The Anthill

Anthill 18: Revisiting the Russian Revolution

It’s been 100 years since revolution swept through Russia and we have dedicated The Anthill 18 to this seminal moment in world history. We delve into its sensory history, find out about the people who tried to spread it across Europe and we also speak to the grandson of one of 1917’s key protagonists.

By 1917, Russia had been brought to its knees, labouring under the economic and social costs of World War I. People were getting desperate. They were hungry. Many soldiers were mutinous and clamoured for peace with Germany.

Our podcast hones in on the revolutions of 1917 itself and we speak to an array of historians to uncover what happened and what it was like at the time. There were two stages to the 1917 revolution. What’s known as the February Revolution began with a series of protests in the capital city of Petrograd. Rioting, strikes and then mutiny followed. Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate, bringing to an end the Romanov dynasty which had ruled Russia for over 300 years.

Into the political vacuum that followed came a new Provisional Government. It was made up of an array of different political parties and personalities and it 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 went on to take control of the country in what’s known as the October Revolution.

To investigate why the Provisional Government was overthrown, The Anthill producer Gemma Ware met Stephen Kerensky whose grandfather, Alexander Kerensky, was prime minister at the time. They sat down with Michael Hughes, professor of modern Russian history at Lancaster University.

Alexander Kerensky in office. George Shuklin

From 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 in the year. The Conversation’s politics editor, Laura Hood, spoke to historian Jan Plamper from Goldsmiths, University of London, and Soviet music and culture specialist Pauline Fairclough, from the University of Bristol, to find out what the revolution sounded like – and smelled like.

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


Music in the final segment is Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь! (Workers of the world, unite!); “Эй Ухнем” (The Song of Volga Boatmen), a Russian Folk Song performed by Архиерейский хор and Béla Bartók’s Two Hungarian Folk Tunes performed by Yasar University Guitar Ensemble.

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

Listen to more episodes of The Anthill, on themes including Humour, The Future and Memory.

A big thanks to City University London’s Department of Journalism for letting us use their studios to record The Anthill.