9 Fascinating Facts About The Russian Revolution

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Between 1917-1923, Russia experienced a political upheaval like nothing the country, or albeit the rest of Europe, had seen before. Revolutionaries overthrew the Romanovs, one of the world’s oldest and most established dynastic families. With the abolishment of the royal family taking place in 1917, the Russian Revolution is one of the most gripping historical events of the 20th century.

The Romanov family in 1913. They died as a result of the Russian Revolution. They were all executed.
The Romanov family in 1913. (left to right): Olga, Maria, Nicholas II, Alexandra Fyodorovna, Anastasia, Alexei, and Tatiana. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

1. The Romanovs: A Family of Opulence and Intrigue

The Romanovs were the Tsar and Tsarinas of Russia from the beginning of the 17th century. Lasting nearly 300 years in power, the family lived in absolute luxury. It is even said that some members of the family had asked for their tights to be embroidered with gold. While the vast majority of Russia lived in impoverished conditions, the Romanovs ruthlessly enjoyed one of the most opulent lifestyles of any royal family in the world. One of Catherine the Great’s advisors, Gregory Potemkin, is even said to have once served diamonds instead of dessert at a dinner party for the Russian aristocracy. Once overthrown, revolutionaries discovered that many of their palaces were filled with Faberge eggs and gold plated crockery. In fact, it is said that each year Nicholas II would present a Faberge egg to both his wife and his mother. 

Tsar Nicholas II and King George V in military uniform in 1913.
Nicholas II of Russia (left) and King George V of the United Kingdom (right) in Berlin, Germany, 1913. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

2. The Romanov Link To Britain

Many aren’t aware that the Romanov family were actually related to the British royal family during this period as well. King George V of the United Kingdom and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia were first cousins. These two families were known to have regularly holidayed together in the summertime across Europe. When the coup happened, the Romanov family begged for their British relatives to take them in and allow them to escape their impending assassinations. These requests were sadly denied and the Romanov family were killed in the basement of Ipatiev House on the 17th of July 1918.

The Winter Palace in St Petersburg, Russia. It was stormed during the Russian Revolution.
The Winter Palace in St Petersburg, Russia. Lynn Greyling // Public Domain

3. The Tsar’s Cellar

As legend has it, when the Bolshevik soldiers raided the Winter Palace, belonging to Nicholas II and his family, they were said to have uncovered vast amounts of fine wine. Some soldiers even reported that Faberge eggs aside, the selection of wine was the most impressive part of their findings. It is said that for weeks following the initial coup, thousands of bottles of the world’s rarest and most expensive wines and ports were stolen, sold on, or even drunk by the revolutionaries themselves.

Rasputin in 1916 playing with his beard
Grigori Rasputin, 1916. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

4. Rasputin, ‘Christ in a Miniature’

Grigori Rasputin is one of the most well-known figures of the Russian Revolution. He labeled himself ‘Christ in a miniature’ and over the course of a few years became the closest advisor to Nicholas II and, in particular, his wife Alexandra. Many historians believe that Rasputin’s meddling was one of the triggers for revolutionary activity in Russia. When the public became aware of their relationship, hundreds of explicit cartoons were produced depicting Alexandra and Rasputin in intimate situations. The Russian people detested Rasputin and so he became a cult figure in pop culture, eventually inspiring the Boney M song with the same name.

The 1st Edition Cover of Animal Farm by George Orwell
An allegory of the Russian Revolution, the 1st Edition cover of Animal Farm by George Orwell, 1945. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

5. An Inspiration for Animal Farm

It is often argued that the events that took place in this period were the original inspiration for George Orwell’s, Animal Farm, published in 1945. The popular uprising that took place amongst the Russian people is said to be behind the animals in Manor Farm uniting together to overthrow the controlling, Mr. Jones. Furthermore, the pigs of the farm are supposedly representative of the original commanders of the revolution with their figurehead, Old Major, dying after the revolution just like Lenin did.

Mugshot of Stalin, 1911
The mugshot of a 33-year-old Joseph Stalin, 1911. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

6. Stalin’s Unlikely Beginnings

Stalin was the dictator of the former Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until 1953 and was historically one of the most ruthless and oppressive leaders in modern history. His rise to power was fast and he was quickly cemented as the head of the communist party, a political life that was a far cry from his upbringing in remote Georgia. It is said that Stalin grew up in poverty with his mother. At school, Stalin was known to have enjoyed poetry, creative writing, and music. Whilst studying, Stalin actually published five of his poems in a Georgian newspaper, under the name, ‘Soselo’.

Women marching in petrograd, russia which in part sparked the beginning of the Russian Revolution. 1917
Women’s protest for bread and peace in Petrograd, Russia, March 1917. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

7. Women in The Revolution

Many don’t know that it was actually an International Women’s Day march that first prompted the February Revolution. Women from across Russia took to the streets of Petrograd (modern-day, St Petersburg) to protest for more bread and an increase in rations for their families following the war. The feminist activity didn’t stop there though, women continued to campaign to the Bolsheviks for better working conditions and an end to the war. Furthermore, a staggering 80,000 women were said to have been enlisted in the Red Army.

The first US ambassador to the Soviet Union following the Russian Revolution, William C. Bullitt, 1933
The first US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, William C. Bullitt, 1933. Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

8. The U.S.A and The Soviet Union

The majority of Europe began recognizing the Soviet Union pretty much as soon as the revolution had been won and a government had been established. However, the USA refused to recognize the Soviet Union at all until 1933 and continued referring to the country as Russia up until that point.

Lenin's Mausoleum in the Red Square, in Moscow, Russia
Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square, Moscow, Russia. Andrew Shiva // CC BY-SA 4.0

9. You Can Still See Lenin

Following Lenin’s sudden death in 1924, his body was embalmed following an autopsy and the state decided to keep his body in a temperature-controlled sarcophagus. You can still visit Lenin today and it is believed that the Russian government still employs around 200 scientists to keep the body maintained and properly embalmed. He has been laid to rest wearing a typical black suit from the time and it is believed, with proper maintenance, he will be laid to rest there for centuries to come. 

Retrospectively, the Russian Revolution was a fascinating time of great change and political activity. The overthrow of the Romanov family saw the introduction of communism into the country and, eventually, the establishment of the Soviet Union that ruled for most of the 20th century.

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