March 7th 2020


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COVER STORY Beyond the Great Divide

EDITORIAL Holden, China, covid19: Time for industry reset

CANBERRA OBSERVED Political promises on the Never Never never never work well for the nation

CLIMATE POLITICS Business joins in climate change chorus

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Divided Democrats will help re-elect Donald Trump

GENDER POLITICS Project Nettie: Science takes on ideology

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Myth-busting China's 'soft power'

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Covid19 outbreak hits China's growth, imperils Communist Party

POLITICS AND SOCIETY What should the champions of democracy care about?

HISTORY Putting Lenin on the train: History's biggest blunder

NCC CONFERENCE 2020 Strengthening family, freedom, and sovereignty in a hostile world

HUMOUR Hooray for our premiers

MUSIC Handel: A composer who knew the value of a quick turnaround

CINEMA Emma: Handsome, clever, rich

BOOK REVIEW Useful but limited analysis of the breakdown of distinctions today

BOOK REVIEW The successive possessors of the West's first printed book

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HISTORY
Putting Lenin on the train: History's biggest blunder


by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, March 7, 2020

In the winter of 1917, Germany was on the verge of starvation; some people ate turnips, some didn’t have that.

On the Western Front, the Allies were proving to be obdurate foes. Despite the mutiny at Verdun, which was put down with condign severity, the French refused to surrender.

The English were being bled white, but they were supported by Empire troops, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Already, troops from the United States were arriving in their tens of thousands. The “Doughboys” were raw, but they could fight, as the Marines soon proved at the Battle of Belleau Wood.

The Germans needed a breakthrough. Although the Germans, on the Eastern Front, were killing the “Ivans” by the hundreds of thousands, the Russian Army still had seven million men to throw into the front line.

Most Russian soldiers were peasant conscripts, but they would fight for Mother Russia and the Orthodox Church. Most wanted to fight, and the crack Guards regiments were considerable foes. They did not want to surrender.

To the German High Command, the solution seemed obvious: put Russia out of the war and swing the troops on the Eastern Front into the line on the Western Front and drive the Allies into the sea. The problem was, no matter how many Russians the Germans slaughtered, the Ivans continued to fight courageously.

The Russian troops at the front complained about inadequate food, shortages of ammunition and poor leadership, as most front-line troops do, but they refused to give up. Russia had a population of 180 million and its strategic depth was legendary. The solution seemed obvious: foment a change of power that would knock Russia out of the war.

Since the Revolution of 1906, the Russian state seemed to be an antiquated, ramshackle, many-roomed mansion that needed only a good gust of wind to blow it over. The Germans were aware of the ferment in Russia, where groups, from the centrists who sought a constitutional monarchy to the extreme left, were competing for power.

There were many revolutionaries to pick from. “German gold” was a valued commodity. Revolutionaries would vie for this tempting prize. Unfortunately, most Russian émigrés spent their time drinking tea and gossiping rather than acting.

One promising candidate for German largess was an obscure rabble-rouser living in Geneva called Lenin.

Lenin was the leader of the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party. “Bolshevik” means “majority” in Russian. The minority were the Mensheviks. The Mensheviks were actually the majority, but through an organisational sleight-of-hand, Lenin’s faction assumed the leading role.

The Mensheviks were essentially European Social Democrats, while the Bolsheviks sought to seize power through revolutionary tactics. Most of the Mensheviks came to a sticky end.

The Germans decided that Lenin and his hangers-on had the best chance to overthrow the Tsarist regime. They gave no thought to the long-terms results of their actions. The Bolshevik leader was transferred in a sealed train from Geneva through Germany and Sweden to the Finland Station in Petrograd. Finland was part of the Russian Empire, but retained some freedom of action.

The process by which an impoverished pseudo-intellectual from the provinces became the dictator of the world’s most extensive power, which stretched from the Baltic to the Pacific, is described by Edmund Wilson. His book, To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1972) traces the revolutionary urge from its origins in the French Enlightenment to the triumph of Lenin and his Bolsheviks. It is still the best account of the intellectual origins of Lenin’s revolutionary master plan.

Wilson learned German and Russian so he could read the documents in the original languages. He was America’s pre-eminent man of letters in the 1950s and 1960s. He was by inclination a man of the left, but he opposed communism.

Lenin’s journey through Europe in a sealed train is also described in fascinating detail by Catherine Merridale (Lenin on the Train, Metropolitan Books, 2017).

Lenin was a monomaniac. He cared only about the revolution. He produced propaganda for the Bolshevik cause. He had no time for the bourgeoisie or the February 1917 Revolution that ousted the Tsar. Lenin wanted the Dictatorship of the Proletariat; in other words, him. He let Trotsky, Commissar for War, lead the Red Army in the Civil War, but Lenin was in command.

The Germans had chosen their man well. Using the oft-repeated Bolshevik slogan “bread, peace and land”, the Bolsheviks hammered the so-called bourgeois regime, which collapsed in October 1917. The October Revolution was more a coup than revolution.

In December 1917, the Bolshevik regime reached a truce with Germany. Under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918), Imperial Russia was dismembered.

The Germans achieved their short-term goal. They swung their Army in the East to the Western Front; they almost pushed the Allied armies into the sea, but ultimately failed. The long-term result was that they helped create a Soviet regime that menaced Germany and the West until 1989, when the whole rotten edifice of European communism collapsed under the weight of its own corruption and godlessness.

If the German secret service had not smoothed the way for Lenin’s return to Russia in his own sealed train, it is likely that Russia would not have become communist, Eastern Europe and the Baltic States have been saved from a lifetime of misery, and China would not be communist.




























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