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Lenin returns to Russia from exile

Lenin returns to Russia from exile


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On April 16, 1917, Vladimir Lenin, leader of the revolutionary Bolshevik Party, returns to Petrograd after a decade of exile to take the reins of the Russian Revolution.

Born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in 1870, Lenin was drawn to the revolutionary cause after his brother was executed in 1887 for plotting to assassinate Czar Alexander III. He studied law and took up practice in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), where he moved in revolutionary Marxist circles. In 1895, he helped organize Marxist groups in the capital into the “Union for the Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class,” which attempted to enlist workers to the Marxist cause. In December 1895, Lenin and the other leaders of the Union were arrested. Lenin was jailed for a year and then exiled to Siberia for a term of three years.

After his exile ended in 1900, Lenin went to Western Europe, where he continued his revolutionary activity. It was during this time that he adopted the pseudonym Lenin. In 1902, he published a pamphlet entitled What Is to Be Done?, which argued that only a disciplined party of professional revolutionaries could bring socialism to Russia. In 1903, he met with other Russian Marxists in London and established the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP). However, from the start, there was a split between Lenin’s Bolsheviks (Majoritarians), who advocated militarism, and the Mensheviks (Minoritarians), who advocated a democratic movement toward socialism. These two groups increasingly opposed each other within the framework of the RSDWP, and Lenin made the split official at a 1912 conference of the Bolshevik Party.

After the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1905, Lenin returned to Russia. The revolution, which consisted mainly of strikes throughout the Russian empire, came to an end when Nicholas II promised reforms, including the adoption of a Russian constitution and the establishment of an elected legislature. However, once order was restored, the czar nullified most of these reforms, and in 1907 Lenin was again forced into exile.

Lenin opposed World War I, which began in 1914, as an imperialistic conflict and called on proletariat soldiers to turn their guns on the capitalist leaders who sent them down into the murderous trenches. For Russia, World War I was an unprecedented disaster: Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any nation in any previous war. Meanwhile, the economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort, and in March 1917, riots and strikes broke out in Petrograd over the scarcity of food. Demoralized army troops joined the strikers, and on March 15, 1917, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate, ending centuries of czarist rule. In the aftermath of the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia’s use of the Julian calendar), power was shared between the ineffectual provisional government, led by Minister of War Alexander Kerensky, and the soviets, or “councils,” of soldiers’ and workers’ committees.

After the outbreak of the February Revolution, German authorities allowed Lenin and his lieutenants to cross Germany en route from Switzerland to Sweden in a sealed railway car. Berlin hoped, correctly, that the return of the anti-war socialists to Russia would undermine the Russian war effort, which was continuing under the provisional government. Lenin called for the overthrow of the provisional government by the soviets; he was subsequently condemned as a “German agent” by the government’s leaders. In July, he was forced to flee to Finland, but his call for “peace, land, and bread” met with increasing popular support, and the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Petrograd soviet. In October, Lenin secretly returned to Petrograd, and on November 7, the Bolshevik-led Red Guards deposed the Provisional Government and proclaimed soviet rule.

Lenin became the virtual dictator of the world’s first Marxist state. His government made peace with Germany, nationalized industry and distributed land but, beginning in 1918, had to fight a devastating civil war against czarist forces. In 1920, the czarists were defeated, and in 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established. Upon Lenin’s death in early 1924, his body was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum near the Moscow Kremlin. Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honor. After a struggle of succession, fellow revolutionary Joseph Stalin succeeded Lenin as leader of the Soviet Union.

READ MORE: Russia: A Timeline


Lenin Flees Russia Again

On December 12th, 1907, Lenin fled Russia for a second time.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, achieved his overwhelming influence on his native country after fifteen years and more away from it in his thirties and forties. It was abroad, safe from the Tsarist authorities, that he worked out his ideas and the strategy that would make him master of Russia. Born in 1870 in the quiet provincial town of Simbirsk, he came from a prosperous, respectable family of mixed Jewish and Russian origin, who were Christians and members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

His father, who died when the young Vladimir was in his teens, was a government official in the education service. In the following year, 1887, Vladimir's eldest brother Alexander was hanged for his part in a bomb plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander III. It was this event which seems to have set Vladimir on his revolutionary career and millions of Soviet schoolbooks would later show a painting of him saying 'We will follow a different path' as he and his mother grieved together over Alexander's death.

Vladimir went to Kazan University, where he took up Marxism as his different path, made a nuisance of himself in student protests and was expelled. He later got himself to the University of St Petersburg, graduated in law and started in practice in a poor area. The experience left him with a lifelong distaste for lawyers, but he was mainly occupied in revolutionary activity against the Tsarist regime and in 1895 was arrested, held for a over a year and then exiled for three years to Shushenskoe, a village in Siberia, where he hobnobbed with other revolutionaries and spent most of his time hunting, swimming and taking country walks. In 1898 he married Nadezhda Krupskaya and in 1900 was released from exile and began to travel in Russia and the rest of Europe. Enjoying quite a comfortable existence on money from the family estate and donations from sympathizers, he lived for varying lengths of time in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and England.

It was in London in 1903 that Lenin led the Bolshevik ('Majority') faction against the Mensheviks ('Minority') in a split that would destroy the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He played little part in the abortive revolution of 1905, which began in St Petersburg in January. Lenin stayed abroad, did not return to Russia until November and then remained in the background, but the police got on his trail and he and Krupskaya had to go into hiding. They spent most of 1906 and 1907 shuttling between Russia and Finland and at the end of 1907 Lenin fled Russia for the second time, to Stockholm, Berlin and Geneva.

Lenin and Krupskaya were living in Switzerland when the 1917 revolution in Russia and the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II made him realize that he must go back to Russia or risk being left out of developments there. The German government, at war with Russia, decided to send Lenin back home by train through Germany at German expense - like a plague germ in a sealed container, in the famous simile - to help create damaging political unrest in Russia. From Germany Lenin went on to Sweden by ferry. A dinner was held in his honour by Swedish social democrats in the hotel Regina in Stockholm and he gave interviews in the press. He arrived by train at the Finland station in Petrograd in April. His opponents accused him of being a paid German agent, which is exacdy what he was, and after the Bolshevik triumph earnest efforts were made to rewrite the story and erase the evidence of the German payments to him.


Krupskaya on Lenin’s return to Russia (1917)

When the February Revolution erupted in Russia and brought tsarism to a rapid close, Vladimir Lenin was in exile in Switzerland. Desperate for a means to return to Russia, he struck up a deal with the German government. The following account of Lenin’s train journey back to Russia in April 1917 comes from the memoirs of his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya:

“From the moment news of the February Revolution came, Ilyich burned with eagerness to go to Russia. England and France would not for the world have allowed the Bolsheviks to pass through to Russia… As there was no legal way, it was necessary to travel illegally – but how? From the moment the news of the revolution came, Ilyich did not sleep, and at night, all sorts of incredible plans were made…

On March 19th, there was a meeting of the Russian political émigré groups in Switzerland… to discuss ways and means of getting back to Russia. Martov presented a plan to obtain permits for immigrants to pass through Germany in exchange for German and Austrian prisoners-of-war interned in Russia. But no-one wanted to go that way, except Lenin, who snatched at this plan.

When news came that the German government would give Lennon and his friend safe passage through Germany, in a sealed train, Lennon wanted to leave at once. “We will take the first train.” The train was due to leave within two hours. We had just these two hours to liquidate our entire household, settle accounts with the landlady, return the books to the library, pack up and so on…

In boarding the train, no questions were asked about the baggage and passports. Ilyich kept entirely to himself, his thoughts were on Russia. En route, the conversation was mainly trivial…

On arrival in Berlin, our train was shunted onto a siding… On March 31st, we arrived in Sweden… A red flag was hung up in the waiting room and a meeting was held… From Sweden, we crossed to Finland in small Finnish sledges. Everything was already familiar and dear to us – the wretched third-class cars, the Russian soldiers. It was terribly good… Our people were huddled against the windows. The station platforms we passed were crowded with soldiers. Usyevich leaned out of the window and shouted, “Long live the world revolution!” The soldiers looked at him, puzzled.

Ilych asked the comrades who sat with us if we would be arrested on our arrival. They smiled. Soon we arrived in Petrograd. The Petrograd masses, workers, soldiers and sailors came to meet their leader… There was a sea of people all around.”


Lenin returns to Russia from exile - HISTORY

In the centenary of the Soviet Revolution we look back at Lenin returning to Russia in the Spring. The masses were making the revolution and they needed their General Staff, which was the Revolutionary Party.

On April 3 (16), 1917, after a long period of exile, Lenin returned to Russia.

Lenin’s arrival was of tremendous importance to the Party and the revolution.

While still in Switzerland, Lenin, upon receiving the first news of the revolution, had written his “Letters From Afar” to the Party and to the working class of Russia, in which he said:

“Workers, you have displayed marvels of proletarian heroism, the heroism of the people, in the civil war against tsardom. You must now display marvels of organization, organization of the proletariat and of the whole people, in order to prepare the way for your victory in the second stage of the revolution.” (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. VI, p. 11.)

Lenin arrived in Petrograd on the night of April 3. Thousands of workers, soldiers and sailors assembled at the Finland Railway Station and in the station square to welcome him. Their enthusiasm as Lenin alighted from the train was indescribable. They lifted their leader shoulder high and carried him to the main waiting room of the station….

Lenin did not want to listen to the opportunists that were at the station… Lenin did not stop to listen sweeping past them, he went out to the masses of workers and soldiers. Mounting an armoured car, he delivered his famous speech in which he called upon the masses to fight for the victory of the Socialist revolution. “Long live the Socialist revolution!” were the words with which Lenin concluded this first speech after long years of exile.

Back in Russia, Lenin flung himself vigorously into revolutionary work. On the morrow of his arrival he delivered a report on the subject of the war…

Lenin’s famous April Theses, provided the Party and the proletariat with a clear revolutionary line for the transition from the bourgeois to the Socialist revolution.

Lenin’s theses were of immense significance to the revolution and to the subsequent work of the Party. The revolution was a momentous turn in the life of the country. In the new conditions of the struggle that followed the overthrow of tsardom, the Party needed a new orientation to advance boldly and confidently along the new road. Lenin’s theses gave the Party this orientation.

Lenin’s April Theses laid down for the Party a brilliant plan of struggle for the transition from the bourgeois-democratic to the Socialist revolution, from the first stage of the revolution to the second stage—the stage of the Socialist revolution…

The transitional steps in the economic field were: nationalization of all the land and confiscation of the landed estates, amalgamation of all the banks into one national bank to be under the control of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, and establishment of control over the social production and distribution of products.

In the political field, Lenin proposed the transition from a parliamentary republic to a republic of Soviets.

…Lenin proposed to replace the parliamentary republic by a Soviet republic as the most suitable form of political organization of society in the period of transition from capitalism to Socialism.

“The specific feature of the present situation in Russia,” the theses stated, “is that it represents a transitionfrom the first stage of the revolution—which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organization of the proletariat, placed the power in the hands of the bourgeoisie—to the second stage, which must place the power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest strata of the peasantry.” (Ibid., p. 22.)

“Not a parliamentary republic—to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would be a retrograde step—but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.” (Ibid., p. 23.)

Under the new government, the Provisional Government, the war continued to be a predatory imperialist war, Lenin said…

…unless the bourgeoisie were overthrown, it would be impossible to end the war by a truly democratic peace and not a rapacious peace.

As regards the Provisional Government, the slogan Lenin put forward was: “No support for the Provisional Government!”

… the Party’s task consisted in the following:

“It must be explained to the masses that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government, and that therefore our task is, as long as this government yields to the influence of the bourgeoisie, to present a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics, an explanation especially adapted to the practical needs of the masses. As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticizing and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire power of state to the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. . . .” (Ibid., p. 23.)

Lenin further demanded that the “soiled shirt” be discarded, that is, that the Party no longer call itself a Social-Democratic Party. The parties of the Second International and the Russian Mensheviks called themselves Social-Democrats. This name had been tarnished and disgraced by the opportunists, the betrayers of Socialism.

Lenin proposed that the Party of the Bolsheviks should be called the Communist Party, which was the name given by Marx and Engels to their party. This name was scientifically correct, for it was the ultimate aim of the Bolshevik Party to achieve Communism.

Mankind can pass directly from capitalism only to Socialism, that is, to the common ownership of the means of production and the distribution of products according to the work performed by each.

Lenin said that our Party looked farther ahead. Socialism was inevitably bound to pass gradually into Communism, on the banner of which is inscribed the maxim: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

Lastly, Lenin in his theses demanded the creation of a new International, the Third, Communist International, which would be free of opportunism and social-chauvinism.

Lenin’s theses called forth a frenzied outcry from the bourgeoisie, the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries.

The Mensheviks issued a proclamation to the workers which began with the warning: “the revolution is in danger.” The danger, in the opinion of the Mensheviks, lay in the fact that the Bolsheviks had advanced the demand for the transfer of power to the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

Plekhanov in his newspaper, Yedinstvo (Unity), wrote an article in which he termed Lenin’s speech a “raving speech.” ….

On April 14 a Petrograd City Conference of Bolsheviks was held. The conference approved Lenin’s theses and made them the basis of its work.

Within a short while the local organizations of the Party had also approved Lenin’s theses.

But what actually happened?

The cruiser Aurora trained its guns on the Winter Palace, and on October 25 their thunder ushered in a new era, the era of the Great Socialist Revolution.

On October 25 (November 7) the Bolsheviks issued a manifesto “To the Citizens of Russia” announcing that the bourgeois Provisional Government had been deposed and that state power had passed into the hands of the Soviets.

The Provisional Government had taken refuge in the Winter Palace under the protection of cadets and shock battalions. On the night of October 25 the revolutionary workers, soldiers and sailors took the Winter Palace by storm and arrested the Provisional Government.


April 1917: Lenin returns to Russia

News of the revolution in Russia reached Switzerland in March 1917, and many politically active Russian émigrés immediately decided to return home. Led by Lenin, the revolutionaries boarded a sealed carriage and travelled by train across Germany.

article summary —

T he village of Gottmadingen looks like the sort of spot where nothing of any consequence ever happens. It lies in the mellow, rural countryside of south-west Germany very close to the Swiss border. Gottmadingen has a simple railway station served by the regular local trains which shuttle between Schaffhausen and Singen. The casual visitor might reasonably assume that never in the history of the railway did anyone ever actually change trains in Gottmadingen.

But one hundred years ago this month, a very distinguished group of Russians did indeed change trains at Gottmadingen. News of the revolution in Russia had reached Switzerland in March 1917, and many politically active Russian émigrés had immediately decided to return home. "We must go at all costs, even if we go to hell," declared Lenin.

Thus it was that a group of two dozen revolutionaries, led by Lenin himself, set out from Switzerland to return to Petrograd. It was at Gottmadingen that Lenin's party joined a train for transit across wartime Germany. The Berlin authorities were cautious about the Russians, but were happy to afford transit on the condition that the Russians travelled in a sealed carriage.

Rarely was a group of travellers so nervous about an arrival in Gottmadingen. In those days, this out-of-the-way station was used for frontier checks for passengers entering Germany from Switzerland. Lenin and his party cautiously climbed down from the Swiss train which had brought them from Schaffhausen.

It was early evening at Gottmadingen. The new arrivals were split into two groups, male and female. The Russians were fearful that this might mark a premature end to their journey. Had they perhaps fallen into a German trap? But, after a nervous wait, the travellers were escorted over the platform to join the most unusual of trains: a German steam engine hauling a single green carriage with eight compartments.

This was no luxury sleeping car, but a fairly standard carriage of the kind used for middle-distance journeys in Germany in the opening years of the last century. It was not the sort of carriage which would normally have been used for a journey which required three nights on board. Fortunately, there were two toilets, one at either end of the carriage and a separate space for luggage - not that the Russians were encumbered by heavy bags. After many years of exile in Switzerland, Lenin returned home with no more than a rucksack full of documents.

Lenin worked on the long journey across Germany. It was a chance to elaborate the directives which he would issue upon arrival in Petrograd. These later became known as the April Theses and surely rank as among the most important documents ever written on a train.

It was a journey which had its starts and stops. Shortly after they left Gottmadingen, the train was shunted into a siding near Singen for an overnight stop. The route then proceeded via Frankfurt and Halle to Berlin where the carriage was again held stationary for many hours. From the German capital, the sealed carriage was hauled north through the forests of Western Pomerania to the Baltic coast, where it was transferred onto a ferry for the short crossing to the island of Rügen. From there a railway line ran fifty kilometres across the island to the port of Sassnitz, where the unwashed Russians disembarked and boarded a ferry to Sweden. Rough seas on the four-hour crossing to Trelleborg probably did nothing to enhance the Russians' composure.

The 60-hour journey from Gottmadingen to Sassnitz in the sealed carriage was managed by the German authorities in such a way that the Russians had no contact with any Germans beyond the two guards who accompanied them on the train. It is surely the only instance of a through train from Gottmadingen to Sassnitz.

The carriage in which Lenin travelled was preserved and for several decades remained in Sassnitz. In the 1960s and on to the political changes of 1989, it was showcased as a fine example of Communist heritage and history. At some stage in the 1990s, it was removed from Sassnitz and is now at Park Sanssouci railway station in Potsdam. The shed in which the carriage is stored is part of a national training centre for railway staff sadly, it is not normally accessible to the public.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)


Vladimir Lenin’s Return Journey to Russia Changed the World Forever

The town of Haparanda, 700 miles north of Stockholm, is a lonely smudge of civilization in the vast tundra of Swedish Lapland. It was once a thriving outpost for trade in minerals, fur and timber, and the main northern crossing point into Finland, across the Torne River. On a cold and cloudless October afternoon, I stepped off the bus after a two-hour ride from Lulea, the last stop on the passenger train from Stockholm, and approached a tourist booth inside the Haparanda bus station. The manager sketched out a walk that took me past the northernmost IKEA store in the world, and then under a four-lane highway and down the Storgatan, or main street. Scattered among the concrete apartment blocks were vestiges of the town’s rustic past: a wood-shingle trading house the Stadshotell, a century-old inn and the Handelsbank, a Victorian structure with cupolas and a curving gray-slate roof.

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Essential Works of Lenin: "What Is To Be Done?" and Other Writings

To the Finland Station: A Study in the Acting and Writing of History (FSG Classics)

I followed a side street to a grassy esplanade on the banks of the Torne. Across the river in Finland the white dome of the 18th-century Alatornio Church rose over a forest of birches. In the crisp light near dusk I walked on to the railroad station, a monumental neo-Classical brick structure. Inside the waiting room I found what I’d been looking for, a bronze plaque mounted on a blue tile wall: “Here Lenin passed through Haparanda on April 15, 1917, on his way from exile in Switzerland to Petrograd in Russia.”

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, joined by 29 other Russian exiles, a Pole and a Swiss, was on his way to Russia to try to seize power from the government and declare a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” a phrase coined in the mid-19th century and adopted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of Marxism. Lenin and his fellow exiles, revolutionaries all, including his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, had boarded a train in Zurich, crossed Germany, traveled the Baltic Sea by ferry and ridden 17 hours by rail from Stockholm to this remote corner of Sweden.

They hired horse-drawn sleds to head across the frozen river to Finland. “I remember that it was night,” Grigory Zinoviev, one of the exiles traveling with Lenin, would write in a memoir. “There was a long thin ribbon of sledges. On each sledge were two people. Tension as [we] approached the Finnish border reached its maximum. Vladimir Ilyich was outwardly calm.” Eight days later, he would reach St. Petersburg, then Russia’s capital but known as Petrograd.

Lenin’s journey, undertaken 100 years ago this April, set in motion events that would forever change history—and are still being reckoned with today—so I decided to retrace his steps, curious to see how the great Bolshevik imprinted himself on Russia and the nations he passed through along the way. I also wanted to sense some of what Lenin experienced as he sped toward his destiny. He traveled with an entourage of revolutionaries and upstarts, but my companion was a book I’ve long admired, To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson’s magisterial 1940 history of revolutionary thought, in which he described Lenin as the dynamic culmination of 150 years of radical theory. Wilson’s title refers to the Petrograd depot, “a little shabby stucco station, rubber gray and tarnished pink,” where Lenin stepped off the train that had carried him from Finland to remake the world.

As it happens, the centennial of Lenin’s fateful trip comes just when the Russia question, as it might be called, has grown increasingly urgent. President Vladimir Putin has emerged in recent years as a militaristic authoritarian intent on rebuilding Russia as a world power. U.S.-Russian relations are more fraught than in decades.

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This article is a selection from the March issue of Smithsonian magazine

While Putin embraces the aggressive posture of his Soviet predecessors—the murder of oppositionists, the expansion of the state’s territorial boundaries by coercion and violence—and in that sense is heir to Lenin’s brutal legacy, he is no fan. Lenin, who represents a tumultuous force that turned a society upside down, is hardly the kind of figure that Putin, a deeply conservative autocrat, wants to celebrate. “We did not need a global revolution,” Putin told an interviewer last year on the 92nd anniversary of Lenin’s death. A few days later Putin denounced Lenin and the Bolsheviks for executing Czar Nicholas II, his family and their servants, and for killing thousands of clergy in the Red Terror, and placing a “time bomb” under the Russian state.

The sun was setting as I made my way toward the bus station to catch my ride across the bridge to Finland. I shivered in the Arctic chill as I walked beside the river Lenin had crossed, with the old church steeple reflecting off the placid water in the fading pink light. At the terminal café, I ordered a plate of herring—misidentified by the waitress as “whale”—and sat in the gathering darkness until the bus pulled up, in a mundane echo of Lenin’s perilous journey.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was born in 1870 into a middle-class family in Simbirsk (now called Ulyanovsk), on the Volga River, 600 miles east of Moscow. His mother was well-educated, his father the director of primary schools for Simbirsk Province and a “man of high character and ability,” Wilson writes. Though Vladimir and his siblings grew up in comfort, the poverty and injustice of imperial Russia weighed heavily upon them. In 1887 his older brother, Alexander, was hanged in St. Petersburg for his involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Czar Alexander III. The execution “hardened” young Vladimir, said his sister, Anna, who would be sent into exile for subversion. Vladimir’s high-school principal complained that the teenager had “a distant manner, even with people he knows and even with the most superior of his schoolmates.”

After an interlude at Kazan University, Ulyanov began reading the works of Marx and Engels, the 19th-century theoreticians of Communism. “From the moment of his discovery of Marx. his way was clear,” the British historian Edward Crankshaw wrote. “Russia had to have revolution.” Upon earning a law degree from St. Petersburg University in 1891, Lenin became a leader of a Marxist group in St. Petersburg, secretly distributing revolutionary pamphlets to factory workers and recruiting new members. As the brother of an executed anti-czarist, he was under surveillance by the police, and in 1895 he was arrested, convicted of distributing propaganda and sentenced to three years in Siberian exile. Nadezhda Krupskaya, the daughter of an impoverished Russian army officer suspected of revolutionary sympathies, joined him there. The two had met at a gathering of leftists in St. Petersburg she married him in Siberia. Ulyanov later would adopt the nom de guerre Lenin (likely derived from the name of a Siberian river, the Lena).

Soon after his return from Siberia, Lenin fled into exile in Western Europe. Except for a brief period back in Russia, he remained out of the country until 1917. Moving from Prague to London to Bern, publishing a radical newspaper called Iskra (“Spark”) and trying to organize an international Marxist movement, Lenin laid out his plan to transform Russia from a feudal society into a modern workers’ paradise. He argued that revolution would come from a coalition of peasants and factory workers, the so-called proletariat—led always by professional revolutionaries. “Attention must be devoted principally to raising the workers to the level of revolutionaries,” Lenin wrote in his manifesto What Is to Be Done? “It is not at all our task to descend to the level of the ‘working masses.’”

Throne of Nicholas II, in St. Petersburg (Davide Monteleone)

Soon after the outbreak of the world war in August 1914, Lenin and Krupskaya were in Zurich, living off a small family inheritance.

I made my way to the Altstadt, a cluster of medieval alleys that rise from the steep banks of the Limmat River. The Spiegelgasse, a narrow cobblestone lane, jogs uphill from the Limmat, winds past the Cabaret Voltaire, a café founded in 1916 and, in many accounts, described as the birthplace of Dadaism, and spills into a leafy square dominated by a stone fountain. Here I found Number 14, a five-story building with a gabled rooftop, and a commemorative plaque mounted on the beige facade. The legend, in German, declares that from February 21, 1916, until April 2, 1917, this was the home of “Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution.”

Today the Altstadt is Zurich’s most touristy neighborhood, filled with cafés and gift shops, but when Lenin lived here, it was a down-and-out quarter prowled by thieves and prostitutes. In her Reminiscences of Lenin, Krupskaya described their home as “a dingy old house” with “a smelly courtyard” overlooking a sausage factory. The house had one thing going for it, Krupskaya remembered: The owners were “a working-class family with a revolutionary outlook, who condemned the imperialist war.” At one point, their landlady exclaimed, “The soldiers ought to turn their weapons against their governments!” After that, wrote Krupskaya, “Ilyich would not hear of moving to another place.” Today that rundown rooming house has been renovated and features a trinket shop on the ground floor selling everything from multicolored Lenin busts to lava lamps.

Lenin spent his days churning out tracts in the reading room of Zurich’s Central Library and, at home, played host to a stream of fellow exiles. Lenin and Krupskaya took morning strolls along the Limmat and, when the library was closed on Thursday afternoons, hiked up the Zurichberg north of the city, taking along some books and “two bars of nut chocolate in blue wrappers at 15 centimes.”

I followed Lenin’s usual route along the Limmatquai, the river’s east bank, gazing across the narrow waterway at Zurich’s landmarks, including the church of St. Peter, distinguished by the largest clock face in Europe. The Limmatquai skirted a spacious square and at the far corner I reached the popular Café Odeon. Famed for Art Nouveau décor that has changed little in a century—chandeliers, brass fittings and marble-sheathed walls—the Odeon was one of Lenin’s favorite spots for reading newspapers. At the counter, I fell into conversation with a Swiss journalist who freelances for the venerable Neue Zürcher Zeitung. “The paper had already been around for 140 years when Lenin lived here,” he boasted.

On the afternoon of March 15, 1917, Mieczyslaw Bronski, a young Polish revolutionary, raced up the stairs to the Lenins’ one-room apartment, just as the couple had finished lunch. “Haven’t you heard the news?” he exclaimed. “There’s a revolution in Russia!”

Enraged over food shortages, corruption and the disastrous war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, thousands of demonstrators had filled the streets of Petrograd, clashing with police soldiers loyal to the czar switched their support to the protesters, forcing Nicholas II to abdicate. He and his family were placed under house arrest. The Russian Provisional Government, dominated by members of the bourgeoisie—the caste that Lenin despised—had taken over, sharing power with the Petrograd Soviet, a local governing body. Committees, or “soviets,” made up of industrial workers and soldiers, many with radical sympathies, had begun to form across Russia. Lenin raced out to buy every newspaper he could find—and began making plans to return home.

The German government was at war with Russia, but it nonetheless agreed to help Lenin return home. Germany saw “in this obscure fanatic one more bacillus to let loose in tottering and exhausted Russia to spread infection,” Crankshaw writes.

On April 9, Lenin and his 31 comrades gathered at Zurich station. A group of about 100 Russians, enraged that the revolutionaries had arranged passage by negotiating with the German enemy, jeered at the departing company. “Provocateurs! Spies! Pigs! Traitors!” the demonstrators shouted, in a scene documented by historian Michael Pearson. “The Kaiser is paying for the journey. They’re going to hang you. like German spies.” (Evidence suggests that German financiers did, in fact, secretly fund Lenin and his circle.) As the train left the station, Lenin reached out the window to bid farewell to a friend. “Either we’ll be swinging from the gallows in three months or we shall be in power,” he predicted.

Lenin's journey (Frank Payne and Catherine Merridale)

Seated with Krupskaya in an end compartment, Lenin scribbled in an exercise book, expressing views similar to those he had advanced shortly before departure, by telegram to his Bolshevik cohorts in the Petrograd Soviet, urging no compromise: “Our tactics: no support to the new government. arming of the proletariat the sole guarantee. no rapprochement with other parties.”

As they rolled toward Berlin, Krupskaya and Lenin took note of the absence of young men in the villages where they stopped—virtually all were at the front or dead.

A Deutsche Bahn regional train second-class compartment bore me across Germany to Rostock, a port city on the Baltic Sea. I boarded the Tom Sawyer, a seven-deck vessel the length of two football fields operated by the German TT Lines. A handful of tourists and dozens of Scandinavian and Russian truck drivers sipped goulash soup and ate bratwurst in the cafeteria as the ferry lurched into motion. Stepping onto the outdoor observation deck on a cold, drizzly night, I felt the sting of sea spray and stared up at a huge orange lifeboat, clamped in its frame high above me. Leaning over the starboard rail, I could make out the red and green lights of a buoy flashing through the mist. Then we passed the last jetty and headed into the open sea, bound for Trelleborg, Sweden, six hours north.

The sea was rougher when Lenin made the crossing aboard a Swedish ferry, Queen Victoria. While most of his comrades suffered the heaving of the ship below decks, Lenin remained outside, joining a few other stalwarts in singing revolutionary anthems. At one point a wave broke across the bow and smacked Lenin in the face. As he dried himself with a handkerchief, someone declared, to laughter, “The first revolutionary wave from the shores of Russia.”

Plowing through the blackness of the Baltic night, I found it easy to imagine the excitement that Lenin must have felt as his ship moved inexorably toward his homeland. After standing in the drizzle for a half-hour, I headed to my spartan cabin to catch a few hours sleep before the vessel docked in Sweden at 4:30 in the morning.

In Trelleborg, I caught a train north to Stockholm, as Lenin did, riding past lush meadows and forests.

Once in the Swedish capital I followed in Lenin’s footsteps down the crowded Vasagatan, the main commercial street, to PUB, once the city’s most elegant department store, now a hotel. Lenin’s Swedish socialist friends brought him here to be outfitted “like a gentleman” before his arrival in Petrograd. He consented to a new pair of shoes to replace his studded mountain boots, but he drew the line at an overcoat he was not, he said, opening a tailor shop.

From the former PUB store, I crossed a canal on foot to the Gamla Stan, the Old Town, a hive of medieval alleys on a small island, and walked to a smaller island, Skeppsholmen, the site of another monument to Lenin’s sojourn in Sweden. Created by Swedish artist Bjorn Lovin and situated in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art, it consists of a backdrop of black granite and a long strip of cobblestones embedded with a piece of iron tram track. The work pays tribute to an iconic photo of Lenin strolling the Vasagatan, carrying an umbrella and wearing a fedora, joined by Krupskaya and other revolutionaries. The museum catalog asserts that “This is not a monument that pays tribute to a person” but rather is “a memorial, in the true sense of the word.” Yet the work—like other vestiges of Lenin all over Europe—has become an object of controversy. After a visit in January 2016, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweeted that the exhibit was a “shameful monument to Lenin visiting Stockholm. At least it’s dark & discreet.”

Clambering into the horse-drawn sleds on the bank of the frozen Torne in Haparanda on the night of April 15, Lenin and his wife and comrades crossed to Finland, then under Russian control, and fully expected to be turned back at the border or even detained by Russian authorities. Instead they received a hearty welcome. “Everything was already familiar and dear to us,” Krupskaya wrote in Reminiscences, recalling the train they boarded in Russianized Finland, which had been annexed by Czar Alexander I in 1809. “[T]he wretched third-class cars, the Russian soldiers. It was terribly good.”

I spent the night in Kemi, Finland, a bleak town on Bothnian Bay, walking in the freezing rain through the deserted streets to a concrete-block hotel just up from the waterfront. When I awoke at 7:30 the town was still shrouded in darkness. In winter, a receptionist told me, Kemi experiences only a couple of hours of daylight.

From there, I took the train south to Tampere, a riverside city where Lenin briefly stopped on his way to Petrograd. Twelve years earlier, Lenin had held a clandestine meeting in the Tampere Workers Hall with a 25-year-old revolutionary and bank robber, Joseph Stalin, to discuss money-raising schemes for the Bolsheviks. In 1946, pro-Soviet Finns turned that meeting room into a Lenin Museum, filling it with objects such as Lenin’s high-school honors certificate and iconic portraiture, including a copy of the 1947 painting Lenin Proclaims Soviet Power, by the Russian artist Vladimir Serov.

“The museum’s primary role was to convey to the Finns the good things about the Soviet system,” curator Kalle Kallio, a bearded historian and self-described “pacifist,” told me when I met him at the entrance to the last surviving Lenin museum outside Russia. At its peak, the Lenin Museum drew 20,000 tourists a year—mostly Soviet tour groups visiting nonaligned Finland to get a taste of the West. But after the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, interest waned, Finnish members of parliament denounced it and vandals ripped off the sign on the front door and riddled it with bullets. “It was the most hated museum in Finland,” Kallio said.


When Lenin Returned

Edward Crankshaw, English author and historian, first visited Soviet Russia as a member of the British Military Mission to Moscow during the war he went back again in 1947 as a writer for the London Observer and it was in the course of these two tours of duty that he made the observations and drew the conclusions which led to his two authoritative books, Russia and the Russians and Cracks in the Kremlin Wall. When asked to define the most decisive moment in Lenin's career, Mr. Crankshaw chose without hesitation those first few days when, after long exile, Lenin returned to take into his own hands the direction of the Revolution.

Lenin would have said there was no turning point in his life he would have said that he followed a straight line, undeviatingly, from the dawn of his political consciousness to the moment of his death. And this was true. There was no turning point because in the moment of supreme crisis Lenin, under overwhelming pressures, continued his straight line and yet was not broken.

The Russian people had wanted revolution. It had to come. What they meant by revolution was the overthrow of an inept and suffocating tyranny and its substitution by some more liberal system. The Provisional Government, if it had immediately sued for peace with Germany and shown more activity about the redistribution of land, could have remained in power, leading Russia into some kind of democratic system. But because it held to the war, as an obligation because it knew it would depend in future on the favors of the Entente and because it was patriotic, it could not begin to alleviate the misery of the people, greatly aggravated by the war. It was this misery which Lenin deliberately set himself out to exploit.

He was not, he never pretended to be, an original thinker. From the moment of his discovery of Marx at Kazan University his way was clear. Russia had to have revolution. In this he was at one with the whole of the Russian intelligentsia. The only proper way to bring about revolution was the Marxist way. Revolution in Russia would have to be made by the urban proletariat and the rural proletariat of the poorest peasants, led by professional revolutionaries who understood what was going on. All this was common ground with all the Marxist parties. And, indeed, it is no use looking for the secret of Leninism in any particular theory.

His whole contribution was to practice. Marx for him was a blueprint, a guide to action. The fundamental point was the dictatorship of the proletariat. The enemy was liberal reformism. The proletariat had to be educated and raised up politically to the level of a handful of professional revolutionaries, who could not possibly alone produce a revolution. Anything that in any way debilitated the strength of the professional hard core was anathema. And what debilitated was not wrong theory but mistaken strategy and tactics. The word for mistake was compromise. Thus the criticism which dwells on Lenin's theoretical inconsistencies misses the point. He was inconsistent. He appealed to Marx as the fundamentalist appeals to the Bible. He had a single burning idea: to bring the Marxist revolution to the world and to Russia. His approach to this problem was the approach not of the revolutionary theorist, like Trotsky, like the Mensheviks, like most of his Bolshevik colleagues, but of the self-made, practical statesman. His political sense found the proper tactics and strategy. His knowledge of Marx then found the text to support his action. His will and personality carried him through. His quarrels with his closest colleagues of the Social Democratic Party were invariably quarrels about tactics and strategy, not about theory: how best to further the Marxist revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the shortest possible time. He found the way. But others, like Trotsky, like Martov oven, were the more correct Marxists.

Behind him, Lenin swung into line a vast and primitive country of 150 million souls. Those who held out against the swing were broken. It was a one-man performance unique in the history of the world. The crisis, when, according to all possible calculations, Lenin had to give way or be broken, began late at night on April 16, 1917. He took it at a trot, apparently quite unaware that he was doing anything out of the ordinary.

He took it at a trot quite literally. For eight days, cooped up with an assortment of exiled comrades, he had been traveling across Europe in the famous sealed train from Zurich. For anybody but Lenin those days would have been solemn with soul-searching the professional revolutionary, trained and self-disciplined and dedicated for years to the moment of action, cast off and toiling ceaselessly in the squalor of foreign exile to keep his comrades up to the mark, was going home to put his ideas into practice. The long, fantastic train journey, arranged by the German government, which saw in this obscure fanatic one more bacillus to let loose in tottering and exhausted Russia to spread infection, was an opportunity for stocktaking of the most elaborate kind. But to Lenin it was merely a slow and tedious way of getting on with the job.

He had been at the job for years. He had been under pressure for years. For years his task had been not to preach revolution but to keep the preachers of revolution up to the mark, so that when the day came they would know what to do. For years he had worked in exile because the police would not let him work in Russia. Now that it was possible to go back to Russia, there was the difficulty of crossing enemy territory. He had thought of every conceivable means and had to abandon plan after plan, until a Swedish Social Democrat had persuaded the German government to put him on a train.

He felt no gratitude. Since the first news of the revolution had reached him in his dismal lodgings in Zurich he had lived for this day, which had now, miraculously, come. Another man would have been betrayed into expressing emotion in the first relief of tension. But not Lenin. Nobody knows what he felt in his heart, but he gave nothing away. He accepted the German offer as his right: they were not doing it for love of him but out of sheer self-interest—as well they might, seeing that he was going back to Russia to end the war! And, while they were about it, there were certain conditions he required them to observe, if he was going to honor them by traveling in their train. He laid down the conditions, like a conqueror and they were accepted.

So he embarked, with thirty-five fellow revolutionaries, as the most natural thing in the world. The train journey was simply a hiatus in his work. He was fairly certain that he would be arrested the moment he set foot in Russia and he spent some time preparing a speech in his defense, which he discussed with his comrades.

About Lenin's personal emotions we know nothing. Indeed, the deeper we go into the existing accounts of his life the more glaring becomes the almost total absence of any information which throws light on his state of mind at any given time.

It is tempting to conclude that he had no emotional life but it would not be true. Nadezhda Konstantinova Krupskaya, his wife, the companion of his lifetime, his fellow revolutionary, tells us what little we know and it is enough to show that he was no automaton. From time to time in her memoirs we learn that Ilych was withdrawn, moody, cast down, or in high spirits. From time to time the two of them, usually for Krupskaya's health, would go off into the mountains to be alone with nature, which Ilych loved. He liked hunting in Siberia, and once let a fox, which he should have shot, go off unhurt "because it was so beautiful." He would listen to music, and above all he loved the Appassionata Sonata of Beethoven.

He read other things besides revolutionary philosophy and blue books. Particularly in the last days of Swiss exile, with the world at war all around him, he gave more time to the novels he loved Krupskaya says he had "mellowed" at this time. Nobody knew anything about this. Krupskaya tells how when she was first introduced to Lenin she was told he had never read a novel or a poem in his life. It was much later that she discovered, with surprise (the surprise is characteristic), that in fact he was as well read in the classics as she herself. He read them all again in Siberia. But the world did not know.

The world knew practically nothing. As a child he had respected and admired his brother Alexander, who was hanged for his part in the attempted assassination of the Tsar. That respect and admiration was reciprocated, but, said Alexander, "we do not understand each other." His schoolmasters did not understand him either. The headmaster of his school, none other than the father of Kerensky, whom Lenin was one day to overthrow, did his best for the boy, but complained of his excessive reserve and unsociability. He had "a distant manner even with people he knows and even with the most superior of his schoolmates."

Later on he was to develop an extreme sociability. But it was the sociability of the great headmaster, in Edmund Wilson's phrase. There is no record of any conversation at all with Lenin that was not about the coming revolution, how to make it come, and how best to equip the party to be fit and well and mentally trim for the fight. So he went on being reserved. Perhaps his friendship with Maxim Gorki was his only safety valve. Only with Gorki did Lenin ever allow political differences to be overridden by personal warmth. There is also one note to Kamenev, written when Lenin had to go into hiding after the "July Days," when the Provisional Government put its ban on him. "Entre nous," he wrote, "if they bump me off I ask you to publish my little notebook Marxism on the State (stranded in Stockholm). Bound in a blue cover . . . . There is a whole series of notes and comments. Formulate it. I think you could publish it with a week's work. I think it is important, for it is not only Plekhanov and Kautsky who have got off the track. My conditions: all this to be absolutely entre nous."

In that little note, forced out of him by an extreme emergency—for the agitation against Lenin as an alleged German agent was then formidable and dangerous—we see perfectly expressed the familiar character, while for once we are permitted a glimpse of the human feelings beneath the normally unflawed reserve.

"All the writing of Lenin is functional it is all aimed at accomplishing an immediate purpose," said Wilson. This was true of his whole way of living. For the sake of an immediate purpose he ruthlessly cut across old friendships without the least apparent hesitation or regret and in his public attacks on men who had been his devoted comrades the day before, he employed for the first time that crudely savage invective, the "robber-cannibal" style which has since become the dreary idiom of the Communist Party everywhere. But Krupskaya tells enough to show that he often felt regret. His recurrent joy when Martov, the Monshevik leader whom he loved, returned to the straight and narrow path of Leninism (only to stray again) is proof of this. There is more in Lenin's welcome than the delight of "I told you so!" He knew feelings of tenderness what he lacked was a sense of doubt. He loved people, thus, with a perfect detachment, as one loves a dog or a pet rabbit. There was no sharing in his love.

Never, at any time, did it occur to him that he might be wrong and others right. Various contemporaries commented on the extreme sensitiveness with which he entered into others' feelings. But it is to be doubted whether he was capable of this. He was considerate to a degree when consideration was politically permissible. There was a deep fund of kindness, which he would switch off when it was politically desirable to do so but it was kindness from outside. It was the kindness of the man who does not like hurting animals but will kill them, as painlessly as possible, if they happen to get in his way. This has nothing to do with the kindness of understanding.

He was also a romantic of sorts, and naïve. His attraction to the Appassionata Sonata is a clue to this so is the way in which he glorified his own Machiavellianism and the squalor of the poor émigré's existence. He romanticized his own ascetism. Krupskaya tells how "Ilych was delighted" because one of their Zurich landladies, in a house frequented by thieves and prostitutes, gave them their coffee in cups with broken handles. But it is clear that, whatever Krupskaya may have thought, Ilych did not like cups with broken handles. These for him symbolized, the renunciation of a sensitive and fastidious soul. When Kollontai extolled the merits of free love she said that sexual satisfaction was of no more account than drinking a cup of cold water. When this was reported to Lenin he flashed out: "That may be. But who wants to drink out of a cup that has been used by many others?"

By the time of his recall to Russia, Lenin was disciplined absolutely to impersonality, so that it had become his real nature. Because of this I say that he hardly knew what he was doing, or that he was facing the supreme crisis of his life. The journey in the sealed train was a hiatus. His response to the challenge of the revolution had been immediate and direct, like a reflex action. While others rushed round with loud shouts of joy, Lenin sat down then and there and composed a telegram of admonition to the Petrograd Bolsheviks. While others were seeking solidarity with all revolutionary elements, Lenin yelled across Europe the slogan of absolute exclusiveness. "Never again along the lines of the Second International! Never again with Kautsky!" he wrote to Kollontai in Stockholm. And in his telegram: "Our tactic absolute lack of confidence no support to the new government suspect Kerensky especially arming of the proletariat the sole guarantee immediate elections to the Petrograd Duma no rapprochement with other parties." And then again, when he heard that the Provisional Government, supported by some Social Democrats, was for continuing the war, "the imperialist war," and calling it a "war of defense": "Our party would disgrace itself for ever, kill itself politically, if it took part in such deceit. . . . I would choose an immediate split with no matter whom in our party, rather than surrender to social patriotism."

In Petrograd these words seemed to Lenin's foes the shrill cries of a madman to his friends the ravings of a man who had been out of touch for too long. What did Lenin know of the revolution? How could he possibly understand the power and glory of the tremendous upsurge, which he was now asking the Bolsheviks to cold-shoulder? When he arrived he would begin to understand and see things differently. The first task was to defend the revolution against all attacks from outside. Then they could think again.

But Lenin was arriving to go on saying what he had been saying for years, what he had already said in those first letters and telegrams. Already, in these and in articles for Pravda, he had laid down what Trotsky was to call "a finished analysis of the Revolutionary situation." But to those on the spot this analysis seemed irrelevant and absurd. Of the Petrograd Bolsheviks, curiously, only the young Molotov, then in his twenties and quite obscure, had grasped what Lenin was really after. When the revolution hit Russia he was editing Pravda and keeping it on Leninist lines. Then Kamenev and Stalin came back from exile in Siberia and took over from Molotov. When, in Stockholm, Lenin got hold of some copies of Pravda and read the editorials, he was horrified it was indeed high time to go back. And when at the Russian frontier Kamenev and Stalin were there to meet him, ready for an affecting welcome, Lenin's first words were: "What's this you've been writing in Pravda? We've just seen some numbers, and we gave you what for!" Krupskaya was so moved by his returning home that she could not speak to the crowd that gathered round. But Lenin found no difficulty in speaking—or in cutting short his speech when the train pulled out. "Are they going to arrest us when they get to Petrograd?" he asked. The welcoming delegation smiled. That question showed, if nothing else did, how much Comrade Vladimir Ilych was out of touch. Within three months Lenin was in hiding for his life. That showed how much the comrades had been out of touch.

Then came the great arrival. At the Finland Station the revolutionaries had taken over the Tsars' waiting room. There they waited with a bouquet and speeches for Lenin. We have this scene from Sukhanov, a non-party Menshevik sympathizer, whom Lenin would not have allowed within speaking distance of his Bolsheviks, but whom his Bolsheviks had taken up as a friend. It was to have been an affecting scene of welcome and reconciliation—and it was to put Lenin in his place, as the respected émigré leader out of touch with the realities of Russian life, who would have to learn to walk all over again before he could run. The head of the welcoming committee was Chkheidze, one of the leading Mensheviks, and it was to Chkheidze that Lenin came at a trot.

"Lenin walked, or rather ran, into the 'Czar's Room' in a bowler hat, his face chilled, and a sumptuous bouquet in his arms. Hurrying in to the middle of the room, he stopped short in front of Chkheidze as though he had run into a completely unexpected obstacle. And then Chkheidze, not abandoning his melancholy attitude, pronounced the following 'speech of welcome,' carefully preserving not only the spirit and the letter, but also the tone of a moral preceptor: 'Comrade Lenin, in the name of the Petrograd Soviet and the whole revolution, we welcome you to Russia . . . but we consider that the chief task of the revolutionary democracy at present is to defend our revolution against every kind of attack both from within and without. . . . We hope that you will join us in striving towards this goal.' Chkheidze ceased. I was dismayed by the unexpectedness of it. But Lenin, it seemed, knew how to deal with all that. He stood there looking as though what was happening did not concern him in the least, glanced from one side to the other, looked over the surrounding public, and even examined the ceiling of the 'Czar's Room' while rearranging the bouquet (which harmonized rather badly with his whole figure), and, finally, having turned completely away from the delegates of the Executive Committee, he 'answered' thus: 'Dear Comrades, soldiers, sailors and workers, I am happy to greet you in the name of the victorious Russian Revolution, to greet you as the advance guard of the international proletarian army. . . . The hour is not far off when, at the summons of our Comrade Karl Liebknecht, the people [of Germany] will turn their weapons against their capitalist exploiters. . . . The Russian Revolution achieved by you has opened a new epoch. Long live the worldwide socialist revolution!'

That was the beginning. "Thus," to quote Trotsky, "the February revolution, garrulous and flabby and still rather stupid, greeted the man who had arrived with a resolute determination to set it straight both in thought and in will. Those first impressions, multiplying tenfold the alarm which he had brought with him, produced a feeling of protest in Lenin which it was difficult to restrain. How much more satisfactory to roll up his sleeves! Appealing from Chkheidze to the sailors and workers, from the defence of the Fatherland to the international revolution, from the Provisional Government to Liebknecht, Lenin merely gave a short rehearsal there at the station of his whole future policy."

The policy came next day, after further rehearsals. That same night he made a little speech to the revolutionary guard of honor on the platform, spotlighted by searchlights, the sailors standing at attention: "Comrade sailors, I greet you without knowing yet whether or not you have been believing in all the promises of the Provisional Government. But I am convinced that when they talk to you sweetly, when they promise you a lot, they are deceiving you and the whole Russian people. The people need peace the people need bread the people need land. And they give you war, hunger, no bread—leave the landlords still on the land. . . . We must fight for the social revolution, fight to the end, till the complete victory of the proletariat. Long live the world-wide social revolution!"

They put him in an armored car and drove him in triumph through cheering crowds to the Kshesinskaya Palace, the gorgeous mansion of the prima ballerina who had been the Tsar's mistress. Krupskaya was overcome by the tumultuous scene. "Those who have not lived through the revolution cannot imagine its grand and solemn beauty." Everybody was overcome, caught up in the tremendous release of primitive power, eager to see brotherhood and concord as the future state of all those who had helped pull down the Tsar. Only Lenin was not overcome. With his speech to the sailors under the searchlights on the Finland Station he had called for a new revolution: a revolution against the Provisional Government. And he went on calling. He spoke from Kshesinskaya Palace. To the mob he gave no rest. They were pleased with themselves for what they had done. Lenin told them it was not enough. To his fellow revolutionary leaders he brought a shock of reality and a sense of dismay.

And next day he made a formal speech to a meeting inside the Palace which lasted two hours.

"On the journey here with my comrades I was expecting they would take us directly from the station to Peter and Paul. We are far from that, it seems. But let us not give up the hope that it will happen, that we shall not escape it." From savage irony, directed at those who thought they could come to a compromise with the liberals and the capitalists in the Provisional Government, he went on to the downright expression of views which seemed to his audience to have no connection at all with what was really happening. They were as pleased with their revolution as a dog with two tails. They thought they had done wonderfully well. And here was Lenin, who had watched all from the safety of Switzerland, throwing it in their teeth—not a word of congratulation or praise, just scathing contempt, like a lash. And in its place? Here again, Sukhanov:—

"He swept aside agrarian reforms, along with all the other policies of the Soviet. He demanded that the peasants should themselves organize and seize the land without any governmental interference. We don't need any parliamentary republic. We don't need any bourgeois democracy. We don't need any government except the Soviet of workers', soldiers', and peasants' deputies.'"

The audience felt they had been hit over the head. Next day came the celebrated April Theses. In Trotsky's summary: "The republic which has issued from the February revolution is not our republic, and the war which it is waging is not our war. The task of the Bolsheviks is to overthrow the imperialist government. But this government rests upon the support of the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, who in turn are supported by the trustfulness of the masses of the people. We are in the minority. In these circumstances there can be no talk of violence on our side. We must teach the masses not to trust the compromisers and defensists. 'We must patiently explain!' The success of this policy, dictated by the whole existing situation, is assured, and it will bring us to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and so beyond the boundaries of the bourgeois regime. We will break absolutely with capital, publish its secret treaties, and summon the workers of the whole world to cast loose from the bourgeoisie and put an end to the war. We are beginning the international revolution. Only its success will confirm, our success, and guarantee a transition to the socialist regime."

Lenin was alone. The April Theses were offered in his name. They infuriated the Mensheviks and drove many Bolsheviks into the Menshevik camp. He did not mind. "Do not be afraid to remain in a minority." And he proposed a formal break with the Mensheviks. He would no longer share with them the name of Social Democrat. "Personally, and speaking for myself alone, I propose that we change the name of our party, that we call it the Communist Party." Not one of the members of the conference agreed to that final break with the Second International, which had betrayed itself when its members voted war credits to their own government in 1914. "You are afraid to go back on your old memories?" he jeered. "Don't hang on to an old word which is rotten through and through. Have the will to build a new party . . . and all the oppressed will come to you."

"Have the will to build a new party," this extraordinary man demanded in the moment of the party's triumph. Six months later the deed was done, but not before Lenin himself had been driven into hiding to escape from Peter and Paul.

How was it done? What was it all about?

The October revolution was produced by the impact of two distinct forces. One was immense, undisciplined, unsettled as to purpose, and a mass of contradictions the other compact, maneuverable, and single-minded. One was the people of Russia in revolt, who in March had overthrown the Tsar the other was the extreme left wing of a single revolutionary party among many, the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. At the moment of crisis this party was reduced for all practical purposes to a single individual, Vladimir Ilych Lenin, born Ulyanov, who had made Bolshevism, sustained it, preserved its inviolability against bitter odds, identified it absolutely with himself, and yet, on the eve of its triumph, was on the verge of resigning from it. The Bolshevik Party in crisis was nothing but Lenin's will and the men who were prepared to submit to it absolutely. If Lenin had resigned after his return to Russia in 1917 it would have lost its identity, swallowed up by the Mensheviks and the "Compromisers." Lenin would have formed another party, but too late to win for himself the government of Russia there would have been no Soviet Union. On the other hand, had Lenin given in to the popular demand and allowed his most trusted colleagues to persuade him into compromise, he would have lost his own identity and Bolshevism would have lost its meaning there would have been no Soviet Union. Lenin made his unbelievable stand when he trotted into the Finland Station in his bowler hat and found himself face to face with Chkheidze.

It was Lenin's personality and tactical skill alone which enabled him, in the name of Marx, to make skilled Marxists follow him against the teachings of Marx. He did this, in the end, by the means he outlined in the April Theses. In the suffering and confusion of revolutionary Russia he held aloof from those who were trying to make the revolution work. He harassed them and embarrassed them with absolute ruthlessness. He appealed to the people, the workers, the soldiers, the peasants, for whom generations of revolutionary intelligentsia had sacrificed themselves, over the heads of the men who had at last helped the people, the workers, the soldiers, and the peasants, to carry out the revolution. He appealed to their most selfish instincts: the desire for bread, for land, for peace. And, in the end, he got them on his side sufficiently to overthrow the government of Petrograd. For this he substituted the dictatorship of the proletariat, which meant, in effect, the dictatorship of Lenin's will.

He was a man selfless and without ambition. He was absolutely lacking in imagination. He loved the people as animals, not as people. He pitied them, but he did not respect them. He was, in the last degree, a sentimentalist. He wanted to save the people from the dreadful tyranny of the Tsars—but in his way and no other. His way held the seeds of another tyranny. He did not see this. If he had been able to see this, he would not have had the superhuman single-mindedness which carried him through all the isolation of the years in the wilderness, denouncing like a minor prophet all those, however beloved, who saw differently from him, on to the Finland Station, at a trot, to declare war, and sustain it to victory, against a revolution which promised to give the people of Russia all that they had ever asked. His sustaining faith, his scientific base, as he would have called it, was that the world revolution, which alone could sustain the Russian revolution, was at hand. He was wrong.


Did the Germans purposefully arrange to send Lenin to Russia to start a revolution?

A recent documentary, The World Wars, on the History Channel suggested, strongly, that the Imperial German government secretly arranged safe-passage for Vladimir Lenin to return to Moscow from Switzerland in 1917. Moreover, the Germans gave him financing through 1918 with the hope that Lenin would start a revolution that would cause Russia to withdraw its war with Germany during World War I.

If true, who came up with the idea and was there any consideration that a communist Russia could eventually be a threat to Germany?

How much did the arrangement cost the Germans, money-wise?

EDIT: Here's the transcript of "The World Wars" episode dealing with Germany's "Secrete Weapon"

[BEGIN TRANSCRIPT] [Narrator] Germany devises a plan to eliminate the Russian threat once and for all. The Germans load a secrete weapon unto a heavily guarded train headed for Russia. It's a weapon that promises to destroy their enemies from the inside out. [Dramatization showing a train station with the caption "St. Petersburg, Russia"] That weapon is Vladimir Lenin. Lenin is the leader of Russia's communist revolutionaries, hell bent on toppling the Russian Czar. For the past ten years he's been in exile in Switzerland . until Germany sends him home on a train along with over ten million dollars to fund his revolution.

[a Historian speaks] "The Germans decided that they would take this enormous gamble and bring Lenin back to Russia to bring about a Revolution to get Russia out of the war. That's about as radical a step as you can take" [Quote with caption: Robert Gellately. Historian, Florida State University]

[Narrator] When Lenin gets to Moscow, he's greeted by an old friend. Six times he's been exiled to Siberia and six times he's escaped. His name is Joseph Stalin.

"Comrade" [Dramatization of Joseph Stalin speaking to Lenin] "Comrade" [Lenin replies back]

[Narrator] Reunited, the two play right into Germany's plan as they begin to plot an armed rebellion. Over the next few months, Lenin and Stalin recruit a massive workers militia using the ten million dollars from the German government. They quietly amass a stockpile of weapons until they are ready to make their move.

"I've arranged to take the train stations and the telephone communications." [Dramatization of Joseph Stalin speaking to Lenin]

"And the palace guard?" [Lenin questions Stalin]

"Many of our sources say they are sympathetic to our cause." [Stalin replies back]

"Our training has been perfect." [Lenin says]

[Narrator] The communists storm the winter palace. The Soviet Union will soon rise to power.

"This is just the beginning comrades." [Dramatization of Stalin speaking to Lenin at the conquered palace]

[Narrator] Just days later Lenin signs a decree that takes Russia out of the war. The German plan works . bringing them one step closer to victory.

[Narrator] Europe is at war and in a bold move the central powers have ended the fighting on the Eastern Front sending exiled revolutionary Vladimir Lenin back to Russia where he seized control of the country and took the Russian army out of the fight. Germany can turn it's attention to the other allies. [end of the discussion regarding Lenin] [END TRANSCRIPT]


Funds Provision

However, the Kaiser Wilhelm II not only provided a means of transport for the Bolshevik conspirator but also gave him tens of millions of marks. The discovery, published by the weekly news magazine “Stern” in the 90s, made use of bank account numbers, dates and amounts of payments, to demonstrate that the Russian Revolution was financed by the Germans. Anyway, that was not totally new, as some of Lenin’s enemies had already accused him of this. The Soviet Union and Germany had always denied, but there is still some evidence. For instance, on June 18, 1917, a German industry magnate sent 350.000 marks to an account entitled to Lenin in Sweden. On January 8, 1918, a payment from the Reichsbank was sent to Trotsky. Some historians argue that Germany gave political coordinations to Lenin too.


Watch the video: Leon Trotsky: There will be, in the whole world a United Soviet Republic of all Peoples! (May 2022).