WHAT is it that enables radical change and transformation? As you long for the PCC to adopt a new way of thinking, do you need to build up your power base to ensure that you have the support necessary to effect the change? Or is it all an unlikely series of accidents that delivers the victory into your lap?
Russia 1917: Countdown to revolution (BBC2, Tuesday of last week) suggests that the Bolshevik triumph in setting up Communist Russia owed far more to the latter scenario than to the former. What was carefully stage-managed in retrospect to seem like an inexorable triumph of the will of the people was, in fact, a seizing of power by one revolutionary faction through a ruthless suppression of the will of most of the others.
Our image of the events is greatly influenced by Eisenstein’s glorious films, but the programme demonstrated that episode after episode did not happen as depicted: they are essentially propaganda. The heroic storming of the Winter Palace to arrest the provisional government is a fiction: a small detachment, when finally ordered to approach, found the doors unlocked, and wandered in.
The programme combined newsreel, clips from Eisenstein, and dramatic re-enactments; but, above all, it was a scholarly debate with contributions from writers and historians. This was where the real fun lay, as they fundamentally disagreed. Was Lenin a strategic genius, or was he as surprised as anyone by the way things turned out? Was he driven by revolutionary zeal or an overwhelming lust for power?
One of the fascinating aspects of Russia With Simon Reeve (BBC2, Thursdays), which ended last week, has been the indecision on the part of the authorities about how they will commemorate the revolution’s centenary. Reeve produced sign after sign that President Putin is happy to receive the adulation enjoyed by the Tsars; his championing of the huge revival in the Orthodox is a reversion to the old days.
The other rehabilitation is that of Stalin; what is emphasised again and again is the acceptance of a strong, autocratic leader to build up the sense of Russia’s power and greatness on the world stage. Only a minority consider that the injustice, corruption, inequalities, and infrastructural collapse should be blamed on the government: they believe that they are forced on the country by the West.
Reeve also turned his attention to religion, and most of what he reported was unsettling: the Orthodox Church is aligning with reactionary attitudes, eager to prepare for force if needed.
Revolution was a central theme in Lucy Worsley’s Nights at the Opera (BBC2, Saturday). She is quite right: Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Beethoven’s Fidelio, and Verdi’s Nabucco are indeed subversive works. But why does she have to treat the genre as a romp — an excuse to dive into the dressing-up box, emerging as an unconvincing and jokey version of heroine and hero?