Mark Collins – History Counter-Factual: No 1917 Lenin Train Ride, No WW II

Further to this post,

Wilson, World War I and Counter-Factuals: No Third Reich, No Soviet Union but…

It’s clear, with a century of hindsight, what a Europe without Wilson and his Fourteen Points would look like. A compromise peace would have allowed the Germans to quickly crush Russia’s nascent Bolshevik thugocracy like a bug, as they planned to do. Without the Bolshevik threat, European politics would have been transformed in positive ways, for without the Communist menace, which was real, with violent Red revolutions in Hungary and Germany in 1919, far-right extremists like Mussolini and Hitler would have enjoyed limited appeal…

how Wilhelmine Germany effectively started the 1917 Bolshevik October Revolution (actually a successful coup d’ état) which, as noted in the quote above, was instrumental in Hitler’s rise to power and thus ultimately to that so much more murderous and dreadful second war–from a book review at The Economist:

The Russian revolution
Missed connection
Vladimir Lenin’s railway journey from Switzerland to Russia changed history

Lenin on the Train. By Catherine Merridale. Allen Lane; 353 pages; £25. To be published in America by Metropolitan in March [more here].

A BRITISH intelligence officer dismissed Vladimir Lenin and his fellow revolutionaries as “fanatical and narrow-minded”. That was an understatement. But by early 1917 power in Russia was there for the taking. That February, 300 years of Romanov autocracy had been ended in a few dizzying days, while nothing had been put in its place. Russia, exhausted and desperate from three years of disastrous war with Germany and its allies, was being run by ineffectual and well-meaning moderates. Lenin knew exactly what he wanted, and he would deploy extraordinary energy and ruthlessness to achieve it.

But first he had to get there. The future Soviet leader had spent the war in Switzerland, marooned on a neutral island in a sea of belligerents [see Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Lenin in Zurich–Vladimir Ilyich certainly lucked out]. As the news broke of the upheaval at home, he became increasingly desperate…

A mischievous Estonian called Alexander Keskula was the first to suggest to Germany’s spy service that bringing Lenin home could serve a vital strategic goal. Strengthening the anti-war camp there would raise the chances that Russia would stop fighting, giving Germany time to beat Britain and France before America entered the war. Germany was soon convinced. The deal took just two weeks to negotiate: Lenin insisted that the train should be designated an extraterritorial entity. It was not to stop, and its passengers (a motley 32 in all) were not to be checked.

It was not a jolly journey…

Unfazed by the showy and unexpected reception that his Bolshevik colleagues had laid on for him at Petrograd’s Finland Station, Lenin jumped onto an armoured car and gave a fiery impromptu speech. The revolutionary message was hopeful and seductive: peace, bread, power to the masses and not to the plutocrats, radical redistribution of wealth, the transformation of social relations. It was achievable, as a less hungry and desperate people might have realised, only through extreme violence, including mass murder, colossal economic dislocation, the extinction of political freedoms and the eventual creation of a privileged, bureaucratic boss caste…

Pity that “Train Kept A Rollin’“:

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


One thought on “Mark Collins – History Counter-Factual: No 1917 Lenin Train Ride, No WW II”

  1. A friend very knowledgeable of military history observes:

    “By the summer of 1917 [Lenin arrived in St. Petersburg in April ]
    the Kerensky government was faltering. Its summer offensive in Galicia was a disaster, in September the Germans had taken Riga, and then in in October, in an impressive display of combined arms, had seized the Baltic islands which opened the gates to Petrograd – this last probably helped trigger the October Revolution. If it hadn’t, the Germans would probably have continued to push towards Petrograd (as they did in early 1918 when the Brest-Litovsk talks stalled). The Russian army had virtually ceased to fight, so one way or another whoever was the Russian government would have been forced to make peace. I guess the question is, without Lenin would that have taken longer, so delaying the Kaiserschlact, whose ultimate failure led to the German collapse? If so would a negotiated peace in the West have been possible? or had the US entry into the war (due to the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917) already precluded that?”

    Mark Collins

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