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One Hundred Years

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Jump to comment by: 
Katherine BeemanChris Brandt,
Kunal ChattopadhyayLindsey Colleen, Cliff Connor, Pete DolackTariq Haskins, 
Gary Johnston,
Sheena King, Paul Le BlancMatt Meyer, Barbara Mutnick, Mary-Ellen SangerMickey Sargent, Moe Seager, , Peter Solenberger


by Katherine Beeman

A poem not for the faint, but the full, of heart. For the heartful among us, who know with Che Guevara, the great Cuban revolutionary, assassinated exactly halfway between that October and this one, that “the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” To paraphrase one of the Victor Serge quotes, this poem brings us the past so we may make the future.
Katharine Beeman is a poet resident in Montreal

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By Chris Brandt: 

The 20th century was the graveyard of ideologies.  Fascism.  Nazism.  Stalinism.  And our own undeadcorporate capitalismthat 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 historyof the October Revolution one hundred years agothat Steve lays out for us in this poem.
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 asksnot in so many words, but by its very existenceis, 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.
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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)

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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.

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By Cliff Connor

One Hundred Years: The Struggle to Remember the Unforgettable

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 revolution?

It’s too soon. One hundred years is way too soon.

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 memory.

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 Revolution is

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.

Victor Hugo, 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 povertywho yearn for twenty-first-century revolutions of their own?

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 upheaval.

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
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by Pete Dolack
Peace. Bread. Land. Sound simple? They are anything but.
Three words, 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.
From 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 Revolution:
“All power to the soviets!”
Because only soviet power,
will bring us peace,

Wait, an 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 quoted above:
Finally, if you truly want to understand
      the simple ways
in which daily life is transformed:
The rich cannot now, for example,
even get their servants
to stand in line for them.
      (Imagine that!)
On the walls of restaurants signs appear:
No tips taken here. Just because
a man 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 Russia.
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 stuntedwho made the revolution, who put their bodies on the line, who stood up to centuries of cruelty, who organized themselves and put themselves in motion.
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 Years is.
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 widow,
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 honor—
would have ended up in prison,
or in exile (an observation she makes before
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.
Ah, 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.

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by Tariq Haskins

One Hundred Years is essential reading for every revolutionary.

Tariq Haskins is a former Black Liberation Army prisoner of war.

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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 Press.

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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 own advice.

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.

And 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.

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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 Opposition.
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 page-turner, October.
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 Russian Revolutions.
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 the equal.
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.

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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.

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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 proliferate.

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. It 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

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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 question?”
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.

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By Mickey Sargent

Your poem had special meaning to me as my father was shot in his right hand while participating in a demonstration during the years you are writing about. I do not know where or when. I do know gangrene set in and his right hand was amputated.  From the hospital he was sent to Siberia where he spent seven years before he escaped. Unfortunately I was too young to understand the meaning of hisstories. To me they were like listening to fairy tales. Your poem makes it more real. Thanks.

Mickey Sargent lives in Sliver Spring, MD.

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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.

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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 starving.”
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 of power.”
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 these experiences.
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 come home.”
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 similar.
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 here!
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.

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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 myself.
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.