Monday, August 22, 2011

Additional Thoughts on Storming the Winter Palace

Galina Alexandrovna Zubchenko, Storming of the Winter Palace

As we've been hearing lately, Tripoli has fallen to the Libyan rebels, suddenly, unexpectedly, and joyous throngs filled Green -- now to be renamed "Martyr's" -- Square in the center of the city. The surviving sons of The Devil Gadhafi have been 'detained' as they say and the hunt for the Old Devil is on. Has he escaped the country? Did he commit suicide? Has he been captured by one of the rebel factions? Where is he?

Of course the stories and the scenes remind us all of the astonishing events across North Africa and in the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula. During the past year, one Arab dictator after another has been toppled by some force of People's Will that no one can quite fathom, but inspiration has been reverberating around the world.

Even the most bone stupid of Our Overlords seem to realize that not only is there something happening here, but it's spreading, and more and more it's becoming apparent that this global liberationist movement is driven by rebellion against the Haves Who Demand and Take More from those who have little. Or nothing.

Yes, of course it is a classic class struggle, involving what passes for the bourgeoisie demanding respect and justice from and for their Betters. The Aristos are being beaten back everywhere by their own retainers in many cases. And what of the struggling masses? They join in struggle against the High and the Mighty, but wisely, they take nothing for granted. A rebellion may succeed, but has a Revolution really taken place? We await developments.

And of course all of this tumult evokes the extraordinary events of November 7-8, 1917, in Petrograd, Russia. The Tsar's regime had already fallen in February, but the replacement Republic and later Provisional government was little more than an empty shell, a Potemkin government, if you will. Worse, it continued Russia's bloody and destructive involvement in WWI, fighting the Germans on the West.

During the days leading up to the October Revolution (November, by the Western calendar), the Bolsheviks had taken control of most of the ministries and communications in Petrograd which left what remained of the Provisional Government, headed by Alexander Kerensky, holed up in the Winter Palace trying to figure out what to do now.

The Winter Palace was the symbol of Russian rule, and whoever held it was by definition the Ruling Party of the Russian Empire, or Republic, or... soon to be Soviet Union.

The Bolsheviks, along with rest of the Congress of Soviets were meeting at the Smolny Institute a few miles away from the Winter Palace down the Neva River. Through strategy and oratory, they gained the upper hand over the Provisionals in a more or less democratic process and declared the Provisional Government defunct. This is a copy of the very famous proclamation issued October 25 (November 7) by the Bolsheviks:

The Storming of the Winter Palace would occur shortly, just as soon as a fleet of vehicles could rush from the Smolny to the Winter Palace Square, the vast open space in front of the Palace entered through the Red Arch and centered on the Alexander Column.

[The red building in the background is the Winter Palace (aka The Hermitage). It was painted a dusky red at the time of the Revolution. Now it is painted green and white with gold accents. Pretty!]

On the third anniversary of the Storming of the Winter Palace (November 7, 1920), there was a grand pageant, a historical re-enactment and an allegory of the Birth of the Soviet Union in Palace Square, the sight of the Storming, involving some 8,000 performers (far more than actually took part in the original struggle), some of whom had been there when the Storming took place. The pageant that went on for hours, was witnessed by some 100,000 comrades who apparently found it pleasing. So pleasing was the re-enactment considered to be that it served as the basis for Sergei Eisenstein's brilliant 1927 film, Октябрь «Десять дней, которые потрясли мир» (October, Ten Days That Shook the World), excerpts of which I have posted on this blog. Oh look, here's one now:

The funny thing about this breathless RT retelling of the events is that even though the presenter tries to correct some of the record by pointing out that only about fifty armed Bolsheviki actually did the Storming, the dramatic movie version is presented and strangely, at least according to my understanding of the sequence of events on the night of the Storming, he then seems to say that the Congress meeting at the Smolny that solidified the Bolshevik Revolution took place after the Storming when as far as I can tell from the eyewitness accounts I've read, the Congress meeting at the Smolny was still going on as the Storming got underway and continued...

And continued... and continued... (one thing about the Bolsheviks, they loved to talk!)

John Reed's account in "Ten Days That Shook the World" is really quite riveting. He was there, after all, racing back and forth between the Winter Palace and the Smolny Institute, having dinner at the Hotel France, listening to the gunfire, trudging through the cold, dark streets of Petersburg among the Revolutionaries, yet watching life go on as normal (well, as normal as those things could be in 1917 Russia) only a few blocks away.

An excerpt: [You may embiggen the pages with mouse clickage]

From: "Ten Days That Shook The World" by John Reed, 1919

And that was that. Plus ça change, eh?

Revolts can go on almost endlessly, but Revolutions seem to come upon the scene suddenly. Imperial Russia went through numberless revolts during the 19th Century and into the 20th, most of which were called Revolutions, though only the Soviet/Bolsheviks actually succeeded in Revolution as opposed to just one more revolt. Even the Neo-Liberal Counter Revolution that presided over the break-up and extinguishment of the Soviet Union was more akin to a revolt rather than a Revolution in that it wasn't trying to create something new, it was only interested in reviving what had long passed away. While there isn't a whole lot of nostalgia in the former Soviet Union for the days of the Commisars, neither is there much glee at the results of from sliding so far backwards into some warped vision of what the Autocracy might have been had the Bolsheviks not succeeded in 1917.

The stories will long be told of what happened that fateful November, just as the stories of the Revolutionary fervor happening now will never die.

The question always is, "What do you get for your Revolution?"

There is yet to be a full answer.

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