Michael Pearson

The Sealed Train
Chapter 14

A Cool Night marked with stars;  the smell of the cut hay,” wrote Zinoviev of their stay in the woods near Razliv.  “Smoke from a small fire where venison simmered in a small pot. ... We go to bed in the little shack.  It is cold.  We cover ourselves with an old blanket that Emelyanov found.  It is narrow and each of us tries to leave the larger part of it to the other.  Ilyich says he has a fufaika [an anorak type of padded coat] and does not need the blanket.1

“Sometimes I cannot sleep for a long time, lying there in absolute silence.  I can hear the beating of Ilyich’s heart.  We are sleeping closely, pressed against each other. ... ”2

The arrival of a company of Cossacks, scouring the area for the two fugitives, had forced them to leave their first hiding place in the loft of the Emelyanov’s shed.  For the troops were searching the homes of all known Bolsheviks.

So Emelyanov leased some land in the remote swampy fields beyond Lake Razliv, and Lenin and Zinoviev played the roles of Finnish peasants who were helping him cut the long grass.  He told his friends at the factory that he was planning to keep a cow there in the autumn.

It was an isolated spot, most easily approached by boat, and Emelyanov made a shack for them out of thatch.  Food and sometimes comrades from Petersburg were brought out daily by dinghy.

“During the first few days,” recorded Zinoviev, “Vladimir Ilyich hardly read at all.”  He rested—continuing the badly needed vacation that had been interrupted so sharply by the crisis.  Gregory himself scoured the newspapers, brought across the lake by Emelyanov or his sons, and was appalled by the extent of the press campaign against Lenin and party.  One report even quoted Lenin’s query to him and Trotsky while they had a quiet cup of tea in the Tauride Palace on July 18—“Shall we try now?”—although it had not really been posed seriously.  Clearly, they had been overheard, and even though the comment hardly fitted the general pattern of the charge that they were acting on specific German instructions, it had a conspiratorial color to it that added a sinister note to the other accusations.

Lenin shrugged off the attacks.  “Don’t let yourself get upset,” he said.  “You shouldn’t read these newspapers. ... Let’s go and bathe.”

Typically, Lenin was waiting for the reaction to the present storm.  For the pendulum always swung.  He knew that, despite the July failure, the crisis had displayed one thing that in time would become obvious :  The Bolsheviks were the only party on which the workers could rely to promote their interests.  The other two parties of the lower classes—the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries—had joined Kerensky and the counterrevolution, placing power in “the hands of a military clique that shoots down the insubordinate soldiers at the front while it raids the Bolsheviks in Petersburg.”3  At the heart of this new power was the sinister figure of Paul Milyukov and his Kadets.  “Now the blind shall see,” Lenin wrote from his lakeside retreat at the beginning of August, “and stones shall speak. ... The despicable slandering of political opponents will help the proletariat to understand sooner where the counterrevolution is and to sweep it away. ...”

During those first few days of relaxing, Lenin worried a little about whether he should have seized power when he had the chance, “dozens of times weighing the pros and cons,” reported Zinoviev.  But each time he reassured himself that the decision he had made was right.

After a short while, Lenin began to work.  Four comrades alternated in traveling out to see him from Petersburg—being ferried across the lake by one of the Emelyanovs—to keep him up to date with events in the city and to carry back his letters and instructions.

A new all-Russian party congress had been called in Petersburg, and Lenin, even though he could not attend it, wrote all the resolutions and laid down its direction.  The delegates, now representing 177,000 party members, met in secrecy, first in the Vyborg and then in the Narva District, under strong guards of workers.  They appointed Lenin as honorary chairman in absentia, endorsed his new decision that an armed uprising must now precede Soviet rule, and formally welcomed Trotsky and his colleagues into the party.

By the lake at Razliv, Lenin continued writing State and Revolution, one of his most famous works, which he had begun in exile in Switzerland, and in which he predicted a two-stage transition from preliminary socialism to full communism.  “Lying on his stomach or squatting” at a table formed by a tree stump, he worked in a blue notebook and surprised Zinoviev by reading passages to him.  “I don’t recall a previous occasion when he had read a manuscript aloud,” Zinoviev observed, “but here there was a unique situation. ... There was a lot of spare time and ... a special mood. ...”

Meanwhile, as government troops searched for Lenin, Alexander Kerensky was attempting to rule Russia from his large office overlooking the Neva in the Winter Palace.  The Bolshevik Party had not been made illegal, though its press had been banned, its headquarters taken over and its leaders indicted, but Lenin’s continuous propaganda, which had so damaged everything that Kerensky attempted, had been curbed.  Now that Lenin was no longer a major force in the country, Kerensky believed he could make headway with the task of uniting the nation to overcome the colossal problems that Russia faced.  However, having dealt so firmly with the left wing, he was soon to encounter an even greater threat from the right.

In August at Razliv the nights began to grow bitter, and the first of the autumn rains fell.  The roof leaked, despite Emelyanov’s airy assurances to Zinoviev when he had expressed anxiety.  The rains brought danger, too.  For hunters on shooting expeditions in the woods sometimes took shelter in the shack, thinking it was a barn.  One of the Emelyanovs had always been present to deal tactfully with these unwelcome visitors until one night, when the two men were alone, a stranger stepped into the hut.  Zinoviev pushed the books they had been working on under some hay and gave brief, cool answers to the questions the hunter asked by way of making conversation.  Lenin pretended to be asleep.  When the rain eased and the visitor left them, it was obvious that it was dangerous for them to stay there much longer.

By then the Central Committee was already alarmed by the persistent rumors in the city that Lenin was hiding in Sestroretsk, and as a result, troops were making repeated searches of the district.  The right-wing papers also maintained their attack.  “It is not a secret to anyone,” declared Zhivoe Slovo, which had broken the German agent story during the crisis, “that the July shooting of citizens was organized by Mr. Lenin and the ‘sealed’ Bolsheviks who arrived with him ... a significant majority of these traitors remain at liberty and continue their agitation. ...”

The paper’s credibility was, however, damaged by the fact that it gave a picture of Lenin’s private life so lurid and out of character that it could only be fiction.  Under the name of Comrade Chaplinsky, it charged, he had been a regular visitor to one of Petersburg’s fashionable café-theaters, had dined often in a private room with Swedish actress Erna Aimusta, and paid 110 rubles a bottle for champagne.  He had undertipped the waiters and even cursed them as “lackeys.”

“No one doubts,” Zhivoe Slovo predicted darkly on September 2, “that Lenin will soon go to Berlin.”

By that date, Lenin had been in Finland for more than a week.  The crossing of the border, closely guarded as it was by militiamen, had required detailed planning.  Alexander Shotman, one of the liaison comrades, had joined an amateur theatrical group in the Vyborg so that he could buy a couple of wigs from a barber without arousing suspicion.  A Bolshevik photographer had visited the shack at Razliv to take pictures so that Lenin and Zinoviev could be issued false worker passes to the Sestroretsk plant.  Lenin now had a new identity.  He was Constantine Petrovich Ivanov, whose home was in the local district of Razliv.

On the night of August 21 Lenin and Zinoviev left their lakeside retreat.  The plan was that they should travel by train to Udelnaya Station in the Petersburg suburb of Novaya Derevnya, where they had met Emelyanov on the July evening they had left the city, and spend the next day in the apartment of a party comrade.  The following night Lenin would cross the Finnish border in the guise of a stoker on a locomotive driven by a trusted Bolshevik railwayman.  Clearly, this plan could accommodate only one man, and Zinoviev, it was decided, should stay in hiding in the city.

From the start, the escape plan went badly.  While it was still daylight, Lenin emerged from the hut to find to his alarm that Emelyanov was talking to a stranger—his neighbor, as it turned out, who was taking a stroll.  When the Bolshevik explained that Lenin was a Finnish worker who could speak no Russian, the other man asked if he could employ the fellow to do some work for him.

“No ...” explained Emelyanov.  “He wants to get back home.  Something’s wrong there.”

At last, the neighbor left them to continue his walk.  “Thanks, Nikolai Alexandrovich,” Lenin murmured, “for not hiring me out as a farmhand.”

After dark, when they left the hut, they encountered more serious difficulty.  Emelyanov led them, together with two of the liaison comrades, Alexander Shotman and Eino Rahja, on a roundabout route through the woods—presumably to avoid the village.  He lost his way—much to Lenin’s fury.  Eventually, the five men succeeded in finding Duibun Station, but only after having to ford a deep stream.

Then, as Emelyanov went ahead to survey the station, he was stopped and arrested by the militiamen on duty.  But he served a purpose, for by diverting the attention of the officers, he enabled the others to slip onto a train as it moved out of the station.

The next night, Lenin—wearing a blond wig and the overalls and cap of a stoker—waited outside Udelnaya Station until the Helsinki train, drawn by Locomotive No. 293, steamed alongside the platform.  Then he walked briskly up to the engine.  From the cab, driver Hugo Yalava cautiously scanned the station area for the Bolshevik lookouts.  “As had been agreed upon,” he wrote, “one of Lenin’s companions stood at the crossing smoking a cigarette, the other stood beneath the lamppost pretending to be reading a newspaper.”

Lenin clambered into the cab and began to throw logs into the boiler fire.  The genuine stoker moved into a carriage as a passenger.  Yalava sounded his whistle, and the train moved off toward the Finnish border.  Rahja and Shotman were on the train as passengers.  At every station they got out onto the platform to watch for any signs of danger.

Shortly before 2 A.M. the train arrived at Beloostrov, the frontier station.  Since July, all identity papers were being rigorously checked here.  Even at that early hour in the morning, several officials stood waiting on the platform.

Carefully, Yalava uncoupled his engine and drove it to a water tower.  While the militiamen went down the train examining the passports of the passengers, Lenin in the cab watched Yalava top up his engine.

At the last possible moment, as the guard summoned him by whistle, the driver reversed to the engine, coupled up, and drove the train into Finland.

At Terijoki, horses were waiting and Lenin left the engine and traveled the ten miles to Jalkala, where he stayed with Rahja’s parents-in-law.  But Jalkala was too far from the rail line to permit easy communication with Petersburg, and after a few days, he moved to Helsinki, traveling disguised as a Finnish pastor.  There he stayed in the apartment of a Bolshevik, Kustaa Rovio, who of all things was the Helsinki police chief.  After a couple of weeks, he moved to a new hiding place, since Rovio’s neighbors had begun to take an interest in the police chief’s friend who so rarely went out.  Before leaving the city, he had to move to a third refuge.

Correspondence with the party was now simple, for a friend of Rovio’s worked in the mail car of a train that ran regularly between Helsinki and Petersburg.  Yalava, too, took letters from time to time.

Living molelike in his hiding place, Lenin worked hard.  He finished the first and, as it turned out, the last part of State and Revolution.  Every day he scoured all the newspapers and analyzed developments in letters to the Central Committee.  At first, when he was living in Rovio’s apartment, he refused to go out at all, existing on eggs and tea that Rovio brought him.

As the weeks went by, Lenin grew increasingly optimistic.  In an article about the “Bonapartism” of Kerensky he assured the Party that “all the signs seem to indicate that the march of events continues at an accelerated pace and that the country is approaching the next epoch, when ... the revolutionary proletariat will take power...”  He ordered the Central Committee to overhaul the leadership in Moscow, “this tremendous proletarian center, which is larger than Petersburg.”

Certainly, by the end of August, the reaction to Kerensky’s iron-fisted rule was evident in a strong upsurge of support for the still only semilegal party.  On September 2, in the Petersburg city council elections, no less than one-third of all delegates elected were Bolsheviks—representing virtually the city’s entire working class.

However, although Lenin had long known that plans for a military dictatorship were afoot in army and right-wing circles, even he was surprised by the dramatic new events that now took place in Petersburg.

The Germans were under assault again in France, and there was a need to reinforce the Western Front with regiments from the east.  Because of this, General Ludendorff needed to reorganize his line to permit it to be held by reduced forces.  On September 1 his troops attacked the Russian 12th Army, which was holding the Northern Front.  Two days later, the Russians fell back from the important Baltic port of Riga.  With the Kaiser’s soldiers now barely 300 miles from Petersburg, Russia’s continuing internal crisis boiled to a new peak.  This time the controversy centered not on Lenin, but on General Lavr Kornilov, the man who had been the garrison commander of the capital until the May Crisis.

In July, Kerensky had appointed Kornilov commander in chief of the Russian armies, and it was in this capacity that he became the central figure in a military coup—supported by most of the officer hierarchy, Milyukov and his Kadets and, probably, the Allied governments.

The rightists planned to set up a dictatorship that would liquidate the Soviets, restore order to the country and establish discipline in the army.  Almost certainly, the general allowed Riga to fall to the Germans in order to create the ideal crisis climate for his bid for power.  On September 7 he ordered Kerensky by wire to declare Petersburg in a state of siege and transfer all power to him as supreme commander.

When Kerensky responded furiously instead by dismissing his rebel general, Kornilov ordered his troops to advance on the capital.

With the army so involved in the conspiracy, Kerensky had no alternative but to ask the Soviet to help fight off this new threat.  And the Soviet in turn had no alternative but to accept the Bolshevik offer of assistance, for it was the only party with any kind of formal military organization, badly damaged though it had been after July.

As soon as news reached the party of Kornilov’s advance, the Bolshevik Central Committee had summoned the people to defend the city.  Once more, the Red Guards, disarmed in July, were issued rifles.  So, too, were other workers.

Podvoisky and Nevsky, suddenly thrust once more into the forefront of events, organized the defense of Petersburg, though there was in fact no confrontation.  The railwaymen took up the tracks in front of the advancing troop trains.  Kornilov’s communications were broken by the telegraph operators.  Agitators were dispatched to his soldiers in the name of the Soviet to persuade them that they were being exploited by the counterrevolution.

The advance faltered and stopped.  On September 12 Kornilov was arrested.  The reaction was violent.  In the army, it produced a savage antagonism to the entire officer class.  Throughout Russia, officers were murdered.  In the Vyborg, generals, colonels and captains were flung into the river and either shot in the water or beaten to death with heavy sticks as they made their way to shore.

Inevitably, in the basic underlying conflict of revolution and counterrevolution, Kornilov gave a gigantic boost to the movement that had already been swinging toward the Bolsheviks.

Within a week, the party had gained voting control in the Petersburg Soviet, and a few days later Trotsky replaced Chkheidze as its president—the post he had held in 1905 !  By the third week in September the Bolsheviks had also won the important Moscow Soviet.

For Lenin, the Kornilov revolt and the party’s majority in the two most important Soviets in Russia dramatically transformed the entire political situation.  As he saw it, conditions were now ideal for the party to stage an uprising, but they might not remain favorable for long.  The pendulum could swing again to reaction.  Speed was essential, and in an urgent letter to the Central Committee, he demanded immediate action.  “History will not forgive us if we do not assume power now. ... We will win absolutely and unquestionably.”

There is little doubt that the internal situation in Russia dictated Lenin’s sudden decision that the party should move for an immediate uprising, but it is interesting that General Ludendorff simultaneously reached the same conclusion as Lenin that there was danger of another right-wing coup that might not fail a second time.  He asked the Wilhelmstrasse to step up subversion within Russia—and a few days later gave orders that his troops should be encouraged to fraternize with the enemy soldiers across the front lines.  Ludendorff wrote to Berlin on September 24, and Lenin wrote to Petersburg, according to the editors of his works, between September 25 and 27.

The closeness of the dates makes it tempting to infer collusion.  It is more likely, however, that both Lenin and the German commander in chief analyzed the situation in the same way.

On the other hand, there is some indication that Lenin initiated an approach to the Germans soon after learning of Kornilov’s revolt.  On September 8—some two weeks before he demanded that the party strike for power—he wrote Jacob Fürstenberg in Stockholm a long, meandering letter that he said he had been preparing for some time.

The letter is intriguing.  In it, Lenin speaks of the difficulty of dispatch—which is strange since underground communication routes between Finland and Sweden had long existed and even the efficient Okhrana had not succeeded in permanently breaking them.  Why should it be so difficult now?  The letter also appears to anticipate discovery and contains demands for proof of his innocence against the slander of German financing, which centered on Eugenia Sumenson.  “Who is this lady?” he asks.  “It’s the first time I have heard of her.”  He urges that Fürstenberg have his accounts with her independently audited and published.

This seems convincing until Lenin turns to asking questions about a German agent named Karl Moor.  “What kind of man is Moor?” he asks.  The fact that he knew Moor well makes it clear that the letter cannot be taken at face value.  There is also the question of why he had delayed so long before instructing Fürstenberg to take action to counter the slander.  This should have been done in July.  Certainly, the audited accounts were not published.

There are also interesting questions about money in the letter.  “How are the financial affairs of the bureau abroad which was appointed by our Central Committee?” he writes.  “It is clear that our Central Committee cannot help. ...”  This could be translated as saying :  They are short of money in Russia.  Can you get some from the Germans?

On September 29, three weeks later, Richard von Kühlmann, who had now replaced Zimmermann as Foreign Secretary in Berlin, wrote to the High Command about the Wilhelmstrasse’s support of the “Bolshevik movement.”  “There is every indication,” he asserted, “that the movement will continue to grow.

For Lenin, the period following his call for an uprising was one of extreme frustration.  In July he had been unable to hold the party back when he knew the timing was wrong.  Now his problem was to galvanize it into action when he was convinced the moment was ideal.  For after the traumas of the past months, the Petersburg Bolsheviks had become extremely cautious.  Kamenev and the conservatives were dominating the leadership once more—and were virtually unchallenged, for even the left wingers were not demanding militancy after their savaging in July.

There was talk of ties with the Mensheviks, of coalition.  It was the same sort of compromise thinking that had bedeviled Lenin repeatedly in one way or another ever since 1903.

More important still, most of the Central Committee did not agree with Lenin that the time was ripe for uprising.  Halfheartedly they discussed a proposal for a strike for power which would coincide with the next all-Russian Congress of Soviets although, owing to the rise of Bolshevik influence, the plans to call this congress were being opposed by the other socialist parties.  In Finland, Lenin was adamant that they would be too late if they waited for the congress, whose future was so uncertain.

For Alexander Kerensky was now striving to organize behind him all who were opposed to the looming threat of the Bolsheviks.  And Lenin believed the Premier had a very good chance of succeeding unless the party acted quickly.  Since the Bolsheviks now controlled the two main Soviets in the country, Kerensky was focusing his strategy on the Constituent Assembly—but the organizing of national elections in a vast country that had never had them before was complex and controversial.4  As a stopgap, he planned a Pre-Parliament, a kind of temporary assembly, in which all sections of the community would be represented, which would sit until the elections were held.

Lenin saw the Pre-Parliament as a tactic by Kerensky to broaden his base and consolidate his forces.  Without question it must be sabotaged.  When he learned that his party leaders were planning to cooperate, he flew into one of his rages.  “You will be traitors and scoundrels,” he wrote to the Central Committee if it did not act immediately to check Kerensky’s plans and “arrest all the scum!”  If it did not take militant action, he threatened, it—the Central Committee—would “face dire punishment.”

It was an astonishing attack, fully conforming with Valentinov’s vivid description of his rages, for the Central Committee ruled the party.  It could not be threatened by one man, not even Lenin.

Agreeing among themselves that Lenin had become temporarily unstable, the Central Committee formally ordered the letter burned.

To Lenin, raging in Finland, it was obvious that the party leaders had no understanding of the critical situation that now existed—especially of the narrow limits of time within which they had to strike before Kerensky became too strong.

Moving in disguise to the Finnish town of Vyborg (not the Petersburg suburb) so as to be nearer the border, Lenin began to make his own plans for an uprising.  He wrote to Ivan Smilga, a Kronstadt militant who had been on the Central Committee in July, and urged him to start organizing the fleet and troops within Finland for the “overthrow of Kerensky.”

He bombarded Nadya with letters instructing her to use her influence in the capital’s important Vyborg industrial area to press the Central Committee to organize an uprising.  He sent an urgent demand to the just-assembling Petersburg city conference to pass a resolution calling for immediate action and wrote a passionate appeal to the Moscow Committee insisting that it throw its weight behind his campaign for immediate insurrection.

In a long and angry communication to the leaders of the party, he charged them with leaving his letters unanswered, of altering the militant nature of his articles and of “gagging” him.  Defiantly, he tendered his resignation from the Central Committee, leaving himself free to appeal directly to the lower ranks of the party.  “For it is my deepest conviction that if we await the Congress of Soviets and let the present moment pass, we will ruin the revolution.”

He also asked their permission to return to the capital and was incensed when he heard that it had been refused.  When Alexander Shotman, his main liaison, comrade, went to see him in Vyborg, Lenin snapped at him, “Is it true that the Central Committee has forbidden me to go to Petersburg?”

Shotman conceded that this was so, adding it was only in his own interest since police control at Beloostrov was very rigorous.  Lenin began to stride up and down the room, repeating angrily, “I’m not going to tolerate this !  I’m not going to tolerate this!”

And he did not.  Secretly, he summoned to Vyborg Eino Rahja, who had organized his escape to Finland, and asked him to arrange a return journey without informing the Central Committee.  He had already written to Nadya to find a good hiding place for him within the city.

Rahja planned the journey carefully.  And on October 21,5 Lenin traveled by train in his old disguise as a Lutheran pastor to Raivola, a station near the border.  Then, to cross the frontier, he adopted his previous role of a locomotive stoker, passing through Beloostrov in Engine No. 293 with driver Hugo Yalava, while a watchful Rahja traveled in a carriage.  At the familiar station of Udelnaya, he left the train and made his way to Marguerite Fofanova’s Vyborg apartment, where one of the meetings of the party leaders had been held in the traumatic days after the July fiasco.

Lenin had returned to Petersburg to force his reluctant party to immediate revolt.  In many ways, his situation was similar to that in March when news of the first uprising had reached him in Zurich.  Then he had known it was vital for him to reach Russia without delay so that he could prepare and build his party against the inevitable erosion of compromise and counterrevolution.

Now, in October, seven months later, the critical time that he had foreseen had come, the moment when the working class could, provided it rose at once before Kerensky was completely ready, seize power and set in motion the world revolution that Karl Marx had predicted.

And once again, Lenin knew that he was the only man who could make it do this.

1 Main sources :  G. Zinoviev, Lenin in the July Days ;  N. Emelyanov, “Ilyich at Razliv”; V. I. Lenin, Toward the Seizure of Power;  A. Shotman, Lenin in Hiding, July-October;  K. Rovio, “How Lenin Was Hiding in the House of the Helsingfors Chief of Police”;  E. Rahja, “Memoirs of Vladimir Ilyich”;  V. Nevsky, October 1917; David Shub, Lenin; H. Yalava, “Two Meetings with Ilyich on a Train.”

2 I have leaned heavily on Zinoviev’s detailed account of his time with Lenin at Razliv.  It is interesting that the official Soviet line on this period is that Lenin was alone, yet Zinoviev’s article was published in The Proletarian Revolution in 1927, the year Stalin established his control, when Zinoviev’s star, like Trotsky’s, was in descent.  The journal’s editor printed a preliminary note criticizing the article on the ground that Zinoviev was claiming too much personal kudos—which might well be justified—but he did not deny its accuracy.

3 In fact, although the death sentence had been reintroduced, no man had actually been shot.

4 In theory, Lenin was not opposed to the Constituent Assembly, and he had accused the Provisional Government of deliberately delaying the organization of elections.  But he opposed the Pre-Parliament because, he said, it was rigged to give Kerensky control of it.

5 There is considerable argument about the date that Lenin returned to Petersburg though there is no question that he was back in the city by the twenty-third.  However, I am following official Soviet sources.