The escalator seemed to ascend forever, while an endless stream of workers descended alongside into the depths of the Russian Underground system. Finally we arrived at the summit and I noted an impassive uniformed member of personnel, in a glass booth ahead of us, checking tickets. We had travelled from the Nevsky Prospect station, (bravely) changed lines twice already, but had no ticket, having been required instead to insert coin tokens into an entry barrier. ‘How did the coin know how far I was going?’ I wondered. Could I travel the Underground for as long as I wanted? Thankfully the guard did not wish to see our tickets and we followed the steady line of people leading from the escalator through the rather Spartan station foyer. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of red, looked up to my left, and marvelled at a huge mosaic of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin which covered the entire wall. Imperious in countenance he watched over the crowds below who conversely paid him no attention in return. This is no chance mosaic, for it was here at Finland Station in April 1917 that Lenin arrived ahead of the October revolution in Petrograd (today St Petersburg), then Russia’s capital, an insurrection which led in turn to the wider Russian Revolution and the birth of the Soviet era. Lenin, who was returning from exile, met his followers here, and climbed onto a waiting armoured car where searchlights picked him out for the benefit of the gathered crowds before he began his historic speech:
‘The people need peace, the people need bread, the people need land. And they give you war, hunger, no bread… We must fight for the social revolution, fight to the end, until the complete victory of the proletariat. Long live the worldwide socialist revolution.’
On leaving the station, we looked up at the stone facade which depicts intentionally glorious scenes from the revolution – the station was rebuilt in the Soviet era in a deliberately drab utilitarian style – before crossing the busy road, the objective of our journey, now in our sights. Our destination: the huge statue of Lenin, which sees him looking out to the River Neva, and captures him part way through the above speech. First erected in 1926, the statue survived a bombing in 2009 that only succeeded in removing a small patch of his long coat. Looking up at Comrade Lenin I’m not at all surprised as he is as imposing and impressive as I had hoped.
Despite the fact we felt a little in awe we were not going to miss a photo opportunity and snapped away for some time like the tourists we so obviously were. We had successfully arrived at Finland Station and like Lenin before us were not disappointed by what we found there.
[This trip, for which I was accompanied by Lorna McNally and Deborah Morrison, took place on Monday 16 June 2014, the day before the start of the 45th EBSLG conference in St Petersburg. I hope to blog more on the event soon.]