History

10 Lesser-Known Facts About The Russian Revolution That Put It Into Context  

Dave Smith
17.7k views 10 items

In 2017, the Russian Revolution celebrated it's centennial. Despite the massive impact it had on the world, Russian Revolution history, even at it's most basic (such as the Russian Revolution timeline), elude many casual observers. Since the success of the revolution, "communist" has been something of a catchall phrase for red-blooded capitalists looking to blame others for undermining the foundation of society. Surely, you can blame the Russian Revolution for likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara

What began as a demonstration for bread evolved into 75 years of "communist" rule that altered the course of world history. Lesser known Russian Revolution facts are mind-blowing when you consider their impact on history. Through the decades, many have asked how a movement intended to emancipate humanity from the yoke of tyranny took so many  wrong turns and caused so much suffering throughout the Soviet empire. This sentiment was reflected by Irving Berlin when he quipped, "The world would not be in such a snarl, had Marx been Groucho instead of Karl."

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Lenin's Official Biography Was Fabricated To Make Him More Appealing To The Masses
Lenin's Official Biography... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 10 Lesser-Known Facts About The Russian Revolution That Put It Into Context
Photo: Grigori Petrowitsch Goldstein/Public Domain

The leaders of the Bolshevik revolution considered proletarian credentials important; if an important party member's background was tarnished by bourgeois ancestors, they took steps to cover it up. 

Even before Lenin's death in 1924, the beginnings of a cult of personality had taken root with help of a growing propaganda machine. This was meant to highlight the positive working class traits of leaders as an example for the Russian people to admire and work towards. Lenin stated, “The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation” a remarkable statement considering his origins. 

Dmitri Volkogonov, chief of Russia's military's psychological warfare department in the '70 and '80s, and author of Lenin, points out that Lenin’s background wasn’t working class - because his multi-ethnic ancestors were academics, doctors, and wealthy Jewish merchants. To maintain the myth that Lenin came from a simple, working class, purely ethnically Russian background, the party propaganda machine had to bury the truth. 

Stalin May Have Worked For The Imperial Secret Police In His Youth
Stalin May Have Worked For The... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 10 Lesser-Known Facts About The Russian Revolution That Put It Into Context
Photo: Photographer Unknown/Public Domain

As with Lenin, Stalin had a murky background. Facts about his life were cherry picked for public knowledge; undesirable material was obfuscated. Stalin and his supporters fancied him a genuine revolutionary committed to the socialist cause, a supporter of other revolutionaries. 

However, many have alleged for years that Stalin was in fact an agent for the Okhranka, the secret police of the Russian Empire. Many Bolshevik peers accused Stalin of working for the Okhranka in his days as a young revolutionary, when he went by Koba. This accusations date as far back as 1916.

Evidence of Stalin's involvement with the Okhranka include his ability to travel freely during a period of crackdowns on revolutionaries, his hard-living lifestyle coupled with no source of income, and the many times he escaped exile. A peer, Domenty Vadachkory, even claimed to have seen Stalin use an Okhranka badge to pass through a checkpoint while returning from exile. 

Evidence exists to counter these claims. Stalin is listed in extant Okhranka records only as a revolutionary, not as a spy or informant. A letter alleging proof of Stalin's activity was proven fake. Many have testified to the very loose nature of the exile system, and how easy it was to escape with forged papers. 

King George V Of England Had To Let His Cousin, Tsar Nicholas, Die For Political Reasons
King George V Of England Had T... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 10 Lesser-Known Facts About The Russian Revolution That Put It Into Context
Photo: Boasson and Eggler, St. Petersburg/Public Domain

The civil war and Red Terror engulfing Russia after the revolution got underway were ruthless affairs. While Russia was better off without the Romanovs, the brutal murder of the royal family spoke volumes about the nature of the communists. 

After abdicating in 1917, Tsar Nicholas Romanov II and his family were put under house arrest in a mansion in Ekaterinburg, Russia. British king George V was Nicholas's cousin (their grandmother was Queen Victoria), and though they were close, George was a more  savvy monarch. His political acumen forced George to sacrifice his relatives to preserve his rule. 

George was stuck between saving his relatives and preserving stability in the British Empire. He ultimately chose the latter, denying asylum for the Romanovs, in part because the British public saw the family as oppressive tyrants with dubious loyalties.

In the early hours of July 17th, 1918, Nicholas, his wife Alexandra and children Alexei, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Olga were led to the mansion’s basement. There they were photographs for the last time and shot dead by communist revolutionaries. 

Alcohol Prohibition Critically Damaged The Imperial Russian Economy
Alcohol Prohibition Critically... is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 10 Lesser-Known Facts About The Russian Revolution That Put It Into Context
Photo: Photographer Unknown/Public Domain

Nicholas II made well-intentioned decisions but continuously failed to think ahead about the ramifications of his actions. In July, 1914 he passed what a temporary ban on alcohol to ensure discipline was maintained while the country prepared for war.  

Given historical circumstances, the ban makes sense. Nine years earlier, Russia suffered a major, totally unexpected defeat to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War, during which the drunkenness of Russian soldiers was a serious concern. According to George E. Snow, author of Alcoholism in the Russian Military: The Public Sphere and Temperance Discourse, 1883-1917, “the Japanese found several thousand Russian soldiers so dead drunk that they were able to bayonet them like so many pigs."

Bryce David Andreasen of the University of Lethbridge reports that between 1894 and 1913, the Imperial Russian government, which controlled the production and sale of alcohol, saw alcohol sales of roughly 260 million rubles. When prohibition was imposed in 1914, Andreasen notes a third of government revenue vanished within days. The prohibition was then extended to last through the end of the war and the Tsar’s abdication in 1917.