Posted: Tuesday 8 March 2011

The Lewis Lyons Memorial Lecture: Professor Geoffrey Swain

Lewis Lyons Lecture: Prof Geoffrey SwainProfessor Geoffrey Swain, Alec Nove Professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Glasgow, delivered this year's Lewis Lyons Memorial Lecture.

Professor Swain gave S6 a fascinating talk on 'Communism - An Ideology Destined to Fail?' He challenged the audience to consider what might have happened had the Communist experiment in Russia been given more of a chance to modify and reform.

He began by giving a clear definition of the ideas of Karl Marx - a 19th Century thinker who believed 'he had understood the laws of History itself.' The guiding principle of the new communist system would not be capitalist profit, but a new system based on the principle "from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs".

Professor Swain then led us through a whistlestop tour of the Russian Revolution and its consequences, emphasizing the fact that the revolution did not fit easily into Marx's blueprint for communism. In particular, while Marx had expected revolution to occur in a highly industrialized society, the reality in Russia was very different. We learned that, despite this, Lenin took advantage of a weak government struggling to fight a losing war and seized power.

The historians among us were on more familiar ground when Professor Swain described the period of Stalin's rule - though even those aware of the horrors of Stalinism may well have been shocked to learn that in Ukraine alone 4.4 million peasants starved to death as part of an intentional programme to modernise agriculture.

The most interesting and original part of the lecture was Professor Swain's 'musings' on what might have been. Counterfactual history is now a significant field and our pupils were able to experience firsthand what this means. Professor Swain considered what might have happened to the communist system if it had been democratised in the 1960s.

He pointed out that by the 1980s the Soviet Union was 'built on sand.' Particularly relevant to all of us in this year of revolutions he quoted ex-President Gorbachev who had realised even before he gained power in Russia that "it cannot be assumed that young people will automatically assimilate the ideological and moral wealth of their fathers and mothers ...''

Professor Swain's lecture informed and challenged. It was a privilege to listen to a scholar of his calibre.

Mrs Singerman

Lewis Lyons 1905-1999

Julius Lewis Lyons-better known as 'Louie' Lyons-was born in the Gorbals in 1905 to a Polish emigré father and a Hungarian emigrée mother. Lewis attended Hutchesons' Grammar Boys' School from 1916 until 1921 when he left, aged 16, to join his father's jewellery business, a two-room office at 52 St Enoch Square, Glasgow. In spite of its small scale, over the Lewis Lyons years the business earned an international reputation for expertise and integrity and its patrons included a number of celebrities-including American singer, Sophie Tucker-during their engagements at the old Glasgow Empire.

Lewis's father died in 1943 and, on his return from War service with the King's Own Scottish Borderers, Lewis revived the business-H Lyons and Son-and later moved premises to 61 West Regent Street, Glasgow. He was a highly respected, knowledgeable buyer at auctions and private house sales (most of his private collection of Old Master drawings and Scottish silver was acquired in this way). He was also a keen and discerning art collector with a wide ranging taste, who gave on long-term loan to Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery a rich variety of items over the years.

Lewis, who was a widely read, cultured man, renowned for his integrity and generosity, never married. When he died in 1999, he bequeathed his art collection - including the silver and drawings already mentioned plus late medieval wood carvings, Egyptian antiquities and a head of a Chinese bodhisattva - to Glasgow Museums (an exhibition of these items was held shortly after his death at Kelvingrove, dedicated to the memory of Mr Lyons).

Hutchesons' was also fortunate to be remembered through one of Lewis Lyons' bequests and his generosity has enabled us to continue to offer The Lewis Lyons Memorial Lecture, an annual History lecture at Hutchesons' which is further recognised through a commemorative plaque in the Library. The intention behind the lectures is to show pupils at Hutchesons' that history is a living subject which has relevance beyond the classroom.


Tags: History, Talking Points

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