On the eve of the First World War, Russia was ripe for revolution. For centuries, the country had been the most autocratic of European empires, the disparity between its rich and poor the widest, the rights of its people the most limited. Making matters worse, the Russian military suffered a string of humiliating losses in the 19th century, culminating it its crushing defeat to Japan in 1905. And Nicholas II, the tsar, was hopelessly inadequate, in denial of his own weaknesses and that of his deteriorating empire. The revolution was coming, led by two of the 20th century’s most significant figures: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov and Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. We know them as Lenin and Stalin.
Lenin, a lawyer turned agent provocateur, sought a government based on the teachings of Karl Marx—one where the evils of capitalism are eschewed for a more perfect socialist workers’ paradise. He was well aware of the perils associated with radical revolution. His old brother was hanged in 1887 for plotting to assassinate Nicholas’s father, Tsar Alexander II. Lenin was not satisfied with the modest reforms. He denounced the imperial government and called for outright revolution, but from exile in London, there was not much he could do—until the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June, 1914, presented him with a golden opportunity to remake the world.
By 1917, popular outrage over heavy Russian losses and wartime privations coupled with the previous and longstanding dissatisfaction with the imperial government resulted in a series of strikes, mutinies, and demonstrations collectively known as the February Revolution. By the end of that month, the collapse of the monarchy was inevitable. Nicholas formally abdicated on 2 March. A month later, Lenin returned to Russia from his Western European exile, famously hidden in a sealed train car. In July, Alexander Kerensky was named Prime Minister of the provisional government—but the situation was far from settled.
The Bolsheviks gained ultimate control of the country during the October Revolution of 1917, with Lenin at the helm. The so-called White Army, forces loyal to the tsar, continued to fight, even after Russia pulled out of the Great War on 3 March, 1918; their dogged resistance to the Bolsheviks, now called the Communists, compelled the former to execute Tsar Nicholas and the entire royal family on 17 July. Lenin himself was seriously injured in an assassination attempt a month later.
After the execution of the royal family, a corps of White Army soldiers, led by Baron Wrangel, besieged the city of Tsaritsyn, whose military chairman was Josef Stalin. Under Stalin’s savvy leadership, the Reds repelled Wrangel and his troops. The city of Tsaritsyn was subsequently named Stalingrad. Further internecine hostilities ended in 1920 with the triumph of the Communists. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established in 1922, with Lenin at the helm and Stalin as General Secretary. Lenin died two years later, leaving Stalin in charge of the Communist nation.
Certificate of Authenticity
These two issues feature the portraits of the two fathers of the Russian Revolution, V.I. Lenin and Josef Stalin.
Russia, 1 ruble | KM-141 | 31 mm
Issued in 1970 to commemorate the centennial of Lenin’s birth. Obverse features right facing portrait. National arms divide CCCP on reverse.
Czechoslovakia, 100 korun | KM-30 | W: 14 g; D: 31 mm; 0.5000 silver, 0.2250 ASW
Issued in 1949 by the Soviet satellite state of Czechoslovakia to honor the leader of the USSR on his 70th birthday. One of only two coins to ever feature Stalin’s portrait.