When Germany financed the Russian Revolution

February 1917, the February Revolution breaks out in Petrograd (currently Saint Petersburg). The Revolution was due to the alienation of all sectors of Russian society. In particular, industrial workers suffered from food shortages and deteriorating working conditions in factories. This was mainly due to the extreme effort that the Great War demanded of Russia. In fact, Russia had to fight three different countries during the First World War, namely Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. The war was extremely difficult not only from a military point of view, but also materially. The main problem was the poorly equipped Russian railway which quite often led to a lack of supplies.

Public funeral of those who died fighting the Tsar in the February Revolution (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The February Revolution

The revolution was supported not only by blue-collar workers, but also by white-collar workers, students and aristocratic members of the Duma, the Russian parliament. Cooperation between classes was fundamental because the revolutionaries needed the Duma to establish a broader regime. Eventually, the February Revolution was a success: Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and the Russian Empire collapsed. As a result, a double power stood: on the one hand, we had the provisional government whose representatives sat in the Duma; on the other hand, we had the Petrograd Soviet (the central part of a larger system of Soviets placed all over Russia, especially in the industrial cities) which represented the workers and the soldiers.

Bolsheviks and Mensheviks

The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party had been divided into two factions since 1912. These factions were the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Both pursued socialist revolution, but their ideas about the nature of the party were quite different. The Bolsheviks preferred a closed party made up of professional revolutionaries, the Mensheviks favored a larger party capable of uniting different ideologies and political sentiments. As for the Mensheviks, they were able to integrate some of their politicians into the provisional government and take control of the soviets. Initially, the Bolsheviks were excluded from both the Provisional Government and the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet.

Lenin in Switzerland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Lenin’s return to Russia

Lenin, then in exile in Switzerland, learned of the existence of the February Revolution by reading certain local newspapers. Lenin was the leader of the Bolsheviks and once he realized that Imperial Russia had collapsed, he knew it was time to return to Russia. However, he realized that due to the ongoing war conflict, many passages to enter the country were prohibited. Britain and France reportedly denied him the chance to return to Russia, as they knew Lenin’s thoughts on the war. According to him, the Great War was a “capitalist war” which oppressed the people for the enrichment of the few. If Lenin had taken power in Russia, he would have let the conflict smash the coalition of the Entente Powers.

A negotiation between Lenin and Wilhelm II

Lenin understood that the only possible solution was a negotiation with Germany. Like the Entente powers, Germany also knew that Lenin would have been a dangerous component of the Russian political landscape. If Germany could have ended the war in the East, then she would have had the opportunity to assemble her army in the West. Kaiser Wilhelm II gave the go-ahead and facilitated transit through Germany in a sealed railroad car with Lenin and other Bolsheviks.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Provision of funds

However, Kaiser Wilhelm II not only provided transportation for the Bolshevik conspirator, but also gave him tens of millions of marks. The discovery, published by the weekly news magazine “Stern” in the 1990s, used bank account numbers, dates and amounts of payments, to demonstrate that the Russian Revolution was financed by the Germans. Anyway, this was not entirely new, as some of Lenin’s enemies had already accused him of this. The Soviet Union and Germany had always denied it, but there is still evidence. For example, on June 18, 1917, a German industrial magnate sent 350,000 marks to an account called Lenin in Sweden. On January 8, 1918, a payment from the Reichsbank was sent to Trotsky. Some historians argue that Germany also gave political coordinations to Lenin.

In return for these funds, Lenin reassured the Germans that once he took power in Russia, he would sign an armistice with Germany and its allies. This happened on March 3, 1918, when Lenin signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which ended the war on the Eastern Front. Needless to say, without these funds, European history would probably have been quite different.