What does it mean to take revolution seriously in a postrevolutionary era? What relevance do twentieth-century revolutionary movements have for contemporary projects of liberation? This essay seeks to answer these questions by tracing the complex legacies and contributions of the Chinese and Russian Revolutions, considered as the two decisive revolutionary moments of the twentieth century. The author calls for us to reposition the Russian Revolution outside of a Eurocentric frame by examining the ways that Lenin and other revolutionaries thought about Russia through the lens of radical upsurges in China, as well as the possibilities the Russian Revolution opened for revolutionary nationalists in China and other colonized societies. Breaking from a Western Marxist discourse of failure, therefore, this essay takes the relationship between the Russian Revolution and global projects of self-determination and anticolonialism as a historical trajectory of emancipation, one that has been marginalized within existing accounts. In this sense, the Russian Revolution opened up a series of decolonizing possibilities whose repercussions echoed through the century. Drawing from the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution opened the possibility of a reconceptualization of the revolutionary subject itself, one in which the category of “the people” (renmin) performed the role of a revolutionary subject always in transformation, critically grounded in the peasantry as the appropriate base of revolutionary mobilization in non-European settings. It did so through the real political practice of “People’s War” (renmin zhanzheng), which, as a form of sustained rural insurgency, embodied a temporality and strategy of revolution very different from the urban insurrectionary model of the Russian Revolution. This essay allows us to situate these and other revolutionary processes at the center of the twentieth century and to study them anew as sources of emancipatory thought and practice, against attempts to banish revolution as such from the stage of history and political possibility. In doing so, this article enjoins us to dream that the world might once again be turned upside down.

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