Of 20th-century revolutions, the upheaval in China that culminated in the declaration in 1949 of the People’s Republic was arguably just as significant as the Russian Revolution of 1917. Beginning this January, the Revolutions Reading Group undertakes an in-depth study of that 40-year struggle, from the overthrow of the monarchy in 1911 to the victory of the Communist Party after World War II. Readings to include Lucien Bianco, Origins of the Chinese Revolution, Harold Isaacs, Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, and Edgar Snow, Red Star over China.
“On the fringes of big Chinese cities the shadows of lofty factory chimneys fall across fields still tilled with wooden ploughs. On the wharves of seaports modern liners unload goods carried away on the backs of men or shipped inland on primitive barges. In the streets great trucks and jangling trams roar past carts drawn by men harnessed like animals to their loads. Sleek automobiles toot angrily at man-drawn rickshaws and barrows which thread their way through the lanes of traffic. Streets, lined with shops where men and women still fashion their wares with bare hands and simple tools, lead to huge mills run by humming dynamos. Aeroplanes and railways cut across vast regions linked otherwise only by footpaths and canals a thousand years old. Modern steamers ply the coasts and rivers, churning past junks of ancient design. Throughout the towns and villages, and on the tired land of the vast river valleys that stretch from the sea to the heart of Asia, these contradictions and contrasts multiply. They embody the struggle of nearly half a billion people for existence and survival.”
—opening paragraph of Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, Harold Isaacs, 1938
THE REVOLUTIONS STUDY GROUP (originally at the Brecht Forum) has been meeting since 2009. Individual participants have come and gone, however the group has held together, studying in depth a wide range of history including the French Revolution, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the Mau-Mau Revolt in Kenya, the Haitian Revolution, the European Revolutions of 1848, the May movement in France of 1968 and the Hot Autumn of Italy the following year, the Spanish Civil War, the Mexican Revolution, the Socialist (2nd) International, and Russian Social Democracy prior to World War I. The RSG has just completed a year-long examination of the German Revolutionary period of 1918-1924.