17 Facts about the Russian Revolution

Tristan Hughes

4 mins

06 Nov 2018

The Russian Revolution is one of the most seminal events of the 20th century, ushering in a new form of politics to a major world power. Its effects are still well felt in the world today, with Russia having never fully shed the effects eighty years of Communist Party rule and the autocracy that preceded it. Here are 17 facts about the Russian Revolution.

1. There were actually two Russian Revolutions in 1917

The February Revolution (8 – 16 March) overthrew Tsar Nicholas II and installed a Provisional Government. This was itself overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution (7 – 8 November).

2. The dates of the Revolutions are slightly confusing

Although these revolutions occurred in March and November, they are referred to as the February and October Revolutions respectively because Russia was still using the old-style Julian Calendar.

3. Severe Russian losses in World War One contributed heavily to growing dissent in 1917

Russian military blundering had led to combatant losses in the millions, while hundreds of thousands of civilians had died or been displaced due to the effects of the war. Meanwhile, economic hardship was mounting at home.

Top up your knowledge of the key events of World War One with this audio guide series on HistoryHit.TV. Listen Now

4. 12 March was the decisive day of the February Revolution in 1917

Unrest had been building in Petrograd throughout March. On 12 March, the Volinsky Regiment mutinied and by nightfall 60,000 soldiers had joined the Revolution.

This revolution was one of the most spontaneous, unorganised and leaderless mass revolts in history.

5. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated on 15 March

His abdication marked the end of over 300 years of Romanov rule over Russia.

The last Tsar and his family may have been dead for a century. But great nostalgia for the Romanovs continues to persist amongst Russians. Find out more in this audio guide on HistoryHit.TV. Watch Now

6. The Provisional Government continued the war with Germany with devastating consequences

During the Summer of 1917 the new Minister for War, Alexander Kerensky, attempted a large-scale Russian attack called the July Offensive. It was a military catastrophe that destabilised an already unpopular government, sparking unrest and domestic demands to end the war.

Russian infantry practising manoeuvres some time before 1914, date not recorded. Credit: Balcer~commonswiki / Commons.

7. The October Revolution of 1917 was spearheaded by the Bolshevik Party

The Bolsheviks considered themselves the leaders of the revolutionary working class of Russia.

8. The principal figures in the October Revolution were Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky

Lenin had formed the Bolshevik organisation back in 1912 and had been in exile until just before the October Revolution. Meanwhile Trotsky was a member of the Bolshevik Central Committee.

A painting of Vladimir Lenin in exile.

9. The October Revolution was a prepared and organised coup d’etat

Seeing the anarchy that engulfed Russia following the February Revolution, the Bolsheviks had started making detailed preparations for an uprising long before it occurred (in complete contrast to the first revolution). On October 25 Lenin and Trotsky’s followers seized many strategic points in Petrograd.

10. The Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in Petrograd on 7 November

Formerly a residence of the Tsar, in November 1917 the Winter Palace was the headquarters of the Provisional Government. Although there was some resistance, the storming was almost bloodless.

The Winter Palace today. Credit: Alex ‘Florstein’ Fedorov / Commons.

11. The October Revolution established the permanent dictatorship of the Bolsheviks…

Following the overthrow of the Provisional Government, Lenin’s new state was called the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

12. …but this was not accepted by everyone

Civil War broke out in Russia in late 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution. It was fought between those supporting Lenin and his Bolsheviks, ‘the Red Army’, and a conglomeration of anti-Bolshevik groups: ‘the White Army’.

Bolshevik forces advance during the Russian Civil War.

13. The Russian Civil War was one of the bloodiest conflicts in history

Having suffered greatly in World War One, Russia was engulfed another hugely destructive conflict. At least 5 million people died as the result of fighting, famine and disease. It lasted until 1922, and some anti Bolshevik rebellions were not extinguished until the 1930s.

14. The Romanovs were assassinated in 1918

The former Russian royal family were held under held under house arrest in Yekaterinburg. On the night of 16-17 July 1918, the former Tsar, his wife, their five children and others who had accompanied them in their imprisonment were executed. The execution allegedly happened at Lenin’s own request.

The last Tsar and his family may have been dead for a century. But great nostalgia for the Romanovs continues to persist amongst Russians. Find out more in this audio guide on HistoryHit.TV. Watch Now

15. Lenin died shortly after the Bolshevik victory

The Red Army won the Russian Civil War, but the Communist leader died after a series of strokes on 21 January 1924. One of the most influential people of the 20th century, his body was put on show in a mausoleum in the centre of Moscow, and the Communist Party developed a personality cult around their former leader.

16. Josef Stalin won the ensuing power struggle for party leadership

Stalin was General Secretary of the Central Committee and used his office to outmanoeuvre his political opponents during the 1920s. By 1929 his main rival and former Red Army leader Leon Trotsky was forced into exile, and Stalin became de facto dictator of the Soviet Union.

17. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an allegory of the Russian Revolution

In Orwell’s novella (published in 1945), the animals of Manor Farm unite against their drunken master Mr Jones. The pigs, as the most intelligent animals, assume command of the revolution, but their leader Old Major (Lenin) dies.

Two pigs, Snowball (Trotsky) and Napoleon (Stalin) battle for political control of the farm. Eventually, Napoleon is victorious, with Snowball being forced into exile. However, many of the ideas which drove the revolution are extinguished, and the farm returns to a mode of autocracy as it was at the beginning, with the pigs assuming the previous role of the humans.