1917: The Year of the Century

A painting of Lenin addressing the crowd upon his return to Russia during the Russian Revolution. Museum of Political History.

Jeremy Black
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from American Review of Books, Blogs, and Bull

1917 was a key year in a crucial decade. This was a decade of change, or, rather, transformation; of the destruction of what became old orders; and of the replacement of existing currents and practices.

From the perspective of 2017, possibly the most important changes of the decade came in 1910-11: alongside revolutionary crises in Mexico, Cuba, and Haiti was the crisis and overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in China. There had been a series of such crises in China before, of course notably with the Ming in the 1640s, and the Mongols in the 1360s. What made the crisis of the 1910s different, however, was the replacement of a dynasty by a republic and the difficulty, for the new system, of establishing its legitimacy. Indeed, China atomised, so that, by 1925, it was divided between a large number of independent polities, most of which were under the thumb of warlords and expressions of their power. China’s fragmentation made it vulnerable to Japanese invasion and, ultimately, to a destructive civil war and communist revolution in 1949. Continue reading “1917: The Year of the Century”