Monday, November 6, 2017

Travel Notes 4

Petrograd District - Monday

I took the long walk across the Dvortsoy & Birzhevoy bridges over the Neva and Little Neva to the Petrograd District of St. Petersburg.  Here the squat brick battlements of the Peter & Paul Fortress guard the Neva, with the large Peter & Paul Cathedral within the fort.  The perfect marriage of church and state, of the 'red and the black' as Stendhal put it, of Czar and Orthodox.  It guards the Neva, a river that is somewhat more muscular than any I've ever seen in a city.  The Mississippi, the Hudson, the Thames, the Siene, the Danube, the Tiber, the Mekong - all but the latter seemed somewhat dwarfed by the cities around them.  However in St. Petersburg there are no cliffs, no skyscrapers, the bridges are low, the river wide and it comes high up on the stone - as if it threatens to overwhelm the city at any minute.  In February/March 1917 workers crossed the frozen river to get into the central city when the police blocked the bridges.

Kirov's Desk at Home


My first stop was at the Kirov apartment.  Sergei Kirov was head of the Leningrad district up to Murmansk until he was assassinated in the Smolny in 1934 by an unknown assailant.  The most startling fact is that security for Kirov was withdrawn that day, and the NKVD guards who were missing were never punished, which indicates this was not the act of a lone killer but something else.  Most have tied the killing to Stalin's desire to get rid of rivals. Kirov's 5th floor apartment is that of a well-off intellectual.  Kirov was a workaholic and avid hunter.  It contains a huge library and a large work room with more books, where his desk still sits. There is a large dining room where he hosted comrades like Bukharin, Stalin and Voroshilov - those in the dominant faction of the party at the time.  The books he was reviewing the day he was shot are still on the dining table.  Friends like Ordzhonikidze stayed on a camp bed in his gun room, and there is also a maid's room.  He had a cook assigned to him, but liked simple food, which the higher-end cooks found irritating.  The apartment is decorated with animal heads, pictures of Stalin and others.  Unfortunately these pictures give a somewhat sinister air to the apartment, given what happened to Kirov.

Kirov's office at the Smolny is also re-created as one of the 12 rooms in the museum. His assassination was the pretext for the Great Purges by Stalin, as the killing was blamed on any oppositionist to the leading faction - like Kamenev, Zinoviev, Trotsky, etc.  The purge ultimately decimated the former leadership of the Bolshevik Party, the Red Army and even Stalin's allies like Bukharin.


Another long walk took me to the apartment building on Karpovka Embankment, along a canal in the Petrograd, where the November insurrection was decided upon by the Bolsheviks.  This was the apartment of Nicolai Sukhanov, a leading Menshevik. The joke is that Sukhanov's wife told him to leave for the evening and concocted some false reason.  The Bolshevik central committee met in his dining room until late, some sitting on the floor, smoking and eating.  They decided on the date of the insurrection to coincide with the convening of the All Russian Soviet in St. Petersburg, which now had an elected Bolshevik/Left majority.  Trotsky was named the leader of the Petrograd Soviet because of it.

Sukhanov too was shot in 1940 as a 'fascist agent.'


This is now the Russian museum of political history, but in 1917 until July it was the headquarters of the Bolshevik Party, as the Petrograd Soviet gave it some rooms to work in.  The present history is one determined by what could only be called a "Kerenskyist" interpretation. Praise by the museum for Kerensky's program ignores his support of the war, landlords, capitalists and military hierarchy, or his temporary block with the monarchist Kornilov. It centers on some of the democratic rights granted by the Provisional government - which only shows that formal democratic rights are not enough in every situation, particularly one as grave as 1917.  Lev Trotsky is not invisible in the displays, and this is one more fact showing that the invisibility of Trotsky in Russia is over.  However, not a word is said about the invasions by 21 capitalist powers of Russia or the depredations of the Whites. Everything is blamed on the reds, even the actions of the Germans, and this understanding continues in presentations of the gulag, the purge, the deportations of minorities, the forced collectivization.  Indeed, one wing of 'reds' was responsibile for the latter, but in this interpretation there are no differences.

The Lenin Balcony from the outside

Nevertheless a significant place.  The reason is that it is similar to the Civil Rights museum in Memphis located at the Lorraine Motel.  Why? The Civil Rights museum's upward walk ends at the motel room and balcony where Martin Luther King was assassinated - a real place.  Here the museum's upward walk ends in the Lenin Balcony and Bolshevik Party's actual work room. Krupskya's large desk is in one corner. The balcony off the room fronts onto a park in front of the mansion where Lenin addressed crowds of workers and soldiers until the July days, when he had to leave town.

Red Frog
November 7, 2017

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