by Liam McNulty
In the wake of the first Russian Revolution in March 1917, let’s survey some of the media coverage.
-There are fears in London tonight over just who will come to power in the wake of this week’s events in Petrograd. Just days after US President Wilson insisted that the Tsarist regime was ‘stable’, reports from Russia indicate that Tsar Nicolas II has abdicated, leaving a dangerous power vacuum in the capital. To help make sense of the recent political developments, we have on the line Prof. Hawk Stanford from the Hoover Institute. Professor, what sort of regime do you predict will take power in Russia after this week’s revolution?
-Well, Kay, the first thing to note is that this revolution will not be welcomed in the West for several reasons. Despite Russia lacking any of the political freedoms and civil liberties that we preach to the world about, the Tsar did bring a measure of stability to Russia. Also, Tsar Nicolas II was a key ally in the War on Germany and any indication that the new régime may scale back Russia’s military commitments on the Eastern Front will be met with consternation in Whitehall. Did I mention stability? Oh yes. Finally, there is a worry that anti-Western elements may exploit the situation to establish international socialism. This would not be conducive to British geopolitical interests in the region.
-Thanks, Professor. We’ll have to cut it short now because on the line from Petrograd we have the Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, Irakli Tsereteli. Mr. Tsereteli, there have been concerns about the use of violence during the course of revolution, reports of broken windows at the Winter Palace and some Cossacks have been injured. Do you condemn the violence?
-Well, Kay, this was a revolution so it would be very surprising if there was no violence of any sort…
-So, what you are saying is that the violence this week was acceptable? The broken windows?
-What you have to understand is that we have had peaceful demonstrations in the past and they have just been ignored by the media- or worse, violently massacred…
-But violence is violence.
-Kay, the main violence in Russia has always come from the state. Bloody Sunday, the Lena Goldfields Massacre-
-But it is the case, Mr. Tsereteli, that viewers at home will see broken windows and turn off. What does this criminal damage achieve?
-It has achieved the abdication of the Tsar and the establishment of a Provisional Government.
-Mr. Tsereteli, we’ll have to end this here. Irakli Tsereteli there, from the Petrograd Soviet defending this week’s violence.
-Following the revolutions in Russia last week, Prime Minister Lloyd George has come under fire for the UK Government’s botched attempts to evacuate British holidaymakers. We turn now to our correspondent in Petrograd.
-Yes, John. I’m here at Petrograd airport and have been talking to people cutting their holidays short in an attempt to get home safely. The Coalition Government has faced heavy criticism from holidaymakers for what they say was a hesitant and incompetent effort to evacuate UK nationals from Russia in the wake of the revolution. I’m joined here by Phil who took his family on a ten-day package holiday to a ski resort in the Caucuses. Phil, what has been your experience of the revolution?
-Well, I booked this package over the summer and we’re absolutely gutted that the Russian proletariat has chosen to launch its revolution now. At the end of the day, we’ve worked hard and saved our money to go on this holiday and it’s disappointing that our enjoyment has been marred by people seeking fundamental human rights. We’re gonna try and get the Provisional Government to pay the excess on the holiday insurance but I’ll not hold me breath.
-As you said, John, some disgruntled holidaymakers. Back to the studio.
The New Statesman columnist
It’s a cold morning outside the Putilov factory and the workers are on strike. Across the promenade, a line of Cossacks stare menacingly at us, like furry-headed agents of Tsarist absolutism. Glass lies strewn on the street, each glittering shard a symbol of a potential future. I meet the eyes of a Russian worker, just for a second. I can tell he is not a seasoned Socialist Revolutionary from the tremble of his lips; a steely resolve matched with the nervousness of a naive first-time striker.
Elsewhere, dourfaced Bolsheviks are selling Pravda. It’s frustrating to see the old parties attempt to control what has thus far been a spontaneous and creative movement. Yesterday morning we were kettled by Cossacks for several hours. Kids lit fires to keep warm, burning priceless artefacts from a nearby palace. I’m not interested in whether this is a bourgeois-democratic revolution or will pass uninterruptedly into a socialist revolution because only the proletarian dictatorship is capable of solving the necessary tasks; I care about who can generate heat from a Rembrandt.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with a crowd of angry women, something remarkable happened. They reached a line of soldiers, eyeball to eyeball they lined up in an ostensible display of mutual antipathy. Then one of the soldiers winked in a friendly manner. With this almost imperceptible gesture I knew, at that moment, that a movement had been born. This is only the beginning.