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Transcript: From Romanovs to Reds: Russia's Revolutions at 100

[Listen to the podcast here.]
 

In February 1917, the 300-year reign of the Romanov dynasty ended. Eight months later in October, Bolshevik forces led by Vladimir Lenin seized power, establishing the world's first state operated on Marxist principles. In the aftermath, a myriad of political, economic, social, and cultural changes reshaped life inside Russia as the establishment of the Soviet Union upended the global order. To mark the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolutions, hosts Brenna Miller and Jessica Viñas-Nelson interview expert guests Drs. Angela Brintlinger, Nicholas Breyfogle, and Stephen Norris. Join us to explore the causes of the Russian Revolutions, their profound consequences, and how the world is remembering their centennial anniversary today.
 

Transcript Begins Here:

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Welcome to History Talk, the podcast that brings together a panel of experts to discuss current events in historical perspectives. I'm your host Jessica Vinas-Nelson.

Brenna Miller 
And I'm your other host, Brenna Miller. This year marks 100 years since the Russian Revolution and the seizure of power by Bolshevik forces in October of 1917, arguably one of the most transformative moments in the 20th century. The Revolution and the victory of Soviet forces mark the establishment of the first country operated on Marxist principles, and a myriad of political, economic, social and cultural changes that intimately reshaped life inside the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Alongside the dramatic changes inside Russia, the revolution also had global consequences, reshaping international politics. But what caused the revolution? What were its consequences? And how are people around the world remembering this transformative moment today? To help answer these questions, we have three guests with us to discuss the centennial anniversary of the October Revolution and the profound effect this event had on Russia and the world ever since. Via phone we have historian Dr. Stephen Norris from Miami University in Ohio, a specialist in Russian and post Soviet studies.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
Hello.

Brenna Miller 
In the studio with us, we have Dr. Angela Brintlinger, a professor of Russian literature and culture in the Ohio State University Department of Slavic and East European studies.

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
Thanks for having me.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
And finally, also in the studio, we have with us Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle, a historian and expert in Russian and imperial history at The Ohio State University.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Thanks so much for having us.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Thanks for joining us today. This year, we're commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the February and October revolutions in Russia. Why are these events important for us to remember?

Dr. Stephen Norris 
The short answer picks up on on the introduction that you gave and that's maybe even to refine it even more and say the events of 1917 especially the October seizure of power by the Bolsheviks is the most consequential and important event of the 20th century. It reshaped life in the Soviet Union, but it also provided a blueprint for other revolutionary movements in the world. It was the first attempt to build socialism and the Marxist Leninist principles. And then even after World War Two, if we could project the head, became the basis and inspiration for almost all the de-colonial movements.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Steve, I couldn't agree with you more,and for me, and I suppose, the nature of being historian of Russia and Soviet history, but it for me is the defining moment of of the 20th century and even onto the 21st. I mean, maybe with the exception of kind of industrial and technological change, nothing else more defined, not just Europe, but the planet. As you say, it became a model for a different type of vision for how the modern world could be created. And when that became tremendously popular mean, by the time we get into the post World War Two period, more than half the population of the planet is living under some kind of "socialist state" that derives from this one moment. Almost everything else that comes out in the world in the 20th century in some ways is connected back to this Bolshevik Revolution into the, to the socialist experiment. Even thinking things like fascism and Nazism, which are in part result of a response to an anti-Bolshevik and anti-socialist kind of movement. 

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
It also just changed everything in Russia so quickly in terms of who lived where, what they were doing, how they were living their lives. I think about the displaced people. We often talk about displaced people after other world events. Well, lots of people left Russia as quickly as they could, aware of the dangers of staying in that Bolshevik regime. So, the people who stayed there were transformed, the economy was transformed, everything -- the culture was transformed -- and there was a spilling out, I would say, of Russians all over the world and places that you wouldn't necessarily expect them to land.

Brenna Miller 
So let's back up a little bit then and kind of give an overview of exactly what transpired. What is the general course of events that happened in 1917?

Dr. Stephen Norris 
The events of 1917 in Russia Proper began with bread riots among women in Petrograd, the capital of the Russian Empire. In February 1917 those riots were joined by factory workers and other residents of Petrograd and one of the big moments came when the Petrograd garrison, which was ordered by the Tsar and his officials to break up the riots, instead mutinied and went over to the side of the riots. And then over the course of about a week, these revolts spread to the point where Nicholas II himself abdicated his throne in favor of his brother in early March 1917. And then the rest of the spring and summer was kind of the, the working out of the consequences of this very important event. You know, the end of the Romanov dynasty after 300 years on the throne. And a political vacuum opened up in the Russian Empire, and there were more or less two competing political forces in the spring and summer of 1917. The so called provisional government made up of the Duma, the quasi-parliamentary system that existed in 1917, who laid claim to some form of legitimacy because they had at least been elected even if the

elections at the time were rigged. And then the so called Petrograd Soviets and the other Soviets, which were a council of workers and peasants that spoke for a far larger number of people. And so these two entities competed over the course of 1917. And as the Provisional Government lost legitimacy because of its support for the war, and especially insistence that Russian forces in Russia would continue to conquer territories in the war, the Soviet gained more and more popularity. And then one very significant actor in this game that we haven't mentioned, of course, is the is the Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin, which insisted that the party and party members should not cooperate with the Provisional Government and should instead seize power on behalf of the Soviets. And that culminated in October 1917, when the military revolutionary committee of the Bolsheviks, having gained a majority on the Petrograd Soviets, seized power overnight on October 24th and 25th.

 

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
I think it's so important to think about how linguistics plays into this. The linguistic power that gets -- we hear, "Provisional Government." Well, you call yourself a provisional government, something else is coming. The Bolsheviks, one, well what does Bolshevik mean? It's the majority, they seize that linguistic power. The Soviet, the Soviet is a, is a council, it's a group of people who are offering advice, being the ones who are offering the opinions of the people. They are the ones who are going to end up in power. And I think that focusing on those moments helps us see how this revolution came about.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Well, I think that just to underscore what's really I mean, behind all this, is, this is all taking place during the First World War. This is a crucial part of this whole story that both of these two revolutions that Steve points to and I think it's important to highlight that there are two. I find teaching my students there isn't a realization that in fact, 1917 or the, the transfer of power from the czarist government through until the Bolshevik one is one that takes place in two stages, and in some ways two separate stages. The first February teh czarist government is overthrown, and then a second revolution in October, where the Bolsheviks then gain power. But behind all this is the war and I mean, this was the first total war, the most destructive war that Europeans had seen that, you know, the Russian population, the Russian army had suffered tremendously, I mean the largest number of casualties. And in the first World War came on the Russian side was a war that pushed I mean, every society in Europe to the brink of collapse, and many others did. I mean, the German monarchy collapsed, the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy collapsed, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, you know, behind all of this, all these debates over what what the future of Russia should look like was just, was an attempt to fight the war to try to keep the the country going, to feed people who are starving, to get goods where they need to go. And it was a an extraordinarily extreme moment, which may explain to a degree why it is that one of the most extreme of the political parties, the Bolshevik one, the one that ultimately comes out victorious.

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
And Russian writers were already thinking even before the February Revolution, about the horrors of what this war meant for their culture. Maxim Gorky famously wrote in a letter to Romain Rolland that this absurd war is stunning proof of our moral weakness and of the decline of culture. And he really felt that something, something had shifted, something had changed during the Great War. And he really was horrified at this, what he saw as the days of victorious cruelty and brutality. And that was in January of 1917. That was cruelty and brutality, not necessarily related to revolutionary events.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
If I could jump in and speak what both Angela and Nick have talked about, I like the idea of the linguistic elements of 1917. And in fact, you know, I think one of the things that that helps explain the course of 1917 in Russia, is the emergence of words that after February 1917, like freedom, the Russian word for freedom, "sloboda." And also "grazhdanin," which means citizen, which became the more or less the two terms most bandied about on the streets of Petrograd and elsewhere in the Empire, and that gained real meaning in 1917. But over the course of the summer, as I think the populace grew more radical, "grazhdanin," citizen, was replaced by "tovarishch," or comrade. And that kind of way to address each other and kind of acknowledge that you are one of the emerging political communities that was attached to this revolutionary project helps explain why the Bolsheviks were successful. And then and then if I could also change course a little bit, but add to that the meanings of 1917, and what Nick said about the Great War producing the revolution, it's also worth reminding ourselves that the Russian Revolution is the Russian revolutions, and the Russian part of it also includes this vast, multi-ethnic, multi-confessional Empire. And in fact, many of the things that happened in Petrograd in 1917, that I began with, first happened in Central Asia in Tashkent, in 1916, when there were bread riots, because of the conscription of Central Asian soldiers for the first time. And the pattern that happened in 1916 in Tashkent happened again in 1917. And then elsewhere in the Empire, for instance, just to pick two examples of what 1917 produced, the Finns declared their independence in 1917. Ukraine, and Ukrainians first tried to break away from the Russian Empire, declare an independent date in 1917. So it's a multi valence revolution.

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
Well, we always like to go back, right, we can go back again, to 1905, and to the disaster of the War of 1905. And the ways in which the government thought, well, we have got to keep those soldiers and sailors from getting drunk. And so we should prohibit the sale of alcohol, and then all of a sudden, there's no money to pay for the war, because the taxes that should have been there from the alcohol are no longer there, and so on. And so we can go back and back and looking for the ways in which World War I really was caused, in part by choices on the part of the monarch.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
I want to zoom this way out for a second here to just because I think that the Russian revolutions are part of a much larger kind of European tradition of revolution, that we should also keep in mind that they're beginning with the French revolutions. And, you know, in 1789, and moving forward, we see throughout the European continent, over the course of the 19th century, and up into the 20th century, you know, a series of revolutions and, and all of them designed to kind of transform, what were then sort of old regime and monarchies and societies based on, on kind of noble status and agrarian economies and this sort of thing into what we would now sort of see as more modern, kind of political entities with greater political participation. And so as much as there's specific causes, obviously, within Russia itself, it's important to realize that the Russian revolutions are, you know, one in this much longer series of revolutions, which reflect the broader transformation of Europe from, you know, from old, monarchical grants societies into modern, participatory, industrial, urban ones. And so Russia is, in some ways, suddenly, later to the game than some of these others, but fits into this much larger, you know, more than a century long kind of revolutionary process.

And many of the revolutionary parties and participants in 1917, the Bolsheviks included very much thought in those terms, you know, were cognizant of what, what they thought had happened in France and what they thought had gone wrong in France, and aim to, to not have that happen in Russia in 1917.

The beauty of coming after right that you can see what everybody else has done and model yourself on it but also then say, "Oh, I didn't like what they did there. So let's try to avoid that this time around." Its the the "advantages of backwardness", right, as they call it?

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Speaking of those partisans, who were the supporters and the opponents of the revolution?

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
I think that Steve has sort of laid out for us how the workers and the, and the peasants in their beginning organizations started to act over the summer of 1917. But a lot of the people that I studied, the elite poets and writers and professors and philosophers and people of that sort, a lot of them were just kind of hanging back trying to figure out what was happening. And some of them would write a poem in favor of Lenin or a poem in favor of revolution, or, you know, seeing something coming down the pike, but a lot of them were just sort of waiting to see how the dust settled. You know, one of the things that I find most interesting is this, this exodus of those intellectuals of that entire, not just the intellectuals, of course, but all classes who felt like they had to leave between 1917 and 1920. You know, businessmen, land owners of officers, soldiers, officials of all kinds. And Lenin at the time said, you know, these people should call themselves lucky that I didn't have them shot. So that's the other context of waiting around for the dust to settle. But making sure that you have your bags packed in case anybody's coming after you with a gun.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
It seems to me in terms of who supports and who didn't, you know, the the revolution actually matters which, which revolution, we talk about February versus October, in the sense that I think that there is tremendous popular support for the February revolution, there were very few people in the czarist Empire, who really had a stake in keeping the czar still on the throne by the time we get to February 1917. Opposition was, was widespread among you know, the peasants who work the land, you know, the urban working class, lots of intellectuals, politicians who wanted to expand your participation in the political process, all of the different non-Russian peoples in the Empire. I mean, all all of these groups, and the list goes on and on. Had some be for some frustration with the czar state, very happy ultimately, to see it go. But you know, the October Revolution, in some ways is a very different thing. I mean, the taking of power  on the part of the Bolsheviks the, you know, coming out of February there was this big debate. Well, so I mean, the Steve said, "What comes next?" You know, once you -- it's easy to get rid of things, it's really easy to get rid of the czarist government. But what do you replace it with? And so when the Bolsheviks decided to take over, they were a pretty small group, they were, they were very popular among certain urban working classes, and many soldiers and sailors and particularly in Petrograd and Moscow, the Bolsheviks had a tremendous amount of support, and it's worthwhile underlining that, but then for the rest of the country, there's much less support. I mean, almost immediately, we see it, you know, out in the forest in Siberia 19 different anti-Bolshevik regimes come up in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, each different. And that's just one part of the Empire and the sort of immediate sort of sense of, well, we didn't like the Tsar, we want to go somewhere different, but the Bolshevik option is not the choice we want moving forward. So there was there was a fair amount of immediate opposition to the Bolsheviks.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
Right. I think one way of looking at it to build on what's just been said is that, as Nick said, the February Revolution, apart from of course, the Romanovs themselves, and, you know, the aristocrats and a handful of intellectuals was a joyous revolution. I mean, but you know, across the Empire, people were quite happy to get rid of the czar. The war had gone so badly, there had been protest against the czar before Of course, and what that did is, is, you know, open up a certain set of possibilities and opportunities, it was uncertain after February what exactly was going to come next. So if you are a nationalist Ukrainian living in the, in the Ukrainian land, you could see this as an opportunity maybe, to bring about a new independent Ukraine. Similarly, in Finland, if you were a socialist revolutionary, or a peasant living on the land who supported socialist revolutionaries, you can imagine a new form of government that would allow you to take hold of your own property and use it. If you were a more radical socialist, like a Bolshevik, you could envision the possibility after February of bringing about a new regime that would attempt to to build a Marxist-Leninist system. So it was, you know, multiple possibilities after October, when the Bolsheviks seized power than the possibilities grew a little more limited. At the same time, though October produced a whole new set of opportunities and possibilities in utopian imaginations. So it's, it's important, I guess, to think about in terms of who supported who didn't, which revolution you're talking about, and which group of actors you're talking about. It's a, it's a vast empire. So there were, there were almost as many possibilities and imaginings of what could happen after February and then October as the populations in the Empire itself.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
I think it's important to highlight the way in which the Bolsheviks were just one socialist division at the time. And we often think that whatever came out in the Soviet Union is "socialism," and that's the reality and that's what socialism is, and that socialism was, you know, and as Steve was just mentioning that there's so many different socialist parties that existed in the Russian Empire, some for peasants and agrarian socialists, some, some also Marxist but of a different sort the so called Mensheviks, who were big for example, in in what's now that the Republic of Georgia and that in the Caucasus, south of the Caucuses, so that there were so many different political visions and so many different socialist political visions as well, and so that the Bolsheviks were just one of this whole variety of different possibilities, even on the very far left.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
What's the initial international reaction?

Dr. Stephen Norris 
Again, if we're talking about February, quite happy. By February 1917, the Russian Empire of Nicholas II is widely considered in the west to be the most oppressive system in the world. One of the reasons among many why the US government didn't want to get involved in World War I was because they didn't want to fight on the side of this empire. And to give a little, a very brief tidbit of how this worked in America, the Jewish community in New York City reacted quite joyously to the events of February, March 1917. In fact, at one point, something like 20,000 New York City Jews, most of whom had emigrated from the Russian Empire, attended a big freedom demonstration in Madison Square Garden to celebrate this event. And then of course, if we go further ahead to October, when the Bolsheviks seize power, that's when you begin to see in the US, with the US already having at that point, committed to fighting in World War I, the beginnings of, in many ways, the Cold War, anti-communist fear of the red, the beginnings of the Red Scare in America, but it's mixed as well, that depends, again, where you're positioning yourself.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
And in some ways, the international response is also tied to the war and the war efforts, in the sense that I think that they're part of the reason therewas joy to see this czarist government fell was that many of the military leaders in other parts of Europe felt like the czarist government was really inefficient and incompetent in fighting the war. And they felt like they were locked in this existential struggle against the Central European forces, and particularly Germany. And you know, good riddance to him. And hopefully, that would mean that the Russians could then perhaps field, you know, a stronger, more competent type of military force. But then when the Bolsheviks came to power after October, then that, that sort of, that sort of sense of, of perhaps opportunity from the revolutions changes quite drastically when the Bolsheviks start to talk about not first of all, not fighting anymore. And then with the signing peace, basically, at any cost with the Germans and getting themselves out of the war. Then there was enormous fear that if the Russians left the war, then suddenly all of you know, the British and the French Americans, Canadians, everybody on the sort of Western Front would suddenly be fighting the entire power of the German army just on one front rather than between the west and the east. And I mean then you have the concern over this, the socialist ideology. The first socialist state is coming to existence, really, the world is seen, and the rest of the of the kind of industrial world was horrified at what this might mean, particularly because they were worried that there was going to be dominant right, it's seemed possible that the whole world might suddenly, you know, tip over.

Brenna Miller 
So once the Bolsheviks come to power, and we do have the establishment or beginnings of establishment of this first socialist country, what are the most profound changes that take place in the early years following the revolution?

Dr. Stephen Norris 
You know, I think what happens after October is, at least the way historians have viewed it over time is, trying to figure out how the Bolsheviks past policy that was either or an attempt to bring about the reality of a Marxist-Leninist states that is very ideological laws, versus the ways they had to deal with the the civil war that erupted almost from the minute that they seize power. And this period is, you know, called "war communism." So there were, for instance, you know, there were decrees on the land that allowed peasants to take control of their property. There were decrees that ended property ownership in general, which fit with the kind of Marxist-Leninist viewpoints, then there were also almost, you know, with within a month of the Bolsheviks seizing power, they created a secret police force, the Cheka, in order to root out counter revolutionaries. They began to form and train a Red Army to fight the Civil War. So these, these things coalesce. And it's kind of hard to separate, what was the plan if there was a plan? And then what was the contingency based on fighting a civil war. What it meant for the population that, was that almost everyone was engulfed in a violence really, I mean, it was an incredibly violent time.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
I mean, it seems to be the the Civil War is such an important moment, because almost immediately, then there's a, there's a huge struggle over what the future is supposed to look like. So the Bolsheviks take power, whatever that means. And, and then they're trying to implement some vision of what it is that they they might want to do in their new, in their new socialist world, but they're immediately confronted by tremendously large, oppositional forces from within the country, representing you know, every point on the political spectrum who take up arms against the Bolsheviks. And then for 3+ years, you have an awful Civil War, massive famine, massive dislocation, tremendously, you know, rampant disease, and of course, it's the time when, when the Spanish flu is passing through the world, and so the country is just ground down to nothing by the end of this war. I mean, to the point that when they, when the civil war ends, and then they finally get a moment to start to try to rebuild, one of the economists looked around to try to figure out “Well, so what is the state of the world we're in now at the end of the Civil War?” and to try to find historical comparisons of moments of civil similar devastation and destruction. The only time we could find was actually in the 17th century in Europe after the 30 Years War in the central part of Europe, which devastated that part. So to a certain degree the Bolsheviks start their their rule in the early 20th century, as if they're living in the most devastated part of the 17th century and everything, everything is just ground collapse by this point.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
I was thinking, as Nick was talking here, you know, the historian Peter Hawk wrote a book called “Making War, Forging Revolution” where the subtitle is, “Russia's Continuum of Crisis 1914-1921”. And I think that's a useful way to think about what Nick just described, that is beginning in the Great War in 1914. continuing through the revolution, in 1917, to the Civil War, which more or less ended by 1921, we should see it as one continual epic of crisis, where virtually everyone living in this vast Empire experienced chaos, crisis, violence, dislocation, disruption, everything you can think of, really,

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
And depending on who you are, and where you are, you have to make choices. And sometimes those choices are made for you. I'm thinking of Mikhail Bulgakov, who was living in Kiev, and who was educated as a doctor, and who was conscripted by the whites conscripted by the reds, going back and forth, found himself he was in Vladivostok when he had to make up his mind what he was going to do, and his family had fled to Paris. And so he had to decide, “Am I going to go try to join my brothers in Paris? or What shall I do with myself? I definitely want to stop being a doctor because this is not working for me.” And so he realized he ran into another poet who said, “You know, if you want to be a writer, move to Moscow.” And that's what he did. But news stories from the early 1920s in Moscow is all about not being able to find a place to live and not being able to do anything that is normal life, you know, constantly seeking constantly trying to understand the bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy in the early 20s doesn't understand itself. So you can't figure out the rules, because the rules are constantly changing. And that's the experience of lots and lots of Russians at the time.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
I think one of the things I tell my students all the time is that, you know, while the Bolsheviks wrote quite a lot about the revolution imagined once they were able to seize power, it turns out there wasn't really a Marxist blueprint. There wasn't a to-do book or a how to do this book. They had to invent it on the fly. And that meant all kinds of things, including the ways that Angela just described Bulgakov experiencing the revolution.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
And endless debates among the Bolsheviks about just what this socialism is supposed to look like. There was no guidebook. No one had ever tried to do this before. And so trying to figure out not just the big questions of you know, to have a centralized economy or whatever, but just, you know, how do you create postage stamps? How do you make sure the trains run on time? How do you ensure shoes for people? How do you figure out where everybody is? I mean, just the basics of daily life. How do you do that, in this new context. And the endless debates, I mean, always think of the 1920s as being this time of just endless debate over what this new socialism is supposed to really, really look like. Because no one knew I mean, they had some basic ideas, but the the actual day to day, and there's just so much nitty gritty in living a life and running a country and this sort of thing.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
There's no “Socialism for Dummies” available.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
You know, we should write that.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Well, speaking of books, another big question: in what ways did the revolution reshape culture?

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
One of the things that's most interesting about what happened with Soviet culture is all of the different organizations. So there is this sense even early on that in order to provide the things that writers and poets and musicians and artists need, you have to have organizations. So I'm thinking of revolutionary post revolutionary Petrograd, where I'm thinking about things like housing complexes for artists, and cafeterias for writers and artists. So all this kind of infrastructure that starts to be built. And by the time we have the developed Soviet Union, we end up with unions. So all of those unions, you know, not just the Soviets anymore of workers and peasants, but even the intellectuals start to look to the same kind of organizational structures. So the Union of Soviet Socialist Writers, the Union of Soviet Socialist Artists, the Union of Soviet Socialist Musicians, and so on. So this all starts to happen already beginning with smaller organizations in the 1920s. And one sort of complicated example has to do with the Institute of the History of the Arts, which was founded by a wealthy guy who wanted to keep it going beyond the revolution. And eventually, he realized that it was taken over by the Academy of Sciences, and he realized that he needed to get out. So this is another problem is that you have organizations that were already beginning to fulfill those needs of the cultural workers in the 19-teens. And then the people who had founded them, were not always able to stay around,

Brenna Miller 
Were there expectations of how they produced art and what kind of art they produced?

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
Not yet, right. And in the beginning, in the early 1920s, it was really about finding a room to live in, and then creating and getting access to firewood, and getting access to, you know, cafeterias of one kind and another, trying to understand those basic weights, the basic, everyday life that we talk about all the time in the Soviet Union or in Russia. But it also had to do with publishing, right, with publishing, with printing, with libraries, all of that infrastructure, had to kind of switch over to the new system. And universities, all those kinds of things. So so everything was extent in some form, and then had to kind of slip into some kind of a new system.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
Both of the revolutions in February, October opened up certain possibilities and allowed for imaginings to be rethought. And certainly what October did even if you weren't necessarily pro Bolshevik, was because this radical utopian party had seized power was it gave artists in particular an opportunity to think about their utopian dreams as reality. And so you know, when one of the byproducts of 1917 was at least a decade of experimentation, in the arts, all kinds of different ideas about what revolutionary art would look like, how it would function, whether the content would be revolutionary, and what that meant, whether the form would be revolutionary and what that meant. And in terms of things I write about in film, of course, this is the period after 1917, when you see Soviet based, some directors who all had started making documentary films in the Civil War, start to think about montage and cutting film, like actually cutting film to remake the form of film itself and became world famous as a result of that, Sergei Eisenstein and whatnot. And that was true of almost every aspect of high culture. And if we think, too, briefly about culture as something like, you know, social behavior within a society, well, again, October allowed for rethinking of that. And I think all Soviet citizens, to a certain degree, were asked to think about their selves, and to take the old and remake it into new I mean, that was part of the Bolshevik project was to create a new form of humankind. And that had any number of aspects to them. And I think, for your average citizen, I think Angela referred to it, securing housing and whatnot, it also meant being told to clean up and brush your teeth and get rid of bacteria and things like that. In other words, you know, that I think October, particularly, really, at least for a decade or so, before Stalin formally took power, created all kinds of possibilities,

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
I think it's important to highlight that I mean, this period of incredible utopianism, and, and creating a new reality that comes in, in the 1920s. And, and I think it was in some ways a time of great hope, to build something new in that way, but particularly kind of high cultural front, this this also is a kind of combination of what it started even before the 1917 revolutions in the kind of the fantasy history of Russia with what’s known as the sort of Silver Age of experimentation and literature and theater in, in dance and music and this sort of thing that, you know, artists had been for a couple of decades really, already starting to push these utopian ideas, trying to push an entrance for more of the kind of standard forms of art and high culture that had existed before. And so what's amazing about these 1917 revolutions is that it It allows that beginning and that kind of flowering that began before the revolution to suddenly take off and to have state funding and to have state support and to have real license to, to kind of run with it. And so this kind of cultural utopianism of the 20s in particular is both something new from 1917. But it's also in some ways, the continuation of, a culmination of these cultural processes that began a couple decades before.

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
And I want to bring us back to what Steve said about the women and the bread lines starting the February Revolution. The word “zavarish” is not gendered, it can be masculine, it can be feminine, we're all comrades. And there was this moment, this brief moment of feminism of this opportunity of women being equal to men. And it was really very exciting.

Brenna Miller 
I want to go back a little bit, Angela, to something that you had begun to mention earlier. You had mentioned a lot of people had to leave Russia. So in contrast to the people who stayed what were their lives, like outside of Russia? How did they constitute their culture? And how did they re-form their lives?

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
One of the really interesting things about the emigres and we call them emigres using that French word, they call themselves Russia abroad. They thought of themselves as this, this huge diaspora. They communicated with them, with each other. They had, they set up publishing concerns, they had newspapers, they were in Riga, they were in Shanghai, they were in Istanbul, they were in Sofia, they had universities, they set up in various places to educate the young people to be ready to go back. They were waiting it out. A lot of them really thought that it was all going to collapse. And they were hoping and they were waiting. So you know, one of the things that I write about is 1937, they were still a little bit hopeful that things would all collapse in the Soviet Union. And there's this big competition with the Soviets to claim the national poet. So 1937 was the 100th anniversary of the death of Alexander Pushkin, who is sort of the, you know, or poet. And in emigration, every single little faction claimed Pushkin for themselves. There was this journal of fascist Russians in Germany, who will, you know, wore black shirts and talked about Pushkin, who would also have put on a black shirt. There were monarchists who claimed Pushkin, there were other kinds of revolutionaries who were abroad now claiming Pushkin and the Soviets were claiming Pushkin, he was, you know, he was a friend of the people, he loved the peasantry. So it was this huge competition over whose, who does, who does Russian culture belong to? And that was going on up leading up to 1937 before and leading up to 1937, as they tried to make sure that everybody understood -- they maintaied  their own alphabet for a long time. Right.  So one of the things that that is funny about publishing is that the Russian alphabet, before the revolution, the western orthography had excessive letters, and there was a reform in progress, but it didn't happen before the revolution. And so when, after the revolution, somebody decided to follow through on that orthographic reform to make writing simply easier. The people in emigration rejected the orthographic reforms because they seemed Bolshevik to them. They thought it was a socialist, you know, plot to take away some of our letters. And so even through the 1950s, the Chekhov press that was publishing in New York continue to publish using the old orthography that was the real Russia, we're gonna have to maintain the real Russia so that when those guys go away, we can come back.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
It's interesting, because the emigration in some ways was, as you say, both very kind of backward looking and, and self enclosed, but at the same time, their impact on the world outside of Russia is tremendous. I always say to my students, that there would be no ballet in the United States without the Russian emigres coming and redefining what ballet means here and organizing ballet and this sort of thing. So there's all of this kind of cultural experimentation. Many of these people got out and they brought it with them. And then they transform the kind of cultural enterprises of the places that they, that they ended up. You see it also in politics, that a lot of the political ideas that have been developing and kind of bubbling up and being debated in the czarist period, and Russia suddenly find their way out into other political systems and make their mark. And you see, particularly, you know, within universities and intellectual communities where, you know, a lot of Russian scholars, scientists and people who who didn't want to live in the Soviet Union, I mean, they left they brought with them tremendous sort of scientific knowledge and expertise, that then other parts of the world really benefited from in terms of future discoveries. And many of these emigres became the the translators of, not just in terms of language, but culturally translators, what the Soviet Union meant, so that you have all of these Russian emigres or children of emigres who then take on positions in universities as experts on the Soviet Union. And so their sort of influence in terms of what we think about this place in the West, so, was profound.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
So those are both really wonderful answers. I would say that the irony too, is that today, the Russian state is trying to repatriate that Russia abroad as part of the new Russian patriotism, sometimes even in the form of, of taking bodies like Rachmaninoff  or Denikin, who were buried abroad and reburying them in Russia. One other aspect of the Russia abroad, and the way the revolution was understood abroad was the emergence of a counter narrative to the Bolshevik narrative of the great October and then instead, publications that stress again and again and again, how much of a tragedy October was for Russia and the real Russia. That was the narrative that took hold in the West, including America. And it was, you know, counteracted by the narrative in Russia itself, The Soviet Union, that suggested it was October that was the crowning achievement of 1917.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Well, in the 99 years since the revolution, how has it been thought about inside the Soviet Union. Has it been celebrated, commemorated, and now in our 100th year, why isn't Russia and Vladimir Putin marking the centennial? And what's the significance of that?

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
There is a kind of a myth or a belief that the Great War disappeared in Russia. That everybody forgot about World War One because we were constantly talking about the great October. Some of the work that I've done, I've looked at some novels from the 1960s, 1970s, where there was an attempt to reclaim World War One from a Soviet orthodox author who was really looking to show how it led to the revolution. And Alexander Solzhenitsyn who, in the words of his biographer, actually wanted with his red wheel cycle, the first novel, which is called "August 1914," to reverse the consequences of the October Revolution. You know, he was publishing this when he'd already been exiled. He started writing it significantly beforehand. But the idea that somehow he could reverse the revolution. If everybody just understood the things that happened before the revolution, then everything would somehow be able to be turned back. And maybe I don't know whether we would consider that Putin is in some ways turning time back? I mean certainly the flavor of Russia over the last 16 years, has been very, very different than the immediate, immediate post-1991 period.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
Yeah, I think just to build on what Angela just said, you know, the October Revolution, when the Bolsheviks seized power was sort of seen as the culmination of this revolutionary wave in 1917. And, of course, became the foundational myth of the of the Soviet Union. And that that foundational myth, while it evolved, as Angela suggested, never went away. And we might even look at the chipping away of that foundational myth under Gorbachev and glasnost. As one of the reasons why the Soviet Union itselfcollapse, that is this people began to investigate what really happened in 1917, they began to lose faith in the system itself, and therefore the myth went away. And in terms of what Putin has done, you know, I guess I would characterize it as almost like a goulash patriotism. He's willing to incorporate all aspects from the Russian past, even the Soviet past, that can be characterized as good in this form of new patriotism. So it is backward looking, but also forward looking I guess too. And one of the things that's happened in the last 10 years is in many ways, the Russian state has painted itself into a memory corner, if you will. Putin oversaw a big commemoration in 2014, for the hundredth anniversary of World War One, which as Angela said, was largely forgotten, or at least remembered in very particular ways in the Soviet Union. And so Putin oversaw the construction of the first big World War One memorial in Moscow at the, at this memorial site that also includes lots of World War Two memorials, and talked about how the Bolsheviks had stolen the memory of the heroism of our soldiers and World War One. Then by that point too, 2014, Putin had already overseen as part of this goulash patriotism, re-commemorating the Civil War as a fratricidal one, where Russians fought Russians, and it didn't, didn't matter what side you were on, you were fighting for your own vision of the country. And that the real villains in these two commemorations were the Bolsheviks. So once you've created those memory practices, there's really nothing you can do with the Bolshevik Revolution other than forget it, because the Bolsheviks have been villains in the World War One memory, that is they stole the memories from us in our heroism. And they're the villains in this fratricidal war, where good Russians were forced to fight each other. And then the last thing we're saying about why the Russian state isn't really commemorating it is, you know, Putin himself said, we've over fulfilled our quota for revolutions in the 20th century, so we don't need to think about another. And that's a statement to his fear that Russia might experience a color revolution, like the kind in Ukraine, or in Central Asia, or in Georgia, or even something like a Twitter, Facebook fueled revolution, which was true in the Arab Spring. So he's very hesitant, and his officials are very hesitant to do anything to celebrate popular uprising, even the February uprising.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
I think that's exactly right, that part of what Putin and that government really offers Russia is stability. And that's what they claim a lot of their legitimacy on is that we're not going to go back to the chaos of the of the 1990s and the Yeltsin years, and we're gonna, we're gonna have stability, we're going to have relative wealth for people. And you're going to know that tomorrow, you'll, you know, wake up and everything will still be here, and everything will still be the same. And that stability is, is good and welcomed. And so exactly, as you said, Steve, that the revolutions pose a real problem for that contemporary sort of agenda of stability, because how can you legitimate or celebrate descent and revolution and rapid overturning and chaos and all these things if stability is, is your primary legitimacy? And I think that that's also, I think, a big problem that they face. And partly too it reflects the way in which, I mean if the, if the Bolshevik Revolution was celebrated throughout the Soviet period as the founding moment, and never really questioned until as you say, the Gorbachev period, you know a second kind of myth joins it in justification of the Soviet regime. And that's the victory in the Second World War over the Nazis. And so, you know, so that one started to parallel or sometimes to overshadow 1917. And I think now is the much more important founding myth for Russians today.

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
Well, I think when, we think about the mid 80s, perestroika and glasnost, it seems very exciting. It seemed exciting at the time for Russians, it was really scary. Because you know, you couldn't touch Lenin, you could talk about lots of other things. And then starting in the glasnost, all of a sudden, people started talking about maybe Lenin was not the, the god that he's been made out to be. And, and that was really scary. Now everything was available for critique. And look what happened. When the Soviet Union fell apart, it really was actual chaos and for a lot of people, not on the order of the Civil War, but people didn't get paid, people didn't have access to food. It was it was really a disaster for a good long time. And so stability is good. People wants to feel it, and they want comfort. And if they have to give up waving their red flags for October, they're happy to do it.

Brenna Miller 
So why should we remember these events today?

Dr. Stephen Norris 
And I'm thinking back to the beginning, again, when we think about why we should think about 1917 today, it's maybe to get over some of the misconceptions we've had, even in America about what 1917 is, is solely as I think Nick said earlier, just the Bolshevik Revolution. It wasn't. It was multiple revolutions and multiple fissures across this vast society. And it's today, this summer, for instance, Finland is celebrating 100 years of independence as a direct consequence of the breakup of the Russian Empire. In Central Asian countries, they see 1916, even as the beginning of their independence movements. In Ukraine, obviously still contested today, but the first attempt to have an independent Ukraine came in 1917. So maybe if we imagine and maybe not celebrated 1917, but commemorate it would be along these multiple fronts, and these get out of our tendency to see it only as one revolution only as the Bolshevik Revolution, however important that was.

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
Well, given how Russians and the Soviet government in particular have always loved to commemorate everything, it's actually fascinating that anybody can resist in Russia. And maybe that's the point that we should pay attention to that we're thinking about the centennial. And people in Russia are trying not to think about it. That's an actually really unusual cultural moment I think.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
This is an event that's important to think about, because this was a revolution. This was a moment where new visions for what the world might be were put forward and new ideas. And I think that, you know, in our world today, we should always be thinking about, well, "How can we do, how can we do the world in which we live now, better?" And here was a moment where, you know, ultimately, for better or for worse, and often for worse, these people had a vision that they could do things better. And they could do things differently. That there were alternatives to the kind of liberal, democratic, capitalist track that much of the world was starting to head down at that point, and visions of constructing the world in a different way.

Jessica Vinas-Nelson 
Thank you so much, guys. We'll wrap it up on that note, thank you to our three guests, Doctors Stephen Norris, Angela Brintlinger and Nicholas Breyfogle.

Dr. Stephen Norris 
Yeah, thanks.

Dr. Nicholas Breyfogle 
Thank you guys very much.

Dr. Angela Brintlinger 
Good conversation.

Brenna Miller 
Thanks, everyone. This episode of History Talk Podcast was brought to you by Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication of the public history initiative in the Goldberg Center and the History Department at The Ohio State University in Columbus and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Our main editors are Steve Conn and Nicholas Breyfogle. Our executive producer is David Staley, our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer. Our audio producers and hosts are Brenna Miller and Jessica Vinas-Nelson. Song and band information can be found on our website. You can find our podcasts and more on our website at origins.osu.edu, on iTunes, and on SoundCloud. And as always, you can find us on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for listening.