Train Travel in China – things you need to know

Nanning East Railway Station

Nanning East Railway Station

As I’ve recently made a number of long train journeys on the Chinese Railway system I thought it might be useful to record some information that might make it easier for others to do so in the future. At times doing anything independently in China can be daunting but perhaps up-to-date information, without (hopefully, too much) negativity will help ease the pain. What makes China difficult is the language, the lack of signage that helps when you really need it and the seeming impossibility (at the times you most need it) to find out where to go for the information you are after.

Perhaps the first thing to mention about train travel in China is the fact that the railway stations are becoming vast, huge structures that make European main line railway stations look like small town stops in comparison. Although older stations were big those that are being built now dwarf those of the past and can become a problem for unwary travellers. Added to this is the increase in the number of indigenous travellers (the reason for the huge stations) and a perceived security threat which means that both persons and luggage undergo a check before anyone can enter the main building concourse. (Similar, but not as vigorous, security checks also take place on all the stations of the Beijing Metro system.) This can lead to long queues to even enter the station before you have to look for, and get to, the relevant waiting area/platform.

Nanning East Railway Station - What you can and cannot have in luggage

Nanning East Railway Station – What you can and cannot have in luggage

Buying tickets

The process of buying tickets has improved vastly in the last few years – thanks to the internet. The queues in railway stations used to be interminable – and can still be long – and the system was very confusing (and lack of anything other than Chinese characters over the windows didn’t help). Now you can find out timetables, book and buy tickets on your own computer/smart phone. One site I’ve used with no problems whatsoever is Ctrip. You pay a percentage commission on the ticket price but it saves a lot of problems and the commission is not that great – Chinese railways being relatively cheap compared to those in western Europe.

There is, however, the matter of picking up the actual ticket itself which can be very dependent on the location of the station – some seem to be better organised than others. If you are faced with a seeming infinite number of ticket windows and you haven’t encountered a friendly and helpful staff member then look for a sign in one of the windows that says ‘The dining time is 12.30 – 13.10’ – in English. The actual time might differ slightly but this is the window to which foreigners were directed in the past, before the advent of internet booking. (In Guangzhou Station, for example, this is window 82 in Ticket Office No 3.) Present the printed out voucher (or whatever is on your phone via the app) – a 9 digit number preceded by an E – plus your identification, normally a passport, – a photocopy will do – which has the same information that you filled in at the time of booking.

This process shouldn’t really take that long, it all depends on the queue so it makes sense to arrive at the station in enough time to take account of contingencies.

As even the locals are using the internet for booking tickets there are more and more automatic machines being installed in the major stations. Unfortunately all the instructions are in Chinese and you have to present your ID to an electronic reader. I doubt whether it would accept a foreign document. The installation of these machines is the main reason that queues for tickets no longer go around the block.

The ticket office is sometimes outside of the actual area identified as secure – it seems to very much depend upon local preferences – but be prepared to show ID to enter to get your ticket (and depart if on another day). At some time before getting on to the actual concourse you will have to go through a security scan – of both yourself and your luggage. This might also be before or after your ticket has been checked, either manually or by a machine. I’ve not come across any standardisation in the process. However, it doesn’t normally take too long as there are enough people to process the crowds that go through major Chinese Railway Stations. You will all have read or heard about the ‘greatest migration in human history outside of war’ that takes place every year during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) but that movement goes on every day in numbers which are unimaginable in Europe.

Guangzhou Railway Concourse

Guangzhou Railway Concourse

At the station

Once on the concourse you can normally forget any helpful signs in English and you have to depend upon your own wits and common sense. It seems as if all the signage up to now has been designed with the distinct aim of trapping you into a sense of complacency. Apart from anything else watch what others do – and on your first time through a station arrive in plenty of time so you can learn enough of the basics without getting into a panic as the clock ticks.

Use the combination of the train number and the time to identify your particular train and to learn the number of the platform. The barrier in the waiting room won’t be opened much more than about 20 minutes or so before the train’s scheduled departure time. Once it does there will normally be a stampede but as seats are allocated you don’t have to join the rush – as with the rush to get on planes this panic is so that people can store their luggage in the limited space.

Depending upon the age of the station there will possibly be two gates, one with a blue notice and one with a red one above them. These refer to the colour of your ticket. Blue is for the vast majority of travellers. The red is for those who have requested some sort of special assistance or who fall into the category of being accorded a privileged status. This includes the elderly and the disabled. As a foreigner it would not be considered amiss if you counted yourself in this category and would normally pass through the red channel without difficulty. In China foreigners are considered to be not quite complete people and together with the idea that you are a guest in their country this situation creates a strange relationship. The red tickets are checked manually and the blue (normally) go through the automatic gates. The gates are likely to close 5 minutes before the train’s scheduled departure time.

Although, from my experience, the trains in China are quite reliable I did encounter a couple of cancellations. That would have been less of a problem if I had been able to understand the signs. If you see something similar to that in the picture below, or a board with a paper sign appears the other side of the barrier where you expected to leave, then head straight to the booking office to exchange your ticket for the next available train. Any delay might mean you will find that seats are limited or non-existent on the next train to your destination. Although the railway company must know of these cancellations long before the train is due they tend to leave any notification of this to the very last minute.

Cancelled Train Notice

Cancelled Train Notice

Once through those gates the ticket will not be checked as you get on the train UNLESS you have a sleeping berth. That ticket will be checked by the attendant standing smartly to attention at the door of the carriage. In the sleeping carriages, soon after departure, you will hand your ticket to the attendant and you will be given another card in its place. This is so the attendants know exactly where you are getting off. This can be very handy if you are due to arrive at your station at three o’clock in the morning. You effectively get a knock up call just in case you oversleep. The returned ticket will then allow you to exit the station.

At intermediate stations the passengers who are leaving the train will get off before the new passengers are allowed on the platform – at least at the larger stations and cities. This avoids any mad crush as people rush for all available space.

It might be worthwhile here emphasising that there’s no real notice given about when the train will depart – for example there are no announcements made on the platform or in the train itself. Yes an announcement will be made (although only in Chinese) about where the train is bound, where it has come from and on which platform it can be found but not its imminent departure. This means that if you are one of those who likes to get off at stations don’t stray too far way from your train so you can keep an eye on departure preparation activity.

Sleeping and overnight trains

As we’re on the sleepers some more information. The sleeping compartments are basically of two kinds, called soft and hard sleepers. It doesn’t mean that in the hard sleeper you are sleeping on hard wooden boards, the difference between the two is the soft has four berths and the hard six to each compartment. In the ‘hard’ carriage this makes for a tight squeeze (66 people in total in 11 bays) and seating space is at a premium once everyone wakes up. In the ‘soft’ the space is useable during the day as well as the night without anyone really being put out as the compartments are those that used to exist on virtually all railway systems before the introduction of open carriages. The ‘soft’ compartments have doors whilst the ‘hard’ open directly out into the corridor – so the level of privacy is very different.

Soft Sleeper Compartment

Soft Sleeper Compartment

The difference in price between the two is, very roughly, about 30%. On the other hand a simple seat would cost half the price of a hard sleeper and a third of that of the soft sleeper.

The beds will be partially made up when you board. The pillow and duvet piled up at one end – that’s for you to sort out how and when you wish. The temperature is normally quite well controlled in these carriages but you will probably welcome the warmth that the duvet provides in the early hours of the morning, if not before.

In each compartment of the soft beds there will be a water flask in a container on the floor and beside that a small rubbish bin. There will also be one power socket which accepts the two small round pin plug and the two or three flat pin plug. You are amongst the privileged in this day and age. Power is at a premium for charging mobile phones and there are no sockets in the seating carriages of the train (apart from the High Speed Trains). That means that after someone has been on the train for any length of time they will be searching for a power socket with the same intensity as a junkie looking for his/her fix. As a foreigner, especially if you are in a carriage by yourself/selves, and the door is open during the day you are quite likely to get asked for access to this source of such importance.

There are also a couple of sockets in the corridor of the carriage and these also get visits from the hoi poloi. However to get power from these sockets you are very much out in the open and are more likely to be chased by the attendants if seen. In the compartments they are more likely to get away with being in a part of the train where they are not technically supposed to be. Whether they get chased very much depends upon the attendants. Travel ‘soft sleeper’ and you are travelling in the small, First Class section of the particular train. Why, when everyone knows that the demand for power is so great that sockets aren’t available in all parts of the train is a question I’m not even going to bother to ask.

Soft Sleeper Corridor

Soft Sleeper Corridor

At the head of each berth there is a reading light so you can continue to read or whatever once the main light has been switched off. From my experience Chinese travellers are early to bed once the train gets moving (the same happens on long distance buses as well) and there won’t be a great deal of movement after 22.00.

Each compartment door can be locked from the inside. If you do so you can expect to be awoken in the middle of the night if someone has a berth booked in your compartment. They can always get in quietly by getting the attendant to open the door with their key but someone might be impatient to get to bed themselves. However, the lock does provide a greater security and peace of mind.

In the corridor there are fold down seats between the windows. These are useful places if you find the compartment a little claustrophobic and it offers an opportunity to look out the window and contemplate the problems of the world – although this is one of the reasons for undertaking such long distance train journeys in the first place, isn’t it?

At one end of the carriage there will be a constant supply of hot drinking water from a boiler. This causes a constant stream of visitors either to make tea or to rehydrate the box of E number chemicals that pose as food under the name ‘instant noodles’.

Most such carriages also have a toilet at either end. It’s likely that one of them will be the squat version. Bring your own toilet paper – you should be doing that as you travel anyway. At one end there will be the carriage attendant’s room and next to that will be a wash room with three wash basins and cold water taps.

Smoking is not permitted at the seats or in the sleeping compartments on these types of trains (the more ‘traditional’ type compared with the high speed versions now more common on the Chinese railway where smoking if forbidden throughout) but is permitted in the area between carriages so don’t be surprised to get a whiff of the acrid smell of burnt tobacco from time to time.

Eating

There will be a restaurant car, very likely next to the carriage/s with the soft sleeper berths which are normally in the middle of the train. This was problematic a few years ago as the staff would be reluctant to approach a foreigner if they couldn’t speak any English. To avoid a problem of communication you could be ignored. That has changed now and menus will in English as well as Mandarin and the staff might also be more competent in English. Travellers have to be reasonable in these situations – how many workers on European railways are multilingual, especially in the UK? A simple dish, which includes rice, will cost (in 2017) about 30 RMB – about £3.00.

However, if you choose not to go to the restaurant car trolleys constantly ply along the corridor during the whole of the journey selling the sort of cold convenience foods that are found in supermarkets, the likes of crisps and Chinese speciality snacks as well as the ubiquitous ‘instant noodles’. Fruit wrapped in cling film will also make a showing. At recognise meal times (around 06.00, 12.00 and 18.00) one or two hot meal options will be available, freshly made in the restaurant kitchen, for example, hot porridge and noodles for breakfast. If you are keen on alcohol then you have to bring it yourself – it’s not sold from the trolleys that ply the corridors and neither is it available at station stops when there might be more than a few minutes before departure.

From my experience they can move through the soft sleeper carriages quite quickly as often many of the doors will be closed so you either have to listen out for them and move quite fast or hang around the entrance of the compartment at meal times. As an example of price, in 2017, a bowl of breakfast noodles, which I thought were tasty enough, was 10 RMB, about a pound sterling.

Eating is different on the High Speed Trains. There’s no restaurant as such, the journeys being of a much shorter duration, and meals and drinks will be brought to your seat once it has been ordered from the staff who pass along the carriages. A basic meal and a drink will cost about 25 RMB, about £2.50. There are also power points at each seat – although their location makes using them with an adapter impossible.

Staying connected

Free WiFi is also on offer in the soft sleeper area. I found this a bit hit and miss. You connect to the provider on the list that looks like a list of symbols and shows ‘excellent’ as the level of reception. A screen will come up with all the instructions in Chinese but below them is a large green button. I found I had to click on that to get any further. On my journeys the reception was erratic. It will also send alarm signals to your email server who will send security messages to the allocated email address.

Beijing Railway Station Platform

Beijing Railway Station Platform

‘Essentials’ for long distance, over-night travel

Virtually all passengers who will be travelling overnight in a sleeping compartment will change into the sort of clothing that they would have if they were in their own homes – in Asia there’s a distinct demarcation line between the ‘street’ and the home. And if only for one or two nights the train becomes the home. So after arriving in smart outdoor clothing most of the passengers will be seen dressed in the likes of track suits – both the men and the women. A pair of slippers or flip flops would also be useful.

It’s unlikely that anyone would really have trouble sleeping in the soft sleeper. Apart from the creaks and groans, squeaks and moans from the train carriages themselves you are, more or less, insulated from the rest of the world. That might not be the same in the hard sleeper carriages where there is a higher concentration of people, together with their snores and nightmares. At least there it is dark when people go to sleep, that is not necessarily the case in the seating parts of the train.

Wherever you might find yourself there’s a local solution to sleeplessness which also includes an element of local culture. That is to drink the Chinese liquor baijiu. This is, normally, made from grain and is a clear liquid. Normally around 52% proof a couple of these will knock out most people if they have had a long day travelling.

There are a couple of hurdles, nonetheless. Some of the cheaper options can smell similar to paint stripper so it’s not a drink to appreciate in the same way as you might a half decent wine. Next is overcoming the first mouthful. You know how strong it is as the lips become slightly numb on first contact. As the liquid passes down the throat the burning sensation lasts only a short time as it takes a small piece of the lining with it. After that it’s plain sailing. A few of these and you will be the one keeping everyone else awake. And it won’t, unless you really want to, break the bank. A bottle of 500ml in a local supermarket cost 10.80 RMB – that’s equivalent to just over a pound sterling.

Another ‘essential’ is a box of tea bags. I’m old enough to remember Lipton’s tea in the UK. You don’t see it there at all now but whoever owns Lipton’s doesn’t care as it has an intro in some of the most populous countries on the planet. Why worry about the demise of the corner shop in England when they can sell their products in hundreds of thousands of locations in China with a population of 1.5 billion and climbing. Such goods are ‘aspirational’ for those who want to consider themselves internationalists in the new capitalist China and although the tea might not be as good as that produced for the tea ceremonies it is more than adequate for a lengthy train journey. As stated before hot water is permanently available in the public areas of the train.

Another travelling essential is an unbreakable drinking container. I favour the stainless steel cups that are used for water in Indian vegetarian restaurants. Cheap and virtually indestructible when travelling.

High Speed Trains

The network of High Speed Trains is expanding so rapidly in China that the slower way of travelling might be under threat in the near future. But it comes, at a price, literally. For example, on a High Speed Train, the journey from Nanning (in Guangxi) to Beijing will take just under 14 hours and will cost: 914 RMB 2nd Class, 1,379 RMB 1st Class and 2,853 RMB Business Class. On the other hand the slower, overnight train will take 23½ hours and will cost: 751 RMB Soft Sleeper and 487 RMB Hard Sleeper. It all depends upon whether you are time or money poor.

The fast rains have their charm, reaching speeds of 310 Km per hour, but like all high speed trains around the world the experience is sterile and you feel separate from the environment through which you are travelling.

 

Mugabe, Zimbabwe and Anti-Colonialism

Zimbabwe Independence 1980

Zimbabwe Independence 1980

‘The end of an era’ has been used a lot in the last few days in reports and articles about the situation in Zimbabwe. Precipitated by a decision to remove an erstwhile ally in preference for his wife – in a battle over ‘succession’ – the Zimbabwean army took control of the country and placed the country’s President, Robert Mugabe, under house arrest. As I write this the news has broken that Mugabe has resigned as President but whether this is the end of the story is another mater. Whether it be peaceful or violent, will end in smiles or tears, is still unknown.

The events of the last week have only precipitated the inevitable. At the age of 93 Mugabe didn’t have much longer in his role as President and the situation in the country was about to change. But change, although inevitable, does not always happen for the best.

When Mugabe goes it is an end of an era for him but also for the anti-colonial struggle within the continent of Africa.

When Independence was declared in Harare on April 18th 1980 this followed the example of a number of countries that had achieved Independence through armed struggle. Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau/Cape Verde islands had achieved their freedom from Portugal five years earlier and in the process weakening the Fascist regime in Lisbon so that the Portuguese people were able to topple the Caetano regime.

(The so-called bloodless ‘Carnation Revolution’ in Portugal was possible after the shedding of a great deal of blood by fighters who had fought against the colonial power in the country’s African colonies. The Portuguese repaid this debt by a wholesale desertion of those ex-colonies and creating serious problems for the new, independent nations.)

Most of the nations that had achieved independence from their colonial oppressors in the years after World War II quickly became mere client states of imperialism with only a semblance of independence. Any attempts at building a new sort of society, for the benefit of the workers and peasants of the continent, were crushed in the Congo with the murder of Patrice Lumumba at the beginning of 1961 and the experiment in Tanzania had yet to fall apart.

So the group of avowedly left-wing nations, with various levels of developed Socialist ideology, that had gained freedom in the 1970s offered some hope to the poor and oppressed and sent shivers down the spine of imperialism worldwide. Britain was peeved, on both the Tory and Labourite sides of the political spectrum, that Mugabe won a landslide in the elections held in February 1980 – they would have preferred Joshua Nkomo who was much more malleable and pro-capitalist. If Mugabe wasn’t a Marxist-Leninist (although he used Marxist terminology) then the fact that he was so feared by the white, imperialist establishment earned himself a lot of credibility.

There was a great deal of hope and expectation in the newly independent Zimbabwe. During the 1970s most attention in the anti-apartheid movement was directed towards South Africa and its racist Boers. There’s no doubting that South African society was rotten to its core but the figures demonstrate that what used to be known as Rhodesia was a country where the black population existed solely to serve the white minority.

In the early 1980s the whites in South Africa made up a third of the population. Just before the final victory of the Zimbabwean Independence fighters towards the end of 1979 the white population of Rhodesia number was no more than 250,000 – with a black population of about 7 million. That’s a ratio of 28 to 1.

The privilege that came as a consequence of that ratio explains why the Rhodesian army fought in such a vicious manner to maintain their hold on the country. Using techniques that were employed by the Americans in Vietnam, such as chemical warfare as well as the establishment of ‘protected villages’ – to deny the guerrillas contact with the local population – thousands of black Zimbabwean men and women died in the final seven years of the liberation war when the fighting became more intense. In this life and death battle the Rhodesians were supported by the rich and powerful racist regime in Pretoria – who got many of their armaments from the Israeli settler regime in Palestine.

By the time of independence the white settler population in the new Zimbabwe was down to about 100,000 but the agreement made in London, the Lancaster House Agreement of December 1979, maintained many of the privileges the whites had enjoyed for decades. Mugabe kept to this agreement – much to the anger of many of those who had fought in the Chimurenga (Liberation War), presumably with the idea that the British would keep to their side of the agreement in assisting the country to move to a situation where the wealth created in the country would be for the benefit of the majority. If that was the case that was foolish – no one should ever trust the British. The term ‘perfidious Albion’ exists for a reason.

The whole society was skewed in favour of a very small group of people and to change that so the majority could have a decent lifestyle was both difficult and expensive. Promises made during the 1970s that education and health would be provided for all were, in the main kept, but this took a huge amount of resources. Education is something that has to be paid for now in the expectation of returns in the future. But by the time these young people had been educated the situation had moved on – and not to the benefit of Zimbabwe.

Although the battle had been won against the Rhodesians the white South Africans continued the war, taking it into the sovereign country of Zimbabwe itself by making a number of assassination attempts against members of the African National Congress (ANC) who were living there. In October 1986 the President of Portugal-free Mozambique was assassinated by the South African government. The Boers also supported the collaborationist forces of UNITA in Angola. So after gaining independence from colonialism Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau/Cape Verde Islands and Zimbabwe found themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, continuing to have to fight for their existence. The failure of the ANC in South Africa to mount a real and determined liberation war against their own government didn’t help.

Corruption started to appear in all these countries and in Zimbabwe by the middle of the 1980s. A report produced by the Domestic Workers Union in 1986 concluded that the black ‘servants’ were even being treated more harshly by their black employers than they were by the whites. (That shouldn’t be a surprise. Southern African racism was heavily paternalistic and considered the black population like children – something I consider even more insidious than the vicious form of racism that exists in the United States. On the other hand the black employers who took on some of the roles of those whites who had fled the country just treated their servants as people who they had to get as much from whilst giving as little as possible in return.) Mugabe made a serious mistake by not stamping down on this corruption and abuse of power with an iron fist as soon as it arose.

For the whites in Zimbabwe it was very much business as usual – they carried on their colonial lifestyle very much in the same way as they had since WWII, when there had been a large influx of settlers from Britain – many of them working class. They owned the best land, that being the land closest to reliable water resources, and whilst the maize (the basic food stuff) of the small farmers wilted during the drought of 1986-7 the commercial crops, like tobacco, of the large white farmers thrived being irrigated from the waters of Lake Chivero (formerly Lake McIlwaine).

Support, both financial and logistical, promised by the UK government to reverse the inequalities created by colonialism (especially in land redistribution) weren’t forthcoming and by 1990, after the ten year period of grace for the whites, Zimbabwe found itself in a shaky situation economically. The world had also moved on in that ten year period. Neo-liberal economics dominated and any money from the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank came with conditions – primarily the selling off of state enterprises and the opening up of the country to foreign interference, the unequal agreements that have caused havoc throughout the poorer parts of the world. A small group can benefit but society in general loses out. To his credit Mugabe resisted these pressures but it came at a cost.

When land redistribution became a major issue at the end of the 1990s the matter was pursued chaotically and on an individual basis. This taking back of the land should have occurred in the 1980s and in a structured manner, establishing something akin to collective/State farms on the bigger and most productive properties. Once capitalist property rights were challenged imperialism got together and imposed sanctions on the country in the hope that the colonies they once dominated could be brought under their control again.

But Mugabe stood out against this interference but by now the situation in the country was worsening. In isolation, all the other countries that had gained independence in the 1970s having fallen into the arms of imperialism earlier, Zimbabwe’s situation had no real way forward that would benefit the people of the country.

Opportunists saw their chance and when Mugabe made a silly political error they were ready to pounce. That brings us to the situation at the moment where Mugabe has just resigned as President. But this military and political coup was a long time in the planning, the rebels just waiting for an opportunity to take action. A simple look at the sort of professionally produced posters that were seen on the streets at the ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations over the weekend of the 18-19th November 2017 indicates that this crisis had been anticipated and prepared for long since.

Mugabe made many mistakes however he did maintain independence for his country, he didn’t cave in to international pressures (although he did look east towards capitalist China to help in recent years).

And it is here that we have the ‘end of another era’. The era of anti-colonialism, the era of independence for those countries that had thrown off the yolk of colonialism, the era when ordinary working people had the hope that freedom from white, European rule could mean they could take their fate into their own hands, that they could use the immense wealth of their countries for the betterment of themselves and their children.

Those that now hold the reigns of power, even if they were fighters in the Chimurenga, do not hold have a view of the future that is for the people. They are openly ‘free trade’ in their outlook and it will only be a matter of days before they are opening their country to the ravages of globalisation. State industries won’t stay in public hands for long and the ‘prosperity’ that might arrive in the future will be that for a selective view.

With the fall of Mugabe Africa no longer has a country which isn’t, in one form or another, under the control of those very forces so many fought against from the end of the 19th century, culminating in the liberation wars of the 1970s.

Those brave and courageous men and women who died thinking they did so for a better future have finally been betrayed by all the nations of the continent. What has happened in November 2017 is indeed an ‘end of an era’ – the end of an era where people were prepared to fight, and give their lives, for dignity, freedom and the right to determine their own future.

When shall we see their likes again?

 

The Centenary of the October Revolution of 1917

Lenin, Stalin and Dzerzhinsky at the Smolny

Lenin, Stalin and Dzerzhinsky at the Smolny

The centenary of the most important event in the history of the world occurs on the 7th November 2017. On that day a hundred years ago the working class and peasantry of Russia took power into their own hands and attempted to build a new world order.

I have already looked at that event in another, earlier post, but as we live in a world that is obsessed with anniversaries (and I’m falling into that trap, being in Leningrad at the time of the centenary) perhaps it’s time to re-address the issues that were brought up by that tremendous, earth shattering event.

We can gauge the magnitude of the events in that year by the way capitalism did it’s best to destroy the nascent Soviet state.

Lenin – the leader of the Bolsheviks – together with James Connolly of the Irish Republican Army, were the only socialist leaders to condemn the slaughter of the First World War as soon as it started. Social democratic apologists for capitalism (such as the British Labour Party) reneged on their declarations against war (made at Stuttgart and Basel in 1907 and 1912 respectively) as soon as they were put to the test. Only the true Communists had kept to their principles and the imperialist countries knew they were dealing with a dangerous proletarian force when Lenin was at the head of the revolutionary party.

The capitalist countries saw red and realised that the Bolshevik Revolution was like no other that had preceded it. What the Parisian workers had attempted to achieve, in the Paris Commune of 1871, had been suppressed with the wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands of men, women and children. Capitalism would go to the same extremes to achieve a similar result in Russia. As the tools for this they used their pathetic, confused and ignorant workers (who had spent more four years killing each other for the benefit of their own oppressors) who were told to attack the first workers’ state. Like the sheep they had become they fed the resulting ‘Civil War’ when more people were killed than in the imperialist war itself.

The Revolution was celebrated by revolutionary workers all over the world as the harbinger of a new society, free from exploitation and oppression. A revolution ‘is not a dinner party’, as Chairman Mao said, and the ignorant, pusillanimous and forelock tugging workers and their collaborationist ‘Labour/Socialist’ parties have attacked and condemned the October Revolution for the necessary measures taken to defend, promote and develop the workers state on the road to build Socialism – and eventually Communism.

The road followed by the Soviet Union, alone, until joined by the People’s Republic of Albania in 1944, the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and much later, after an heroic battle against American Imperialism, the People’s Republic of Vietnam in 1975, was tortuous, long and hard.

Massive achievements were made – as well as mistakes. If a revolution is predictable it’s not a revolution. But what was achieved by the Soviet people, in the field of industrial production, the collectivisation of agriculture and the fearless, heroic and self-sacrifice that led to the defeat of the Nazi beast, was of immeasurable benefit to the people’s of the world – and a lesson which those exploited and oppressed of the world need to understand and emulate.

But those that inherit a revolution are not those who made it. They benefit from the achievements but want more – those ‘benefits’ of capitalism with which no socialist state can compete. And that’s things. Things like consumer goods, the fickle trinkets of mass production, that entice stupid people away from what is truly meaningful for a full and fruitful life – those necessities, like health, education and the ability to contribute to society through productive activity.

The revolution in the Soviet Union was lost in 1956 at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) where Nikita Khrushchev denounced Comrade Joseph Stalin and all the achievements of the previous 29 years and the period of Socialist construction in a sixth of the world’s land mass ended.

For a further 24 years the ‘Revisionist’ version of Communism promoted by the CPSU spread like a virus throughout the world, creating confusion and division within the working class. This was the task that had been taken on board by Social Democracy, after it’s betrayal of the working class in 1914 (by calling upon the workers in their respective countries to kill each other for the benefit of capitalism) but the Soviet renegades sowed more confusion by continuing to call themselves Communists and claiming to follow the revolutionary ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Their pathetic demise in 1991 was too long in coming.

A hundred years after the magnificent event (the images of which are more influenced by those who have seen the film’ October’ by the revolutionary Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein than what actually happened) the situation is very different.

Capitalism has been re-introduce in tooth and claw. Instead of free health, education, secure employment, pensions and an infrastructure that benefits the majority everything has now been privatised. The collective wealth created by Socialist workers has been stolen by opportunist thieves. One of these scumbag ‘oligarchs’ has a boat sitting of the coast of Turkey which is bigger than the Cruiser ‘Aurora’ that signalled the start of the attack on the Winter Palace and the virtual beginning of the Socialist Revolution.

(Perhaps it’s a sign of our times that a grand, ancient name has been given to a bunch of opportunist thugs and common thieves.)

But that’s the problem for the people of Russia of today. They are not the brave and courageous innovators of the past. Revolution is not passed down through the genes. They are the submissive, afraid and confused that populate most countries, especially those in the ‘so-called’ civilized ‘west’, Europe, North America and certain parts of the South-eastern Asia.

Putin plays the nationalist card, courts the church – of whatever denomination – in an attempt to maintain his power. After Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Gobshite, and the Vodka Soaked Drunk Yeltsin, Putin is just a greedy opportunist who prays on civil society. After this bunch of cretins how can anyone, with a modicum of sense, criticise Uncle Joe’s policy of purging the Party of opportunist elements?

So no real celebration of the most important event in the history of the world in the place where it occurred.

That’s good.

Leningrad (it will always have that name to me), the cradle of the revolution, has been renamed St Petersburg (the Germanic name that was used before the First World War, and not even the Russified version of Petrograd) was where it all started 100 years ago. If there’s any ‘official’ attempt to recognise the event this is manifested in museum gallery exhibitions that seek to denigrate the success of the Bolsheviks rather than celebrate it.

Re-writing of history is the name of the game.

Denigration of the Socialist past is almost at a fascist level. Having had to suffer the ‘impartiality’ of the British media for so long, it’s quite refreshing to see a total ideological war against the past.

The Russian state has not decided to ignore the past – that would be impossible even in the present circumstances – rather they have chosen to re-interpret it.

Exhibitions in both Moscow and Leningrad at the end of 2017 that relate to the events of 1917 are a propaganda attempt to undermine the Revolution. In an effort to denigrate the importance of both Lenin and Stalin (as well as other truly revolutionary leaders) they promote Trotsky – if anyone was unsure of his counter-revolutionary nature the adoption of him as a ‘revolutionary icon’ by Putin’s state should clarify matters. (There was even an advert on Russian TV about a mini series around Trotsky’s life. He was considered a capitalist agent in the times of Socialism and he is becoming a ‘revolutionary’ icon by those who have been restoring total capitalist control of the country.)

For some reason, which I don’t really understand, Voroshilov has been added to the ‘devils’ of the past alongside JV Stalin. There’s obviously an agenda there but I’m not sure what. As with the so-called ‘rehabilitation’ of the traitors and foreign agents of the 1930s those who have been chosen by the present, capitalist regime are chosen for a reason – they are symbols of their aspirations.

This has been taken to bizarre extremes at times. At an exhibition in Leningrad, for example, in a section about propaganda (I don’t see this word as necessarily having a negative connotation) during the building of Socialism the information cards declare that the Soviet State only sought to eliminate illiteracy because this would make more people susceptible to brain washing Soviet propaganda.

The perfidious Communists were trying to out-do the obsfucators of the past, in Britain for example, who used Latin in the church and the courts so that the ordinary people wouldn’t be able to understand what was being said. By actually teaching them to read and write the Soviet ‘propaganda machine’ could be more easily absorbed by the basically ignorant workers and peasants. The double thinking here is remarkable.

Socialism goes contrary to all previous social systems based on class, exploitation and oppression. The most important aspect of the creation of a new kind of man and woman is the changing of the selfish mindset that is a close partner of class systems. This is the cultural revolution that all socialist societies have instituted in one form or another. Socialist values of collectivity and respect for all is an anathema to capitalism. Only an intellectually adept people are capable of building a society free from all the evils of the past.

Those in power in Russia today are quite happy to feed their population with the garbage that capitalism has to offer, from the likes of McDonald’s, KFC and Coca-Cola to the cheap, nasty and moronic TV shows copied from western Europe, the only difference being the language. Shit in,shit out.

If you placed these cretinous curators of exhibitions in a novel nobody would believe them credible.

But that’s not really an issue. The country has betrayed its revolutionary past. It has no right to claim the Revolution as its property as it’s people have rejected that revolution for a capitalist lifestyle – together with all the consequences of a capitalist society. If they complain about their present reality then they only have themselves to blame.

The present ‘Communist Party of the Russian Federation’ is more akin to the revisionist party that betrayed the Revolution than the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Stalin. I wouldn’t trust them to change a light bulb let alone a country. They make token gestures to the event of a hundred years ago but chose to hold a meeting in Moscow at the exact time of the centenary. If nothing else they display no concept of history – something important for a revolutionary. If you don’t know, care or understand where you come from how can you know where to go in the future?

The people of St Petersburg walk the same streets as the revolutionaries but they don’t walk in their footsteps. The chances of them reversing the changes of the last 60 years are nil – unless the country has to confront another major crisis such as WWI. (But then they are no different from the workers of any other country where revolutions are only made when people are weak and in crisis rather than from positions of strength and stability.) If the lesson of the October Revolution is anything else it’s that we haven’t learnt the lessons of the October Revolution.

If the workers, peasants and poor of the world made a revolution when they wanted rather than waiting until it was a necessity then their future would be easier. They wait until the last moment and build the new from the literal ruins of the old rather than using the old as a foundation for the new.

Whether the centenary of the October Revolution will prompt the exploited and oppressed to look at their own situation anew is doubtful. But one thing is certain, for those who want to exert their own dignity the Great October Proletarian Revolution will remain a beacon which lights the future.

Long Live the Revolution of the 7th November 1917!