Like the year that’s just ending, the year of the Russian Revolution was a moment of irreversible change
A century, a hundred years, a ton: whatever it is called, those two zeroes make it an irresistible measure, big enough to serve as a yardstick of human activity, not so great that the consequences of events beyond a human lifespan are fully comprehended. This year, 2016, feels unmistakably like a watershed, a point of departure to which future historians will return again and again in search of explanation and illumination. Brexit, Trump, these are events all the more shocking for their causes afterwards being so apparently plain to see. But moments in history often move swiftly from the astonishing to the blindingly obvious.
The year that starts this Sunday, 2017, is the centenary of another year like 2016, a year that also marked an irreversible shift in the world order. The political world and, with it, the human imagination were reconfigured in ways that were sometimes instantly obvious – the two Russian revolutions in February and October, for example, or the dawn of total war marked by unrestrained U-boat attacks on allied shipping and the first bombing raids on civilian London.