presented in “One Hundred Years” as a description of
what happened, but even more important as an explanation for why it happened.
The poem: “But please explain to me (it has always seemed a puzzle) why so
many who imagine themselves to be great friends and defenders of Bolshevism,
remain for so many decades unable to tell the difference between the revolution
and the counterrevolution?”
The Russian Revolution was supposed to place the power in the hands of the
toiling masses. The counterrevolution, however, allowed Stalin and the
bureaucracy that he represented to usurp that power.
The fear that the “Comrade General” struck in the minds of workers leaving
their underground jobs at the end of Doctor Zhivago drives home the
film's portrayal of how that dynamic played itself out. But the poem does more
than just portray the fear, it helps us understand how and why the fear was able
to triumph over the spirit of rebellion that had been so overwhelming in 1917.
In the real world, as in Doctor Zhivago's cinematic portrayal, too
many simply chose the easy path of denial, even as evidence that the
counterrevolution had gained the upper hand in the USSR became undeniable for
those who were willing to take an honest look. Too many allowed themselves to
retreat into a convenient mythology about the revolution and its outcome that
would then allow them to lead a more peaceful existence. The poem “One Hundred
Years,” on the other hand, is far more honest with us, because it is far more
honest with itself about what actually took place.
Steve's poem serves not only to honor the gains, losses, and lessons that
we should all remember “one hundred years” after these events, but also to warn
us against relying on assumptions and expectations which can too easily blind us
to a reality that is no longer the same reality that our assumptions and
expectations were originally based on. Acknowledging that new reality may
sometimes be difficult, but—especially when it is difficult—it has to be done if
we want to maintain our commitment to revolution as an act of human liberation.
Russell Maroon Shoatz
is a former Black Panther and current political prisoner resident at SCI
(State Correctional Institute) Graterford, in Graterford, PA. He is also author of the book Maroon the Implacable.
* * * * *
by Peter Solenberger
I've known Steve Bloom for 25 years and heard about him for a decade before
that. Nearly all of our interaction has been as activists and proponents of
similar revolutionary views. Every so often I encounter Steve's poetry and see a
side of him I tend to forget in our activist interaction.
Steve writes in his poems about the same issues that inspire his activism and expresses
the same political views. But the medium is very different. The feeling he
expresses leads me to step back and think again about the subject and about
Steve's poem "One Hundred Years" is breathtaking in its ambition. How could
a poet attempt to encapsulate the history of the October revolution and
Stalinist counterrevolution? Many writers have analyzed it, some quite well. But
to write a poem about it?
Steve succeeds. "One hundred years" is fine writing. Its analysis is clear.
Its feeling is real. It is a fine tribute to the revolution.
Peter Solenberger is a longtime labor and social justice activist in
Detroit and southeast Michigan and a member of Solidarity.