The author’s original title of this article was better than what we could come up with: ‘The October Revolution and You’
Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.
He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.
His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917. It caused a lot of death and destruction, which I won’t go into because you can read all about it elsewhere. It also caused a great outpouring of new art, literature, architecture and culture in general, putting the previously somewhat stodgy Russia securely in the world’s avant-garde.
It also resulted in a tremendous surge of industrialization, rapidly transforming a previously mostly agrarian, though gradually industrializing nation into a global industrial powerhouse (at great human cost). But perhaps most importantly, the revolution destroyed all of the previously dominant institutions of privilege based on heredity, class and wealth and replaced them with an egalitarian social model centered on the working class.
And it demonstrated (as much through propaganda as by actual example) how this new model was more competitive: while the West wallowed in the Great Depression, the USSR surged ahead both economically and socially.
For all of its many failings, the USSR did serve as a shining city on the hill to the downtrodden millions around the world, including in the USA, fermenting rebellion, so that even there the one-percent ownership class eventually had to stop and think.
Reluctantly, they decided to stop trying to destroy organized labor movements, introduced state old-age pensions (misnamed “Social Security”) and declared a euphemistic “war on poverty.” And with that a “middle class” was created—so called because it was literally in the middle, having risen out of poverty but still safely walled off from the one-percent ownership class. But as we shall see this effect was temporary.
Eventually the USSR evaporated, as artificial, synthetic political entities often do. The reasons for this disappearing act are too numerous to mention, but one of the main ones was that the Soviet political elite turned itself into a much-hated, privileged caste, and then failed to reproduce, turning into a moribund gerontocracy.
When the old cadres finally started dying out, the new generation that came in included plenty of traitors who did their best to destroy the system and grab a piece for themselves. This effect was plain to see, but was it the root cause? When a complex system collapses, every part of it is touched to one extent or another, and it becomes impossible to say which one played the key role in precipitating the collapse.
With the USSR gone, the owners of the USA had no one to compete against and were no longer under any sort of pressure to maintain the illusion of an equitable and egalitarian society. Instead, they concentrated on two projects, one ideological, the other economic.
The ideological project involved wrecking what was left of the USSR to the greatest extent possible in order to paint a convincing picture of the horrible consequences of communism or socialism and to herd everyone toward wholeheartedly embracing unfettered capitalism. The economic project involved eviscerating the American middle class—a process that by now has largely run its course.
Since the creation of the middle class was a multigenerational project, so is its destruction. But the effects of this process on society are already plain to see: there is an overhang of still relatively well-off retirees while their children and grandchildren have greatly diminished economic and social prospects.
Meanwhile, the hastily erected scaffolding that created the appearance of egalitarianism has been knocked out. Organized labor is all but finished. Borders have been thrown open to foreign labor and cheap imports.
Entry into the middle class has been blocked through a variety of measures including the relentless dumbing down of public education, the equally relentless overpricing of higher education, the health care extortion scheme, the rationing of justice based on wealth and privilege, wealth confiscation using a succession of artificial real estate market bubbles and so on.
Overall, the former middle class is being whittled down to nothing the same way that the Chinese “coolies” were dealt with once the railroads had been built: don’t feed them much but give them plenty of opium (now being grown in Afghanistan under the watchful eye of Western troops). To sum it up: if you aren’t happy with the way things are going in the US, you have a choice.
You can of course blame Russia—for getting rid of the USSR. Or you can blame your owners—your one percent—who have owned you ever since the King of England appointed the Lords Proprietors.
Within Russia itself the commemoration of the October Revolution is no longer a public holiday. But there was a sort of commemoration held on the vast Palace Square in St. Petersburg, which I attended with my five-year-old son on my shoulders. It was his first time in a crowd of 35,000, and he was duly impressed. It was a light-and-sound extravaganza consisting of two shows which played in alternation.
On the vast semicircular facade of the General Staff building was broadcast a multimedia retrospective of the October Revolution that included the reading of historical documents (such as the abdication of Nicholas II) and works of poetry. It ended on an upbeat note—yes, many horrible events took place, but Russia is now reborn—with the General Staff’s façade painted in the Russian tricolor.
A different show was presented on the façade of the Winter Palace across the square. Here, multimedia artists from across Europe (including France, Italy, Spain and Poland) used projected light to decorate and transform the palace to music that sung praises to the beauty of St. Petersburg. The audience was invited to use their phones to vote for the best one.
A Russian TV News Report from the Palace Square light show
After the show, as we filtered out of the Palace Square and walked home along the Palace Embankment, my five-year-old son asked some good questions that he had formulated while watching the show. “Did a lot of people die?” (Yes.) “But Russia was then and is now?” (Yes, Russia has been around for a 1000 years and will probably be around for 1000 years more.) “Why do people have to die?” (Because otherwise we we would be full-up with useless old people and there wouldn’t be enough room for young people.) And then the obvious follow-up: “Why are we full-up with useless old people anyway?” (???) And finally: “Why do we bury dead people?” (Because they smell really bad.) “Ah…” A rather unsentimental youth, wouldn’t you say? But he was only one of the thousands of quite similar-minded ones who were in attendance that day, riding on their fathers’ shoulders or marching along. Welcome to Russia…
One of the reasons why the USSR failed was because the idiocy of the ideology of Soviet communism became too painful to tolerate. In a sense, this was inevitable. You see, ideology is a product of intellectuals, and intellectuals tend to be idiots, making “intellectual idiocy” something of an oxymoron. We are born equipped with MonkeyBrain 2.0 that can handle abstraction only too well but always fails when attempting to reconcile it with messy physical reality. And so it would be a grave error to think that, just because communist ideology is idiotic, capitalist ideology is any less so.
By now most thinking people realize that capitalism has failed just has communism had. We can only hope that one day the US will do with its capitalist legacy what Russia has done with its communist one: turn it into a festive art installation that both children and adults can enjoy.
Source: Club Orlov
Brendan Kennelly, one the country’s most popular poets, dies aged 85
Family members confirmed his death on Sunday evening at Áras Mhuire nursing home, Listowel, in his native Co Kerry.
He graduated from Trinity College, wrote his PhD thesis there, and went on to become professor of modern literature at the university.
Mr Kennelly had more than 30 poetry collections published, which captured the many shades and moods of his home county as well as his adopted Dublin home.
He was also a popular broadcaster and made many appearances on radio and television programmes, such as The Late Late Show.
[His poetry is] infused with the details and texture of life, its contradictions and moments of celebration including the wry experiences of football and politics
President Michael D Higgins, a friend of Mr Kennelly’s, said his poetry held “a special place in the affections of the Irish people”.
“As one of those who had the great fortune of enjoying the gift of friendship with Brendan Kennelly for many years, it is with great sadness that I have heard of his passing,” he said.
“As a poet, Brendan Kennelly had forged a special place in the affections of the Irish people. He brought so much resonance, insight, and the revelation of the joy of intimacy to the performance of his poems and to gatherings in so many parts of Ireland. He did so with a special charm, wit, energy and passion.”
He added that Mr Kennelly’s poetry is “infused with the details and texture of life, its contradictions and moments of celebration including the wry experiences of football and politics”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the country has lost a “great teacher, poet, raconteur; a man of great intelligence and wit”.
He added: “The Irish people loved hearing his voice and reading his poetry.”
He spoke the language of the people. We loved his writing. His eloquence was masterful
Trinity College Dublin’s provost, Prof Linda Doyle, said Mr Kennelly was known to generations of Trinity students as a great teacher and as a warm and encouraging presence on campus.
“His talent for, and love of, poetry came through in every conversation as did his good humour. We have all missed him on campus in recent years as illness often kept him in his beloved Kerry. He is a loss to his much loved family, Trinity and the country,” she said.
Tony Guerin, a close friend of Kennelly’s, and a playwright, said he will be remembered in Kerry and elsewhere as “the people’s poet”.
“My relation with Brendan was one of friendship. There are more scholarly people who will assess his contribution and discuss those matters. But he spoke the language of the people. We loved his writing. His eloquence was masterful, whether it was the written word or being interviewed by Gay Byrne,” he said.
Mr Kennelly is survived by his brothers, Alan, Paddy and Kevin, by his sisters, Mary Kenny and Nancy McAuliffe, and his three grandchildren.
His daughter Doodle Kennelly died earlier this year.
Arrangements for a family funeral are expected to be announced shortly.
New skeleton find could reveal more about Vesuvius eruption
The remains of a man presumed to be aged 40-45 were found under metres of volcanic rock roughly where Herculaneum’s shoreline used to be, before Vesuvius’ explosion in 79 AD pushed it back by 500 metres (1,640 feet).
He was lying down, facing inland, and probably saw death in the face as he was overwhelmed by the molten lava that buried his city, the head of the Herculaneum archaeological park, Francesco Sirano, told the ANSA news agency.
“He could have been a rescuer”, Sirano suggested.
As Vesuvius erupted, a naval fleet came to the rescue, led by the ancient Roman scholar and commander Pliny the Elder. He died on the shore, but it is believed that his officers managed to evacuate hundreds of survivors.
The skeleton might have otherwise belonged to “one of the fugitives” who was trying to get on one of the lifeboats, “perhaps the unlucky last one of a group that had managed to sail off,” Sirano suggested.
It was found covered by charred wood remains, including a beam from a building that may have smashed his skull, while his bones appear bright red, possibly blood markings left as the victim was engulfed in the volcanic discharge.
Archaeologists also found traces of tissue and metal objects — likely the remains of personal belongings he was fleeing with: maybe a bag, work tools, or even weapons or coins, the head of the archaeological park said.
Other human remains have been found in and around Herculaneum in the past decades — including a skull held in a Rome museum that some attribute to Pliny — but the latest discovery can be investigated with more modern techniques.
“Today we have the possibility of understanding more”, Sirano said.
Researchers believe that in Herculaneum temperatures rose up to 500 degrees — enough to vaporise soft tissues. In a phenomenon that is poorly understood, a rapid drop in temperature ensued, helping preserve what remained.
Although much smaller than Pompeii, its better-known neighbour outside the southern city of Naples, Herculaneum was a wealthier town with more exquisite architecture, much of which is still to be uncovered.
READ ALSO: Where are Italy’s active volcanoes?
Lou Reed: The Velvet Underground: an inside look at the band that gave a voice to the outsiders | USA
The importance of The Velvet Underground has been endlessly discussed. They are, with a nod to The Beatles, the modern rock group par excellence. Formed by Lou Reed and John Cale in New York in 1965, the band was immediately endorsed by Andy Warhol, with whom they would collaborate until 1967, although his influence would never leave them. The Velvet Underground were a sixties group that, during its five years of existence, failed to fit into their era for a single day. While others sung of love and good vibrations, they designed a revolutionary and perverse alternative for rock.
It was an alternative that remains valid to this day, half a century after the group was mortally wounded by the departure of Reed in August 1970. To corroborate this, Apple TV will premiere The Velvet Underground in October. Directed by Todd Haynes, the documentary is full of never-before-seen footage and interviews with people who were in the thick of it at the time, more than compensating for a dearth of movies about a band that can be described as legendary without fear of slipping into musical nepotism.
The documentary arrives in good company. At the end of September I’ll be your mirror: A tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico was released, an album of cover versions of the group’s influential debut album when the line-up consisted of Reed, Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker. A posthumous work by producer Hal Willner, who died of Covid-19 in 2020, it features contributions by Thurston Moore, Sharon van Etten, Iggy Pop, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett and Michael Stipe, among others.
Speaking about the original The Velvet Underground & Nico, released in 1967, Haynes said in an interview with Uncut magazine earlier this year that it is music that makes you think about how fragile identity is, and also about life. The journalist Susana Monteagudo concurs with Haynes. “The Velvet Underground were the first punk group in terms of transgression of codes and creative freedom,” says the author of books including Illustrated History of Rock and Amy Winehouse. Stranger than her. “As well as practicing the philosophy of do-it-yourself and rejecting the commercial course of the music industry, they subverted the establishment by making dissidence visible on every level, not just in artistic terms. They embraced the marginal and they were too nihilistic, cynical and sinister for the Flower Power era.”
The Velvet Underground did not belong to their time, but to the future. Cale wanted to fuse rock and roll with experimental music. Reed’s lyrics were open to the influence of writers like Burroughs, Delmore Schwartz and John Rechy. They were a loud and screeching band, but they also composed melodic songs. This contrast is most evident on The Velvet Underground & Nico, which contains some of the group’s most beautiful songs. I’ll be your mirror and Femme Fatale are sung by Nico (who also provides vocals on the chorus of Sunday morning, originally written for her but eventually sung by Reed), one of the most conflicting elements of the band.
For trans artist Roberta Marrero, Nico, the German model and singer who died in 1988, was an “icon of undisputable beauty, as well as being a pioneer who opened the door for other greats like Siouxsie.” In spite of her beauty, Nico did not fit the prevailing pop girl model of the time. Her singing style was far removed from traditional rock and openly reflected her Germanic and Gothic roots. Her inscrutable personality was married to a talent that after she left the Velvet Underground would manifest itself in unclassifiable works such as The marble index (1969), whose idiosyncrasy – tearing up the blueprint of pop music and exploring musical latitudes reserved for men – would inspire Kate Bush and Björk, as well as more contemporary artists such as Julia Holter, St Vincent and Anohni.
The Velvet Underground also broke with the heterosexual tradition of rock music. In Monteagudo’s view, in addition to creating a literary imagery “where there was room for homosexuals, trans women, prostitutes, junkies and outsiders in general,” they were also “a band not exclusively made up of males, and men who at the same time did not identify with a heteronormative masculinity, especially in the case of Lou Reed. They integrated and normalized diversity in their sphere because their way of life was linked to this concept. It was also the dawning of the ambiguous, the queer.” Marrero believes that “they brought non-normative sexualities to the forefront, such as sadism, more so than homosexuality. Although when I think about it, I’m waiting for my man could be talking about a gigolo and not a drug-dealer. In reality, it’s very ambiguous.”
This divorce from the prevailing canons also had a lot do with the presence of Maureen “Moe” Tucker. Her drum work with the band anticipated a trend that would not take hold until 1977, with the explosion of punk. From that point on, the female role in groups ceased to be principally pigeon-holed into certain instruments and roles. In Monteagudo’s opinion, Tucker is “a key element of this breaking of stereotypes and, as such, a figure to be held up by feminism. Her playing style, as unorthodox as it was influential, is one of those achievements that should be emphasized by the movement. Furthermore, her androgynous image and her discretion made her a counterpoint to Nico’s glamour.”
Revered by bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, who dedicated a song to her, and as Marrero asserts, a precursor to drummers such as Hannah Billie, formerly of Gossip, Tucker is, along with Cale, one of the survivors of the Velvet Underground’s original line-up. Due to her social media stance on Donald Trump and gun ownership, Tucker has also become the band’s least popular member.
Warhol’s influence was a determining factor behind The Velvet Underground developing such a peculiar personality. In the strictly musical sense, the band projected through their instruments some of the ideas on repetition, improvisation and saturation that the artist applied to his experimental movies. On the literary side, the people who frequented Warhol’s Factory left their mark on songs including That’s the story of my life (inspired by Billy Name, the Factory’s archivist) Femme fatale (inspired by the ‘it’ girl Edie Sedgwick) or the Reed-penned Candy says, which is about Candy Darling, an icon of the trans community.
“When Candy says was released in 1969 nothing changed,” says Marrero, “but I think it was a marvelous celebration of trans culture on the part of the group. It is one of my favorite songs. You have to read the lyrics in a historical context because all that stuff about being trans and hating your body is a discourse that is now quite outdated in our community.” Marrero also notes that, years later, Reed was in a relationship with a trans colleague, Rachel Humphries, the two sharing a “romantic relationship that was utterly silenced by the hetero-ciscentric music press.”
When he started his solo career Reed would again talk about Candy Darling and other trans actresses on Walk on the wild side, one of the hits on his acclaimed 1972 album Transformer, a record that finally delivered many of The Velvet Underground’s artistic ideas to a wider audience. By that time, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Suicide, Modern Lovers and New York Dolls we ready to do the group’s legacy justice.
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