Comparison of Chapter One from “Dark Continent” and the Film “October” [Revised]


‘Dark Continent” was written by Mark Mazower in 1998, about interwar Europe. “October: 10 Days that Shook the World” is a 1928 Russian movie commemorating the October 1917 Revolution in Russia. After giving a brief introduction about Russia in World War One, the February Revolution, and the provisional government that ensued, it goes on to show the conditions under the new government, the heroism of the Bolsheviks and finally the popular victory of Lenin, communism and the proletariat. However, while watching the movie, one must remember that it was a piece of propaganda designed to promote the communist government, and hence is biased towards the communist ‘victors’.

In an initial scene, the movie depicts the early enthusiasm that greeted the fall of the monarchy and the rise of the provisional government, which promised the people a greater say in the political running of the country. However, this enthusiasm soon fades as the War continues and people are seen to be starving as the rationing of bread drops from a pound a person to a quarter pound in a matter of seconds on-screen. This disillusionment with forms of post-war democracy is reflected in the writings of Mazower, who says that early liberal [i.e. pro-democracy] policy makers in Europe did not seem to realize that the people primarily needed security of life and land, rather than the immediate ability to determine their long-term political fate (p.11). In comparison, the right and left wing politicians promoted the idea of ‘bread, land and peace’, which can clearly be seen in several scenes in the movie, notably when Lenin returns to Russia.

However, the scene when the peaceful proletarian rioters are attacked by the upper class aristocrats, who were enjoying ‘leisurely’ activities at the time, stinks of propaganda and the advocacy of the working-class communist government, who are coincidently in power in 1928. Mazower confirms that this attack by democrats on the normal people is absurd when he says that they mostly lost power because they lost touch with the people (p.27), not because they attacked them in the street.

Another, slightly subtler, form of propaganda arrives in the scene when the Bolsheviks are deciding whether to stage a revolution or not. Trotsky initially states they should wait, which is followed by an impassioned speech by Lenin stating that to wait is tantamount to giving up any chance at a revolution. At the end of the scene the Bolsheviks take a vote (subtly hinting again that everything in the state is done to the peoples’ wishes) and completely decide on supporting Lenin. This scene was most probably worked in to gain support for Stalin’s eventual decision to exile Trotsky, and to confirm his rightful position of head of the Soviet Union. Another subtle put down is when the movie refuses to acknowledge that Trotsky was in charge of the Red Guard and was largely responsible for the successful capture of Petrograd (p.11).

While “October” may have certain historical discrepancies, it is a useful movie to understand both the timeline of 1917 Russia and the evolution of mass propaganda in an interwar European dictatorship during the early age of film.