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In the NYT, historian Sean McMeekin asks:
Was Lenin a German Agent?
RED CENTURY JUNE 19, 2017
… Because he returned home by way of Germany — and with the obvious cooperation of the German High Command — which was then at war against Russia and her Entente allies (France, Britain and, from April 6, the United States), allegations that Lenin was a German agent were immediately hurled by his opponents, a charge that remains controversial to this day.
… For similar reasons, Berlin concocted a public relations ruse around Lenin’s journey across German soil, the notorious sealed train — a convenient myth for Lenin, also, to distance himself from German sponsorship. In reality, the train was not sealed: Lenin got off on several occasions, and stayed overnight in a German hotel at Sassnitz. According to witnesses, Lenin even gave political speeches on German soil at Russian prisoner-of-war camps. …
So was Lenin a German agent?
In his own mind, Lenin could and did justify his actions as tactical maneuvers serving the higher cause of Communism, not the sordid war aims of the German Imperial Government. Fair enough. But it is hard to imagine this defense holding up in trial, if the jury were composed of ordinary Russians while the war was still going on. The evidence assembled by Kerensky’s justice department, much of which has only recently been rediscovered in the Russian archives, was damning. No matter Lenin’s real intentions, it is undeniable that he received German logistical and financial support in 1917, and that his actions, from antiwar agitation in the Russian armies to his request for an unconditional cease-fire, served the interests of Russia’s wartime enemy in Berlin. They also brought about disastrous consequences for Russia herself, from territorial dismemberment in 1918 to decades of agony under the suffocating Bolshevik dictatorship.
Sean McMeekin, a professor of history at Bard College, is the author of “The Russian Revolution: A New History.”
McMeekin’s book is a good read, with some fresh perspectives.
It’s worth recalling the number and scale of the efforts undertaken by the Great Powers in 1917 to redraw the map of the world for short-term advantages in the Great War. For example, Lord Balfour promised Palestine to the Jews while T.E. Lawrence was promising it, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq to the Arabs, while Sykes had already secretly promised Syria and Lebanon to Picot’s French. When the German Foreign Office heard about the Balfour Declaration, they wanted to promise Palestine to the Zionists too, until their Ottoman allies reminded them that they couldn’t give away Ottoman territory. German foreign minister Zimmerman promised Texas to Mexico, but not California because he wanted to promise that to Japan. And so forth and so on.
But Germany’s Lenin Gambit actually worked, which proved disastrous for the world by inflicting Communism on Russia and temporarily on Central Europe in 1918-1919, and by giving Germans a temporary but massive territorial conquest in the East in the late winter of 1918, which made many Germans, such as Corporal Hitler, assume that the great sacrifices of the last four years had been justified by the fruits of victory, only to have Germany “stabbed in the back” by the defeat later that year, a hot potato the blame for which the (highly culpable) German General Staff adroitly managed to hand off to the poor Social Democrats.
So, No Lenin, No Hitler.