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?

EDIT: Here's the transcript of "The World Wars" episode dealing with Germany's "Secrete Weapon"

[BEGIN TRANSCRIPT] [Narrator] Germany devises a plan to eliminate the Russian threat once and for all. The Germans load a secrete weapon unto a heavily guarded train headed for Russia. It's a weapon that promises to destroy their enemies from the inside out. [Dramatization showing a train station with the caption "St. Petersburg, Russia"] That weapon is Vladimir Lenin. Lenin is the leader of Russia's communist revolutionaries, hell bent on toppling the Russian Czar. For the past ten years he's been in exile in Switzerland ... until Germany sends him home on a train along with over ten million dollars to fund his revolution.

[a Historian speaks] "The Germans decided that they would take this enormous gamble and bring Lenin back to Russia to bring about a Revolution to get Russia out of the war. That's about as radical a step as you can take" [Quote with caption: Robert Gellately. Historian, Florida State University]

[Narrator] When Lenin gets to Moscow, he's greeted by an old friend. Six times he's been exiled to Siberia and six times he's escaped. His name is Joseph Stalin.

"Comrade" [Dramatization of Joseph Stalin speaking to Lenin] "Comrade" [Lenin replies back]

[Narrator] Reunited, the two play right into Germany's plan as they begin to plot an armed rebellion. Over the next few months, Lenin and Stalin recruit a massive workers militia using the ten million dollars from the German government. They quietly amass a stockpile of weapons until they are ready to make their move.

"I've arranged to take the train stations and the telephone communications." [Dramatization of Joseph Stalin speaking to Lenin]

"And the palace guard?" [Lenin questions Stalin]

"Many of our sources say they are sympathetic to our cause." [Stalin replies back]

"Our training has been perfect." [Lenin says]

[Narrator] The communists storm the winter palace. The Soviet Union will soon rise to power.

"This is just the beginning comrades." [Dramatization of Stalin speaking to Lenin at the conquered palace]

[Narrator] Just days later Lenin signs a decree that takes Russia out of the war. The German plan works ... bringing them one step closer to victory.

[Commercial Break]

[Narrator] Europe is at war and in a bold move the central powers have ended the fighting on the Eastern Front sending exiled revolutionary Vladimir Lenin back to Russia where he seized control of the country and took the Russian army out of the fight. Germany can turn it's attention to the other allies... [end of the discussion regarding Lenin] [END TRANSCRIPT]

  • 3
    @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? Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 20:15
  • 5
    Upvoting because I don't want someone downvoted for being skeptical of something said on the "History" Channel.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 23:15
  • 2
    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.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 10:42
  • 1
    @MarkC.Wallace If I do too much research, I will have answered my own question and I doubt that I would share it with you all. If I can't find an answer, its possible no one else will either. I think there are some historical events that are known to some, but not many, and that these are very appropriate for this site. Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 12:21
  • 3
    @BruceJames this approach is borderline insulting. "Do my work for me, or I'll do it myself and won't share it with you" WAT
    – o0'.
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 8:44

3 Answers 3


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. In 1917 US Dollars, 50 million marks would mean $9,041,591 — adjusting for inflation this equals about $172,910,538 in 2017 US 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.

  • 3
    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
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 17:30
  • 3
    @fdb very true, which is why I qualified the sentence to focus on ending Russian involvement in WWI.
    – ihtkwot
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 17:35
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 17:44
  • 5
    @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.
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 17:57
  • 5
    "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." - This directly undermines your point: if Lenin saw Germany as the central linchpin to an eventual [world] revolution, then he saw a revolution in Germany, not the Kaiser's government, as that central linchpin. Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 13:00

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 sent Lenin to Russia.

Lenin at this time believed in World / Permanent 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 Bourgeoisie 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 Russia make it clear that he would abolish the German monarchy.
  2. Were they concerned about it?
    The Germans also supported various other revolutionary groups; their 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 government 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 revolutionaries 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 by 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.


It also needs to be seriously taken into consideration the fact that those pushing for the use of the Bolsheviks within the Kaiser's command were, in part, communists themselves. This was an internal plot hatched by those sympathetic to the Bolsheviks and is actually one of the main reasons Hitler grew to hate the Jews. The man REALLY behind using Lenin was a Jew who influenced the German high command named Israel Gelfand. He was controlled by Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau.

As for Lenin being a Germanophile or whatever, that is nonsense. It is also nonsense to suggest that the Germans did not know that a Bolshevik Russia would be a threat. After all it was Karl Marx who stated WAY back in the 1840's that Germany was to be their first target! How would putting a Communist regime in Russia NOT be a threat. What was actually happening was that the Kaiser was being told that while Lenin was a threat to the stability of Russia, he would likely never be able to seize power. They were wrong and the world paid for their desperate stupidity.

  • 4
    This needs some supporting references.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Apr 18, 2020 at 20:14

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.