March 01, 2017

Lenin, Rodeo and Beslan

When the February Revolution broke out in Russia, Vladimir Lenin was trapped like a caged wolf in Switzerland. Unable to get papers to travel through France and England (and then by sea to Petrograd), the only option open to him was transit through Germany. But that posed its own difficulty, as Germany was the enemy Russia was still fighting on the Eastern Front. And, as Lenin knew, accepting the assistance of an enemy in a time of war was tantamount to treason.

Nonetheless, with Lenin, his ends always trumped the means, and so he agreed to travel through Germany to Denmark and Sweden on a sealed train, financed by Germany, which certainly had an interest in transporting the anti-war revolutionary back onto Russian soil. He and his fellow travelers also took German cash.

Despite the title, this book is about far more than Lenin’s rail ride back to Russia. Merridale expands the story to provide invaluable context on this turning point period in Russian history – between the February and October revolutions. It is an entertaining portrait of this pivotal time: “the memory of that first month [after the February Revolution] would float, like some chaotic seasick dream, on cheap tobacco fumes and unrequited longing for a good night’s rest.”

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