Red October

Today marks the centenary of the events in Petrograd which would culminate in the foundation of the world’s first workers’ state. Plenty has been written about this subject over the years, and it would be somewhat of an understatement to say that there are a multitude of opinions on the nature and legacy of the October Revolution, from right-wing hostility to the whole project, through the standard liberal view that a Bolshevik coup derailed the progress promised by the bourgeois overthrow of Tsarist feudalism, to the embrace by the left, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, of the vision of communism proclaimed by Lenin and his allies.

I’ve been consciously involved in political activity for more than three decades now, and the arguments about October 1917 haven’t changed much in that time, though perhaps the “Bolshevik coup” theory has become more solidified as accepted wisdom, even among elements of the left.

What is different these days is that the debate doesn’t seem as vital as it once did. While the centenary has exited activity in academic and left political circles, the mainstream media has more or less ignored it, and it would be hard to say that it has impacted on popular consciousness at all.

Of course the degeneration, and eventual demise, of the Soviet Union, along with the general decline of the left in the West, does seem to confirm the idea that the October Revolution is nothing but an episode of distant history, no more relevant to today’s politics than the intrigues of Ancient Rome. On the other hand, the class struggle, which so animated the workers and peasants of Russia at the start of the 20th century, is still with us, and in a form which is not so different from that which was so successfully waged by the Bolsheviks.

Perhaps I’m just an aging revolutionary, clinging to dreams of the past, but I still think that that October 1917 represents the most progressive period in human history, one from which we can learn a great deal. The problems facing the world today, stemming from levels of inequality in wealth and power not seen since the days of the Tsar, call out for an upheaval in social relations on a similar scale. One hundred years on, armed with a knowledge of how things went wrong last time, it’s time the workers took power again.

Guidance from above

I’ve always been quite proud of my navigational skills; while I’ve never exactly been through the wilderness, I have managed to use map and compass to plot a course around fairly remote places like Yosemite and the Cascades without getting more than temporarily lost, and I’ve traversed many a new city with only a glance at the guidebook.

That said, it’s been quite some time since I’ve had any need to utilise this talent, partly because I never go anywhere new these days, but mostly because, like just about everyone else, I carry around a handy gadget that always tells me exactly where I am, and where I should be going. I do like to think that I could manage without it, and orientate myself old-style using features like rivers and railway lines, but still, I’m in no hurry to test that out.

Anyway, I was thinking of this because today marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, the event that kick-started the space race, its simple beep the forerunner of the GPS signals that guide us today. Yet another facet of modern life that we owe to the command economy.

Rendezvous with Planet X

We hit our tenth anniversary earlier this year, which is a good run for a blog, if not so long in cosmic terms. Even in that brief spell though we have managed to survive two predicted apocalypses, in 2011 and 2012, and probably a few more that we didn’t hear about.

So I think I can be excused for being fairly relaxed about the forecast that tomorrow will bring the end of the world (or at least the start of the End Times; the details are a little sketchy). My insouciance seems to be fairly widely shared; the overwhelming reaction of even the more credulous sections of the media has been one of amused ridicule, and I haven’t heard any stories of people leaving their families, selling all their possessions, or otherwise acting irrationally in anticipation of the Rapture, as has happened in the past.

I don’t know if this means that the general appetite for doom-mongering has waned, or if we’re all just so numbed by the routine craziness of the world these days that global annihilation doesn’t seem that big a deal. Whatever, I’m still making plans for next week, whether Nibiru shows up or not.

Grant Hart RIP

Sad news about Grant Hart. The one and only time I saw Hüsker Dü play live was more than 30 years ago, just after Candy Apple Grey came out, but I can still remember it clearly. It was in a tiny venue, and I was right at the front, about two feet away from the PA, which probably explains why I couldn’t hear a thing for about a week afterwards. Temporary deafness seemed like a small price to pay to be in the vicinity of genius though.

I’ve subsequently seen Bob Mould play loads of times, solo and with Sugar, but I never managed to catch any of Grant’s later shows, and now I never will. That’s obviously a trivial concern, when we’re talking about a man passing away at a tragically young age, but it’s another reminder that the list of things that I always just assumed would happen some day, but probably, or definitely, won’t, is getting longer all the time, and that perhaps I should pay more attention to the ephemeral nature of life, and how important it is to be in the moment. That sentiment isn’t a million miles away from the themes that Grant touched on in his best work, and I guess that that’s an epitaph that he might have appreciated.

Lying low

I’ve been consciously avoiding too much engagement with the external world over the last few weeks, for various personal reasons, but even if I was in perfect shape I think staying out of touch might have been a smart move, what with the news streams overflowing with alarming tales of nuclear brinkmanship, nazis running amok, Biblical floods and goodness knows what else to come.

But still, I thought I’d better crawl out of my bunker to write something before midnight, since, in a decade of blogging, I’ve never let a whole calendar month go by without at least one post. I am feeling just about ready to start facing disturbing reality again, so perhaps September might be a little more productive.

King of the Living Dead

Regular readers will know that we have a bit of a zombie obsession here at SLS, so I was sad to hear of the passing of George Romero, who, more than anyone, defined the undead aesthetic that underlies just about every modern zombie-themed film and video game.

Night of the Living Dead is a groundbreaking classic of course, but, for me, Romero’s masterpiece is Dawn of the Dead, which inserts its shambling horror into the all-too-recognisable mundanity of everyday life to truly terrifying effect. If it has a fault it is that it’s too terrifying; despite it being one of my favourite films I haven’t watched Dawn of the Dead for years, because I know that a viewing will give me vivid nightmares for days afterwards.

Anyway, here’s a link to our very first zombie post from 10 years ago, which I think is still relevant today, and some valuable tips for when the worst happens…

They shoot Youtubers, don’t they?

I may affect indifference towards the fact that, according to the merciless WordPress statistics page, virtually nobody ever comes to visit our little blog any more, but the truth is that I miss the days when we had lots of traffic, and I’d do anything to attract a few more views again.

Well, perhaps not anything; I’d probably draw the line at having my partner shoot live ammunition at my chest in a misguided attempt to capture the attention of the notoriously fickle YouTube demographic. Depressingly this story isn’t an aberration; there are plenty of examples of would-be social media stars abusing their children, leaping from high places, lighting themselves on fire, or doing other stupid stunts in the hope that it will be their ticket to internet fame, and the fabled wealth that comes with it.

The spectacle of the desperate poor demeaning themselves for our entertainment is nothing new; there were dance marathons and other indignities during the Depression, truck-touching contests have a proud history, and as recently as 10 years ago people were dying to win a video game console. Now, in our wonderful modern world of 24/7 digital connection, it’s not even necessary to leave the house to join in; that’s progress I guess.

The Grenfell Tower disaster

In a story that would be dismissed as ridiculously melodramatic if it appeared in a work of agitational fiction, it turns out that hundreds of working-class tenants in London’s richest borough have been burned to death in horrific circumstances because someone chose to skimp on fire-resistant cladding for their homes, to save the grand total of £5000. That the block was converted into a death trap in order to improve the view of the wealthy residents of neighbouring mansions adds insult to the considerable injury, as does the response of the council and the government, who have largely left the bereaved and homeless to fend for themselves.

Coming on the back of the recent electoral resurgence of the left, some are predicting that a tragedy like this, which so starkly illustrates the descent of our once proud nation into an uncaring kleptocracy, might be the trigger for real social change. I’m hoping for that too, but I have enough experience to know that the system has weathered many such storms before, and will probably get through this one too.

Whether our Prime Minister will be in office for long is another question, though, paradoxically, she may be more secure now than she was a week ago, as no one else in the Conservative party seems particularly keen to take charge in the current state of chaos, particularly as another election is the last thing that they want. I expect the administration will limp on ineffectually, though what this will mean for domestic and foreign policy is unclear to say the least. Will they try to win back the centre with relaxed austerity and a softer Brexit? Or double down on the hard-right ideology? I suspect the former, though really the only prediction one can make with any certainty these days is that things will remain unpredictable.

Jez he could

Well, evidently political surprises can come from the left as well as the right. To the shock and consternation of just about all mainstream commentators, Jeremy Corbyn managed to not only forestall the widely-predicted Conservative landslide, but to increase the Labour vote to a level not seen in a generation, and come tantalisingly close to overall victory.

Close, but not quite there. As I write, Theresa May is still clinging to power, scrabbling around for support in the wilder fringes of UK politics, though it does seem likely that she will become the second Tory premier in less than a year to depart after an ill-judged consultation of the population.

In theory May’s downfall should trigger another election, which one would imagine that Labour would win, but making any sort of political prediction is a mugs’ game these days, so I guess that I, along with the rest of the nation, will just have to wait to see what develops over the next week or so. Things are looking more promising than they have done for some time though.

State of dismay

So here we are on the eve of the election, and I have yet to come up with a prediction of the outcome. This is partly due to my recent woeful record in such endeavour – I couldn’t have been much more wrong on TrumpBrexit or the last general election – but I’ve also been wary of getting too caught up in the enthusiasm around the Corbyn campaign, because at my age I can’t really stand any more disappointment.

That said, I do think it’s safe to conclude that left-wing politics have been given a bit of a boost, whether or not that is reflected in the final numbers. What the campaign has clarified is the ideological divide between the main parties, and even if the Tories do get their landslide (as the latest polls suggest), Corbyn has done well enough to consolidate his hold on the Labour party leadership, which will provide a base to build on in the years ahead.

I do need a forecast though, so I’ll go with my heart; Labour minority government. I have to be right one of these times…