power and privilege

Privet from St. Petersburg,
In retrospect, everything is possible – even momentous events like the Russian Revolution. But in that case, there was no axiomatic link between cause and effect. Such a revolt could never have been inevitable. Historians rightly ask the question: what circumstances allowed such a momentous occurrence? One of the biggest factors – without any doubt – was the imperial reaction to the 1905 Winter Palace delegation. We are at the former Romanov dwelling for a look.


    With the feudal decadence of the Romanov reign contrasting so starkly with the desperation of the masses, a delegation visited the Czar’s Winter Palace in 1905 to voice concerns about political power and distribution of wealth. They were carrying a petition and nothing more. Instead of seeing the delegation as the safety valve we can clearly recognise now, the guards opened fire on the peaceable group, killing at least 100 and injuring hundreds of others. The decision was fateful. 

safety valves/bread and circuses

   Any system of iniquity will eventually fall when the majority revolt after the injustices become intolerable. The safety valve, whatever form it takes, is vital to the longevity of the system. Bread and circuses (like soccer tournaments !!) often fulfill the same function but boiling insurgence is always a symptom of something bigger. Clever tyrants will give a little here, and a little there, so the masses are quelled long enough for the ruling class to keep enjoying their positions of privilege and power.

      Spotting the safety valve is the trick. The Romanovs didn’t understand the link, thought their position impregnable and fired on the people. Some might argue this made the ultimate revolution inevitable. 

Peterhof’s facade reconstructed after severe bombing in World War 2

   There are other factors, too, in the success of the revolution here, such as Lenin’s strength of character and opportunism, the army’s decision to side with the Bolsheviks, persuasive propaganda posters and the desperation of so many after bad seasons and two unwarranted wars. Ultimately, the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 is what created the proletariat class strong enough to organise effectively.

     The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg  is now a museum: a testament to grotesque inequality and complacency. We just had to have a look inside the former palace, even though we knew our stomachs would be turned. We had had enough after strolling through about half of the immense building. At one stage, Linda remarked that she almost needed sunglasses because of the amount of gold in the room. That could have been the case in any number of rooms, I’m afraid. The decadence was even more galling than some other European examples.

ceiling Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg

     The summer palace – on expansive gardens at Peterhof, an hour’s boat ride away – is even more galling, something which would have been hard to imagine beforehand. At one point on this visit, Linda commented that the garish fountains were “bordering on tacky”. She later gasped, “it’s just so unnecessary”.

The Russian people eventually came to the same conclusion. With people starving to death, how could it be otherwise? 

   Today, we might hear about the Russian Revolution and think that was just an inevitable episode in history, happening somewhere remote from us, involving people who are different from us, not really applicable to us. None of these things are true. The fall of the Romanovs was never axiomatic but shocking inequality – with no safety valve – will inevitably lead to revolution. It’s all a question of which people heed the lessons of history 

Poka from St. Petersburg


Other photos from hereabouts

chandelier inside the Winter Palace

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