October and the Dark Continent

Matthew Goldstein                                                   Inter War History

The film October: Ten Days that Shook the World by Sergei Eisenstein was another in the series of grand Soviet Propaganda films produced by the director Eisenstein. It’s highly dramatized portrayal of the November Revolution, is in stark contrast to the straight forward writings of Mazower in the Dark Continent.

The title to the film and its background were taken from Jack Reed’s highly popular novel Ten Days that Shook the World, which gives a first hand account to the happenings of the Russian Revolution in St. Petersburg during that faithful Revolutionary period. Reed’s sympathy with the Communist revolutionaries makes it impossible to call his book a straight forward honest portrayal of the events in St. Petersburg. Its a exciting work that makes you feel as if all of Russia was behind the communist pusch, with stories of soldiers revolts and the great bravery of common supporters of the Soviet against the bourgeois officers and aristocrats that supported the Provisional government. Eisenstein’s film fills you with this same emotion. His grand scenes of the supporters storming the Winter Place make you feel as if all of Russia was there on the faithful night. Eisenstein’s movie was created as a propaganda film, and it’s purpose was to prop up men like Stalin who was taking control of Russia at this time and ruin the reputation of men like Trotsky who had fallen out of favor with the leadership. As a result this film has little validity to a student of the actual occurrences of the Revolution.

Mazower’s passage on the Russian Revolution is in a totally different vein then the film. It isn’t slanted so heavily to the side of the Revolutionaries, like Ten Days that Shook the World and October are. Mazower looks back to the period before the Revolution and the politics involved in the entire arch of time. This examination puts a different spin on the Revolution. Instead of being strictly a spontaneous uprising of the people, we see that the actions of the Communists were planned much further in advance and that their success was a much more calculated move. The Communist party “gained under one forth of the total votes cast”. (Mazower p.10) The Communist party did not have the rousing support shown in the movie but it was smart enough to seize power when it could. That is abundantly clear in The Dark Continent. Although October and Ten Days that Shook the World vary greatly from The Dark Continent, both works are able to give you a perspective and insight into the Russian Revolution.

How propaganda was used: Mazower’s “Dark Continent” and Eisenstein’s “October”

October: Ten Days that Shook the World, directed by Sergei Eisenstein and Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century illustrate differing perspectives of Russia’s October Revolution–the film is clearly a work of propaganda. The film shows exclusively positive elements of the Bolshevik Revolution.

The film tries to express the ‘unilateral’ support of the Proletariat at a time when Stalin was fighting to gain complete and undeniable control over the country. For this reason, Trotsky has a minimal role at the beginning of the Revolution. The film uses words to update the audience on changes, but offers no further explanation of why Trotsky, for instance, wanted to postpone an armed uprising. Stalin’s government wants to stop Trotsky’s influence to help cement his own claim to the Soviet Union. The film, in condemning the opinions of Trotsky, places Lenin as the hero of the revolution. This idea was used to aid Stalin at the beginning of his reign so that he could gain more legitimacy–he was following in the footsteps of Lenin. Eventually, this type of propaganda will change as Stalin begins to distance himself from Lenin and Lenin’s plans for the USSR–namely, the New Economic Plan for Collectivization and Dekulakization.

The film clearly exaggerates certain events: the toppling of the czar’s statue in the first few moments of the film is a key example of this. This film celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Revolution. To do this successfully, the film needed to show that the Revolution had broad and sweeping support. Each time opponents of the Revolution are shown, words such as “traitors” and “turncoats” are flashed across the screen to show that these men and women have betrayed their country. Moreover, the film shows violent confrontations unfolding as the Bolsheviks win control over St. Petersburg/Petrograd and the Winter Palace–an event that occurred without violence and bloodshed.

Furthermore, all representations of the Provisional Government show a lazy group that does not fight for all the people. Near the end of the film there are many words shown across the screen that show the Provisional Government as wanting to discuss the changes and negotiate, rather then implement changes. The strongest image is when the screen says the Provisional Government is trying to save itself, but flashes to an empty office.

The film ends with the win of the Bolsheviks. This win is displayed “across the world” with the use of clocks to show that this is a monumental step for the entire world. The other countries will soon follow the example of the USSR and communism will become the new world order. The film presents a romanticized perspective of the Revolution and one that is extraordinarily different from the history described by Mazower. In Dark Continent, the Revolution is placed within the context of the extreme political change and radical political sentiments that were shaking Europe as WWI unfolded and ended. None of this was explored within the film because it would have undermined the struggle of the people that the Soviet government wanted to propagate.