Michael Pearson :  The Sealed Train

Chapter 5


In London that Week, Lenin’s proposed journey was brought to the notice of Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary.  On April 5, in fact, two telegrams that had reached the Foreign Office were causing anxiety.1

From Berne, British Ambassador Sir Horace Rumbold reported that negotiations were in progress with the German government to obtain “safe conducts through Germany to Russia of Russian socialists and anarchists resident in Switzerland.”  Since they were in favor of immediate peace with Germany, they would be commissioned to “make violent propaganda among the working classes in Russia and among troops at the front.”  The first party would be sent through shortly.

That night the Foreign Office cabled the news to Sir George Buchanan, British ambassador in Petersburg, asking him “to enquire whether the Russian Government intended to take any steps to counter this danger.”

The other telegram that arrived in London that day was received at the Admiralty.  Six socialists had been removed by British naval authorities from the SS Christiania Fiord, which had called in at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on her way to Russia from New York.  It had been reported that one of them, Trotsky, was “the leader of a movement to start a revolution against the present Russian Government, the funds being subscribed by socialists and Germans.”  Would London please make discreet inquiries of the Russian government if it would like them to proceed ?  So yet another telegram was dispatched to Sir George Buchanan in Petersburg.

It was proof, at least, that Lenin was wise to make no attempt to seek British help for his return plans.  For ever since the revolution, the British Cabinet—under pressure from Buchanan in Petersburg—had been doing everything it could to please the new Provisional Government in Russia.  On the ambassador’s urging, messages of goodwill had been sent from the House of Commons and from the leaders of the British labor movement.  Still, Milyukov had warned Buchanan, there was disappointment in Russia regarding the warmth of British feeling toward the revolution.

The Russian ministers—uneasily eyeing the uncertain radicals in the Soviet—were frightened men, and so clearly were those in London.  Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, British ambassador in Washington, was now urged to arrange for messages to be sent to Petersburg from labor leaders and prominent men in the United States emphasizing the necessity of continuing the war in order to secure the triumph of the principles of freedom and democracy.  “There is real danger,” warned the telegram, “of revolutionary pacifists obtaining the upper hand and occupying the position of the Provisional Government.”

If there appeared to be an element of panic, it was not strange.  The Allies were about to launch a new offensive on the Western Front.  It was now scheduled for April 9.

While the telegrams were passing between London, Washington and Petersburg, troops were moving up into position through the mud of northern France, artillery and supplies were being established.  The initial strike would be launched at the German position at Arras.

That week Lenin’s plan to cross Germany, with the Kaiser’s help, was under discussion elsewhere in Petersburg, as well as in the British Embassy and the Foreign Ministry.  Across the Neva in Old Petersburg, the Bolshevik Central Committee was also considering it in the mansion it had seized from its prior owner, Kshesinskaya, a prima ballerina who had once been the mistress f the Tsar.

Kamenev and Stalin had taken over control of the party—and the editing of Pravda—from Vyacheslav Molotov and Alexander Shlyapnikov, who had been running the Bureau of the Central Committee in the absence, in Siberia or exile, of all the leaders.  And precisely as Lenin in Zurich feared, they had toned down the early Bolshevik militancy of the party and eve offered its cooperation to the new Soviet.  It was the precise opposite of what Lenin had ordered, but Lenin was abroad From Switzerland, it was argued, he could not judge the mood of a city that was tasting the euphoria of freedom for the first time in its history.

Alexander Shlyapnikov, in charge of foreign communication had experienced enormous trouble in contacting Lenin at all.  A first, he had believed that this was due to chaos in the telegraph system, caused by the revolution.  Then he had realized the difficulty was more sinister, resulting from deliberate anti-Bolshevik orders by the new government.

For this reason he had sent a courier, Maria Stetskevich through the Finnish border to Sweden to communicate with Switzerland from foreign soil.  On April 2 she was back in the city with letters from Lenin and Jacob Fürstenberg.  So, too, was Alexandra Kollontai.

The Central Committee, therefore, knew of the plans for the train across Germany and was only too conscious of the use to which the “chauvinists” in Petersburg would put it.  All the same, deciding like Lenin that the risk was worth it, they wired Fürstenberg:  “Ulyanov must come immediately.”  Then, as Anna and Maria pondered the danger that the Germans might use the train as a trap, they sent a second wire:  “Do not force Vladimir to come.  Avoid all risk.”

Once more, in case the cable was blocked by the censors, Maria Stetskevich set off for the Swedish-Finnish border.  This time, in a rigorous search at Tornio, she was stripped naked and her letters seized, but she was allowed to proceed to Sweden It was an ominous sign of what lay ahead of Lenin.  For it was through this border post that he and his comrades would have to pass on their way to Petersburg.

The final approval from Berlin for the train reached the German Legation in Berne on Thursday, April 5—within hours of the telegram from London to Petersburg asking Sir George Buchanan what Milyukov was going to do to stop it.  Two second-class carriages, Romberg was instructed, would be waiting at Gottmadingen, a tiny station in the hills on the German side of the Swiss border, on Saturday evening, April 7.  A legation official was to accompany the travelers on a regularly scheduled Swiss railway train from Zurich, which stopped at Gottmadingen on the way to Singen, the formal German frontier post where customs and immigration officials were based.  There a military officer would take over as escort.

Earlier that day, Arthur Zimmermann had personally requested General Headquarters to provide “a tactful officer with political understanding” to conduct the exiles on their six-hundred-mile journey across the whole of Germany from Gottmadingen to Sassnitz, the port on the Baltic from which a ferry sailed daily for Gothenburg, in the south of Sweden.  From there they could travel on by train through Finland to Russia.  In fact, General Headquarters decided to send two officers.

Once again, Lenin threw himself into a frenzy of action, wiring the new departure date to Karpinsky, whose duty it was to inform the others, and to Jacob Fürstenberg in Sweden.  Now, however, Lenin had suddenly become alarmed that the “sealed” aspect of the train would not provide him with enough cover when he faced the inevitable inquisition in Petersburg.  He had good reason for his new anxiety.  On Thursday he had heard that the French newspaper Le Petit Parisien had reported that Milyukov had threatened to prosecute on charges of high treason against everyone who traveled through Germany.

To strengthen his case, in the face of this new danger, Lenin conceived the idea of drawing up a formal approval of the journey to be signed by a body of international socialists—as eminent as possible.  The key signature he wanted was that of Romain Rolland, the celebrated French writer who was in Switzerland—and he asked another Frenchman, Henri Guilbeaux, a newspaper editor, to seek it for him.  But Rolland refused to sign, asserting that Lenin was a “dangerous and cynical adventurer” whose plan to return to Russia through Germany would “cause great damage to the pacifist movement.”

Lenin had to be satisfied with lesser men—among them Bronski, signing for Poland, Guilbeaux for France and Fritz Platten, for Switzerland—though he planned to augment the list with prominent Swedish Social Democrats when he got to Stockholm.

They did not leave on Saturday, or on Sunday, the next scheduled date, because Romberg, with his understanding of the problems, was trying desperately to arrange for some exiles of the SR party—the Socialist Revolutionaries—to join Lenin on the train.  For Martov and the Mensheviks had been adamant in their opposition to traveling without approval, which in a few days was to be refused formally by Milyukov, and it was obvious that the train journey would be less explosive politically if the travelers were not all Bolsheviks.

Romberg failed to convince the SR’s—at any rate in time, and there was clearly a limit to the number of times departure could be postponed.  He had to be content with the presence in the party of a few Bundists—Jewish Marxists who had their ow Social Democrat group affiliated with the Russian party—which presumably was better than no outsiders at all.

Early on Monday, April 9—only a few hours after the Allies had launched their new offensive on the German line at Arras—the travelers assembled at the Volkshaus in Berne Those that came from other Swiss towns had arrived the day before—such comrades as Goberman from Lausanne, A. Abramovich and A. Linde from Chaux-de-Fonds and a group of five from Geneva.  Heading this last section was sixty-year-old Mikha Tskhakaya, who had so terrified the Ulyanov’s landlady when he had first called on them years ago when they, too, were living in Geneva that she slammed the door in his face.  For he had been wearing Caucasian costume, and, with his thick gray beard, he had looked like a brigand.

Twelve months before, during an all-night talk in Lenin’s room in Zurich, the two men had promised each other in jest that in a year they would go back to Russia together.  On the day the news arrived from Petersburg Lenin had sent his cohort a postcard:  “Congratulations on the revolution in Russia.  Your optimism justified. . . . I am preparing to leave, packing, what are you doing?”

“My suitcase has been ready since last year,” Tskhakaya wrote back.

Among the five from Geneva were Olga Ravich, who was very much a last-minute addition to the party—Lenin in his letters had assumed she would be staying with Karpinsky—and a young comrade, David Souliashvili.  Before they left from Geneva Station, one of the farewell crowd on the platform had thrust a red handkerchief through the window of the carriage into Souliashvili’s hands—to serve as a revolutionary flag.  Like an eighteenth-century standard-bearer, he was clutching it still.

G. Sokolnikov was among the Geneva contingent.  He worked for the French journal Nashe Slovo, which Martov and Trotsky had once edited together until it was suppressed in 1916.  He had not been a Bolshevik long, but Lenin’s letters to Inessa indicated he regarded him as a man of talent.  He was to play an important art in Lenin’s rise to power during the months ahead.

Inessa had joined Lenin in Berne a few days before from Clarens to help with the last-minute arrangements.  Zinoviev was art in Lenin’s rise to power during the months ahead.  Inessa had joined Lenin in Berne a few days before from Clarens to help with the last-minute arrangements.  Zinoviev was there, of course, with Zina and Stepan, their nine-year-old son, , ho had been born only a few months after they had first joined Lenin in Geneva in 1908.  Among the party, too, was George Safarov, a young engineer Lenin often sent on foreign trips, and is wife, Valentina.

Others such as Kharitonov, young Gregory Ussievich and his wife, Helen Kon, daughter of the well-known Polish socialist Felix Kon, would join them in Zurich.

The youngest member of the party was Robert, a four-year old Jewish boy from Geneva, who appealed to Nadya so much that he features almost as prominently as Lenin in her account of the journey.

That morning Lenin, usually so calm at times like this, was taut and flustered, mopping his forehead with a handkerchief there had been so much to organize.  On Saturday he had wired Kharitonov in Zurich warning that Platten must get permission to take provisions with him.  He had cabled Fürstenberg the they would be leaving Sunday, instructing him to call “Belenin”—the code name for Alexander Shlyapnikov—and Kamenev to Finland for discussions before he reached Russia Then, as the plan was changed once more, he wired again:  “Final departure date Monday—forty people,” though the numbers were to be an overestimate, for in fact there were only thirty-two, including two children.2

Nadya was cool enough.  She congratulated them all on the speed with which they had assembled.  “True Bolshevik discipline,” she commented according to Olga Ravich.

The Ulyanovs’ luggage consisted of three baskets—one for their personal clothes, one filled with books and one packed with old newspapers—and two boxes, crammed with newspaper cuttings and party documents.  They also had a portable Swedish kerosene stove that would be useful on the journey.

They took the train from Berne to Zurich, where they all had lunch with some of their Swiss comrades at the Zahringerhof Hotel in the Zahringerplatz, near the library in the old church where Lenin had spent so many hours.

Here, at the lunch table, they all signed a statement, accepting the leadership of Fritz Platten, confirming that they knew of Milyukov’s threat that they would be arrested and agreeing on their own responsibility to the conditions that had been negotiated with the Germans.

During lunch Lenin read a letter “to Swiss workers.”  It was a significant speech because it indicated, only hours before he left Switzerland, his concept of long-term socialist revolution—a concept that was to change on the Sealed Train.  “Russia is peasant country,” he declared, “it is one of the most backward of European countries.  Socialism cannot triumph there immediately.”

After lunch, they all walked from the Zahringerplatz across the Limmat to Zurich Station—a crowd of men and women and children in threadbare clothes, the men in black hats, the women in long skirts, ankle boots, their heads under varying types of covering ranging from scarves to Olga Ravich’s big broad brimmed “chapeau.”  They carried blankets and pillows.  Presumably their baskets, their main luggage — Romberg had warned Berlin that there would be three baskets per person—had already been left at the station.

On the platform where the train that was to take them to Gottmadingen was waiting, a crowd of “about a hundred Russians,” mainly hostile, had gathered to demonstrate against Lenin’s decision to go through Germany without approval from Petersburg.

“The farewell was rather stormy,” caustically commented an observer from the German Legation, “a typically Russian-Polish little scene of enchantment.”  Somewhat loftily, he interpreted it as a sign of the lack of discipline and harmony among the workers’ parties of the world.

The catcalls were shrill :  “Provocateurs !  Spies !  Pigs !  Traitors !” the protesters yelled.  “The Kaiser is paying for the journey,” taunted one.  “They’re going to hang you . . . like German spies,” shouted another.

One jeer of “Traitor” brought an immediate response from a member of the train’s Geneva contingent.  “Traitor!” he yelled back.  “And what are you? . . . I know for a fact that you get two hundred francs a month at the [German] consulate !”

They beat on the side of the carriage with sticks, shouting and whistling all the time.  At one point D.B. Ryazanov, a close friend of Trotsky’s, ran onto the platform, and seeing Zinoviev at the window, he pleaded with him:  “Lenin’s got carried away !  He doesn’t realize what a dangerous situation it is.  You’re more level-headed.  Tell Vladimir Ilyich to stop this mad journey through Germany!”

Zinoviev shrugged his shoulders and grinned.  Zina, his wife, was watching Lenin, who “stood listening to them and smiled sardonically.  ‘Hiss as much as you like,’ he said, ‘we Bolsheviks will shuffle your cards and spoil your game.’”

Fritz Platten was involved in a fight with a “practically insane Social Democrat,” and eventually even Lenin was provoked to physical violence.  Someone told him that a Social Democrat named Oscar Blum had boarded the train and taken a seat in the carriage.

Blum, author of a book, The Brains of the Russian Revolution, had been present at the lunch at the Zahringerhof.  According to one report, when he asked if he could join the party, Lenin put the issue to a vote, which resulted in a decided turndown.

A German diplomat reported that Lenin suspected Blum was a Russian agent, though it is more likely that if he was a spy at all, he was working for the French or the British.  Certainly he was determined.  Despite the adverse vote, he had climbed cautiously onto the train.  Incensed, Lenin stalked to the compartment where he was sitting, grabbed him by the collar and thrust him out of the carriage onto the platform—which truly he had no right to do, for this, unlike the train that was to collect them at Gottmadingen was public transport.

At 3:10 P.M., to the accompaniment of jeers and cheers, the train moved out of Zurich Station.  “Ilyich,” shouted one supporter, “take care of yourself.  You’re the only one we have.”  Some of the others began to sing the “Internationale.” Defiantly, David Souliashvili streamed the red handkerchief he had been given on the platform in Geneva, like a flag from the window.

As the train steamed through the Zurich suburbs and began to climb into the hills, Fritz Platten distributed pieces of paper marked with numbers, ranging from one to thirty-two, to serve in lieu of passports.  He briefed the travelers on the terms of his agreement with the Germans, the main point being that they were not to leave the sealed carriage or to speak to anyone.  The instructions seem hardly to have been necessary, but they contained a vital point.

It was the reason, in fact, why Romberg had sent a telegram to Berlin at 1 A.M.  that morning.  Arthur Zimmermann had accepted all of Lenin’s terms except one:  The insistence that no German should have any contact with the travelers.  As late as Saturday, a wire from Berlin had reached the legation in Berne insisting that Wilhelm Janson, a German trade union leader, should join the train.  It was part of Parvus’ vast plan to link the German Social Democrats into the operation that would bring about Lenin’s return to Russia.

Romberg understood the political danger in which Lenin stood better than did Parvus and was convinced that the proposal to have Janson join the party could prejudice the whole German aim.  “The émigrés expect to encounter extreme difficulties, even legal prosecution, from the Russian government because of their travel through enemy territory,” he explained by telegram.  “It is therefore essential to their interests that they be able to guarantee not to have spoken to any German in Germany.”

At Schaffhausen, the Swiss border town on the banks of the wide, curving waters of the Rhine, Customs ordered the party to get out of the carriage onto Platform 3.  They were party to no German agreement to allow the travelers through without formality.  They combed the luggage and confiscated much of the food that Platten had assembled for the journey.  In wartime Switzerland, there were strict limits on what food could be taken out of the country.  Even so, to the distressed passengers, they seemed over meticulous.  For although the Germans had said they would provide them with what food they could, Romberg had warned Platten to take a basic supply.  The Swiss action could well leave them hungry.  “It was obvious that they were against us,” recalled Souliashvili.

It was not to be their last experience with Swiss officialdom.  At Thayngen, the last halt on Swiss soil, new officials insisted on yet another examination.

Furiously, Platten complained at their treatment and sent an angry telegram to the government about these petty obstructions by Swiss bureaucrats.  But his fury made little impression.  Perversely, the uniformed officials continued to carry out their duties to the letter.3

At last the Swiss customs officials were finished with them, and they crossed the border into Germany.  Despite the uncertainty that lay before them, it was a relief.  Certainly Olga was pleased, not only to be going home, but to be leaving the deadening “calm of bourgeois Switzerland with its measured tranquility.”

“Some people need battles,” she wrote in her account of the journey, “some people need storms.”  She would not be lacking in storms or battles during the months ahead.

In a few minutes they could see ahead the tall hill, topped by a wood, that dominated Gottmadingen.  The train slowed as it approached the village which lay to the right of the tracks.  The old Bahnhof Hotel, with its curving roof and faded, cracked plaster, moved past the windows followed by the station building.  They came to a steaming halt at the single platform—empty except for two German officers, in high boots and green-gray uniforms, who awaited them.

The sight of the officers, stiff and upright, caused acute anxiety among the revolutionaries peering out of the windows of the train.  Nearly all of them had been in jail, had been in illegal situations, had been pursued, had been called in to local police posts in foreign cities for interrogation.  Suspicion was rooted in them.

The two officers had, in fact, been briefed in person by General Erich Ludendorff, Chief of Staff of the German Eighth Army on the Eastern Front.  According to Soviet historian A. Ivanov,4 Lieutenant von Buhring, the junior of the two officers, could speak fluent Russian but was under orders not to reveal this fact.  If true, it was the one note of political caution in what was otherwise a totally cynical military operation.

At the request of the officers, the travelers clambered down from the train and unloaded their baggage onto the platform.  Uneasily, at the direction of Captain von Planetz, the senior of the two Germans, they filed slowly into the third-class waiting room.

The atmosphere in that bare waiting room was as tense as if the officers had been in the service of the Okhrana.  The entire party had the suspicion in the back of their minds that they might have walked into a trap.  “We expected any kind of disaster on this journey,” Mikha Tskhakaya, the veteran Caucasian, explained later.

When Captain von Planetz asked them to separate into two groups—men and women—the unease grew.  They had lived too long under the threat of arrest to be herded by uniformed officials without becoming alarmed.  Instinctively, Lenin backed against a wall, and the rest of the men surrounded him—a ring of grim-faced figures in black hats and overcoats.  “We didn’t want them to look too closely at him,” recorded Karl Radek.  “It was very unpleasant.”

There was a dramatic silence broken only by a loud exclamation from Robert, the four-year-old boy from Geneva, whose mother had stood him on a table.  “Mamele,” he asked, “what’s happening?”  In a whisper, she tried to quiet him.5

The other child, nine-year-old Stepan Zinoviev, stood silently beside his slim dark mother.  He had often known anxiety in his parents.

As quickly as they could, the officers completed their formalities, checked the passengers, collected the payment of fares that Lenin had insisted on during the negotiations.  Then Captain von Planetz invited them to board the train that now stood at the platform.

It was not much of a train—just a green carriage, with eight compartments, three second-class and five third-class, and a baggage wagon.  It had been necessary for Lenin’s concept of sealing the travelers off from German contact to be eased slightly to accommodate the two officers, for clearly the travelers could not cross wartime Germany without an escort.  However, the Germans had attempted to conform with the theory by allocating the end third-class compartment for themselves and drawing a white chalk line across the floor of the corridor.  No one was permitted to cross this line except the Swiss Fritz Platten.  Fortunately, there was a toilet at each end of the coach so that the officers had no reason to move into “Russian territory.”

Once all the passengers were aboard, three of the four external doors to the carriage were locked.  The fourth, opposite the officers’ compartment, was left unlocked, but this was on the German side of the white line, so lip service at least was paid to the idea of the Russian confinement within the coach until they reached the Baltic.  According to Kharitonov,6 no one bothered to lock the doors on the other side of the carriage, which opened directly from the compartment, either because these were forgotten or because it was felt that the principle had already been met.

One of Platten’s accounts suggest that the blinds were drawn though it is quite clear from some versions of the journey that at times they were not.  Probably, since it was now late afternoon anyway, they were pulled down for the start of the journey.

The single men in the party accepted the hard wooden benches of the third-class, relinquishing the more comfortable second-class compartment with their brown padded upholstery to the women travelers—together, of course, with their husbands and children.

Lenin and Nadya, at the insistence of the comrades, had the end second-class compartment to themselves.  As soon as the train moved off from Gottmadingen Station, the gloom of the travelers lifted.  Spirits soared.  There was laughter and joking “Robert’s cheerful voice,” recorded Nadya, “could be heard through the whole coach.” The excited little boy ran up and down the corridor, stopping to clamber onto the lap of Sokolnikov, whom he appeared to have adopted.  He “did not want to talk to the women.”

Some of the younger ones in third-class began to sing the “Marseillaise.”  It was taken up in other compartments.  The sound of elated voices, shouting out the battle chorus of the French Revolution, echoed through the woods beside the track as the train clattered north into Germany.

In the Wilhelmstrasse, in Berlin, Arthur Zimmermann was following the progress of the party with very close interest.  Telegrams had come in from various ministers.  In particular Romberg warned that transit facilities for the party to pass through Sweden, already requested by the German minister in Stockholm, had still not been granted.  From Copenhagen, Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau had wired:  “Dr. Helphand [Parvus] has requested to be informed immediately of the arrival in Malmö or Sassnitz of the Russian refugees traveling from Switzerland through Germany.  Helphand wishes to meet them in Malmö.”

Zimmermann had wired Stockholm urging action—and sent an answering telegram to Copenhagen:  “Russian émigrés from Switzerland will arrive Sassnitz at noon Wednesday.”

In the British Foreign Office in Whitehall, a telegram arrived during the day from Sir George Buchanan in Petersburg.  He had discussed the question of the train carrying Lenin and his party with Mr. Milyukov, the Foreign Minister.  “All that can be done,” the minister had told him, “was to publish their names and the fact that they had come through Germany and this would be sufficient to discredit them in Russia.”

Later in the day another wire had arrived from Buchanan, this time about Trotsky and his comrade socialists in detention in Halifax.  The minister, Buchanan reported, had asked that “they should be allowed to proceed at once [to Russia].  There were so many extreme socialists already here that he did not so much object to others coming who had lived abroad as their experience of other countries inclined them sometimes to take a more reasonable view of things and to exercise a moderating influence on their Russian colleagues.”

Accordingly, the next morning, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour gave orders for their release only to cancel them on receipt of yet another telegram from Petersburg.  Mr. Milyukov had had second thoughts and would now like to know the Christian names of the detained socialists and the “reason which led them [the British naval authorities] to suppose that these persons have been paid by Germany to upset the Provisional Government.”

The reasons were not very sound, for they were not the result of anything so dramatic as espionage.  The naval commander in Halifax had read a report in a newspaper.

As the little train, drawn by a long black engine, with smoke streaming from a squat funnel, moved through the wooded hills, “Lenin,” recalled Zina Zinovieva, “did not leave the window.” Standing, as always, with his thumbs stuck in the armholes of his waistcoat, he would not have seen much in the dusk light—just the passing firs and the beeches that grew thickly beside the tracks.

They did not have far to go that night.  For it had been arranged that they should spend the night at Singen, a colorless little town on the junction of two main rail lines that reached north into the body of Germany.  Here the carriage and the baggage wagon were shunted into a siding, and the escort officers passed beer and sandwiches across the white chalk line in the corridor.

For all the comrades’ insistence that he should have the compartment to himself with Nadya so that he could have peace in which to work, Lenin did not get much that evening.  In addition to the noise in that coach, lying motionless in the darkness of the Singen siding, the problems that must inevitably emerge among thirty-two people forced to spend several days in the limited space of a rail coach appeared very early—marring the excited good humor.

One of the earliest difficulties concerned smoking, which Lenin detested.  He had ruled at the start that those who wished to do so must retire to the toilet.  A queue formed in the corridor, and eventually a quarrel broke out between the smokers and the comrades who wanted to use the toilet for its intended purpose.

With a sigh, Lenin decided the issue.  He wrote out passes in two categories of priority:  smokers, who ranked as second priority, and the others.  It eased the tension, though a lighthearted argument soon developed among the men standing in the corridor about the importance of their varying needs.  “It’s a pity Comrade Bukharin isn’t with us,” joked Karl Radek, for Bukharin, one of the most brilliant thinkers in the party, was an expert in the theories of Ben Baverk,7 who had tabulated the levels of human necessity.

One way or another, Radek caused Lenin a lot of trouble that first evening.  He was not with the other single men in third-class— though why has not been explained—but he was certainly the main cause of the noise and shrieks of laughter in the second-class compartment next to Lenin’s.  Radek was sharing this with Olga Ravich, George Safarov and his wife, Valentina, and Inessa.  With his ruddy face and glasses and thick gray curly hair, he was an amusing companion.  He had a great gift for anecdote, for mimicry, for singing.  He did not even spare Lenin from his clowning.  Several times, according to Olga, when Ilyich looked in at the door, Radek challenged him, “whether he wanted to or not, to assume the leadership of the revolutionary government.  Vladimir Ilyich frowned but indicated that he would not refuse.”

Olga wrote her two accounts of the journey after Lenin’s death, and she treats this scene seriously.  In fact, in the rowdy high spirits of that compartment, where they were joined occasionally by Kharitonov and the buoyant Ussievich, Radek was clearly mocking the Bolshevik leader—mocking him sympathetically, for Radek was an ardent revolutionary, but mocking him nevertheless.

He had selected a sensitive issue, for while Lenin that he must lead the revolution, which was why he was returning at such enormous risk to Russia, he was fully conscious of the immense problems that lay ahead of him and, only too aware how little support the Bolsheviks could yet command—as indeed was Radek.

Lenin’s relationship with Radek had been erratic.  He had known him for years, had even gone openly to his defense when the German Social Democrats, in one of the conflicts that so often flared through the revolutionary parties, were subjecting him to a bitter attack that climaxed in his expulsion for no less a crime than theft.  Since the outbreak of war, when they had both been living in Switzerland, there had been frictions between them—primarily because Radek and his Polish friends had not conformed with Lenin’s line.  It was only a few months since Lenin had described him angrily to Inessa as “impudent, insolent, stupid.”  Since then, they had settled their differences, and Radek, who as an Austrian had no right of entry into Russia, had agreed to carry out an important assignment for Lenin in Sweden.

Lenin must have found Radek’s extrovert exclamations very irritating, must have had to fight to control that instinct for withdrawal that certain kinds of human contact seemed to induce in him.  But clearly he concealed his feelings and responded good-naturedly.

There were limits, though.  Olga had a very high-pitched laugh, and, as the evening wore on, he could stand her cries of mirth no longer.  He got up from his seat, strode into the corridor and opened the door of the next compartment.  He did not speak but, grasping Olga firmly by the hand, led her down the corridor to another compartment farther from him.  Possibly, he took her to the only second-class compartment that was still available—with Zina Zinovieva and Ussievich’s wife, Helen Kon—though this was still a little close to him and, for that matter, to Radek.  More likely he pushed through the swing door in the corridor, which divided the two sections of the carriage, and deposited her in one of the hard wooden seats of the third class.

Unlike Radek, Olga never mentioned the incident in either of her accounts, in which she blamed Safarov, Kharitonov and Ussievich for the noise.  But she was writing in later days when Lenin was being deified, and the event lacked a certain dignity.  However, there is little doubt that at the time she accepted her chastening without complaint.  She had been a party member and a close friend of Lenin’s for a long time.  In fact, she had been one of the comrades assigned by him to cash the 500 ruble notes from the Tiflis bank raid.  She had been arrested with the bills in her possession in a Munich bank by waiting German police.  Soon afterward, because of a letter she had written to Geneva, Swiss police had taken Karpinsky into custody.

In that noisy compartment with Radek, Inessa appears to have been unusually subdued.  The accounts of the journey written by Safarov and Radek and Olga barely mention her other than to note that she was with them.  The omission is strange, especially that of Safarov who worked very closely with her, crossed the border into Russia with her from Cracow in 1912, was arrested and may have been her lover.  For she was a vivid personality, not easily ignored.  The impression that remains is one of her sitting a bit quietly, almost an outsider to her elated companions and the giggling Olga.

The fact that she was not next door with Lenin and Nadya was in itself significant, being one more indication of the change in her relations with him.  She had, after all, lived closely with them—until the end of 1915, when she had left them in Berne.

She had gone before—when they were living in Cracow, for example.  She had become restless in the little provincial town and had missed Paris.  But her departure from Berne was marked by clear signs of strain.  In Lenin’s first letter to her, after she had left, he did not use the intimate pronoun ty which had colored his earlier letters and he referred to Nadya coolly as “my wife.”  Possibly this was due to French censorship, for Inessa had gone back again to Paris, but if so, it did not fool them, for within weeks the Sûreté reported to the Okhrana that she was his mistress.  But the letter also contained a clear appeal that had a strong romantic element.  He and his “wife” had taken a walk “along the road to Frauen-Kapellan where the three of us—you remember?— had that lovely stroll one day.  I kept thinking of you and was sorry you were not here.”

Lenin was uneasy about her—especially since she appeared once more to be ignoring his letters.  Had she taken offense because he had not seen her off on the day she had left Berne?  “I did think that, I must confess,” he told her in a second letter, “but I dismiss the unworthy thought from my mind.”

Four days later she had still not replied, and Lenin was deeply worried.  “How are you getting on?” he asked.  “Are you content? Don’t you feel lonely ?  Are you very busy ?  You are causing me great anxiety by not giving any news about yourself.  Where are you living? Where do you eat?”

She returned to Berne only for a short while in July, 1916, when she was trying to get a passport to go to Norway.  It was the end of the affair, but he continued to write to her.  Not very often at that time and usually only about work she was doing for him.  By October he was writing more frequent letters that were very practical with none of his lighthearted foreign farewells.  His “wife,” however, was now “Nadya.”

In November there was another crisis in their relations for he wrote to her:  “Of course, I also want to correspond.  Let’s continue our correspondence,” as though the question of continuing had been in issue.

Certainly, he continued writing—and more frequently than he had before, often several times a week.  Apparently, Inessa worked for him willingly enough but did not choose to live where he did.  She left Paris for Switzerland and moved from Hertenstein and Sorenberg to Clarens.  But she avoided Zurich where he was.  And she still failed to answer his letters sometimes—which still exasperated him.

Returning to Russia now, an attractive woman in her early forties, she had much to ponder.  During the last few weeks, Lenin had leaned on her heavily, had been as demanding as in the past, as was his right, for it was in the cause of the party.  It would have been strange if there had been no sadness in her, for it was the end of a period in her life.  By the end of the journey, perhaps even on the journey, she had decided not to stay near Lenin in Petersburg, where clearly so much was going to happen.  Instead she was going home to Moscow.*

Separating Olga Ravich from Karl Radek did not stop the noise in the carriage, and when later in the evening the travelers still showed no sign of settling down, Lenin decided that his tolerance had reached the limit.  “When the time for sleeping has come, no one wants to be quiet,” recorded George Safarov, writing as Russians often do in the present tense.  “Ilyich assumes the role of a monitor.  He tries to be very severe.  Alas, the severity does not produce an impression on anyone.”

Finally, Lenin insisted that they go to sleep “as an order of party discipline.”  Normally, this would have produced immediate obedience, but for once even this failed to achieve results.




1 Main sources :  See sources for Chapter 4.

2 There is a degree of mystery about the exact numbers.  On arrival in Russia, Lenin stated that the party consisted of thirty-two.  This would conform with the statement signed by the travelers at lunch in the Zahringerhof in Zurich on which were twenty-nine signatures, excluding Fritz Platten and the two children who, according to Zina Zinovieva, were in the party (four-year-old Robert and her own Stepan).  But two travel ers—Platten and Radek—were not still with the party when it arrived in Russia. This means either that Lenin referred to the arrival in Russia somewhat loosely, perhaps using the Zahringerhof statement as his basis for assessing the numbers, or others traveled with the party whose identity we do not know.

3 Platten in his book played down the behavior of Swiss Customs, but David Souliashvili's account of his anger is supported by reports of the examination by Swiss Customs at Schaffhausen and Thayngen.

4 A. Ivanov, a Soviet historian, does not give his source for this fact and indeed gives no citations for other material in his biography of Platten that exists nowhere else to the author's knowledge.  Some of his other facts are wrong, though this criticism could be applied to many of the personal accounts.  It would seem that he has used a personal account by one of the two officers-probably Lieutenant von Buhring—though attempts to confirm this in Moscow have failed.  As a source, Ivanov must be suspect, but he is a member of the Institute of Marxism and Leninism, and his book was published by the Soviet State Publishers of Political Literature.  There appear to be no political elements that would involve distortion or creation of facts.

5 Nadya wrote that Robert spoke only French.  Karl Radek in Pravda insisted he spoke a Minsk dialect of Russian, the actual quote being transliterated as vusk dues.  Dr. Harold Shukman of St. Antony's College, Oxford, has suggested that Radek was in error, the phrase being unrecognizable in Russian but being vaguely similar to the Yiddish for "What's happening?"

6 Quoted by Moskovsky and Semenov in Lenin in Sweden.

7 Radek quotes Ben Baverk in Pravda, but information about this theoretician has eluded the author and everyone he has consulted.

* Alexandra Kollontai, who knew them both very well, wrote a novel,  A Great Love, based on the relationship—about an affair between a revolutionary leader living in exile and a girl called Natasha.  Like Lenin, he had a wife who was often ill, wore a beard and sometimes an old cap.  Like Inessa, she had had other lovers, enjoyed a private income, worked for the party and was a fluent linguist.  Eventually, in the story, she left him for underground work in Russia.  Her reasons for breaking off the affair were that her lover did not rate highly enough her talents as a revolutionary—which would hardly seem to apply to Lenin—and that their passion had begun to fade, which might well have been Inessa's reason.  Certainly, it would have conformed with the philosophy of clean breaks advocated by Chernyshevsky and Turgenev, whom Lenin admired greatly.