Herring and Class Struggle

Capitalism came late to Iceland. At the end of the 19th century this large, wind-swept, thinly populated island was made up of small towns, farms and seasonal fishing stations. Then European capitalists saw another Klondike in the herring-rich waters of the north Atlantic..

Sunday 14 October 2012

Byltingin í Rússlandi, Sources, Preface & Introduction

This is the first part of my translation of Byltingin í Rússlandi - The Revolution in Russia by Stefán Pjetursson

A History of Russia, Alfred Nicolas Rambaud, 1895
Russia, Wallace West, 1912
The Old and the New Russia, Grossman, 1917
Six Weeks in Russia, Arthur Ransome, 1920
The Russian Republic, Cecil Malone, 1920[1]
Bolshevism at Work, William T Goode, 1920
The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Fred Engels, 1848
The Communist Programme, Nikolai Bukharin 1919

The reason for this book is simple. I and many others have discussed how incomplete and wrong the history of the revolution in Russia has been that has reached Iceland. Recently the papers have carried reports that have barely tried to give an overview of these extraordinary events. They have just reported ill-considered and often untrue telegrams or dubious letters from the newspapers abroad. Despite this, it cannot be hidden that the Russian Revolution is absolutely extraordinary and must have far reaching consequences. So people will have little or no choice but to follow these events.

This book is an opportunity to give people a more complete account of the Russian Revolution, the events and their causes. How it got off the ground and the organisation behind it. Of course in such a short book it is not possible to do this other than in broad strokes.

To this end, I have tried to capture the reliable history of the Revolution and I have particularly chosen those events that have often been written about by both sides.

I know full well that many people will find fault with this book. Doubtless many more will find much of it questionable. But I invite the readers not to let prejudice against the Revolution both in Iceland and abroad cloud their judgement of the subject matter. The first condition for this is that reading it can be of use.

Reykjavík May1921

We Icelanders, who live at the ends of the earth, have escaped the worst of the horrors recently enacted throughout the civilised world. With growing astonishment we have heard how millions have been sent out to certain death, how whole states have starved and the same states, driven by necessity have risen against the men and parties who sent them down this impassable route.

We have seen empires like Austria fall and small countries rise up to trash them. We have seen states as important as Germany rise in its fury against the Kaiser's dynasty and its lackeys, and overthrow them in the hope that this way they could get a just peace.

But we have also seen how their hopes and those of other states have been defeated. How the right of the fist and shameful injustice triumphed at the so-called peace conference of Versailles.

The injustice of the result has fired the anger of all the best people in the world. There we sit for the time being - they may not challenge the authority of the victors, for behind the Versailles Peace treaty stands English, French and American capitalism. It remains to be seen how long they remain in agreement.

People’s hopes had been enormous and they had not thought it possible that war could happen between civilised states. Likewise, after the war, people told themselves that something great and extraordinary, something truly wonderful must spring from the blood spilt.

Some believed that the war would ensure the rights of small nations like the Allies said. That this was a war for peace - the last war that there ever would be.

Utterly empty delusions!

Now dread has struck mankind. People are asking—how are we to prevent this ever happening again?

At the same time as the victors of the world war have been dividing the spoils, they have caused the events in Eastern Europe that will have even greater repercussions than what happened in the world in previous years.

People are beginning to fall silent about the world war and the Versailles peace treaty and get louder about the Revolution in Russia, the proletarian movement that is called Bolshevism throughout the world.

Everywhere people are taking sides over this movement— for or against—revolution will plunge the world into ruin if not stopped, or Bolshevism is the only way to save mankind.

The present system had displayed all its weaknesses and had led to poverty and insecurity for most of the world. The question became whether people should turn and follow or be utterly hostile to this new movement. Many people both here in Iceland and abroad thought that the Russian Revolution was a whirlwind that would soon subside. If this were the correct way to look at it then it would mean that the movement did not have deep roots.

But for a whole century the revolution has been digging itself into Russia. It has been energetically prepared by many of the best people that Russia has. And it is precisely these people that it is necessary to get to know to understand the Revolution and form ideas about it, whatever future it has.

[1] Cecil Malone,Coalition Liberal MP for Leyton East, north east London, Britain