November 1918, St.Petersburg, Russia The hunger gnawed at me. It started out slowly, just a dull pain in the middle of my stomach, till it grew into an all consuming inferno, burning away in my insides. I looked down at the remains of my meal which had done nothing to alleviate my pain. The rationing had become even worse. It was an illustrious plan by the Bolsheviks to protect us from the turmoils of the harsh civil war.
I was a factory worker and never in all my years had I seen these conditions before. The harsh Bolshevik managers, rumoured to have been selected by Lenin himself, drove us to our edge, only letting us stop when we were slumped against the wall, eyes blurry and begging for reprieve. I remembered this morning, a grizzled man whose eyes long lost their shine, had leaned over. We were sitting close to each other and I remember seeing the white stubs of hair stuck to the skin which was sinking into the deep hollows in his face. “You know, this is exactly like it had been under the Tsar,” he whispered in a hoarse voice, full of an emotion I couldn't name. I had quickly carried on working, eager to end this conversation at once. Even having a glimmer of mutiny could guarantee you execution.
I turned the words over in my brain now, understanding their depth. I looked out on the street. Grey smoke willowed above the collapsing slum. The narrow lane between the two buildings was full of people wearing varying shades of grey. Women and men haggled around, yelling out what they had for exchange. We were no longer paid in money, it was practically worthless anyhow. We used to get the basics of food, that is all. I turned away from the sorry sight, and went back to my mattress. How had we let them do this? I started back out on the street, and went back to 13 years ago.
The square was filled with screams. The blood of men, women and children stained the white snow crimson red. Cossacks fired rapidly at the crowd with new troops constantly charging out of the palace. I looked around, my eyes wide in horror, my friends fell to the ground yelling in pain as their lives vanished before my eyes.
It had started off as a peaceful march. Just going to ask the Tsar for help as the conditions were miserable, tensions were high and no one had enough of anything. Just a gathering outside the Winter Palace. They called it Bloody Sunday. Later, in my room, with the wails of widows and orphans all around me, I felt rage like I had never before. I would make it my life’s mission to destroy those Tsarist dogs. I would join the revolution.
I had thought it would have been so easy. So many hated the Tsar after that night, a revolution must have been coming soon. It had to. We couldn't live like this. Little did we know we would have to wait 12 years before the spark that had been lit that night would actually come to burn. The war was coming first.
When I enlisted in the army, I did it without hesitation or second thought. The pure adrenaline of patriotism that surged through all of us that month was truly remarkable. Stashed away were the dreams of revolution, we forgot about our hate for the Tsar. That was before we realised how abysmal the state of our army was. 8 million men had been killed by 1917. 8 million of my brothers had been slain for a cause that seemed worthless now. Our anger grew at our officers and commanders, who sat far from the frontline themselves. The Germans outmatched us in every way, they had better guns, better technology, better leaders. We were sent to fight without rifles! That’s when the desertions began. Sometimes I felt so useless I wanted to do it as well. We were fighting a loosing war.
I lied back down on my mattress and stared at the dirty ceiling. The yells were still loud, but were fading away bit by bit as people started to go in for the night. I looked around my room. It was tiny, barely enough to hold one mattress, but it was my own. I unconsciously started plucking at the threads on its corners as I thought about the War. The Tsar’s lack of leadership while the rest of the country suffered still made many men furious today. I could feel my hands turn to fists as I thought about it.
Everyone knew about the November revolution. There had been posters plastered to the city walls and flyers distributed amongst the workers. The Provisional Government, the pathetic attempt at democracy after the Tsar’s abdication, knew as well and they also knew they could do next to nothing to stop it. There were whispers after the revolution that the Bolshevik Red Army just walked into the Winter Palace. The whisper and glimmer of change, finally some change, felt so good. There was a palpable enthusiasm in the air.
A sudden burst of wailing woke me up from my reverie. It was a harsh sound that barely seemed human but was so familiar now. The screams were there every night. I got up, and went to stand by the window again. The Cheka.They were the Bolshevik police and prowled the slums every night looking for flouters of the rules imposed on us. I stared out at them on the street, a cluster of tall men with murky brown uniforms, their breaths forming a cloud that hung over the cold night. They were encircling a woman whose face was red from screaming. She was clutching two children tightly to her sides and her face was crimson. She looked starving, her skin barely being able to wrap itself around her bones and every breath seemed laboured Her children were petrified, their eyes large as they clutched to her mother. She had probably taken more than her ration allowed her. I turned my head. The screams abruptly stopped.
It was soon night. My body groaned at the thought of the work I still had to do tomorrow. I laid my head back and sighed, exhausted. Some men still believed that after the Civil War was over, there would be a time of great prosperity and equality. It seemed like we had stopped one war to immediately start another. Constant bloodshed and starvation. Maybe life could only be like this. I closed my eyes, finally understanding what the man felt this morning at the factory. Regret.