Telling October: Memory and the Making of the Bolshevik Revolution / Edition 1

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All revolutionary regimes seek to legitimize themselves through foundation narratives that, told and retold, become constituent parts of the social fabric, erasing or pushing aside alternative histories. Frederick C. Corney draws on a wide range of sources—archives, published works, films—to explore the potent foundation narrative of Russia's Great October Socialist Revolution. He shows that even as it fought a bloody civil war with the forces that sought to displace it, the Bolshevik regime set about creating a new historical genealogy of which the October Revolution was the only possible culmination. This new narrative was forged through a complex process that included the sacralization of October through ritualized celebrations, its institutionalization in museums and professional institutes devoted to its study, and ambitious campaigns to persuade the masses that their lives were an inextricable part of this historical process. By the late 1920s, the Bolshevik regime had transformed its representation of what had occurred in 1917 into a new orthodoxy, the October Revolution. Corney investigates efforts to convey the dramatic essence of 1917 as a Bolshevik story through the increasingly elaborate anniversary celebrations of 1918, 1919, and 1920. He also describes how official commissions during the 1920s sought to institutionalize this new foundation narrative as history and memory. In the book's final chapter, the author assesses the state of the October narrative at its tenth anniversary, paying particular attention to the versions presented in the celebratory films by Eisenstein and Pudovkin. A brief epilogue assesses October's fate in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this path-breaking and most stimulating book, Corney examines the history of the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution from a new perspective. Instead of focusing his attention on the events of that year and those leading up to it, the author explores how these events were interpreted during the first decade after 1917. . . . This theoretically sophisticated book takes an interdisciplinary approach to the subject and pays special attention to ritual practices, how language was used, and other aspects of memory culture."—N. M. Brooks, New Mexico State University, Choice, April 2005

"A brief review can hardly do justice to this rich study, which combines extensive archival research with an innovative methodology. Arguing that memory is not innate but rather shaped in the ongoing process of its recollection and narration. Corney places the dynamic production of memory at center stage. The approach and argument are largely persuasive. . . . Telling October deserves a wide readership not only among historians of Russia but also among scholars interested in the history of revolutions and the problem of memory more broadly. It could also be usefully integrated into advanced undergraduate and graduate teaching on the Russian revolution."—Susan Morrissey, University College London, Slavic Review, vol. 4, no.4, Winter 2005

"The events of October 1917 did not become 'the October Revolution' until the Bolshevik revolutionaries who came to power undertook a concerted effort to make it so. This is the thesis of Frederick C. Corney's excellent new book, Telling October. . . . This is an important book and one well worth reading. The institutionalization of the memories of October had to be carefully managed, as Corney shows. His book is an excellent antidote to both Soviet and Western accounts which simply focus on the Military Revolutionary Committee, as if the Bolshevik party make the October Revolution in ten days. Rather, as the reader will find out, it was the memories of the October Revolution that had to be carefully crafted."—Elizabeth A. Wood, M.I.T., The Russian Review

"Telling October is a work of remarkable originality. It both builds on and contributes to the insights of a young cohort of historians who have looked afresh at the Russian revolutionary experience and its subsequent interpretations. With an enviable sensitivity to language, narrative, and ritual practice, Frederick C. Corney has leaped over the conventional debates of social and antisocial historians and asked the kinds of questions usually raised by historical anthropologists and literary scholars. This is a complex and yet highly readable book."—Reginald Zelnik, University of California, Berkeley

"Frederick C. Corney's book marks a welcome departure in scholarship on the Russian Revolution. There is nothing like it in the field. Tapping pertinent archival collections, major published works, and representations of October in Soviet cinema, he explicates the mechanisms at work in what he calls ' the group dynamic of memory articulation.' Corney's interdisciplinary approach, his conceptualization of October as memory project, and his familiarity with and judicious use of theoretical literature on memory culture adds enormously to the book."—Donald Raleigh, author of Revolution on the Volga

"In his innovative and stimulating book, Fred Corney explores with subtlety and insight the complex and contested processes through which the early Soviet state told the tale of October 1917 and the pre-revolutionary Bolshevik party through festivals, collective reminiscence, local history, film, and other ' institutions of memory.'"—Steve Smith, University of Essex

"In this pathbreaking book, Frederick C. Corney examines the official story of the October Revolution as a foundation narrative of the Soviet state. Through his analysis of films, ritualized celebrations, and history-writing projects, Corney has produced a fascinating study of mythmaking and the institutionalization of historical memory."—David L. Hoffmann, Ohio State University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801489310
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,290,475
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction : writing the event 1
1 The power of the story 15
2 The drama of power 46
3 Apotheosis of October 70
4 Istpart and the institutionalization of memory 97
5 "How not to write the history of October" 126
6 The lessons of October : the twentieth anniversary of 1905 149
7 Truth and poetry : the tenth anniversary of October 175
Conclusion : experiencing October 201
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