Closing the Circle - Bolshevism in Retrospect

Tuesday Seminar
Event Speaker: 
Dilip Simeon
Event Time: 
02:57 PM to 04:27 PM
Event Venue: 
HSS Committee Room (MS 610)


The Russian Revolution of 1917 is one of the most enigmatic events of modern history. Rosa Luxembourg called it 'the mightiest event of the world war.' Yet by 1919, even as she was founding the German Communist Party, she denounced the Bolshevik regime for its despotic attitude towards democratic freedoms; and Lenin's erstwhile comrade Plekhanov, the doyen of Russian Marxism, called Lenin a Blanquist. The Revolution arose out of massive popular disgust with war; yet heralded a brutal civil war that led to an even greater loss of life. It began with a quest for democracy, yet resulted in a regime wherein the political police took centre-stage in the life not only of the opponents of the regime but of the ruling party itself. It was legitimised in the name of the soviets, yet in three years these organs of workers power were reduced to mere shadows of their former selves. Its success was based upon a worker-peasant alliance, yet that alliance was torn to shreds long before the collectivisation of the 1930's.Was it one revolution or two? Was the second one the 'real' revolution or did it put an end to the aspirations of the first? Did Bolshevism signify living proof of the so-called Marxist 'laws of history', or the completely contingent nature of historical events? These questions are part of the enigma of Bolshevism. A century after it unfolded, we have the benefit not only of hindsight, but also of the very recent availability of a massive, hitherto unseen archive, made accessible after 1991. An entire century passed in the shadow of 1917. It is time to think of it afresh.


Dilip Simeon joined the History Department of Ramjas College in 1974, and taught there until 1994. His thesis on the labour movement of Bihar was published in 1995, under the title The Politics of Labour under Late Colonialism. He is one of the founding members of the Association of Indian Labour Historians. From 1998 till 2003 he worked on a conflict mitigation project with Oxfam (India). From 2003 to 2008 he was a Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library where he engaged in a study of political violence. He has been a visiting scholar at the universities of Surat, Sussex, Chicago, Leiden, Princeton and Gottingen; and in 2014 was Centenary Visiting Fellow at the London School of Oriental and African Studies. Over the years he has published numerous academic articles and opinion pieces in journals and newspapers. He has addressed students at campuses in India and abroad, and also at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy for IAS and IPS officers in Mussoorie. He is a trustee at the Aman Trust, which works on understanding and reducing violent conflict. His first novel, Revolution Highway, was published in September 2010 and in a Hindi version in 2014.