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A recent documentary, The World Wars, on the History Channel suggested, strongly, that the Imperial German government secretly arranged safe-passage for Vladimir Lenin to return to Moscow from Switzerland in 1917. Moreover, the Germans gave him financing through 1918 with the hope that Lenin would start a revolution that would cause Russia to withdraw its war with Germany during World War I.

If true, who came up with the idea and was there any consideration that a communist Russia could eventually be a threat to Germany?

How much did the arrangement cost the Germans, money-wise?

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Fails the preliminary research test - google search reveals Churchill said so, wikipedia. Suggest you refine the question. –  Mark C. Wallace Jul 22 at 17:01
    
Finance is available at HistoryForum –  Mark C. Wallace Jul 22 at 17:02
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@MarkC.Wallace Just because Churchill said that, doesn't mean its so. How would he have had direct knowledge of that, especially since, I believe, in 1917 he had been relieved of his duties on the cabinet and became an ordinary soldier? –  Bruce James Jul 22 at 20:15
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Upvoting because I don't want someone downvoted for being skeptical of something said on the "History" Channel. –  Andrew Grimm Jul 22 at 23:15
    
1) Churchill wrote that in 1957, not 1917. (2) I applaud skepticism of the History Channel, but I expect questions to demonstrate preliminary research. In my opinion, if I submit the search to google, and the answer is on the first page of results, then the question is borderline trivial. –  Mark C. Wallace Jul 23 at 10:42

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

A Russian revolution caused by the Bolsheviks was most definitely the goal of the Germans when they allowed Lenin to pass through their lands. Germany wished to undermine, or end, the Russian war effort and sending Lenin back was done for that purpose.

If true, who came up with the idea and was there any consideration that a communist Russia could eventually be a threat to Germany?

The historian Richard Pipes writes in his book The Russian Revolution that based on disclosed German papers made available after WWII the German Foreign Secretary at the time of Lenin's passage Richard von Kühlmann was either the person that came up with the idea, or at the bare minimum signed off on the idea of letting Lenin pass through German lands to return to Russia. Lenin was even decried as a "German agent" when he finally returned.

As to whether there was any consideration of a future threat from a communist Russia, the answer seems to be no for two reasons. The first reason is that Germany was primarily concerned with the demands of World War I. Surviving the war was paramount. The second reason is that, according to former professor Albert L. Weeks, Lenin was a Germanophile. Weeks argues that Lenin viewed Germany as the central linchpin to an eventual proletarian revolution. Weeks further discusses the close relations enjoyed between the two nations after World War I, and how this relationship extended back into the 19th century. The relationship still exists today, see e.g. pipelines, or former German politicians heading Russian companies.

How much did the arrangement cost the Germans, money-wise?

According to Pipes, relying on numbers from Eduard Bernstein, the German government sent "more than 50 million deutsche marks in gold" from 1917 to 1918 to help the Bolsheviks establish and hold power. I have no idea what that converts to in today's dollars. The investment was substantial, and at least with respect to achieving the goal of ending Russian involvement in World War I, the investment paid off.

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To your last sentence: Given the fact that Germany lost the war I would not say that the investment paid off. And even less so when the Soviet Union went on to defeat and dismantle Germany in the Second World War. –  fdb Jul 22 at 17:30
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@fdb very true, which is why I qualified the sentence to focus on ending Russian involvement in WWI. –  ihtkwot Jul 22 at 17:35
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I do not question the veracity of Ihtwot's contribution, but I wonder if anyone has actually investigated this question from a disinterested perspective (I mean: not someone like Pipes). Soviet historians always staunchly rejected the story of the "sealed railway carriage" carrying Lenin and his friends across Germany. But of course, they would. –  fdb Jul 22 at 17:44
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@fdb - If indeed the facts of this answer are correct, it would be tough to seriously argue that it didn't "pay off", as it removed an entire front from the war, freeing up 50 divisions and temporarily at least giving the Germans a 3-2 advantage on the Western front (until the US could get there in numbers). Sadly for them, that wasn't enough to win, but this at least gave them a chance. –  T.E.D. Jul 22 at 17:57
    
Thanks for the good answer. As much as the decision to send Lenin to Moscow might have helped Germany's war effort, their attempt to involve Mexico in the war more than erased any gain, IMHO. –  Bruce James Jul 22 at 20:04

I'll just try to put some further tidbits into the three questions.

"Lenins Rückkehr nach Russland 1917: Die deutschen Akten" has from Page 39 on a telegram conversation between the German ambassador in Bern von Romberg and the Auswärtige Amt (Foreign Bureau). It starts with

von Romberg 7th September 1914: Russian, who seems to have contact with russian revolutionaries, ... whether Germany, if Russia because of internal turmoil initiates peace treaties would accept those and let russian revolutionaries to their own fate

He is identified as Lenin in the next message.

That is the earliest planning stage I was able to find.

From the moment he arrived in Russia, his progress in Russia was watched over by the Kaisserreich. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:%D0%94%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5_%D0%B2_%D0%91%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BD.jpg states

Lenin's entry to Russia successful. He is working completely according to our wishes.

So it is absolutely clear that the Germans purposefully send Lenin to Russia.

Lenin at this time believed in World/Permament Revolution - which obviously would also overthrow the German Kaiserreich. Marx and Engels thought that the socialist revolution would break out firstly in Germany or the UK - simply because those were the most capitalistic and thus had the most oppressed workers. Russia wasn't a capitalistic nation and thus from a classical Marxist POV unfit for Revolution.
Lenin hoped that by setting an example of a successful overthrow of the Bourgouise in one country he could spark the revolutions in Germany and the UK.
Even shortly before his death he created the Third International to further the cause of international socialism.

Now the questions is whether

  1. Were the German (and Swedish, ...) supporters of Lenin aware of his views?
    There can be no doubt they weren't - Lenin published enough pamphlets and books stating them throughout his life - even enough before the train ride to make it clear that he would abolish the German monarchy.
  2. Were they concerned about it?
    The Germans also supported various other revolutionary groups; There goal wasn't to make Lenin succeed but to incite turmoil to finish off the Russian Czar or at least get him to sign a peace treaty. I'm not aware of any risk-assessment on the German side or how likely they viewed Lenin to succeed. The first goverment coming after the Czar wasn't Lenin Bolsheviks but instead a provisional government headed by Kerenski. However this goverment still didn't sign any peace treaty.
    The german funds kept flowing and were used e.g. to build up Prawda; A few months later the October-revolution did finally bring Lenin to power. Was this new government a threat to Germany? Was all this even foreseeable?
    I don't know that.

A Spiegel article from 2007 gives an exhaustive summary about the money connections http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/spiegelspecialgeschichte/d-54841257.html (Your wording implies that you care about the costs of the train ride itself - I didn't research that)

I'll just translate some important parts:

For a period of 4 years Berlin supported the Bolsheviks and other revolutinaires in Russia with Money, Ammunition and weapons and thus supported the end of the Czar-monarchy. The Auswärtige Amt alone spend at least 26 Million Mark with a current value of about 75 Million Euro until the end of 1917

At the time this article was published that was approximately 101,835,000 US$. The Russian Revolution Richard Pipes on page 411 claims (on basis of Bernstein) that it was more than 50 million marks in Gold.

However there still are some open questions most importantly about the extend of german support for the Bolsheviks. The Auswärtige Amt destroyed bills for finished out-going transactions after an accounting check.

In accordance with the Diplomats he (Helphands) founded an export-company ... Lenins confidant Fürstenberg, ... became chief executive officer.

Fürstenberg later became Head of the Sowjet Nationalbank.

Please note that there is also dissent about this: "The Myth of German Money during the First World War" by Alfred Erich Senn. I was unable to find out exactly what claims he makes.

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