Red October 1917: From Petrograd to Leningrad

The writing was on the wall for the Russian royal family prior to the 1917 revolutions when their trusted confidante, licentious mystic Rasputin, was elaborately murdered at the Yusupov Palace in late 1916 (poisoned, shot, beaten and drowned).

Yusupov Palace

Yusupov Palace

Whilst the post-February revolution Provisional Government began the slow task of putting the wheels of democracy in motion it didn’t deliver the immediate needs of Petrograd’s population – food and withdrawal from World War I. The arrival of exiled revolutionary Vladimir Lenin at Finlyandsky railway station in April 1917 is a pivotal moment in Russian and world history as his subsequent rhetoric combined with his Bolshevik following led to the October Revolution (November in the Gregorian calendar), arresting and overthrowing the Provisional Government. Lenin was now in charge and used the Smolny Institute as his base until 1918 when he moved the capital back to the safety of inland Moscow. The abdicated royal family were subsequently executed.

Ploschad Lenina (Lenin Square) with Finlyandsky (Finland) Railway station in the background

Mural of Lenin at Finlyandsky (Finland) Station

Smolny Institute – Used by Lenin as Bolshevik HQ

Lenin’s faction was renamed the Communist Party and when Lenin died in 1924 St. Petersburg was renamed for a second time in 10 years, going from Petrograd to Leningrad in memory of the Communist leader. Subsequent political manoeuvres brought Stalin to power who engaged in ridding Leningrad of Lenin’s intellectual followers. Worse was yet to come for Leningrad as the Nazis lay siege to the city from mid 1941 to early 1944. Over a million city dwellers died from starvation during the blockade. Stalin continued with his purges post-WWII until his death in 1953. The Solovetsky Stone, a boulder of granite from the Solovetsky labour camp in the White Sea, is a monument to prisoners of political oppression. Located on Troitskaya Ploschad it was unveiled in 2002.

Solovetsky Stone in Troitskaya Ploschad

Leningrad’s population began ridding the despised fallen communist regime from their lives by electing to return their city to its original name of St. Petersburg in 1991. Like the rest of Russia it went through a state of post-communism flux until current Russian President Vladimir Putin stabilised and spruced up his home city.

To get a sense of the city’s post-1917 history I highly recommend the Communist Leningrad Tour by St. Petersburg Free Tour.

St. Petersburg has had an extraordinary influence in world culture and politics, and discovering this legacy made for a thoroughly engaging holiday. St. Petersburg has also had a tumultuous past but, according to the locals, has evolved into the best version of itself so far. This evolution has been the real revolution and to witness this was a privilege.

© Hazel Joy 2017

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