Michael Pearson :  The Sealed Train
New York :  Putnam, 1975, 320 p.
ISBN :  0399112626

Foreword


Spiegel, 2007 December 10

IN MARCH, 1917, Lenin was living in Zurich in poverty, the exiled head of a small extremist revolutionary party that had relatively little following even within Russia.  Eight months later, he assumed the rule of 160,000,000 people occupying one-sixth of the inhabited surface of the world.

The Sealed Train is the story of those thirty-four fantastic weeks.  The train itself and the bizarre journey across Germany, then at war with Russia, are a vital and dramatic link in the story.  For without the train, Lenin could not have reached St. Petersburg when he did, and if Lenin had not returned to Russia, the history of the world would have been very different.  For not one of his comrades had the sense of timing, the strength of will, the mental agility, the subtle understanding of the ever-changing mood of the people and the sheer intellectual power of Lenin.

It is one of the great ironies of history that without the help of the German Emperor—the archproponent of the imperialist capitalist system that Lenin was dedicated to destroy—Lenin could never have achieved what he did.  His establishment of a socialist state, the first stage in what he hoped would be a world Communist system, was made possible only by German cooperation, a German train and the massive German finance that followed it.

In the unifying of opposing interests that the Sealed Train symbolized, both Lenin and Kaiser Wilhelm took an enormous risk.  For Lenin, the tarnish of enemy association, the “unclean hands” with which the train invested him, was highly dangerous politically and nearly destroyed him.

For the Kaiser, the risk, though he discounted it, was that Lenin’s plan for world revolution would spread across the Russian borders to threaten him with the same fate that had already overtaken his cousin, the Tsar.

Strangely, although their interests were opposed, both men achieved a large measure of what they sought.  Lenin gained his revolution even if it did not assume the immediate global proportions he expected.  The Kaiser gained the separate peace he wanted on the Eastern Front so that he could concentrate his forces in France—as well as a side benefit of vast areas of territory that had once formed part of the Tsarist Empire.

In dealing with the problem of spelling that faces any writer on a Russian subject, I have followed by and large the Library of Congress standard, though I have departed from this in the case of names or words that seemed to me to appear more natural spelled in other ways—such as Zinoviev.

The number of people in Europe, America and Russia who have assisted with the writing of The Sealed Train is too large for them each to be named.  However, I would like to express my special thanks to Hannah Kaiser, who paved my way in Moscow and Leningrad and was of enormous help in other ways with the research there, and to Shirin Akiner, my tireless Russian translator in London.  The help with translation of Alla Figoff and Kate Oldcorn was also much appreciated.

I should like to state my gratitude to Fritz N. Platten in Zurich for his enormous assistance regarding the Sealed Train and the role played by his father and also to the directors of the Verkehrsmuseum of the Deutsche Bundesbahn in Nuremberg who were extremely cooperative in providing details of the train and German railway systems of 1917.

Professor John Lukacs of Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, Harry Willetts and Dr. Harold Shukman of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, Professor Leonard Schapiro of the London School of Economics and Political Science and Hilda Kukj of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, Peace at Stanford, California, and Dr. Z.A.B. Zeman have all been kind enough to provide research leads or to discuss the more controversial source material.  I am also most grateful to Dr. Harold Shukman of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, for his diligence in reading the proofs of the book and for his most welcome advice.

I have received great cooperation from the Soviet authorities in Russia in the form of excellent facilities and access for discussion with Soviet historians.  It should be stated too that my task in Moscow was made much easier by a highly efficient and extremely intelligent translator and the sheer excellence of the Lenin Library.  I would like to name the Russians who helped me within Russia, but even though they acted with approval, it would cause them embarrassment.  Any book on the subject of Lenin by a non-Communist Western writer is certain to conflict with official views within Russia, for certain episodes in revolutionary history were altered on the orders of Stalin, and although there have been recent amendments, these have not all been corrected.  Trotsky, for example, is barely mentioned in the Soviet Union.  The roles played by Kamenev and Zinoviev are discounted.  Certainly, the connection with Berlin is heresy, despite the publication of the German Foreign Office papers, though I would like to say to any of my Russian helpers who may see this book that, at the time I was in Russia, it was not my intention to give the weight to this important and highly relevant aspect that this volume now contains.

I am grateful to the staff of the Reading Room of the British Museum, of the Public Record Office and, as always, to Joan Bailey of the London Library for their great assistance.  I have also appreciated the help of the librarians in the School of Slavonic Studies, London University, in particular that of Hana Komarkova.

Finally, I would like to thank Averil Lewis and Sylvia Voller for typing the manuscript through its various stages and my wife, Susan, for helping with its correction as well as living with its development.