Stefan T. Possony :
Lenin :  The Compulsive Revolutionary

Lenin Realizes His Power



In March, 1915, Krupskaya’s mother (who had been living with the Lenins) died ;  her body was cremated.  Late in May, Krupskaya was again afflicted by her glandular disease.  The Lenins departed for a hotel in Soerenberg, one of the most beautiful spots in the Berne uplands.  During the summer, Inessa, who in Berne was residing across the street from the Lenin’s, came to visit them, often playing the piano.  Krupskaya reported another series of promenades ŕ trois.(1)  But it was not all idyllic :  the Bolshevik Central Committee was not invited to attend a meeting preparatory to an international conference scheduled for the fall.  Lenin angrily sent Inessa to pursue the Swiss hosts of the conference.

The conference was held at Zimmerwald between September 5 and 8.  The Zimmerwald movement, which emerged from this conference, was an internationalist-socialist protest against war.  The Germans took a deep interest in it :  the stronger the movement became, the weaker would be France and Italy—and Russia.  Whether they had quietly engineered the meeting is conjectural.  The Germans were worried about the defeatist attitude in Germany.  Although Lenin officially preached the thesis of revolution everywhere, he played no active role, signing the moderate resolution passed by the conference.  It was only subsequently that his opposition to the “soft” line was noted.(2)  Inessa’s talents as interpreter were very much in demand.  Edmundo Peluso, a Portuguese socialist and one of the participants who directly or indirectly reported to the Germans, was employed by the local correspondent of the United Press.  But the wire services did not feature the meeting.

After the Zimmerwald conference, Lenin exhausted, returned to Soerenberg where Krupskaya was still under treatment.  Inessa completed her French translation of Lenin’s and Zinovyev’s brochure, Socialism and War, and then proceeded to Paris to plan its distribution throughout France and to investigate the possibility of propagandizing within the French army.  She also helped to establish in Paris a committee for the resumption of international relations—a classical front organization which in due course was to grow into the Communist party of France—together with similar outfits, including an anti-war committee of French and Russian women.  It is asserted that Lenin’s brochure, as Inessa had demanded out of a sense of revolutionary justice, was widely distributed in Germany ;  this claim is untrue.(3)  The Germans did not bother to smuggle this bulky theoretical treatise into Russia ;  they were content at that moment to concentrate on defeatist propaganda in France.

This visit by Inessa to France brought forth documentary references on her relationship with Lenin :  the Paris préfecture de police, in its notes to the Okhrana on April 14 and April 19, 1916, stated that “demoiselle Sophie Popoff,” called “Inessa,” is “la maitresse de Lénine.”(4)  According to this information Inessa remained in Paris from January 9 to April 11, when she returned to Switzerland.  The purpose of her activities was to induce the soldiers to instigate revolution.(5)  The police reported that Inessa seemed to be on good terms with Trotsky and that she made quite an impression in a talk to the Jeunes Syndicalistes because of her knowledge of the French and Russian revolutionary movements, as well as her “maničres insidieuses” and her facileness at speaking.  However, plans for an illegal paper could not be realized and the revolutionizing of French soldiers was unsuccessful.  It is interesting to note that Bolshevik attention was focused upon France rather than Russia.  Perhaps this represented a Liebesdienst for the Germans.(6)

In the fall of 1915, Lenin negotiated with Kesküla, either directly or through an intermediary, seriously committing himself to a joint-action program.  He was careful enough to conceal his true intentions :  the socialist “minimal program”—establishment of a republic, expropriation of large estates, and initiation of an eight-hour workday—was to be the basis of the collaboration between Germany and Russia.  Such goals interested the Germans only mildly.  Nor did they attach much significance to the “condition” that there were to be no Russian indemnities or territorial concessions to Germany.  But the Germans were highly elated when Lenin promised autonomy to non-Russian nationalities, and offered no objection to the establishment of buffer states between Russia and Germany.  He also stipulated the evacuation of Turkey by the Russian army.  Thus, Lenin agreed to the disestablishment of the Russian empire and to German economic penetration of the Middle East.  But most remarkable was his promise of a Russian attack on India.  This constituted, in effect, a proposal to engage in an alliance between Russia and Germany against Britain.

This document is most significant.(7)  The only man among the Russian revolutionaries who committed himself to a secret aggression pact with imperial Germany later became the ruler of Russia.  The war against India did not take place,(8) but, in due course, Lenin was to redeem his other promises.  In 1940 Stalin and Hitler negotiated over a similar alliance against Britain.

Kesküla, in a report dated September 30, 1915, warned that “social patriots” like Plekhanov and Axelrod were working for the defeat of Germany, and that they possessed ample means from the “government,” presumably the tsarist government.  By October, German funds were flowing to Lenin.  On December 21, 1915, Rantzau transmitted to Berlin Parvus’ estimate that the Russian revolution would cost twenty million rubles (40 million marks or about 10 million dollars).(9)

Yet it should be added that the monetary aspects of the unholy alliance were less important than the organizational support which the Germans were providing.  Up to that time, Lenin had been unable to maintain adequate contact with his organization.  The key Petrograd committee, for example, received from him only one letter during 1915.(10)  The contact with the Germans permitted him to remedy this situation to a considerable extent.  Equally important, the Germans reprinted, in large numbers and on “cigarette paper,” Bolshevik materials, much of it on the Admiralty’s press,(11) and transported these from Germany via Denmark, Sweden, and Finland into Russia.  Reproductions of Bolshevik writings were also distributed at the front.  In concealed fashion, German “cut-outs” took command of the Bolshevik organization in Sweden and from there exerted influence on the Bolsheviks in Russia.  During 1913 and 1914 Lenin had analyzed systematically the list of Pravda subscribers and, though the war had brought about dislocations, a substantial portion of the old structure had remained intact.  One of the contact points was Lenin’s sister, Anna Yelizarova, but she probably knew nothing about the German support.  However, she as well as Shlyapnikov and Skvortsov were visited by one of Kesküla’s contact men, a Danish socialist by name of Alfred Kruse.(12)  Contacts also extended to the Volga area, specifically to Saratov and Samara, once Lenin’s residence.  In addition, Parvus’ two-way smuggling operation served to transmit funds to the Bolsheviks and other radicals.  From time to time, messengers traveled back and forth into Russia.  Thus, by the end of 1915, a number of professionals operating under the direction, and with the logic support of, the German Foreign Office had assumed leadership of Bolshevik groups.  The German revolutionizers were also infiltrating other parties.

Lenin exerted little influence.  The Germans transmitted his various communications to Sweden, occasionally neglecting those with which they were not in agreement ;  they also relayed news from Russia to him, carefully reading the information before delivery.  Lenin told them—through “cut-outs,” no doubt—what else he knew.  Hans Steinwachs, the “case officer” who supervised Kesküla for the German General Staff(13) considered Lenin an important source of intelligence.

In October, 1915, Lenin returned to Berne.  With his financial stability assured, he did not yet burst into any great activity.  In fact, he barely worked during the remainder of the year.  Krupskaya reported that they saw The Living Corpse, a play by Tolstoi.(14)  In December or early January of 1916, Lenin was invited to contribute a volume to the “Europe Before and After the War” series, to be published in Petrograd.  He decided to write a book on imperialism—a subject which German propaganda was exploiting eagerly and which under the circumstances was directed against Britain and France, rather than Germany and Russia.  Lenin began work by January 11, and completed his book on July 2, 1916.  A short while later, the Lenins left for an extended vacation.

By February 11, 1916, Lenin had moved from Berne to Zurich, the latter city’s library being larger.(15)  There had again been a clash with the Mensheviks who, the Okhrana reported, wanted the 140,000 francs held in Germany.(16)  Lenin refused ;  he had already obtained 100,000 francs.  The Mensheviks were indignant :  the International Socialist Commission required money.  They proposed a compromise with Lenin receiving the largest portion.  Lenin claimed he was not authorized to make any decisions but would query the Central Committee in Russia.(17)  There the matter rested.  Perhaps the Mensheviks were pacified with the remaining 40,000 francs ;  Lenin, however, may also have appropriated this money.

In Zurich, Lenin studied for two hours each morning and two hours each afternoon.  During February and March, he studied the problems of national self-determination—another political line which the Germans were strongly advocating and the importance of which, Kesküla stated in 1961, Siefeld was told to impress upon Lenin.  Strangely enough, at this time almost every one must have been happy with Vladimir.  The Okhrana, on February 9, 1916, belatedly reported that the German left-socialists expected support from Russian revolutionaries.  Lenin is said to have replied that the situation in Russia depended in large measure upon the revolutionary development in Germany :  the Russian proletariat, he believed, would follow a revolution in Germany.  In what Parvus described as a sentimental policy, Liebknecht advocated immediate peace with Russia—on the grounds that Russia had already been defeated.(18)  It was fortunate for Lenin that the Germans did not read the mail of the Russian Okhrana.

In April, Lenin participated in the conference at Kienthal, the second meeting of the Zimmerwald group.  Though the debates of this conference are now viewed by Communist historians as signifying a move to the left by international socialism, Kienthal actually had little practical significance.  It is interesting that Inessa Armand, who had just returned from France and was then living in the town of Clarens, was a delegate in these congresses ;  Krupskaya was ailing again and did not participate.(19)

The choice of Clarens as a home base illustrates the conditions under which the Bolsheviks were then functioning.  In Clarens there existed an excellent library which was well stocked with Russian materials.  The library was owned by Nikolai Rubakhin, a non-denominational socialist and pacifist, who popularized scientific books.  He was the brother of Julian Reichesberg, professor in Berne who contributed to Die Neue Zeit and headed the committee for assistance to Russian prisoners-of-war in Germany.  Both Reichesberg and Rubakhin had contacts with the Germans—as could be expected.

During this period, the Swiss police thought they detected a transitory love affair between Lenin and a German countess who, they believed, functioned as his liaison with the printer, supposedly a Count von Ostheim ;  the nobleman seems to be a mythical figure.  Probably the “printer” was Baron Friedrich von der Ropp, a Balt who worked for the military and later briefed General Ludendorff on Lenin.  It is quite possible that Ropp was paying some of Lenin’s printing bills, but perhaps only at a later time when Ropp was receiving large sums to propagandize the cause of the minority nations in Russia.  Ropp’s brother was still in Russia where the police suspected him of espionage.  The report on the love affair, in all likelihood, was mistaken.  The German countess presumably was Inessa Armand.  But there is the implication that Inessa was aware of Lenin’s financial dealings.

In May, Lenin spent some time in Geneva, lecturing and using the library.  Krupskaya fell ill again and Lenin, too, was suffering from tension.  The Lenins went for a rest in the mountains.  Renting for twenty-five francs a month a little house in a French-speaking canton, they lived there from sometime in July until August 14, and then moved to a sanatorium in the German-speaking area, paying 150 francs per month for room and board.  On this sum they enjoyed simple comforts.  Actually, a few months earlier, sister Anna had written Lenin to inquire whether he needed money ;  he rejected her offer.  The vacation was marred by news of the death of Lenin’s mother on August 7, near Petrograd.  She was buried under a Christian cross.  Lenin’s last letter to the ailing woman was dated March 12, in answer to a short note of February 1 in which, in a postscript to Anna’s letter, she told about Maria’s teaching in Moscow and acquiring many friends.

In August, while still in the mountains, Lenin wrote a letter to G.L. Shklovsky, one of Lenin’s contacts with money sources, complaining of a lack of money.  There were two parties within the German Foreign Office, one advocating the revolutionizing of Russia and the other seeking a separate peace with the Tsar.  By summer of 1916, the latter party, benefiting from the failure of revolutionizing attempts, had gained the upper hand.  There had been received information that the Tsar had been persuaded the war would be followed by revolution, hence he wanted to continue the war to delay the catastrophe.  Wilhelm, on March 11, 1916, commented in a marginal note :  “Heavens, is this stupid !  And for this thousands must bleed to death.”

Perhaps discreet overtures were made.  Rumor had it that the Germans were willing to guarantee the Russian throne against the revolution.  There seems to have been some response, especially after the visit to Russia of the French Minister of Munitions, Albert Thomas.  Thomas was a socialist who genuinely wished to defeat Germany and who attempted to encourage enthusiasm for the war among Russian “defencist” socialists.  It is certain, however, that he promised them aid in reform or even revolution after the war.  The Tsar, it appears, was furious about Thomas’ contacts, the importance of which undoubtedly was exaggerated by the Okhrana.  Sazonov, the pro-Entente Foreign Minister, was dismissed and a new Minister, Boris V. Stürmer, who was generally deemed to be pro-German, was installed.  His confidential secretary, Ivan L. Manasevich-Manuilov, was soon arrested.  He was an old hand at the most devious phases of intelligence and political warfare and had often been used by the Germans for the press activities inside Russia.(20) Stürmer placed him in charge of controlling Rasputin’s activities.

On August 7, 1916, Wilhelm II suggested that a separate peace was the best solution, a judgment that reflected the success of a Russian military offensive under General Brusilov and that was related to the appointment of a new German military High Command.

On November 27, 1916, the widow of Grand Duke Konstantinovich,(21) a German-born princess, conveyed through the Queen of Sweden a broad hint (“politische Andeutung”) to Prince Max of Baden.  The Germans were prepared to act upon this suggestion.  Kesküla had noted the reversal in German policy on July 26, and had attempted to continue his operation by briefing Romberg on the deployment of the revolutionary movement in Russia, especially the Bolsheviks.  He marshalled arguments against the separate peace policy.  Although the handwritten notes which Romberg kept of the conversation are not very readable, it can be determined that Kesküla suggested the novel coordination of uprising with the offensive utilization of Zeppelins.  In any event, Romberg did not relay this choice suggestion, probably knowing that to argue for revolutionizing would be futile at that precise moment.

Kesküla said in 1961 that Lenin quarreled with Siefeld over the national question.  Romberg’s notes, so far as they can be deciphered, do suggest some friction between Lenin and Kesküla.  On October 14, Kesküla complained that the revolutionizing effort lacked momentum.  Accommodating himself to the new German policy aiming at a separate peace strategy, Kesküla reverted to advocating the Estonian cause ;  but this provoked hostility towards him on the part of the many German Balts influential in the Wilhelmstrasse.

The flow of German money to the Bolsheviks ceased.  Lenin learned of this turn in his fortunes when he returned to Zurich in mid-September.(22)  Compounding his troubles, the publication of Imperialism proved infeasible.  There was no money at all.  Lenin wrote to Shlyapnikov(23) that unless money were forthcoming, “we are going to croak.”(24)  Lenin even considered putting the ailing Krupskaya to work ;  but this was unnecessary, although for a few days she did help Felix Kohn.  It is not clear how money was procured.  In an emergency, Inessa may have been able to help.  Possibly Lenin received assistance from Karl Moor.  Yelizarov, the wealthy brother-in-law, was called upon and occasionally sent 100 or 200 rubles.  To a great extent, this was “window dressing”:  it is unlikely that all of the organizational money had been spent ;  therefore Lenin was capable of drawing on his party salary.  We know from Krupskaya that not all of the inheritance from the aunt had been spent.  But the primary source of money was gone.  It was politically advisable to publicize the fact that the Bolsheviks had no funds :  perhaps some of the comrades could be goaded into raising money.(25)  And the undesired penury could be put to good use to disprove the ugly rumors about unsavory money sources—a classical deception maneuver.

Late in 1916, Lenin resumed loose contact with the Germans, through uncertain channels.(26)  The hopes for separate peace had been disappointed again, and the Berlin revolutionizers, though they did not regain control, were able to function, preserving the option for revolution as a sort of reassurance against failure with the Tsar.  This group, very skeptical of the advisability of a separate peace with the tsarist system, argued that it was not sufficient merely to frighten the Romanovs with revolution, or even to overthrow the dynasty.  They insisted upon the destruction of the Russian state.  Lenin collected Marxist quotations on the need for the proletarian revolution to demolish the bourgeois state.  These notes were later included in one of his best known books, State and Revolution, which was published in an incomplete form in December of 1917.  At that time, the Russian legation at Berne received a report that Lenin had visited the German legation.  Probably the claim was false ;  no corroboration of the denunciation exists in the Okhrana file.  Nevertheless, the Russian legation complained about Lenin, apparently describing him as a deserter—perhaps an attempt to have him arrested or extradited.  The Swiss police investigated and, in January, Lenin presented a written declaration denying the charge :  “Since the 1905 revolution, I have been a political refugee.”  Lenin moved to Zurich on January 2, 1917, and reported to the police on January 5.(27)  A few days later, a Swiss police agent estimated that the Lenins had a monthly income of 200 to 250 francs.

Lenin was almost inactive.  He gave his customary speech commemorating Bloody Sunday.  Despite the current “tomb-like stillness,” he claimed, Europe was pregnant with change.  Yet, “we of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution.”  As he offered his melancholic remarks, the Russian Revolution was beginning.




1 Krupskaya, p. 307.

2 The French police, on April 11, 1916, reported that Lenin proposed a resolution on civil war.  After this resolution was rejected, he went along with the majority.

3 It is, however, true that a German translation was made, and distributed at the Zimmerwald conference (Krupskaya, p. 810).

4 A third but undated police note, probably of October, 1916, repeats the phrase “maitresse de Lénine” and speaks of “son arrant Lénine.”  According to this information, the purpose of Inessa’s trip was to propagandize the point of view of the left Zimmerwaldians.  This was probably correct :  the international defeatists were then preparing for a second conference.

5 Her daughter (op. cit., p. 84) reported that Inessa was engaged in propaganda activities among Frenchmen interned in Switzerland.  They were, of course, chiefly deserters.

6 Safarov, Inessa’s friend, was expelled from France, probably in January, 1916, for defeatist propaganda among the sailors at St. Nazaire.

7 Zeman, p. 6f.

8 When asked about Lenin’s promise concerning India, Kesküla in 1961 explained that this must have been a garbled version of what he told the German Minister in Berne, namely that a future revolutionary regime would assist in an anti-imperialist war of liberation.  This “rectification,” which merely broadens the commitment, still constitutes assistance to Imperial Germany.  The German Minister, incidentally, was an accurate and intelligent reporter.  He hardly produced “garbles” like this, but based reports of this import on thorough discussions with the man who brought the information.  Kesküla’s memory, forty-one years later, is less trustworthy than a contemporary document.  (Romberg would not have reported about Lenin’s offer without knowing who Kesküla’s intermediary was and satisfying himself, so far as possible, on his reliability.)  In 1961 Kesküla also denied having offered money in 1914 to Lenin’s collaborators, Alexander Shlyapnikov and Alexandra Kollontai ;  yet these two rather honest revolutionaries asserted this fact when Kesküla’s real role was not known to them.  Kesküla struck the pose that he had been employing indirect methods of financing.  But he also boasted :  “Lenin was my protegé ... It was I who launched Lenin.”  Futrell (pp. 147 and 151), who generally gives Kesküla the benefit of the doubt, admits that the version of indirect financing is not compatible with the documentary evidence.

9 Zeman, p. 9.

10 Statement by N.I. Podvoisky, Istoricheskii Arkhiv (1956), No. 6, p. 112.

11 Kesküla stated that plans to have this literature printed in Stockholm did not work out (Futrell, Northern Underground, p. 148).

12 Ibid., p. 137f.

13 Zeman, p. 13.

14 Krupskaya, p. 311.

15 There are discrepancies in these dates.  According to information which the Okhrana obtained from the Swiss police, Lenin stayed at Zurich from May 22 till July 20, 1916.

16 The confusion in the figures persists.  As reported above, Lenin allegedly gave the trustees 100,000 rubles or 250,000 francs.  The German trustees might have paid the 110,000 francs and, if they did, both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks would have received money.  Though it is possible that Lenin never paid 100,000 rubles, this residual figure of 56,000 rubles (140,000 francs) is so unusual that it suggests payments by the trustees.  From vague indicators at the time of the Prague conference, there is a possibility that the Bolsheviks received 30,000 francs a year.  This would account for 90,000 francs during 1912-1914.  If then the Bolsheviks received 100,000 francs in 1915, there is a discrepancy of 20,000 francs which the Mensheviks (or someone like Martov) might have obtained.  This would explain why there was no acrimonious quarrel about these funds before 1916.  For a slightly different interpretation, see Schapiro, p. 129.

17 Paris to Police Department, Petrograd, May 29, 1916.

18 Copenhagen to Berlin, December 7, 1915.  If Liebknecht had prevailed, Lenin’s suggestion that the people oppressed by Germany also should be liberated could not have become effective either.  (He published this thought in May in a legal Petrograd magazine.)

19 Early in 1916, Lenin wrote to his mother that Krupskaya again was suffering from Graves disease (Basedow) and though they now bad a new apartment, with bath and shower, near the woods (Waldheimstrasse 66), they would have to go to the mountains.

20 Golder, op. cit., p. 157.

21 The Grand Duke, the poet of the Romanov family under the pseudonym “K.R.” was the protector of the Russian capital’s foremost “fixer,” Prince Mikhail Andronikov, who also was Rasputin’s main financial agent and his contact with pro-German Jewish bankers.  The Germans were supposed to be in contact with these circles all along, but the Foreign Office file refers to a conversation with a friend of Rasputin only on March 9, 1916—other data have not yet been found.  On September 11, 1916, there appears a list of persons who could be used as intermediaries in separate peace negotiations.  The Germans had then very exact knowledge of the situation at Petrograd.  Compare also Buchanan, op. cit., p. 245.  According to Persky, Andronikov stayed with the Bolsheviks in 1918.

22 The Lenins lived at Zurich in Spiegelgasse, adjoining a sausage factory (which caused a “terrible stink,” according to Krupskaya.  The flat was opposite a “dadaist” cabaret (Futrell, p. 153).

23 Shlyapnikov was an engineer who had lived several years in France and was traveling on a French passport.  He also spent some time in Britain and worked temporarily at Vickers-Armstrong.  From the Spring of 1916, he spent most of his time in Petrograd but, apparently, returned several times to Scandinavia.  He served via Stockholm as Lenin’s main liaison with the Bolsheviks in Russia.  The son of Old Believers (who did not record his birth, which occurred probably in 1885), he was dependable and clear-headed, and “had the ability, rare among Russians, to organize” (Futrell, p. 106).

24 Lenin, Sochineniya, 4th edition, Vol. 35, p. 187.

25 For what it is worth, a survivor from the Berne German legation personnel told me that Lenin was unsure about the outcome of the war and insured himself against a possible necessity of leaving Europe.  If he had been forced to flee, he intended to go to Brazil.  For this purpose he allegedly kept a money reserve.

26 By December 16, 1916, Romberg again showed interest in renewing the contact via Kesküla.  There may have been small German contributions ŕ fonds perdu to keep the Bolshevik organization going, but it is unlikely that significant payments were made before January or even February, 1917.

27 While at the police, Krupskaya was asked where they had been between July 20 and January 2.  She replied that they had been on vacation but was unwilling to state precisely where they had spent their time.


Lenin :  The Compulsive Revolutionary

The Throne Collapses



The assassination of Rasputin had ended the inertia.  To the disgust of the Tsar, the British insisted upon internal reforms.  By the end of February, 1917, the Tsar decided to discuss terms of peace with Austria.  The Germans, under a Red Cross cloak, were about to send Prince Max of Baden to Stockholm.(1)  Partly to forestall peace moves and partly to eliminate the virtually insane Tsarina and replace Nicholas II by an energetic Romanov, the military was backing a palace revolution scheduled for March or April.(2)

Early in March, socialist groups in Russia, still debating whether strikes and insurrections were premature, were warning against police provocations.  Shlyapnikov, who led the Petrograd Bolsheviks, was trying to restrain action.  Yet a strike flared up in the Putilov works and the old revolutionary “Cherevanin” (F.A. Lipkin), a creature of Parvus, initiated conversations about the reestablishment of a soviet.  There were arrests, but labor leaders were simultaneously being released from prison.  On March 12, a steering committee was formed.  Within a few hours, this committee constituted the Petrograd soviet.

There were various moves by the Okhrana which suggest that an operation similar to that used in the 1905 Moscow uprising was being organized.  The plan was to eradicate the revolutionary organizations, to use a pseudo-revolution to forestall the palace coup d’état, and ultimately to bring about a separate peace with the Central Powers.  Unrest was an indispensable element of the separate peace :  it was needed to release Russia from her obligations to the allies and to ensure their financial benevolence.

On September 29, 1916, Alexander D. Protopopov, a Duma vice-president, was appointed Minister of the Interior, supposedly to improve relations between the throne and the legislature.  Actually, Protopopov had attempted to negotiate with the Germans at Stockholm.  The figurehead of Volya Rossii, a newspaper whose German attachments were notorious(3), he was close to the Rasputin clique and the mystics at the court.  The latter connections and his Stockholm discussions rather than his Duma membership are the clues that disclose the more important intentions of his appointment.

The allies knew that there existed no military reason that would justify Russia’s quitting the war :  both army morale and war production had been improving.  There were economic difficulties, but they could be managed.  The issue was political :  the country lacked an efficient government able to inspire public confidence.  To achieve this the Tsarina would have to be eliminated as an active political figure, a vigorous step toward constitutionalism would have to be risked, and perhaps the Tsar would have to be supplanted by a Romanov regent.  The Tsar was, of course, unwilling to adopt this course :  he had little choice but to try to defend existing conditions.

There were good reasons for the Tsar to fear a separate peace which might lead to uprisings and also might deliver him to the mercies of his cousin, Wilhelm II.  Nevertheless, he was in a quandary, for he realized that, for compelling political reasons, the war could not be continued indefinitely.  The time for negotiation had not yet arrived, but Nicholas had to determine the basis on which the Germans would be willing to negotiate.  The conditions of 1916, as reported by Protopopov, were unacceptable.

There is evidence which indicates that the Tsar opposed a separate peace.  Much of this evidence, however, should be considered with caution since it is derived mainly from statements made prior to these critical days.  There is no documentation to indicate whether the Tsar, during the last weeks of his regime, wanted or did not want a separate peace.  But ample evidence exists that peace discussions (not negotiations, in the technical meaning of the term) had been going on since mid-1916 ;  that leading personalities of the Russian government were involved in these discussions ;  and that by February-March 1917, Germany and Austria, hardly without Russian encouragement, were preparing to step up these contacts.(4)  The Tsar, in fact, did nothing to halt these activities.  On the contrary, he furthered the career of some of those who had been seeking contacts with the enemy.

To understand the separate peace problem, a number of key factors must be distinguished :  first, German agents in Russia agitating for separate peace ;  secondly, Russian politicians and businessmen who wanted an end to the war ;(5) thirdly, more or less authorized “hints” or “feelers” from both sides—largely within the aristocratic and dynastic internationals ;  fourthly, occasional exploratory talks, such as Protopopov’s conversation at Stockholm ;  fifthly, projects for contacts (even Austria made a request on February 26, 1917, to enter into negotiations, perhaps designed to accelerate action within the government at Berlin).

Finally, it must be noted that the Germans waged psychological warfare :  they leaked misleading stories about separate peace negotiations to the Berner Tagwacht.  These rumors were spread by the world press and, despite immediate denials from Petersburg, created a great deal of suspicion, especially in London.  The Russian nationalist and liberal opposition utilized these tales against the government during November, 1916 ;  they were, to a degree, responsible for a more acute fear of the Tsar’s policies in London and Paris, for the assassination of Rasputin, and for the preparations for the palace coup.

The Germans took an open initiative during December, 1916, calling for peace negotiations between all belligerents.  The Russian Foreign and War Ministries drafted a declaration intended to squelch all premature peace talk.  They stated that Russia’s war aims were Constantinople and an independent Poland incorporating the Polish territories of Germany, Austria, and Russia—and that these aims had to be realized before peace could be discussed.  The Tsar signed this paper.  Although the declaration of December 25 was written in a tone of determination, it actually constituted a counter proposal to Germany’s demand that Russia free non-Russian nationalities in Eastern Europe.  The paper signified that a compromise was possible in relation to Poland, provided Germany would sacrifice Turkey for a Russo-German understanding.

But how could Russia negotiate seriously with the demanding Germans ?  It was not feasible to improve Russia’s bargaining position through military means.  Yet, destruction of the internal opposition would strengthen the Tsar’s position.

Even more pressing than these considerations was the need to forestall the impending palace coup which had been stimulated (though not caused exclusively) by a German rumor campaign of a non-existing negotiation that had led to closer relations between the “defencist” opposition and the British and French in Russia.(6)  The Allies now were cajoling the Tsar to reform his regime.  This single fact lessened perceptibly his enthusiasm for the alliance.  It was not a question of whether the Tsar was about to “betray” the allies ;  after all, the Allies had fallen for a German propaganda trick and were now opposing the Tsar, though the Tsar’s misgovernment was an equally potent cause in their change of attitude.  In so far as Nicholas was concerned, however, the important factor was that he no longer could depend upon the loyalty of the governments in London and Paris.  And he hardly was oblivious to the fact that if he had followed the advice which he was receiving from London (and to a lesser extent from Paris), the Russian government would have been seized by strongly pro-British elements.  The Tsar, undoubtedly, was convinced that he needed more freedom of action against his own allies, quite irrespective of the separate peace question.

It is unlikely that the Tsar feared a socialist insurrection—the socialist leaders were trying their best to quiet their restless followers.  It is more likely that because the revolutionary inclination of the populace were underrated, the fanning of a “little” unrest was considered to be without risk.  Hence under the cloak of trouble, the government might move against the aristocratic, military, and bourgeois opposition preparing the palace coup.  Several dates had been set for the coup, but it seems that the government had obtained intelligence which led it to expect the action by about March 24 (New Style).  Preventive action, then, would have to be underway two to three weeks earlier :  “P-Day” (“P” for provocation) would be some time near March 10.

Early in 1917, the Tsar’s relations with Britain worsened and the military district of Petrograd, which had been under the commander of the northern front, was established as an independent command headed by the Minister of War.  The purpose of this maneuver was to deprive the generals, who were believed to be implicated in the palace coup plot (including the commander of the northern front), of operational command authority in the capital.  German communications intelligence noted this change and, on the basis of several additional indicators including cessation of messages transmitted abroad, deduced the probability of a strong governmental action.  On February 20, 1917, Ziese, a German agent, submitted in Stockholm a rather foresighted prediction of the events that were soon to transpire.  On February 26, an Englishman passing through Sweden from Petrograd decided that the situation in Russia would soon turn against British interests.(7)

In the meantime, rumors spread that bread was becoming scarce in Petrograd and that bread lines were forming before bakeries.  Since there was no shortage of flour, the trouble could have been remedied easily ;  proper actions, however, were not undertaken in time.  The police, trained in the use of machine guns, placed an unknown number of these weapons on roof tops to control the main thoroughfares of the capital.

Months later, when Protopopov was indicted, it was alleged that he had asked the Tsar for 400,000 rubles to crush the revolution.  The money was to be used to train the police and to buy machine guns.  The Tsar approved of the measure but allocated only 50,000 rubles, to be paid on February 25.  No money was required, of course, to train the police or even to purchase machine guns, since they could have been requisitioned from the army ;  obviously the special funds were to be allotted to operations not yet financed by the government.  In any event, a payment on February 25 would have come too late for the training of the police, as well as for the acquisition and deployment of the machine guns.  For that matter, it is not known whether the 50,000 rubles were paid, although it is known that 200,000 rubles from the Tsar’s secret fund were requested by Nicholas early in March and given to him on March 9—a most unusual transaction.  The agitators, who were to become active within one or two days, were paid from unknown sources.(8)  According to one witness, they each received seven rubles a day, but this figure seems high.(9)

If the amount allocated for the provocation was 200,000 rubles and, if indeed seven rubles were paid per demonstrator, then the plan may have been to have ten thousand men demonstrate for three days—a minor demonstration—but it is likely that not every demonstrator was to be compensated for his enthusiasm.  Unquestionably, the police could use funds appropriated in the usual manner in addition to the special ones.  In brief, the financial evidence seems to suggest that demonstrations by twenty or thirty thousand revolutionaries were planned.  This order of magnitude would fit the challenge of such a provocatory operation in the midst of war.  In order to serve its purpose, the unrest would have had to have been “significant”;  but to retain control and to avoid encouraging the enemy, the unrest would have had to have been kept within bounds.

Provocation is a precarious operation.  In 1905, Tsar Nicholas was served by a team of experts headed by Durnovo, Minister of the Interior, General Trepov, Palace Commander, and Rachkovsky, the tactical Field Commander.  All of them were guided by the crafty Prime Minister, Witte.  In 1917, the Prime Minister, with only two months experience in his job, knew nothing of the “black arts.”  The military District Commander not only lacked energy, but was also quite incapable.  He may not have even been informed of the operations being planned.  He obviously had no plan of his own, exercised no effective command, and delayed redeployments and orders to use arms until it was too late.  Protopopov was the strategic commander in charge but he lacked the skill and intelligence necessary to carry this task to a successful conclusion.  There exists ample evidence to prove that Protopopov was mentally unbalanced;(10) possibly he was syphilitic.(11)  Underestimating the strength of the organized revolutionaries at Petrograd, he believed that the core did not exceed 300 men ;  there were probably about five to ten times that number.  Protopopov’s private secretary, a certain Orlov, who was arrested after the overthrow of the Tsar, was later liberated by Lenin, and reportedly joined the Bolsheviks.(12)

Another person who may later have made his peace with the Bolsheviks was police General Mikhail Stepanovich Komisarov.(13)  (His wife was previously mentioned as Lenin’s aide.(14))  While still a captain, Komisarov had received instructions from Rachkovsky himself and had run the anti-semitic operation through which, in 1905, the Okhrana hoped to deflect the revolution.(15)  Whether or not Komisarov possessed the ability to handle this super-provocation of 1917 as its tactical field commander can never be ascertained, because on or about March 12, this master of ceremonies was unexpectedly abducted and thus neatly prevented from demonstrating his talents.(16)  Komisarov was later released unharmed ;  the identity of his abductors is not known.  But the action was a masterful strike in intelligence operations.  It is most unlikely that any Russian organization would have shown so much dexterity.  The Germans certainly were not involved either, but they themselves were sure that they detected the hand of the British in this incident.(17)

The abduction of Komisarov, however, was not the only or even the primary cause of the provocation failure.  The tactics planned by the police were inept ;  the intended employment of machine guns from predetermined fixed positions was especially faulty.  The Petrograd garrison of 160,000 men was sufficiently strong numerically, but the soldiers were mostly those beyond the age of active duty or those convalescing from former wounds.  Both groups of soldiers were naturally strongly against war and therefore oppositional.  The better caliber of soldiers consisted mostly of “minority nationalities,” especially Ukrainians and White Russians ;  there also were Letts, Lithuanians, Finns, and Estonians.  These troops had become strongly anti-Tsar.(18)  The morale situation among the military was aggravated by poor logistics which resulted in a scarcity of warm food and drinks and the overuse of troops to beyond the fatigue point.  The men who were used most extensively and broke first were in undisciplined reserve units.  The Cossack units consisted largely of untrained recruits who were obviously not suited for action against civilians.  The officers assigned to the Petrograd garrison were sick in large numbers, wounded, or desk types unaccustomed to leading troops and imposing discipline.  In addition, many of the reserve officers sympathized with the revolution.

The tsarist government had for years failed to provide indoctrination courses for its troops.  It did not even practice civilian “public relations.”  During 1916 five million rubles had been allocated for this purpose but by March, 1917, none of this sum had been spent.

The situation got out of hand when the management of the Putilov armament works, the largest concern in Russia and in Petrograd, took advantage of a desultory strike (on March 7) to institute a complete lock-out of its 30,000 workers.  This created a strong emotional reaction.  A.A. Putilov was in favor of Nicholas’ elimination, and he may have initiated the lock-out to aggravate the situation.

Moreover, March 8 was the “Day of the Female Worker.”  For this date, demonstrations (mostly of women) had been planned.  Except for the Okhrana agents among them, such as V.Y. Shurkanov, the revolutionary organizers still insisted on a relatively peaceful demonstration.  But the Putilov workers, being idle, joined the women ;  the police, whose orders were to be accommodating, became entirely passive in the face of female wrath.  Such police behavior stimulated many would-be demonstrators.  As the news spread that the government seemed to have lost control of the situation, the columns grew longer and more and more demonstrators appeared in the streets.

Only at this point did the revolutionary organizations take action.  The Bolsheviks were particularly slow ;  they are, to this day, in their historical writings attempting to predate their revolutionary actions.  Yet a small Social Democratic splinter unit, composed chiefly of intellectuals (the so-called Mezhrayontsi or inter-burrough organization), was the first revolutionary group which, through posters and appeals, sprang into action and advanced the revolution.  This group was under the leadership of I.K. Yurenyev and was associated with Trotsky, who was then in New York.(19)  In addition, local Bolshevik cell and factory leaders, notably V.N. Kayurov(20) and Chugurin, in defiance of such party hierarchs as Shlyapnikov, called out their troops.  Due to the initiative of such men, the demonstrators, who had been stopped at the Neva bridges, were led across the ice into the central sectors of town ;  the crossing, which could have been blocked easily, was unopposed.  Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries joined the soldiers, inciting them to mutiny ;  this effort was seconded by Bolshevik and other agitators who were serving under the colors.  The garrison which was ordered to support the now powerless police refused to shoot.  One regiment after another mutinied, placing itself under the orders of the Duma which had suddenly become a revolutionary command center.

On March 10 the Tsar wired Petrograd, “I order to liquidate ... by tomorrow the unrest in the capital.”(21)  (This command sounds almost like Xerxes ordering the Hellespont to be whipped.)  But if the telegram is read simply as a counterorder to the stage directors of the provocation, it loses its tone of imbecility ;  Nicholas II should not be considered a comic opera prince.

The order was sent too late.  The leading generals told the Tsar that the moment of abdication had arrived.  Tsarism was at its end.(22)  The aims of the palace revolution had been achieved.  But in the process, the political earthquake and the social upheaval which the plotters had wanted to avoid by a neat surgical operation had taken place after all.  The revolutionary Mephistopheles held the promise of everything to everybody—happiness, pleasure, whatever one could dream of or desire.  The Russian people, similar to Faust, answered eagerly, “Eh bien, pauvre démon, fais-moi voir tes merveilles.”(23)

Kesküla, the devil’s disciple, immediately wrote for Die Neue Zeit an article calling for the completion of the revolution.  Nicholas Murray Butler, a leading American intellectual, commented that Jean-Jacques Rousseau again had been proven the greatest political force in the world.  Butler described the Russian revolution as the “product of philosophy and letters”(24) and wished it godspeed.  Such are the delusions of some intellectuals.




1 The Tsarina’s brother, Grand Duke Ludwig of Hesse, reportedly went to Russia incognito late in 1916.  The Hesse family has continued to deny this story and it would seem foolish for the Grand Duke to travel, in the midst of war, to enemy Russia.  A trip to Finland would have been more easily arranged but would have been pointless if personal contact was desired.  Communications between brother and sister could be easily maintained through Sweden.

2 Communist writers (e.g., Trotsky) denied that a palace revolution was in the making.  There is, however, ample confirmation, including the recent autobiography by General Bonch-Bruyevich (op. cit., pp. 124ff) who also asserts that the British and French Ambassadors knew about the plot.  According to many uncorroborated reports in the German file, the British desired the coup d’état to ensure an effective Russian contribution to the war and block the separate peace maneuver.  Rightly or wrongly, the British seem to have been convinced that the separate peace between Russian and Germany had become unavoidable unless Nicholas II were eliminated.

3 Golder, op. cit., p. 173.

4 Much of the evidence from the Russian side was collected by S.P. Melgunov, Legenda o separatnom mirye (Paris :  no publisher, 1957).  This work was published after his death before the author could finalize his conclusions.  Melgunov showed that there was no formal negotiation and he argued that the Tsar did not really know or approve of these transactions.  He failed to understand the technical difficulty of such an undertaking, and also underrated the momentum of the effort.  He did not have pertinent information from the German and Austrian files.  By arguing that only Russian personalities of secondary importance were involved, he misinterpreted the role of the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior and other high-ranking personalities, and also misconstrued the function of intermediaries who by necessity must be able to operate anonymously.

5 One such group centered around the financier Manus, many of whose interests were devoted to the transport industry.  Manus had connections with several banking firms influenced by German capital.  He supposedly distributed German secret funds in Russia.  The validity of this theory appears doubtful, since Manus was primarily attracted by the cause of money-making.  However, once a week he had Rasputin for dinner, and these regular dinners always were attended by two or three important court officers from the Tsarina’s immediate entourage.  The classified information revealed during these evenings presumably was passed on, and many of the “counsels” given to the Tsarina through Rasputin (notably with respect to incessant changes of Cabinet Ministers) presumably originated during these Wednesday soirées.  Banker D.L. Rubinstein, who stood to Rasputin in a relationship similar as did Manus, specialized in acquiring shares of requisitioned German firms and helped the Tsarina to transfer money to Germany ;  he was more obviously interested than Manus in politics, for he acquired shares of newspaper corporations.  However, Manus associated with a former secretary of Witte, a State Councillor named Josif Y. Kolyshko who, after leaving government service, had become a political commentator.  Several times, during the 1915-1917 period Kolyshko negotiated with the Germans gaining their implicit trust.  It is likely that Manus passed much of his intelligence through Kolyshko.  The German industrialist Hugo Stinnes, in agreement with the Wilhelmstrasse, gave Kolyshko two million rubles to establish or buy a newspaper (in August, 1916).  Kolyshko broke with Stinnes and after the fall of the Tsar was pressed by the Wilhelmstrasse into the service of the second revolution.  Parvus advised the Germans that Kolyshko should be taken seriously—apparently the two men met.  Gorky’s Novaya Zhizn, which started publication in May, 1917, was financed in part by the Stinnes money (transferred through Kolyshko) who also had acquired the Petrogradskii Kuryer.  Kolyshko apparently was the main disbursing agent for the Bolshevik unrest in April and May, later boasting that he had “worked hard” to evict from the provisional government P.N. Milyukov as Foreign Minister and A.I. Guchkov as War Minister.  Kolyshko was arrested by the end of May, released on bail in September, and then escaped abroad.  This story demonstrates the continuity and interrelationships of the German effort but it does not indicate whether people like Manus were themselves agents or used by agents.  It does indicate the enormous impact a well-placed agent can have and retain even while circumstances are changing.

6 For a summary of the various coup d’čtat projects, see Michael Smilg-Benario, Der Zusammenbruch der Zarennionarchie (Wien :  Amalthea, 1928), pp. 89-108.

7 The unnamed Englishman’s remarks were reported to German authorities.

8 Gurko, op. cit., p. 272.

9 According to W.K. Korostowetz, the patriotic demonstrators who, late in July, 1914, were called into the streets to counter the impression created by the “revolutionary” demonstrators, were paid three rubles.  (Lenin im Hause der Väter (Berlin Kulturpolitik, 1928), p. 146.)  Since apparently the Germans paid only one and one-half rubles, this must have been the start of the inflation in the business of revolution.

10 P.E. Shchepolev (ed), Padeniye tsarskogo rezhima, vol. 1, Leningrad, 1924, pp. XXIX, 111-181 ;  Melgunov, pp. 229, 264.

11 The Tsar wrote about this affliction of his minister to the Tsarina on November 10, 1916.

12 Persky, op. cit., p. 273.

13 Ibid., p. 272.

14  See page 100.

15 A.A. Lopukhin, Otryvki iz vospominanii (Moscow, 1923), p. 88.

16 Louis de Trywdar-Burzynski, Le Crépuscule d’une autorité et quelques crises en Allemagne, (Extraits de Souvenirs) (Florence :  Rossi, 1926), p. 151f.

17 The Germans adduced many data to show the similarity of the February revolution with British activities directed in 1908 and 1909 against the Sultan of Turkey.

18 Kesküla reported that the Estonian infantry men were foremost among those who refused to obey orders and put down mass unrest.

19 I. Yurenyev “ ‘ Mezhrayonka, (1911-1917),’ “ Proletarskaya Revolyutsiya (1924), Nos. 1 and 2.  The mezhrayonka may have been in touch through Larina with the Parvus organization.  There is no good evidence where the money went, which Parvus and Hanecki earned to finance the revolution.  At a minimum, several tens of thousands of rubles, and perhaps more than 100,000 rubles must have been available, granting that profits were far smaller than turn-over and that profits had to be split.  (For the basis of this estimate, see Futrell, p. 188.)  The Petrograd Bolshevik organization remained without substantial funds.  There is hardly any doubt that Parvus and Hanecki pumped substantial amounts of money into the Mezhrayonka.  Prof. George Katkov, with whom the writer discussed this problem, also is inclined to accept this interpretation.

20 Proletarskaya Revolyutsiya (1923), No. 13, Istoricheskii Arkhiv (1956), No. 5, p. 148.

21 Smilg-Benario, p. 140.

22 Contrary to the superficial interpretation of many historians to the effect that the February revolution was “spontaneous,” Lenin, far more correctly, ascribed it to the collusion of three forces :  English-French finance capital, “the entire bourgeoisie and the landowning-capitalist class in Russia (and the higher officers in the army),” and the revolutionary proletariat, including the revolutionary soldiers.  (Werke, vol. 36, 410f.)

23 Goethe, as translated by Gérard de Nerval.

24 New York Times, April 24, 1917.