Book review

China Miéville’s ‘October’ shows us why revolutions must be studied, not just celebrated or reviled

A speculative fiction writer’s view of the Russian Revolution, which is 100 years old this year, provides unique tools to delve into history.

With the luxury of giving only a cursory look – which in turn masquerades as the benefit of hindsight – and lulled by the techno-consumerist order we glide through, the common bourgeois assessment of socialism in the previous century (insofar as it has value today as a curiosity or as a kitschy item), is to equate it with the repression and terror of Stalinism.

The equivalence is, however, deemed false by left thinkers who feel compelled to go back to the beginnings – either to the nuances in Marx’s words, or to the grand original event, the Russian revolution of 1917. The emancipatory potential of the latter and its short-lived actualisation ground a critical argument in the defence of socialism – that multiple paths were possible after the victory in 1917, and the fact that history hurtled along the path that led to Stalin is, despite being a catastrophic reality, not a conclusive negation of all the other possibilities.

It is in this spirit that China Miéville’s October: The Story of the Russian Revolution is written. Miéville, a prominent novelist, is not writing a dour history but an engaging story, one which is set, primarily, in a single city, a city whose geography itself lends pathways to the course of events. The story also includes a complex cast of characters who, in responding to the fast-changing scenarios around them, do alter their identifications and their respective courses of action. And, finally, it gives berth to the faceless mass of workers and peasants and sailors and soldiers who, through their remonstrations, repeatedly provide tipping points to the main characters, opportunities to be seized or lost.

The city, of course, is Petrograd, capital of the Tsarist empire and the provisional government that follows it after the February revolution. Although Miéville tries to give us a picture of the happenings elsewhere – in Moscow, say, or in Riga, Kazan, Odessa, etc. – the book rightly stays in Petrograd. As regards the cast of characters, Lenin and Trotsky are given the importance that is their due, though there is no tendency for hagiography. We have the others – the Tsar, the Tsarina, Rasputin, Lvov, Kornilov, Kerensky, Martov, Tsereteli, Kollontai, Spiridonova, Lunacharsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, et al. And there is Stalin, of course, though he is only a “grey blur” in this story set in 1917, his potential for savagery either non-existent or dormant at this stage.

It wasn’t all as we thought, or was it?

The book begins with an essential chapter titled “The Prehistory of 1917”, which explains, broadly, why the Tsar’s position had become untenable over the years. We also have an epilogue, “After October”, which outlines the events after the revolution, taking us swiftly through Russia’s international isolation and the New Economic Policy (NEP) and Lenin’s death, up to the spectre of Stalin. But the nine chapters in between, named after months – from “February: Joyful Tears” to “Red October” – are what this book is about.

From the details we get to know many interesting things.

For example: from early April, when he returned from exile, till sometime in late September, Lenin didn’t exhort the Bolshevik party, or even the larger Soviet (a council of socialists of many parties), to seize power immediately. Fixated on the idea of a synchronous international socialist revolution, his fantasy was to strike at that opportune moment. That he alone would be able to identify that moment was implicit.

Or: It was Trotsky’s October successes with the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) that laid the grounds for the Bolsheviks to seize power in Petrograd and also overthrow the provisional government under Alexander Kerensky.

Or: The MRC itself was a creation of an anxiety in the combined left as an army putsch by General Kornilov came close to succeeding.

And so on…

The paths not taken

But what we sense from the book (and providing this sense is also its function), is that 1917 is a perfect model for studying revolution. The autocracy is overthrown and replaced by a seemingly liberal government. Soon, considering the will of the people, a coalition is made to include the mild left in the government. The people, though, want the left to take complete power. The left dithers (“Take power, you son of a bitch, when it’s given to you,” the SR leader Chernov is told by a factory worker). There is mayhem on the street. A world war is going on. The army feels compelled to take power. The radical left organises people to dispel the army. The radical left desires complete power. The government is eventually overthrown. And then…

And then everything goes wrong and stays wrong for more than 70 years.

In sum, Miéville’s October is as good an invitation as we are going to get to understand a tumultuous year in the life of a city and a country, to regard how fungible the alternatives of that year really were, and, in general, to appreciate how capricious the course of history can be. If every rise of totalitarianism is the result of a failure of revolution, then, as people who feel increasingly minuscule in a world order that cannot respond to its gravest crises, perhaps it is the failures of revolutions that we must study with the deepest focus.

October, China Miéville, Verso.

Tanuj Solanki is the author of the novel Neon Noon.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.


As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.


So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.


As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”


By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.