Scroll to top
Part One

'Down with the monarchy'

In St Petersburg (Petrograd, as briefly known), in the lit-up mansion, the Smolny, formerly, a young ladies’ academy, they were making furious plans. Exactly a century ago from now. It was the middle of the night, late autumn, the cold already coming in off the Baltic. Through corridors with offices designated with hand-tacked signs — the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC), the Party Secretariat, Communications — they were running back and forth, exhausted men and women, arguing, making up, formulating plans on the hop.

Outside, in the lit dark of the Venice of the North, city life continued as ever. The theatres and all-night bars were still open, the trams still ran. In one room in the Smolny, the MRC leader Lev Bronstein calmly assessed the situation, weighing the pros and cons of when to give the order. Suddenly, amid the crowd in the room appeared Ulyanov, the party leader. Ordered to stay in hiding, he had nevertheless made his way in, disguised in bandages and a moptop wig. “Go now!” he said. “For god’s sake!”

Want the full story? or sign up for a FREE trial.

Part Two

The revolution we had to have

“Why are you being burdened with these trifles?!”

 — From volume 39 of Lenin: Collected Works (Progress Press)*

Want the full story? or sign up for a FREE trial.

Part Three

Rundle: intrigue and skulduggery

He was seen in the Unter den Linden, en route to the German Reich offices; boarding the Orient Express in Constantinople, headed to Vienna; in Copenhagen’s plush Klampenborg district; arriving in Zurich. A friend and confidante to ambassadors, generals and sultans, in silk-top hat, fur-collared coat, cravat and walking cane, hugely fat, he was the living embodiment of revolutionary socialists’ caricature of the millionaire they were going to sweep from the planet. Except, he was a revolutionary socialist, a friend — mostly ex-friend — to the leading radicals of the era. He made at least two revolutions, and the century, and if you’ve never heard of Alexander Helphand-Parvus, well, thereby hangs a tale.

Alexander who? He was born Israel Lazarevich Gelfand (a transliteration) to a Minsk Jewish couple in 1867, grew up in Odessa, and went to university in Switzerland, a common trek at the time. Studying economics, he became a Marxist, and moved to Germany in the 1880s, eventually becoming a writer and editor of note, under the pseudonym “Parvus”. He quickly acquired a reputation as an agile theorist on international trade.

Want the full story? or sign up for a FREE trial.


Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.
Not already subscribed? Get your free trial, access everything immediately

30 thoughts on “Shooting tsars: the revolution that redefined our world

  1. “And, if so, what does that mean for history altogether?” Historical reviews generally lead us to check accuracy against that which previously nurtured. Consequentially enjoyed Guy’s historical toil through to “. . . the most authentic act of modern history, in some sense a simulacrum of itself, an image that precedes the original?”
    What portent therefore might we imagine, seek out? It is entirely probable that one might read too much into cause and effect, motive, and take for oneself another’s intent as allegedly Hans Freiherr von Wagenheim did. And so the neurones chased each other round and around.

  2. Capitalism? Well, you would have to say it’s a bit soon to tell, wouldn’t you. We’re all going to look like dills if it ends up torching the planet. You would have to concede the odds are shortening, frankly.

    Parvus seems to be one of those sly figures who figured out that the way to really change things is to keep yourself the hell off the historical record. The point about the revolution as its own preemptively retrospective simulacrum is the kind of upending, casual coat trail that justifies a Crikey sub in a few passing, haughty sentences. He was quite a dish: you could imagine Clooney in a male pattern skull cap playing him in a Reds-type thriller. I hope she was worth it indeed. Huge human comfort in his preference for a good root, somehow.

    Does GR take coy requests from the cheap seats? Here one madly waves one’s dog-eared, home-made ‘Poison Kitchen’ placard from near the back of the auditorium, in the hope that this excellent unterhistory might eventually wend its impeccable way to Munich in the 20/30’s, and the thrilling, the outrageously neglected role the ‘utopian’ Left impulse played at the dirty street level, when it might just still have counted. Unsung, unacknowledged heroes for our over-media’d times abound. They, too, don’t fit quite comfortably into the shiny retrospective narrative of the 20th century. One thing Capitalism – the agitprop arm espesh – does brilliantly is domesticate into well-mannered nutlessness those who claim to want to go it. But it was Communists who saw early, engaged in unironically and as hard as they could, and eventually won, the defining fight of the century. Capitalism mostly just stepped in at a timely moment and buccaneered authorship of the subsequent screenplay.

    If Clooney could manage the urbane shagger Parvus who might pull off a Martin Gruber? You would really stump up to see someone angry and unhingable like a young Gary Oldman or Harvey Keitel, but knowing Hollywood they’d prolly try to shoehorn Tom Cruise into it. You can’t handle the troof, world! Will never get up, but. Not unless they put him in a frigging Spider-Man rig or summink. Some history just stings too much.

    Roll on, the Rundle machine. Eye-poppingly original and unputdownable, as always.

    1. A lazy, lousy disservice to ascribe The Post ‘communist’, even obliquely. But ‘socialist’ doesn’t do, either. An impossible stew of ideological opportunism/confusion prevailed. ‘Utopian Left impulse’ the generic, personal-level wellspring, maybe. Or just journalistic/epistemological integrity… Antisimulcrumism…ummm…..*shuts up*

    2. “Unsung, unacknowledged heroes”…..Hero?

  3. Nothing like leftish navel fluffing to let slip the bogs of bore and unleash the logs of logorrhea.
    Can this be peak TL;DR?

    1. Still, you have quite some explaining of your own to do. Such as why are you sporting a photo of a mosque located in the Musandam Governate as your pictorial avatar?

      And exactly what does Oman know about the ‘resignation’ of Lebanon’s prime minister?

      1. If you think those mosques look even vaguely similar (at least two continents and several social/architectual styles apart) never mind identical then I guess you’re of the “all … insert ethinic group.. look alike to me” skool.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.
Not already subscribed? Get your free trial, access everything immediately