Michael Pearson

The Sealed Train

THE EVIDENCE of Lenin’s links with the Germans is discussed at length in the relevant chapters, and the purpose of this afterword is to display the facts and the arguments that stem from those facts in isolated form so that the pattern can easily be seen.

Most modern Western historians—America’s Adam Ulam of Harvard, Britain’s Leonard Schapiro of the London School of Economics and Fritz Fischer of Hamburg are eminent examples—take the view, first advanced by Dr. George Katkov, that the case that Lenin received funds from the Germans is proved.

The Sealed Train starts from this base (evidence being detailed below) and also attempts to study and even reinterpret Lenin’s actions and policy in the setting of this most important motivation.  It explores the logical projections of the situation and by this means speculates possible answers to some of the questions that have puzzled students of Lenin during this short but critical period of his life that was to have such vast repercussions on the world.

The most important area of this speculation concerns the possibility that Lenin was in communication with Berlin.  Certainly, this would have been logical.  For if he was prepared to accept finance on a major scale to pursue the aims he had in common with the Germans, surely it was probable that he would also, establish liaison with them in other ways if this was necessary to achieve the same objective.  There is no proof that Lenin did communicate with Berlin, but there is no doubt that the channels for contact existed, and there is some evidence that these were used by members of the Bolshevik organization.  The evidence and arguments are as follows :

1.  The Germans supplied finance on a large scale to the Bolsheviks.  The key evidence is two telegrams in September and December, 1917, in which the German Secretary of State informed the Kaiser that his department had supplied the Bolsheviks with “a steady flow of funds” and that the party could not have attained “the scale or influence which it has today without our continual support.”  This is supported by an analysis, dated February 4, 1918, among the German documents of Foreign Office expenditure overseas for propaganda and special purposes.  This gives an allocation to Russia of 40,580,997 marks, of which by January 31, 1918, a sum of 26,566,122 marks had been spent.  From other documents, indicating expenditure after the Bolshevik seizure of power, it is clear that 11,500,000 marks were spent before November.

Although the analysis merely mentions “Russia,” as opposed to “Lenin,” the Secretary of State’s wording in the telegrams indicates a high volume of expenditure, and it can be assumed, therefore, that Bolsheviks were the main recipients.

There is corroborating evidence, such as Eduard Bernstein’s assertion of support amounting to 50,000,000 marks, the logic of the Germans’ backing the Bolsheviks because of their peace policy, the lack of other major sources of funds for the party for a very major propaganda effort, the flow of money through the Fürstenberg commercial channel.  However, the bastion of the case is the Secretary of State, who must be regarded as a prime source of the expenditure of his own department.

The big weakness of the case is the complete lack of evidence from Bolshevik sources, although this is not surprising.  After Lenin’s death in 1924, all documentation concerning Lenin was by law placed under government control—and censorship.  Before that date, the whole issue of German assistance—which of course Lenin consistently denied—was far too traumatic for any Bolshevik to mention, though it is probable that very few knew of it.

Although the fact that Lenin received German funds is regarded as proved, by me and many others, the evidence regarding the channels employed to convey it to the party is inadequate.  Almost certainly, the key to this puzzle is Jacob Fürstenberg, but it has never been completely substantiated.  Probably the most important evidence is the confession of Eugenia Sumenson, but Colonel Nikitin was a highly suspect, unpleasant character who actually revels in print in his book over the fact that the troops who arrested her beat her up.  Her confession has to be seen against the possibility that it was tortured out of her and the fact that she was never cross-examined in court.

2.  Lenin was possibly in communication with Berlin.  Without question, the information channels existed.  There is evidence that Parvus was in contact with the Wilhelmstrasse and even with Zimmermann himself, that Parvus was very closely connected and in contact with Jacob Fürstenberg, who was in communication with Lenin.

An additional route between Fürstenberg and Berlin was Gustav Mayer, who has gone on record in his book Erinnerungen with the fact that he was the link between Fürstenberg and Karl Radek and the German authorities, that furthermore he reported direct to Diego von Bergen, the minister responsible for political subversion in Russia.

Much play was made by Kerensky and Nikitin that the German newspaper Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger published as early as July 16 a Pravda report on the trouble in the city—telegraphed to Jacob Fürstenberg from Petersburg.  This was hardly important evidence of treason, but it reveals how fast communication could be.

Conclusions :  (1) Lenin could have communicated with Berlin very easily if he had wished through established channels.  (2) At times, notably in July and October, he had reason to.  In short, he had incentive and opportunity, but there is no proof that he did.

3.  Lenin met Germans in Berlin during the Sealed Train journey, learned the scale of the finance available to him and because of this changed his mind on revolutionary tactics.  This is dramatic but logical speculation based on these facts :  (1) Lenin did receive funds from the Germans on a large scale ;  (2) Lenin did change his mind between leaving Zurich and arriving in Petersburg (see Note 2, Chapter 7, for detail) and this change conformed with German interests ;  (3) the train was held up in Berlin for some twenty hours, even though this was not the intention of the Foreign Office earlier the same day ;  (4) during this wait, Lenin was in close proximity to the Foreign Office officials who were about to make a very major investment in him ;  (5) the station was under rigid military control, which would enable a meeting to take place under conditions of complete security ;  and (6) no one has adequately explained Lenin’s change of mind.  (Professor Schapiro has suggested that the sight of the crowds at the Finland Station was the reason, but I find it difficult to accept this because he made his first speech, reflecting the new policy, very shortly after his welcome, and I cannot believe that Lenin would make a major policy change so impulsively.)

Conclusions :  Because a meeting with Lenin was easy, practical and desirable, German officials probably met him for financial discussion.  This I believe, was the reason he changed his mind—primarily on timing—because the resources he now knew were available to him would enable him to mount a much larger propaganda campaign with greater impact than he had visualized in Zurich, but this is, of course, pure speculation.

4.  Lenin left Petersburg in its highly explosive state on July 12, not merely because he was ill but because he knew the date of the German counterattack and had planned his coup for the national humiliation that would follow defeat of the Russian Army—i.e., he had time to leave the city.  This is speculation rooted in the unproved assumption, already discussed, that he was in communication with Berlin and arises from the following facts :  (1) It was out of character for Lenin to leave the city to take a rest at this sensitive moment, despite ill health ;  (2) the Bolshevik plan was to time the uprising to exploit the national humiliation caused by Russian defeat—as shown by the efforts of Lenin and others to restrain the party militants in early July and confirmed by Stalin at the Sixth Party Congress in August ;  (3) the uprising would not therefore be staged for at least a week and probably two weeks after this defeat—which gave Lenin ample time for a rest ;  (4) contact with Berlin over so important an issue as a Bolshevik strike for power, which in this case was linked to some extent with the actions of the German Army, was logical—given that the communication channels existed ;  and (5) all the evidence indicates that the Bolshevik leaders tried to stop the uprising that had been inspired by militants, who were not in the top ranks of the party.

5.  Lenin decided not to stand trial after the July debacle because of the facts that might emerge if he did.  Sukhanov mocked the idea that during those months in 1917 Lenin would have been in danger of execution, which is the reason he himself gave for flight, and pointed to the experience of Kamenev and Trotsky, who were arrested.  Certainly, the case against him was clearly weak.

According to Nadya and others, he planned at first to give himself up—then changed his mind under pressure from the Central Committee.  According to Sulimova, by contrast, within twenty-four hours of going into hiding, he stated his belief to her that he would be executed if he were found.

It was natural during that traumatic period for there to be vacillation while the best course of action was decided.  However, Soviet sources (Nadya and Sulimova) can never be completely trusted.  Sukhanov’s account was, in effect, independent.  Sukhanov could not understand his flight, but now that the fact of German finance has been substantiated—i.e., that the government’s charges were soundly based, even though its case was weak—it is reasonable to speculate that this was the reason he did not wish to submit to detailed questioning.  Also, while there was no trial, the government could be accused of smear tactics.

6.  One reason for Lenin’s frantic urging of the party to rise against its will in October was information from Berlin that the Austrians were going to offer Kerensky a separate peace deal which would destroy any Bolshevik chance of gaining power.  This is speculation—and dramatic speculation—that there was an additional motive for speed beyond Lenin’s published reasons, i.e., that there was enormous danger of another rightwing coup that, unlike Kornilov’s, could well be successful;  that the timing for the seizure of power was now ideal;  that the army would support the party.  These are not challenged as being among Lenin’s reasons, but the danger of a separate peace—which is not so widely appreciated—was possibly even greater than the danger of failing to grasp the revolutionary opportunity.

There is, of course, no proof that Lenin had any information from Berlin, but the following is the setting of the famous meeting of November 23 :  (1) There was an imminent Austrian peace initiative (see Kerensky’s memoirs) ;  (2) Austria’s disenchantment with the war was no secret ;  the news of the peace initiative was no doubt picked up in advance by Germany’s efficient intelligence service and was therefore known in Berlin ;  (3) although the previous communication channels between Lenin and Fürstenberg were broken after July, they were in touch by the old courier system before Lenin left Finland—as is shown by a published letter from Lenin to Fürstenberg ;  Fürstenberg’s channels to Berlin from Sweden had been unaffected by the July debacle in Russia ;  (4) both Lenin (as he wrote from Finland) and Kerensky (as stated in his memoirs) believed that if Kerensky could offer the Russian masses peace, it would destroy the Bolshevik chance of seizing power ;  and (5) although Lenin does not mention Austria in his letters from Finland, he does express extreme anxiety of a separate peace, anticipating that the greatest danger of this lies in a deal between Germany and Britain.