Revolution In Ideas

Episodes

First
Broadcast
Comments
20171009

Historian Justin Champion explores the Russia of 1917 as a revolution in ideas.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was not only a political revolution - the overthrowing of the Tsarist regime by Lenin's Bolshevik party - it was an unprecedented thought experiment, a revolution in ideas.

From women's emancipation to early thinking about the biosphere and the role of art and music joined with work. From rethinking the potential of human nature and the basis of the family to racial equality, laws forbidding anti-Semitism and experiments in collective living. From the immediate decriminalization of homosexuality and a new understanding of ecology, to behavioural psychology and early work in systems theory - the intellectual firmament generated by 1917 precipitated a second revolution in Western thought, both in support and powerfully against it.

British writers, thinkers and radicals including HG Wells, Bertrand Russell and Arthur Ransom either visited the Soviet Union or wrote passionately in support of the young regime. Sylvia Pankhurst corresponded with Lenin directly from London, while Bertrand Russell, on returning from Moscow, compared what he saw to the vision of Plato's republic. Decades before the civil rights movement, a generation of African American thinkers including Paul Robeson and the philosopher W E B Du Bois, visited Moscow and were inspired by the Soviet example - the African Blood Brotherhood movement was directly influenced by Bolshevik ideas and iconography.

The Russian Revolution also gave a huge boost to the new and radical social sciences as they were beginning to grow - the idea that social institutions could be subject to critical scrutiny in a clear, scientific manner was thrilling to Western intellectuals.

Intellectual opposition to 1917 was just as fierce. While energising the field of left-leaning thought, the Russian Revolution also politicised the purpose of more traditional philosophy and it came out fighting.

The historian Justin Champion explores the early years of the Russian Revolution of 1917 as an intellectually explosive and genuinely creative moment - bringing in new ideas, vocabularies and concepts, challenging and transforming Western thinking in the process.

Contributors include Francis Fukuyama, China Mieville, Slavoj Zizek, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Gabriel Prokofiev, Roger Scruton and Hakim Adi.

Producer: Simon Hollis
A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4.