St Petersburg by Jonathan Miles – ‘300 years of murderous desire’

A compelling history of Russia’s northern capital features the deaths of countless serfs, the Nazi siege, post-Soviet crime – and tourist glamour

In 1811 the French woman of letters Madame de Staël arrived in St Petersburg to find herself enchanted by a city in which “a wizard with a wand had conjured all the marvels of Europe and Asia in the middle of a wasteland”. From the windows of the house she rented on the edge of Senate Square, De Staël could look down on the wizard himself. Étienne Falconet’s statue of Peter the Great, commissioned by Catherine the Great as a homage to her predecessor (and as a means of cementing her own claims to legitimacy), is the very embodiment of autocratic resolve. Peter bestrides a horse that tramples the serpent of Sweden beneath its hooves as it rears up on its hind legs at the edge of its ...

Lenin the Dictator and The Dilemmas of Lenin review – a revolution twisted?

Victor Sebestyen and Tariq Ali take a fresh look at the architect of October 1917, and his responsibility for what followedThe life of Vladimir Lenin undoubtedly lends itself to the “great man” approach to history. When, a month after the February Revolution, Lenin returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland, power was divided in an uneasy alliance between a provisional government dominated by liberals on the one hand and Soviets of socialists and anarchists on the other. In the face of opposition from the other leftwing parties and from many members of his own, Lenin argued relentlessly and effectively for an immediate end to “dual power” and for “all power to the soviets!”. As the government floundered, undone by a disastrous war and a collapsing economy, his position won increasing support within the party and among growing numbers of disaffected and radicalised workers and soldiers. Without his resolve and leadership, ...