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Lenin Flees Russia Again

On December 12th, 1907, Lenin fled Russia for a second time.

The 35-year-old Lenin in Finland in 1905
The 35-year-old Lenin in Finland in 1905

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, achieved his overwhelming influence on his native country after fifteen years and more away from it in his thirties and forties. It was abroad, safe from the Tsarist authorities, that he worked out his ideas and the strategy that would make him master of Russia. Born in 1870 in the quiet provincial town of Simbirsk, he came from a prosperous, respectable family of mixed Jewish and Russian origin, who were Christians and members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

His father, who died when the young Vladimir was in his teens, was a government official in the education service. In the following year, 1887, Vladimir's eldest brother Alexander was hanged for his part in a bomb plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander III. It was this event which seems to have set Vladimir on his revolutionary career and millions of Soviet schoolbooks would later show a painting of him saying 'We will follow a different path' as he and his mother grieved together over Alexander's death.

Vladimir went to Kazan University, where he took up Marxism as his different path, made a nuisance of himself in student protests and was expelled. He later got himself to the University of St Petersburg, graduated in law and started in practice in a poor area. The experience left him with a lifelong distaste for lawyers, but he was mainly occupied in revolutionary activity against the Tsarist regime and in 1895 was arrested, held for a over a year and then exiled for three years to Shushenskoe, a village in Siberia, where he hobnobbed with other revolutionaries and spent most of his time hunting, swimming and taking country walks. In 1898 he married Nadezhda Krupskaya and in 1900 was released from exile and began to travel in Russia and the rest of Europe. Enjoying quite a comfortable existence on money from the family estate and donations from sympathizers, he lived for varying lengths of time in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and England.

It was in London in 1903 that Lenin led the Bolshevik ('Majority') faction against the Mensheviks ('Minority') in a split that would destroy the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He played little part in the abortive revolution of 1905, which began in St Petersburg in January. Lenin stayed abroad, did not return to Russia until November and then remained in the background, but the police got on his trail and he and Krupskaya had to go into hiding. They spent most of 1906 and 1907 shuttling between Russia and Finland and at the end of 1907 Lenin fled Russia for the second time, to Stockholm, Berlin and Geneva.

Lenin and Krupskaya were living in Switzerland when the 1917 revolution in Russia and the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II made him realize that he must go back to Russia or risk being left out of developments there. The German government, at war with Russia, decided to send Lenin back home by train through Germany at German expense - like a plague germ in a sealed container, in the famous simile - to help create damaging political unrest in Russia. From Germany Lenin went on to Sweden by ferry. A dinner was held in his honour by Swedish social democrats in the hotel Regina in Stockholm and he gave interviews in the press. He arrived by train at the Finland station in Petrograd in April. His opponents accused him of being a paid German agent, which is exacdy what he was, and after the Bolshevik triumph earnest efforts were made to rewrite the story and erase the evidence of the German payments to him.

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