As I wrote a few days ago, the Russian Revolution — as narrated by Victor Sebestyen in his historical biography, Lenin — was a series of absurdities which remind me of Armando Iannucci’s great satirical film, The Death of Stalin.
When I left off last time, Sebestyen had noted the Bosheviks won because, as divided and incompetent as they were, they were less divided and incompetent than the Kerensky government.
So let’s continue with Sebestyen’s history of the Revolution:
To Lenin, timing was crucial but his timing was off. The Congress of Soviets (“Soviet” means “Council” in Russian) was due to meet in the Solny the day the revolution was supposed to happen and Lenin intended to “present the takeover [to the Congress] as a fait accompli” and declare victory.
Problem was, the Winter Palace, where the Kerensky coalition government had established itself, “symbol of power in Russia since the time of Catherine the Great”– had not fallen.”
Lenin had been told by his military committee that seizing the palace would be a straightfoward matter, over within five or six hours. But it would take more than fifteen hours, amid a catalogue of errors that would have been farcical if the stakes had not been so high.
Well, hell. So at 9 a.m., three hours before he intended to declare victory, Lenin demanded that the government surrender. Nobody answered, in part because Kerensky had left the palace to see if he could “raise some loyal troops to defeat the rebellion.”
The Bolsheviks did not stop Kerensky. Now here’s where matters take on a Keystone Kops aspect:
There were thirty cars parked outside the palace but none were [sic] in working order. [Kerensky] couldn’t even find a taxi to take him. An ensign was sent to see if he could requisition a car that would run. The British Embassy turned him down, but an official from the US Legation was persuaded to let Kerensky use his own car, a Renault, as long as it was returned. Another officer managed to scrounge a luxurious open-topped Pierce Arrow and some fuel. Kerensky was driven around Palace Square and through the streets of Petrograd with the roof down, easily recognisable.
Meanwhile, Lenin was in a rage most of the day, had to postpone his “victory” speech, started yelling at his aides and Red Guard commanders and threatened to shoot them.
Back at the Winter Palace, the government ministers were still “holding out.” In the courtyard were horses and their Cossack human partners, “charged with defending the government” and officer cadets, as well as…
…forty members of the Petrograd Garrison’s bicycle squad and 200 women from the Shock Battalion of Death.
I will pause now to introduce you to the Shock Battalion of Death because they have become my favorites among all the disparate participants in the Revolution:
Despite their bloodcurdling title, they were mostly girls from the provinces and not at all happy to be part of the last-ditch effort to prop up the Provisional Government, which they did not support. They were marked out by their size, and with their close-cropped hair resembled young boys…They were scared — and not only of the Bolsheviks. ‘At night, men knocked at our barracks and cried out with blasphemies,’ said one of the young girls in the battalion. When they had been ordered to the palace they were told they would be taking part in a regimental parade. They were not prepared to shoot fellow Russians.
The ‘storming of the Winter Palace’ — centrepiece of the Russian Revolution — was so sloppy that the American journalists John Reed and his wife Louise Bryant were able to stroll into the building during the afternoon without being stopped. Palace servants in their Tsarist blue uniforms took their coats as usual and some of the cadets from the military School showed them around.
Soldiers who were supposed to defend the government were hanging around drunk. But…
At 3 p.m. Lenin could delay no longer. He appeared before the Congress of Soviets…and brazenly declared a victory, though the government had not yet fallen, the ministers were not arrested, nor was the Winter Palace in Bolshevik hands. This was the first big lie of the Soviet regime.
Things were falling apart.
…the tragi-comedy and absurdity of the siege was only beginning. The clockwork timekeeping of the coup slipped further and further and, as the day went on, there ceased to be any deadlines at all. The Bolshevik gunners were complete incompetents. There were five heavy field-guns at the fortress, but they were museum pieces which hadn’t been fired in years or cleaned in months. Some lighter training guns were found and dragged into position, but no one could find the right…shells for them. Then it turned out that the guns did not have sights. In the late afternoon the commissars worked out that the original guns simply needed cleaning.
It’s time to remind ourselves of the new DOJ indictments of the Proud Boys, for seditious conspiracy. The Proud Boys had guns that worked. If I remember correctly — I don’t pay a lot of attention to the antics of Steve Bannon — Bannon has declared Lenin as his avatar and the Revolution as the model for his grand plan.
Dare I point out that, with the Proud Boys, Bannon has certainly improved on the Bolshevikian fecklessness with regard to munitions? Yes, I guess I dare.
Big deal: it didn’t work.