This photography exhibition is about one of the worst and most dramatic periods in the history of our city — the Civil War. The exhibition is based on photographs from the unique collection of the State Museum of Political History of Russia (SMPHR). Exhibited pictures include works by well-known art photographers such as Y. V. Steinberg, V. K. Bulla and M. S. Nappelbaum. Comments to photographs that chased Petrograd life’s chronicle, excerpts from diaries, newspapers and memoirs of contemporaries who witnessed the events illustrate various sides of Petrograd Commune’s life between 1918 and 1921 and help understand key historical moments of those tragic years.
On the night of March 10th, 1918, a special train with Soviet state leaders on board departed from Tsvetochnaya ploshchadka railway station at the south end of Petrograd to Moscow which had been proclaimed the new capital of Russia.
On the next day, the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies announced the establishment of a new municipal authority — the Council of the Petrograd Labor Commune (SK PTK). This resolution not only defined governance procedures but officially confirmed special status of the city: in the eyes of adherers of revolutionary ideas, “Red Pеtrograd” became the direct successor of the heroic Paris Commune of 1871.
«I went out the next day after the commune had been established, and the usual outside view seemed very strange to me: falling snow, pedestrians rushing by the sidewalks, cab drivers passing swiftly now and then. Everything looked so prosily and ordinarily. But we are in commune now! … We are not only successors of great communists, but communists ourselves. That mesmerized us and elevated our moods in extraordinary ways», recalled the Bolshevist A.F. Ilyin-Zhenevsky.
Urge to begin reorganizing society in the Paris Commune style largely determined their policy in Petrograd between 1918 and 1921. However, romantic appeal of communistic utopia came face to face with rough tedium of life: it was Civil War with its peracute military and political opposition and economic dislocation that defined the city’s day-to-day reality. Those years brought bitter trials to Petrograd Commune citizens. As the sociologist P.A. Sorokin wrote later bitterly, “we could completely feel first-hand what the “communia” was like”. Permanent food deficit really led great majority of citizens to starve. Typhus and cholera plagues raged in the city. City infrastructure was in distress. Calls to military duty, fast growth of death rate and mass exodus of citizens caused Petrograd’s population to decrease by more than three times during the Civil War.
In the face of growing mass discontent, Bolshevists were only able to retain power by suppressing opposition with ironfisted methods. Non-bolshevist papers got closed down while their editors were showtrialed by “revolutionary press tribunals”. Since the end of summer 1918, exceptionally hard-crushing “red terror” set out in Petrograd and killed thousands of people. At the same time, Bolshevist leaders managed to mobilize and consolidate a large part of Petrograd citizens. A lot of different tools helped to accomplish this ideological task — from high-volume publishing of agitational leaflets and paper articles to renaming streets and installing numerous monuments to revolutionary struggle heroes in accordance with “monumental propaganda” plan. Despite devastation and hunger, different revolutionary public holidays were widely celebrated in Petrograd. The best artistic resources were involved in decorating buildings and streets. In those years, Petrograd’s cultural life was permanently active: new theatres and museums were created while prominent writers and poets exercised their talents.
Vaticinating triumph of communistic ideals, Bolshevist agitators permanently emphasized temporal nature of existing problems. However, discrepancy between big words, lofty promises and harsh reality that succeeded key battles of the Civil War became more and more fragrant. Mass strikes and anti-bolshevist insurgencies of Petrograd workers that occurred in February and early March 1921, along with rage of seamen and garrison in Kronstadt bespoke failure of “military communism” policy in Petrograd. Although those insurgencies were suppressed, Bolshevists had to announce transition to new economic policy.
Establishing the system of presidency in modern Russia: key historic milestones. 1990–1993
No events. Choose an excurion