Pre-communist Russia

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Many people wonder, how did Russia look like before the Communists takeover in 1917.
It’s not well known that in that times Russia was a normal capitalistic state and stayed in good relations with other Western states.
Here is a big hundred photo set of Russia at that times, in color. It seems it was a pretty nice place to live.

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85 thoughts on “Pre-communist Russia”

    • Looks really nice in those pictures, but for the majority it certainly wasn’t very nice living there, there was no democracy and was incredibly unfair towards the working-class.
      And after years of famine, the starvation was so severe that there are accounts of people resorting to cannibalism and even selling human body parts in markets.

  1. The pictures truly describe the beauty of Russia prior to the Communists… but do not forget that most of the population was very poor, as it was also in many countries in the West. There was very little middle classes…

  2. Hmm… it shows people strolling, no-one seems to be in any hurry at all…

    I wonder how it would have been to walk in these places at these times, how peaceful and clean…

    I hope no-one will ruin everything by typing the p-word (photoshop) here…

  3. These are such delightful historic photos. Every picture tells a story, but what is the one behind the huge bell in photo seven?

    • It is the largest bell ever cast. The chunk on the ground wieghs 17 ton and broke off when the mold was removed. It was set on a pedistal and never used.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsar_bell
      http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Tsar_Bell?uselang=ru
      http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Царь-колокол

  4. Actually pictures above are not only from Russia, but also Poland and Ukraine being under occupation of Tsar’s Russia. And unfortunately life wasn’t so bright that time… Russian Tzars were as cruel as communists, they had political police called Okhranka the same as comunist NKVD. And there is lots of similarities like that, so actualy it was only change in the names…

  5. Some of the pictures show cities in the countries occupied then (after the division of Poland) by Russian Empire (Warsaw, Poland; Vilnius, Lithuania, Minsk, Bielorussia etc) – and these cities and regions were among the richest in the Empire

    • All of the above actually FORMED the Russian Empire at the time.

      To say they were occupied, is the same as saying Scotland, Wales and Ireland are still being occupied by Britain (United Kingdom).

      Just like every European city Minsk, Vilnius, Warsaw changed owners hands with every war (of which there were many in Europe) and over time they were governed under Austria, Germany, Lithuania, etc

      So do not imply it as an occupation just under Russian Empire because thats how it was at the time.

      • Hmm 🙂 What you write is not true..
        For example Wasaw was always Polish.. or under Russian occupation for 125 years only in whole history. So learn more.. But you are right, at that time it was part of Russian empire.. Isn’t it interesting that most beauty cities presented are NOT originated by Russian nation. Just under temporary occupation. Occupation, that is point of view of presented city’s citizens. If you don’t agree.. i would like to remind you three uprising against Russian empire among that time. It took place on current territory of Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland.. Unfortunately all of them where bloody stamp on by Russia.

  6. The best are pictures of Warsaw (Warszawa) current (and old) capital of Poland. Poland still have something against russia but not as much as against germany.

  7. There were many crimes meda by Tsar army. Some war crimes in XVIII and XIX century costed lives of tens of thousends Poles (Warsaw defence in 1794, Polish risings in 1831, 1863).
    But, in fact, scale of crimes and terror was much, much higher in times of Soviet Russia (later – Soviet Union).
    The XX c. with the leftist ideologies (communismus and national socialismus) was real hell on the Earth.

    Fortunately, after Russia-Polish war in 1919-1921 the ‘new age’ crimes didn’t concernd (until 1939) to Poles and milions of Jews, Ukrainiens, Bielorusians, Balts who were on the Polish side of border.

      • I don’t know what Mr Klich will say (majority of politicians is not great enough to observe every speech and every decision). Probably as other Polish politicians (except for the Left) he will enforce the best resolution with US-politicians to create the shield.

        Clever people in Poland know that the creating of common military structures with USA is the best ‘insurence policy’.
        It’s for that reason that USA would have a reason to fight with Poland in case of war. And naturaly nobody will make any war with Poland when it starts a war with USA, too.
        For us there are, of course, ‘only’ two countries which may be a future agressor – Germany and Russia. The second option only in case of appearance of new emipre (new Union with Ukraina, Bielorus). The first option is ‘impossible’ for every looking in ‘modern way’ guy.
        The two options are ‘impossible’ 🙂 but clever people want have a good insurance policy.

        P.S. There is other topic of the world military balance (of determent) but it’s … other topic.
        Sorry for late answer but I was on short rest (without comp).

  8. Great pictures. Might I suggest that next time you use thumbnails with links to the full-size images. As it stands now, I needed a long time for them to load on my medium-speed DSL connection, and several of them timed out on me.

  9. This is not a true representation of Russia before the Communist takeover. Russia was not simply a “normal capitalist state”. These pictures depict the richest of areas in pre-Communist Russia. The luxuries and technology shown here were only available to a tiny percentage of the population. Many more lived in meager and sometimes harsh existences. The Communist revolution would not have happened if this rosy picture set was an accurate example of life for the average Russian. Rather, desperation forced the people to follow such a dramatic revolution.

  10. It is very interesting to see pre communist russia. It does look very beautiful i must say. I always wonder if the communist never took over would capitalism have corrected itself and how would russia be different today in terms of russian attitudes and the way the country looks. It does look very clean and peaceful, i would love to go back in time and visit these places.

    • Oh, you would not recognize it! 🙁

      If only Bolsheviks would not have gained power in 1917 after the democratic revolution few months earlier, the country now would be modern, enlightened and democratic, culturally and industrially developed place. No doubt it would be one of the centers of Western civilization. St. Petersburg would be Something like North-Eastern Paris.

      Sounds a surprising thing to say, but Russia then was much more West-orientated than now. Also, many of the Russia’s politicians and other influental people were non-Russians. Especially Baltic Germans, from lands acquired from Sweden in XVIII century after the Northern War were very active. Also many expatriates from elsewhere in Europe were there.

      Modern Russia has very little in common with that. It is just a painted over, upgraded version of USSR.

      • Wow thats amazing. Yea i wouldnt doubt it that russia could have been one of the top western nations and extremely advance had the bolsheviks not taken over. It was great leaders like Peter the Great that wanted Russia to be modern and prosperous. I really like Peter the great he transformed St.petersburg into a beautiful city. I know the communist sympathizers will probably bash me for my comments but they are brainwashed so I dont mind. But its true that the Soviets kept Russia some what backwards. Any new ideas and innovations were shunned if they didnt agree with party doctrine its hard for knowledge and people to flourish under suppressed circumstances. Well Thank you real historian saratov your comment was very informative.

      • You know “Real Historian (from) Saratov”, you could be right. But I am suspicious, Imperial Rossiya was imitative Western mainly in its cities, much of the rest was rural, backward in the extreme, and ‘oriental’.

        This leaves me wondering if any very great change would have occured with no 1914-1922 war/revolution/civil war butchery. There would have had to be a different response to the 1905 events, to the even earlier Anarchist, Marxist, and other revolutionary Socialist movements. Stolypin and others, like the best Tsar the Russkis ever had, could not have been murdered (1880), or the country would not advance.

        Your history as a people is just bedeviled with catastrophe after disaster. Even your present experience with self government seems blasted with maximum leaders, and maximum criminal gangs.

        Putin is of ‘the organs’. I wish you luck. Gerry

  11. “A pretty nice place to live”, without Communism? Never!

    We, the Soviets, cleaned up the capitalist diseases, for the glory of our people!

  12. Come on! Don’t ruin the feeling! 😉

    Of course you are right.

    But just imagine walking down St. Petersburg street in a lazy sunlit Sunday afternoon among pretty Russian ladies wishing them “Gutten Tag” or “Bonjour!”(Top classes avoided using Russian,they preferred French or German).

  13. Отличная подборка городов России. Приятно видеть это на зурубежных сайтах. Так держать и не забывайте Россию!

  14. If communists hadn’t taken over, nazi germany may have. Communism was vital to the great patriotic war. Anyone can look back at history and say what events could have had a major impact, but its different if you are actually living in those times.

  15. Wow if i wouldnt know that they were made in russia i could have though about some pics that they were made in hungary. Many buildings and churches look exactly the same in hungary.. i guess it was a general design at those times. Buenos aires has very similar architecture too.

  16. I agree with Saratov. Before WWI Russia was destined to become a prosperous country. It had a small middle class but it was rapidly growing. Russia was still governed by an old-fashioned czarist regime, but there were some very capable politicians in the government (Stolypin, Witte,…). Stolypin was murdered because the communists feared that under his reforms the farmers would become too prosperous, which would make their so-called ‘socialist dream’ unpossible. Someone here said that the Okhranka was the same as the NKVD, but let’s not forget: the Okhranka arrested people and brought them before a court with honest judges. They got a fair trial. And above all, the Okhranka didn’t torture. The NKVD was a much more brutal force.

  17. I just noticed that one of these photos is labeled “Warszawa”, which is Polish name of our capital – Warsaw. Yes, Russa, Germany and Austria gained control over Poland for over 100 years, but calling Warsaw “Russia” is not right. Sorry guys, we made it out of this beautiful country pretty soon ;P.

    • After the Napoleonic wars Poland came under Russian Czar as a Congress Kingdom, and possessed a liberal constitution.

      It was basically its own government just labeled under Russian Empire. It basically had freedom to govern and retain its culture as it liked but was under the Russian protection.

      Its either that or did you want to learn French or German?

      • You’re asking a Pole whether, before the Nazis, he’d rather be under German or French occupation, instead of Russian? Is there something wrong with your head?

  18. Ok, the other one is “Wilno” which is Vilnus. It’s even labeled in Polish language, and I really doubt it comes from period when Russia had control over it (it wouldn’t be in Polish!). Again – it’s not Russia – clearly it’s Lithuania. But nice picture ;).

  19. i myself a favourate to russia .i studied which the reserection written by leo tolstoy.i understood the human living conditions which was presented by leo tolstoy. and
    later which revolutionary spirit dedicated to the modern construction of soviat russia that stands and inspirates
    as a role model of any under developed,devolping countries
    or families or persons depends on their understanding.

  20. It is not only Russia, it is Russian Empire. Some photos are from former Poland (now Lithuana), Lativia, Azerbeijan, Georgia, Uzbekhistan… So be more precise, please 🙂 Photos, BTW, are really nice. Real old-timers…

  21. How many people were killed in 19th century Tsar’s Russia? How many people were killed in Lenin and Stalin’s Russia? Which would you prefer to live in?

  22. Some of those pictures are made in Poland and Ukraine. Ignorant author says that those countries were part of Russian Imperium. That is a lie. Poland never have the will to be part of “The Imperium”. The truth is it was under cruel occupancy. The occupant was trying to destroy the nation, but IT didn’t work out. Thank God!!! Many people died, suffered and fought against occupants- Russia and Germany. If somebody say: lovely pictures, beautiful life back than – is foolish!!! There is one true history and no matter how hard “you” try to change it, you will FAIL; because the truth will be coming out to light over and over again :).

  23. Ignorance is impossible to dismiss.
    Showing Vilnius , Warsaw , Riga or Minsk as part of Russia is dumb.
    Only ignorant Americans won’t catch that….

  24. Warsaw Vilnius, Riga, Tallina, Kiev and Minsk was part of Russian Empire. It’s called hictory. And you can’t change that, so relax. Esatern europeans should worie abot more recent issues.

    • Well, the Russians who live in eastern Europe acting like they are going to restore their empire are our greatest problem.

  25. If that empire had not fell apart many countries had not gained their independency. Well, they lost it after WW2, but I would not want in any other way. There were many nationalities living in the Russian Empire and in the USSR that were oppresed by the Russians, it is great that for the last 20 years they are able to decide for themselves.

    The people in my country had waited 800 years to get our land back. By the way, Riga still looks as beatiful as you can see it in those pictures.

  26. I agree. Before WW2 the Baltics had reached a great level of developement and they had not been forced to join the USSR they nowadays had been just as developed as Skandinavia. I is sad that the world does not now the horror that the people here expierenced just after WW2. Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians and many other peoples in the USSR suffered just as much as the Hebrews in Nazi Germany and the countries it had occupied.

    • Another nod in agreement. I am in no way a supporter of the USSR, but I am morally ok with Russia’s Union with Central Asia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Taking the Baltics however was criminal and did those nations no benefit.
      But they are recovering fast. Estonia is reaching the levels of Finland economically (it’s halfway there). Latvia has it a bit harder maybe, especially with almost half of the population Russians. Lithuania should work with Poland. They once were both great nations, and don’t deserve second-class status in Europe. The Baltics will fare very well in the next 20 years, I believe. They have everything going for them.
      And, as for Ukraine, I still feel it should rejoin Russia, in some Union with Belarus, and all the -stans. I’m sure a lot of Ukrainians would see it otherwise. Oh, and the Caucasus are probably unrecoverable in every sense. Georgia/Azerbaijan/Armenia want mostly nothing to do with Russia, and there would be little mutual benefit bringing them back into a Union. They are better off moving towards the EU, and Russia must be careful around Georgia; theoretically, I could support a Russian re-occupation of Georgia, but it would probably be more harm than good in the long run.

  27. Lovely though it is (and thank you for posting it): notice how this image set consists entirely of panoramic shots of buildings? If it’s meant to give an impression of the prosperity of daily life pre-Soviet Russia, that’s not what it’s doing.

    In fact, even though obviously meant to portray Tsarist Russia as prosperous, what these images show is a fairly poor and backward country trying to ape Western architecture and fashion; it’s intriguing how many images show grand edifices spanning or abutting dirt tracks. Russia’s eagerness to be party to the European Concert (symbolized by this veneer of Gallic sophistication) ultimately drew her into the web of alliances that produced World War One. This was a world that discredited and destroyed itself through its own short-sightedness, a supposedly mighty state that couldn’t even square off with the recently-emergent Japan and win.

    Moreover, this was the world that created the Bolsheviks. The rosy view an earlier poster expressed of the Okhrana is ridiculous. Aside from using torture — which it’s exceedingly naive to think they didn’t do — the Okhrana was infamous for sponsoring agents provocateurs (many of them assassins, including Stolypin’s assassin), inciting the radical left through the creation of false labour unions, perpetrating anti-Semitic fabrications like the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and outrages like the Beilis Trial, inventing the practice of shipping dissenters off to Siberian prison camps. The Okhrana, as much a tool of Tsarist far right against the centre-right as it was an anti-revolutionary instrument, did a great deal to undermine the order it was supposedly defending. The Bolsheviks that history knows were a byproduct of this Tsarist self-immolation; in a competently-run state they would have been irrelevant.

  28. Doctor Slack,

    I was the one who expressed that rosy view on okhrana.
    You’re actually right, but let me add some things. Alexander II had abolished torture in the end of the 19th century. I read somewhere that people who were arrested weren’t tortured by the police until 1905. Because the authorities feared another revolution, torture methods were allowed again, and there were torture rooms in three major cities. You’re also right about the anti-semitic fabrications. I do not agree at all with okhrana methods, but it is known that there were a lot of people in okhrana who were quite aware of the real situation in Russia. Some of them were even sympathetic to the revolution, who were aware that something had to change. My point is, that there was still some humanity. When you read about the Cheka during the Red Terror and thereafter, you can see that those times were much more horrible: brutal tortures, mass executions, children betraying there parents, rape,.. So in my opinion, the Cheka/nkvd/.. was much worse than Okhrana.

  29. And about Stolypin: you’re probably right that he was assassinated by the conservative entourage of the Czar, but we’ll never know.. After the murderer was hanged, further investigation was cancelled. What i think that Russia needed to become a modern democratic state was: Stolypin, Witte, at least 30 years of peace, the abolishment of the monarchy and the death of Lenin.

  30. Those who say that Tzarist Russia was trying to exterminate populations of Poland, Latvia etc must look at those pictures again. I don’t see burn’t out buildings, people hanging from the poles and things like that. I see a beautiful and prosperous cities, more beautiful then they are today. So it doesn’t make sense to me that in one sentence you praise those cities as being beautiful, and in the other grossly opressed. You can not be opressed and live in a place like that. So drop this argument because of today’s politics. And let’s not forget that biggest opressors of EVERYBODY in USSR was NOT a Russian, so that story about big bad ruskies is really juvenile.
    As for “ocupation” after the WWII, if I remember correctly, Baltic countries were on a losing side of WWII, which is to say that they were Nazi simpatizers, and many left their bones attacking Russia. So I can understand that they had to pay a price for such a thing.
    Also, I see many falling for a propaganda of the day, which is by far much worse than any propaganda that came from USSR. At least old Svoiet propaganda was easy to see thru, whilst propaganda of the western “free” media takes some brains to see thru. If I remember correctly, Russia paid havy, really heavy price defending from those “civilised Western Europeans”. It was not the other way around to justify such propaganda.
    As for those who say had it not been for communism Russia would be prosperous Western state, I say they should get their heads down from the cluds, as Russia will NEVER be accepted by the so called West, no matter how much bending backwards they do, as those “civilised” westerners tend to preffer plundering, stealing and killing everything Russian riches , and everyone else’s for that matter, then anything else. Besides, in my opinion “Europe” as it is defined as only few states that became prosperous on the blood, tears and treasures of the smaller and weaker peoples that couldn’t defend themselves, has nothing to offer to Russia.

    • Would you consider the USA a nice place? France? I can’t think of a country that HASN ‘T had a revolution in its history… maybe Switzerland? Canada? I don’t know; research it for me if you feel like.

  31. As a frequent reader of ‘English Russia’, I am impressed with the progress made to end Communism in Russia. I find this article interesting with respect to the author’s mention of life in the Soviet Union prior to the Communist takeover. Yes, there is absolutely a distinct difference in the two forms of government as evident everywhere you look throughout this website. The present Russian government and administration is doing a remarkable job in ensuring citizens rights and promoting private control and ownership of business and industry. As a result, I believe Russia will continue to prosper and enjoy advances in all aspects of life like never before seen. Russia has always been a proud and motivated country and the Russian citizens are some of the most talented and capable people in the world. Although some in Russia view the United States as their enemy, let me assure you that we are not. We have a genuine respect for Russia and many in my country extend their hands in friendship. In the United States the free-enterprise system and Democratic form of government has worked well and it appears that a similar system is working in Russia. My hope would be that the United States and Russia build a bond that would certainly benefit both countries. We can learn many things from each other. Let me also mention that both countries may face a common enemy in the future and we can both prevail if we unite. An invincible team we would be.

  32. Ilike the potcards no point arguing which country they depict …but I am curious where were those stairs from …It’s incredible that they would have a set of stairs that long …if theywere around still, I’m sure everyone would still talk about them…also there seems to be russian writing on all the pics …does anyone care to translate.

  33. It seems even more a tragedy what the Communists had done, when you see pictures like this and consider how Russia could have developed over the 19th century. Pictures of Japan, for example, from 1950 or so look about this advanced, and within 50 years Japan has matched and overtaken the west. Now China is doing something similar. I firmly believe Russia could now belong to the ranks of peaceful advanced European democracies if history had taken a different course. Of course, it can all still happen that way. I just hope Medvedev and Putin make the right choices.

  34. And to those who argue about Russia’s backwardness, it has always been a schizophrenic nation, including now in the 21st century, straddling the line between 3rd world and 1st world; yet you can’t call it 2nd world either. It is superpower and superpoverty at the same time. A unique and strange country. Again, I hope those in charge make the right choices as Russian history unfolds in a new era.

  35. Would you consider the USA a nice place? France? I can’t think of a country that HASN ‘T had a revolution in its history… maybe Switzerland? Canada? I don’t know; research it for me if you feel like.

    • Sorry. Comment meant for commenter below your.
      To you, I reply, I agree that Europe and Russia have never and will not soon be “bestest of friends.” France and Russia have had fairly good relations consistently, and Russia and Europe NEED good relations. But Russia makes consistently the big mistake of not looking for allies in Asia (where most of Russia lies anyway). Siberia must be developed, ties with China improved, ties with Japan improved (give up the damn Kuril islands, in exchange for good will and economic advantages, for example). Of course, Japan and China were both enemies to Russia, because of how history played out. But if we can forget and forgive, Russia has more hope in alliances Eastward than Westward these days.

  36. listen to the comments of a “freethinker”: although I will be answered by the communists do not care because I know they have been brainwashed.

    A freethinker is one that does not accept anything without question, you do not question anything, accept what the official media (tv, radio, school, newspapers, books, magazines, etc) you have, period.

    I’ll tell you another story if you are willing to listen: russia not have made ​​a revolution if tsarism was idyllic.

    The story is not schoolbooks, history is made up of people, you ask the Russians and it will respond.

    In the USSR, all had homes, jobs and transport insurance.

    Is it a reality in Russia today? for even less in the tsarist

  37. You really can’t judge Russia under the Soviets by judging what it looked like after the Nazis got done destroying it. They lost 20 million people and most of their infrastructure and in Reality were never really a threat to the US or even Western Europe for the next 15 years if ever. They simply didn’t have the means to be a threat until they got nukes mounted on ICBM’s and on submarine was was well into the 60’s.

    If some of you actually learned some real history and not the whitewashed crap that’s mostly propaganda taught in school(And that pretty much applies whether you were Soviet or American) you’d realize there was no way Russia would ever give up the Crimea, they spent too much blood defending it from the Nazi and then taking it back from the Nazis …. No way would they ever give it up again without a huge fight plus it’s key to the defense of the Caucasus oil fields

    Besides all Putin has done is followed the Bush Precedent set in Iraq except he’s a lot more Humane than Bush (and by extension us) ever was …. They didn’t slaughter Ukrainians, the didn’t bomb women and children, they didn’t destroy infrastructure and they didn’t torture hundreds of people so it really wasn’t like Bush at all ….

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