The themes linked to Lenin, money, and revolution, present an inexhaustible source for historians, psychologists, and satirists. Just imagine: we have a man who urged to make, after the complete victory of communism, toilet bowls in public restrooms of solid gold; who never had to earn a living through hard work; who was quite comfortably off even in prison and exile, and barely knew what money is, yet at the same time made a considerable contribution to the theory of commodity-money relations.
How exactly did he manage to do that? Not via brochures and articles, of course, but through his revolutionary activities. It was Lenin who introduced, in 1919-21, non-monetary “natural” barter between towns and in the countryside. This resulted in the total collapse of the economy, a complete standstill in agriculture, mass famines, and, consequently, mass uprisings against the regime of the RCP. Only then, soon before his death, did Lenin perceive the true meaning of money and introduced the NEP, the New Economic Policy, a kind of “manageable capitalism” under the supervision of the communist party.
However, our purpose here is something other than the exploration of these fascinating subjects. Instead, we will take a look at where Vladimir Lenin got the fantastic sums necessary to fund party activity before the revolution. Over recent decades some very interesting materials have been published, but still, much remains obscure.
For example, at the beginning of the 20th century, the underground newspaper Iskra was sponsored by a mysterious benefactor (individual or collective), disguised in the party documents as the “Californian gold mines.” Some researchers believe that this was an instance of radical Russian revolutionaries being sponsored by American Jewish bankers, mostly Russian expatriates and their descendants, who hated Tsarism for its official anti-semitic policies.
During the revolution of 1905-07, Bolsheviks were sponsored by American oil corporations with the view to pushing their rivals out of the world markets (namely, Nobel’s oil cartel in Baku). At that very time, the American banker Jacob Schiff also provided Bolsheviks with money, as he himself confessed. The list of donors also included Yermasov, a manufacturer from Syzran, and Morozov, a merchant and industrialist based near Moscow.
Later, the Bolshevik party acquired another financial donor in the person of Schmidt, owner of a furniture factory in Moscow. It is curious that Savva Morozov and Nikolai Schmidt both eventually committed a suicide, as a result of which the Bolsheviks got a considerable proportion of their fortunes.
And of course, big money (hundreds of thousands contemporary roubles, the equivalent of tens of millions hryvnias) came from the so-called ex’es [the truncated form of “expropriation” – Ed.] or, in simpler terms, banal robberies of banks, post offices, and railway ticket-offices. These actions were masterminded by two characters with criminal monickers Kamo and Koba, i.e., Ter-Petrosian and Dzhugashvili.
Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands and even millions of roubles invested in revolutionary activities might at best only shake the Russian empire. Despite all its shortcomings, its institutions were pretty solid – but only in peacetime. With the outbreak of the First World War, new financial and political opportunities opened up before the Bolsheviks, and they didn’t fail to take advantage of them.
On Jan. 15, 1915 the German ambassador in Istanbul sent a report to Berlin, relating about his meeting with a Russian subject Aleksander Gelfand (aka Parvus), an active participant of the revolution of 1905-07 and owner of a large trade company. Parvus acquainted the German ambassador with the plan of the Russian revolution. He was immediately invited to Berlin, where he met with some influential cabinet members and advisors to Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg.
Parvus suggested that the Germans give him a large sum of money to help promote, firstly, the national movements in Finland and Ukraine and secondly, to support the Bolsheviks, who propagated the idea of the defeat of the Russian empire in the unjust war for the sake of overthrowing the “regime of landlords and capitalists.”
Parvus’ suggestions were accepted; on Kaiser Wilhelm’s personal order, he was given two million German marks as the first contribution to “the cause of the Russian revolution.” Later, other installments followed, some of them for greater sums. Thus, according to a receipt made by Parvus, on Jan. 29, 1915 he received 15 million in Russian bills for the development of the revolutionary movement in Russia. The money was allotted with the typical German efficiency.
In Finland and Ukraine Parvus’ (and the German general staff’s) agents turned out to be of second or third-rate importance. Therefore, their influence on the process of gaining independence in these countries was insignificant in comparison with the objective processes of nation-building in the Russian empire. Yet in regards to Lenin, Parvus-Gelfand hit the bull’s-eye.
Parvus claimed that he told Lenin that, at that moment, revolution was only possible in Russia, and only as a result of Germany winning the war. In response, Lenin sent his proxy Fuerstenberg (aka Ganetsky) for close cooperation with Parvus, which lasted till 1918.
Another installment from Germany, although not as large, came to the Bolsheviks via the Swiss parliamentary Karl Moor – but it only amounted to 35,000 dollars. More investments came from the Nia Bank in Stockholm. On the order of the German Imperial Bank at No. 2754, Nia, personal accounts for Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and other Bolshevik leaders, were opened. Order No. 7433 of March 2, 1917, provided payments for the “services” of Lenin, Zinoviev, Kollontai, and others, in the sphere of public peace propaganda in Russia, where the Tsarist regime had just been overthrown.
The colossal sums were wisely administered. The Bolsheviks published their own newspapers which were distributed free of charge in every town and village. The entire territory of Russia was covered with a network of their professional propagandists. “Red guard” units were formed quite openly. Of course, it was done not just with the German gold. Although the “poor” political emigrant Trotsky had 10 thousand dollars confiscated by Canadian customs in Halifax in 1917, whilst being on his way from America to Russia, it is absolutely clear that he still managed to smuggle huge sums from the banker Schiff to his supporters.
Yet even greater funds were raised in the course of “the expropriation of the expropriators” (in more common terms, the robbing of wealthy individuals and organizations), initiated in the spring of 1917. Has it ever occurred to anyone to question the Bolsheviks occupation of the palace of the ballerina Kshesinskaya and the Smolny Institute?
Generally speaking, the Russian democratic revolution broke out in the early spring of the 1917 quite unexpectedly for all its political subjects both inside the empire and outside its boundaries. It was a spontaneous, truly grass-roots movement both in Petrograd and on the outskirts of the empire. Suffice it to say that a month before the start of the revolution Lenin, who then was in emigration in Switzerland, publicly voiced his doubts about the chances for the politicians of his generation (i.e., 40 and 50-year-olds) to live to see a revolution in Russia. However, it was the radical Russian politicians who were the fastest to change their ways and ready to ride the revolution (as we have already said, with the use of the German assistance).
All in all, the Russian revolution was not accidental. It is even strange that it should not have broken out, say, one year earlier: all the social, political, and national problems in the Romanov empire had reached their limits, while from the formal, economic perspective, the industry was developing dynamically, and the stock of weapons and ammunition had considerably increased.
Yet the utter inefficiency of the central power and the corruption of the elite, unavoidable under any autocracy, took their toll. Following that, the deliberate corruption of the army, the undermining of the rear, the sabotage of any attempts at constructive solutions of the urgent problems, together with the incurable chauvinistic centralism typical of virtually all Great Russian political forces, aggravated the crisis.
During the campaign of 1917, the Entente troops were supposed to start a simultaneous general offensive on all European fronts, but the Russian army proved to be unprepared. Consequently, in April the attacks of the Anglo-French forces at Rheims failed, the casualties exceeding 100,000 in dead and wounded.
In July, the Russian troops attempted an offensive in the direction of Lviv, but eventually had to retreat from Galicia and Bukovyna, and yield Riga in the north, almost without resistance. Finally, the battle at Caporetto in October resulted in a disastrous defeat of the Italian army. 130,000 Italian men were dead, another 300,000 were taken captive. Only the English and French divisions, urgently shipped from France, were able to stabilize the front and prevent Italy from withdrawing from the war.
And finally, after the November uprising in Petrograd, when the Bolsheviks and left social revolutionaries came to power, an armistice was declared on the East front – first de facto and then de jure, and not only with Russia and Ukraine, but Romania as well.
Such changes on the Eastern front were to a large degree possible due to the funds which were allotted by Germany for the demoralization of the Russian army from the rear. “The military operations on the Eastern front, prepared on a large scale and executed with great success, were considerably facilitated by the undermining activities from within Russia, conducted by the Ministry of foreign affairs.
“Our chief goal in this activity was to further strengthen the nationalist and separatist sentiments, and support the revolutionary elements. We are continuing this activity even at present, and completing an agreement with the political division of the General Staff in Berlin” (Captain von Huelsen).
“Our joint efforts have yielded considerable results. Without our constant support, the Bolshevist movement could have never reached the scale and influence it now has. Everything testifies to the further growth of this movement.” These were the words of German secretary of state, Richard von Kuehlmann, written on Sept. 29, 1917. It was a month and a half before the Bolshevik revolt in Petrograd.
Von Kuehlmann knew what he was writing about. He was an active participant in all those events; a little later he was to conduct peace negotiations with Bolshevik Russia and the Ukrainian People’s Republic in Brest in the early 1918. He controlled the huge financial current, going into the tens of thousands of German marks, and also had contacts with a number of key characters in this historic drama.
“I have the honor of asking Your Excellence to allot a sum of 15 million marks at the disposal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for political propaganda in Russia, referring this sum to paragraph 6, section II of the extraordinary budget. Depending on the development of events, I would like to stipulate in advance a possibility of addressing Your Excellence again in the nearest future with the view to allotting additional monies,” wrote von Kuehlmann on Nov. 9, 1917.
As we can see, no sooner had news of the Petrograd revolt (to be labeled the Great October Revolution) arrived than Kaiser Germany allotted new funds for propaganda in Russia. This money went first and foremost to support the Bolsheviks, who first demoralized the army, and then withdrew the Russian Republic from the war, thus freeing millions of German soldiers for operations in the West.
Yet managed to preserve the image of unselfish revolutionaries, romantic Marxists, until this very day. Even now, not only “official” adepts of the Marxist-Leninist creeds, but also a certain proportion of the non-party left intellectuals, are convinced that Lenin and his adherents were sincere internationalists and noble champions of the popular cause.
On the whole, we can observe a curious situation. In 1958, Oxford University published the secret documents of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kaiser Germany (this is where von Kuehlmann’s telegrams come from, and where one can find scores of no less significant texts dating back to the First World War), which proved the massive financial and organizational assistance rendered by the German authorities to the Bolsheviks.
Germany’s goals were obvious. The radical revolutionaries were to undermine the military potential of one of the principal rivals of the central powers, to which Germany also belonged, i.e., the Russian empire. Thousands of books on the subject have been published, providing other convincing evidence. Yet even today not only communist historians, but also a great number of liberally-minded researchers, will deny self-evident historical facts.
Here is some more evidence provided by the German secretary of state von Kuehlmann.
“Only when the Bolsheviks began to receive constant investments from us via various channels and under various labels, were they able to firmly establish their major printed organ, Pravda, to develop active propaganda, and to considerably enlarge their party base, which was rather narrow at the beginning” (Berlin, Dec. 3, 1917). Indeed, party membership grew 100 times only within a year after overthrowing Tsarism!
As far as Lenin’s personal stand goes, this is how Colonel Walter Nicolai, head of German military intelligence service in the times of the First World war, described him in his memoirs: “...Like anyone else, at that time I knew nothing about Bolshevism; as for Lenin, I only knew that he was living in Switzerland as a political emigrant, under the cryptonym ‘Ulianov’ he provided my service with valuable information on the situation in Tsarist Russia against which he was fighting.”
In other words, without constant assistance from the Germans, the Bolsheviks would hardly have become one of the leading Russian parties in 1917. This would mean a completely different development of events, probably much more anarchical, which would have hardly resulted in the establishment of a dictatorship, let alone a totalitarian regime. The most likely scenario is a different version of the disintegration of the Russian empire, as WWI was primarily about the ruin of empires. Thus, the independence of Finland and Poland was de facto a fait accompli some time around 1916.
The Russian empire, or even the Russian republic, would hardly have become an exception from this process of collapse triggered by the First World War. Suffice it to remember that Britain was forced to grant independence to Ireland, India rushed for its independence just after WWI, and so on, and so forth. And this revolution itself was to a point marked by the national-liberation struggle, as it was the Life Guards Volhynia Regiment that was the first to rebel against autocracy in the early 1917.
As to the Bolsheviks, at that time they were a minute party, hardly known to anyone else (four thousand members, mostly in exile and emigration). They had no say in overthrowing Tsarism.
Assistance did not stop after Lenin’s government came to power. “You are free to operate large sums, as we are extremely interested in the stability of the Bolsheviks. You have Riesler’s funds at your disposal. If necessary, wire us how much more you need.” (Berlin, May 18, 1918). As usual, von Kuehlmann calls a spade a spade as he addressed the German embassy in Moscow. The Bolsheviks stood fast, and in the fall of 1918 they threw huge sums from the Russian imperial treasury, which they had seized, into revolutionary propaganda in Germany, with the hope to inciting the world revolution.
The situation in Germany was a mirror image of the one in Russia. In early November, 1918, the revolution did break out there. Money, weapons, and qualified professional revolutionaries shipped in from Moscow and played their role. Yet the local communists failed to lead this revolution. Subjective and (more importantly) objective factors worked against them. A totalitarian regime was established in Germany only 15 years later, but this is a different topic.
Meanwhile, in 1921, in the democratic Weimar Republic the renowned social democrat Eduard Bernstein published in his party’s central organ Vorwaerts an article headed “A Shady Story.” In it, he related that as far back as December 1917, he received an affirmative answer from “a certain competent person” to the question of whether Germany had given money to Lenin.
According to his data, the Bolsheviks alone were paid more than 50 million German marks in gold. Later, this sum was officially mentioned during the session of the Reichstags committee on foreign policy. Responding to the accusations of libel from the communist press, Bernstein suggested that they sue him, after which the campaign instantly stopped.
As Germany was in a bad need of friendly relations with Soviet Russia, the discussion of this topic in the press ended abruptly.
Aleksander Kerensky, one of the Bolshevik’s chief political opponents, deduced from his own investigation of the case, that the sums received by the Bolsheviks before and after coming to power totaled 80 million German marks in gold (the equivalent of the present-day hundreds of millions, if not billions, hryvnias).
As a matter of fact, Ulianov-Lenin never even tried to conceal this from his party colleagues. Thus, in November, 1918, at the meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (a Bolshevist quasi-parliament), the Bolshevik leader said: “I am often accused of having carried out our revolution with German money; I do not deny it, but instead, with the Russian money, I’m going to carry out the same revolution in Germany.”
And he tried to do so, throwing away tens of millions of roubles. However, he failed: the German social democrats, unlike their Russian counterparts, saw which way the wind was blowing and managed to arrange for a timely assassination of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. This was followed by the disarmament of the “red guards” and physical extermination of their leaders.
They had no other way out of the situation. Maybe, if Kerensky had mustered his courage and ordered to shoot Smolny together with all of its “red” inhabitants, even the Kaiser’s millions wouldn’t have helped them.
We might as well round off here, should it be not for a piece of information in The New York Times of April, 1921, stating that in 1920 alone, 75 million Swiss franks were sent to Lenin’s account in one of the Swiss banks. According to the newspaper, Trotsky had 11 million dollars and 90 million franks on his accounts, Zinoviev – 80 million franks; the “knight of the revolution,” Dzerzhynsky, had 80 million, while Ganetsky-Fuerstenberg had 60 million franks and 10 million dollars. Lenin, in his secret note to the Cheka leaders Unschlicht and Bokiy of April 24, 1921, demanded that they find the source of the information leak. However, it was never established.
Was this money also meant for the world revolution? Or is it a kind of kickback from the politicians and financiers of those countries where Lenin and Trotsky’s “red horses” were not ordered to go? One can only hypothesize. Even now a considerable proportion of Lenin’s papers is kept top secret.
Ninety years has passed since then, but revolutionary romanticis around the world keep maintaining that the Bolsheviks were passionate revolutionaries with high moral standards, patriots of Russia, and champions of Ukraine’s freedom. Until now there is a monument to Lenin in downtown Kyiv with an inscription that reads that it is only via the union of Russian and Ukrainian workers that a free Ukraine is feasible, while without such a union, our freedom is out of the question.
Until now, on “revolutionary” holidays, people lay flowers at the monument to the man who was paid by the German intelligence. Unfortunately, even now a considerable part of Ukrainian society fail to perceive the huge difference between the leaders of the October revolt and the Ukrainian revolution of 1917 – the difference being that the Ukrainian revolution did not get any sponsorship from abroad.