The Revolution That Was 1968

The Revolution That Was 1968

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Two assassinations, a bloody war, violent protests, racial unrest, colorful hippies, a celebration of sex and rebellion, and John Lennon’s countercultural anthem, “Revolution”—1968 had them all.

It was the year that shattered the fragile consensus that had shaped American society since the end of World War II. It was the year when assassinations ended the last hope of a nonviolent civil-rights movement and the creation of a new biracial political coalition. The year witnessed the coming of age of the baby-boom generation, the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, who rebelled against tradition and all forms of conformity. And it forged, for better or worse, the world in which we live today.

The 1960s began with hope and optimism, with policymakers and intellectuals celebrating the dawn of a new age of consensus. But the fragile harmony quickly began to fray. Young Americans took to the streets to protest President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to escalate the Vietnam war. African Americans had marched to end the southern system of Jim Crow. Women fought against gender stereotypes that confined them to the role of housewives. And hippies questioned the cultural assumptions that informed American life.

These political and cultural resentments simmering beneath the surface of American society exploded in 1968. Nearly every week produced news of another earth-shattering event.

The year was full of cultural expressions of change. NBC launched a new comedy, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, that upended TV conventions with its irreverent and satirical humor, providing viewers with a much-needed respite from the turmoil engulfing the nation. Movies such as The Graduate explored topics of sex and rebellion, and the original Star Trek featured an interracial kiss. “Where I come from,” declared Captain Kirk, “size, shape or color makes no difference.” It was the year that John Lennon sang “Revolution,” and Jefferson Airplane declared that “Now it’s time for you and me to have a revolution.” On Broadway, “The Boys in the Band” opened the closet door and explored the idea of same-sex attraction, while “Hair” celebrated the counterculture with its plea for “harmony and understanding.”

The year marked a milestone for the women’s liberation movement. On a sunny day in September women gathered on the Atlantic City boardwalk to protest the Miss America Beauty Contest. They threw items that symbolized oppression—girdles, curlers and bras—into a “Freedom Trash Can.” Because the boardwalk was made of combustible wooden planks, the fire marshal refused to allow them to set the can on fire, but that didn’t prevent reporters from claiming the women had “burned” their bras. Two blocks away, African-American women, who had been unrepresented in the official contest, hosted a rival “Miss Black America” contest.

The spirit of rebellion even seeped into the Summer Olympics in Mexico City where American medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved fists during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” to show their support for black power.

Perhaps the most profound image of a year came on Christmas Eve, when the crew of Apollo 8 surfaced from behind the moon to see our blue planet as it emerged over the colorless lunar surface. Their iconic “Earthrise” photo, which revealed a small and fragile planet, fed a growing environmental movement that called for preserving precious resources like clean air and water. “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark,” observed the astronomer Carl Sagan. “There is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

Nothing, however, exposed the raw nerve of discontent more than Vietnam. The year began with the United States still embroiled in a seemingly endless war. On January 31, 1968, communist troops launched an offensive during the lunar new year, called Tet. The assault killed 1,500 Americans and burst the illusion that the United States was winning the war. TV anchorman Walter Cronkite, echoing many Americans, declared the U.S. was “mired in stalemate.” At that moment, President Lyndon Johnson turned to an aide and said, “It’s all over.” If he had lost Cronkite, he had lost “Mr. Average Citizen.”

He was right. Support for LBJ’s Vietnam policy dropped to 26 percent and, with no end in sight, Johnson announced at the end of March that he would not seek reelection. Tet destroyed the Johnson presidency, but more importantly it called into question the Cold War belief that America had a mission to battle communism wherever it reared its ugly head. Over the next few decades, the two political parties would offer strikingly different approaches to the world. Many young people who protested the Vietnam War, like Bill Clinton, would seize control of the Democratic party—the party of JFK and LBJ that lurched the nation into war—and articulate a more restrained view of American power.

Republicans, meanwhile, became the new internationalists, insisting that the nation continue to flex its military muscle abroad. President Donald Trump has appropriated both messages, but more out of political expediency than conviction. He adopted an isolationist stance during the campaign, calling for an “America First” approach to world affairs, but once in office he has threatened enemies with intervention and even nuclear annihilation.

In the short run, the chief political beneficiary of the shift of opinion after Tet was Senator Eugene McCarthy, whose army of volunteers allowed him to score a psychological victory over LBJ in New Hampshire’s March primary. One of the “clean for Gene” volunteers who knocked on doors throughout the state was a Wellesley student named Hillary Clinton. Four days after the primary, however, Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of the slain president and now a senator from New York, entered the race for the Democratic nomination.

Many Democrats believed that Kennedy was the only politician in America who could pull together the fractured liberal coalition. “How do you seek to change a society that yields so painfully to change?” he asked his youthful supporters at campaign stops across the nation. Kennedy believed that convincing poor people of all colors to pursue their shared class interests offered the only solution to the deep racial hostility that was tearing the nation apart. “We have to convince the Negroes and poor whites that they have common interests,” Kennedy told a journalist. “If we can reconcile those two hostile groups, and then add the kids, you can really turn this country around.”

Kennedy was not the only voice calling for a class-based, biracial coalition that year. By 1968, Martin Luther King had abandoned his previous emphasis on dramatic confrontations and instead focused on community organizing to build a class-based, grassroots alliance among the poor. King, who spent most of the winter organizing a “poor people’s march on Washington,” argued that America’s racial problems could not be solved without addressing the issue of class. “We must recognize,” he said. “that we can’t solve our problems now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power.” King now considered himself a revolutionary, not a reformer.

In April, while in Memphis to support striking garbage workers, King reaffirmed his faith in the possibility of racial justice: “I may not get there with you. But we as a people will get to the promised land.” The following day, April 4, a bullet fired from the gun of a white ex-convict ripped through King’s neck, killing him instantly.

With King dead, RFK became for many disaffected people, black and white, the only national leader who commanded respect and enthusiasm. But Kennedy suffered the same fate as King, gunned down by an assassin’s bullet that tore through his brain after he had won the crucial California primary.

The bullets that killed MLK and RFK snuffed out any hope of forging a new progressive coalition. For a generation, progressives have been left wondering: What if they had lived? Would Kennedy have gone on to secure the nomination and win in November? Would King’s “poor people’s march” have succeeded in sending a powerful signal about the possibility of forging a black-white alliance? We will never know the answer to those questions. Instead, their deaths were a potent reminder that bullets, not ballots, would shape the future of American politics. The assassinations demoralized young people who had protested the war, and guaranteed that the old guard would solidify their control over the party.

The old and new came together in Chicago for the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It proved a combustible mix. When the convention approved a plank supporting LBJ’s Vietnam policy, anti-war activists donned black arm bands and remained in their seats, singing “We Shall Overcome.” As dramatic as these events were, the real action was taking place outside the convention hall where the police assaulted a group of peaceful demonstrators. With no attempt to distinguish bystanders and peaceful protesters from lawbreakers, the police smashed people through plate-glass windows, fired tear-gas canisters indiscriminately and brutalized anyone who got in their way. “These are our children,” New York Times columnist Tom Wicker cried out as the violence swirled around him.

The public’s reaction to the police riot gave an indication of the American mood in 1968: Most Americans sympathized with the police. In a poll taken shortly after the Democratic convention, most blue-collar workers approved the way the Chicago police had handled protesters; some thought the police were “not tough enough” on them.

1968 not only muted two powerful voices advocating for social change and witnessed the implosion of the Democratic party; it gave birth to a new form of social populism that would be the mainstay of the Republican party for the next five decades. The most direct appeal for the hearts of angry white folks came from American Independence Party candidate George Wallace, whose symbolic stance in a university doorway had made him a hero to southern whites. In 1968 Wallace’s anti-establishment populism also appealed to many northern Democrats angry over the party’s association with protest and integration. One survey showed that more than half the nation shared Wallace’s view that “liberals, intellectuals and long-hairs have run the country for too long.”

Joining Wallace in pursuit of the hearts and minds of America’s angry white voters was the Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, who after losing the presidential election and a race for governor earlier in the decade, famously retired from politics. “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore,” he told reporters in 1962. Sensing an opportunity, Nixon changed his mind and jumped into the race. Nixon promised that he had a plan—never specified—to end the war in Vietnam; but his top priority, he declared, was the restoration of law and order. Nixon appealed to those he called the “silent majority,” those whose values of patriotism and stability had been violated by student protesters, urban riots and arrogant intellectuals.

The significance of Nixon’s victory that November transcended the narrow margin of his victory. His election revealed a shift in the tectonic plates of American politics. For the previous three decades, the Roosevelt coalition, forged during the depth of the Great Depression, fueled the Democratic party and allowed it to set the agenda in Washington. In 1968, Nixon employed the language of social populism to lure away disaffected white voters in the growing suburbs and bring them into the Republican fold. His strategy invigorated the Republican party and cemented a new conservative coalition that would endure long after his disgraced presidency ended.

Echoes of 1968 reverberated through the 2016 election, during which Donald Trump channeled both George Wallace’s blatant racism and Richard Nixon’s appeal to the “silent majority.” Trump, who led the campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the nation’s first African-American president by charging that he was not a U.S. citizen, tapped into deep resentment among voters who cling tenaciously to an older world view. He announced his candidacy by attacking immigrants, calling them rapists and drug dealers, then moved on to Muslims, who he wanted banned from entering the United States, before widening his reach by using well-tested racial “dog whistles” to appeal to white voters. His nostalgia for an America before anti-war rallies and civil-rights protests found expression in his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Hillary Clinton, like 1968 Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey, was eminently qualified for the presidency, but ran a passionless campaign for a party that had lost its progressive voice.

1968 forged a cultural struggle that continues to shape American society today. The civil-rights movement dramatically increased options for African-Americans, and along the way, spearheaded other empowerment movements, especially for women and the LGBTQ community. The range of choices expanded beyond political rights into the world of culture. A generation of young people came of age in the 1960s questioning all forms of authority, loosening the rules of behavior that had guided their parent’s generation. These dramatic changes prompted a backlash among traditionalists who complained that “counterculture” values had seeped into every institution of American society, breeding permissiveness and eroding the moral glue that held society together.

Now, five decades later, despite all the changes that have taken place, the nation remains trapped in this ongoing struggle for the hearts and minds of the American people. We are still living in the long shadow of 1968.

Steven M. Gillon, a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma, is the Scholar-in-Residence at HISTORY. He has authored numerous books on American history, including the recent Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism, (Basic, 2018)

History Reads features the work of prominent authors and historians.

The Most Important Revolutions That Shaped World History

History textbooks are filled with pages describing various revolutions: organized groups of people who fought with their lives to replace the existing ruling system with another. Many turned out to be failures, but occasionally, one would result in a triumphant success. These uprisings tended to shape not only one country, but several, their influence sometimes crossing continents. The following five revolutions are particularly noteworthy for their long-lasting impact on the world. Through bloodshed came change, and whether it was for better or worse, there is no denying the importance of such pivotal moments in our history.


In early 1968, media coverage in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive spurred increased protests in opposition to the Vietnam War, especially among university students. [4] The protests were most prevalent in the United States, and on 17 March, 25,000 demonstrators [5] marched to the American embassy in London's Grosvenor Square and violently clashed with police. [6] Major protests concerning other political issues made international news, such as the March 1968 protests in Poland against their communist government, [7] and the campus uprisings of May 1968 in France. [8] The upheaval reflected the increased politicisation of the 1960s youth movement and the rise of New Left ideology, in a contrast with the hippie ideology behind the 1967 Summer of Love. [9] For these students and activists, the Maoist philosophy of cultural revolution, purging society of its non-progressive elements, provided a model for social change. [10] [11]

By and large, the Beatles had avoided publicly expressing their political views in their music, [12] with "Taxman" being their only overtly political track thus far. [13] Viewed as leaders of the counterculture, the band – particularly John Lennon – were under pressure from Leninist, Trotskyist and Maoist groups to actively support the revolutionary cause. [14] Lennon decided to write a song about the recent wave of social upheaval while the Beatles were in Rishikesh, India, studying Transcendental Meditation. [15] He recalled, "I thought it was about time we spoke about it, the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war [in 1966]. I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India." [16] Lennon began writing the song there and completed it in England in May, [14] inspired especially by events in France. [17] [18]

Despite Lennon's antiwar feelings, he had yet to become anti-establishment, and expressed in "Revolution" that he wanted "to see the plan" from those advocating toppling the system. [19] In author Mark Hertsgaard's description, the lyrics advocate social change but emphasise that "political actions [should] be judged on moral rather than ideological grounds". [20] The repeated phrase "it's gonna be alright" came directly from Lennon's Transcendental Meditation experiences in India, conveying the idea that God would take care of the human race no matter what happened politically. [21] Another influence on Lennon was his burgeoning relationship with avant-garde artist Yoko Ono and her espousal of sexual politics as an alternative to Maoist doctrine and other hardline philosophies adopted by the political left. [22] Lennon credited Ono with awakening him from his passive mindset of the previous year. [23]

Around the fourth week of May 1968, the Beatles met at Kinfauns, George Harrison's home in Esher, to demonstrate their compositions to each other in preparation for recording their next studio album. A recording from that informal session released in the White Album's Super Deluxe version shows that "Revolution" had two of its three verses intact. [19] The lines referencing Mao Zedong – "But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain't gone make it with anyone anyhow" [24] – were added in the studio. While filming a promotional clip later that year, Lennon told director Michael Lindsay-Hogg that it was the most important lyric in the song. By 1972, Lennon had changed his mind saying "I should have never said that about Chairman Mao." [25]

"Revolution 1" Edit

The Beatles began the recording sessions for their new album on 30 May, starting with "Revolution 1" (simply titled "Revolution" for the first few sessions). At this first session, they concentrated on recording the basic rhythm track. Take 18 lasted 10:17, much longer than the earlier takes, and it was this take that was chosen for additional overdubs recorded over the next two sessions. [26] The full take 18 was officially released in 2018, as part of the Super Deluxe Edition of The Beatles coinciding with the album's fiftieth anniversary. [27]

During overdubs which brought the recording to take 20, Lennon took the unusual step of performing his lead vocal while lying on the floor. He also altered one line into the ambiguous "you can count me out, in". [28] He later explained that he included both because he was undecided in his sentiments. [29] [30]

"Revolution 1" has a blues style, performed at a relaxed tempo. The electric guitar heard in the intro shows a blues influence, and the "shoo-bee-do-wop" backing vocals are a reference to doo-wop music. The basic time signature is 12
8 (or 4
4 in a "shuffle" style), but the song has several extra half-length bars during the verses. [31] There are also two extra beats at the end of the last chorus, the result of an accidental bad edit during the mixing process that was left uncorrected at Lennon's request. [32]

Take 20 Edit

Monitor mixes of the full-length version of "Revolution 1" became available on bootlegs such as From Kinfauns to Chaos in the 1990s. [33] In 2009, a high-quality version labelled "Revolution Take 20" appeared on the bootleg CD Revolution: Take . Your Knickers Off! [34] The release triggered considerable interest among the media and fans of the group. This version, RM1 (Remix in Mono #1) of take 20, runs to 10 minutes 46 seconds (at the correct speed) [35] [ better source needed ] and was created at the end of the 4 June session, with a copy taken away by Lennon. [34] [28] It was an attempt by Lennon to augment the full-length version of "Revolution" in a way that satisfied him before he chose to split the piece between the edited "Revolution 1" and the musique concrète "Revolution 9". [34]

The bootlegged recording starts with engineer Peter Bown announcing the remix as "RM1 of Take . " and then momentarily forgetting the take number, which Lennon jokingly finishes with "Take your knickers off and let's go!" [36] The first half of the recording is almost identical to the released track "Revolution 1". It lacks the electric guitar and horn overdubs of the final version, but features two tape loops in the key of A (same as the song) that are faded in and out at various points. [35] [ better source needed ] After the final chorus, the song launches into an extended coda similar to that in "Hey Jude". (The album version only features about 40 seconds of this coda.) Beyond the point where the album version fades out, the basic instrumental backing keeps repeating while the vocals and overdubs become increasingly chaotic: Harrison and Paul McCartney repeatedly sing "dada, mama" in a childlike register Lennon's histrionic vocals are randomly distorted in speed (a little of this can be heard in the fade of "Revolution 1") and radio tuning noises à la "I Am the Walrus" appear. [37] Several elements of this coda appear in the officially released "Revolution 9". [ citation needed ]

After the band track ends, the song moves into avant-garde territory, with Yoko Ono reciting some prose over a portion of the song "Awal Hamsa" by Farid al-Atrash (captured from the studio recording). Ono's piece begins with the words "Maybe, it's not that . ", with her voice trailing off at the end McCartney [38] jokingly replies, "It is 'that'!" As the piece continues, Lennon quietly mumbles "Gonna be alright" a few times. Then follows a brief piano riff, some comments from Lennon and Ono on how well the track has preceded, and final appearances of the tape loops. [35] [ better source needed ] Most of this coda was lifted for the end of "Revolution 9", with a little more piano at the beginning (which monitor mixes reveal was present in earlier mixes of "Revolution") and minus Lennon's (or Harrison's) joking reply. [ citation needed ]

Splitting of "Revolution 1" and "Revolution 9" Edit

Lennon soon decided to divide the existing ten-minute recording into two parts: a more conventional Beatles track and an avant-garde sound collage. [39] Within days after take 20, work began on "Revolution 9" using the last six minutes of the take as a starting point. Numerous sound effects, tape loops, and overdubs were recorded and compiled over several sessions almost exclusively by Lennon and Ono, although Harrison provided assistance for spoken overdubs. [40] With more than 40 sources used for "Revolution 9", only small portions of the take 20 coda are heard in the final mix most prominent from take 20 are Lennon's multiple screams of "right" and "alright", and around a minute near the end featuring Ono's lines up to "you become naked". [41]

On 21 June, the first part of take 20 received several overdubs and became officially titled "Revolution 1". The overdubs included a lead guitar line by Harrison and a brass section of two trumpets and four trombones. Final stereo mixing was completed on 25 June. [42] The final mix that would ultimately be included on the "White Album" included the hurried announcement of "take two" by Geoff Emerick at the beginning of the song. [32]

Single version Edit

Lennon wanted "Revolution 1" to be the next Beatles single, but McCartney was reluctant to invite controversy, and argued along with Harrison that the track was too slow for a single. [43] Lennon persisted, and rehearsals for a faster and louder remake began on 9 July. [44] Recording started the following day. [45] Writing in 2014, music journalist Ian Fortnam paired "Revolution" with the White Album track "Helter Skelter" as the Beatles' two "proto-metal experiment[s]" of 1968. [46]

The song begins with "a startling machine-gun fuzz guitar riff", according to music critic Richie Unterberger, with Lennon and Harrison's guitars prominent throughout the track. [47] [nb 1] The distorted sound was achieved by direct injection of the guitar signal into the mixing console. [49] Emerick later explained that he routed the signal through two microphone preamplifiers in series while keeping the amount of overload just below the point of overheating the console. This was such a severe abuse of the studio equipment that Emerick thought, "If I was the studio manager and saw this going on, I'd fire myself." [50] Lennon overdubbed the opening scream, and double-tracked some of the words "so roughly that its careless spontaneity becomes a point in itself", according to author Ian MacDonald. [51]

"Revolution" was performed in a higher key, B major, compared to the A major of "Revolution 1". The "shoo-bee-do-wop" backing vocals were omitted in the remake, and an instrumental break was added. "Revolution" was given a climactic ending, as opposed to the fade out of "Revolution 1". [52] For this version, Lennon unequivocally sang "count me out". An electric piano overdub by Nicky Hopkins was added on 11 July, with final overdubs taking place on 13 July and mono mixing on 15 July. [53]

Despite Lennon's efforts, McCartney's "Hey Jude" was selected as the A-side of the band's next single. [54] Having sought to reassert his leadership of the Beatles over McCartney, Lennon reluctantly agreed to have "Revolution" demoted to the B-side. [55] [nb 2]

The "Hey Jude" / "Revolution" single was issued on 26 August 1968 in the US, [58] with the UK release taking place on 30 August. [59] Two days after the record's US release, violent scenes occurred at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, [60] as police and National Guardsmen were filmed clubbing Vietnam War protestors. [51] [61] This event came two months after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the Democratic presidential nominee who had pledged to end America's involvement in Vietnam, [62] and coincided with further militant action in Europe. [63] According to author Jonathan Gould, this combination ensured that, contrary to Lennon's doubts about the song's relevance, "'Revolution' had been rendered all too relevant by the onrushing tide of events." [63]

The single was the band's first release on Apple Records, their EMI-distributed record label. [64] As part of their Apple Corps business enterprise, the label was run on counterculture principles [65] [66] and intended to be a form of what McCartney termed "Western communism". [67] The single was one of the four records that were sent in gift-wrapped boxes, marked "Our First Four", to Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family, and to Harold Wilson, the British prime minister. [68] According to music journalist Jim Irvin, the heavily distorted sound of "Revolution" led some record buyers to return their copies, in the belief that "there was bad surface noise" on the disc. Irvin recalled of his own experience: "The exasperated [shop] assistant explained, for the umpteenth time that Saturday, 'It's supposed to sound like that. We've checked with EMI . '" [69]

"Hey Jude" topped sales charts around the world, [64] while "Revolution" was a highly popular B-side. [70] In the US, where each side of a single continued to be listed individually, it peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 11 on the Cash Box Top 100, and number 2 on Record World ' s chart. [71] The latter peak was achieved while "Hey Jude" was at number 1. [71] The single was listed as a double-sided number 1 in Australia, while "Revolution" topped New Zealand's singles chart for one week, following "Hey Jude"'s five-week run at number 1 there.

"Revolution 1" was released on The Beatles on 22 November 1968. [72] [73] It was the opening track on side four of the LP, four spots ahead of the companion piece "Revolution 9". [74] In an interview following the album's release, Harrison said that "Revolution 1" "has less attack and not as much revolution" as the single B-side, and described it as "the Glen Miller version". [75] The lyric sheet included with the original LP carried the words "count me out", without the appended "in". [76]

Filming for promotional clips of "Hey Jude" and "Revolution" took place on 4 September 1968 under the direction of Michael Lindsay-Hogg. [77] Two finished clips of "Revolution" were produced, with only lighting differences and other minor variations. [78] The Beatles sang the vocals live over the pre-recorded instrumental track from the single version. [79] Their vocals included elements from "Revolution 1": [80] McCartney and Harrison sang the "shoo-bee-doo-wap" backing vocals, [81] and Lennon sang "count me out – in". [49] Authors Bruce Spizer and John Winn each describe the performance as "exciting". [82] [83] According to Spizer, it "combines the best elements of the album and single versions", [82] while Hertsgaard writes that, two years after the band had retired from public performances, the clip proved that "the Beatles could rock with the best of them". [20]

Lindsay-Hogg recalled of the Beatles' approach to their promotion films: "Society was changing and music was in the vanguard. The appearance of the musicians, their clothes, hair, their way of talking was stirring the pot of social revolution." [84] For Lennon, his absorption in a romantic and creative partnership with Ono was reflected in a change of appearance and image. [85] In Fortnam's description, a "lean, mean demeanour" had replaced Lennon's "moptop-era puppy fat", [85] while Hertsgaard says the clip presented him as "a serious longhair . his center-parted locks falling down to his shoulders, and both his vocals and his subject matter further underlined how far he had traveled since the moptop days". [20] Lindsay-Hogg recalled that before filming "Revolution", Lennon looked the worse for wear, yet he turned down a suggestion that he apply some stage makeup to make him appear healthier. Lennon reasoned, "Because I'm John Lennon" – a point Lindsay-Hogg cites as demonstrating that "They had a very different attitude to most stars. They were authentic, they weren't characters in a fiction." [84] In the clip, Lennon plays his Epiphone Casino guitar, [86] [83] which he had recently stripped back from its sunburst pattern to a plain white finish. [87] MacDonald says this gesture was partly indicative of Lennon's desire for "deglamourised frankness" and that the song inaugurates Lennon's adoption of the "stripped Casino" as a "key part of his image". [87]

While the "Hey Jude" clip debuted on David Frost's show Frost on Sunday, on the ITV network, the "Revolution" clip was first broadcast on the BBC1 programme Top of the Pops on 19 September 1968. [88] [89] The first US screening of "Revolution" was on the 6 October broadcast of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. [90] The latter show was frequently subjected to censorship by its network, CBS, for its anti-establishment views, [91] political satire and commentary on the Vietnam War. [92] [93] In choosing The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour over more mainstream shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles ensured that their single reached an audience aligned with countercultural ideology. [92] [94] [nb 3]

In his contemporary review of the single, for Melody Maker, Chris Welch praised the A-side, saying it was a track that took several listens before its full appeal became evident, but he dismissed "Revolution" as "a fuzzy mess, and best forgotten". [96] More impressed, Derek Johnson of the NME described "Revolution" as "unashamed rock 'n' roll" but "a cut above the average rock disc, particularly in the thoughtful and highly topical lyric", and "a track that literally shimmers with excitement and awareness". [97] Johnson concluded by stating that the two sides "prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Beatles are still streets ahead of their rivals". [98] Cash Box ' s reviewer described "Revolution" as "straight-out rock with lyrical flavor of a pre-Revolver feel and fifties-rock instrumentation", adding: "More commercial at first few hearings, but hardly able to stand up against 'Hey Jude.'" [99]

Time magazine devoted an article to discussing "Revolution", [4] the first time in the magazine's history that it had done so for a pop song. [76] The writers said the song was "exhilarating hard rock" directed at "radical activists the world over", and that its message would "surprise some, disappoint others, and move many: cool it". [100] Dave Marsh featured "Revolution" in his 1989 book covering the 1001 greatest singles, describing it as a "gem" with a "ferocious fuzztone rock and roll attack" and a "snarling" Lennon vocal. [101] Writing for Rough Guides, Chris Ingham includes "Revolution" in his list of the essential Beatles songs and calls it a "remarkably cogent" statement. He says that whereas "Revolution 1" resembles a "stoned, bluesy jam", the vibrant quality of the single version "has the effect of making [Lennon's] flower-proferring pacifism a dynamic option, rather than a soporifically waved white flag". [102] In his song review for AllMusic, Richie Unterberger calls "Revolution" one of the Beatles' "greatest, most furious rockers" with "challenging, fiery lyrics" where the listener's "heart immediately starts pounding before Lennon goes into the first verse". [47]

In 2006, Mojo placed "Revolution" at number 16 on its list of "The 101 Greatest Beatles Songs". In his commentary for the magazine, Pete Shelley of the punk band the Buzzcocks recalled that he had never heard such distorted guitar sounds before, and hearing the song was his "eureka moment" when he decided he wanted to be in a band. [103] The track was ranked at number 13 in a similar list compiled by Rolling Stone in 2010. [104]

Until the events of summer 1968, political activists and far left publications in the US distanced themselves from rock music and had no expectations of its relevance to their cause. [105] According to historian Jon Wiener, "Revolution" inspired the first "serious debate" about the connection between politics and 1960s rock music. [106] The counterculture's reaction was especially informed by news footage of the violent scenes outside the Democratic National Convention on 28 August, and of Soviet tanks invading Czechoslovakia, [61] which marked the return of communist oppression there and the end of the Prague Spring. [63] [107] The song prompted immediate responses from the New Left and counterculture press, [108] [109] most of whom expressed disappointment in the Beatles. [110] [111] Radicals were shocked by Lennon's use of sarcasm, his contention that things would be "all right", and his failure to engage with their plight. [112] They also objected to his requirement for a "plan" for the revolution, when their aim was to liberate minds and ensure that all individuals entered the decision-making process as a means of personal expression. [113] Ramparts branded the song a "betrayal" of the cause [109] and the Berkeley Barb likened it to "the hawk plank adopted this week in the Chicago convention of the Democratic Death Party". [12] [114] In Britain, the New Left Review derided the song as "a lamentable petty bourgeois cry of fear", [109] while Black Dwarf said it showed the Beatles to be "the consciousness of the enemies of the revolution". [115] The far left contrasted "Revolution" with the Rolling Stones' concurrent single, "Street Fighting Man", [100] which Mick Jagger had been inspired to write after attending the violent rally at Grosvenor Square in March. [116] [117] Despite the ambiguity in Jagger's lyrics, "Street Fighting Man" was perceived to be supportive of a radical agenda. [6] [118]

The approval from Time magazine – a mainstream publication widely viewed as reflecting establishment views – added to the song's lack of credibility among the far left. [119] Other commentators on the left applauded the Beatles for rejecting radicalism governed by hatred and violence, and for advocating "pacifist idealism". [120] Among these, the New Left Students for a Democratic Society's newspaper at Cornell University stated that "You can argue about effectiveness of non-violence as a tactic, but it would be absurd to claim that it is a conservative notion . The Beatles want to change the world, and they are doing what they can." [120] With the release of "Revolution 1" three months after the single, some student radicals – unaware of the chronology of the recordings – welcomed the "count me out, in" lyric as a sign that Lennon had partly retracted his objection to Maoist revolution. [121] [nb 4] According to author Mark Kurlansky, although student activists returned to their colleges after the long summer break motivated to continue the struggle, for many other people, a "feeling of weariness" supplanted their interest, and "by the end of 1968 many people agreed with the Beatles". [123]

Among the political right, William F. Buckley Jr, an arch-conservative, wrote approvingly of the song, only to then be rebuked by the far-right John Birch Society's magazine. [124] [125] The magazine's editors warned that, rather than denouncing revolution, "Revolution" was urging Maoists not to "blow it all" through their impatience and was espousing a Lenin-inspired, "Moscow line". [125] [nb 5] In reaction to the song and to Lennon and Ono's performance art activities, [126] the British authorities withdrew the protection they had long afforded the Beatles as MBEs. [127] [128] On 18 October, Lennon and Ono were arrested on charges of drug possession [129] Lennon maintained he had been warned of the raid and that the drugs were planted by the arresting officers from the London Drug Squad. [130]

Rock critics also entered the political debate over "Revolution", [51] whereas politics had rarely been a subject of interest in their field before 1968. [131] Greil Marcus commented that political detractors of "Revolution" had overlooked the "message" of the music, "which is more powerful than anyone's words". [76] [100] He added: "There is freedom and movement in the music even as there is sterility and repression in the lyrics. The music doesn't say 'cool it' or 'don't fight the cops' . the music dodges the message and comes out in front." [100] [132] [nb 6] Ellen Willis of The New Yorker wrote that the Rolling Stones understood the "ambiguous relation of rock to rebellion", but "It takes a lot of chutzpah for a multimillionaire to assure the rest of us, 'You know it's gonna be all right' . Deep within John Lennon there's a fusty old Tory struggling to get out." [133] [nb 7] Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner wholeheartedly supported the Beatles, [134] saying that any accusations of "revolutionary heresy" were "absurd", since the band were being "absolutely true to their identity as it has evolved through the last six years". [135] In his review of the White Album, Wenner added: "Rock and roll has indeed become a style and a vehicle for changing the system. But one of the parts of the system to be changed is 'politics' and this includes 'new Left' politics." [136]

The Beatles' apoliticism was attacked by French film-maker Jean-Luc Godard, who had recently made the film One Plus One in London with the Rolling Stones. [137] [138] In an interview for International Times in September 1968, Godard said the Beatles were an example of people in Britain who had been "corrupted by money". [111] [139] Soon afterwards, Lennon told Jonathan Cott of Rolling Stone that this criticism was "sour grapes" on the director's part, since Godard had been unable to get the band to appear in One Plus One and so had approached the Stones. [140] [141] [nb 8] On her arrival in London in December, American singer Nina Simone was quoted as saying she wanted to "know what the message is" in "Revolution" so that she could perform the song effectively in concert. [142] Instead, she wrote and recorded an answer song, also titled "Revolution", [1] partly based on Lennon's composition. [143] [144] In her lyrics, she challenged Lennon's statements about destruction and "the constitution", [145] and urged him to "clean" his brain. [4] [146]

Lennon's reaction Edit

– Statement made by Lennon in 1980 about how "Revolution" still stood as an expression of his politics [148]

Challenged on his political stance, Lennon exchanged open letters with John Hoyland, [149] a student radical from Keele University, in the pages of Black Dwarf. [112] [150] Hoyland wrote the first letter in late October 1968, expecting that Lennon's drugs bust and the intolerance shown towards Ono, as a Japanese woman in Britain, would make him more sympathetic to a radical agenda. [6] Hoyland said that "Revolution" was "no more revolutionary" than the radio soap opera Mrs Dale's Diary [151] and criticised Lennon for continuing to espouse an ideology the Beatles had expressed in "All You Need Is Love" when, in the context of 1968, "In order to change the world we've got to understand what's wrong with the world. And then – destroy it. Ruthlessly." [152]

Before writing a reply, Lennon met with two other students from Keele University at his home in Surrey, on 3 December. [150] Referring to Hoyland's letter, he said that a destructive approach to societal change merely makes way for a destructive ruling power, citing the Russian and French revolutions he also said that the Far Left's complaints demonstrated their "extremer than thou" snobbery and their inability to form a united movement, adding that if radicals of that calibre did lead a revolution, he and the Rolling Stones would "probably be the first ones they'll shoot . And it's him – it's the guy that wrote the letter that'll do it, you know." [153] In his letter published in Black Dwarf on 10 January 1969, [150] Lennon countered that Hoyland was "on a destruction kick" and challenged him to name a single revolution that had achieved its aims. Lennon closed the letter with a postscript saying, "You smash it – and I'll build around it." [154] The exchange, which included a second letter from Hoyland, [155] was syndicated internationally in the underground press. [6] Oz editor Richard Neville later described it as "a classic New Left/psychedelic Left dialogue". [156]

Lennon was stung by the criticism he received from the New Left. Having campaigned for world peace with Ono throughout 1969, [157] he began to embrace radical politics after undergoing primal therapy in 1970. [158] In a conversation with British activist Tariq Ali in January 1971, he said of "Revolution": "I made a mistake, you know. The mistake was that it was anti-revolution." [1] [nb 9] Lennon then wrote "Power to the People" to atone for the perceived apathy of "Revolution", [161] and instead sung: "You say you want a revolution / We better get it on right away." [162] After moving to New York in 1971, he and Ono fully embraced radical politics with Chicago Seven defendants Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. [163] Lennon abandoned the cause following Richard Nixon's victory in the 1972 presidential election and he subsequently denounced revolutionaries and radical politics as useless. [164] In the final interview he gave before his murder in December 1980, Lennon reaffirmed the pacifist message of "Revolution", saying he still wished to "see the plan" for any proposed revolution. [148] [165] With reference to Lennon's comments in this interview, MacDonald wrote in 1994: "Tiananmen Square, the ignominious collapse of Soviet communism, and the fact that most of his radical persecutors of 1968–70 now work in advertising have belatedly served to confirm his original instincts." [51] [166]

"Revolution" made its LP debut on the 1970 US compilation album Hey Jude, which was also the first time that the track was available in stereo. [167] [168] The stereo mix was carried out on 5 December 1969, supervised by Martin. [169] The song was subsequently issued on the Beatles compilations 1967–1970 [104] and Past Masters, Volume Two. [170] [nb 10] Lennon disliked the stereo mix used on 1967–1970, saying in a 1974 interview that "Revolution" was a "heavy record" in mono but "then they made it into a piece of ice cream!" [172] [173] The song was included as the opening track of the Beatles' 2012 iTunes compilation Tomorrow Never Knows, which the band's website described as a collection of "the Beatles' most influential rock songs". [174]

In 1987, "Revolution" became the first Beatles recording to be licensed for use in a television commercial. [104] [nb 11] Nike paid $500,000 for the right to use the song for one year, split between recording owner Capitol-EMI and song publisher ATV Music Publishing (owned by Michael Jackson). [177] Commercials using the song started airing in March 1987. [178] [179]

The three surviving Beatles, through Apple Corps, filed a lawsuit in July objecting to Nike's use of the song. The suit was aimed at Nike, its advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, and Capitol-EMI Records. [180] Capitol-EMI said the lawsuit was groundless because they had licensed the use of "Revolution" with the "active support and encouragement of Yoko Ono Lennon, a shareholder and director of Apple". [177] Ono had expressed approval when the ad was released, saying it was "making John's music accessible to a new generation". [180] Fans were outraged at Nike's appropriation of the song [178] [181] and incensed at Jackson and Ono for allowing the Beatles' work to be commercially exploited in this way. [182] Ono said that McCartney had agreed to the deal, a claim that McCartney denied. [176] Harrison commented in an interview for Musician magazine:

Well, from our point of view, if it's allowed to happen, every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women's underwear and sausages. We've got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it's going to be a free-for-all . It's one thing when you're dead, but we're still around! They don't have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives. [183]

The "Revolution" lawsuit and others involving the Beatles and EMI were settled out of court in November 1989, with the terms kept secret. [184] The financial website included the Nike "Revolution" advertisement campaign in its list of the 100 key business events of the 20th century, as it helped "commodify dissent". [185]

Thompson Twins Edit

The English pop band Thompson Twins recorded "Revolution" for their 1985 album Here's to Future Days, which was co-produced by Nile Rodgers. [186] On 13 July that year, in advance of the album's release, the band performed the song with Rodgers, [187] Madonna and guitarist Steve Stevens at the concert held at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia that formed the US part of Live Aid. [188] The concert was watched by a television audience estimated at 1.5 billion [189] and raised $80 million for African famine relief. [190] In a 2017 interview, Thompson Twins singer Tom Bailey said that, having grown up in the 1960s when music was "about social change and making the world a better place", he now believed that it had become "tamed by the corporate world" and Live Aid represented "the last great moment of rock and roll fist waving for change". [191]

"Revolution" was one of three tracks on Here's to Future Days to feature Stevens on guitar and was first released in September 1985. [192] It was subsequently issued as a single, backed by the non-album instrumental "The Fourth Sunday". [193] The band made a promotional video for the single, directed by Meiert Avis. [192] The song peaked at number 56 on the UK Singles Chart, spending five weeks on the chart. [194] In 2004, the Live Aid performance of the song was included on the four-disc DVD release from the event. [190]

Stone Temple Pilots Edit

In October 2001, the rock band Stone Temple Pilots performed "Revolution" live during Come Together: A Night for John Lennon's Words and Music, a television special in tribute to Lennon that raised funds for victims of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. [104] Singer Scott Weiland said that the band had selected the song while on tour in Europe, several weeks before Come Together he added: "Our real decision for picking 'Revolution' was simply because it rocks." [195] After their performance received considerable radio airplay, Stone Temple Pilots recorded a studio version of the song, which was released as a single on 27 November 2001. [195] The single reached number 30 on the US Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. [196]

Other artists Edit

Along with White Album tracks such as "Revolution 9", "Helter Skelter" and "Piggies", [197] "Revolution 1" was interpreted by Californian cult leader Charles Manson as a prophesy of an upcoming apocalyptic racial war between the establishment and the Black community that would leave him and his followers, the Manson Family, to rule America on counterculture principles. In an attempt to initiate this revolution, the Family carried out a series of murders in Los Angeles in August 1969. [198] [199] For the soundtrack of the 1976 TV film Helter Skelter, "Revolution 1" was performed by the band Silverspoon. [200]

According to Ian MacDonald, the line-ups on the Beatles' recordings were as follows: [201]

  • John Lennon – lead vocals, acoustic guitar, lead guitar
  • Paul McCartney – bass guitar, piano, Hammond organ, backing vocals
  • George Harrison – lead guitar, backing vocals
  • Ringo Starr – drums , Freddy Clayton – trumpets , Rex Morris, J. Power, Bill Povey – trombones – brass arrangement [202]

Beatles version Edit

Chart (1968) Peak
Australian Go-Set National Top 40 [203] 1
New Zealand Listener Chart [204] 1
US Billboard Hot 100 [205] 12
US Cash Box Top 100 [206] 11
US Record World 100 Top Pops [207] 2

Thompson Twins version Edit

  1. ^ Music critic Tim Riley describes Lennon's opening guitar figure as a musical quote from "Do Unto Others", a 1954 song by Pee Wee Crayton. [48]
  2. ^ In his December 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon said "Hey Jude" was worthy of an A-side, "but we could have had both." [56] In 1980, he told Playboy he still disagreed with the decision. [57]
  3. ^ The "Revolution" promo clip is included in the three-disc versions, titled 1+, of the Beatles' 2015 video compilation 1. [95]
  4. ^ Referring to the "mixed messages" relating to this lyric, author Devin McKinney writes that, although the Beatles were promoting the "'out' version" that appeared on the single, in their September 1968 promo clip, "John – singing directly into the camera, baring his teeth at the pivotal moment – followed 'out' with a very clearly enunciated 'in.'" [122]
  5. ^ The John Birch Society paired it with McCartney's White Album track "Back in the U.S.S.R." as further evidence of the Beatles' "pro-Soviet" sentiments. [125]
  6. ^ Marcus was demonstrating in Berkeley during the weekend of the convention in Chicago. He recalled of the contrasting messages in "Revolution" and "Street Fighting Man": "[The Beatles] were ordering us to pack up and go home, but the Stones seemed to be saying that we were lucky if we had a fight to make and a place to take a stand." [61]
  7. ^ Writing in The Village Voice, Richard Goldstein questioned the same lyric as a statement of the Beatles' position: "For them it probably will [be all right]. But for the rest of us, those words delivered with such genial certainty must seem as consoling as a tract on the glories of national pride written in 1939." [108]
  8. ^ According to author Peter Doggett, the film focused on "the relationship between political power and the potency of the rock performer, and its antithesis, the emptiness of fame as a vehicle for image creation". Godard had originally wanted Lennon to play the role of Leon Trotsky. [141]
  9. ^ In his Rolling Stone interview with Wenner, later published in book form as Lennon Remembers, he said: "I really thought . that love would save us all. But now I'm wearing a Chairman Mao badge, so that's where it's at." [159][160]
  10. ^ "Revolution" was remixed for the 2006 soundtrack album Love, appearing in full length on the DVD-Audio version and as a shortened edit on the CD release. [171]
  11. ^ A cover version of "Help!" had been used in 1985 in a Lincoln–Mercury commercial. [175] Other artists' recordings of "She Loves You" and "We Can Work It Out" had also been used that year in commercials for Schweppes' Spanish subsidiary and Hewlett-Packard, respectively. [176]
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What Every Generation Gets Wrong About Sex

I t was January 1964, and America was on the brink of cultural upheaval. In less than a month, the Beatles would land at JFK for the first time, providing an outlet for the hormonal enthusiasms of teenage girls everywhere. The previous spring, Betty Friedan had published The Feminine Mystique, giving voice to the languor of middle-class housewives and kick-starting second-wave feminism in the process. In much of the country, the Pill was still only available to married women, but it had nonetheless become a symbol of a new, freewheeling sexuality.

And in the offices of TIME, at least one writer was none too happy about it. The United States was undergoing an ethical revolution, the magazine argued in an un-bylined 5000-word cover essay, which had left young people morally at sea.

The article depicted a nation awash in sex: in its pop music and on the Broadway stage, in the literature of writers like Norman Mailer and Henry Miller, and in the look-but-don&rsquot-touch boudoir of the Playboy Club, which had opened four years earlier. &ldquoGreeks who have grown up with the memory of Aphrodite can only gape at the American goddess, silken and seminude, in a million advertisements,&rdquo the magazine declared.

But of greatest concern was the &ldquorevolution of [social] mores&rdquo the article described, which meant that sexual morality, once fixed and overbearing, was now &ldquoprivate and relative&rdquo &ndash a matter of individual interpretation. Sex was no longer a source of consternation but a cause for celebration its presence not what made a person morally suspect, but rather its absence.

The essay may have been published half a century ago, but the concerns it raises continue to loom large in American culture today. TIME&rsquos 1964 fears about the long-term psychological effects of sex in popular culture (&ldquono one can really calculate the effect this exposure is having on individual lives and minds&rdquo) mirror today&rsquos concerns about the impacts of internet pornography and Miley Cyrus videos. Its descriptions of &ldquochampagne parties for teenagers&rdquo and &ldquopadded brassieres for twelve-year-olds&rdquo could have been lifted from any number of contemporary articles on the sexualization of children.

We can see the early traces of the late-2000s panic about &ldquohook-up culture&rdquo in its observations about the rise of premarital sex on college campuses. Even the legal furors it details feel surprisingly contemporary. The 1964 story references the arrest of a Cleveland mother for giving information about birth control to &ldquoher delinquent daughter.&rdquo In September 2014, a Pennsylvania mother was sentenced to a minimum of 9 months in prison for illegally purchasing her 16-year-old daughter prescription medication to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

But what feels most modern about the essay is its conviction that while the rebellions of the past were necessary and courageous, today&rsquos social changes have gone a bridge too far. The 1964 editorial was titled &ldquoThe Second Sexual Revolution&rdquo &mdash a nod to the social upheavals that had transpired 40 years previously, in the devastating wake of the First World War, &ldquowhen flaming youth buried the Victorian era and anointed itself as the Jazz Age.&rdquo Back then, TIME argued, young people had something truly oppressive to rise up against. The rebels of the 1960s, on the other hand, had only the &ldquotattered remnants&rdquo of a moral code to defy. &ldquoIn the 1920s, to praise sexual freedom was still outrageous,&rdquo the magazine opined, &ldquotoday sex is simply no longer shocking.&rdquo

Today, the sexual revolutionaries of the 1960s are typically portrayed as brave and daring, and their predecessors in the 1920s forgotten. But the overarching story of an oppressive past and a debauched, out-of-control present has remained consistent. As Australian newspaper The Age warned in 2009: &ldquo[m]any teenagers and young adults have turned the free-sex mantra of the 1970s into a lifestyle, and older generations simply don’t have a clue.&rdquo

The truth is that the past is neither as neutered, nor the present as sensationalistic, as the stories we tell ourselves about each of them suggest. Contrary to the famous Philip Larkin poem, premarital sex did not begin in 1963. The &ldquorevolution&rdquo that we now associate with the late 1960s and early 1970s was more an incremental evolution: set in motion as much by the publication of Marie Stopes&rsquos Married Love in 1918, or the discovery that penicillin could be used to treat syphilis in 1943, as it was by the FDA&rsquos approval of the Pill in 1960. The 1950s weren&rsquot as buttoned up as we like to think, and nor was the decade that followed them a &ldquofree love&rdquo free-for-all.

Similarly, the sex lives of today&rsquos teenagers and twentysomethings are not all that different from those of their Gen Xer and Boomer parents. A study published in The Journal of Sex Research this year found that although young people today are more likely to have sex with a casual date, stranger or friend than their counterparts 30 years ago were, they do not have any more sexual partners &mdash or for that matter, more sex &mdash than their parents did.

This is not to say that the world is still exactly as it was in 1964. If moralists then were troubled by the emergence of what they called &ldquopermissiveness with affection&rdquo &mdash that is, the belief that love excused premarital sex &ndash such concerns now seem amusingly old-fashioned. Love is no longer a prerequisite for sexual intimacy and nor, for that matter, is intimacy a prerequisite for sex. For people born after 1980, the most important sexual ethic is not about how or with whom you have sex, but open-mindedness. As one young man amongst the hundreds I interviewed for my forthcoming book on contemporary sexual politics, a 32-year-old call-center worker from London, put it, &ldquoNothing should be seen as alien, or looked down upon as wrong.&rdquo

But America hasn&rsquot transformed into the &ldquosex-affirming culture&rdquo TIME predicted it would half a century ago, either. Today, just as in 1964, sex is all over our TV screens, in our literature and infused in the rhythms of popular music. A rich sex life is both a necessity and a fashion accessory, promoted as the key to good health, psychological vitality and robust intimate relationships. But sex also continues to be seen as a sinful and corrupting force: a view that is visible in the ongoing ideological battles over abortion and birth control, the discourses of abstinence education, and the treatment of survivors of rape and sexual assault.

If the sexual revolutionaries of the 1960s made a mistake, it was in assuming that these two ideas &ndash that sex is the origin of all sin, and that it is the source of human transcendence &ndash were inherently opposed, and that one could be overcome by pursuing the other. The &ldquosecond sexual revolution&rdquo was more than just a change in sexual behavior. It was a shift in ideology: a rejection of a cultural order in which all kinds of sex were had (un-wed pregnancies were on the rise decades before the advent of the Pill), but the only type of sex it was acceptable to have was married, missionary and between a man and a woman. If this was oppression, it followed that doing the reverse &mdash that is to say, having lots of sex, in lots of different ways, with whomever you liked &mdash would be freedom.

But today&rsquos twentysomethings aren&rsquot just distinguished by their ethic of openmindedness. They also have a different take on what constitutes sexual freedom one that reflects the new social rules and regulations that their parents and grandparents unintentionally helped to shape.

Millennials are mad about slut-shaming, homophobia and rape culture, yes. But they are also critical of the notion that being sexually liberated means having a certain type &mdash and amount &mdash of sex. &ldquoThere is still this view that having sex is an achievement in some way,&rdquo observes Courtney, a 22-year-old digital media strategist living in Washington DC. &ldquoBut I don&rsquot want to just be sex-positive. I want to be &lsquogood sex&rsquo-positive.&rdquo And for Courtney, that means resisting the temptation to have sex she doesn&rsquot want, even it having it would make her seem (and feel) more progressive.

Back in 1964, TIME observed a similar contradiction in the battle for sexual freedom, noting that although the new ethic had alleviated some of pressure to abstain from sex, the &ldquocompetitive compulsion to prove oneself an acceptable sexual machine&rdquo had created a new kind of sexual guilt: the guilt of not being sexual enough.

For all our claims of openmindedness, both forms of anxiety are still alive and well today &ndash and that&rsquos not just a function of either excess or repression. It&rsquos a consequence of a contradiction we are yet to find a way to resolve, and which lies at the heart of sexual regulation in our culture: the sense that sex can be the best thing or the worst thing, but it is always important, always significant, and always central to who we are.

It&rsquos a contradiction we could still stand to challenge today, and doing so might just be key to our ultimate liberation.

Rachel Hills is a New York-based journalist who writes on gender, culture, and the politics of everyday life. Her first book, The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2015.

In the studio

‘Revolution’ featured the most distortion on any Beatles recording, particularly in the twin fuzz-toned guitars plugged directly into the Abbey Road desk and deliberately played loud to overload the meters.

On 9 July 1968, following a remake of ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, The Beatles began the remake of ‘Revolution’, rehearsing the song and trying out the new arrangement.

Although the rehearsal was taped, the next day they wiped the tape and recorded 10 takes afresh, with handclaps and another drum track overdubbed afterwards. The drums were as hard-hitting as the guitars were distorted, being compressed and put through limiters to give a claustrophobic air.

John Lennon also added his two vocal tracks on this day. He double tracked key words during the song, leaving in the odd mistake to emphasise the spontaneous sound of the recording, and also added the screaming introduction.

11 July saw the addition of bass and electric piano, the latter played by ace session musician Nicky Hopkins. ‘Revolution’ was completed the following day (or, more accurately, on the morning of 13 July the session started at midnight), with another bass part and some more lead guitar, performed by McCartney and Lennon.

The '60s Become a Time of Social Revolution and Unrest

This is Rich Kleinfeldt. And this is Stan Busby with THE MAKING OF A NATION -- a VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

Today, we tell about life in the United States during the 1960s.

The 1960s began with the election of the first president born in the twentieth century -- John Kennedy. For many Americans, the young president was the symbol of a spirit of hope for the nation. When Kennedy was murdered in 1963, many felt that their hopes died, too. This was especially true of young people, and members and supporters of minority groups.

A time of innocence and hope soon began to look like a time of anger and violence. More Americans protested to demand an end to the unfair treatment of black citizens. More protested to demand an end to the war in Vietnam. And more protested to demand full equality for women.

By the middle of the 1960s, it had become almost impossible for President Lyndon Johnson to leave the White House without facing protesters against the war in Vietnam. In March of 1968, he announced that he would not run for another term.

In addition to President John Kennedy, two other influential leaders were murdered during the 1960s. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior was shot in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. Several weeks later, Robert Kennedy--John Kennedy's brother--was shot in Los Angeles, California. He was campaigning to win his party's nomination for president. Their deaths resulted in riots in cities across the country.

The unrest and violence affected many young Americans. The effect seemed especially bad because of the time in which they had grown up. By the middle 1950s, most of their parents had jobs that paid well. They expressed satisfaction with their lives. They taught their children what were called "middle class" values. These included a belief in God, hard work, and service to their country.

Later, many young Americans began to question these beliefs. They felt that their parents' values were not enough to help them deal with the social and racial difficulties of the 1960s. They rebelled by letting their hair grow long and by wearing strange clothes. Their dissatisfaction was strongly expressed in music.

Rock-and-roll music had become very popular in America in the 1950s. Some people, however, did not approve of it. They thought it was too sexual. These people disliked the rock-and-roll of the 1960s even more. They found the words especially unpleasant.

The musicians themselves thought the words were extremely important. As singer and song writer Bob Dylan said, "There would be no music without the words," Bob Dylan produced many songs of social protest. He wrote anti-war songs before the war in Vietnam became a violent issue. One was called Blowin' in the Wind .

In addition to songs of social protest, rock-and-roll music continued to be popular in America during the 1960s. The most popular group, however, was not American. It was British -- the Beatles -- four rock-and-roll musicians from Liverpool.

That was the Beatles' song I Want to Hold Your Hand . It went on sale in the United States at the end of 1963. Within five weeks, it was the biggest-selling record in America.

Other songs, including some by the Beatles, sounded more revolutionary. They spoke about drugs and sex, although not always openly. "Do your own thing" became a common expression. It meant to do whatever you wanted, without feeling guilty.

Five hundred thousand young Americans "did their own thing" at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. They gathered at a farm in New York State. They listened to musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Joan Baez, and to groups such as The Who and Jefferson Airplane. Woodstock became a symbol of the young peoples' rebellion against traditional values. The young people themselves were called "hippies." Hippies believed there should be more love and personal freedom in America.

In 1967, poet Allen Ginsberg helped lead a gathering of hippies in San Francisco. No one knows exactly how many people considered themselves hippies. But twenty thousand attended the gathering.

Another leader of the event was Timothy Leary. He was a former university professor and researcher. Leary urged the crowd in San Francisco to "tune in and drop out". This meant they should use drugs and leave school or their job. One drug that was used in the 1960s was lysergic acid diethylamide, or L-S-D. L-S-D causes the brain to see strange, colorful images. It also can cause brain damage. Some people say the Beatles' song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was about L-S-D.

As many Americans were listening to songs about drugs and sex, many others were watching television programs with traditional family values. These included The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies . At the movies, some films captured the rebellious spirit of the times. These included Doctor Strangelove and The Graduate . Others offered escape through spy adventures, like the James Bond films.

Many Americans refused to tune in and drop out in the 1960s. They took no part in the social revolution. Instead, they continued leading normal lives of work, family, and home. Others, the activists of American society, were busy fighting for peace, and racial and social justice. Women's groups, for example, were seeking equality with men. They wanted the same chances as men to get a good education and a good job. They also demanded equal pay for equal work.

A widely popular book on women in modern America was called The Feminine Mystique . It was written by Betty Friedan and published in 1963. The idea known as the feminine mystique was the traditional idea that women have only one part to play in society. They are to have children and stay at home to raise them. In her book, Ms. Friedan urged women to establish professional lives of their own.

In the early nineteen sixties, a committee was appointed to investigate the condition of women. It was led by Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a former first lady. The committee's findings helped lead to new rules and laws. The 1964 civil rights act guaranteed equal treatment for all groups. This included women. After the law went into effect, however, many activists said it was not being enforced. The National Organization for Women -- NOW -- was started in an effort to correct the problem.

The movement for women's equality was known as the women's liberation movement. Activists were called "women's libbers." They called each other "sisters." Early activists were usually rich, liberal, white women. Later activists included women of all ages, women of color, rich and poor, educated and uneducated. They acted together to win recognition for the work done by all women in America.

This program of THE MAKING OF A NATION was written by Jeri Watson and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Rich Kleinfeldt. And this is Stan Busby. Join us again next week for another VOA Special English program about the history of the United States.

Timeline (Revolution '68)

May-August 1968-2nd French Revolution ends in anarcho-syndicalist France. The People's Confederation of France is formed.

1968-All French overseas possessions declare independence.

October 1968-July 1969-The Tlatelolco Massacre occurs on October 2nd in Mexico 10 days before the Summer Olympics is supposed to be hosted in Mexico City. Encouraged by the revolution in France riots break out in Mexico. 2nd Mexican Revolution begins.

1969-Richard Nixon immediately ends the draft and begins withdrawing from Vietnam, the US is out 6 months into the year after being advised that the Vietnam War could stir up revolutionary sentiment in the U.S.

1969-In Brazilian revolutionaries kidnapp foreign diplomats, demanding imprisoned revolutionaries from the military dictatorship be released. Institutional Act Number Five is passed, dismantling Congress and revoking constitutional rights. Underground revolutionary activity increases.

February-May 1969-Italian Revolution ends in anarcho-syndicalist Italy. San Marino is integrated into the new People's Confederation of Italy, but calls to collectivize the property in the Vatican shock the world. Richard Nixon threatens to declare war and invade Italy if the Vatican is absorbed. The Italian anarchists decide to leave it alone.

September 1969-July 1974-Mexican Civil War-The transitional government breaks down in September leading to warring factions, the most prominent of which are the rightist Mexican Restoration Front, the communists, and the anarchists. The USSR and Cuba side with the communists, while France and Italy side with the anarchists. The United States does not get directly involved in the war, but does provide some financial and training assistance to the rightists. At the end of the civil war the anarchists win.

1971-N. Vietnam sacks Saigon. US troops and ambassadors evacuated from the American embassy. The Laos monarchy is overthrown by Pathet Lao rebels later that same year. Khmer Rogue sacks Phnom Penh. These events convince many Americans on the right that the domino theory was correct. COINTELPRO is also revealed, which results in a slew of protests, and increased radicalization of the left.

1972-Impeachment proceedings begin against Richard Nixon for allowing COINTELPRO to continue. Nixon resigns. Spiro T. Agnew takes the presidency, and took Nixon's former secretary of defense, Melvin Laird, as vice president after many others, including Nelson Rockefeller, declined. In the 1972 Presidential Election Spiro T. Agnew runs with Melvin Laird that year against George McGovern. Allegations of bribery while Agnew was Governor of Maryland come up and ruin his campaign. George McGovern wins in the largest landslide in history, winning every state.

1973-President George McGovern cuts military aid to the Mexican Restoration Front. The progressive presidency of George McGovern helps calm the radical demonstrators. George McGovern takes a reconciliatory attitude towards France and Italy.

1974-The Latin Revolution breaks out first in Brazil. Anarchists in Brazil receive aid from France and Italy as well as volunteers from the around the world. Communists receive aid from the Soviet Union. George McGovern declares the United States' neutrality on Brazil, but the Brazilian government receives aid from Great Britain.

1975-Revolution spills into Uruguay, as well as Guiana, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay.

1976-President McGovern declares the McGovern doctrine, which asserts that economic cooperation between non-communist nations was the best solution for fighting communism. As Nixon had never opened up trade with China trade was still cut off with them. President McGovern convinces Prime Minister James Callaghan of Great Britain to end aid for the military dictatorship in Brazil. That year McGovern runs against Ronald Reagan who disagrees with the McGovern doctrine. McGovern wins by a small margin.

The 1968 Black Market Firebombing: Revolution and Racism in Bloomington, Indiana

Protesters at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Parade on January 15, 1968, courtesy of the AP.

“There has never been a year like 1968, and it is unlikely that there will ever be one again.”�: The Year That Rocked the World

In the very literal sense of the word, 1968 was an extraordinary year. Even situated as it was within a decade characterized by social and political upheaval, 1968 was unique in the sheer number of transformative events: the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Apollo 8 mission, anti-Vietnam War protests, protests against racial discrimination. The list goes on.

While the majority of these events occurred on the East and West Coasts of the United States, it would be a mistake to think that the Midwest was immune to the revolutionary spirit sweeping the nation. In fact, many of the movements seen at a national level played out within the confines of the Indiana University Campus in Bloomington. When recruiters from Dow Chemical Company (the company responsible for producing napalm for use in the Vietnam War) visited campus, hundreds of students marched in protest. Following objections to exclusionary judging standards drawn along color lines, the IU Homecoming Queen pageant was permanently cancelled. African American students demanded more representation in all aspects of campus life and staged a sit-in at the Little 500. That sit-in led directly to the removal of discriminatory covenants from Indiana University’s fraternities.

Clarence “Rollo” Turner at the Little 500 Sit-in, Indiana University, Artubus (Bloomington, Indiana: 1968), accessed Artubus Archives.

While this wave of revolutionary fervor was cresting both nationally and on IU’s campus, another wave was close behind – the “third wave” of the Ku Klux Klan. Rising in response to the Civil Rights Movement, approximately 40,000 Klan members belonged to the Klan nationally in the 1950s and 1960s. In the spring of 1968, Klan members from nearby Morgan County attempted to establish a chapter of the terrorist organization in Monroe County. A membership drive, which was to consist of a gathering on the Bloomington courthouse square followed by a march through the business district, was scheduled for March 30, 1968. But before events could get underway, Monroe County Prosecutor Thomas Berry requested and was granted an order blocking the event, citing the possibility of violence.

This was neither the first nor the last appearance of the Klan in Bloomington. In Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928, Leonard Moore estimates that 23.8% of all native-born white men in Monroe County were members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1920. The Indiana Daily Student on November 7, 1922 described the supposed first appearance of the Klan in the city:

Marching with slow and solemn tread, 152 men paraded Bloomington streets, garbed in mysterious robes of white, with tall hoods masking their identity, and carrying aloft the flaming cross of the klan, while hundreds of townspeople and students stood and witnessed [as] the pages of fiction and movie scenarios unfolded before their eyes.

Example of a calling card left by the Ku Klux Klan, accessed

Although county officials blocked a similar scene to that described above from playing out in 1968, the Klan still made its presence known in the city. During a Bloomington Human Relations Commission meeting on September 30, 1968, African American commission chairman Ernest Butler showed his fellow commissioners and others present at the meeting a card which had been left on his door. The card read, “The Ku Klux Klan is watching you.” Butler claimed to have received as many as ten such cards, as well as several similarly threatening phone calls. Soon, local Klan affiliates would go further than simply making threats.

In the face of these threats, Black Indiana University students continued to demand more representation and equality, staging protests and demonstrations across the campus. The Afro-Afro-American Student’s Association (AAASA)—an organization formed in the spring of 1968 with the goal of fostering unity among IU’s Black students—frequently encouraged members to participate in this activism. At the forefront of many of these protests was AAASA co-founder and sociology graduate student Clarence “Rollo” Turner.

“Rollo Turner and The Black Market,” accessed Indiana University Archives.

In the fall of 1968, Turner shifted his attention towards a new project – The Black Market. Financed entirely by Black faculty and staff, The Black Market was a shop specializing in products made by African or African American artists. This included “free-flowing African garb, Black literature and records, African and Afro-American fabrics, dangling earrings, and African artifacts.”

As a leader in the African American community at Indiana University, Turner served as the shop’s manager and its public face. He and his backers had two main objectives when opening the shop. First, it was to act as a cultural center for Black students at the university, who had limited recreational opportunities in the predominantly white city. Second, he aimed to eliminate “misconceptions about black people” by exposing IU students and Bloomington locals alike to Black culture.

“Advertisement for The Black Market printed in The Spectator,” accessed Indiana University Archives.

After its late-September opening, it seemed as though the shop would be a success. The campus newspaper, Indiana Daily Student, proclaimed, “suits and ties may eventually join the ranks of white socks and baggy slacks if the immediate success of The Black Market is a sign of things to come.” However, at the same time that the shop was proving a popular enterprise with IU students, factions within Bloomington were pushing back against its very existence. This resistance took the form of violence when, on December 26, 1968 a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the front window of the store.

The resulting fire destroyed the entire stock of The Black Market and caused structural damage to adjacent businesses. To those most closely associated with the shop, the motive for the attack seemed obvious, especially considering the heightened presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the city. As student newspaper The Spectator commented:

It was not very difficult, of course, to determine a ‘motive’ for the bombing. Since the construction of the Black Market in September, black students involved have been harassed periodically by abusive white ‘customers,’ . . . Larry Canada, owner of the building, had received telephoned bomb threads because he allowed the ‘n––rs’ to use the space for the store.

Black Market after fire, printed in The Spectator, accessed Indiana University Archives.

Two weeks later, 200 students attended a rally on the sidewalk outside of the burnt remains of The Black Market. Amidst calls for action from university and city officials and appeals to Black students to make a stand in the face of violence, Rollo Turner said, “the only reason this store was bombed was because it was a black store.” Behind the rally, hung across the splintered door of the shop a hand lettered sign that read, “A COWARD DID THIS.”

Eight months would pass before those students knew the identity of the man responsible for the attack, though. In the intervening time, IU students and faculty came together to raise enough money to pay back the financial backers of the shop, as the shop’s inventory was uninsured. Rollo Turner also made the decision not to re-open the store – all of the funds raised had gone to pay back investors, leaving none for re-investment in new stock. Additionally, the extensive damage to the structure necessitated its total demolition, meaning a new space would need to be secured and it may have proven difficult to find a landlord willing to risk their property if a repeat attack was carried out.

“The Black Market,” accessed Indiana University Archives.

Details about the search for the perpetrators are limited. An ad-hoc group formed by representatives from the community, university, and local civil rights organizations offered an award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the guilty parties. The alternative student newspaper The Spectator alluded to a person of interest in their coverage of the attack, saying:

Acting on reports of witnesses, police are searching for a white male with dark hair, about 5’8”, 160 lbs., wearing a light gray finger-length topcoat at the time of the fire.

Whether or not either of these played any part in the search for the perpetrators, or if they were identified in some other way, on August 6, 1969 the Marion County Circuit Court issued arrest warrants for two men in relation to the crime. One of those men, Carlisle Briscoe, Jr., plead guilty to the second degree arson charges while implicating as an accomplice Jackie Dale Kinser, whom he accused of driving the get-away vehicle. Eventually, the charges against Kinser would be dropped, just before he plead guilty to three unrelated crimes.

Both men had strong ties to the local Ku Klux Klan – Kinser was a member who in subsequent years would be arrested multiple times in Klan-related crimes. Briscoe’s Klan connections are slightly less clear. At first, Monroe County Prosecutor Thomas Berry and Sheriff Clifford Thrasher announced that both men were Klan members. An article in the September 19, 1969 issue of the Indianapolis Star, states that Briscoe himself claimed to be a Klan member. The headline of Briscoe’s obituary in the Vincennes Sun-Commercial proclaims, “Notorious Klansman Dies in Prison: Briscoe Led a Bloomington Crime Wave in 1960s and ‘70s.” As late as 1977, he was arrested while committing crimes alongside Klan members, apparently while carrying out Klan business. However, in 1969, the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan, William Chaney, denied that Briscoe was a member of the organization. Regardless of Briscoe’s official Klan membership status, Briscoe at the very least maintained close ties with the terrorist organization. He was sentenced to one to ten years and was released on April 7, 1973 after serving approximately three and a half years of his sentence.

The story of The Black Market firebombing could have ended there. The structure had been demolished, the investors had been paid back, and a conviction had been made. However, the revolutionary atmosphere on the Indiana University campus stretched beyond the 1960s, and the space would once again be used to make a statement.

YIP Poster Advertising the 1968 Festival of Life, accessed Wikipedia.

In late February 1970, a group of Yippies, or members of the Youth International Party, were looking for ways to bring the community of Bloomington together. One of the ideas that emerged from these discussions was the creation of a people’s park on the vacant lot where The Black Market had once stood. People’s parks, which were spreading across the nation, could trace their roots back to the People’s Park in Berkeley, California. Typically created by activists without the approval of government or other officials, the parks were meant to promote free speech, activism, and community involvement.

By May 1970, work had started on the project. Anyone who was interested in the enterprise was encouraged to join in helping to prepare the land for its future intended use. The Bloomington People’s Park was to be a mix of gathering space, community garden, and a place for “everyone to sing, dance, rap, and generally ‘do his own thing,’” and by the next summer, it was being put to good use, as reported by the Indiana Daily Student:

About 250 blue jeaned “freaks,” tapered-legged “straights,” the bell bottomed curious and two guys with rolled-up sleeves, greasy hair and tattoos celebrated the 4 th in People’s Park Sunday evening.

Student protest in People’s Park, Artubus, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana: 1981, accessed Artubus Archives.

Over the next five years, various issues threatened to put an end to the whole affair. The city threatened to shut it down over “public health” concerns. The property owner, Larry Canada, had various plans to develop the property. In the end, though, People’s Park became legally sanctioned after Canada deeded the land to the city in 1976.

Throughout the years, the park has carried on the site’s democratic heritage, hosting anti-Vietnam War protests, protests against the US involvement in El Salvador in the 1980s, music festivals, flea markets, and, more recently, Occupy Bloomington protests. Today, the park serves as a reminder of the revolutionary ideals that swept through Indiana University’s campus in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2020, IHB, in partnership with the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, will commemorate those events by installing an Indiana state historical marker.

Russia – How the Revolution was Lost

First published in International Socialism 30 , Autumn 1967.

Transcribed by Michael Gavin.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten .

1. The Two Revolutions

The period between the two revolutions of February and October 1917 was moulded by two concurrent processes. The first occurred in the towns, and was a very rapid growth of working-class consciousness. By the July days, the industrial workers at least seem to have arrived at an understanding of the different interests of the classes in the revolution. In the countryside, a different form of class differentiation took place. This was not between a propertied class and a class that could not even aspire to individual ownership of property. Rather it was between two property-owning classes. On the one hand the landowners, on the other the peasants. The latter were not socialist in intention. Their aim was to seize the estates of the landowners, but to divide these upon an individualistic basis. In this movement even Kulaks, wealthy farmers, could participate.

The revolution could not have taken place without the simultaneous occurrence of these two processes. What tied them together was not however an identity of ultimate aim. Rather it was the fact that for contingent historical reasons the industrial bourgeoisie could not break politically with the large landowners. Its inability to do this pushed the peasantry (which effectively included the army) and the workers into the same camp:

“In order to realise the soviet state, there was required the drawing together and mutual penetration of two factors belonging to completely different historic species: a peasant war – that is a movement characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development – and a proletarian insurrection, the movement signalising its decline.” [1]

The urban insurrection could not have succeeded but for the sympathy of the largely peasant army. Nor could the peasants have waged a successful struggle unless led and welded together by a centralised, external force. In Russia of 1917 the only possible such force was the organised working class. It was this possibility of drawing the peasantry behind it at the crucial moment that made it possible for the workers to hold power in the towns.

The bourgeoisie and its land-owning allies were expropriated. But the classes which participated in this expropriation shared no simple long-term common interest. In the towns was a class whose very existence depended upon collective activity. In the countryside a class whose members would only unite even amongst themselves momentarily to seize the land, but would then till it individually. Once the act of seizure and defence of that seizure was over, only external inducements could bind them to any State.

The revolution, then, was really a dictatorship of the workers over other classes in the towns – in the major towns the rule of the majority in Soviets – and a dictatorship of the towns over the country. In the first period of the division of the estates this dictatorship could rely upon peasant support, indeed, was defended by peasant bayonets. But what was to happen afterwards?

This question had preoccupied the Russian socialists themselves long before the revolution. The realisation that a socialist revolution in Russia would be hopelessly lost in the peasant mass was one reason why all the Marxists in Russia (including Lenin, but excluding Trotsky and at first Parvus) had seen the forthcoming revolution as a bourgeois one. When Parvus and Trotsky first suggested that the revolution might produce a socialist government, Lenin wrote

“This cannot be, because such a revolutionary dictatorship can only have stability . based on the great majority of the people. The Russian proletariat constitutes now a minority of the Russian population.”

He maintained this view right up to 1917. When he did come to accept and fight for the possibility of a socialist outcome for the revolution, it was because he saw it as one stage in a world-wide revolution that would give the minority working class in Russia protection against foreign intervention and aid to reconcile the peasantry to its rule. Eight months before the October revolution he wrote to Swiss workers that “the Russian proletariat cannot by its own forces victoriously complete the socialist revolution.” Four months after the revolution (on 7 March 1918) he repeated, “The absolute truth is that without a revolution in Germany we shall perish.”

2. The Civil War

The first years of Soviet rule seemed to bear out the perspective of world revolution. The period 1918-19 was characterised by social upheavals unseen since 1948. In Germany and Austria military defeat was followed by the destruction of the monarchy. Everywhere there was talk of Soviets. In Hungary and Bavaria Soviet Governments actually took power – although only briefly. In Italy the factories were occupied. Yet the heritage of fifty years of gradual development was not to be erased so rapidly. The old Social-Democratic and trade-union leaders moved into the gap left by the discredited bourgeois parties. The Communist. Left on the other hand still lacked the organisation to respond to this. It acted when there was no mass support when there was mass support it failed to act.

Even so the stabilisation of Europe after 1919 was at best precarious. In every European country, the social structure received severe threats within the subsequent fifteen years. And the experience of both the Communist Parties and the working class had put them into a far better position to understand what was happening.

The Russian Bolsheviks did, not however, intend to wait upon the revolution abroad. The defence of the Soviet Republic and incitement to revolution abroad seemed inseparable. For the time being anyway, the tasks at hand in Russia were determined, not by the Bolshevik leaders, but by the international imperialist powers. These had begun a “crusade” against the Soviet Republic. White and foreign armies had to be driven back before any other questions could be considered. In order to do this, every resource available had to be utilised.

By a mixture of popular support, revolutionary ardour, and, at times, it seemed, pure will, the counter-revolutionary forces were driven out (although in the Soviet Far East they continued to operate until 1924). But the price paid was enormous.

This cannot be counted in merely material terms. But in these alone it was great. What suffered above all was industrial and agricultural production. In 1920, the production of pig iron was only 3 per cent of the pre-war figure of hemp 10 per cent flax, 25 per cent cotton, 11 per cent beets, 15 per cent. This implied privation, hardship, famine. But much more. The dislocation of industrial production was also the dislocation of the working class. It was reduced to 43 per cent of its former numbers. The others were returned to their villages or dead on the battlefield. In purely quantitative terms, the class that had led the revolution, the class whose democratic processes had constituted the living core of Soviet power, was halved in importance. In real terms the situation was even worse. What remained was not even half of that class, forced into collective action by the very nature of its life situation. Industrial output was only 18 per cent of the pre-war figure, labour productivity was only one third of what it had been. To keep alive, workers could not rely on what their collective product would buy. Many resorted to direct barter of their products – or even parts of their machines – with peasants for food. Not only was the leading class of the revolution decimated, but the ties linking its members together were fast disintegrating. The very personnel in the factories were not those who had constituted the core of the revolutionary movement of 1917. The most militant workers had quite naturally fought most at the front, and suffered most casualties. Those that survived were needed not only in the factories, but as cadres in the army, or as commissars to keep the administrators operating the State machine. Raw peasants from the countryside, without socialist traditions or aspirations, took their place.

But what was to be the fate of the revolution if the class that made it ceased to exist in any meaningful sense? This was not a problem that the Bolshevik leaders could have foreseen. They had always said that isolation of the revolution would result in its destruction by foreign armies and domestic counter-revolution. What confronted them now was the success of counterrevolution from abroad in destroying the class that had led the revolution while leaving intact the State apparatus built up by it. The revolutionary power had survived but radical changes were being produced in its internal composition.

3. Soviet Power to Bolshevik Dictatorship

The revolutionary institutions of 1917 – above all, the Soviets – were organically connected with the class that had led the revolution. Between the aspirations and intentions of their members and those of the workers who elected them, there could be no gap. While the mass were Menshevik, the Soviets were Menshevik when the mass began to follow the Bolsheviks, so did the Soviets. The Bolshevik party was merely the body of coordinated class-conscious militants who could frame policies and suggest causes of action alongside other such bodies, in the Soviets as in the factories themselves. Their coherent views and self-discipline meant that they could act to implement policies effectively – but only if the mass of workers would follow them.

Even consistent opponents of the Bolsheviks recognised this. Their leading Menshevik critic wrote:

“Understand please, that before us after all is a victorious uprising of the proletariat – almost the entire proletariat supports Lenin and expects its social liberation from the uprising . ” [2]

Until the Civil War was well under way, this democratic dialectic of party and class could continue. The Bolsheviks held power as the majority party in the Soviets. But other parties continued to exist there too. The Mensheviks continued to operate legally and compete with the Bolsheviks for support until June 1918.

The decimation of the working class changed all this. Of necessity the Soviet institutions took on a life independently of the class they had arisen from. Those workers and peasants who fought the Civil War could not govern themselves collectively from their places in the factories. The socialist workers spread over the length and breadth of the war zones had to be organised and coordinated by a centralised governmental apparatus independent of their direct control – at least temporarily.

It seemed to the Bolsheviks that such a structure could not be held together unless it contained within it only those who wholeheartedly supported the revolution – that is, only the Bolsheviks. The Right Social Revolutionaries were instigators of the counter-revolution. The Left Social Revolutionaries were willing to resort to terror when they disagreed with government policy. As for the Mensheviks, their policy was one of support of the Bolsheviks against the counter-revolution, with the demand that the latter hand over power to the Constituent Assembly (one of the chief demands of the counter-revolution). In practice this meant that the party contained both supporters and opponents of the Soviet power. Many of its members went over to the side of the Whites (e.g. Menshevik organisations in the Volga area were sympathetic to the counter-revolutionary Samara government, and one member of the Menshevik central committee, Ivan Maisky – later Stalin’s ambassador – joined it). [3] The response of the Bolsheviks was to allow the party’s members their freedom (at least, most of the time), but to prevent them acting as an effective political force – e.g. they were allowed no press after June 1918 except for 3 months in the following year.

In all this the Bolsheviks had no choice. They could not give up power just because the class they represented had dissolved itself while fighting to defend that power. Nor could they tolerate the propagation of ideas that undermined the basis of its power – precisely because the working class itself no longer existed as an agency collectively organised so as to be able to determine its own interests.

Of necessity the Soviet State of 1917 had been replaced by the single-party State of 1920 onwards. The Soviets that remained were increasingly just a front for Bolshevik power (although other parties, e.g. the Mensheviks, continued to operate in them as late as 1920). In 1919, for instance, there were no elections to the Moscow Soviet for over 18 months. [4]

4. Kronstadt and the NEP

Paradoxically, the end of the Civil War did not alleviate this situation, but in many ways aggravated it. For with the end of the immediate threat of counter-revolution, the cord that had bound together the two revolutionary processes – workers’ power in the towns and peasant uprisings in the country – was cut. Having gained control over the land, the peasants lost interest in the collectivist revolutionary ideals of October. They were motivated by individual aspirations arising out of their individualistic form of work. Each sought to maximise his own standard of living through his activities on his own plot of land. Indeed, the only thing which could now unite peasants into a coherent group was opposition to the taxes and forcible collections of grain carried out in order to feed the urban populations.

The high point of this opposition came a week before the tenth party Congress. An uprising of sailors broke out in the Kronstadt fortress, which guarded the approaches to Petrograd. Many people since have treated what happened next as the first break between the Bolshevik regime and its socialist intentions. The fact that the Kronstadt sailors were one of the main drives of the 1917 revolution has often been used as an argument for this. Yet at the time no one in the Bolshevik Party – not even the workers’ opposition which claimed to represent the antipathy of many workers to the regime – had any doubts as to what it was necessary to do. The reason was simple. Kronstadt in 1920 was not Kronstadt of 1917. The class composition of its sailors had changed. The best socialist elements had long ago gone off to fight in the army in the front line. They were replaced in the main by peasants whose devotion to the revolution was that of their class. This was reflected in the demands of the uprising: Soviets without Bolsheviks and a free market in agriculture. The Bolshevik leaders could not accede to such demands. It would have meant liquidation of the socialist aims of the revolution without struggle. For all its faults, it was precisely the Bolshevik party that had alone whole-heartedly supported Soviet power, while the other parties, even the socialist parties, had vacillated between it and the Whites. It was to the Bolsheviks that all the best militants had been attracted. Soviets without Bolsheviks could only mean Soviets without the party which had consistently sought to express the socialist, collectivist aims of the working class in the revolution. What was expressed in Kronstadt was the fundamental divergence of interest, in the long run, between the two classes that had made the revolution. The suppression of the uprising should be seen not as an attack on the socialist content of the revolution, but as a desperate attempt, using force, to prevent the developing peasant opposition to its collectivist ends from destroying it. [5]

Yet the fact that Kronstadt could occur was an omen. For it questioned the whole leading role of the working class in the revolution. This was being maintained not by the superior economic mode that the working class represented, not by Its higher labour productivity, but by physical force. And this force was not being wielded directly by the armed workers, but by a party tied to the working class only indirectly, by its ideas, not directly as in the days of 1917.

Such a policy was necessary. But there was little in it that socialists could have supported in any other situation. Instead of being “the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority,” the revolution in Russia had reached the stage where it involved the exploitation of the country by the towns, maintained through naked physical force. It was clear to all groups in the Bolshevik party that this meant the revolution must remain in danger of being overthrown by peasant insurrections.

There seemed to be only one course open. This was to accept many of the peasant demands, while maintaining a strong, centralised socialist State apparatus. This the New Economic Policy (NEP) attempted to do. Its aim was to reconcile peasants to the regime and to encourage economic development by giving a limited range of freedom to private commodity production. The State and the State-owned industries were to operate as just one element in an economy governed by the needs of peasant production and the play of market forces.

5. The Party, the State and the working class 1921-8

In the period of the NEP the claim of Russia to be in any way “socialist” could no longer be justified either by the relationship of the working class to the State it had originally created or by the nature of internal economic relations. The workers did not exercise power and the economy was not planned. But the State, the “body of armed men” that controlled and policed society was in the hands of a party that was motivated by socialist intentions. The direction of its policies, it seemed, would be socialist.

Yet the situation was more complex than this. First, the State institutions that dominated Russian society were far from identical with the militant socialist party of 1917. Those who had been in the Bolshevik Party at the time of the February revolution were committed socialists who had taken enormous risks in resisting Tsarist oppression to. express their ideals. Even four years of civil war and isolation from the working masses could not easily destroy their socialist aspirations. But in 1919 these constituted only a tenth of the party, by 1922 a fortieth. In the revolution and Civil War, the party had undergone a continuous process of growth. In part this reflected the tendency of all militant workers and convinced socialists to join in. But it was also a result of other tendencies. Once the working class itself had been decimated, the party had had to take it upon itself to control all Soviet-run areas. This it could only do by increasing its own size. Further, once it was clear who was winning the Civil War, many individuals with little or no socialist convictions attempted to enter the party. The party itself was thus far from being a homogeneous socialist force. At best, only its leading elements and most militant members could be said to be really part of the socialist tradition.

This internal dilution of the party was paralleled by a corresponding phenomenon in the State apparatus itself. In order to maintain control over Russian society, the Bolshevik party had been forced to use thousands of members of the old Tsarist bureaucracy in order to maintain a functioning governmental machine. In theory the Bolsheviks were to direct the work of these in a socialist direction. In practice, old habits and methods of work, pre-revolutionary attitudes towards the masses in particular, often prevailed. Lenin was acutely aware of the implications of this:

“What we lack is clear enough,” he said at the March 1922 Party Congress. “The ruling stratum of the communists is lacking in culture. Let us look at Moscow. This mass of bureaucrats – who is leading whom? The 4,700 responsible communists, the mass of bureacrats, or the other way round? I do not believe you can honestly say the communists are leading this mass. To put it honestly, they are not the leaders but the led.”

At the end of 1922, he described the State apparatus as “borrowed from Tsarism and hardly touched by the Soviet world . a bourgeois and Tsarist mechanism.” [6] In the 1920 controversy over the role of the trade unions he argued

“Ours is not actually a workers’ state, but a workers’ and peasants’ State . But that is not all. Our party programme shows that ours is a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions.” [7]

The real situation was even worse than this. It was not just the case that the old Bolsheviks were in a situation where the combined strength of hostile class forces and bureaucratic inertness made their socialist aspirations difficult to realise. These aspirations themselves could not remain forever uncorrupted by the hostile environment. The exigencies of building a disciplined army out of an often indifferent peasant mass had inculcated into many of the best party members authoritarian habits. Under the NEP the situation was different, but still far from the democratic interaction of leaders and led that constitutes the essence of socialist democracy. Now many party members found themselves having to control society by coming to terms with the small trader, the petty capitalist, the kulak . They had to represent the interests of the workers’ State as against these elements – but not as in the past through direct physical confrontation. There had to be limited co-operation with them. Many party members seemed more influenced by this immediate and very tangible relationship with petty bourgeois elements than by their intangible ties with a weak and demoralised working class.

Above all the influence of the old bureaucracy in which its members were immersed penetrated the party. Its isolation from class forces outside itself that would sustain its rule meant that the party had to exert over itself an iron discipline. Thus at the Tenth Party Congress, although it was presumed that discussion would continue within the party [8], the establishment of formal factions was “temporarily” banned. But this demand for inner cohesion easily degenerated into an acceptance of bureaucratic modes of control within the party. There had been complaints about these by opposition elements in the party as early as April 1920. By 1922 even Lenin could write that “we have a bureaucracy not only in the Soviet institutions, but in the institutions of the party.”

The erosion of inner-party democracy is best shown by the fate of successive oppositions to the central leadership. In 1917 and 1918 free discussion within the party, with the right of different groups to organise around platforms, was taken for granted. Lenin himself was in a minority in the party on at least two occasions (at the time of his April Theses and nearly a year later during the Brest Litovsk negotiations). In November 1917 it was possible for those Bolsheviks who disagreed with the party taking power alone, to resign from the government so as to force its hand without disciplinary action being taken against them. Divisions within the party over the question of the advance on Warsaw and over the role of the trade unions were discussed quite openly in the party press. As late as 1921 the Programme of the Workers’ Opposition was printed in a quarter of a million copies by the Party itself, and two members of the opposition elected to the Central Committee. In 1923 when the Left Opposition developed, it was still possible for it to express its views in Pravda , although there were ten articles defending the leadership to every one opposing it.

Yet throughout this period the possibilities of any opposition acting effectively were diminished. After the tenth Party Congress the Workers’ Opposition was banned. By 1923 the opposition Platform of the 46 wrote that “the secretarial hierarchy of the Party to an ever greater extent recruits the membership of conferences and congresses.” [9] Even a supporter of the leadership and editor of Pravda , Bukharin, depicted the typical functioning of the party as completely undemocratic:

“. the secretaries of the nuclei are usually appointed by the district committees, and note that the districts do not even try to have their candidates accepted by these nuclei, but content themselves with appointing these or those comrades. As a rule, putting the matter to a vote takes place according to a method that is taken for granted. The meeting is asked: ‘Who is against?’ and in as much as one fears more or less to speak up against, the appointed candidate finds himself elected . [10]

The real extent of bureaucratisation was fully revealed when the “triumvirate” that had taken over the leadership of the Party during the illness of Lenin split. Towards the end of 1925 Zinoviev, Kamenev and Krupskaya moved into opposition to the party centre, now controlled by Stalin. Zinoviev was head of the party in Leningrad. As such he controlled the administrative machine of the northern capital and several influential newspapers. At the fourteenth Party Congress every delegate from Leningrad supported his opposition to the centre. Yet within weeks of the defeat of his opposition, all sections of the Party in Leningrad, with the exception of a few hundred inveterate oppositionists, were voting resolutions supporting Stalin’s policies. All that was required to accomplish this was the removal from office of the heads of the City Party administration. Who controlled the bureaucracy controlled the Party. When Zinoviev controlled it, it was oppositional. Now that Stalin had added the city to the nation-wide apparatus he controlled, it became an adherent of his policies. With a change of leaders a Zinovievist monolith was transformed into a Stalinist monolith.

This rise of bureaucracy in the Soviet apparatus and the Party began as a result of the decimation of the working class in the civil war. But it continued even when industry began to recover and the working class began to grow with NEP. Economic recovery rather than raising the position of the working class within the “workers’ state” depressed it.

In purely material terms the concessions made to the peasant in the NEP worsened the (relative) position of the worker.

“Everywhere acclaimed under war communism as the eponymous hero of the dictatorship of the proletariat, he was in danger of becoming the step-child of the NEP. In the economic crisis of 1923 neither the defenders of the official policy nor those who contested it in the name of the development of industry found it necessary to treat the grievances or the interests of the industrial worker as a matter of major concern.” [11]

But it was not only vis-a-vis the peasant that the status of the worker fell it also fell compared with that of the directors and managers of industry. Whereas in 1922, 65 per cent of managing personnel were officially classified as workers, and 35 per cent as non-workers, a year later these figures were almost reversed, only 36 per cent being workers and 64 per cent non-workers. [12] The “red industrialists” began to emerge as a privileged group, with high salaries, and through “one-man management” in the factories, able to hire and fire at will. At the same time widespread unemployment became endemic to the Soviet economy, rising to a level of one and a quarter millions in 1923-4.

6. The divisions in the party 1921-29

Men make history, but in circumstances not of their own making. In the process they change both those circumstances and themselves. The Bolshevik Party was no more immune to this reality than any other group in history has been. In attempting to hold together the fabric of Russian society in the chaos of civil war, counter-revolution and famine, their socialist intentions were a factor determining the course of history but the social forces they had to work with to do this could not leave the Party members themselves unchanged. Holding the Russia of the NEP together meant mediating between different social classes so as to prevent disruptive clashes. The revolution could only survive if the Party and State satisfied the needs of different, often antagonistic, classes. Arrangements had to be made to satisfy the individualistic aspirations of the peasants, as well as the collectivist democratic aims of socialism. In the process, the Party, which had been lifted above the different social classes, had to reflect within its own structure their differences. The pressures of the different classes on the Party caused different sections of the Party to define their socialist aspirations in terms of the interests of different classes. The one class with the capacity for exercising genuinely socialist pressures – the working class – was the weakest, the most disorganised, the least able to exert such pressures.

7. The Left Opposition

There can be no doubt that in terms of its ideas, the Left Opposition was the faction in the Party that adhered most closely to the revolutionary socialist tradition of Bolshevism. It refused to redefine socialism to mean either a slowly developing peasant economy or accumulation for the sake of accumulation. It retained the view of workers’ democracy as central to socialism. It refused to subordinate the world revolution to the demands of the chauvinistic and reactionary slogan of building “socialism in one country.”

Yet the Left Opposition could not be said to be in any direct sense the “proletarian” faction within the Party. For in the Russia of the twenties, the working class was the class that less than any other exerted pressure upon the Party. After the civil war, it was rebuilt in conditions which made its ability to fight for its own ends weak. Unemployment was high the most militant workers had either died in the civil war or been lifted into the bureaucracy much of the class was composed of peasants fresh from the countryside. Its typical attitude was not one of support for the opposition, but rather apathy towards political discussions, which made it easily manipulable from above – at least most of the time. The Left Opposition was in the situation, common to socialists, of having a socialist programme for working-class action when the workers themselves were too tired and dispirited to fight.

But it was not only the apathy of the workers that created difficulties for the opposition. It was also its own recognition of economic realities. Its argument emphasised that the objective lack of resources would make life hard whatever policies were followed. It stressed both the need to develop industry internally and the necessity for the revolution to spread as a means to doing this. But in the short term, it could offer little to the workers, even if a correct socialist policy was followed. When Trotsky and Preobrazhensky began to demand increased planning, they emphasised that this could not be done without squeezing the peasants and without the workers making sacrifices. The unified opposition of “Trotskyists” and “Zinovievists” in 1926 demanded as first priority certain improvements for the workers. But it was also realistic enough to denounce as utopian promises made to the workers by Stalin that far exceeded its own demands.

There is no space here to discuss the various platforms produced by the Left Opposition. But in outline they had three interlinked central planks.

  1. – The revolution could only make progress in a socialist direction if the economic weight of the towns as against the country, of industry as against agriculture, was increased. This demanded planning of industry and a policy of deliberately discriminating against the wealthy peasant in taxation policy. If this did not happen the latter would accumulate sufficient economic power to subordinate the State to his interests, thus producing a Thermidor , internal counter-revolution.
  2. – This industrial development had to be accompanied by increased workers’ democracy, so as to end bureaucratic tendencies in the Party and State.
  3. – These first two policies could maintain Russia as a citadel of the revolution, but they could not produce that material and cultural level that is the prerequisite of socialism. This demanded the extension of the revolution abroad.

In purely economic terms, there was nothing impossible in this programme. Indeed its demand for planning of industrialisation and a squeezing of the peasant was eventually carried out – although in a manner which contradicted the intentions of the Opposition. But those who controlled the Party from 1923 onwards did not see the wisdom of it. Only a severe economic crisis in 1928 forced them to plan and industrialise. For five years before this they persecuted the Left and expelled its leaders. The second plank in the programme they never implemented. As for the third plank, this had been Bolshevik orthodoxy in 1923 [13]. only to be rejected by the Party leaders for good in 1925.

It was not economics that prevented the Party accepting this programme. It was rather the balance of social forces developing within the Party itself. The programme demanded a break with a tempo of production determined by the economic pressure of the peasantry. Two sorts of social forces had developed within the Party that opposed this.

8. The “Right” and the “Centre”

The first was the simplest. This was made up of those elements who did not see concessions to the peasant as being detrimental to socialist construction. They consciously wanted the Party to adjust its programme to the needs of the peasant. But this was not just a theoretical platform. It expressed the interest of all those in the Party and Soviet institutions who found cooperation with the peasants, including the Kulaks and capitalist farmers, and NEPmen, congenial. They found their theoretical expression in Bukharin, with his injunction to the peasants to “enrich themselves”.

The second drew its strength as much from social forces within the Party as outside. Its ostensible concern was to maintain social cohesion. As such it resisted the social tensions likely to be engendered, were there to be conscious effort to subordinate the country to the town, but did not go as far in its pro-peasant pronouncements as the Right. In the main, it was constituted by elements within the Party apparatus itself, whose whole orientation was to maintain Party cohesion through bureaucratic means. Its leader was the chief of the Party apparatus, Stalin.

To the Left Opposition at the time, the faction of Stalin seemed like a centrist group that oscillated between the traditions of the Party (embodied in the Left programme) and the Right. In 1928 when Stalin suddenly adopted the first plank of the opposition’s own programme, turning on the Right as viciously as he had only months before attacked the Left, and beginning industrialisation and the complete expropriation of the peasantry (so-called “collectivisation”), this interpretation received a rude shock. Stalin clearly had a social basis of his own. He could survive when neither the proletariat nor the peasantry exercised power.

If the Left Opposition was the result of groups motivated by the socialist and working-class traditions of the Party attempting to embody these in realistic policies, and the Right opposition a result of accommodation to peasant pressures on the Party, the successful Stalinist faction was based upon the Party bureaucracy itself. This had begun life as a subordinate element within the social structure created by the revolution. It merely fulfilled certain elementary functions for the workers’ Party. With the decimation of the working class in the civil war, the Party was left standing above the class. In this situation the role of maintaining the cohesion of the Party and State became central. Increasingly in the State and then in the Party, this was provided by bureaucratic methods of control – often exercised by ex-Tsarist bureaucrats. The Party apparatus increasingly exercised real power within the Party – appointing functionaries at all levels, choosing delegates to conferences. But if it was the Party and not the class that controlled the State and industry, then it was the Party apparatus that increasingly inherited the gains the workers had made in the revolution.

The first result of this in terms of policies was a bureaucratic inertness. The bureaucrats of the apparatus offered a negative resistance to policies which might disturb their position. They began to act as a repressive force against any group that might challenge their position. Hence their opposition to the programmes of the Left and their refusal to permit any real discussion of them. While the bureaucracy reacted in this negative way to threats of social disturbance, it quite naturally allied itself with the Right and Bukharin. This concealed its increasing existence as a social entity in its own right, with its own relationship to the means of production. Its repression of opposition in the Party seemed to be an attempt to impose a pro-peasant policy on the Party from above, not to be a part of its own struggle to remove any opposition to its own power in State and industry. Even after its proclamation of socialism in one country, its failures abroad seemed to flow more from bureaucratic inertia and the pro-peasant policies at home than from a conscious counter-revolutionary role.

Yet throughout this period the bureaucracy was developing from being a class in itself to being a class for itself. At the time of the inauguration of the NEP, it was objectively the case that power in the Party and State lay in the hands of a small group of functionaries. But these were by no means a cohesive ruling class. They were far from being aware of sharing a common intent. The policies they implemented were shaped by elements in the Party still strongly influenced by the traditions of revolutionary socialism. If at home objective conditions made workers’ democracy non-existent, at least there was the possibility of those motivated by the Party’s traditions bringing about its restoration given industrial recovery at home and revolution abroad. Certainly on a world scale the Party continued to play its revolutionary role. In its advice to foreign parties it made mistakes – and no doubt some of these flowed from its own bureaucratisation – but it did not commit crimes by subordinating them to its own national interests. Underlying the factional struggles of the twenties is the process by which this social grouping shook off the heritage of the revolution to become a self-conscious class in its own right.

9. Counter-Revolution

It is often said that the rise of Stalinism in Russian cannot be called “counter-revolution” because it was a gradual process (e.g. Trotsky said that such a view involved “winding back the film of reformism’). But this is to misconstrue the Marxist method. It is not the case that the transition from one sort of society to another always involves a single sudden change. This is the case for the transition from a capitalist State to a workers’ State, because the working class cannot exercise its power except all at once, collectively, by a clash with the ruling class in which, as a culmination of long years of struggle, the latter’s forces are defeated. But in the transition from feudalism to capitalism there are many cases m which there is not one sudden clash, but a whole series of different intensities and at different levels, as the decisive economic class (the bourgeoisie) forces political concessions in its favour. The counter-revolution in Russia proceeded along the second path rather than the first. The bureaucracy did not have to seize power from the workers all at once. The decimation of the working class left power in its hands at all levels of Russian society. Its members controlled industry and the police and the army. It did not even have to wrest control of the State apparatus to bring it into line with its economic power, as the bourgeoisie did quite successfully in several countries without a sudden confrontation. It merely had to bring a political and industrial structure that it already controlled into line with its own interests. This happened not “gradually,” but by a succession of qualitative changes by which the mode of operation of the Party was brought into line with the demands of the central bureaucracy. Each of these qualitative changes could only be brought about by a direct confrontation with those elements in the Party which, for whatever reason, still adhered to the revolutionary socialist tradition.

The first (and most important) such confrontation was that with the Left Opposition in 1923. Although the Opposition was by no means decisively and unambiguously opposed to what was happening to the Party (e.g. its leader, Trotsky had made some of the most outrageously substitutionist statements during the trade-union debate of 1920 its first public statement (the Platform of the 46 ) was accepted by its signatories only with numerous reservations and amendments), the bureaucracy reacted to it with unprecedented hostility. In order to protect its power the ruling group in the Party resorted to methods of argument unheard of before in the Bolshevik party. Systematic denigration of opponents replaced rational argument. The control of the secretariat of the Party over appointments began to be used for the first time openly to remove sympathisers of the opposition from their posts (e.g. the majority of the Komsomol Central Committee were dismissed and sent to the provinces after some of them had replied to attacks on Trotsky). To justify such procedures the ruling faction invented two new ideological entities, which it counterposed to one another. On the one hand it inaugurated a cult of “Leninism” (despite the protests of Lenin’s widow). It attempted to elevate Lenin to a semi-divine status by mummifying his dead body in the manner of the Egyptian pharaohs. On the other, it invented “Trotskyism” as a tendency opposed to Leninism, justifying this with odd quotations from Lenin of ten or even twenty years before, while ignoring Lenin’s last statement (his “Testament”) that referred to Trotsky as “the most able member of the Central Committee” and suggested the removal of Stalin. The leaders of the Party perpetrated these distortions and falsifications consciously in order to fight off any threat to their control of the Party (Zinoviev, at the time the leading member of the “triumvirate” later admitted this). In doing so, one section of the Party was showing that it had come to see its own power as more important than the socialist tradition of free inner-Party discussion. By reducing theory to a mere adjunct of its own ambitions, the Party bureaucracy was beginning to assert its identity as against other social groups.

The second major confrontation began in a different way. It was not at first a clash between members of the Party with socialist aspirations and the increasingly powerful bureaucracy itself. It began as a clash between the ostensible leader of the Party (at the time, Zinoviev) and the Party apparatus that really controlled. In Leningrad Zinoviev controlled a section of the bureaucracy to a considerable extent independently of the rest of the apparatus. Although its mode of operation was in no way different from that prevailing throughout the rest of the country, its very independence was an obstacle to the central bureaucracy. It represented a possible source of policies and activities that might disturb the overall rule of the bureaucracy. For this reason it had to be brought within the ambit of the central apparatus. In the process Zinoviev was forced from his leading position in the party. Having lost this, he began to turn once more to the historical traditions of Bolshevism and to the policies of the Left (although he never lost fully his desire to be part of the ruling bloc, continually wavering for the next ten years between the Left and the apparatus). With the fall of Zinoviev, power lay in the hands of Stalin, who with his unrestrained use of bureaucratic methods of control of the Party, his disregard for theory, his hostility to the traditions of the revolution in which his own role had been a minor one, his willingness to resort to any means to dispose of those who had actually led the revolution, above all epitomised the growing self-consciousness of the apparatus. All these qualities he exhibited to their full extent in the struggle against the new opposition. Meetings were packed, speakers shouted down, prominent oppositionists likely to find themselves assigned to minor positions in remote areas, former Tsarist officers utilised as agents provocateur to discredit oppositional groups. Eventually, in 1928, he began to imitate the Tsars directly and deport revolutionaries to Siberia. In the long run, even this was not to be enough. He was to do what even the Romanoffs had been unable to do: systematically murder those who had constituted the revolutionary Party of 1917.

By 1928 the Stalinist faction had completely consolidated its control in the Party and State. When Bukharin and the Right wing split from it, horrified by what they had helped to create, they found themselves with even less strength than the Left Oppositions had. But the Party was not in control of the whole of Russian society. The towns where real power lay were still surrounded by the sea of peasant production. The bureaucracy had usurped the gains of the working class in the revolution, but so far the peasantry remained unaffected. A mass refusal of the peasants to sell their grain in 1928 brought this home sharply to the bureaucracy.

What followed was the assertion of the power of the towns over the countryside that the Left Opposition had been demanding for years. This led certain oppositionists (Preobrazhensky, Radek) to make their peace with Stalin. Yet this policy was in its spirit the opposite of that of the Left. They had argued the need to subordinate peasant production to worker-owned industry in the towns. But industry in the towns was no longer worker-owned. It was under the control of the bureaucracy that held the State. Assertion of the domination of the town over the country was now the assertion not of the working class over the peasantry, but of the bureaucracy over the last part of society lying outside its control. It imposed this dominance with all the ferocity ruling classes have always used. Not only Kulaks, but all grades of peasants, whole villages of peasants, suffered. The “Left” turn of 1928 finally liquidated the revolution of 1917 in town and country.

There can be no doubt that by 1928 a new class had taken power in Russia. It did not have to engage in direct military conflict with the workers to gain power, because direct workers’ power had not existed since 1918. But it did have to purge the Party that was left in power of all those who retained links, however tenuous, with the socialist tradition. When a reinvigorated working class confronted it again, whether in Berlin or Budapest, or in Russia itself (e.g. Novo-Cherkassk in 1962), it used the tanks it had not needed in 1928.

The Left Opposition was far from clear about what it was fighting. Trotsky, to his dying day, believed that that State apparatus that was to hunt him down and murder him was a “degenerated workers’ one”. Yet it was that Opposition alone which fought day by day against the Stalinist apparatus’s destruction of the revolution at home and prevention of revolution abroad. [14] For a whole historical period it alone resisted the distorting effects on the socialist movement of Stalinism and Social Democracy. Its own theories about Russia made this task more difficult, but it still carried it out. That is why today any genuinely revolutionary movement must place itself in that tradition.


1. Trotsky, The Russian Revolution , p.72.

2. Martov to Axelrod, 19 November 1917, quoted in Israel Getzler, Martov , Cambridge, 1967.

3. Israel Getzler, op. cit. , p.183.

5. See Trotsky, Hue and Cry over Kronstadt .

6. Quoted in Max Shachtman, The Struggle for the New Course , New York, 1943, p.150.

7. Lenin, Collected Works , Vol.32, p.24.

8. See Lenin’s response to Riazanov’s demand that the habit of different groups within the Party putting forward “platforms” be prohibited: “We cannot deprive the Party and the members of the central committee of the right to appeal to the Party in the event of disagreement on fundamental issues. I cannot imagine how we can do such a thing!” Lenin, Collected Works , Vol.32, p.261.

9. Appendix to E.H. Carr, The Interregnum , p.369.

10. Quoted in Shachtman, op. cit. , p.172.

13. Cf. Stalin, Lenin and Leninism , Russian ed. 1924, p40: “Can the final victory of socialism in one country be attained without the joint efforts of the proletariats of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible.” (Cited by Trotsky, The Third International after Lenin , p.36.)

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