Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2531

1917 – Russia’s Red Year is inspiring in full colour a century on

This article is over 5 years, 7 months old
A new graphic novel brings the Russian Revolution to life with an emphasis on the role played by ordinary working people, writes Gabby Thorpe
Issue 2531
Solving the housing crisis the revolutionary way
Solving the housing crisis the revolutionary way (Pic: Tim Sanders)

As the centenary of the Russian Revolution approaches, Tim Sanders and John Newsinger set out to bring it to life in a new graphic novel 1917—Russia’s Red Year.

When people think of 1917 most will conjure up images of the First World War, glorified today by media portrayals of a “great” war.

Much of the literature supports this view, with a patriotic look at history that paints those who objected to war as “traitors”.

But this novel depicts the events through the eyes of two ordinary people, Natalia and Peter.

Natalia is a factory worker, involved in the International Women’s Day marches that spark Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication.

Peter is a soldier who crosses lines and joins with the masses.

Although in many countries a majority supported the war, in Russia it was the final straw in a building anger against the Tsarist regime.

Workers, peasants and soldiers alike rose up to overthrow the Tsar in February 1917, and then in October, the Provisional Government that followed.

It heralded a new age for Russia, of workers’ councils, democracy and the most progressive rights for women seen in the world at that time. Revolution had arrived.

Throughout the novel Natalia and Peter argue strongly for revolution and take an active part in its realisation.


Allowing the reader to view the revolution through the eyes of two ordinary participants is the novel’s strength.

Although there are glimpses of more familiar revolutionaries, such as Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, there is a firm emphasis put on the role of ordinary working class people.

The message is that we have the power to make change.

Russia’s Red Year also succeeds in reminding us that war is not the glorious and heroic event that the ruling classes constantly like to portray it as.

It’s filled with scenes of soldiers uniting against a common enemy and shows the fight against poverty and imperialism that spread across Europe.

As well as bringing to life the faces of the Russian Revolution, Russia’s Red Year sets out clear and accessible arguments for socialism.

Through beautiful full colour pictures, and an array of workers, soldiers and politicians, the book achieves a sense of connection which informs and inspires us as socialists to keep on fighting for a better world.

In a year where revolution can sometimes seem far away, Sanders and Newsinger provide us with renewed inspiration to take up the fight against the Tories and the bosses.

As the novel’s introduction argues, “The lesson of self-emancipation of the working class must never be forgotten.” With this work, it will definitely be remembered.

1917: Russia’s Red Year is available at Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Call 020 7637 1848 or go to

Tate Modern’s Radical Eye – pricey but also brilliant

Elton John has used his vast fortune to amass one of the largest private collections of photographs in the world.

Yet he claims that he is not just another super-acquisitive, bored, rich bastard.

He says he is as committed to the intrinsic beauty of his purchases as he might be to the potential profit of re-sales.

In addition, the nature of the images which make this such a remarkable show involve very contradictory sentiments.

One work on display is Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother—originally titled “Destitute pea pickers in California. A 32 year old mother of seven children”—taken in March 1936, near Nipomo.

A print of this sold for over £313,000 this year even though its negative is publicly held in the US Library of Congress archives because it was produced for a government agency.

John enthuses about the desperation of the poor migrant whose face he sees over breakfast whenever he is in his Atlanta, Georgia, mansion.

Indeed it does carry all the same careworn, hopeless, abandoned weight of images we see too many of in 2016. Yet you don’t hear the singer remarking much about modern migrant woes.

There are other problems with the show.

The frames, like their owner, are ridiculously over the top. Most images are small yet are bunched up or high on walls so that close viewing is difficult.

The £16 entrance price is also unforgiveable given the wealth of both the patron and the institution.

Portraits, studio nude poses, patterned natural light on architecture and streets, social realism, surrealism, constructivism, journalism—most genres are sampled. However the quality of work on show is undeniably brilliant.

Nick Grant


Spirit of resistance burns through play about fighting Franco’s fascists

Townsend Productions’ latest play tells the story of two Communists—dirt track racer Clem “Dare Devil” Beckett and intellectual Chris Caudwell. They join the International Brigades to fight Franco’s fascists in Spain.

David Heywood and Neil Gore give virtuoso acting performances, playing all the parts. All their work combines song with quick-fire scenes with imaginative settings.

The songs of folk artist Ewan MacColl capture the spirit of young Communists from Manchester in the early 1930s.

One of the most memorable songs tells the story of the 1932 Kinder Scout Mass Trespass.

Thousands of protesters, including Clem, defied the landowners to walk across the Derbyshire countryside.

The first act focuses on Clem as he tries to organise a dirt track riders association to stand up to their unscrupulous bosses.

Blacklisted, he becomes a wall of death rider, and works at Fords as a mechanic.

Clem volunteers to drive ambulances to Spain to support the Republican side. Chris is a volunteer driver too.

The second act is all set in Spain from their arrival up to the Battle of Jarama in 1937.

The second act is pacier than the first. It centres on exchanges between the two comrades while they are stationed at the British Battalion training camp.

Two contrasting characters, they are linked by their desire to fight for a better world and crush the fascist uprising.

The spirit of resistance burns through everything they do and the play.

Dave Gibson

Dare Devil Rides to Jarama by Neil Gore. On tour until spring 2017

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance