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Russian revolution turns 100, ‘WorldCanvass’ takes note

Attendees+listen+to+Joan+Kjaer+and+Andrew+Michael+Zmolek+at+the+Merge+Building+on+Wednesday%2C+Nov.+1%2C+2017.+The+panels+centered+on+the+effects+of+the+Russian+Revolution+on+its+100+year+anniversary.+%28Ashley+Morris%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
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Russian revolution turns 100, ‘WorldCanvass’ takes note

Attendees listen to Joan Kjaer and Andrew Michael Zmolek at the Merge Building on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. The panels centered on the effects of the Russian Revolution on its 100 year anniversary. (Ashley Morris/The Daily Iowan)

Attendees listen to Joan Kjaer and Andrew Michael Zmolek at the Merge Building on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. The panels centered on the effects of the Russian Revolution on its 100 year anniversary. (Ashley Morris/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Ashle

Attendees listen to Joan Kjaer and Andrew Michael Zmolek at the Merge Building on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. The panels centered on the effects of the Russian Revolution on its 100 year anniversary. (Ashley Morris/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Ashle

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Ashle

Attendees listen to Joan Kjaer and Andrew Michael Zmolek at the Merge Building on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. The panels centered on the effects of the Russian Revolution on its 100 year anniversary. (Ashley Morris/The Daily Iowan)


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How the Russian Revolution has affected history, politics, and the arts — 100 years later. 

By Paige Schlichte
[email protected]

It’s been a century — almost to the day — since the Bolsheviks led an insurrection and took power in Russia, giving rise to the Soviet Union, and setting off a series of events that would help shape Western history.

A “WorldCanvass” discussion Wednesday night at MERGE celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution by focusing on its cultural, historical, and political impacts throughout the last century on an international scale.

Joan Kjaer, the host of “WorldCanvass,” said the topic arose about a year ago when several faculty members in the History and Political Science Departments approached her about the upcoming anniversary.

“This is a clear example of a topic that arose from faculty interest on campus to mark an important moment in history,” Kjaer said. “The breaking news today regarding incidents of Russians involved in the U.S. campaign has made this topic more timely and relevant than we expected it to be.”

The discussion began with an overview of the revolution itself by Michael Zmolek, a lecturer in the University of Iowa History Department.

“It’s such a world-transformative event, and this anniversary seems like a great opportunity to talk about what happened, especially since it had such a huge impact on the 20th century,” Zmolek said.

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The Russian Revolution actually consisted of a pair of revolutions, the first of which took place in February 1917, born out of extreme hardship fed by food shortages and the destruction of World War I. The czar abdicated, and a short-lived provisional government ensued. In October 1917, Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik Party staged a coup and took power in what is known as the October Revolution.

Even the arts weren’t safe from the chaos of the revolution and the following oppression. Nathan Platte, a UI associated professor of music, noted that the revolution affected musicians and composers — many left during the revolution if they had the means to.

“In the 1920s, they were making a whole new society, and a new society requires different art, so we see exhilarating experimentalism in music,” Platte said. “They were making a complete break with the past — there was a new world order, and the old art couldn’t serve it.”

Joseph Stalin’s repression extended into literature, said Anna Barker, a UI adjunct assistant professor in the UI Asian and Slavic Languages and Literature Department.

“There’s huge irony in what people were expecting versus what they got,” Zmolek said. “They went from expectations of the first socialist state to party dictatorship with a paranoid guy like Stalin in charge under a brutal regime.”

However, UI political-science Professor William Reisinger said, prior to Stalin’s reign, communism operated as a viable alternative to capitalism by offering the working class the chance to lead better lives.

Reisinger noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that his government will not celebrate the milestone anniversary.

“Putin is not in favor of revolution — he wants to stay in power and keep this regime he’s built up,” Reisinger said. “His administration has made it clear the price of protest is high. The symbolism of revolutionaries storming the winter palace is not something the government wants to happen in Russia at the moment.”

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