Washington Times on June 7, 2017, published a review of two new histories of the Russian revolution in 1917: ”Lenin on the Train” by Catherine Merridale (Metropolitan, 2017) and Sean McMeekin, ”The Russian Revolution: A New History” (Basic Books, 2017). Excerpts below:

In the spring of 1917, the German spy service sensed a sure-fire means of persuading Russia to make a separate peace and exit the Great War. Czar Nicholas II had abdicated in the face of mass protests that swept the streets of Petrograd, the then-capital, and signs of war-weariness were increasingly evident.

German eyes fell upon Vladimir Lenin, an aspiring Communist leader in exile for decades. He was considered to be a man of extraordinary ruthlessness — a “one-man demolition crew” who would wreck Russia’s war effort, in contrast with the moderates then in the vanguard of revolution.

…Lenin and selected followers would transit Germany in a sealed train that would be declared “an extraterritorial entity.” Once in Finland, smugglers would take them across to Petrograd.

The remarkable story of Lenin’s odyssey — and the bloody chaos he would inflict on the world — are told in the striking work by Catherine Merridale, a noted historian on the human consequences of the Soviet era…

A minor glitch arose at the border. Although a British intelligence estimate had written off Lenin and friends as “fanatical and narrow minded,” and of no particular danger, a British agent at the border argued against letting them continue. Finnish authorities insisted that a country had the right to admit its own citizens, so Lenin passed into Russia.

Within an hour of his arrival, Lenin gave a fiery two-hour speech denouncing the “piratical imperialist war” and the moderates who were forming an interim government. His program was so extreme that Pravda, the party organ, refused to print it. No matter; his oratory provided the expected spark.

Further, Lenin’s pockets sagged with German gold. He spent millions of dollars on propaganda aimed at convincing Russian troops to stop fighting. (The energetic Mr. McMeekin unearthed long-hidden files on secret German financing that escaped destruction).

Lies have long shelf lives: A million Russian rubles went to leftist writer John Reed for his acclaimed 1919 book “Ten Days That Shook the World,” which in 1981 was the basis for Warren Beatty’s historically laughable movie “Reds.”

In short order, Lenin added a new ingredient to what had begun, more or less, as a grass-roots revolution. His contribution was terror — directed first at the relatively moderate leadership he replaced but rapidly expanded to include anyone who objected to his harshness. Lenin opted for terror to cleave away opponents — and he continued that course long after the government he established was on a secure footing.

Was Germany’s decision to return Lenin to Russia a valid strategy? Winston Churchill gave backhanded approval in acknowledging “the desperate stakes” facing Germany. But he added, “Nevertheless it was the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia.”

In the end, the totalitarian state that Lenin created carries responsibility for uncountable millions of deaths — many of them his own people who he perceived as enemies.

Two superb reads, and in the end, tragic ones: of how a demagogue shaped world history for the worst for almost a century.

Joseph Goulden writes frequently on intelligence and military affairs.

Comment: In 1917 the Bolshevik secret police, Cheka, was established and revolutionary tribunals started convicting “enemies of the revolution. Trotsky in 1918 called for the creation of outdoor prisons (concentration camps (kontslagers) in remote regions. This was the beginning of the Gulag.

Lenin’s head of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, in July 1918 said: ““Terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution. … We judge quickly. In most cases only a day passes between the apprehension of the criminal and his sentence.”

From an order by Vladimir Lenin: “Hang (hang without fail, so the people see) no fewer than one hundred kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers… the people will see, tremble, know, shout: they are strangling and will strangle to death the bloodsucker kulaks.” (Richard Pipes, ed., The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive, Yale University Press, 1996, p. 50).

Lenin cited by Dmitri Volkogonov, Lenin: Life and Legacy, HarperCollins, 1994, p. 203:
“Russians are too kind, they lack the ability to apply determined methods of revolutionary terror.”

Vladimir Lenin: “It is precisely now and only now, when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) carry out the confiscation of church valuables… The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing for this reason, the better.” (Richard Pipes, ed., ”The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive”, Yale University Press, 1996, pp. 152-4).

McMeekin in his important new history of the Russian revolution writes that Lenin wanted not revolution but civil war: the goal was not revolution but civil war, and he got it. “Lenin’s imperative was to transform the ‘imperialist war’ into a civil war.” McMeekin notes however that things could have gone the other way. Had the Western allies been more willing to support the anticommunist forces fighting the Bolsheviks and listened to Winston Churchill, Lenin could have been stopped. The author of ”The Russian Revolution” shows how devious and brutal Lenin was.

In his 2008 book ”The World’s Greatest Heist” McMeekin revealed why the Bolsheviks were victorious in the Civil War that followed the 1917 coup d’etat . Based on undiscovered materials from the Soviet Ministry of Finance and other European and American archives the author reveals how the Bolsheviks financed their aggression through thievery: cash savings of private citizens to gold, silver, diamonds, jewelry, icons, antiques, and artwork. Soviet financial transactions accomplished history’s greatest heist between 1917 and 1922 and turned centuries of accumulated wealth into the sinews of class war. The Swedish social democratic government played an important role in helping the Soviets to sell stolen gold in the West to finance its civil war in Russia.

Professor McMeekin is emerging as one of the leading experts on the criminal and terrorist policy of the early Soviet leaders. His books are must reads for anybody who wants to understand the rise of genocidal marxism-leninism in Russia.

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