Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: russian revolution

A Reading End and A Writing First

What’s this “writing first” you speak of Michelle?

It may sound crazy, maybe a little silly, but I’m excited because today is the last day of January and I have achieved a goal. I have written and posted here every single day this month. They weren’t all beauties, but they are there. The habit is taking shape and solidifying.

Each morning, I grab a cup of coffee and my book. I kiss my husband good morning, sit down on the couch to start reading. I read an hour, set it aside, and pick up my laptop. I’m not sure what I’ll write about. It might be about the book I’m reading, but maybe something else is on my mind. There were many days that nothing came to mind right away, but I wrote anyway and then…there it was.

If I can do this, what else am I capable of?

Now that I’ve started to build the habit of writing each morning, I’m thinking I’ll start honing it a little. I tend to open my browser and read other people’s work, take glance at Facebook, and then start writing. Many times, that peek at the world colors my own thoughts, and I think I’d like to stop and write first before I do anything else.

The plan is to write what’s in my own head, save it, do some yoga practice, have some breakfast, maybe read another hour, and then open that document up and add to it. For February, my goal is to add this bit and continue to post todays work the same morning. Starting in March, I hope to write another hour, and maybe start editing and posting the previous days work instead. We shall see.

writing first
So rich…that’s right!

And what about the “reading end” you mentioned?

No I’m not going to stop reading, but can we talk a second about Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution?

This morning I finished the first volume. My edition is a collection of all three books bound into one ginormous (that’s one of my favorite words) volume. That makes it over 1400 pages of history. I’m tired of reading it, and I’m pretty sure you guys are tired of hearing about it too. This morning, when I reached the end of volume one, at page 546, I thought, “You know, you could legitimately stop reading here and move on. There is no disgrace in that.” And I think I’ll heed my advice and do just that.

My big takeaway from this reading is that, once again, I’ve been shown how freakin’ complicated and convoluted the Russian Revolution was. So many factors make it confusing. I don’t think anyone can read a couple books and really understand it, but I have loved trying. And I’ve gotten a lot out of my reading. It’s still one of my favorite era’s and I’m looking forward to learning more. I just need a break.

Bear with me for one more thought before I leave this book behind.

It bothers me how much we use the language of Marx and the Russian revolutionists today. I hear it every day on the news, on Facebook, in articles, and in the speech of my family and friends. I get the creepy feeling we’re all being used, and those words don’t mean what they think they mean.

Revolutions of any kind always turn violent, and we never know what the outcome will be. It’s always a last-ditch effort against an oppression that can no longer be borne by the people. It is not something to promote and take lightly. The question should be: Am I willing to die for this? Am I willing to sacrifice other human beings for this?

The common people will always be used by the ultra-rich, powerful, and political elite to further their aims. We are pawns in their world-wide game. We may be caught up in it, but we don’t have to play. Years ago, I let politics go (as much as possible) and decided to simply live my own life.

That doesn’t mean I don’t vote or educate myself. It means that I do the best I can to understand the basics, keep my personal philosophy and principles in sight, and leave everyone else to do the same.

I will not be a willing pawn in someone else’s game. I won’t get angry and hate on those who do not have the same ideals as I do. I will not play one human being against another. I will not hurt others because they are not on my side. But I will stand up for what I believe in and do what I believe is right, even if that means I am hurt (emotionally, physically, or financially) by my fellow citizens or government in the process.

Do you see why I need a break from this book and the study of this era?

I’m not sure what I’ll start reading tomorrow. Picking a new book from my TBR is always a little stressful and exciting. Oh my…another first. I did not buy a new book this month!

Distracted and Uninspired?

This is one of those mornings when I’m running behind, feeling distracted and uninspired, and usually decide to move on before I write anything. I’ll grab a cookie and another cup of coffee and read more, or go for a walk, take a shower, and do some housework. “I’ll write later.” I say to myself, but never do.

But not this time.

Today, I’ll share a couple of things even though, right at this moment, they don’t seem all that awesome.

First off, I’m 358 pages into Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, 12 hours of reading, and I’m lost again. Just when I feel like I have my feet on the ground, Trotsky goes off on a tangent (or the revolution does) and I have no idea what’s going on. Maybe that was the problem. They didn’t either. Tzarists, Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, Social Democrats, Soviets, proletarians, bourgeoisie, committees, the list goes on and on. I have no idea what group aligns with who, who is leading what, or what direction they want to go. It’s a big giant mess. Revolutions usually are.

Can you imagine living through this? I can’t. I realized today as I’m reading that all of this is going on right in the middle of World War II. Jeepers.

It also doesn’t help much that words used by Trotsky in 1932 don’t have the same meaning as they do today. Words like liberal, conservative, soviet, and socialist have all evolved. Here’s one I found fascinating this morning:

“Chauvinism, of course, must serve as their political bond with the soldiers.”

distracted

How would holding the door open for them or paying the dinner bill help? Wait…that’s chivalry. Clearly, as Inigo says in The Princess Bride, I do not think that word means what you think it means. I had to look it up.

Chauvinism:

  1. Militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country; fanatical patriotism.
  2. Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own gender, group, or kind.
  3. The sentiments of a chauvin; enthusiastic, unreflecting devotion to any cause; especially, absurdly exaggerated patriotism or military enthusiasm.

I did not know that! At the link, you’ll find the etymology of the word. You learn something new every day!

The other little thing I wanted to share with you was a quote I read in The Sun magazine while I ate my breakfast this morning:

“Abbot Mark once said to Abbot Arsenius: It is good, is it not, to have nothing in your cell that just gives you pleasure? For example, once I knew a brother who had a little wildflower that came up in his cell, and he pulled it out by the roots. Well, said Abbot Arsenius, that is all right. But each man should act according to his own spiritual way. And if one were not able to get along without the flower, he should plant it again.” From Reading from the Desert Fathers at the Laundromat by Robbie Gamble

How’s that grab ya? Let’s all “act according to our own spiritual way” and leave others to theirs.

PS LOVE, LOVE, LOVE The Sun Magazine. I get an actual printed magazine in my mailbox every month…you read that right. I look forward to getting it and I read every single page. Best money ever spent!

Distracted? Yes, but never uninspired if I sit and focus for a moment.

Am I Turning Into a Revolutionary?

I don’t think I’m turning into a revolutionary. I’ve always been more a conservative personality. I don’t like a lot of change and upheaval. But I can appreciate change when it is needed and well thought through. I am finding some interesting similarities between what Trotsky reports in his history and the political climate we’re experiencing today.

revolutionary

Remember back when I said I was getting SO lost in History of the Russian Revolution? Never mind, I am totally on it now. Ok, maybe not TOTALLY, but I’m getting on ok. Once I decided to let go of trying to understand each paragraph or page and just read, allow the pieces to come together on their own, it got easier, and I felt better about spending so much time in this book.

A lot of what I have already learned is coming back to the surface from long-term storage as I read, too. That helps a lot.

I’m amazed at Trotsky’s use of rhetoric. He’s one of those people that no matter what he says, you nod in agreement and move toward his position. He has a way of speaking (or writing really) that makes me think he’s a great guy, trying to do the great things, and make the world better for everyone.

Now…before you go all “You’re a commie lover!” on me, that’s not the case at all. I’m more of personal Trotsky sympathizer. I tend to lean that way in politics. I see you’re point; I think you have a good heart, but you’re so wrong. Trotsky is an interesting character, and his story is fascinating. Stalin hated him, so that’s a good sign, right? But then Stalin hated everyone.

I found a funny video called “What Did Leon Trotsky do in Exile?” on YouTube. Poor Trotsky inciting revolution everywhere he went. No government wanted that…kinda makes you like the guy.

Here are a couple interesting quotes I found so far.

“The art of revolutionary leadership in its most critical moments consists nine-tenths in knowing how to sense the mood of the masses…”

How does one “sense the mood of the masses these days”? Take a poll? Troll social media? Watch a cable news channel? From what I can tell, they all tell completely different stories. When we watch, we look at one group’s machinations and think, “Wow…what is wrong with those people? What are they so upset about?” We can’t imagine things being perceived differently. It makes it complicated to work together toward common goals. But then…maybe that’s the whole point of our current news media.

“The revolution was carried out upon the initiative and by the strength of one city, constituting approximately about 1/75 of the population of the country.”

Kind of frightening, isn’t it? I keep thinking about the world today. I hear, “They (whoever they are) can’t take over the whole country! They are too small, too isolated, too…” But only one city led the Russian Revolution, and one small group of men transformed that into something terrible that ended in millions of people dead.

“The oppressed masses, even when they rise to the very heights of creative action, tell little of themselves and write less. And the overpowering rapture of the victory later erases memory’s work.”

That goes for all of us, all throughout time, even moms. We’re in the trenches, man. We don’t have time for thought journals. Those that are busy living hard lives, aren’t sitting to think out a plan and document the details. Once things change, someone goes back and culls through what happened and reports on it. It’s always second hand and written by the winners.

“The privileged classes of every age, as also their lackeys, have always tried to declare revolutions, a mutiny, a riot, a revolt of the rabble. Classes which have outlived themselves are not distinguished by originality.”

Hmm…yeah. I know.

Here’s one more revolutionary quote I found interesting,

“Strikes, meetings, demonstrations, are not only acts in the struggle, but also measures of its force. The whole mass does not participate in the strike. Not all the strikers are ready to fight. In the sharpest moment the most daring appear in the streets. The hesitant, the tired, the conservative, sit at home. Here a revolutionary selection takes place of itself; people are sifted through the sieve of events.”

Here he’s talking about the difference between how the military/police test whether to rebel against government, and how the people have more freedom and opportunity to make these tests. To me, it brings to mind the “uprisings,” “riots,” and “protests” of the recent past here in the US. What are we testing?

I’ve been one of those “conservatives” that sit at home. And I mean conservative, as in wary of change and set in my older more comfortable ways, not the way the media throws around “conservative” and “liberal” as epithets. I’m watching what’s happening, wondering where it will lead. I’ve read too much, studied too much history, to throw myself into political battles against one side or another. Moves spurred in haste and anger rarely lead to anything but ruin.

I still don’t think I’ll turn into a revolutionary. Yes, something needs to change in our country, but I’m not sure anyone is in a place to know what those changes should be. I’m not taking sides just yet. I don’t want to rule out possibilities. Technology has changed the world so much, I’m not sure we can know what will work and won’t in the same way we used to.

Learning Hooks and Summit Reaches

I can hear you now, “What in the world are learning hooks? And summit reaches? I thought this was a book blog!”

learning hooks
“Hush, little one. And Clopin will tell you!”

The reading of Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution continues. I realized something this morning as I struggled through the text. I felt like I was reading random words strung together. Why? Because Trotsky assumes a lot of information is already known. Or maybe he’s writing about what he thinks is the most important. It reads like a list of chess moves.

This book isn’t for those just getting started on studying this era, but since I have some background knowledge, I’m going to keep reading. Occasionally, I get a glimpse of something I already know something about, so I can place the time and situation, add that information to my mental database, and learn something.

Wow…hold on a second. It’s the learning hooks thing again. If had no prior knowledge of the era, I’d having nothing to hang this highly technical and political information on. Humans learn best from narrative, stories of a more personal nature. We can add technical information on top of our existing storyline, but if we don’t have one, those details just drop to the floor and disappear. It’s something my son and were talking about on our hike yesterday.

Books and movies I’ve read and seen in the past have built a foundation for this new stuff. Stories about hardship in Russia, the culture, peasantry and serfdom, Tsars and wars, all give me the reasons behind the chess moves that Trotsky is showing me.

All a bunch of words to say, I’m a tad lost while I’m reading. I’d even go so far as to say I’m bored, but little sparks I get from time to time are encouraging me to keep going. Today, I got the picture that Russia, at the turn of the 20th century, didn’t have the larger shopkeeper, business, and landowner classes that Europe had. It had peasants and aristocrats. Once industrialism came, the peasants’ children, unable to make money at farming, moved to the cities for work. The start of the war increased this tremendously and caused major discontent. Trotsky believes this is why the socialist movement took off so quickly in Russia, and probably why it all descended into chaos and was taken over by Stalin. There was no large class of moneyed land and business owners stabilizing things with, “Hey now…let’s not be too hasty. I have interests to attend to as well.”

So…time not wasted reading, right?

Remember that hike I mentioned earlier? My youngest son had the day off and called ME to go hiking with him (insert honored mom smile here), so we met at a new (to us) park between us and tested it out. It’s called Bernardo Mount Summit; in case you’d like to check it out. We’re both terrible about choosing unknown locations. There are so many things that can go wrong. Will there be a bathroom? Parking? Will it suck? Will I feel like I wasted my day off? Yes, we’re overthinkers. That’s the danger of using your brain…it can take over the situation and ruin it.

This day was not ruined, not even a little. The park we chose was perfect, one I have been driving by for years thinking, “You know, that looks like a cool place.” But I never found occasion to stop and check it out.

For some strange reason, every time it’s just me and my youngest on a trail, we end up climbing to the top of a mountain. He sees “summit” and beelines, and I follow along behind. I always feel like a badass at the end. My sons are both great at that. They never make me feel like I’m old and feeble. They think I can do anything! The feeling is mutual.

There was great conversation, hilarious jokes, we attempted to entertain others and share the love along the way, we communed with nature and its small creatures, and no one died. We’ll be going back, and in greater number, because there are miles of more trail to explore there. It was good times, but today I will be resting…all day. Good thing I have this fat book to read. More coffee, my good sir!

The History of the Russian Revolution

It’s been over a year since I started looking into this subject and had to put it away, but I think I’m ready to dive into The History of the Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky. I said I THINK I’m ready. I’m not 100% sure. I have a few reservations.

history of the russian revolution

Remember when I started my last book and mentioned that I’d probably with that book for quite some time? Well, this time I mean it. This book is over two inches thick and 1400 pages long!

Back in July of 2020, I started reading A People’s Tragedy – The Russian Revolution by Orland Figes because my son and I were watching Trotsky on Netflix. We were fascinated by the show, and I wanted to know more, so I did a quick search for “best book on the Russian Revolution” and Figes’ book was highly recommended in several articles.

I was not disappointed, but I was highly affected. The revolution, and Russia in general, has such a complicated history. There really is no place like it. The tragedy of it all, so many millions of people dead from war, famine, political bullshit. It’s terrifying. And there is so much we don’t know, so much was hidden from the rest of the world for so long.

Some of my friends have mentioned my “obsession with Russian culture,” but I’m not so much interested in the people as the era, what led up to it, and what really happened. Why? Because what I’m reading, about the Russian Revolution and the Nazi’s in Germany, feels eerily like events unfolding around the world today.

THAT’S the reason I hesitate to dive in again. Last time I did, it felt terrible, like I had watched a scary movie and kept seeing monsters everywhere for weeks. The truth is that the monsters are always around, and they don’t always attack. If we could see clearly which events led exactly to what, we could easily avoid the bad times. One thing doesn’t always lead to another. The world is far more intricate.

I am looking forward to reading this book, but I’m curious what I’ll find, or if I’ll even understand what I’m reading. I read the introduction and preface this morning and already have questions. Everything I’ve seen or read about Trotsky leads me to believe he was a very interesting and deep character. People are rarely evil incarnate. They all have several sides, reasons for what they do, backgrounds and personalities that lead them. This is one person on my list that I’d love to go back and talk to if I had a time machine. I want to see this man for myself, have a cup of tea with him, and ask him a bunch of questions.

He wrote this history of the Russian revolution himself while he was hiding in exile from Stalin. I’m curious what he has to say to me.

Want to read more posts inspired by Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution?
Learning Hooks and Summit Reaches
Am I Turning Into a Revolutionary?
Distracted and Uninspired?
Leading the Movement of the Masses?
A Reading End and A Writing First

Two New Books Started This Week – Happiness & Russians!

I’m so excited about my July TBR pile! It’s going to be an amazing reading month!

The nap was apparently much needed, by the way, and when I got back the movie was over. My son commented that “Indiana Jones” is a much more interesting movie when you’re not four years old. “The sign of a great story. You can watch it again and again and get more each time.” Oh, my heart!

I also started reading “A People’s Tragedy – The Russian Revolution” by Orland Figes this week. I’m so intrigued by the era and have been reading and watching a lot about it.

A few years ago, I read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and I’ve been curious about Russian history ever since. I’ve been meaning to read more history but hadn’t found any recommendations until recently.

My youngest and I are watching “Trotsky” on Netflix on his days off work and we keep pausing it and talking. It takes our family so long to watch TV shows and movies!

And then I read a commentary article in the Wall Street Journal recently about the parallels between the Russian Revolution and our current political climate.

And…here I am. It’s all so fascinating.

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