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.