Anthill 18: Revisiting the Russian Revolution

It has been 100 years since revolution swept through Russia and we have dedicated The Anthill 18 to this defining moment in world history. We dive into its sensory story, learn about the people who tried to spread it across Europe, and we also talk to the grandson of one of 1917’s main protagonists.

By 1917, Russia had been brought to its knees, suffering the economic and social costs of World War I. People were desperate. They were starving. Many soldiers mutinied and demanded peace with Germany.

Our podcast focuses on the revolutions of 1917 and we talk to a range of historians to find out what happened and what it was like at the time. The 1917 revolution had two stages. The so-called February Revolution began with a series of protests in the capital, Petrograd. Riots, strikes and then mutinies followed. Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate, ending the Romanov dynasty that had ruled Russia for over 300 years.

In the political vacuum that followed came a new provisional government. It was made up of a range of different parties and political figures and shared power with the Petrograd Soviet. This influential council of workers and soldiers counted among its members the Bolsheviks, the party of Lenin and Trotsky, who later took control of the country in what is known as the October Revolution.

To investigate the reasons for the overthrow of the Provisional Government, The Anthill producer Gemma Ware sat down with Stephen Kerensky, whose grandfather, Alexander Kerensky, was then Prime Minister. They sat down with Michael Hughes, professor of modern Russian history at Lancaster University.

Alexander Kerensky in office.
George Shuklin

Starting with the political intrigue of the Provisional Government, we then examine events on the ground and what life was like in the build-up to the Bolshevik coup later that year. The Conversation’s political editor Laura Hood spoke to historian Jan Plamper of Goldsmiths, University of London, and scholar of Soviet music and culture Pauline Fairclough, of the University of Bristol, to find out what the revolution looked like – and what it smelled like.

Finally, we explore how the Russian Revolution reverberated across Europe. The Continent was still waging the biggest war it had ever seen, and there were a number of places where Communist groups attempted to emulate the Bolsheviks’ dramatic rise to power. The Conversation’s international editor, Andrew Naughtie, interviewed Jonathan Davis of Anglia Ruskin University, who describes a failed German Communist uprising in 1919 and recounts attempts by the British left to make sense of the early soviet era. Gareth Dale, from Brunel University London, also explained what happened when a new regime in Hungary invited communists to share power – with surprising consequences.

The music for the final segment is Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь! (The workers of the world unite!); “Эй Ухнем” (The Song of the Volga Boatmen), a Russian folk song performed by Архиерейский хор and Two Hungarian folk tunes by Béla Bartók performed by Yasar University Guitar Ensemble.

The Anthill theme music (in the outro) is by Alex Gray for Melody Loops.

Listen to more episodes of The Anthill, on themes such as humor, the future and memory.

Many thanks to the Department of Journalism at City University London for allowing us to use their studios to record The Anthill.