Pyotr Stolypin – a summary

Born in the German town of Dresden on 14 April 1862, brought up in Lithuania, and studied in St Petersburg, Pyotr Stolypin was to be Russia’s great reformer until an assassin’s bullet did its work.

Pyotr StolypinStolypin’s parents well certainly well-to-do – his father was a successful Russian landowner while his mother was the daughter of a Russian general.

Pyotr Stolypin began his political career with various provincial appointments, including a spell between 1903 – 06 as the governor of the Saratov province. Saratov, a city that sits on the River Volga, was brimming with radicalism. Stolypin dealt harshly with dissenters and potential revolutionaries, often by castration – seen as a means of diminishing testosterone-fuelled revolutionary fervour.

Stolypin’s success in Saratov brought him to the attention of the tsar, Nicholas II. In April 1906, Nicholas appointed Stolypin minister of the interior.

Great and profound sorrow

Following the outbreak of violence in Russia during 1905, and in particular the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in St Petersburg, then Russia’s capital, the tsar (pictured) responded by introducing much needed reform to his empire’s political make-up. On 30 October 1905, he announced his ‘October Manifesto’:

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The Death of Vladimir Lenin

On 21 January 1924, Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, died aged only 53, having suffered three severe strokes.

‘Today I shot at Lenin’

Death of LeninOn 30 August 1918, Vladimir Lenin survived an assassination attempt. His would-be killer, 28-year-old Fanny Kaplan, a Socialist Revolutionary, shot at him three times, hitting Lenin twice – in the jaw and the neck. Interrogated by the Cheka, the state’s secret police, Kaplan said, ‘Today I shot at Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say from whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details.’ She was executed on 3 September. Lenin survived but was weakened by his injuries which, less than six years later, contributed to his early death.

One of the bullets fired into Lenin by Kaplan was only removed in April 1922. The effect of his wounds, together with the strains of revolution, civil war, uprisings and forging a new country, took its toll on Lenin. His workload as head of state was enormous and in latter years he suffered increasingly from fatigue and headaches. He suffered his first stroke in May 1922 which deprived him of speech and impeded his movement. Six months later he returned to work, albeit on a lighter schedule.

Lenin’s Testament

In December 1922, while recuperating, Lenin wrote his ‘Testament’, in which he proposed changes to the structure of the party’s Central Committee and commented on its individual members, including Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin. His most severe criticism was reserved for Joseph Stalin whom he had in April 1922 appointed the party’s General Secretary. Lenin was regretting his haste, questioning the amount of authority placed in Stalin’s hands. Continue reading

Lenin’s Testament – a summary

In December 1922, while recovering from a stroke, Bolshevik party leader, Vladimir Lenin, wrote his 600-word ‘Testament’ in which he proposed changes to the structure of the party’s Central Committee and commented on its individual members, comments that caused turmoil within the party leadership following his death in January 1924.

LeninLenin began his Testament with his concerns over the open antagonism between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, fearing that their hatred of each other would cause a split within the Centre Committee: ‘Relations between them make up the greater part of the danger of a split,’ he wrote. He suggested doubling the membership from 50 to 100.


But it is Lenin’s judgements on individual members of the Centre Committee that make his Testament such a fascinating document. Leon Trotsky, for example, is described as ‘distinguished not only by outstanding ability. He is personally perhaps the most capable man in the present C.C., but he has displayed excessive self-assurance and shown excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of the work.’


Of Nikolai Bukharin, Lenin wrote, he is ‘rightly considered the favorite of the whole Party, but his theoretical views can be classified as fully Marxist only with the great reserve, for there is something scholastic about him.’


There’s also mention of Georgy Pyatakov who is, in Lenin’s words, ‘unquestionably a man of outstanding will and outstanding ability, but shows far too much zeal for administrating and the administrative side of the work to be relied upon in a serious political matter.’

Kamenev and Zinoviev

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Grigori Rasputin – a summary

When Prince Felix Yusupov offered his guest, Grigori Rasputin, refreshments at his palace in St Petersburg on the evening of 29 December 1916, the glass of red wine and his favourite cakes were laced with enough poison to kill five men. Rasputin, however, seemed totally unaffected as he gulped back the wine and wolfed down the cakes.

RasputinDespairing, Yusupov shot Rasputin in the back and then, satisfied, left to join his fellow conspirators. Returning a little later to check on the body, Rasputin sat up and lunged at the prince. The prince’s friends came to his rescue, shooting the ‘mad monk’ a further three times, once in the forehead. But still refusing to die, Rasputin’s attackers resorted to clubbing him senseless then wrapping his body in a blue rug and throwing him in the icy waters of the River Neva.

The subsequent autopsy found that Rasputin had died by drowning, implying he had survived the huge dose of poison, four bullets, and the severe clubbing. Prince Yusupov and his pro-monarchist friends believed they were acting in the best interests of the monarchy.

At least, this is the story that has filtered down through the decades.

The Russian people will be cursed

Rasputin had a sense of his coming demise, warning the tsar, Nicholas II, weeks before his death:

‘I shall depart this life before January first. If one of your relatives causes my death, then none of your children will remain alive for more than two years. And if they do, they will beg for death as they will see the defeat of Russia, see the Antichrist coming, plague, poverty, destroyed churches, and desecrated sanctuaries where everyone is dead. The Russian tsar, you will be killed by the Russian people and the people will be cursed and will serve as the devil’s weapon killing each other everywhere.’

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The October Revolution – a summary

A summary of the October Revolution of 1917.

The Russian tsar, Nicholas II, had been disposed following the February Revolution of 1917 to be replaced by a provisional government, headed by Alexander Kerensky, and aided and hampered in equal measure by the various councils of workers, or ‘soviets’. These soviets comprised of representatives of various socialist parties, including the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. The relatively obscure Bolshevik party, headed by the charismatic Vladimir Lenin, may have preached ‘All power to the Soviets’, but their real aim was for one-party rule.

‘History will not forgive revolutionaries for procrastinating’

The provisional government’s grip on power was tenuous and Lenin (pictured), sensing the time was ripe for a takeover, urged immediate action. On 6 November 1917, he wrote:

The situation is critical in the extreme. It is absolutely clear that to delay the insurrection now will be inevitably fatal. I exhort my comrades with all my heart and strength to realize that everything now hangs by a thread, that we are being confronted by problems that cannot be solved by conferences and congresses but exclusively by the people, the masses, by the struggle of the armed masses. We must at all costs, this very evening, this very night, arrest the Government… We must not wait! We will lose everything! History will not forgive revolutionaries for procrastinating when they can be victorious today, while they risk losing much, in fact, everything, tomorrow.’

The October Revolution in Petrograd (modern day St Petersburg) on 7 November 1917 (25 October, Old Style) was not, in fact, the first socialist uprising within the Russian empire. Two days before, Jaan Anvelt, an Estonian Bolshevik, led a successful uprising in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

‘The Dustbin of History’

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Leon Trotsky – a summary

Born Lev Bronshtein on 7 November 1879 in the village of Yanovka in the Ukraine, Leon Trotsky, the son of a prosperous Jewish farmer, became involved in politics from a young age. Arrested in 1898, Trotsky was exiled to Siberia where he married and had two daughters, both of whom predeceased him. In 1902, he escaped exile using a forged passport bearing the name Trotsky, the name, he later claimed, of a prison guard he had met in Odessa. He made his way to London where, for the first time, he met Vladimir Lenin and joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Following the split of the RSDLP, Trotsky’s loyalty floated between the two factions, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, often repudiating any party ties and holding a stance of non-allegiance. He opposed Lenin on many issues, a stance that was later held against him.

Following the outbreak of disturbances throughout Russia in 1905, Leon Trotsky arrived in St Petersburg and there joined its council of workers, or ‘Soviet’, becoming its chair until its forced break-up by tsarist troops in December. Trotsky, along with other leaders, was arrested and again sentenced to exile in Siberia. But en route, he escaped and made his way to London before settling in Vienna where he founded and wrote a newspaper for Russia’s workers, Pravda, ‘Truth’, earning the nickname, ‘the Pen’, for his writing. With the outbreak of war in 1914, Trotsky, as a Russian, was forced to leave Austria. He lived in Paris until, expelled for his anti-war writings, he emigrated to Spain and then New York, arriving in January 1917.


Trotsky returned to Russia and Petrograd (as St Petersburg was now known) in March 1917 and became, in effect, Lenin’s second-in-command as the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government and set up a new socialist order. (Trotsky turned 38 the day of the October Revolution.)

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The July Days demonstration

In February 1917, at the height of the First World War, the Russian tsarist government was overthrown and the tsar, Nicholas II, was forced to abdicate. A provisional government took power, a coalition of ex-Duma members and moderate socialists – Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, but it could only exist with the powerful support of the workers, represented by councils or ‘soviets’. Between them, the provisional government and the soviets, they ran the country as a ‘dual power’.

Many Russian workers felt they’d been sold short – they’d expected that the February Revolution and the overthrow of the tsar would bring about the end of Russia’s participation in the war. But instead the government was intent on continuing the fight. The provisional government, it seemed, was no less bourgeois than the Romanovs.

‘All power to the Soviets!’

Workers and soldiers took to the streets brandishing the slogan, ‘All power to the Soviets!’ meaning an abolition of the dual power. From 16–20 July (by the Gregorian calendar), half a million workers and soldiers rebelled demanding an immediate end to the war. The demonstration became known as the ‘July Days’. Continue reading

Tsar Nicholas II – a summary

On Sunday 13 March 1881, the 13-year-old Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov, the future tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, was accompanying his father and grandfather on a carriage through the streets of St Petersburg. His grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, had been to see his routine Sunday morning parade, despite advice that there were plots to have him assassinated. The tsar insisted on keeping to his routine but on this morning would pay for his obstinacy. A bomb thrown by a member of a terrorist group called the People’s Will killed the tsar. It was, for the young Nicholas, a terrible scene to have to witness.

Alexander II had been a reformer and a liberal, introducing 20 years earlier the emancipation of the serfs and keen to introduce a raft of new reforms. In consequence of the tsar’s violent end, his son and the new tsar, Alexander III, undid much of Alexander II’s reforms, suppressed liberalism and brought back the full force of autocracy.

The new tsar intended to start teaching his son the art of statesmanship once Nicholas had reached the age of 30. But on 1 November 1894, aged only 49, Alexander III died of kidney disease. His son was still only 26. Thus, following the death of his father, Nicholas (pictured) was thrust unprepared into the limelight. Fearful of the responsibility that was now his to bear, he reputedly asked, ‘What will become of me and all of Russia?’

The Khodynka Tragedy

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The February Revolution – a summary

8 March 1917 saw the February Revolution on the streets of Russia’s then capital, St Petersburg. Rupert Colley summarizes the events leading up to the revolution, the revolution itself and the abdication of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II.

(Up until January 1918, Russia used the ‘Old Styled’ Julian Calendar that was 13 days behind our Gregorian calendar, hence the revolution of 8 March is referred to as the ‘February Revolution’.)

Bloody Sunday

Twelve years earlier, the Russian Revolution of 1905, triggered by the events of Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg, heralded the beginning of the end for the Russian tsar, Nicholas II. Strikes and insurrection crippled the country eventually forcing Nicholas to introduce his ‘October Manifesto’: ‘The disturbances and unrest in St Petersburg, Moscow and in many other parts of our Empire have filled our heart with great and profound sorrow… Fundamental civil freedoms will be granted to the population, including real personal inviolability, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association.’

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Russia’s Bloody Sunday, 1905

On Sunday, 22 January 1905, (9 January Old Style) the workers of St Petersburg organised a peaceful demonstration to demand political and constitutional reform. 150,000 demonstrators, including whole families, led by an Orthodox priest, Father Georgi Gapon, marched through the city streets armed with a petition to be presented to the tsar, Nicholas II.


Although trade unions were banned, Father Gapon had been allowed to set up a workers’ assembly in 1904 under the supervision of the Tsar’s secret police, the Okhrana, with whom he had ties. In early January 1905, after four assembly members were sacked from their jobs at the huge Putilov Plant in St Petersburg, Gapon called his workers out on strike. The strike spread and culminated with the march on the Winter Palace and the delivery of the petition.

God Save the Tsar

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