103) Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

Lenin now embarked on a major theoretical study of imperialism which culminated in his great work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. It was written partly in answer to Hilferding’s Finance Capital, published in 1910, a work in which the latter, ignoring the contradictions inherent in capitalism and the inevitability of inter-imperialist conflict, raised the possibility of a universal cartel, a world planned economy under monopoly capitalism and the resolution of the conflict between wage labor and capital, or “organized capitalism”—an early example of the idea of “managed capitalism,” so beloved of reformist leaders in the 1950s and 60s. Kautsky later seized upon Hilferding’s idea of organized capitalism for his theory of ultra-imperialism. Bukharin was struck by this idea which he answered in his book Imperialism and World Economy. Lenin, always on the look-out for young talent, was favorably impressed by Bukharin’s book on imperialism.

These were not the only attempts to revise Marx’s economic theories. Rosa Luxemburg’s Accumulation of Capital, written shortly before the war, posed the idea of the automatic collapse of capitalism, an idea that has since been utilized by revisionists to belittle the role of the subjective factor in carrying out the socialist transformation of society. As always, Lenin’s main task was the education of the cadres. He waged an implacable ideological struggle on two fronts —against opportunism and anarcho-syndicalism. Later on the Stalinists indulged in an unscrupulous attempt to link Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution to the Mensheviks and the “Left” Bolsheviks, Bukharin, Pyatakov, and Bosch! There is absolutely no link between “permanent revolution” and the infantile rejection of democratic demands advocated by the “Lefts.” But it is quite possible that Lenin’s attacks on “permanent revolution” in this period were aimed at this group.

Conscription had a big effect on the working class. Seventeen percent of working class cadres in Petrograd were called up, including almost all the youth. To take their place, a mass of politically untutored layers flooded into the factories, further diluting the class content of the workforce with raw, semi-proletarian elements. The younger, more energetic layers both from town and village were sent to the front. A large number of women and adolescents were drafted into the factories. These new elements—shop assistants, waiters, domestics, innkeepers, porters—brought their class prejudices with them. The factory proletariat was thrown back. The Bolshevik workers had to keep their heads down for a period. Conditions and wages were worsening and “military discipline” imposed in factories. The general political level was reduced in the short term, but the merciless pressure on the workers and the proletarianization of new layers in turn were preparing the way for a new explosion. The Party itself was temporarily disorganized, and only gradually recovered some semblance of order. But the ideas and traditions of Bolshevism were still alive in the factories and trenches.

The fall-off of the movement is reflected in strike statistics:


No. of strikes

No. of strikers


24 (40 x less than June)

24,688 (13 x less than June)













(Source: Istoriya KPSS, vol. 2, 538.)

In the whole period August–December 1914, according to official figures, there were 70 strikes and 37,200 participants in all Russia. In Ivanovo-Voznesensk, one of the main centers of the workers’ struggles, strikes practically ceased. In all these months only one small stoppage was registered. Things were not much better in Petrograd.

104) The Trial of Bolshevik Duma Deputies

The arrest of the Duma deputies caused new problems for the Party. The local branches managed to get a few underground protest leaflets out. But no general movement was possible except small strikes. The Duma trial was preceded by a wave of arrests. There was a massive police presence on the streets of the main cities in order to “soften the working class up” for it. In February, political protest strikes involved 4,630—not a bad result given the extremely difficult conditions, but really a very small number, reflecting a generally depressed mood in a majority of workers.

The deputies’ performance at the trial was uneven. M.K. Muralov confined himself to admitting to being a member of the RSDLP and a deputy, elected by the workers. But G.I. Petrovsky’s speech, in Lenin’s words, “did him honor.” However, Lenin was critical of some aspects of the defense. For example, the defendants denied all personal participation in the illegal party. Kamenev, who as a Central Committee member arrested about the same time as the Duma deputies and put on trial with them, made a declaration which did not display the courage one might have expected from someone in his position. Lenin was dismayed by Kamenev’s conduct. Referring to the trial of the Duma deputies, Trotsky writes:

At the trial, which took place on the 10th of February, the defendants maintained the same line. Kamenev’s declaration that the documents with which he was confronted “decidedly contradict his own views on the current war” was not dictated only by concern for his own safety; essentially, it expressed the negative attitude of the entire Party upper layer toward defeatism. To Lenin’s great indignation, the purely defensist tactics of the defendants extremely weakened the agitational effectiveness of the trial. The legal defense could have proceeded hand in hand with a political offensive. But Kamenev, who was a clever and well-educated politician, was not born to meet extraordinary situations. The attorneys, for their part, did whatever they could. Repudiating the charge of treason, one of them, Pereverzev, prophesied at the trial that the loyalty of the labor deputies to their class will be forever preserved in the memory of future generations; whereas their weaknesses—lack of preparation, dependence on their intellectual advisers, and the like—“all of that will fall away, like an empty shell, together with the libellous charge of treason.”570

Lenin had expected something more. At a moment when all the leaders of the Second International were reneging, he saw the trial as an opportunity for the Bolsheviks to stand out, to give a clear public display of firmness and courage. The trial should have been a rallying point to raise the fighting spirits of the workers in Russia and internationally. But the opportunity was thrown away. Nor did their diplomatic defense tactics help to give them lighter sentences. The accused were sentenced to perpetual exile in Siberia. Despite Lenin’s misgivings, the fate of the Bolshevik deputies helped to raise the authority of the Bolsheviks in the eyes of the masses, who could not understand the finer points of the defense, but saw that their parliamentary leaders were prepared to go to prison for their principles. After the trial, Lenin asserted that the Bolsheviks had four-fifths of the conscious workers in Russia behind them. This was certainly true in 1914, as we have seen. About 40,000 workers used to buy Pravda before the war. Many more would have read it. Despite arrests, imprisonment, and exile, this tradition—a Bolshevik tradition—remained in existence. Even if the organization had been reduced to a minimum expression, it still survived in the hearts and minds of the workers. This was the soil upon which the revolutionary tendency would eventually flourish once again.

But for the present, the situation of the party was grim. The party membership slumped with the outbreak of war. In the underground, the basic Bolshevik unit was the factory cell. The number of workers active in the cells at the time was very small. Because of arrests and mobilization, a relatively high proportion of party members were new, inexperienced people. The Bolshevik Central Committee included Lenin, Zinoviev, Shlyapnikov, who was responsible for work in Russia, and the indispensable Krupskaya as secretary. That was about all! Only in the autumn of 1915 was a Russian Bureau of the CC established. By the autumn of the following year the Bureau was reorganized. The leadership fell to P.A. Zalutsky, V.M. Molotov and Shlyapnikov and remained so until February 1917. Gradually, painfully, the Party was being reorganized in the interior. The most important group was, of course, in Petrograd. It is claimed (in the Istoriya KPSS) that ten District Committees (rayonnye komitety) functioned here, though “not uninterruptedly” (i.e., their existence was tenuous).

But by 1915 the mood was changing, the masses were slowly beginning to lose their fear. By the second half of 1915 there were already sporadic strikes in Moscow against the high cost of food. This changing mood was reflected in a gradual recovery of the party’s fortunes. Membership began to pick up slowly. In November 1914, the Petrograd Party organization had only between 100 and 120 members. But by the spring of 1915, this went up to 500 and to 1,200 by the autumn. By mid-1916 and early 1917, there were 2,000 members in the capital. Also in the outlying areas the Party organizations were beginning to fill out. Apart from workers, there were groups of students, and even soldiers and sailors of the Baltic Fleet. It was the same elsewhere. In Kharkov in the spring of 1915 there were only 15 members. By the autumn, it had risen to 85, and one year later to 120. In Yekaterinoslav, at the end of 1915 there were 200, by November 1916, 300, and by the beginning of 1917, 400. The maintenance of underground party meetings, even when they were reduced to a few people, was the key to future success.

Slowly, the work was beginning to revive. Work was conducted in legal organizations, such as insurance and friendly societies. Even so, these were difficult and dangerous conditions of work. The Istorya claims that the Party had groups in 29 towns and cities and names them as: Petrograd, Moscow, Kharkov, Yekaterinoslav, Kiev, Makeyevka, Samara, Saratov, Ryazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Odessa, Yekaterinodar, Baku, Tiflis, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Tula, Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Tver, Gomel, Vyazma, Revel, Narva, Yuryeva, Irkutsk, Zlatoust, Yekaterinburg, and Orenburg. However, these claims should be treated with caution. Many of these groups will have been mere shells, and their existence problematical. The work was continuously hampered by agents provocateurs and arrests. Many of these organizations were probably not stable or long lasting like the Petrograd committee, which was smashed at least 30 times, although every time it was reconstituted. But, if this estimate is correct, then we must conclude that, at one time or another, party organization existed in this period in at least 200 different towns and cities in Russia.

Underground work in wartime demanded the strictest centralization and conspiratorial methods. The election principle was virtually impossible to retain. Elections were the exception not the rule. Committees were formed by means of co-option: the regional committee (rayonny komitet), formed by members of local factory cells, nominated the members of the local committee (gorodsky’ komitet) which also had the right to co-opt experienced local workers. Some abuses were bound to creep in. But as far as possible the rank and file was kept informed by a combination of meetings and the underground press. The latter, in spite of all the difficulties, played a vital role in keeping the Party’s forces together. Three months after the outbreak of war, a new Bolshevik journal, the Sotsial Demokrat, was launched. In all, between October 1914 to January 1917, 26 issues (numbers 33–58) were produced—an average of one per month—a remarkable achievement in the given conditions.


570 Trotsky, Stalin, 169.

105) Closed Frontiers

Lenin’s work in exile was proceeding frustratingly at a snail’s pace, fraught with difficulties at each step. With meager resources, Lenin struggled to keep the work going with his tiny group of collaborators in exile. Apart from Zinoviev and Krupskaya, there was Inessa Armand, G.L. Shklovsky, and V.M. Kasparov. These made up the “foreign bureau of the Central Committee.” They tried to get the Bolshevik journal Sotsial Demokrat to act as an organizer. 300 issues were distributed in Paris, 100 in London, Stockholm, and New York, 75 in Geneva and Berne, 50 in Zurich and Lausanne. A few copies were sold in Milan and Genoa. But only a small number ever reached Russia. The collection of money occupied a central place in the preoccupations of the exiles. But despite excruciating difficulties, the paper not only continued to appear, but actually managed to reflect the life of the workers’ movement inside Russia. Its columns carried news, reports, resolutions, and leaflets from the underground party. In order to solve the ever-pressing financial difficulties, a fighting fund to aid Sotsial Demokrat was organized. The party was very hard up and the life of the exiles, bitter enough in itself, was made still more unbearable by the lack of contact with the movement in Russia.

If it was difficult to produce regular publications, it was even harder to deliver them to the intended readership. Closed frontiers and associated wartime conditions rendered the maintenance of regular contact with the interior almost impossible. Police vigilance, spies, and provocation bore down on the revolutionaries on all sides, breaking up all the old channels of underground transportation. The center for this activity now moved to Stockholm, and also Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. The Scandinavian Social Democrats helped, although because of the pro-German stance of the leadership, such assistance came mainly from the Lefts, especially the Young Socialists who took an antiwar position, though tinged with pacifism, as in all the Scandinavian Social Democratic parties (“Lay down the weapons!”). The man in charge of the transportation was the veteran worker-Bolshevik Alexander Shlyapnikov, whose memoirs provide an important source for the Party’s activities in this period. Krupskaya, as always, played an invaluable role in organizing with meticulous detail all this work and helping younger comrades understand underground methods of work. Her small team of collaborators, apart from Shlyapnikov, included Kollontai, who had recently broken with the Mensheviks and now embraced the Bolshevik cause with the enthusiasm of a neophyte, Lenin’s two sisters, M.I. Ulyanova, A.I. Ulyanova-Elizarova, L.N. Stahl, and V.M. Kasparov. There were not many others. The fact that two of Lenin’s sisters had to be involved indicates the extreme difficulty in obtaining trustworthy people for this activity.

Lenin continued to have truble with his close collaborators abroad. In August 1915 another Bolshevik journal appeared, Kommunist, edited by Bukharin. But very soon, Bukharin’s ultraleftism soon had Lenin tearing his hair out. In an angry letter to Shlyapnikov, he complained that:

Kommunist has become harmful. It has to be stopped and replaced by a different title: Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata (edited by the editorial board of Sotsial-Demokrat). Only in this way will we avoid squabbling, avoid wavering.

Having made numerous concessions to “the trio”—Bukharin, Pyatakov and Eugenie Bosch—Lenin’s patience had finally run out.

Nik[olai] Iv[anovich] is an economist who studies seriously, and, in this we have always supported him. But he is (1) credulous where gossip is concerned and (2) devilishly unstable in politics. The war pushed him to semi-anarchist ideas. At the conference which adopted the Berne resolutions (the spring of 1915) he produced theses (I have them!) which were the height of stupidity, a disgrace, semi-anarchism. I attacked severely, Yuri and Eug. Bosch listened and remained satisfied that I did not allow any falling away to the left (they declared at the time their complete disagreement with N. Iv. [Bukharin]. Six months passed. Nik. Iv. studies economics. He doesn’t occupy himself with politics. And lo and behold, on the question of self-determination, he serves up the same nonsense. Eug. Bosch and Yuri sign it!!571

The worst problem was isolation, the sense of being cut off from the movement in Russia. The work with the interior was plagued with difficulties and dangers. Only on rare occasions could someone reliable be sent into Russia to gather first-hand information on the state of affairs in the interior. The ever-resourceful Shlyapnikov, champing at the bit in Stockholm, was dogged by problems of all sorts, not just police surveillance and frontier guards, but lack of funds and the demoralization produced by the collapse of the International. At first it was possible to maintain reasonable contacts with Russia by means of businessmen and emigrants returning to answer the call-up. But when this possibility dried up and controls became tighter, with regular searches of travellers at the frontier, things took a serious turn for the worse. Many Russian émigrés, who had previously been prepared to carry illegal material into Russia, were no longer willing to do so, preferring to dedicate themselves to more lucrative smuggling activities. The mood of disorientation and despair in the ranks was expressed in the following comments:

The news of our Paris Bolsheviks going off in the army, the “cosy chats” of the old man of Geneva, Plekhanov, and the situation as a whole also casts a gloomy cloud across our heads.

The disorganization of work in the interior, especially after the arrest of the Duma fraction, expressed itself in a financial crisis. Shlyapnikov found some seafarers who were willing to smuggle in illegal propaganda—for a price. But the money was simply not to be had:

I reported this to the Petersburg Committee and the Duma fraction, but received the sad news that they were not in a position to give the necessary sum of some 300 to 500 rubles a month. It was hard enough for them to send out money for my keep, and, having once sent me 100 rubles, the comrades recommended that I arrange all my own expenses. I could not even begin to think of finding work, as those first months of war had caused great unemployment in Sweden and the plants were operating only a few days per week. No opportunity presented itself of finding resources in the local emigrant community, although there were a lot of speculative racketeers there. Our party’s foreign-based Central Committee was too poor to allocate such a sum for this operation. In order to keep the work going I resorted to loans and sent back news only occasionally.572


571 LCW, To A.G. Shlyapnikov, 3/11/1916, vol. 35, 214–15.

572 A. Shlyapnikov, On the Eve of 1917, 35 and 37–38.

106) German Intrigues

As always in time of war, the activities of the secret services were stepped up. The efforts of the secret service to gain potentially useful recruits for their particular cause was not limited to the official leaders of Labor in the main countries. Every attempt was made to gain points of support through intrigues, bribes, and blackmail. Working on the well-known axiom that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the great powers attempted to encourage rebellions in the enemy’s rear, appealing demagogically to the “rights of nations to self-determination.” Thus, London sent its agent, the adventurer T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), to rouse the Arabs against the Turks, and cynically promised Palestine both to the Jews and the Arabs (with no intention of giving it to either), while Berlin tried to get the Finns to rise against the Russians. In this shady game of intrigue and counter-intrigue, the agents of the imperialists were not averse even to putting out feelers to revolutionaries with a view to entangling them in acts of subversion which would weaken the enemy. For example, the ex-left winger Parvus, a capable man but an adventurer who had gone over to social chauvinism, opened a so-called Institute for the Study of the Social Consequences of the War, in Copenhagen, as a means of luring Russian Revolutionaries into collaborating with the Germans. Out of poverty and demoralization, many fell into the trap.

Throughout the war, the Bolsheviks took great care to maintain themselves aloof from all the attempts of the German imperialists to involve them in intrigues which would have completely compromised the party in the eyes of the world working class. In relation to both the Allied and the German brigands, the position of Lenin was made clear in hundreds of articles and speeches: “A plague on both your houses!” This is a matter of public record. And although the Party, as we have seen, was in desperate need of money at this time, there was never any question of accepting German funds, although they were in fact offered. The position of Lenin on this was clear and unambiguous. While making use of the contradictions between the imperialists, the revolutionaries must not get ensnared with their intrigues or become dependent on them in any way. However, lately, as part of a general campaign to smear and discredit Lenin by all possible means, the enemies of Bolshevism have fished out of the dustbin the slanderous accusation that Lenin was a “German agent.” This monstrous lie was invented by the tsarist secret service to discredit the Bolsheviks, and later repeated and amplified by the Provisional Government to harry and persecute the Bolsheviks in the period of reaction that followed the July Days of 1917. In the recent period it has been revived by unscrupulous “historians” like Volkogonov, who make no attempt to conceal their vitriolic hatred of Lenin, Trotsky, and revolutionaries in general.

In his book on Lenin, Volkogonov dredges up all the old lies about Lenin as a “German agent” that were answered long ago. In addition to the old calumniators, he quotes some new ones, who, on closer inspection, appear to be mere replicators of the old stuff. A “Russian historian,” a certain S.P. Melgunov, is the first authority quoted by Volkogonov. He assures the reader that one must seek “the key to the German gold in the pocket of Parvus (Helfand), who was simultaneously in touch with the socialist world and the German general staff,” and that “this would explain the extraordinarily rapid success of Lenin’s propaganda.” When was this startlingly new and original material written? In 1940, when it appeared in a book called The Bolsheviks’ German Golden Key, published in Paris and part of a rather voluminous literature published by Russian exiles, all of them fanatical opponents of Bolshevism, motivated by spite, hatred, and the spirit of revenge. From such sources one can hardly expect a scientific appraisal of this subject or any other.

But at last Volkogonov arouses our interest when he adds: “Now that I have examined a great number of hitherto unobtainable documents
. . .” Yes, at last we catch a glimpse of these new and exciting sources! And what do they show? Believe it or not, they show that the famous “secret of the revolution,” which has so long been kept hidden . . . “is still far from being cleared up.” (My emphasis.) Either the “secrets” were passed on by word of mouth among a small circle of Bolshevik leaders, or the evidence has been destroyed, and “Lenin knew well how to guard secrets.”573

The mountain has labored, and borne, not even a mouse, but a squeak! But even the squeak of such a diminutive mouse is capable of being magnified a thousandfold and broadcast to the ends of the earth. As has happened in this case, with a little help from Volkogonov’s friends in the mass media, who did not waste any time in assuring everyone that this book contained conclusive proof, based on entirely new sources (hitherto unobtainable!), that Lenin was no more than an agent of the Kaiser (just as Trotsky was later said to be an agent of Hitler).

We are treated to a potted (and not very illuminating) life history of Parvus, who, by 1914, was very rich and in tow to the German general staff. Lenin seems to have met Parvus in Switzerland in 1915. Nothing new here, either, since Shub’s material has been around for a very long time, as has Zeman’s biography of Parvus, from which Volkogonov has taken most of this “new and original” section. In fact, this accusation (made by the Provisional Government during its notorious slander campaign against Lenin and the Bolsheviks in July 1917) was already answered by Lenin himself:

They implicate Parvus, trying hard to establish some sort of connection between him and the Bolsheviks. In reality it was the Bolsheviks who in the Geneva Sotsial-Demokrat called Parvus a renegade, denounced him ruthlessly as a German Plekhanov, and once and for all eliminated all possibility of close relations with social-chauvinists like him. It was the Bolsheviks who at a meeting held in Stockholm jointly with the Swedish Left Socialists categorically refused to admit Parvus in any capacity, even as a guest, let alone speak to him.

Hanyecki was engaged in business as an employee of the firm in which Parvus was a partner. Commercial and financial correspondence was censored, of course, and is quite open to examination. An effort is being made to mix these commercial affairs with politics, although no proof whatsoever is being furnished!!574

When Bukharin raised the question of working with Parvus, Lenin dissuaded him from doing so, although some Mensheviks were working there—a fact which Lenin never utilized, and which is now never mentioned, since the slanderers are only interested in discrediting revolutionaries. In fact, Lenin reserved his sharpest attacks for the likes of Parvus, whom he castigated as a renegade and a traitor in the pages of Sotsial Demokrat, although none of these facts find the least echo in Volkogonov’s book. In 1915, Lenin wrote the following about Parvus in an article significantly entitled At the Uttermost Limit:

He fawns upon Hindenburg, assuring his readers that “the German General Staff has taken a stand for a revolution in Russia,” and publishing servile paeans to this “embodiment of the German people’s soul,” its “mighty revolutionary sentiment.” He promises Germany a painless transition to socialism through an alliance between the conservatives and part of the socialists, and through “bread ration cards.” Like the petty coward he is, he condescendingly semi-approves of the Zimmerwald Conference, pretending not to have noticed in its manifesto the expressions directed against all shades of social-chauvinism, from the Parvus and Plekhanov variety, to that of Kolb and Kautsky.

In all six issues of his little journal there is not a single honest thought or earnest argument or sincere article. It is nothing but a cesspool of German chauvinism covered over with a coarsely painted signboard, which alleges it represents the interests of the Russian Revolution! It is perfectly natural for this cesspool to come in for praise from such opportunists as Kolb and the editors of the Chemnitz Volksstimme.

Mr. Parvus has the effrontery to publicly declare it his “mission” “to serve as an ideological link between the armed German proletariat and the revolutionary Russian proletariat.” It is enough to expose this clownish phrase to the ridicule of the Russian workers.575

Volkogonov refers us triumphantly to a whole series of letters written in code by Lenin and received by him. Since these letters cannot be deciphered, regrettably, we can know nothing of their content. However, on the word of Volkogonov (who also could not know what is in them), we may safely assume them to refer to “German gold,” (whatever else would they refer to?) Unfortunately, though, there was a lot more business that Lenin conducted that had to be kept secret—like all the work of the underground, that is, 90 percent of the party’s work at that time! During its campaign of slander against the Bolsheviks, the Provisional Government referred to a whole series of letters, allegedly from the Bolsheviks, that were either fabricated or deliberately distorted by the German press for propaganda purposes. Undoubtedly, the letters referred to by Volkogonov fall into this category. In dealing with these slanders, and specifically with the “letters in code,” Trotsky remarks:

The testimony of the merchant, Burstein, concerned the trade operations of Hanecky and Kozlovsky between Petrograd and Stockholm. This wartime commerce, which evidently had recourse at times to a code correspondence, had no relation to politics. The Bolshevik Party had no relation to this commerce. Lenin and Trotsky had publicly denounced Parvus, who combined good commerce with bad politics, and in printed words had appealed to the Russian Revolutionists to break off all relations with him.576

Getting more and more desperate, Volkogonov finally appeals to . . .
Kerensky! At which point the wheel has turned full circle, and we are left with the original campaign of lies directed against the Bolsheviks in “the month of the great slander,” as Trotsky called it. A certain Yevgeviya Mavrikevna Sumenson is quoted as yet another “new and original” source. She is said to have confirmed the existence of a special account at the bank of Siberia of “around a million rubles,” of which the quantity of 800,000 is said to have been withdrawn on the eve of the revolution. Who is this Miss Sumenson? A witness at the trials of the Bolsheviks during the witch hunt of July 1917. Where did Volkogonov get the quote? Not from “hitherto unobtainable sources,” but from Melgunov’s book published in Paris in 1940. And so on and so forth . . .

Is it not possible that some of the money distributed by the German general staff through its agents abroad found its way, one way or another, into the accounts of the Bolsheviks? Throughout the war, not only the Germans but the Allies also used their stooges in the labor movement to buy support among left groups in other countries. But to allege that the Germans had bought the Bolsheviks with gold and that there existed an actual bloc between the Bolsheviks and German imperialism is not only monstrous but extremely stupid. It flies in the face of all the known facts about the political conduct of the Bolsheviks both during and after the war. For example, Volkogonov tries to show that German money was channelled to the Bolsheviks via Sweden. The representative of the Bolshevik Party in Sweden was Alexander Shlyapnikov. In his memoirs, he recalls that the German secret service was indeed very active in Sweden, had penetrated the Swedish Social Democracy, and attempted to bribe the Russian Revolutionaries into its service. What attitude did he take?

The answer is given in Shlyapnikov’s memoirs. In October 1914, the Dutch Social Democratic leader Troelstra, who was pro-German, arrived in Stockholm on a mission on behalf of the SPD, that is to say, on behalf of the German general staff. He wanted to stiffen up the pro-German sympathies of Branting and the other Swedish Social Democratic leaders, while pushing the idea that the International Bureau be moved to Amsterdam. The Dutch leader took the opportunity to sound out the Bolsheviks on their attitude to the war. Shlyapnikov gave him his answer in a speech to the congress of the Swedish Social Democrats which he attended.

After denouncing the Allies and exposing the reactionary war aims of Russia, he then turned to Troelstra:

The German socialists’ surprise that we are not rejoicing over their recently announced alliance with their government for a “holy war on Russian tsarism” is nothing but a hypocritical cover for their own betrayal of the International and socialism from the eyes of the masses.

We have always been glad to accept a helping hand from comrades in toil and ideas in our arduous struggle against tsarism but we have never demanded nor expected assistance to the Russian Revolution from the part of German feudalism and Wilhelm II, the Russian tsar’s reactionary counsellor and friend.

We do not renounce our struggle against Russian tsarism but in that struggle we are counting only upon our own forces.

We would ask the German Social Democrats not to send Wilhelm II with his 420-millimeter gun to our aid but to try to put this war material to use against their own feudal lords just as we hope to use ours against Russian tsarism.

The Finns, our brothers in toil, have also given a negative reply to all the ploys of Germany’s bellicose capitalism and take the same standpoint.

The revolutionary proletariat of Russia, along with all the oppressed nationalities, hope to emerge victorious without doing deals with any government whatsoever.577

The attack on the German Social Democracy launched by Shlyapnikov (whose name figured in the minutes as A. Belenin for reasons of security) provoked the indignation of the Swedish leader Branting, and sparked a conflict between the right and left wings of the party:

Branting takes the floor on a question over which he considers it essential to take a decision. He had just familiarized himself with the text of a greeting, originating from one of the Russian parties, where it speaks of a betrayal by the German party. The speaker points out that it does not befit the congress to express condemnation directed at other parties and considers it necessary that a motion of regret be formally moved with regard to the paragraph inserted in the greetings.

Höglund (Stockholm) considers it improper for the congress to adopt such a resolution because within our own party there are also comrades who regard the Germans’ behavior as a betrayal. He moves that congress does not pass judgment but contents itself with entering Branting’s statement in the minutes.

S. Vinberg (Stockholm) considers that we should state merely that the judgment expressed remains the responsibility of the Russians.

Branting repeats his demand and asserts that otherwise the misunderstanding will arise that delegates to congress are in sympathy with the aforementioned judgment.

In the end the congress defeated Vinberg’s motion and passed Branting’s but only by a narrow margin—54 votes to 50. This situation was eventually to be duplicated in all the parties of the Second International, paving the way for massive splits and the formation of a new International. But that still lay five years in the future, after the most terrible tribulations.

Far from enjoying access to unlimited funds in the form of “German gold,” the Bolsheviks were afflicted by constant financial difficulties. The lack of funds is a constant theme in Shlyapnikov’s memoirs:

I set about reinforcing the working group of Bolsheviks in Stockholm and training several proletarians in the conspiratorial work of smuggling literature, etc. The Petersburgers had displayed no initiative in organizing communications. My activity in this direction ran into obstacles for lack of funds. Smuggling could be managed at great expense, but I had no money and not a hope of obtaining any. We had to improvise. This was far from satisfactory, especially when with some 500 rubles a month I could have showered our working-class organizations in Russia with literature and maintained a regular monthly contact with every corner of the country. But such a trifling sum could not be managed, so there matters rested.

Had the Bolsheviks been prepared to accept money from the Germans, they would not have been in such desperate financial straits during the war. But to have accepted aid from such a source would have been the kiss of death. Shlyapnikov recalls the difficulties they faced:

There were no permanent properly established links with Russia. We had to use the good offices of passing emigrants, and also Finnish comrades, for transporting the precious funds. Various commercial and manufacturing firms were running contraband traffic in both goods and personnel. Heading some of these establishments were Russian engineers glorying in their former Social Democracy, but these gentlemen were afraid of losing their cozy niches and did not wish to lift so much as a finger in the business of aid for revolutionary work in Russia.578


573 Dimitri Volkogonov, Le Vrai Lénine, 130.

574 LCW, Dreyfusiad, vol. 25, 167.

575 LCW, At the Uttermost Limit, vol. 21, 421–42.

576 Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, 599–600.

577 Shlyapnikov, On the Eve of 1917, 40–41.

578 Ibid., 44, 51, and 47.