Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Remembering the October Revolution

Tonight’s guest of the Search Foundation was Bea Campbell who talked about the importance of the 1917 October Revolution in today’s world. Other speakers were Melanie Fernandez, the deputy CEO of the NSW Council of Social Service, David McKnight, associate professor, Journalism and Media Research Centre, UNSW, Winton Higgins, who teaches at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Meredith Burgmann, an author and ex-politician.

Campbell’s parents were British Bolsheviks who became Bolsheviks after WWII. Her British father met her mother in occupied Holland. She moved from Rotterdam to a village without electricity near the Scottish border. They became Bolsheviks at the end of the 40s and beginning of the 50s. Campbell said that Bolshevism was the terrain on which all of her family’s arguments were argued, especially after 1968. Her parents had an unshakable loyalty to the Soviet project. They hoped the Communist project could be redeemed from Stalinism.

She said, “You have to be astounded if you look at the history of 1917.” The people were taking power only for second time in human history, she went on. In the beginning with WWI raging there was an insistence on bread. There were endless cues of women. Then there was an insistence on peace and the communalisation of land. Then a nasty fellow took over, she said. She asked what it means for a society to become saturated in blood. The villages were feminised because of the war. She asked what it meant to be a Russian after the three wars, in the 1920s. They had to make a new class: the working class. Out of that emerge political formulations that have become problematic. Khrushchev was for her family the face of "cuddly Communism". She pointed to the way in which politics was militarised by the experience of war after war after war.

Higgins and McKnight talked about the problems currently being encountered by neoliberalism in the West. Higgins pointed to the Washington Consensus but remarked that economic liberalism arose in the 1840s. He pointed to the rise of the neoliberal hegemony in the 1970s. The left, he said, has been kept in a state of hiatus. Neoliberalism impoverishes communities and individuals. It generates soaring inequalities. McKnight said he is working on a new book on neoliberalism and inequality.

Above: Bea Campbell at the lectern with, seated, Winton Higgins and David McKnight.

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