You thought we were finished? Oh no. Bannon’s revolution is finished — except for the prison sentences. But in the Russian Revolution, the battiness continued.
When I left off excerpting Victor Sebestyen’s narrative of the Russian Revolution in his biography of Lenin, the weapons in the Bolshevik insurgents’ hands didn’t work and the Winter Palace hadn’t been stormed, the Provisional Government’s ministers hadn’t been arrested and Lenin had publicly lied. It was, in effect, the matriarch of all snafus. And it continued.
Things become more surreal for the insurgents. Even the straightforward task of raising a red lantern to the top of the [St. Peter and St. Paul] fortress flagpole — the signal for the bombardment and a ground assault to begin — was beyond them. No red lantern could be found. The Bolshevik commander of the fortress…went out into the city to look for a suitable lamp but got lost and fell into a muddy bog. He came back, though with [a] purple lantern which he couldn’t fix to the flagpole. The rebels abandoned any idea of giving a signal.
So now it was the evening, and still the Winter Palace hadn’t been stormed and the Provisional Government hadn’t been arrested.
The Bolsheviks ordered a couple of battle cruisers to sail up the Neva and stop opposite the Winter Palace. They gave an ultimatum to the rest of the Provisional Government, still in the Winter Palace, to quit or be fired on.
The ministers rejected the ultimatum. At 6:50 they sat down to dinner — borscht, steamed fish and artichokes. By this point the defenders were ready to give up and bow to the inevitable. ‘The soldiers just wanted to smoke, get drunk and curse their hopeless situation,’ one of their officers recalled. Most peeled off as the evening wore on. The majority of cadets went off to look for some dinner, some of the women’s battalion left. The Cossacks, the only ones with any military training, stalked off ‘disgusted by the Jews and wenches inside.’…The Red Guards could have walked in easily at any time.
Most people in Petrograd did not know a revolution was happening. The banks and shops had been open all day, the trams were running. All the factories were operating as usual — the workers had no clue Lenin was about to liberate them from Capitalist exploitation…The restaurants were packed. John Reed and a group of other American and British reporters were dining at the Hotel de France…They returned to watch the Revolution after the entrée.
In Soviet mythology for decades to come, the Revolution was portrayed as a popular rising of the masses. Noting could be further from the truth. ..There were no big crowds anywhere, no barricades, no street fighting.
There was no ‘storming’ of the palace, as depicted in Sergei Eisenstein’s epic, cinematically brilliant but largely fictional 1928 film October. Many more people were employed as extras than took part in the real event.
Later that evening, a signal for bombardment was given. One of the cruisers fired a blank shot. “The ministers dropped to the floor; the entire company of the women’s Shock Battalion were so scared they had to be taken to a room at the rear of the building to calm down.”
More guns were fired, “but only two hit the palace, chipping some cornices. One shell managed to miss the 1,500 room target by several hundred metres.”
Eventually, “a small group of sailors and Red Guards” were led into the building by a couple of Lenin’s military leaders. They encountered almost no opposition.
At around 2 a.m., a little man with long, wavy red hair wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a floppy red tie bounded into the room — ‘an armed mob was behind him’. He didn’t look like a soldier but he shouted in a shrill, jarring voice, ‘I am Antonov-Ovseyenko, a representative of the Military Revolutionary Committee. I inform all you members of the Provisional Government that you are under arrest.’
OK, so the dragged-out Revolution finally, finally had been effectuated. That is, the Winter Palace, if not exactly stormed, had been taken.
But now the Bolsheviks had another problem — and I ask you to pay careful attention to what happened with the Red Guards because it’ll remind you of something on our minds since January 6, 2021.
The Provisional Government had had the Tsar’s palace treasures packed into cases to be sent to Moscow. But the Red Guards, ignoring warnings from their commanders, began stealing stuff: “‘One man went strutting around with a bronze clock perched on his shoulder,’ said [John] Reed.”
See what I mean?
Others headed straight for the Tsar’s wine cellar, one of the finest in the world…’The matter of the wine…became critical,’ recalled Antonov. ‘We sent guards from picked units. They got drunk. We posted guards from Regimental Committees. They succumbed as well. A violent bacchanalia followed.’
He called the Petrograd fire brigade to flood the cellar with water, ‘but the firemen…got drunk instead.’