Below is the latest in an occasional series of essays by our Russian correspondent Dimitri K.
The Story of Two Revolutions
by Dimitri K.
Suddenly he made a face
As if his mouth burned.
The officer noticed
My large red-skinned passport…
I take it out of my trousers
Like a copy of the priceless item
Look — I am a citizen
Of the Soviet Union
— Vladimir Mayakovsky
In this short essay I would like to compare two revolutions, the consequences of which I observed during my lifetime. One was the Socialist Revolution in Russia, that occurred in October 1917. Please notice that half a year before that, in February 1917 a Democratic revolution occurred in Russia, so by that time Russia was already a democratic republic governed by the elected parliament. Of that revolution I know a lot, mostly because it was studied in Soviet schools, and also from my grandparents, who observed it in person. That revolution officially finished in 1992 with the collapse of the Soviet union, so it lasted for seventy-five years.
The other revolution, which has not finished yet, is the Sexual Revolution of the sixties in the West. Of that revolution I know less, but its consequences can be observed throughout the world, and are still here. That revolution was not solely sexual, just as the Socialist Revolution in Russia was not only or exactly about Socialism. However, if people ever use the word “revolution” with respect to the events of the sixties, they usually talk about sexual revolution.
There must be some reason for that. It’s probably because sexual norms were transformed the most radically. Some like to argue that it was about equality and freedom of women; similar arguments were often presented for the Russian Revolution. However, just like in Russia in 1917, the formal equality of sexes and personal freedom were already in place at the time of the revolution.
There are many similar features in the two events. I heard from my grandmother that in the 1920s in Moscow she saw demonstrations of naked people, walking in the streets with signs that read “No more shame!”. And in the USA, the 1960s were the time of the struggle for social rights as well.
For this essay I chose as the epigraph a few lines from Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem “The Poem of Soviet Passport”, translated by myself. Mayakovsky was a great revolutionary poet both in the sense of his poetical form and also because he praised the Russian Revolution. Later he became disillusioned with revolution, and in 1930 he shot himself.
This poem was studied in Soviet schools, and as a child I thought it was about the greatness of the Soviet Union. Later I started to suspect that it was actually about something else, though most people around me still cannot believe it. The reason for our misunderstanding was actually because we grew up in a completely different time than Mayakovsky did. He saw the beginning of the revolution, we witnessed the end.
It is quite obvious from the works of Lenin, which we studied at school but could not fully understand, that the Russian Revolution was not about Russia. It was planned to be the beginning of the worldwide revolution, and Bolsheviks stopped short of their aim not because they didn’t want it, but because they couldn’t attain it. At first, they did not plan any Soviet Union, nor any Soviet passport; they rather wanted to show the red-skinned items from their trousers to the capitalist world.
Now consider the Sexual Revolution of 1960s. It had no Lenin who would clearly state its goals, but there was John Lennon, probably the most famous of its poets. Recall what he said: “Imagine there’s no countries” (Lenin: revolution cannot win in one country), “And no religion too” (Lenin: Religion — the most despicable of human superstitions), “All you need is love” (Lenin: all we need is the revolutionary party). According to Lennon, revolution should be driven by sex, not by a party; that’s why it’s called “sexual”.
The Sexual Revolution is now turning 50: this is the time at which revolutions ripen. What do we see around us now? Sexual minorities, the vanguard of Sexual Revolution, are now attacked in the streets of Amsterdam. Revolutions eat their children. Just like the vanguard of the Russian Revolution was completely eradicated, the vanguard of Sexual Revolution is under attack. It is not performed by an analog of KGB or any official authority, but the authorities are strangely reluctant to stop it.
When something cannot be stopped, it is likely to be a trend. Isn’t that the second phase of the Sexual Revolution? It is hard to recognize, because it is strikingly different from the first one. As with Mayakovsky’s poem, it does not look like what we expected. Just like the Russian Revolution deposed political liberties and produced the “aggressively obedient majority” (the term used by historian Jury Afanasiev), the sexually-liberated West suddenly stopped defending sexual liberties and somehow obtained a large mass of aggressively homophobic people. However, if we read Lenin carefully without prejudice, we find that he never ever talked about freedom, but only about the “dictatorship of the proletariat” enforced by the political power of the proletariat.
According to Lenin, the revolution was caused by social conflicts and desperation brought on by capitalism. If we follow this analogy, the Sexual Revolution was not going to increase sexual or personal freedom, which had been already achieved, but vice versa. It was caused by sexual frustrations and social problems in the world with too much sexual freedom and love replaced by money (capitalism). Its aim, though not openly stated, was the enforcement of sexual dictatorship by an organized majority which holds political power.
Like its Russian predecessor, the Sexual Revolution will inevitably collapse under its own contradictions, leaving devastation and a confused populace. It will happen unexpectedly, and very few people from inside the system will be able to see it coming.