Connecting to The Masses: 100 Years from the Russian Revolution - From Agitprop to the Attention Economy
Conference at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, organized by Stefania Milan and Thomas Poell, November 13th, 2017
The relationship between governments and the people they govern has been always hostage to rhetoric, propaganda, and strategic public relations, as well as aggressive marketing and the influence of contemporary media industries, altering the dynamics of healthy political communications. Often, this relationship has thrived on charismatic leaders, the “avant-garde”, who could feel the pulse of their population’s grievances, demands and hopes for the future. Whether the Russian revolution of 1917 is interpreted as a product of class struggle, as an event governed by historic laws predetermined by the alienation of the masses by monopoly industrial capitalism, or as a violent coup by a proto-totalitarian Bolshevik party, the Russian revolutionaries understood and connected to the masses in a way that the autocracy, bourgeois elites and reformists alike failed to do.
In the midst of rage, desperation and harsh everyday life conditions, due to the pressure and failures of WW1 against Germany, food shortages, growing poverty, inequality and alienation, the Bolsheviks felt the undercurrents in the seas of history and spoke to the people, exactly when the relationship between the Tsar and the population, and between the Provisional government and the Soviets were at a crucial tipping point. The Bolsheviks grasped the opportunity to change the world for themselves in the here and now, rather than waiting to reform in the future for their children. They did so violently and unapologetically with the effects of their move running through the Cold War and the confrontation with the West, all the way to the complex and intense relations between Russia and the United States, in terms of failed engagements of the past 25 years since the fall of the USSR, the first socialist state in the world.
Connecting to the masses is critical for the success of any movement, resurrection, protest, and revolution. The communication mechanisms for this connection have some times evolved and other times undergone revolutions of their own. Since the Russian centennial, scholars have examined how media and communication affects this connection to the masses in a double yet complimentary dynamic: how governments connect to the masses and how masses connect to their governments.