Apr. 7th, 2017

osprey_archer: (books)
Catherine Merridale's Lenin on the Train is an interesting if poorly-organized book about...well, very loosely about Lenin's train trip through Germany to Sweden and thence to Petrograd and History. But it's also about the political wrangling in Petrograd at the time, and the internal party politics of the Bolsheviks, and the plots of various foreign governments to exert some control on Russia's political future (Lenin was far from the only radical Russian smuggled back into the country), and a chapter-long digression about whether or not Lenin was in the pay of the Germans.

Except for the last, this is all interesting. I actually groaned when I read that the tsarist government put Kamenev on trial in 1915 and he denied that he was a member of the Bolsheviks; no doubt this was one of the reasons why Stalin decided to make Kamenev one of the victims of his first show trial years later. He knew from past experience that Kamenev would perjure himself if he thought it would save his skin.

But, interesting though it is, it never really comes together as a book. The pacing is odd: it takes a few chapters before we segue from politics on the ground in Petrograd to Lenin in Switzerland, and then we follow Lenin on the train through Germany and Sweden, into Petrograd, where the party faithful carry him on their shoulders, and Lenin takes the opportunity to climb on the turret of an armored car and harangue everyone in hearing range. Observers comment, somewhat disdainfully, that the Bolsheviks always put on a good show.

And then, though the train part is over, the book goes on for a while - Lenin takes over Pravda, Lenin lectures the party faithful who think he's woefully out of touch, Lenin is run out of town under cloud of accusations that he's taken German money - and then the book stops. There's a chapter about the German money accusations and then bam, the end.

The book gnaws around this last issue at some length, which is frustrating because the answer is clearly yes - the Germans gave him a special train to transport him across Germany! This fact is not in dispute - but the implication, that this made him a German puppet, is just as clearly wrong. Lenin never felt he owed anyone anything, least of all Germany; he used their offer to his own ends, and I suspect the Germans were sorry they made it when it became clear that he wasn't just going to impede the war effort, but had actually taken over Russia and was encouraging radical socialists within Germany.

An interesting book, but flawed.

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