The House of Government
A Saga of the Russian Revolution
Princeton University Press 2017
Before the revolution that—very unexpectedly—brought them to power, the Bolsheviks lived nomadic lives. They were always on the run from the authorities. That the authorities were always after them is not really a mystery, for all the Bolsheviks really wanted to do was take their authority away. What they would put in place of that “old” authority, they were not sure. Time would tell. They were, however, sure that they would, once in power, stop running around and settle down. Since Moscow was their new capital, they stayed in Moscow’s hotels for a time while they tried to puzzle out how to build the world’s first communist state. Clearly, however, it wouldn’t due to have the People’s Commissars staying in fancy (if a bit down-at-the-heel) “bourgeois” hotels; it just didn’t feel right. The Soviet elites needed a place of their own. In 1928, they started to build it and a few years later it was done. It came to be known as the “Government House on the Embankment.”
As Yuri Slezkine writes in his novelesque history The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution (Princeton University Press, 2017), their new home was where the Revolutionaries came to live and the Revolution came to die. Slezkine has some very interesting and to some, I’m sure, controversial things to say about the two generations of residents he discusses in the book. One is reminded a bit of Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons,” though in reverse: In the “House,” revolutionaries raised counter-revolutionaries. Listen in.