Michael Pearson

The Sealed Train
Chapter 3

During the Winter Months before Bronski hammered on their door, the life of Lenin and Nadya declined to a level they had never known before.  Nadya’s chronic illness—owing to her thyroid—was accompanied by a long spell of bronchitis.  Their bare room had no stove, and they shared a narrow kitchen with their landlady, Frau Kammerer.  There were three other tenants :  an Italian, some Austrian actors who had “a wonderful ginger cat” and a German soldier’s wife who lived with her children in one room.1

Their life was very uneventful, the letters from Russia rare, routed—with the help of a German agent, who read them carefully—by way of Scandinavia.  Every morning Lenin would leave for the library, taking a detour by the lake and the Limmat River for exercise.  Always he came home for lunch and then returned to the library in the afternoons.

On Thursdays, if Nadya’s health permitted, Lenin would buy “two bars of nut chocolate in blue wrappers at 15 centimes apiece” on his way home at lunchtime, and they would go walking on Zurichberg Mountain.

Lenin planned his life into precise fixed hours—for work, for sleep, for leisure, for meals.  He took great care of himself.  He did not smoke and rarely drank alcohol—a glass of beer sometimes.  Every day he did physical exercises—a habit started in prison in Petersburg before he was exiled to Siberia—and often went for long walks.

His working habits bore the same pattern of precision.  When he was working at home, he would start by dusting the table with a special duster and arrange his books and papers in meticulous order.  Strangely, although clothes were not important to him and his suits were always creased, he hated them to be in need of repair.  He liked to sew on loose buttons himself, unaided by Nadya.  When in other cities he had required a bicycle to travel to the libraries, he had kept this, according to Valentinov, “as clean as a surgical instrument.”

It was in character that he should be extremely good at chess, a game that at times obsessed him.  He could play for hours on end.  Once, according to Nadya, he called out in his sleep, “If he moves his knight here, I’ll counter with my castle.”

By that March in Zurich, poverty had become an enormous problem for them.  Often for lunch they had only oatmeal that Nadya was always scorching, for she was not a good cook.  “We live in grand style, you see,” Lenin joked to Frau Kammerer.  “We have roasts every day.” Through most of the months since the outbreak of war they had been living on a small inheritance that Nadya had been left by her aunt, supplemented by Lenin’s writings and occasional sums from the family in Petersburg.  By the end of 1915 their funds were almost exhausted.  “We shall soon be coming to the end of our former means of subsistence,” Nadya wrote to Lenin’s younger sister, Maria, in December, “and the question of earning money will become a serious one.”

In January, 1916, when they were still living in Berne, Lenin wrote to M. Kharitonov that he wanted to work in the Zurich Library for two or three weeks.  Could he get them cheap accommodation ?  He did not want to pay more than a franc a day and could, if necessary, share a single bed with Nadya.  How much could he get for a lecture ?

In fact, Nadya had been having trouble with their landlady in Berne, and since Lenin found the library so much superior in Zurich, they decided to stay in that city.

Toward the end of the year, their financial situation grew far more acute.  “I need to earn,” Lenin wrote to Alexander Shlyapnikov, the Central Committee member in Petersburg in charge of foreign communication.  “Otherwise, we shall simply die of hunger, really and truly ! ! . . . The cash must be dragged by force out of the publisher of Letopis, to whom my two pamphlets have been sent . . . this is absolutely serious, absolutely, absolutely.”

Urgently, Lenin sought assignments for articles, pamphlets and lectures.  He even urged Mark Elizarov, his brother-in-law, who was a director of a marine insurance company on the Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg, to explore the possibility of finding him a commission for mere translating.

Lenin had an acute, wry sense of humor—often sarcastic both at the expense of himself and of others.  His writer friend Anatol Lunacharsky was a “godseeker,” a member of a group that became a target for one of his angry campaigns because they saw revolution in poetic terms as “a stage, inevitably tragic, in the world-wide development of the human spirit toward the ’universal soul.’ ”  Once, after hearing Lunacharsky speak in this vein at a public meeting, Lenin approached him with his head bowed in humility and a malicious glint in his eyes.  “Bless me, Father Anatol,” he whispered.

Lenin’s humor was strained that winter.  “There are no changes here,” he wrote gloomily to Maria in Petersburg.  “We live very quietly ;  Nadya often feels poorly.”

In February he received a windfall from Maria—808 francs he had not expected.  He was delighted.  “Please write and let me know what this money is . . .” he asked.  “I cannot understand where so much money comes from;  Nadya says jokingly that I must have been ‘pensioned off.’  Ha, ha !  The joke is a merry one, for the cost of living makes one despair and I have desperately little capacity for work because of my shattered nerves.”

The émigré colony in Zurich was very small.  “We held ourselves, as was our custom, a little apart,” Nadya wrote.  Often Grisha Ussievich, an ardent young Bolshevik, “dearly loved,” would drop in to the Spiegelgasse to see them for a moment after lunch on his way back from the émigré restaurant.  They saw a lot, too, of Kharitonov and his wife and another young Bolshevik they admired, Nicholas Boitsov.

For a time, when they had first moved to Zurich, they had been visited every morning by a young nephew of Rosalya Zalkind, an old comrade.  The boy was demented from hunger, wore clothes so dirty and torn that even the libraries would not admit him.  Rather sadly, trying to control his impatience—for his time was so limited—Lenin would discuss ideology with him, but the meetings left him with a feeling that “everything in the world ached.”  Later the young man became insane.

In the evenings sometimes they went to the Café Adler in Rosingasse, just off the Zahringerplatz, where they met the few Russian and Polish Bolsheviks who lived in the city, some Swiss socialists and a few Germans and Italians.  Lenin tried giving some lectures there—usually about attitudes to the war—but they were not very successful.  On one occasion, a young Swiss comrade argued with him that all their efforts were a waste of time since they could achieve nothing.  “You can’t break down a wall with your forehead,” he told him, so Nadya reported.

It appears to have been a general view.  Although forty people attended the first meeting, fewer came to subsequent lecturers.  At the fourth, only a handful of Poles and Russians turned up.  “They joked together a bit,” recalled Nadya sadly, “and went their separate ways home.”

It conformed with the mood of their life at the time.  Lenin had grown less confident that he would be able to take part in the dramatic social changes for which he had striven so long.  “We of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution,” he told a young audience in January.

That winter had started badly for them, for, apart from their poverty, 1916 had been a year of tragic news.  Lenin’s mother, Maria Alexandrovna, had died in Russia.  She had been living in the apartment on Shirokaya Street in Petersburg that she shared with her daughters, Anna and Maria, Mark Elizarov, Anna’s husband, and their foster son, Gora.  She had been a remarkable woman, to whom Lenin, like his sisters, had been devoted.

In the same month Anna, now fifty-three, was arrested.  She had been sentenced to exile in Astrakhan but, owing to illness, had been released and allowed to spend most of the winter in Shirokaya Street—under very close surveillance.  The police had raided the apartment twice and arrested her again in February.

In Switzerland, thousands of miles from Petersburg, Lenin felt trapped and ineffective.  In his working life, he suffered the same sense of frustration.  The party organization had almost broken down, not only because of the problems of contact between Zurich and Petersburg, but also because internal communications between Russian cities had been badly eroded by Okhrana operations.  Worst of all, unlike the years before 1914, no one ever arrived from home with firsthand news.

Lenin continued to edit the party journal, now called Sotsial Demokrat, though its distribution was limited.  Zinoviev helped him, though he had not moved with Lenin from Berne, where he was a laboratory assistant.  Production of the paper was handled by Vyacheslav Karpinsky, a librarian, who lived with his mistress, Olga Ravich, in Geneva.

With hours to himself every day in the library in the Predigerkirche, Lenin wrote articles and pamphlets, often sending them to Inessa, who was then living at Clarens on Lake Geneva, for translation into French.  Ever since 1914, he had striven to keep the party together outside Russia and had even worked to create a united all-party socialist front of internationalists—for although Lenin was the frequent cause of splits, he did in fact favor unity, provided it was on his terms.

To exiled revolutionaries, arguing endlessly in the cafes of Swiss cities, these exile politics seemed important, but it was a case of big frogs in very little pools.  Lenin was utterly confined and the pressures of his frustration were immense.  His letters to Inessa were often marked with urgent alarm over matters which barely merited so much angry emotion.

One day that winter, Lenin and Nadya saw in the street Ernst Nobs, editor of the socialist newspaper Volksrecht, with whom Lenin had quarreled.  Nobs tried to avoid him, pretending he had to catch a tram, but Lenin, grabbing him firmly by the waistcoat, renewed their old argument.

Nadya, watching, was conscious that in Switzerland there was “no outlet for his colossal energy.”  The scene reminded her of a visit they had made together to London Zoo.

“I remembered a white northern wolf. . . . We had stood a long time outside its cage.  ‘All animals, bears, lions, tigers,’ explained the keeper, ‘get used to their cages in time.  Only the white wolf from the Russian north never becomes accustomed to the cage and day and night bangs his head against the bars.’ ”  To his dedicated wife, Lenin shaking poor Nobs by his waistcoat seemed like the white wolf.

That winter, desperate as he was, Lenin quarreled with almost everyone with whom he had contact in Europe or even in America.  Nicholas Bukharin, a Bolshevik with a fine brain whom he normally admired, was given a lashing.  “That swine Trotsky,” now in New York, came under new and virulent attack.  Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish star of the German socialists whom he liked and respected, was sharply criticized.  Karl Radek, an Austrian-Polish revolutionary journalist whom he had known for years, was labeled a “huckster who squeezes into the crack of differences between us—the time-honored policy of riffraff and scoundrels.”

Even his most fervent and dedicated supporters were smarting after clashes with him—and he had to calm them with his usual technique of expressing surprise at their emotional reaction, by suggesting that they had misunderstood him, by analyzing what had disturbed them to demonstrate how wrong they were to take exception.

He wrote to Zinoviev, who had displayed a sudden unusual flare of rebellion, insisting, “There is no conflict—you are imagining too much really.”  In one of his many confessions to Inessa, he admitted that he had written “a very excited letter” to Olga Ravich “which Karpinsky called abusive. . . . I shall write her an apology.”

In February he exploded at Inessa, who once again was ignoring his letters.  “You did not take offense, did you,” he queried, “at my writing about your not having gone over the French text ?  Incredible ! . . . Is it conceivable that anyone can ‘take offense’ at such a thing ?  Inconceivable !  And on the other hand the complete silence . . . is strange. . . .”  He knew his lady, and their relationship was changed.

During that awful winter, Lenin’s rages, as Nadya called them, using the French word, were much more frequent.  They would overwhelm him in an almost childish loss of temper and, certainly if they were provoked by political opponents, would take the form of violent fits of hatred.  At these times, according to Valentinov, a comrade of the earlier days, he “wanted to ‘smash their faces in’ . . . to insult them, to trample them underfoot, to spit on them. . . .

“Following an attack . . . his energy would begin to ebb, and a psychological reaction set in :  dullness, loss of strength and fatigue which laid him out.  He could neither eat nor sleep.  Headaches tormented him.  His face became sallow, even dark at times, the light died in his small Mongol eyes.”

Many of his rages in Switzerland—especially his outbursts of passionate anger against his own Bolsheviks—were provoked by the vital issue of the war.

To Lenin, patriotism was a confidence trick, employed by bourgeois imperialist governments to create a fighting fervor among their people—but he knew it stirred deep emotions.  This was why it was dangerous, why he sprang at once to crush any sign of it in his followers.  To a Marxist, which Lenin was by definition (“I am still ‘in love’ with Marx and Engels and cannot calmly stand any abuse of them” he had written Inessa in January), socialism was a world state ideal.

However, the natural love of home could easily create thoughts of defending, of fighting for that home, even in ardent Bolsheviks—for they were for the most part sentimental Russians who missed Russia very badly.  In 1914, Lenin had been shattered—more shattered than by anything else since the 1903 split—by the sheer scale of socialist support of the war.

When he read that the German Social Democrats—the very party that had helped him print and distribute the first few issues of Iskra—had voted for war credits in the Reichstag, he would not believe it, convinced it was a propaganda he issued by the German government.

Only two years before, the Second International had drafted a resolution declaring that any kind of war could only mean for the working class “shooting one another for the sake of the capitalists’ profits, for the sake of the ambitions of dynasties, for the accomplishment of secret diplomatic treaties.”  It was the duty of socialists, it had asserted, to take advantage of such a crisis for rousing the people against the capitalist order.

How, Lenin questioned with astonishment, could these men and women have reneged on such a basic issue ?  But the Germans were soon balanced on the Allied side by Plekhanov, and large numbers of other socialists who were backing the war policies of their governments.  When Lenin learned that in Paris Plekhanov, the hero of his youth, had been urging Russian exiles to enlist in the French Army, he despaired :  “Can Plekhanov have turned traitor too?”

After a bitter meeting in 1914 with a handful of Bolsheviks in the Bremgarten woods near Berne, an appalled and incredulous Lenin had issued a defiant resolution defining what he saw as the facts :

The war was simply “a struggle for markets and for the freedom to loot foreign countries” between bourgeois governments.  It was a means of suppressing the revolutionary movement by “setting the wage slaves of one nation against those of another. . . .”

Patriotism was a “chauvinist sophism” employed by both sides to “fool the masses.”  It ignored the fundamental truth of socialism stated years ago by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto that “the working men have no country.”

The defeat of the Tsarist monarchy and its army, he insisted, would be a “lesser evil by far” than its victory, for the ensuing chaos would provide a base for revolution, for civil war throughout the world between the classes.

In the three years that had passed since then, he had not changed his belief.

By March, when he heard the news of the revolution, Lenin’s life centered on four places :  Berne, where Zinoviev helped him to edit Sotsial Demokrat and run the party such as it was ;  Geneva, where Olga Ravich and Karpinsky handled printing and production for him ;  Clarens, where Inessa was ;  and Zurich, where Kharitonov was Lenin’s main contact with the small local party.

He also had some communication with the party network in Scandinavia that had long been the route into Russia for secret letters and the Bolshevik journal—often sewn into the soles of shoes of comrades who crossed the border.  But the war had made the use of this channel, too, very much more difficult and irregular.

Lenin’s key correspondent in Sweden, though he wrote also to Alexandra Kollontai, was a Polish Social Democrat named Jacob Fürstenberg, who was seen even by Lenin’s close comrades as a sinister character.  Fürstenberg had a range of contacts in the semicriminal underworld, as well as links with the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin.  He was not even a member of Lenin’s Russian party, though he handled special tasks that involved party funds.  He was to play a critical role in the months that lay ahead.

Lenin wrote very often to those he did not meet—often at least to those in Switzerland—exhorting, complaining, urging speed, lashing comrades and opponents who erred on ideology.

It was this limited, inverted life of bickering conflict and small-scale politics that was transformed on March 15 by the brief news from Petersburg.

During the next few hours, more news began to arrive in the newspaper offices from Russia, and Lenin was able to begin assembling a picture of the situation that was emerging there.  He learned how completely unexpected the revolution had been, how it had exploded—under the combined pressures of hunger and poverty and repression and organizational chaos and a war that seemed as though it would never end.

As in 1905, a stoppage in one plant had flared suddenly into a strike of many factories in the city, escalating to a massive demonstration in which tens of thousands of workers had marched in protest to the center of the capital.

Following the usual custom, the government had ordered the raising of the drawbridges over the Neva, but the weather was bitterly cold, and the river was frozen.  The angry workers had not needed bridges.

Mutiny had swept through the regiments of the big city garrison, and the troops had joined the demonstrators.  Again, as in 1905 in Moscow, the Cossacks had refused to charge.  “The pharaohs,” the hated whip-carrying mounted police, had been overpowered by the weight of sheer numbers.

The revolt had gusted like a storm, surging to its peak on the third day.  Hundreds died in shooting on the streets—to be buried later in the Field of Mars, near the Winter Palace.  Buildings were ransacked and set on fire.  In army barracks and naval ships, officers were murdered.

Finally, mobs of angry men had broken into the jails and freed the political prisoners.  Then they had marched, thousands of workers, soldiers and released revolutionaries, to the cream and gold Tauride Palace—once the home of Prince Potemkin, the lover of Catherine the Great—and demanded that the Duma should grasp the power that until then had been held by Tsar Nicholas II.

It had been the end of Tsardom, the beginning of rule by the people—rule at first, until order was restored, by a “provisional government” of ministers approved by the Duma.  Later, everyone was agreed, there would be nationwide elections to a Constituent Assembly—a Parliament.

The chain of events of 1905, broken off so savagely by the slaughter in Moscow, were set in motion again.  Delegates from the factories and the regiments—elected secretly as part of the underground activity of various parties before the revolution—began to arrive at the palace, the focal point of the revolution, in search of guidance.

The Soviet “happened”—and it was “happening” in other Russian cities to which the explosion in the capital had soon spread.  One after another uncertain men, many unable to read or write or even to articulate the messages of the people who had elected them, stood up in the hall of the west wing of the Tauride Palace and swore allegiance to the revolution.

The Soviet, developing more by a common instinct than by preconceived ideas, was a strange body.  In essence, it was a kind of crude instant labor union congress, except that its members did not just come from unions.  But they did come from groups of workers, from factories, from the railways, from the docks, from the barracks, from any place where men were employed in large numbers.

Furthermore, the Soviet did not see itself as an instrument of government, but as a supervisor in the interests of the people, as a guardian designed to ensure there was no return to Tsardom, no counterrevolution.  From the start, as in 1905, it commanded the complete obedience of the people.

Scouring the newspapers in Zurich, Lenin was able very quickly to assess the new conditions.  Most of the new ministers were members of the liberal Kadet Party (Constitutional Democrats) which was led by an ex-university don named Paul Milyukov, just appointed Foreign Secretary.  The Kadets, who had a big following among the middle classes, sought to establish in Russia a capitalist democracy on British lines.  Inevitably, they supported the war with the Allies until Germany was defeated.

Lenin was appalled, as indeed were the Bolsheviks in Petersburg, by the new men in power.  For what kind of revolution was this ?  The new Premier was even a prince.

In its very early days, the Soviet, with the ideas of so many of its members rooted in the Parisian mobs, was a very revolutionary body.  It howled for the trial of the Tsar with hopes of a dramatic execution.  In its first official act, it banned the death sentence in the army, forbade the saluting of officers, ordered all regiments to form committees that were to send delegates to the Soviet in Petersburg.  The committees were to set up control over the arms and munitions held by their regiments.  For the time being, the Petersburg Soviet was acting as the center of the revolution for the whole of Russia.

Despite this, Lenin did not trust the men in the Soviet, for it was dominated by two socialist parties that dwarfed the extremist Bolsheviks—the Mensheviks and the SRs, the Socialist Revolutionaries.  The SRs had taken over and refined the policy of the old terrorist Narodniks, in whose cause Sasha had died.  Like the Marxists, they had abandoned terror as a technique—though there were still a few SR militants—but they were the party of the peasants, the biggest section of the Russian population, including many soldiers and sailors who had been called up from the villages to fight.

Lenin knew that the Mensheviks would cooperate with the new ministers, for compromise was in their nature, and he was pretty sure the SRs would, too.  In his first letter to Alexandra Kollontai in Norway only hours after he had first heard of the revolt, he insisted that, above all else, he wanted no links with these parties, no talk of unity or combined fronts.  Small though they were, the Bolsheviks would stand alone, the party of the workers, the party that would not collaborate with capitalists.

In this, Lenin did not trust many of his Bolsheviks either—which was one reason why it was absolutely vital that he should reach Petersburg quickly to set up a firm leadership over the party.  At that early moment, though, the obstacles seemed enormous.  “We are afraid it will be some time before we succeed in leaving accursed Switzerland,” he wrote in another letter to Alexandra Kollontai.

Despite his pessimism, he now left no source untapped in a frenzied effort to find a way of overcoming the difficulties.  “Vladimir Ilyich at this time resembled a caged lion,” recorded Zinoviev.  “We must be on our way.  Every minute is precious.  But how . . . passions rage. . . .”

He considered going across Germany by plane but realized quickly that this was utterly impractical.  During one of his sleepless nights, when he was in bed with Nadya, he said to her suddenly, “You know, I could go on the passport of a dumb Swede.”  Dumb, of course, so that he would not have to reveal that he could speak no Swedish.

“You’ll fall asleep and see Mensheviks in your dreams,” she teased, “and you’ll start swearing and shout ‘scoundrels, scoundrels’ and give the whole conspiracy away.”

Despite her mockery, he was serious about the idea.  He wrote to Jacob Fürstenberg in Stockholm asking if he could produce Swedish identities for him and Gregory Zinoviev.

Meanwhile, he moved on to another possibility.  On April 18 he wrote to Inessa asking her to go to England to explore whether there was any possibility of the British granting him a passage.  When he followed this up with a phone call the next day to Clarens, Inessa stubbornly refused his request.  “I must say,” he wrote to her that night, “I am keenly disappointed.  In my opinion everybody these days should have a single thought—to rush off. . . . I was certain that you would rush off to England, as only there could you find out how to get through and how great the risk is (they say via Holland, London-Holland-Scandinavia, the risk is slight). . . .”

The same day he investigated yet another plan.  “Take out papers in your own name for traveling to France and England,” he instructed Karpinsky in Geneva, “and I will use them to travel through England (and Holland) to Russia.  I can put on a wig.”

Another idea, again among his stream of instructions to Inessa on March 19, was to ask the Germans to allow the passage of a rail coach to Copenhagen—but he was adamant that no one should know the suggestion came from him.  Strangely, Julius Martov, his onetime friend, made the same proposal that day at a meeting in Berne of exiles of all parties, urging that this could be given a semblance of legality by the Russian government releasing a number of German prisoners of war equal to that of the people who traveled.  When Zinoviev, who attended the conference, reported to Lenin the next day, his leader was delighted.  The only problem was that everyone at the meeting had agreed that prior approval for the journey should be awaited from Petersburg.  This meant delay, but Lenin conceded that politically it was vital, for the repercussions of accepting cooperation from the hated enemy of Russia could clearly be immense.  Since 1914, hundreds of thousands of Russians had died from German bullets and bayonets.  Ill-equipped, poorly shod, they were still being slaughtered in the thick mud of the trenches that formed the vast line from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  Against that background, how would the ordinary Russian even in a revolution react to the news that Lenin and other exiles had accepted German help ?  Even with the agreement of the government, it would be a fact that would be easy for a political opponent to exploit.  Without this approval, it would be extraordinarily dangerous, for it would be treason.  So the exiles waited for the hoped-for cable from the Foreign Ministry in Russia.

While Lenin was exploring these bizarre plans to travel to Russia, Alexandra Kollontai was planning to leave Norway for Petersburg.  She had cabled him a request for “directives” (“Just imagine thinking about ‘directives’ from here,” commented Lenin with mock wonder) and now on the nineteenth he wired her the line she was to take in Russia :  “Our tactics :  No trust in and no support of the new government.  Kerensky is especially suspect.  No rapprochement with other parties. . . .”

Lenin’s comrades found it strange that he should attach such importance to Alexander Kerensky, who was only a junior minister in the new government.  Other men seemed far more formidable.  But even then Lenin seemed to sense that in the conflict that faced him when eventually he got to Petersburg, Kerensky would be his most critical adversary.  It was a belief that was marked with historical irony, for out of all the territory of the Russias, Kerensky also came from the little Volga town of Simbirsk.  His father had even taught Lenin in school, and after the death of Lenin’s father—according to an assertion by Kerensky—he became the family guardian.

Kerensky, who was ten years younger than Lenin, was in the right wing of the SR party.2  A lawyer who had won a big popular reputation as a courageous defense counsel for the victims of Tsarist oppression, he was a gripping orator, with a dramatic touch and an obvious belief that he had been selected by destiny for greatness.  Perhaps it was his talent that had caused Lenin to single him out, or maybe it was just that, as one of the only two members of the Soviet who were also ministers in the new government, he symbolized the whole issue of compromise—and of chauvinism, for he was firmly behind the war.  And it was this aspect of compromise that made the delay, while Martov’s proposal to approach the Germans for a train was explored by telegraph with Petersburg, such agony for Lenin.

Never in all his years of exile had he felt so impotent.  Every day he scrutinized the papers for news from Russia, often exploding into impotent rages when he read of actions that he had no power to stop.  “It’s simply shit!” Lenin raged when he read a reported compromising speech of the Menshevik leader Nicholas Chkheidze, according to a visitor.

However, his repeated outbursts of fury did not stop him from working.  In his one room in the Spiegelgasse and in the library of the Predigerkirche, he spent hours each day, writing a series of letters for the newly revived Pravda, laying down the party aims on a wide range of issues.

Lenin visualized a new type of society.  The power that had been held formerly by the Tsar, he contended, had simply been taken by the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, the landowners.  What was needed now was the destruction of the whole state apparatus—especially the old police organization,3 for this was the base on which counterrevolutionaries always scrambled back to power.

In its place, Lenin’s key suggestion was that the whole people of both sexes should be armed.  From this mass of gun-carrying workers, a militia would be formed with a wide range of duties, including such aspects as welfare and community sanitation.  Members of the militia would take off from work one day in fifteen for their service in the corps on full pay.

The people’s militia, which on any one day in Petersburg would amount to 50,000, though this could be fast raised to 750,000 in emergency, would be merged with the bureaucracy, the army and the new police.  “Such a militia would guarantee absolute order and a comradely discipline practiced with enthusiasm.”

In his concept of an “armed proletariat,” Lenin’s idea was to end rule from above—from the state and agents of that state—and to replace it with rule from below.  Every official should be answerable to the people—and immediately replaceable by them.  It was thinking that was highly idealistic, rooted in the mobs of Paris in 1789 and, particularly, in the Paris Commune in 1871, when for a short time the people of the city set up their own government.

It was essential, Lenin declared, for the party to conduct a concentrated campaign to spread the system of the Soviets right down through the nation to villages and city districts.  For the bourgeois, he warned, was very well organized and, unless the workers could become equally well organized, they would never be able to hold the power, even if they succeeded in grasping it.

In Zurich, however, as the days went by, Lenin’s way of getting to Russia seemed even more obscure than before—largely because, despite his earlier assurances to Inessa, he had begun to express doubts that the Germans would cooperate.  “Valya has been told [at the British Embassy] that there is no passage at all through England,” he wrote Inessa on March 25.  “What if no passage whatever is allowed either by England or by Germany!!!  And this is possible!”

In truth, though, as he well knew, this was not possible.




1 Main sources :  As for Chapter 1.  Also, David Souliashvili, Meetings with V.I. Lenin in Exile (R); Collected Works of Lenin, Vols. 23, 35, 36, 37, 43; V.I. Lenin, The Revolution of 1917 ; N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917;  Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution; Alexander Kerensky, The Kerensky Memoirs and The Catastrophe; M. Futrell, The Northern Underground; G. Safarov, “About Comrade Lenin,” Leningradskaya Pravda, 1925, No. 17 (R);  A. Senn, The Russian Revolution in Switzerland, 1914-1917.

2 Kerensky was head of the Trudoviks, a small party that was one of several that operated under the SR banner.

3 Technically, the two police forces of the Tsars had been disbanded by the Provisional Government—though possibly Lenin did not yet know this.  However, many of the members of two forces were now in the militia that was carrying out policing duties.  This should not be confused with Lenin’s idea for a popular “militia.”