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One of the stated benefits of communism is supposed to be that the property of the extremely wealthy will be seized and redistributed. However, a common criticism states that the extremely wealthy will simply take most of their wealth and flee the country, and the only ones to be redistributed will be the slightly well-off and the middle class.

I'm curious about the fate of the super-wealthy Russians during and after the communist revolution. Were most of them able to flee the country, or otherwise avoid repercussions from the new regime? Were those that evaded the risk to their lives able to keep much of their wealth? Was their lifestyle impacted significantly?

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Depends on how you consider being shot to death impacting your lifestyle. –  Oldcat Aug 20 '14 at 21:17
@Oldcat I would consider it a very large impact. But how many were actually shot? How many of those shot were actually wealthy, compared to the elites who weren't shot? –  Superbest Aug 20 '14 at 21:19
@Oldcat I think the suggestion is that the very wealthy might have the resources to escape, whereas the somewhat wealthy don't. –  DJClayworth Aug 20 '14 at 21:35
The wealthy in Russia were wealthy in land, and the perks of the aristocracy. Large liquid cash assets, not so much. –  Oldcat Aug 20 '14 at 22:25
What i have been taught in school is that the industrial revolution in tsarist times was quite slow and limited to major cities in russia. So the stereotypical Marxist class struggle between worker and industrial bourgeoisie wasn't present to a relevant extent. Russian society was still very feudal in a way, with landed aristocracy holding most of the wealth (vs. serfs), which came mostly from agriculture and some trade, but not from industrial production. Based on this i'm inclined to side with @Oldcat meaning that i don't think the wealth had a lot of liquid assets. –  Matthaeus Aug 20 '14 at 23:11

2 Answers 2

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Answers to your questions:

Were most of [the super-wealthy Russians] able to flee the country?

No. Most of them were executed by the Bolsheviks along with their families and anybody that the Bolsheviks deemed to be in league with them.

You can get a sense for the survival chances by reading about the last Grand Dukes of Russia. Remember that these are the richest and most powerful of the nobles and had far more resources than most of the nobles, yet even so, many of them died. The Grand Dukes who surived:

  1. Nicholas Nikolaevich - lived under the protection of the French

  2. Michael Mikhailovich - exiled by the Tsar long before the war, all assets in England; went crazy after virtually all of his relatives were executed

  3. Peter Nikolaevich - escaped with his wife and children; lived in retirement on the French riviera.

  4. Alexander Mikhailovich - escaped with his wife and children; lived in retirement on the French riviera.

  5. Cyril Vladimirovich - escaped with his wife and children; was a leader of the Russian exiles in France.

  6. Andrei Vladimirovich - escaped and lived an upper middle class life in Paris.

  7. Dmitri Pavlovich - exiled by the Tsar in 1916 after he conspired to murder Rasputin; was able to keep his wealth and lived among the emigre elite in Switzerland.

The other 7 grand dukes of Russia were all captured and executed along with their entire family and all their relatives.

or Otherwise avoid repercussions from the new regime?

A small number became Bolsheviks themselves and escaped destruction, but most such people remained under a shadow of suspicion for the rest of their lives. One example was David Bronstein (known as "Trotsky"). Bronstein was the son of a wealthy factory owner and he became an important Bolshevik. Eventually he had to flee the country and was assassinated in Mexico.

Were those that evaded the risk to their lives able to keep much of their wealth?

No. The ones who escaped took what they could in movable valuables, but typically this was only a tiny fraction of their wealth, which was mostly tied up in land or other non-movable assets. A few had foreign bonds, notably French bonds, and this allowed them to remain rich after fleeing, but this was only a small number of people. The large majority of the refugees escaped with nothing but the shirt on their backs.

When you read about rich Russians in exile, in most cases those were Russian nobles who were already living in Western Europe at the time of the revolution and just stayed where they were. In those cases they were able to maintain their lifestyles somewhat, but of course their income was terminated, so they only had what savings had been set aside.

Was their lifestyle impacted significantly?


The life of an exile is lonely. I remember when I was a student at Princeton many years ago, several times in the very early morning, just at dawn, staggering back from the parties, once or twice I saw an elderly woman walking a large Russian wolfhound on the greens of the campus. This was one of the Great Russians (Bolshoi Russky) who had escaped when she was a little girl. She walked in such a graceful and delicate way that you cannot imagine, yet with her gaze fixed ahead, oblivious, like she was drifting through another world, and I was only seeing her ghostly shadow. It is an isolation and loneliness beyond comprehension.

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Not sure if you meant to imply this or not, but Trotsky's assassination had (in reality) nothing to do with him being a son of a wealth factory owner, as opposed to major political opposition to Stalin. –  DVK Aug 22 '14 at 19:20
Also, while I won't dispute the accuracy of the conclusion, given a total and complete lack of references for any of the facts stated (statistics of how many rich people escaped vs. were killed aside from a 0.00001% that was the Romanov family? Average wealth post-escape?), I'm unsure why this answer is so heavily upvoted. –  DVK Aug 22 '14 at 19:23
Another statisics missing: how much was the wealth of those truly rich that was already abroad? –  DVK Aug 22 '14 at 19:25
@DVK I appreciate your comments for bringing up important nuances, but I should probably point out that I since realized an "error" in my question: I wanted to use Russia as a proxy for "typical communist revolution", but Russia was quite exceptional in that the wealth of the wealthy was overwhelmingly land, and they were all aristocrats. There are many societies (like ours) in which the wealthy are not aristocrats, and all their wealth is liquid (stocks, bonds, multinational corporations, precious metals), so a communist revolution could turn out drastically different. –  Superbest Aug 23 '14 at 0:29
@Superbest - you can try Cuba –  DVK Aug 24 '14 at 18:47

The most of assets of wealthy people as of now are stored in shares of their enterprises. So if one seizes their enterprises, the shares they have no longer posess any value.

At the time the Russian revolution happened, another valuable asset, possesd by the wealty people was land. It was similarly confiscated.

The only higly liquid asset one could possess is bank accounts, but the wealthy people usually do not store their wealths in banks. This is both because of high risk of bank's collapse (or liquidity shortage), and because the income is too small, often surpassed by inflation. This is especially true for the war time.

Even if you store some money in a bank, it would be very difficult to retrieve something and transfer it to another country after the revolution and during the war.

So, in short, anything of any value would be only property in other countries and movable valuables such as paintings, gold, diamonds etc.

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and many of them were lured back by the NEP and executed anyway, their foreign assets seized. –  jwenting Aug 21 '14 at 9:50
"property in other countries and movable valuables" -> Coincidentally, that's why currently the richest people in most risky countries are investing heavily in real estate in, say, London or New York, and also in valuable art. This would give them resources to live well even if all their "home" assets and power would be seized. Offshore holdings weren't as popular a century ago, though. –  Peteris Aug 21 '14 at 12:20
My impression is that it is common for the ultra-rich of our day to store their personal wealth (ie. not including their money-generating commercial enterprises like their company) in secretive trusts based in small countries with lax regulations. Likewise, aren't shares often owned by proxy corporations, also in other countries, instead of personally by the investor? Both of these scenarios would put them far out of any revolutionary's reach (and already helps them evade taxes now). –  Superbest Aug 23 '14 at 0:35

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