Lenin in Stockholm

To the Russians, Vladimir Ulyanov was already a living symbol in 1917. Ulyanov – now better known by his revolutionary nom de guerre, Lenin — himself was in exile in Switzerland, and his Bolsheviks Party was withering when the Russian Revolution actually took place in 1917.  On 15th March 1917, Lenin’s problem was to travel back from Zurich to St. Petersburg to lead his party again. Although he wanted to charter a plane and fly back, the war made it risky. He approached the German government, then fighting the Provisional Government of Russia, for a transit visa. Since he didn’t want to be seen as ‘consorting with the enemy’, Lenin also have his train granted the extra-territorial status as a foreign embassy. Both requests were readily honored by the Germans. (There were two German military escorts on the train, but they too were kept separate from Lenin’s cadre).

The party atmosphere accompanied the ‘sealed train’. Lenin had to silent his crew at times, order lights outs and rearrange sleeping arrangements to separate merrymakers. They were an unruly company; a conflict arose immediately between the smokers and non-smokers. Lenin, who despised cigarette smoke, ruled that smoking was to be allowed only in the toilet. This was immediately followed by a second argument between the smokers and those who needed to use the toilet. Another argument was between the Russians and two Germans, who protested that the former’s penchants for the French revolutionary songs were insulting to the German nation.

Above was the only one photograph of the travelers, taken in Stockholm on 13th April 1917. Above, Lenin was carrying an umbrella and wearing a hat. Behind him, with an enormous hat, was his wife, Nadezhda. Behind her was the other woman in Lenin’s life, his mistress and revolutionary Inessa Armand. At the back, holding the hand of four-year old Robert was Grigory Zinoviev, Lenin’s designated successor, later to be purged by Stalin. In Stockholm, the Swedish socialists threw a banquet in his honor and for the first time in his life, Lenin was received as a prominent statesman. The Swedes, however, didn’t fully understood his vision; they found him quaint, and even gave him some money to buy new clothes, unaware that formerly poor revolutionary was now being lavishly funded by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Communist history books rigorously denied this, but when Lenin arrived back to St. Petersburg, the Provisional Government – with the help of the French intelligence service – began a through investigation into the Bolshevik finances, but the 21-volume dossier was destroyed on the orders of Leo Trotsky right after the October Revolution.

Buoyed by the German money, the Bolsheviks went from strength to strength, buying out printing presses, publishing their propaganda in multiple languages, and sending them out into the battlefields. By October, train and police stations, electricity plant and telephone switchboards were firmly in the Bolsheviks’ hand that the storming of the Winter Palace – despite its prominence in subsequent Communist hagiography – was simply a walk over.

18 thoughts on “Lenin in Stockholm

  1. […] To the Russians, Vladimir Ulyanov was already a living symbol in 1917. Ulyanov – now better known by his revolutionary nom de guerre, Lenin — himself was in exile in Switzerland, and his Bolsheviks Party was withering when the Russian Revolution actually took place in 1917.  On 15th March 1917, Lenin’s problem was to travel back from Zurich to St. Petersburg to lead his party again. Although he wanted to charter a plane and fly back, the war mad … Read More […]

  2. Lenin’s wife was Nadezhda Krupskaya, not Nadezhada (The name means “Hope”. Just like a name in English).

    Plans of chartering a plane were just feverish dreams of an impatient exile and never considered seriously. See Krupskaya’s memoir:

    “From the moment the news of the revolution was received, Ilyich had no sleep. His nights were spent building the most improbable plans. We could fly over by plane. But such an idea could only be thought of in a waking dream. Put into words, its unreality became at once obvious.”

    I noticed, TheQuintessential, that you have a special interest in the events of Russian/Soviet history. Have you ever lived in USSR?

    • i lived in moscow for five months on assignment, and have been to russia more frequently than my other colleagues but my interests in russia have been purely professional so to speak.

      • I thought maybe you emigrated from one of Baltic ex-Soviet Republics, or maybe from Poland: you seem much more familiar with Soviet history than average American college graduate – or even European one, in a matter of fact.

        Thank you for publishing all these historical photos; I always wait for your new posts with interest.

  3. […] To the Russians, Vladimir Ulyanov was already a living symbol in 1917. Ulyanov – now better known by his revolutionary nom de guerre, Lenin — himself was in exile in Switzerland, and his Bolsheviks Party was withering when the Russian Revolution actually took place in 1917.  On 15th March 1917, Lenin’s problem was to travel back from Zurich to St. Petersburg to lead his party again. Although he wanted to charter a plane and fly back, the war mad … Read More […]

  4. […] To the Russians, Vladimir Ulyanov was already a living symbol in 1917. Ulyanov – now better known by his revolutionary nom de guerre, Lenin — himself was in exile in Switzerland, and his Bolsheviks Party was withering when the Russian Revolution actually took place in 1917.  On 15th March 1917, Lenin’s problem was to travel back from Zurich to St. Petersburg to lead his party again. Although he wanted to charter a plane and fly back, the war mad … Read More […]

  5. Do you have any information about where it might be possible to obtain a print quality copy of this image, I am presuming that it is public domain. I would love to publish it to illustrate an essay on children in the Russian revolution (the young Zinoviev is fabulous), but I have not yet been able to find the orign

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  8. Hello. I’m a big fan of old Soviet stuff, including photos.
    I can tell you some about the photo in question (including SOME errors which are frequently in the captions).

    From extreme left of photo (viewer’s left):
    Karl Radek; over his shoulder is Olga Ravich (in a cloche hat): next to Radek is Mikha Tsakhaya (a Georgian); then in deep background is Grigori Sokoknikov (aka Brilliant); then comes boy Robert holding stepfather Zinoviev’s hand; bearded man (head only visible) is unknown but likely a part of welcoming group (he looks like Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich but have been unable to verify that he was in Stockholm then; other possibility is Jakob Hanecki, but have never seen Hanecki wearing beard); NEXT to bearded man is Lenin’s wife Nadezhda Krupskaya; THEN towards the foreground is Inessa Armand, the great love of Lenin’s life; next to Armand is Georg Safarov (probably); tiny woman in great big hat is Lilina, Zinoviev’s wife, NOT Krupskaya who was a LOT taller (Lilina almost certainly under 5 feet tall); tall man facing Lilina and camera probably a Swede; he’s following directly behind Lenin (who is walking resolutely and holding umbrella; man next to Lenin is Lindhagen, mayor of Stockholm.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Lindhagen

    • Dear Richard, you did not name two other persons on this photo. One of them is definetely Adolf (Abel) Khavkin – the Russian bolshevik who lived in Stockholm in 1906-1917 and helped to organize this visit. The same day he accompanied Lenin in the train to the Swedish-Finnish (by then part of the Russian Empire) border. I incline to think he is the the guy that walks before Lenin or could be a man with mustache behind tall swede talking to Zinoviev’s wife (Adolf Khavkin is my great grand father)

    • Just another comment. This photo was placed on the front cover of the book called Lenin in Stokholm published in 1970 in Moscow (it was part of special publications to celebrate Lenin’s 100th anniversary). The tall Swede behind Lenin more resembles Carl Lindhagen, than the guy talking to Lenin is Ture Nerman. It is interesting that in the Soviet publication the photo was cut down from left in order to exclude Grigory Zinoviev, which in the officiall history of the Communist Party was considered as a hesitant weak person, not a real Lenin’s follower. This was a common practice to cut or simply delete controverial persons from historical photos in the Soviet times.

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