The taking of the Winter Palace becomes a party
For the Bolsheviks, the Winter Palace of Tsar Nicholas II represented everything they were determined to rid Russian society of: inequality, ostentatiousness and unearned wealth. One key aim of the October 1917 Revolution, then, was gaining control of the St. Petersburg landmark and claiming it âfor the people’. However, the storming of the palace might have derailed the revolution. As soon as the gates were opened, the drinking began – and it was some serious drinking, even by Russian standards.
It wasn’t, however, a classic âstorming’ of a palace. By the time the revolutionaries had arrived, the guards had long since abandoned their posts. All that the rebels needed to do was climb over the large gates and fences and then break in through mostly unlocked doors and windows. Unsurprisingly, the red-armband-clad masses headed straight for the cellars. Here, the deposed Tsar had amassed one of the finest collections of booze the world has ever known, complete with fine wines, whiskies, cognacs and, of course, lots of vodka.
Huge crowds flocked to the Winter Palace and the party started. The drinking went on for a week, during which time the more serious business of transforming Russian society had to be put on hold. It wasn’t just common soldiers who were drunk and useless. Even the man specifically appointed by Lenin himself to serve as Commissar for the Winter Palace was found drunk on the job. The Bolshevik leadership realized they needed to do something or else their revolution could lose its momentum.
A special Commission Against Wine Pogroms was set up by the high command. The wine cellars were flooded (though many of the firefighters called in to do the job ended up getting drunk too). Even then, people tried to swim down into the cellars, with some people drowning in an attempt to get some free booze. The Commission became increasingly authoritarian, even shooting people who refused to stop partying. In the end, it took nearly one month for the Winter Palace drunkenness to come to an end. By that time, much of the initial enthusiasm that had greeted the October Revolution had died down. However, the Bolsheviks had shown how ruthless they could be and, despite the drunken decadence of Saint Petersburg, they ruthlessly clung onto power.