The Greatest Public Relations Coup of All Time

The branding campaign which transformed the labor movement into the "Worldwide Communist Conspiracy"

By Jack Barkstrom

Lenin and the Russian connection - why Marx's ideas took hold in Russia.

The Bolshevik Revolution - Russia Finds Inspiration

It was said that Lenin's inspiration came, not from Marx, but a novel, "What Is To Be Done?," written by Nikolai Chernyshevsky in 1862, while Chernyshevsky was serving time in the Peter and Paul Fortress for inciting subversion. The hero of the novel, Rakhmetev, dedicates his whole life to the cause of Revolution and the dream of a world where poverty no longer exists. After he came to power, he had a large portrait of Chernyshevsky installed in his Kremlin office. He also carried a photograph of the author in his wallet throughout his life.[1]

Lenin, the pseudonym by which Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov became known, claimed to have read Das Kapital in 1888, when he was eighteen, sitting on an old stove in his grandfather's apartment.[2], [3] He had been born on April 10, 1870, in the small provincial town of Simbirsk, located on the Volga River, some 900 kilometers southeast of Moscow.[4] In addition to reading Das Kapital, he translated the Communist Manifesto into Russian.[5] Perhaps his voracious reading habits explained his success in debating contests, where he was able to prove his points with suitable references to the writings of Marx.

The first translation of the Communist Manifesto, into Swedish, was done in 1848, the year of its original publication, in German. An English translation did not come out for another two years, done in 1850. It would take another nineteen years, twenty-one years after the first printing, before another major translation was attempted. The Russian translation, the second complete translation, took place in 1869, followed by a Serbian issue in 1870. In spite of the fact that Marx had lived in France and had associated with, even met or corresponded with, many of the leading French socialists, such as Proudhon, the first complete French translation did not come out until 1872, after the fall of the Paris Commune and publication of "The Civil War in France," which came out in May 1871.[6] It was also true that, while Marx had had contact with French socialists, he had successfully offended most of them, when they became the very public targets of his criticism. Proudhon's 1846 book, "The Philosophy of Poverty," which was a success in France, was attacked by Marx in his "The Poverty of Philosophy," for which Marx could not find a publisher and used his own funds for the printing.[7]

In the fall of 1868 Marx received a letter from a Russian economist and writer named Nikolai Danielson, then living in St. Petersburg. The letter informed Marx that a St. Petersburg publisher (N. Polyakov) was interested in releasing a Russian edition of "Capital. Critique of Political Economy." Danielson, along with two associates, was interested in doing the translation.[8]

Marx may have been pleased by the request, but he was also puzzled. The Russians he encountered, members of the aristocracy, many of whom had come to study in Germany or Paris, seemed fascinated with, almost in awe of, the West. He conceded that, while he had been fighting with them for twenty-five years, those he had met while in Paris in 1843-1844, had eagerly waited on him "hand and foot."[9] He had had run-ins with the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, over Bakunin's championing of secret societies.[10] Perhaps the outlook of Russians, from St. Petersburg or Moscow, had been shaped by ideas similar to those Marx himself had held. While living in Germany he had a romanticized view of Paris as the center of the world. Perhaps the explanation was more materialistic. Russia was beginning to develop an industrial economy, but compared to Germany or Paris, Russia, as they visited or traveled through rural areas, seemed a backward country.

Das Kapital - Mixed Reviews

At the end of March 1872, three thousand copies of the Russian translation of Das Capital finally came off the press. In two months all the copies had been sold. It was said that readership was even greater, with many copies lent out, or passed on, to others, sometimes clandestinely, concealed inside the cover of the New Testament. The Russian censors had approved it, on the grounds that it was so difficult to understand, assuming there was anything of substance to understand, that no one would buy it anyway. Even if some readers would buy it, fewer would understand it.[11], [12], [13] They would not allow a picture of Marx himself to appear in the book, perhaps fearful that it might give him added credibility. The opinion of the censors and the response of the Russian reading audience represented the first reality-based assessment of the value of his writings, even if they came to opposite conclusions about its worth, in comparison to the reviews, written by professionals or dedicated contributors, which appeared in publications. When Marx received a bound copy in May 1872, he asked Nikolai Danielson, his translator to send a second bound copy, which Marx wanted to donate to the British Museum.[14]

Somewhat mirroring the divide between Russian censors and the Russian reading public, the English audience split between those who felt it would, or should be, ignored, and those who considered it a masterpiece. The barrister Sir John MacDonnell, in an issue of "The Fortnightly Review," which came out in March 1875, wrote about Marx 'People may do him the honor of abusing him; read him they do not.' [15] The British prime minister Harold Wilson, a century later claimed that he never read Das Kapital, or at least not more than the first two pages. His comment was 'I only got as far as page two - that's where the footnote is nearly a page long.'[16] The length of the footnote claim was a bit of an exaggeration, but Wilson's comment about only getting to page two was probably true. The English socialist William Morris did his best to avoid sounding negative, saying that 'he thoroughly enjoyed the historical part' of Das Kapital but then added that he suffered 'agonies of confusion of the brain over reading the pure economics of that great work. Anyway, I read what I could, and will hope that some information stuck to me from my reading.'[17]

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish writer, came to the opposite conclusion. He spent the autumn of 1883 in the reading room of the British Museum studying the French edition. 'That was the turning point in my career.' He added even more. 'Marx was a revelation... He opened my eyes to the facts of history and civilization, gave me an entirely fresh conception of the universe, provided me with a purpose and a mission in life.' In his view 'Das Kapital achieved the greatest feat of which a book is capable - that of changing the minds of the people who read it.'[18] Shaw's comments would clearly rank among the best reviews possible and would have pleased Marx, but Shaw's interest in Marx began half a year after Marx's death, in March 1883. In addition, while Shaw became a convert, he was largely alone in his enthusiasm and praise. Even members of the socialist Fabian Society, which Shaw joined in 1884, largely ignored Marx, in spite of Shaw's efforts to promote him.[19]

The German response to Das Kapital, even with the benefit of being printed in German, was somewhat lukewarm. Where the three thousand Russian copies, printed in March 1872, had sold out in three months, the 1,000 copies of the first edition, which came out in 1867, took four years to sell out.[20]

Popular Fad or Word-of-Mouth Promotion

It has sometimes been said that one of the measures of success in book promotion is not necessarily whether people have actually read a book, but whether they buy or own a copy just to prove that they've read it, or to read just enough to be able to discuss it. Was the early success of Das Kapital in Russia a genuine interest in the writings of Marx or more of a popular fad? Did ideas which the British or German reading public found boring or incomprehensible, suddenly become fascinating or more insightful or even exciting, when read in Russian? Or, for whatever reason, had Marx simply become the standard for measuring intellectual status or achievement in Russian society, somewhat similar to the views of the French nobility during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Anyone who was anyone in French society had to visit or hoped to be part of the Court at Versailles.

Was the Russian interest in Das Kapital based on the economic insights or analysis found in Das Kapital itself or based more on the fact that Marx had a solid reputation within the Russian community, both for his earlier writings, as well as for his contacts with them in Paris or Germany? Had the Russians created around Marx a personality cult? He had been criticized for his dictatorial manner when serving in his editorial capacity, but, in their meetings with him, had the Russians been impressed by the forcefulness of his personality - which might come across as self-confidence, drive, and determination - and translated that into a mystical belief in his power. Here was someone to be reckoned with, a man destined for greatness. Perhaps in their letters back to their friends in Russia, they mentioned him or his ideas. In one sense, his attacks on governmental authority and confrontations with the Prussian authorities seemed to embody heroic ideals.

Perhaps Marx simply happened to be in the right place and the right time, when it came to Russian development. Russia was not at the stage of industrial development of Germany or France, but it was experiencing industrialization. Idealistic Russian intellectuals found themselves sympathetic to, or identified with, the peasants and workers of Russia. Marx, in his anti-capitalist writings, was expressing ideas the Russians could identify with. At a time when they were discussing, or even participating in, revolutionary acts which resulted in imprisonment or death, Marx's rebellious nature and run-ins with the Prussian authorities may have given him the status of a hero. If he had not suffered to the same extent as Russian revolutionaries, his political problems made him a sympathetic figure, in their eyes. [21]

Marx's standing as a revolutionary theorist would have not have been hurt by his association with real Russian revolutionaries. The fact that he chose to associate with them at all, rather than with the visiting members of the Russian nobility, would likely have increased the size of his marketing network. His association with the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin had started while both were in Paris in the 1840s. Bakunin had an impressive revolutionary resume, having spent time in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Fortress, been exiled to, and escaped from, Siberia, participated in the 1848 uprising in Paris, and was said to have manned the barricades in Dresden in 1849, alongside Richard Wagner.[22] He believed in violent revolution, once writing "There is only one science for the revolutionary, the science of destruction."[23] His promotion of violent revolution would lead to his eventual split with Marx, but he had been close enough to be asked to do the Russian translation of Das Kapital in 1869, (although the request did not come from Marx. He would eventually back out of the translation contract.[24]

Historical Materialism and the Stages of Industrialism

Russia, and Russian readers, would present Marx with the first major challenge to his theories, or, conversely, the first major opportunity to modify, or at least clarify, his theories about communism or Marxism. In 1859, Marx had published a book called "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," where he introduced two major ideas. One was historical materialism, or the materialist conception of history, which argued that, while individuals made history, economic forces and conditions ultimately determined the outcome. The second idea was a stages model of history where societies went through stages of social or industrial development, from feudal societies to Western industrial societies. Before there could be a communist revolution, there needed to be a proletarian, or working class, which could revolt. There could be no working class, according to orthodox Marxist thought, unless there was industrialization. [25], [26], [27] Marx discussed this process in Das Kapital, but may not have felt it that important, since the discussion came closer to the end, than to the beginning.[28]

It may have been Critique of Political Economy which excited Russian readers. The first print run had come out in June 1859 in Berlin. The Russian translation came out in March 1860 and began to sell almost immediately. A University of Moscow lecturer, at the time, thought it significant enough to begin lecturing on it.[29] Russian academics considered this a preliminary work, and were looking forward to the main part of his economics treatise. Trotsky later observed that nearly all of Marxist theory was contained in three works: the Communist Manifesto, the Critique of Political Economy, and Das Kapital.[30]

Perhaps the real question, when it came to socialism in Russia, was what the difference was between 'ordinary' revolution and Marx's socialist revolution, and what was meant by the end result, the triumph of socialism, socialism, or the creation of a socialist society. Was the end result simply the elimination of an oppressive government, as embodied by the Czar, and its replacement by another, or was a socialist revolution targeted more specifically at capitalists and their treatment of factory workers? Were the injustices of the factory system the real problem or were they just symbolic of the larger injustices across Russian society?

In one sense, Marx had become obsessed with the problems of factory workers and the working class, to the exclusion of other economic problems. Capitalism, and the capitalist system, was mainly a problem of capitalist factory ownership. In his eyes, the social question, which other writers had been wrestling with, and which covered a range of social problems, such as food shortages, overcrowding, disease, and poverty generally, could be boiled down to the existence of capitalists and their attitude of indifference to or hostility toward the working class.

Given that focus, his solution was a change in attitude by workers. They needed to become revolutionaries and embrace revolution. It was a little unclear whether he wanted them to target just the capitalist factory owners, and to resort to violence, if that was what it took, or was he just looking for a change in attitude. He wavered between militant action and non-violent activities. One minute he wanted workers to act; the next minute he backed away from violence. Whether that was the result of his actual beliefs or was the result of his personal political battles is debatable. He seemed to be suggesting militant, if not violent action, in the Communist Manifesto, but when Mikhail Bakunin advocated violent revolution, he condemned him.[31] If nothing else, Marx argued that workers needed to be aware that the working class represented a distinct group, and they were members of it. At times he almost seemed to be wishing that the capitalists would make conditions even worse. The goal was not an improvement in factory conditions, but something which would trigger a response - a situation where conditions were so intolerable that workers would finally become revolutionaries, and take revolutionary action.

In February 1881, Vera Zasulich (sometimes Sassoulitch), living in Switzerland, sent Marx a letter, essentially asking how communal land ownership, a common practice in Russian villages, fit in with Marx's theories of private property and his stages of societal development. If it was part of the feudal stage of early societies, would it need to be converted to private property, when Russia went through its industrial phase, and would it then revert to collective ownership, once the future communist society had been created?[32]

Vera Zasulich was not your run-of-the-mill émigré letter writer. In 1878 she had been put on trial in Russia for the attempted murder of the Governor of St Petersburg, General Fyodor Trepov. The daughter of a noble family, the then twenty-eight year old, had shot and wounded the general after he had ordered the flogging of a radical student for refusing to salute him. She was found not guilty after a jury trial, even hailed as a martyr. Her trial was the last jury trial Russian authorities would allow. When they announced they would try her again - without a jury - she went into hiding, escaped from Russia, and ended up an exile in Switzerland. She would later move to London.[33]

Her letter serves as an example of the revolutionary divide among socialist revolutionaries in Russia. In her letter she wrote [...we often hear it said that the rural commune is an archaic form condemned to perish by history...] and "scientific socialism." "...[T]he people who preach this call themselves your disciples par excellence: 'Marxists'. The strongest of their arguments is often: 'Marx has said it'." The problem, she noted, was that she could find nothing in Das Kapital which even discussed the agrarian problem or Russia either, for that matter.[34]

Ironically, the exile group of Russians living in Switzerland, were despised by Marx for their opposition to terrorism coupled with a preference for propaganda. Rather than focusing on propaganda and 'doctrine' from the safe distance of Geneva, Marx thought, they should be actively involved in the struggle in Russia.[35] In 1869, when the International held its Basle Congress, Marx had opposed Bakunin's advocacy of sweeping destruction of contemporary society.[36] Bakunin, like Zasulich, seemed the embodiment of the revolutionary activism Marx admired. He had escaped from exile in Siberia in 1861, and had spent the years prior to 1869 agitating in Italy and Switzerland.[37] In 1881, Marx, in another reversal, would express admiration for the members of the People's Will (Narodnaia Volya), who, after six attempts, had finally succeeded in assassinating Czar Alexander II. He considered them 'brave people,' - individuals who, in contrast to the propagandists in Switzerland, were actively involved in Russia.[38]

Among the despised Geneva exiles was the real leader of the orthodox Marxist faction, Georgy Valentinovich Plekhanov, who headed the Emancipation of Labor organization. (It would be one of the first revolutionary groups Lenin would join, in 1888.) [39] Plekhanov was another member of the Russian nobility. He had been expelled from the Mining Institute in St Petersburg in 1877 for taking part in a demonstration. Two years later, he managed to elude the Okhrana and flee Russia, ending up in Switzerland. A venerated figure, described as the 'Moses of Marxism,' he established his reputation with two publications, the 1885 pamphlet "Our Differences" and the book "On the Development of the Monist View of History."[40]

Plekhanov's orthodox 'Marxist' view was that Russia would follow a Western European model of revolution. Under that model there would be progressive industrialization, the creation of a working class out of industrialization, the development of class consciousness by the working class, and finally, a proletarian revolution.[41]

The "populists," or narodniki, represented the competing school of thought about revolutionary development in Russia. Like Lenin, they found inspiration in Nikolai Chernyshevsky's novel "What Is to Be Done." Their belief was that Russia could attain a socialist society without going through industrialization. This group came to believe that Russia already had an almost perfect model for a communist society in the peasant communes (obschina) and village society of rural Russia. Peasant villages had a tradition of joint ownership of land, communal cooperation in farming, considered a basic form of agrarian socialism.[42]

The populists were largely Russian intellectuals, members of the privileged class, who began to identify with the Russian peasantry and the idea that revolution would come from the peasant class. During the 1860s bands of these idealistic young men and women moved to the country in a form of 'back to the people' movement, lived in communes, attempted to open first-aid centers, and educate illiterate peasants. The peasants found them more of an irritation than a help and avoided them where possible. In some cases, the peasants reported them to the police, in the most extreme cases, they attacked or killed them, many times throwing them out of their villages.[43]

The populists started out initially as a peaceful movement, with groups such as Land and Liberty (Zemlya y Volya). [44] They, or some, would turn in a more violent direction. 'The People's Will' (Narodnaia Volya), the terrorist or extremist wing of the Populist movement, would be responsible for the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. [45]

Sergei Nechayev was considered one of the movement's leaders, largely on the basis of a pamphlet called "The Revolutionary Catechism." "The revolutionary..." was to focus on one thing "...a single thought, a single passion: the Revolution... He must be prepared to destroy everyone and everything that stands in his way."[46] "There is only one science for the revolutionary, the science of destruction."[47] Although the "Revolutionary Catechism" was influential, it is not entirely clear whether the author was Nechayev or Mikhail Bakunin, since it was supposedly written while the two were associates. There were two versions of Nechayev's life story. Both versions confirm that he was mentally unstable and considered a psychopath. He was rumored to have murdered a student in Moscow - beaten, strangled and shot him.[48] The reasons for the murder varied. One version was that the student disobeyed him and publicly disagreed with him. One version is that the student questioned the existence of the underground group he was supposedly leading.[49] Another version is that the murder was committed so Nechayev could gain control of his assets.[50] There were also differing accounts of how he spent his time following the murder. One story is that he died a prisoner in the Peter and Paul Fortress, after serving ten years at hard labor for the murder.[51] Another version is one he concocted when he first encountered Bakunin in 1869 in Geneva, in which he claimed to have escaped from the Peter and Paul Fortress, the same prison Bakunin had served time in, and that he was the head of an underground group with thousands of members in Russia.[52]

Another Populist leader was Pyotr Tkachov (Tkachev). He was significant, in terms of Marxist theory, not so much for his revolutionary views, but for clarifying the views of Marx and Engels when it came to applying Marxist theory to Russia. In 1874 he wrote an "Open Letter" to Engels criticizing or questioning Engels' views on the revolutionary state of Russia. He argued that the traditional peasant commune, the obchtchina, had the potential to carry out a revolution in Russia, before, or without, the development stage of industrialization necessary to create an industrial proletariat. If Russian industry was too small or not sufficiently developed to produce a large number of workers, at least the Russian peasants had the numbers to qualify as 'masses' within the term 'peasant masses.' 'Peasant masses' sounded credible when it described a group of rural laborers which numbered in the millions. Marx did not use phrases such as 'proletarian tiny bunch' or the 'proletarian small-sized group,' when, or if, he discussed small groups of peasants. The 'proletarian masses' suggested by Marx as essential for a revolutionary movement would seem to require something on a grand scale. Proletarian masses, which conjured up images of an army on the move, hardly seemed appropriate when the size of the labor force had dwindled to numbers as low as 10, 100, or even a thousand workers.[53], [54]

Engels' reply was given in "On Social Relations in Russia." Dogmatically, he insisted that socialism and the socialist revolution could only occur if a society went through the stages of industrial and societal development, which required industrialization as a necessary preliminary step. Obviously Mr. Tkachov didn't understand basic socialism, according to Engels, because, Engels wrote, "...he has still to learn the ABC of socialism."[55]

If Engels seemed skeptical of a socialist revolution in Russia based on the peasant class, he actually argued that Russia was ripe for a revolution because of the intolerable conditions in which the peasants lived. Since emancipation - the emancipation of the serfs by Alexander II in 1861 - Engels wrote, the condition of the Russian peasants had become so intolerable that "... a revolution is in the offing." [56] Engels, while seemingly dismissive of any connection between the Russian peasants and socialism, nevertheless drew parallels between their exploitation and that of the industrial working classes in Western Europe. If Russia was too backward and primitive, when it came to industrial development, to be considered a candidate for capitalism, Engels seemingly reversed course and described its system as 'capitalist parasitism,' in which the 'bloodsuckers of the peasants,' - the state, the rich peasants, and even grain speculators - participated in the exploitation. For a backward country, its parasitic capitalism was at a more advanced stage of development than than of any other country.[57]

Having argued that Russia's economy was as exploitative as any found in the capitalist world, Engels immediately reversed course. Adopting Marx's 'take no prisoners' style, he was unwilling to concede anything to Tkachov. Tkachov argued that Russians were the 'chosen people of socialism,' because they had common ownership of land or used artels, cooperative working associations.[58] Engels disliked that suggestion, as well as Tkachov's claim that Russian peasants were the 'true vehicles of socialism' or 'born Communists.'[59] Engels went to great lengths to point out that the artel, and similar cooperative working arrangements was not unique to Russia, was not even a Russian invention, and was used in other countries and societies.

The first part of Engels' letter seems to provide a step-by-step framework or operational guide to communist revolution. Socialism demanded that industrialization occur before Russia could experience a revolution. If Engels viewed industrialization as necessary, it may have been related to his own, narrow definition of the proletariat. In "The Principles of Communism," written in 1847, he made a distinction between the proletariat and the poor and working classes, which had always been present. "The Proletariat," he wrote, "originated in the industrial revolution..."[60] He defined Communism in a very narrow sense as well. It was specifically tied to the proletariat, not to the entire working class. "Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat." How did he define the proletariat? "The proletariat is that class in society which lives entirely from the sale of its labor and does not draw profit from any kind of capital... The proletariat, or the class of proletarians, is, in a word, the working class of the 19th century."[61] Yet the argument made in the second half of his article seems to have little to do with socialism or the stages of a socialist revolution. Industrial development as a preliminary stage on the road to a socialism, Engel's opening argument, was one thing; the need for industrialization in the context of economic development or as an end in itself, was another, although that was the argument he was making at the end. Russia, in other words, needed to modernize its economy, the peasant commune stood in the way, and would have to go, if Russia wanted to modernize. If he started, in his opening argument, discussing the stages of socialism, he ended up arguing for industrial development and progress, regardless of whether it had anything to do with socialism or not.

Engels dismissed the association Tkachov made between communal property ideas and communism, with arguments similar to those against the cooperative work artels. First, it was not uniquely Russian, since it was found in other countries, such as India and Ireland. Second, it was also associated with a low level of development in those societies where it was found.[62] Even in those underdeveloped societies, communal ownership was being seen as a brake on agricultural production and was being eliminated. If Russia maintained the communal system, the more important point was that it proved how backward Russia was.[63] Engels saw Russia as somewhat behind other countries in retaining the communal property system. He saw development as leading to the destruction of the system, but it was unclear whether he saw himself as an observer of a natural historical phenomenon or as an advocate for change. In one sentence he viewed it as an obstacle to progress. A few sentences later he switched to historical mode, observing that the system was past its prime and moving toward disintegration.[64]

Somewhat confusedly, toward the end of his discussion, he argued that only a proletarian revolution in Western Europe would save the Russian system of communal ownership. He did not explain what the connection was between a revolution in Western Europe and Russia or how it would operate to save the Russian system. Where this fit into his overall theory of socialism or the idea that Russian socialism needed to develop in stages was unclear.[65]

Engels' belief or insistence that socialism required Russia to go through progressive stages of industrial development was related to another Marxist theme, known as "historical materialism" or the "materialist conception of history." In his preface to "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," Marx wrote "The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life...." [66] While Engels would concentrate on class struggles throughout history and the capitalist mode of production, his broader thesis was that these struggles were "...always the products of the modes of production and exchange - in a word, of the economic conditions of their time." The economic structure of society was the "real basis" of political institutions and ideas of any given historical period.[67], [68] Engels would summarize his materialist conception of history by stating that all social structure in every society in history was based on production. "...[T]he manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged."[69]

Revolution Arrives

In his article "On Social Relations in Russia," Engels seemed to make contradictory predictions. On the one hand he stated that "...a revolution is in the offing in Russia," based on the condition of the Russian peasants since emancipation.[70] Based on her financial condition, high taxes, government corruption, and despotism, he later asserts: "Russia undoubtedly is on the eve of a revolution." and "This revolution is surely approaching."[71] At the same time he ridicules Tkachov's claim that political revolution was likely based on the accumulated grievances of the Russian people. Engels' sarcastic response was dismissive: "It is impossible to conceive of a revolution on easier and more dismissive terms. One starts shooting, at three or four places simultaneously, and the "instinctive revolutionist," "practical necessity" and the "instinct of self-preservation" do the rest "of themselves." Being so dead easy, it is simply incomprehensible why the revolution has not long ago been made, the people liberated and Russia transformed into the model socialist country."[72]

In one sense, Engels was correct on both counts. Russia did seem to be on the eve of revolution. Revolution would actually come in 1905 and then in 1917. At the same time, there had been a number of independent revolutionary acts, including the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881, the attempted assassination of Alexander III in 1887, and successful attacks on lesser figures in the government, such as the minister of the interior, V.K. Plehve, assassinated in 1904, and prime minister and minister of the interior, P.A. Stolypin, assassinated in 1911, which had not sparked a wider rebellion. Until 1917, the Russian government had proved strong enough to weather nearly all attempts to bring it down.

The success of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917 would suggest that Marx and Engels had been wrong about the application of Marxist theory to Russia. Communist revolution had come to Russia without going through the intermediate stages of industrial development. Communist revolution had come unexpectedly to the most unlikely place. The obvious question was why, as well as how, communism had succeeded in Russia, against the predictions or expectations of Marx or Engels, who viewed Germany, England, or other industrialized countries as more likely candidates for a proletarian revolution. Lurking in the background was a broader question: was the revolution which engulfed Russia necessarily a 'communist' revolution or just an 'ordinary' revolution, one without an ideological motivation? It was true that the leaders, such as Lenin or Trotsky, were followers of Marx and believed in communism. Did that, in and of itself, make Russia the first country to experience a communist revolution?

On May 8, 1887, five young men, all students at St Petersburg University, were hanged in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg, for an attempted assassination of the Czar in March. One of the men was Alexander Ilyich Ulyanov, the brother of the future Vladimir Lenin.[73] In December of that year, Vladimir was arrested for taking part in a student demonstration at the University of Kazan.[74] Although he was barred from formal admission, he became an external student at St Petersburg University and managed to pass the exams for a law degree.[75]

Lenin practiced for a time in Samara, then moved to St Petersburg in August 1893.[76] He became involved with some of the radical groups there and was sufficiently successful that he was asked by the St Petersburg Marxists to visit Western Europe in order to make contact with the Emancipation of Labor group in Geneva. He left in April 1895 and returned in September.[77] In December, he was arrested, just as he was preparing to launch a new publication. He was held in a detention facility in St Petersburg from December 1895 until February 1897, , then sent to Siberia, to serve a three-year sentence of 'administrative exile.'[78] On January 29, 1900, he was released, spent some time in Moscow, and being under surveillance by the Okhrana, requested permission to leave Russia for Germany, a request which was granted in July 1900.[79]

A Leader is Born

Some of the most significant events in the history of the Communist movement in Russia took place when Lenin was either not present, if they took place in Russia itself, or when he was outside of Russia entirely, living as an exile. Yet Lenin would emerge as the recognized leader in 1917, when the movement was successful. His success seemed to defy logic, both in terms of Marxist theory, which placed Russia at the bottom of the revolutionary list, and in terms of his ability to exercise leadership more from the edges of power than from its center. His achievement spanned both the theoretical, where he defined Marxist theory, and the practical, in engineering the physical takeover of the Russian government. How was he able to accomplish this?

What would become the Communist Party was formed in March 1898, at a meeting in the Byelorussian city of Minsk, while Lenin was still in exile in Siberia. It was first named the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party, known in English for its European counterpart, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP).[80] Although Lenin called for violence against the Czarist regime during the 1905 Revolution, he did so from the safety of Geneva.[81] Rather than return to Russia to lead the revolt, he organized a Party Congress in London in May 1905.[82] When he did return to Russia, in November 1905, it was only after most of the fighting was over, and the Czar had granted an amnesty.[83] The wife of a senior Bolshevik in St Petersburg, Tatiana Alexinsky, was somewhat disillusioned when Lenin, who she regarded as a legendary hero, was the first to run when someone shouted "Cossacks!" during a peaceful demonstration in the summer of 1906. He jumped over a barrier, fell, got up again and continued running away.[84] Stalin, who would meet Lenin for the first time in December 1905 at a Bolshevik Conference, also found him less than inspiring. Lenin would show up late to meetings, was not physically intimidating, in fact, was below average in height, would engage in ordinary conversation with delegates, and failed to utilize many of the outward or traditional tricks used to suggest an aura of power.[85] In December 1907, after the Czar reversed his reform measures, Lenin decided to leave Russia, settling in Switzerland again.[86]

What made Lenin a leader, despite his shortcomings, were his organizational skills and his speaking and writing abilities - combined with an intense energy and an obsessive interest in revolutionary activities.[87] If he was in exile in Siberia in 1898, when the RSDPL was formed, he was one of the co-founders, in 1895, of the Union of the Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class, the first officially Marxist revolutionary organization in Russia. (The RSDPL was officially a 'party' whereas the Union was a revolutionary 'organization.')[88]

His ability to focus obsessively on a single subject had allowed him to cram a four-year course of legal studies into twelve months and then to pass the law exam with the highest marks of all fourteen papers.[89] But after obtaining the official admission he seemed to lose interest in the practice of law. He lost thirteen cases, out of the fourteen he took before the Samara Circuit Court. His interest in the legal profession was not helped by the fact that he developed a hatred for lawyers.[90]

In contrast to law, Lenin developed a real passion for revolutionary causes and for writing. It took time to develop his writing skills, his early attempts described as boring and dense, but with journalistic practice, they became concise and effective.[91] His first success came with a propaganda leaflet, written on behalf of striking workers at the Thornton textile factory on the outskirts of St Petersburg.[92] He volunteered as a lecturer and over time developed skills in that area as well, known for his ability to explain socialist ideas in simple terms his audience could relate to.[93]

Lenin's writing and speaking skills, coupled with time in jail and Siberian exile, had established his name in revolutionary circles in Russia. His recognition as a leader would come from an almost traditional marketing campaign designed to spread and popularize the communist message - the publication of a newspaper. He became convinced that a newspaper was what the RSDPL needed. He was also aware that, with the Okhrana presence, it would be futile to try to publish the paper in Russia. When the authorities allowed him to leave the country in July 1900, he at least had decided on a name - 'Iskra' or 'Spark.'[94] The first issue was published not long after he settled in Germany, December 11, 1900.[95]

Despite his rising status within the Party, Lenin could not simply ignore the more established and influential leadership within the movement. Among these was Georgy Plekhanov. Plekhanov liked the idea of the 'Spark,' but assumed that he, rather than Lenin, would provide the leadership. He even threatened to leave the editorial board if not given more power, at which point Lenin agreed to allow Plekhanov two votes.[96] Plekhanov lost some control when it was decided to move the publication location to Germany. Switzerland may have provided refuge for political exiles from other countries but Swiss printers viewed the ideas and venture as risky. There was political risk in Germany as well but it was at least possible to find a sympathetic printer willing to take the risk. Germany also had the advantages of more advanced, sophisticated presses, a large socialist movement, and a more efficient European communications system. Lenin was able to find a printer with an underground press in Munich.[97]

The geographical division of the editorial board gave Lenin a measure of autonomy, but it was an awkward compromise. Plekhanov and another exile, Pavel Axelrod, resided in Switzerland, Vera Zasulich was in London, and Lenin worked from Munich.[98] Lenin found himself shuttling back and forth between Munich and Plekhanov's home on the shores of Lake Geneva, sometimes just to repair or prevent ruptures in their relationship. Despite their differences, Plekhanov would later support Lenin at the 1903 London Congress, when a seemingly minor disagreement created the split which ended in the Bolshevik and Menshevik wings of the Party. That support evaporated and Plekhanov saw that Lenin was voted off the editorial board of Iskra.[99]

Ironically, money proved less of a problem for Lenin and his Russian journal than for Marx and his efforts in capitalist Germany. In spite of Russia's seeming backwardness, individuals who had done well within the system proved sympathetic - and generous - when it came to radical causes. Alexandra Kalmykova, the wife of a Russian senior civil servant, gave Lenin 1,600 rubles as seed money for the paper when Lenin left Russia, raised additional funds among friends, and later contributed another 2,000 rubles of her own. A textile magnate named Savva Morozov, a friend of the author and playwright Maxim Gorky, would later provide Lenin 2,000 rubles a month, at a time when the paper was struggling.[100]

Lenin, as editor-in-chief, like Marx, displayed more dictatorial tendencies the longer he served, when it came to day-to-day operations. At the same time, like Marx, he was considered a first-rate journalist, totally focused on the paper's articles and the quality of writing, and, in contrast to his high-level political disagreements, could inspire and flatter the journalists he supervised.[101]

The Spark gave Lenin a voice as editor-in-chief. Almost as important, for his emergence as a leader, was the distribution network and readership base he established in Russia. Publishing or even reading banned literature, including the Spark, was a crime in Russia. Lenin had to rely on a network of smugglers to get the publication into Russia, past the eyes of the Okhrana agents, and into the hands of its readers. Some of the routes went south, through Marseilles and Toulon or northern Iran; others went north, through Norway and Sweden. Some of the smugglers were private individuals or Okhrana double agents. Lenin once estimated that only about 10 per cent of the deliveries actually got through.[102] By early 1902 the number of 'professional revolutionaries' acting as Iskra agents numbered around a thousand.[103]

The Spark would be published in Munich for two years. Although the German police had been keeping tabs on Lenin since his arrival, they pretty much left him alone in Munich.[104] The atmosphere began changing, prompted by Okhrana warnings about subversives.[105] In another parallel with Marx, Lenin and the Iskra board decided it might be safer to move the publication to London, where the authorities were likely to leave them alone.[106] Lenin arrived there in April 1902.[107] London, if foreign and new, was at least relatively free from government interference, and Lenin would be free from Plekhanov's involvement. It was not to last. By October, Plekhanov persuaded the Iskra board to move the production to Geneva. As much as Lenin disliked Plekhanov, he nevertheless decided to make the move.[108] He did find some solace in the existence of fairly good libraries in Geneva and, like London, a Swiss police force willing to tolerate their presence.[109]

Lenin achieved a measure of revenge in August 1903. The Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), which opened its meeting in London, after the too-obvious surveillance by police in Brussels in July made attendees nervous. The London meeting would be the source of the famous Bolshevik-Menshevik split. Lenin found himself losing votes on some mundane proposals until some of the delegates walked out and he found himself in the majority. He then proposed that some members of the 'old guard' - Axelrod, Zasulich and Alexander Potresov - be removed from the board of Iskra. He won the vote. It was not just the outcome of the voting which was important, but the marketing opportunity which presented itself. Lenin called his followers 'bolchintsvo,' the majority, better remembered as Bolsheviks; his opponents 'menchintsvo,' the minority, remembered historically as the Mensheviks. The Mensheviks in Russia remained greater in number, but Lenin somehow made the labels stick.[110]

Lenin's success, in terms of the Iskra board, was short-lived. Plekhanov would shortly engineer Lenin's own removal from the board, following which Lenin would resign from the organizing committees of the RSDLP.[111] In the end, Lenin may have had the last laugh. The Mensheviks inherited Iskra, but without Lenin, could not keep it going, and it disappeared shortly after the split.[112] In spite of these reversals, Lenin remained in Geneva. While the fight had alienated many former allies and friends, he still had a group of Bolshevik followers, even in Russia.

Shortly before the 1905 Revolution Lenin, with Gorky's help, launched another socialist paper, 'Vyperod' (Forward), the same name as Marx's 1844 journal.[113] The paper never went anywhere - (and the temptation is to say the same about Lenin himself, who chose to sit out the events in Russia from the safety of Geneva). Rather than going to Russia, he went to London to organize a Party Congress to discuss the Party line on the events of Bloody Sunday. The Congress drew thirty-eight delegates when it opened in May 1905.[114]

Lenin returned to Russia in November, after the Czar's amnesty decree. While there he did some writing for a now-legal (and the first) Bolshevik newspaper, 'Novaya Zhizn' (New Life), started by Gorky at the end of 1905. He left Russia for London in the spring of 1907 for the Fifth Party Congress, returned to Finland in early June 1907, then, with a warrant out for his arrest, left for Sweden on Christmas Day 1907.[115] By January 1908 he was back in Geneva. With Gorky's help, he managed to start another paper, 'Proletarii' which achieved a monthly circulation of about 10,000, mostly émigrés.[116] While he enjoyed getting back into the routine which the editorial position required and even found time to travel in Western Europe lecturing to socialist groups, he was effectively sidelined with little influence, or so he felt, when it came to the revolutionary movement.

If Lenin felt somewhat useless, he also felt he was still being targeted by the Okhrana. Hoping that a location change might improve his revolutionary standing, he decided to move to Paris in December 1908. Most of the decision was probably due to his personal desire to leave the 'provincial backwater' he considered Geneva. But he was also influenced by a physician named Yakov Zhitomirsky, who, while a trusted official within the Party, was also the Okhrana's top agent in Switzerland. Zhitomirsky argued that there would be less spying in a large city such as Paris and that Lenin would be less of a target there. Once Lenin was on his way, Zhitomirsky notified the Paris Okhrana office when Lenin was scheduled to arrive and where he would be staying.[117] Lenin may have felt his best revolutionary days were behind him; the Okhrana apparently was not so sure.

Paris proved to be a disappointment. It was expensive, one of the most expensive cities in Europe. He involved himself in journalism, but without a journal his writing was not particularly memorable.[118] In the spring of 1911 he opened a school in the village of Longjumeau, about eighteen kilometers from Paris, and lectured there occasionally.[119] While he was able to keep busy, the feeling that he needed to engage more may have prompted his decision to participate in elections for the Fourth Duma. He had been boycotting the Dumas since 1905. In May 1912 he changed his mind, began writing articles favoring parliamentary elections, and put together a slate of seven candidates.[120]

In what turned out to be a major mistake, Lenin had chosen as the leading candidate a Russified Pole named Roman Malinovsky, who happened to be an Okhrana agent. Many of Lenin's Bolshevik associates began suspecting him, since they would end up being arrested within a day or two of meeting him. Lenin himself continued to believe in him, until he saw the secret police files after the Czar abdicated.[121] Having the Okhrana involved may have been an advantage in some ways, since the police arrested all of his most popular rivals.[122]

Malinovsky, even with a criminal background, was highly effective as a double agent. Shortly before his election to the Duma, he had managed to be promoted to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. Where the Okhrana had started out paying him a regular salary of 100 rubles a month in the mid-1900s, his rise within the Party and election to the Duma, brought a reward retainer of 5,000 rubles a month.[123] Then, in May 1914, at a time when the Okhrana seemed ready to reap some long-term dividends, Malinovsky suddenly resigned from the Duma. Lenin was caught off guard but was persuaded that Malinovsky had suffered a nervous breakdown.[124] The truth was that the Okhrana's prize agent had turned into something of a liability.

Whether the reason for the resignation was Malinovsky's fear that his double life was about to be exposed or the Okhrana's belief that he was doing more damage in his position is not entirely clear. From their perspective he was proving difficult to control. To maintain his credibility as a Bolshevik Duma deputy, he gave some incendiary speeches - a little too incendiary. To the police they were more damaging to the regime than helpful. They decided to pay him off with a 6,000 ruble payment and even bought him a rail ticket out of Russia.[125]

In the long run choosing Malinovsky damaged the Party, although his role would not be discovered for several years. In the short term, the larger decision to participate in elections for the Duma provided Lenin with perhaps the greatest marketing opportunity of his life. As a participant in the elections, the Bolsheviks, under the relaxed censorship rules of the spring of 1912, were legally allowed to publish a newspaper. At the time, without money, Lenin could only dream of a paper. He nevertheless began planning for something on a grand scale - a daily paper, with a staff of correspondents around Russia, and Lenin as editor-in-chief. A major obstacle was an outstanding arrest warrant which made Lenin's return to Russia problematic. Nevertheless, he chose a title - 'Pravda' (Truth) and a format. All he needed was the money. Almost miraculously, he found the money, or, more accurately, the money appeared.[126]

Victor Tikhomirov, the son of a Kazan merchant, came into a large inheritance on the death of his father. Several years before, he had joined the Bolshevik Party, primarily on the strength of some of Lenin's writings. Out of his inheritance, he donated 100,000 rubles to launch the paper. However revolutionary or radical its ideas - it was banned nine times - it was one of the most professionally produced newspapers. For a daily paper, its print runs were phenomenally large - 60,000 - which sold out within a few hours. Lenin did not technically serve as editor-in-chief, but he was heavily involved. at least as much as it was possible to be involved from Paris, where he was living at the time of first publication. While the paper managed to keep publishing, many of its editors were arrested and jailed. In its first thirty-eight issues, it had a succession of thirty-six editors, all of whom were arrested. Between them they spent forty-seven months in jail.[127] Despite the nine times the paper was banned - to be re-opened under a different name - Pravda would manage to keep publishing until the beginning of the First World War, finally being closed down in September 1914.[128] During that time it had put out 636 issues. Although Lenin himself had contributed many unsigned pieces, his name appeared under a byline 280 times.[129]

Pravda may have been publishing inside Russia, but Lenin, the paper's creator, had to remain outside its borders, risking arrest if he returned. Still, it was inconvenient to oversee publishing operations from Paris. If he could not return to Russia, he wanted to find a location which would be closer. In mid-June 1912 he moved from Paris to Kraków, only ten kilometers from the Russian border. In May 1913 he rented a small house near Poronin, a village in the Tatra Mountains, part of the Galician region of Poland.[130] He was staying there when the war broke out in August 1914. The locals, who had been friendly, began to suspect that Lenin and his wife, were Russian spies. On August 7, the local police searched his house. The next day, when he showed up at the police headquarters, he was arrested and jailed.[[131]] After eleven days he was released. The Austrians allowed him to travel to Switzerland. Rather than return to the familiar Geneva, he decided to settle in Berne.[132]

When the First World War began, Lenin was already subject to arrest. That had not prevented Pravda from being published. Lenin's opposition to the war, and the opposition voiced in Pravda's pages was what got the paper permanently shuttered in September 1914.[133] His opposition to the war went further than stopping or preventing the fighting itself. He wanted Russia to lose, a loss he believed would lead to revolution and the overthrow of the Czarist government. It was a position not entirely popular with many Bolsheviks.[134] If Lenin's vehement opposition to the war did not endear him to the Czarist authorities, it did attract the attract the attention of the German government.

Lenin took pains to avoid any public contact with Germany or its agents but, as events would later prove, he was receptive to the idea. It was another wealthy Russian revolutionary, as well as agent of the German government, who would provide both the idea and the funds for Lenin's return to Russia. Alexander Helphand - code-named Parvus - had been born near Minsk in 1867, attended school in Odessa and university in Berne, graduated with a doctorate in philosophy. Returning to Russia, he became a successful journalist and public speaker. As a revolutionary, he developed the idea of 'permanent revolution,' was arrested at the end of 1905, and exiled to Siberia. He would eventually escape and make his way to Germany. As a businessman in Germany, he made a large amount of money. His business interests ranged from publishing to selling chemicals, to pharmaceuticals, and included selling condoms to the German army. He even served as Gorky's literary agent for a time. When Gorky complained to members of th German Social Democratic Party that Parvus had not paid him 100,000 marks owed him, Parvus moved to Constantinople, where he made another fortune in trade with the Turkish military.[135]

Like Gorky, for all his wealth, he believed in revolutionary causes. He was extremely persuasive, even with members of the German Foreign Ministry, who were convinced that Parvus' contacts among the revolutionary exiles might be used to bring revolution to Russia. In 1916 they gave Parvus a million marks (about $4 million in US dollars), to bring about revolution. When it came to money, Parvus could be something of a scoundrel, but when it came to revolution, he was committed. In May 1915, he traveled to Berne, with the idea of meeting Lenin. He knew the restaurant frequented by Russian exiles there, went there one evening, and introduced himself to Lenin. Normally cautious with strangers, Lenin then left with Parvus, and had a conversation with him lasting several hours at his apartment. Lenin maintained he turned down a deal, but never provided details. However, one of Lenin's lieutenants, Yakov Fürstenberg, later took a job with Parvus at his Copenhagen office.[136]

In March 1916, the Lenins moved to Zürich.[137] On March 2, 1917 Lenin heard the news that there had been a revolution in Russia. From newspaper accounts he learned that army units had mutinied, a Provisional Government had taken power, and there had been rioting on the streets of Petrograd and Moscow.[138] Nicholas, who had taken personal command of the army eighteen months earlier and was at his military headquarters at Mogilev, near the Front, was absent when the unrest began. In contrast to his resolute actions in 1905, his resolve failed him. When his imperial railway carriage reached a remote station near Pskov on March 1st, a bewildered Nicholas hesitated, then signed the writ of Abdication, when it was placed on the desk before him.[139]

It did not take long for Lenin, working through Parvus, to complete negotiations with the German Foreign Ministry for his return to Russia. On March 27th, his party departed the Zürich train station on a train headed for the Swiss-German border, where a second train was waiting.[140]

The Czar - From Absolute Power to Abdication

The success of the Russian Revolution in 1917 suggests the inevitable triumph of Marxism and those believers totally committed to an ideology. The aftermath of the 1905 Revolution suggests otherwise. The formula which proved successful in 1917 had not been a successful formula in 1905 and revolutionaries at the time, committed or not, proved no match for the forces of the Czar. It was not for lack of trying. In the two-year period following the Czar's October Manifesto, some 2,500 officials were assassinated. Nicholas' response: 'Terror must be met by terror.' The Duma opened seven months after the Manifesto. In that seven months, more than 15,000 people were killed, at least 70,000 were arrested, and 45,000 exiled to Siberia.[141] Pyotr Stolypin, replacing Count Witte, had thousands condemned to death in open-air 'field courts,' hanged by what became known as 'Stolypin's necktie.' 'Stolypin's wagons' carried many into exile and whole villages were razed to the ground. By mid-1906, eighty-two of Russia's eighty-seven provinces were under martial law.[142] Those Bolsheviks who escaped arrest or execution fled to the West, forced to observe the revolution from the relative safety of Switzerland or France.

What made the difference in 1917, was a Russian government weakened by Czar Nicholas' decision to enter World War I, a war she was not prepared to fight. Even Lenin conceded its importance. If not for the war, 'Russia might have gone on living for years, maybe decades, without a revolution against the capitalists.'[143] By the end of October 1914, just three months into the war, Russia had lost 1.2 million men, killed, wounded or missing.[144] Five million had been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner by the end of 1916.[145] On the home front, shortages and inflation hit consumers hard. In early March 1917, there were riots in St Petersburg (Petrograd), police fired on demonstrators, and soldiers offered support to the protesters. On March 1, the Czar, who had taken command of the Russian army, realized that he lacked control of the capital, abdicated.[146]

Lenin and many of the Russian exiles, seeing the chaotic situation in Russia, began to make plans to return. The Germans came to the rescue. The German High Command, convinced the US would soon enter the war, had embraced the idea of destabilizing Russia, in hopes of ending the war in the East.[147] Lenin, to them, was something of an unknown, but they agreed to provide a train transport for some of the Russian exiles, across Germany, with Russia as the final destination. On March 27 Lenin and those chosen for the journey, boarded a local train at the Zürich train station, for a journey to the Swiss-German border.[148] When they reached Gottmadingen, a tiny station on the German side of the border, they found a 'sealed train' consisting of a locomotive, a green carriage, divided into passenger compartments, and a baggage van, waiting. Their journey would take them through Berlin, their final destination being the Baltic port of Sassnitz. From Sassnitz, they took a ferry to the Swedish city of Trelleborg, from there a train to Malmö, then a sleeper train to Stockholm. The last leg of the journey involved an overnight train to Finland. [149]

The journey across Finland began at the tiny station of Tornio on a Finnish train, with an intermediate stop at Beloostrov, and the end of the journey at Finland Station in Petrograd. When his train arrived in the station at 11.10 p.m. on April 3, a crowd of thousands was waiting to greet him, encouraged by local Bolsheviks, some among the crowd possibly believing a rumor that free beer would be provided to anyone who showed up.[150] Nikolai Chkheidze, the Menshevik Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, made a moderate speech about the need for co-operation between socialists. Lenin gave a more incendiary speech. If it was confrontational and angry, it was also more memorable, in part because it was simple and direct. He ended with the words: "Sailors, comrades, we have to fight for a socialist revolution, fight to the end. Long live the worldwide socialist revolution." He had also included short sound bites, with easily-remembered ideas: "The people need peace. The people need bread and land. They give you war and hunger...." [151]

Ministers of the Provisional Government, who had debated the wisdom of allowing him to return, minimized the threat he posed. Viktor Chernov, Minister of Agriculture, thought Lenin's ideas were so radical and 'raving' that 'the Bolsheviks' dangers will be limited and localized.' Prince Lvov, the Prime Minister, commented to an aide: 'Don't worry about Lenin. The man is not dangerous - and, besides, we can arrest him whenever we want.'[152]

In spite of the enthusiastic crowds and the German government's interest in Lenin, it is difficult to gauge his appeal inside Russia at the time. He was clearly known within the Russian revolutionary movement but still largely unknown outside of that circle.[153] The German's were looking for anyone they believed might be influential inside Russia, although Lenin's stature as that influential leader may have been aided by Parvus' persuasive powers.[154]

The influence of German money

Did Lenin, the revolutionary, play the leading, or a key role, in the revolution, or was he more the end result of forces and events greater than himself? If he was hardly a figurehead, did outside forces play a greater role in his success than history gives them credit for? The importance of Lenin's decisions and actions to the success of the Russian Revolution is one of those 'chicken and egg questions' which haunts or repeats itself in historical discussions.

For those wishing to credit Lenin's decisive leadership as critical to the Revolution, there is the vote for a coup on October 11, 1917. The members of the Bolshevik Central Committee assembled in a Petrograd apartment on Wednesday, October 10th, or at least some of them did. The Committee had twenty-one members but only twelve were at the meeting. After seven and a half hours of argument, during which Lenin argued that the Bolsheviks 'must seize power now,' the members present voted for an armed uprising. The vote, taken around dawn, was ten for and two, Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, against. The date of the uprising was set for October 25th, the day the Congress of Soviets was set to meet.[155]

The vote had been taken in secret, with the intent that the coup itself remain secret. However, Kamenev and Zinoviev, two of Lenin's closest, even trusted, until that time, associates in Switzerland, published a letter opposing an armed insurrection in Gorky's paper 'Novaya Zhizn.' While they didn't reveal the exact date, it was a public admission of something being planned. If they were serious about a coup, no one took them seriously. There seemed to be an assumption that the Provisional Government, and its head, Alexander Kerensky, would act decisively to deal with a revolt. However, no arrests of Bolsheviks were made, no military preparations were undertaken to defend strategic areas, and no alerts issued.[156]

Lenin, at the time of the October 11th meeting and vote, was in hiding, so fearful of being arrested that he showed up disguised as a priest.[157] The impression left from these events is that the Bolsheviks were powerless against the government and that Lenin pushed through the revolution by shear force of personality. In fact the Bolsheviks were not as powerless as appearances suggest. In contrast to the Provisional Government, they had at their disposal a military force, made up mostly of former soldiers. If the soldiers were united only by their dissatisfaction with the old regime, that motivation and unity was more than the government could muster. Unlike the Czarist regime, there was no single leader who could command support.

The Bolsheviks did make a start at creating a military organization with some military discipline. On October 16, Leon Trotsky created a Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC). The MRC dispatched commissars to all the military units around Petrograd. If the soldiers did not all join the Bolsheviks, many were persuaded not to oppose the coup, and to remain neutral. The garrison of the St Peter and Paul fortress chose not to fight.[158]

Akeksandr Kerensky, on October 23rd, the Prime Minister, made a feeble attempt to stop the coup, by ordering government soldiers to arrest Bolshevik and MRC leaders. The order gave the MRC an excuse to act. Declaring itself under threat, the Petrograd Soviet ordered Red Guards and sympathetic soldiers to seize key bridges and communication facilities in Petrograd. On the night of October 24/25 Bolshevik units began occupying stations, banks, bridges, and post offices in Petrograd. Government forces, either absent or not fully comprehending the threat, allowed the Red soldiers to take over. At 10 in the morning on October 25th, Lenin released a statement declaring that the Provisional Government had fallen and power had passed to the Soviets.[159]

The only resistance offered was by the cabinet of the Provisional Government, which blockaded itself in the Winter Palace and refused to surrender. Around 6:30 in the evening the MRC issued an ultimatum demanding the surrender of the government representatives. The demands were reinforced by a single shot, a blank, fired from a gun on the 'Aurora.' The troops defending the palace began to melt away until, around 2 am, the palace was almost deserted and the last minister holdouts were arrested, The Winter Palace was under the control of the Bolsheviks.[160]

Kerensky, perhaps the only individual with anything close to governmental authority, attempted to rally the army for an attempt to re-take Petrograd. Most of the military units refused to support him and those who were willing were insufficient to dislodge the Bolsheviks.[161]

The events of October 25 (under the old-style Julian calendar the date was October 25th, while under the new calendar system, it began on November 6th) were the culmination of a public relations campaign which had begun in early 1917. The coup and take-over itself may have been the work of dissatisfied military units, but Lenin and the Bolsheviks had managed to publicize the Bolshevik message in a way which broadened the Party's appeal. Although Lenin, once in power, would adopt many of the same policies as the Czarist government, his public pronouncements during much of 1917 suggested a more open and democratic rule. In September, in the Party paper 'The Workers' Path' (Rabochii Put), he praised a free press as 'more democratic' and promised 'incomparably more press freedom' under the Bolsheviks than under the Czarist government. Just two days after the coup, on October 27, he wrote a Decree on the Press which involved censorship and the closure of opposition papers. On October 28 Kadet papers were closed down, with Red Guards smashing some of their presses and Linotype machines. Editors and journalists were arrested. The SR newspaper 'The People's Will' (Volya Narodna) was shut down as well.[162]

There had been rumors that the Germans, in addition to giving Lenin safe passage across Germany, were supplying the Bolsheviks with cash. Lenin and the Bolsheviks denied it and critics could never produce documented evidence to substantiate the charges. (Whether the amount was as high as fifty million gold marks, as some claimed, under the terms of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, signed on March 3, 1918, the new Bolshevik government agreed to ship 120 million gold rubles to Germany as an 'indemnity' payment.[163] It may have been designated as an 'indemnity,' although it had all the trappings of a loan repayment or a political favor granted in return for a campaign contribution.) Nevertheless, shortly after Pravda was legalized at the end of February 1917, it had acquired a brand-new, expensive, state of the art printing press, and had the money for large stocks of newsprint, and a budget which allowed for the hiring of competent journalists.[164] By mid-April, some six weeks after its legalization, it had a print run of 85,000 a day in Petrograd, all of which were selling. There were also provincial editions of the paper, as well as versions for different nationalities, including Georgian, Latvian, Polish, Armenian, and Yiddish. There was a special edition for front-line soldiers - 'Soldatskaia Pravda' - which had a daily print run of 70,000, together with an edition for sailors. By the beginning of July there forty-one such publications, with a circulation of nearly 350,000. While the various publications may have taken on various subjects at various times and at least given the Bolsheviks a broader name recognition, there was one campaign theme which did not vary - their opposition to the war.[165] It was Pravda's opposition to the war which had brought about its closure in September 1914.[166]

The Bolsheviks found their support growing. While not all the support was necessarily tied to the newspaper campaign, membership growth seemed to correspond to the increasingly larger size in Pravda's print runs. At the beginning of March membership was around 23,000. By July it had grown to 200,000.[167] By September Party membership was more than 350,000. On September 1, the Bolsheviks won a small majority on the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets.[168] The Bolsheviks clearly benefited from the Provisional Government's inability to solve the growing list of economic problems: Food lines kept getting longer, street crime was at epidemic levels, inflation was rising, and factories were closing. Since February 1917, 500 factories in Moscow and Petrograd had closed down, leaving 100,000 workers in Petrograd without jobs. Army desertions were also on the rise.[169]

Russia - The Least Likely Place for a Communist Revolution

Lenin had managed to keep the idea of a Marxist revolution alive in Russia, even while he was living in exile in Europe. At the same time, the idea of revolution, was hardly a foreign idea imported into Russia. Russian revolutionaries did not need Marxist theory to take action against what they considered a repressive regime. But Marx's theory or advocacy of a 'continuous revolution' was something they could clearly relate to and adopt, whether they agreed with his 'stages' theory of a Communist revolution or not.

The popular or traditional explanation of the Russian Revolution is that Lenin, the committed communist was plotting to replace the Czarist government with a 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' from the very beginning. He certainly was not very specific about his plans during the spring and summer run-up to the coup in 1917. Was that the sign of a committed revolutionary, or the mark of an ordinary politician? If most opposition candidates tend to blame every problem on whatever party or government is in power without explaining how they plan to solve things, then Lenin ran a rather conventional campaign. Lenin had one advantage - he had a lot of material to work with. The Czar had run an oppressive regime, which seemed incapable of solving the problems created by the war, and the Provisional Government which followed him, for one reason or another, seemed incapable of solving basic problems either. Lenin's campaign model - blame the government for everything - was a model which would be adopted by Hitler in Germany, or by any number of future dictators. Lenin might be considered the model demagogue - someone who gains power by arousing people's emotions and prejudices - someone who tells people what they want to hear. It may have been opportunistic and revolutionary in tone, in keeping with the revolutionary mood of many Russians, but was it enough to elevate Lenin's Marxist revolution to a category of its own? Russia was certainly ripe for revolution - almost any revolution, whether communist-inspired, or one inspired by grievances over a government's inability to solve problems.


(1) Victor Sebestyen, "Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror," (New York:Pantheon Books, 2017), pp. 61-62.
(2) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 107.
(3) Francis Wheen, "Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography," (New York:Grove Press, 2006), p. 98.
(4) Sebestyen, op.cit., p. 33.
(5) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 66.
(6) Martin Puchner, Introduction and Notes, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, "The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings," (New York:Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005), pp. xix, xv.
(7) Mary Gabriel, "Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution," New York:Little, Brown and Company, 2011, p. 104.
(8) Gabriel, ibid, p. 369.
(9) Gabriel, ibid, p. 369.
(10) Jonathan Sperber, "Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life," (New York:Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013), p. 373.
(11) Gabriel, op.cit., p. 440.
(12) David McLellan, "Karl Marx: A Biography," (New York:Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), p. 394.
(13) Sebestyen, op.cit., p. 65.
(14) Gabriel, op.cit., p. 441.
(15) Wheen, op.cit., p. 87.
(16) Wheen, ibid, p. 82.
(17) Wheen, ibid, p. 84.
(18) Wheen, ibid, p. 90.
(19) Wheen, ibid, p. 91.
(20) Wheen, ibid, p. 84.
(21) Gabriel, op.cit., p. 440.
(22) Tristam Hunt, "Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels," (New York:Holt Paperbacks, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2009), p. 251.
(23) Gabriel, op.cit., p. 442.
(24) Gabriel, ibid, p. 442.
(25) Robert C. Tucker, ed., "The Marx-Engels Reader" 2nd edition, (New York;W.W. Norton & Company, 1978), p. 3.
(26) Sperber, op.cit., p. 533.
(27) Sebestyen, op.cit., p. 143.
(28) Karl Marx, "Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume One," (London:Penguin Books, 1976), pp. 915-916.
(29) Gabriel, op.cit., p. xlix.
(30) Wheen, op.cit., p. 100.
(31) Gabriel, op.cit., p. 443.
(32) Sperber, op.cit., p. 533.
(33) Sebestyen, op.cit., p. 51.
(34) McLellan, op.cit., p. 412.
(35) McLellan, ibid, p. 412.
(36) McLellan, ibid, pp. 358-359.
(37) McLellan, ibid, p. 358.
(38) McLellan, ibid, p. 412.
(39) Sebestyen, op.cit., p. 64.
(40) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 88.
(41) Hunt, op.cit., p. 268.
(42) Hunt, ibid, p. 268.
(43) Sebestyen, op.cit., p. 55.
(44) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 55.
(45) McLellan, op.cit., pp. 411-412.
(46) Sebestyen, op.cit., p. 56.
(47) Gabriel, op.cit., p. 442.
(48) Gabriel, ibid, p. 442.
(49) Gabriel, ibid, p. 442.
(50) Sperber, op.cit., p. 374.
(51) Sebestyen, op.cit., p. 56.
(52) Gabriel, op.cit., p. 442.
(53) Tucker, ed., "The Marx-Engels Reader" op.cit., p. 665.
(54) McLellan, op.cit., p. 411.
(55) Tucker, ed., "The Marx-Engels Reader" op.cit., p. 666.
(56) Tucker, ibid, p. 668.
(57) Tucker, ibid, p. 668.
(58) Tucker, ibid, p. 669.
(59) Tucker, ibid, p. 671.
(60) Frederick Engels, "The Principles of Communism," (Moscow:Leopard Books India, 1969), p. 14.
(61) Engels, ibid, p. 13.
(62) Tucker, ed., "The Marx-Engels Reader" op.cit., p. 671.
(63) Tucker, ibid, pp. 671-672.
(64) Tucker, ibid, p. 673.
(65) Tucker, ibid, p. 673.
(66) Hunt, op.cit., from prefact to "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" p. 211.
(67) Tucker, op.cit., p. 699.
(68) Hunt, op.cit., p. 211.
(69) Tucker, op.cit., pp. 700-701.
(70) Tucker, ibid, p. 668.
(71) Tucker, ibid, pp. 674-675.
(72) Tucker, ibid, p. 674.
(73) Sebestyen, op.cit., pp. 42-43.
(74) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 59.
(75) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 66-67.
(76) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 71.
(77) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 90.
(78) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 92 & 95.
(79) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 106.
(80) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 104-105.
(81) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 166.
(82) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 170.
(83) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 171.
(84) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 178.
(85) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 172.
(86) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 190.
(87) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 107-108.
(88) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 91.
(89) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 67.
(90) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 68.
(91) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 73.
(92) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 75.
(93) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 74.
(94) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 106.
(95) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 114.
(96) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 112-113.
(97) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 114.
(98) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 114.
(99) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 154.
(100) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 111-112.
(101) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 117.
(102) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 115-116.
(103) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 121.
(104) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 115-116.
(105) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 130.
(106) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 131.
(107) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 127.
(108) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 136.
(109) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 146.
(110) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 150-151.
(111) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 154-155.
(112) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 165.
(113) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 165.
(114) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 170.
(115) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 180 & 191.
(116) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 192 & 194.
(117) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 201.
(118) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 207 & 209.
(119) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 211-212.
(120) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 216-217.
(121) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 220.
(122) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 218.
(123) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 218.
(124) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 220.
(125) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 220.
(126) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 221.
(127) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 221.
(128) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 240.
(129) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 221.
(130) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 225.
(131) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 232-233.
(132) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 234.
(133) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 240.
(134) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 244.
(135) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 249-250.
(136) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 251.
(137) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 254.
(138) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 262.
(139) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 268-269.
(140) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 276-277.
(141) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 174.
(142) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 174.
(143) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 235.
(144) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 237.
(145) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 260.
(146) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 269.
(147) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 272.
(148) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 277.
(149) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 282.
(150) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 287.
(151) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 288.
(152) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 293.
(153) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 240.
(154) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 249-250.
(155) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 341-342.
(156) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 344.
(157) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 341.
(158) Mark Almond, "Revolution: 500 years of struggle for change," (London:De Agostini Editions, 1996), p. 127.
(159) Almond, "Revolution," ibid, p. 127.
(160) Almond, ibid, p. 127.
(161) Sebestyen, op.cit., p. 351.
(162) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 349-350.
(163) Sebestyen, ibid, pp. 313 & 379.
(164) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 313.
(165) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 313.
(166) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 240.
(167) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 312.
(168) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 336.
(169) Sebestyen, ibid, p. 336.