A champagne-style wine produced in a small village of the same name near Novorossiysk on the Black sea coast, in the Krasnodar region of Russia. Abrau Dursau has produced “Russian champagne” since the 19th Century when French specialists were imported to help develop the local wine industry. After the Revolution the French specialists fled but the industry survived, producing “Soviet Champagne”, production of which rose to 12 million bottles a year in 1942. Abrau Durso features in Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”.
Isaac Babel (1894 – 1940)
A Russian writer, born in Odessa in the Ukraine and author of Red Cavalry and Odessa Tales. The Red Cavalry stories were based on his Civil War experiences with the 1st Cavalry Army commanded by Semyon Budyenny, whereas the more light-hearted Odessa Tales recount the exploits of Jewish gangsters in Odessa before and after the Revolution. Budyenny was furious about his depiction of the realities of war and demanded his execution but Babel’s stories had established him immediately as a literary star and, as a protégé of Maxim Gorky, he had a level of protection that enabled him to avoid Budyenny’s attentions.
When Gorky died in 1936, probably murdered by the NKVD, such protection no longer existed and the arrest and execution of many of Babel’s military friends from the Civil War during the purge of the Red Army placed him in danger once again. To cap it all Babel probably renewed an affair with the wife of the People’s Commissar of Internal Security – Nikolai Ezhov at about this time. As it turned out, however, Ezhov fell from grace in 1938 and was arrested in April, 1939 and his denunciation of Babel came during his own interrogation. Babel was arrested on May 15,
1939 and confessed to being a French spy under torture, implicating others – although, to his credit, he withdrew this testimony at a later date. He was executed on January 26th, 1940 and his ashes were buried in the same pit as Ezhov’s who was shot a few days later.
The Belomorkanal, or White Sea Canal, was built between 1931 and 1932 using forced labour to dig out over 200 kilometres of canal almost entirely by hand. Although it was presented as being a great Soviet success, it was never deep enough for sea-going traffic and 100,000 prisoners died during its construction.
While the Soviet propaganda machine tended not to advertise large prisoner work projects, the Belomorkanal was different and Soviet newspapers and newsreels showed prisoners as enthusiastic about their opportunity to ‘reforge’ themselves through their work on the canal into Soviet citizens.
The canal gave rise to a synonymous brand of papirosacigarettes that entered production in 1932 with a packet design that still is in use today.
It’s said that Belomorkanal cigarettes have a diameter of precisely 7.62 mm so that in case of war the cigarette factories could be immediately switched to ammunition production.
A colloquial name for a police or NKVD car, as well as for the vans used to transport prisoners.
The word derives from a split at the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903. The majority, or ‘bolshinstvo’, under Lenin became known as the Bolsheviks whereas the minority, or ‘menshinstvo’, became known as the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks split altogether from the Mensheviks in 1912 to become the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) and went on to lead the October revolution in 1917, which the Mensheviks opposed. In 1925 the Party changed its name to All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and in 1952, at Stalin’s suggestion, to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Stalin correctly pointed out that there was no need for the Party to continue referring to itself as being Bolshevik as the Mensheviks no longer existed. Of course, the lack of Mensheviks was due to their having been vigorously exterminated throughout the twenties and thirties.
Budyenny rose from being a non-commissioned officer with an Imperial dragoon regiment in 1917 to commanding the Bolshevik 1st Cavalry Army during its ill-fated advance into Poland three years later. Despite the defeat at the hands of the Poles, Budyenny emerged as a hero of the Civil War and was made one of the first marshals of the Soviet Union when the rank was created in 1935. Three of the other five marshals appointed at the same time were executed during the 1937-38 purges – in Tukachevsky’s case partly because of Budyenny’s assertion at his trial that Tukachevsky’s support for modern tanks over horses was so illogical that it amounted to “wrecking”.
Budyenny was in command of the southern front when German tanks invaded in 1941 and 1.5 million of his inadequately equipped soldiers were encircled and then captured or killed. Because of his loyalty to Stalin he wasn’t punished for one of the greatest military disasters in history, but he was sidelined for the rest of the war. He died in 1973.
Budyenny’s irritation with Isaac Babel over his Red Cavalry stories, based on Babel’s experiences with Budyenny’s 1st Cavalry Army during the Civil War, may have had something to do with Babel’s arrest in 1939 and subsequent execution.
Also known as a Budenovka, the Budyenny cap was commonly worn by soldiers of the Red Army during the Civil War and was named after the Red Cavalry commander, Semyon Budyenny and decorated with red cloth stars. The original Budyenny cap had a pointed peak and ear flaps that could be worn in cold weather.
- A later Budyenny cap from the 1930s
The peak was reduced to a more manageable size in 1927 and the Budyenny cap was phased out from 1935 onwards – disappearing altogether during the Second World War.
A large prison in Moscow that, during the purges, held up to 20,000 prisoners at a time, often in conditions so cramped that prisoners had to sleep in shifts, lying on their sides. The writer Isaac Babel was executed there in 1940.
The concept of “cadres” was developed by Lenin who envisaged a core group of professional revolutionaries within the Bolshevik Communist Party who would be the vanguard in leading a mass revolutionary movement. By Stalinist times “cadres” had become more of an internal political management system within the Party.
Fought for the Red Army in the Civil War, rising to the command of the 25th Rifle Division. He died in a White ambush in 1919 but was immortalised soon afterwards by Dmitry Furmanov, his political commissar, in his 1923 novel ‘Chapayev’. In 1934 the Vasilyev Brothers adapted the novel for a film of the same name which was enormously popular in the Soviet Union. In the novel, and the film, Chapayev is portrayed as a simple peasant soldier who is politically educated by Furmanov. A class of Soviet battlecruisers was named after Chapayev and the film gave rise to a series of affectionate jokes featuring Chapayev and his comrades.
On December 20, 1917 an “Extraordinary Commission” (the acronym for which is “Ch-Ka” in Russian) was established by the Bolsheviks to ensure the internal security of the Revolution. The Cheka was headed by Felix Dzerzhinsky and, while the original title of the state security organisation was changed in 1922, the members of the succeeding bodies (including the KGB and NKVD) have been known as Chekists up until modern times with Vladimir Putin, as a former colonel in the KGB, being often described as a Chekist in the Russian press even today.
The term Commissar was used in three different contexts in the Soviet Union. A “People’s Commissar” was the Soviet equivalent of a government minister and the government department he headed up was known as a People’s Commissariat. People’s Commissars existed at the Union-wide level as well as for each individual state in the USSR. The term was replaced with “minister” in the late 1940s. A “Political Commissar” was a representative of the Party within the armed forces and up until 1942 he held equal command with the military commander of the unit. Unfortunately political commissars had very little military experience and their enthusiasm for overruling military commanders contributed in no small measure to the military disasters that befell the Red Army during the Finnish war and the German invasion in 1941. As a result they largely disappeared from 1942 onwards, although they still existed in a more advisory role at regimental and higher levels. A “Military Commissar” was responsible for organising military drafts and maintaining plans for military mobilisation.
The “Dinamo” athletic society was created by Felix Dzerzhinsky, the original head of the Soviet State Security service in 1923 and as a result was strongly associated with the NKVD and Militia. Aside from athletics, Dinamo members participated at the highest levels in every sport from ice hockey to sharp-shooting.
The Dinamo organisation existed throughout the Soviet Union and of the eight teams that competed in the 1936 Autumn football championship that Spartak won, 4 of them were Dinamo teams (Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev and Tblisi). Lavrenti Beria, who replaced Ezhov as head of the NKVD, played as a defender for Dinamo Tblisi.
The nickname for the GAZ-M1 motor car.
GAZ-M1 – The Emka
M1 motor car was produced from 1936 until 1942. The “M” in the name referred to Vyacheslav Molotov, later the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs , and was the reason for the car’s nickname – the “Emka”.
The Hotel Moskva opened in 1935 and was designed by the architect Alexei Shchusev, who was also responsible for Lenin’s mausoleum on nearby Red Square. The Hotel Moskva was one of the most prominent of the new Stalinist-style buildings that replaced so much of the old Moscow during the 1930s and 1940s. It was built to impress foreign visitors and had roof-top restaurants, shops and even a cinema.
The hotel was knocked down in 2004 and replaced with a modern reproduction, but both feature mismatched wings to the facade that faces on to Okhotny Ryad – one wing having larger windows and a more ornate design, while the other is simpler and with smaller windows. The story that Muscovites tell to explain this lack of symmetry is that Stalin mistakenly authorized two alternate plans for the hotel and, rather than ask for clarification, those responsible for the construction implemented one design for each wing, giving the hotel its unbalanced appearance
Meaning “News”, one of the two main Soviet newspapers in the 1930s.
A district in central Moscow which can be literally translated as China Town. It’s located to the West of the Kremlin.
A collective farm. The drive to collectivisation under Stalin led to enormous upheaval in the agricultural areas of the Soviet Union and widespread repression and famine. It also led to a substantial shift in population to urban areas as peasants sought a better life than that on offer to them in the countryside.
Originally a term for a wealthy peasant who exploited the poorer peasants, but came to mean any peasant who opposed Collectivization or had more than a very small amount of land. Kulak comes originally from the Russian word for “fist,” because Kulaks were supposedly tight-fisted, or mean with their money. Lenin described the Kulaks as “exploiters and profiteers who used their surplus grain to enrich themselves at the expense of the starving non-agricultural parts of Russia”. Under Stalin it was proposed to “Liquidate Kulaks as a Class”. In 1930 and 1931 millions of “Kulaks” were forcibly removed to the Far East or the Gulag System, and “Former Kulaks” bore the brunt of the Great Terror at the end of the 1930s.
A Tsarist prison from 1881 located in the Lefortovo district of Moscow. After the Revolution it was taken over by the NKVD and used for the detention and torture of political prisoners during the Great Terror.
Makhno (1888 – 1934) led an anarchist ‘Black Army’ in the Ukraine during the Civil War and established an independent anarchist regime which fought alongside and then against the Bolsheviks. Makhno and the remnants of his army were driven into exile in the summer of 1921. In his later years he worked as a mechanic at the Renault car factory and as a stage hand at The Paris Opera. He is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
.A follower of Makhno or his anarchist principles. During the Russian Civil War, Makhno’s anarchist forces controlled much of the Ukraine for a period of time. Initially they fought alongside the Bolsheviks against White forces but the Bolsheviks soon turned against them and by 1921, the surviving Makhnovist leadership was in exile.
The term Menshevik derives from a split within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party at its Second Congress in 1903. The majority, or ‘bolshinstvo’, under Lenin became known as the Bolsheviks whereas the minority, or ‘menshinstvo’, became known as the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks split altogether from the Mensheviks in 1912 to become the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) and went on to lead the October revolution in 1917, which the Mensheviks opposed. The Mensheviks were banned after the Kronstadt rebellion in 1921 and were persecuted with ever-increasing ferocity thereafter. They were often referred to in Soviet propaganda during the 1930s as being a threat to the State, even though most of their former members had either been executed, exiled or assimilated into the Party by then.
The Nagant revolver was originally developed for the Russian Imperial Army and was taken on by the Red Army, the Militia and the NKVD as the pistol of choice after the Revolution. The police and NKVD forces often used a cut down version of the Nagant for easier carrying, particularly by plains clothes operatives. Some 35,000 of these revolvers were produced in the 1920s and 1930s.
Order of the Red Star
An order of the Soviet Union created in 1930 for “exceptional service in the cause of the defence of the Soviet Union”. Up until the German invasion of Russia in 1941 it was relatively rarely awarded.
Nasha Marka, or Our Brand, was a make of Soviet papirosa cigarettes
A distinctly Russian form of cigarette made up of a hollow cardboard mouthpiece extended by a thin cigarette paper tube filled with generally very strong tobacco.
Follower of Symon Petlyura (1879-1926), Ukrainian nationalist, allied with Poland 1919-1920. He was assassinated in Paris in 1926.
A soviet sub machine gun, produced from 1935 until 1938. It was issued to the Red Army as well as NKVD Border Guards and other NKVD units. It fired the standard 7.62 x 2.5 mm Tokarev pistol cartridge
The famous Soviet newspaper is the Russian word for ‘Truth’. It was the official organ of the Communist Party from 1912 until 1991. Its sister newspaper, Izvestia, means “News” in English, which gave rise to the Soviet expression “In Pravda, there is no “News” and in Izvestia, there is no Truth”.
Homemade Russian moonshine, distilled from grain, grapes, fruit, beets, honey or whatever else came to hand.
A Moscow football team that was formed in 1930 by AMO car factory workers. AMO later built the ZIS and ZIL cars.
A Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theory and Lenin’s right hand man during the Revolution and Civil War. Trotsky was responsible for turning the ragtag Red Army of 1917 into an organised force of then times that number fighting on 16 fronts two years later. In the process he incurred enemies, not least of which was the relatively unknown Stalin. After Lenin’s death in 1924, Trotsky found himself increasingly isolated as Stalin increased his powerbase within the party and in 1927 he was sent to internal exile in Kazakhstan, and from there to permanent exile in Turkey. He then began a slow progress from safe haven to safe haven until one of Stalin’s assassins eventually murdered him with an ice-pick in Mexico in 1940.
Being a follower of Stalin’s great enemy Trotsky in the Soviet Union of the 1930s was almost certain to lead to arrest and probable execution. Even having the same surname as Trotsky was enough in some cases to lead to the severest punishment, which was unfortunate as Trotsky had been born Bronstein and taken the” revolutionary” name of Trotsky after one of his jailers during his incarceration in Odessa prison in 1898.
A film studio founded in 1928, originally as a branch of the All-Ukrainian Photo and Film Administration (VUFKU). Named Ukrainfilm in 1930 and the Kiev Film Studio in 1939.
A term I use in the Korolev novels to describe a uniformed Militiaman, as opposed to a plain-clothes detective such as Korolev.
Most workplaces in the Soviet Union had a wall paper of some description. It combined news that directly concerned the workers, such as efforts to meet their obligations under the latest Five Year Plan, with inspiring political motivation. It was generally prepared by Party or Komsomol activists.
The White Sea Canal
The term “Whites” was a general term for the wide variety of right wing anti-Bolshevik forces that fought against the Revolution and the Red Army during the Civil War years. After the Bolsheviks victory in 1923, the surviving White soldiers and their families and supporters dispersed around the world, from Shanghai to Paris, from whence they did their best to keep the dream of a Russia free from Soviet government alive.
A large Soviet motor car made between 1936 and 1941