This collection of Russian Revolution trivia and unusual facts has been collected and compiled by Alpha History authors.
The 1881 assassination of Tsar Alexander II was commemorated with the construction of a cathedral, the Church of the Spilled Blood, on the site where his assassins struck. Located on the Griboedov Canal, the cathedral is today one of Saint Petersburg’s most popular tourist sites.
The Russian Imperial Army lost approximately one million soldiers between 1825 and 1855 – not in war but from disease, malnutrition and hypothermia.
Karl Marx was broke for much of his adult life and several times was forced to rely on gifts or charity from wealthy friends. His writing partner, Frederick Engels, often gave Marx money to prevent him from starving.
Six Narodnaya Volya members (four men and two women) were arrested and sentenced to death for their role in the murder of Alexander II. The execution of one woman was deferred because she was pregnant; she later died in a tsarist labour camp.
In 1891, shortly before his ascension to the throne, the future Nicholas II paid an official visit to Osaka, Japan. There, he was approached by a local man and struck on the head with a sword. The incident left Nicholas with a permanent scar – and possibly a negative view of Japan and its people.
Tsarina Alexandra’s first significant public appearance was at the funeral of her father-in-law, Alexander III. Superstitious Russians interpreted this a bad omen, one reportedly commenting that the future tsarina “comes to us behind a coffin”.
Unlike most arranged royal marriages, which were prone to lovelessness, Nicholas II and Alexandra were deeply in love and fond of shows of affection. In private conversation and correspondence, the Tsar and Tsarina referred to each other using more than a dozen pet names, including “Sunny”, “Little Wifey”, “Blue Boy”, “Spitzbub”, “Sweetest Girly”, “Loveykins” and “Pussy-mine”.
The Bolsheviks who initiated a split in the Social Democrats (SDs) in 1903 were not only the majority, they were also much younger. The average age of Bolshevik SDs was just 30; the Mensheviks in comparison had an average age of 39.
Maria Spiridonova, the radical SR leader, once assassinated a police chief by shooting him in the face.
Nicholas II and his ministers treated the State Duma (1906-1917) with disinterest and, at times, contempt. Goremykin, the Tsar’s chief minister for much of World War I, attended the Duma as his duties required – but he often used his visits to catch up on sleep.
As well as appalling treatment by their employers, the miners at Lena River also had to contend with dangerous Siberian wildlife. Several miners were killed or taken by hungry bears, while the region was also infested with huge mosquitos.
Like most other nations, Russia introduced food rationing and price controls during World War I. One particularly unpopular measure was the tsarist government’s banning of vodka production. Ostensibly an attempt to conserve potato crops for food, it also hoped to reduce drinking and encourage sobriety during the war.
According to one apocryphal story, Grigori Rasputin’s sexual prowess was due to his large penis – and a strategically placed wart on its end. Both delivered significant pleasure to his lovers.
While attending the Yar, a Moscow restaurant, a drunken Rasputin bragged of his influence in the royal court – and specifically over the Tsarina, who he referred to as “the old girl”. When challenged about his identity, Rasputin jumped onto the table, opened his trousers and began waving his genitals at onlookers. The incident caused a sensation among Muscovites and was later reported to the tsar.
After the February Revolution, Rasputin’s grave was forced open by drunken soldiers. They dragged out Rasputin’s corpse, dismembered it, set it alight then scattered the remains.
Today, Rasputin is still venerated in some parts of Russia. He is remembered both as a holy figure and a representative and figurehead of Russia’s suffering peasantry. In these areas, the less appealing aspects of Rasputin’s history are disregarded as propaganda.
After the unsuccessful July Days rebellion, Vladimir Lenin escaped Russia by shaving off his beard, donning the clothes of a fisherman and sailing to Finland. He would remain there until a few days prior to the October Revolution.
At the beginning of 1917, the Bolsheviks had about 20,000 members. By September this had increased tenfold, to more than 200,000 members.
The term ‘useful idiots’ is often attributed to Lenin, who reportedly used it to describe liberals who could be manipulated or exploited. There is no extant historical record of Lenin ever having used this phrase.
Sergei Eisenstein’s 1927 film epic, October, shows the Bolshevik revolution and the storming of the Winter Palace. Many have remarked that these recreations were bigger than the events themselves. Eisenstein’s power and lighting needs were so great that Petrograd endured several blackouts during filming. More people died in accidents on the film set than were killed during the storming of the Winter Palace.
After his flight from Petrograd, Alexander Kerensky married an Australian journalist, Lydia Tritton. The two lived briefly in Australia after World War II, Kerensky delivering several lectures at Melbourne University and holidaying in Surfers Paradise.
In its first month, the new Bolshevik government issued approximately 100 new decrees, most establishing laws and forming government agencies.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, several notable members of the Black Hundreds fled Russia to Italy and Germany and became members of fascist and Nazi groups.
The Bolsheviks moved the Russian capital to Moscow in early 1918 after German troops moved within 100 miles of the outskirts of Petrograd, prompting fears that the capital may fall.
Studies have revealed that the Bolshevik revolution was followed by a ‘sexual revolution’ in Russia. The reduced influence of the church, as well as liberated social views, led to an increase in sexual activity outside of marriage. Homosexuality remained a criminal offence in most Western countries but was decriminalised by the Soviet government in 1922. Some notable Bolsheviks embraced ‘free love’, keeping multiple sexual partners or open marriages.
Some historians have claimed that Lenin himself once lived in a virtual menage a trois (three-way relationship) with his wife, Krupskaya, and the French-born Bolshevik Inessa Armand. The three certainly lived together for a time, while letters between Lenin and Armand do reveal a strong affection, though there is no compelling evidence that they had a sexual relationship.
Lenin devoted almost all of his time to revolutionary politics, so had few personal interests. Among his few occasional hobbies were walking, ice skating, playing chess and listening to Beethoven. Lenin once remarked that he avoided listening to Beethoven too much, because it made him think “stupid nice things” and want to “stroke the heads of people”.
After the Bolshevik seizure of power, General Lavr Kornilov became a White Army commander during the Russian Civil War. He was killed in 1918 when a Red Army shell landed on his field headquarters. Kornilov’s body was buried in a village but Red soldiers later dug it up and tore it apart.
The Cheka was the first of several Soviet secret police agencies, later being superseded by the OGPU (1922) the NKVD (1934) and the KGB (1941). The methods and techniques of the CHEKA were studied, embraced and adopted by all these agencies.
Maria Spirodonova was handed a long prison sentence in the wake of the 1918 Left SR uprising in Moscow. During her prison term, CHEKA agents would march Spiridonova into woods, telling her she was going to be shot in the head (a common CHEKA tactic to intimidate prisoners).
February 23rd is ‘Red Army Day’ in Russia. It commemorates the first mass conscription of soldiers into the Red Army in early 1918. On this day women give small gifts to male friends and family, to acknowledge the military service and sacrifices of Russian men.
Around 120 Australian soldiers participated in the Russian Civil War, as volunteers with British detachments in southern Russia. Two Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the British Empire while fighting there.
US president Woodrow Wilson sent 13,000 American soldiers to fight in the Russian Civil War, contrary to the wishes of Congress. American troops fought mostly in the northern regions of Arkhangelsk and Vladivostok, where conditions were so cold that their water-cooled machine guns froze and would not operate.
Cannibalism was common during the devastating Ukrainian famine of 1921. There were dozens of reports of people stealing or dismembering corpses to eat the recently deceased; of selling human flesh as horse meat; even of mothers and fathers eating the bodies of their own children. Some cities banned the sale of unidentifiable meats and hired inspectors to investigate those selling suspicious cuts of meat.
The Nepmen (merchants and traders who emerged during the NEP) operated legally, however, their activities were barely tolerated by the Communist Party and the CHEKA. Nepmen were heavily taxed; they were condemned in party manuscripts; and in some communist propaganda, they were stereotyped as Jews, evidence of lingering anti-Semitism in the new state.
Because the Soviet Union ruled Poland until the late 1980s, the Soviet-Polish War was written out of Polish history books and Polish school curriculums. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Poles did not know it had occurred.
The 10th Party Congress in 1921 was one of Lenin’s last public appearances. In April 1922 he underwent surgery to remove a bullet from his neck and was incapacitated for several weeks. The following month he suffered the first of four major strokes, the last of which took his life.
Lenin’s body remains on display in its original mausoleum in Red Square, Moscow, almost 90 years after his death. It is open to the public for three hours each day; visitors are subject to strict rules about photography, behaviour and noise while inside the mausoleum. There have been many calls for Lenin’s body to be removed from display and buried, however, the government has so far resisted these.
Though Stalin denounced anti-Semitism, there are dozens of records of him using anti-Semitic insults or remarks. He called his fellow Bolsheviks Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev “the three Yids” (a disparaging term for Jews). When his daughter Svetlana began a love affair with a Jewish filmmaker, the outraged Stalin had him exiled to a labour camp.
Leon Trotsky was murdered in his Mexico home in 1940 by an agent working for his old enemy, Joseph Stalin. The murder weapon was an icepick, driven into the back of Trotsky’s skull. His killer was arrested but later deported to the Soviet Union, where he was hailed as a hero and decorated with medals.
In 2008 a Russian TV station conducted a public poll on the greatest Russian in history. Medieval leader Alexandr Nevsky finished first, tsarist prime minister Petr Stolypin second and Joseph Stalin third.