Not long after Abbie Hoffman praised “revolution for the hell of it,” David Friedman memorably retorted “revolution is the hell of it.” While reading literary historian Gleb Struve’s edifying Russian Literature under Lenin and Stalin, I came across an eloquent vignette about what living through a revolution was actually like.

The time: Winter, 1920. The place: St. Petersburg. The author: Victor Shklovsky.

What did we use for heating?… [W]e burned everything. I burned my furniture, my sculptor’s stand, bookshelves and books, books beyond count or computation. If I had owned wooden arms or legs I should have burned them and found myself limbless in spring.


Everyone gathered in the kitchen; in the abandoned rooms stalactites grew. People drew close to one another and in the half-empty city they squeezed together as tight as toys in a playbox. Priests in churches conducted the services in gloves with the surplices on their fur coats. Six school-children froze to death. The Arctic Circle had become a reality and its line passed through the region of the Nevsky Avenue.

It’s almost pitiful to think how many people saw the start of the Russian Revolution and thought “It couldn’t be worse than the czar.”