It is often forgotten that the October Revolution, the Spartacist rising, or the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party are all events within living memory. The targets of Lenin’s polemic in ‘Left-wing Communism’ are not all dead. Even the editor of Pravda whose line was implicitly repudiated by his ‘April Theses’ is still alive. The events and struggles and debates which formed the political consciousness of revolutionaries in the twenties and thirties—and which remain of such central relevance to politics today—can be discussed with participants. Yet the Left—despite the importance it habitually attaches to the experience of this past, both as a source of historical analogy and as the material base upon which classical revolutionary positions have been hammered out—has too often neglected this precious and dwindling inheritance of memory. At best, it has concentrated exclusively upon the great names—and erratically, at that. Of course, the account of past events given by major participants, in memoirs or interviews, can be invaluable. But the testimony of less central figures is often equally illuminating—and may at times even be more reliable.
The new rubric inaugurated in this issue of NLR will specifically aim to reconstitute key episodes of twentieth century history through the memories of those who took part in them. Some of the contributors will be well-known, others less so. Some contributions will already have been published in other languages, most will be original. There will be an evident continuity with aspects of the Review’s production in the past. On the one hand, with the ‘Work Series’, which was premised on the conviction that individual accounts of the experience of particular jobs could contribute powerfully to a general understanding of the changing character of work under advanced capitalism. On the other hand, with the autobiographical and historical focus of most NLR interviews: items such as Hedda Korsch’s memories of her husband’s itinerary (NLR 76) or K. Damodaran’s reflections on the last four decades of Indian Communism (NLR 93) could have been included under such a rubric.
Here we publish two extracts from David Wilson’s autobiography ‘Living in my Time’.