Krupskaya on Lenin’s return to Russia (1917)

When the February Revolution erupted in Russia and brought tsarism to a rapid close, Vladimir Lenin was in exile in Switzerland. Desperate for a means to return to Russia, he struck up a deal with the German government. The following account of Lenin’s train journey back to Russia in April 1917 comes from the memoirs of his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya:

“From the moment news of the February Revolution came, Ilyich burned with eagerness to go to Russia. England and France would not for the world have allowed the Bolsheviks to pass through to Russia… As there was no legal way, it was necessary to travel illegally – but how? From the moment the news of the revolution came, Ilyich did not sleep, and at night, all sorts of incredible plans were made…

On March 19th, there was a meeting of the Russian political émigré groups in Switzerland… to discuss ways and means of getting back to Russia. Martov presented a plan to obtain permits for immigrants to pass through Germany in exchange for German and Austrian prisoners-of-war interned in Russia. But no-one wanted to go that way, except Lenin, who snatched at this plan.

When news came that the German government would give Lennon and his friend safe passage through Germany, in a sealed train, Lennon wanted to leave at once. “We will take the first train.” The train was due to leave within two hours. We had just these two hours to liquidate our entire household, settle accounts with the landlady, return the books to the library, pack up and so on…

In boarding the train, no questions were asked about the baggage and passports. Ilyich kept entirely to himself, his thoughts were on Russia. En route, the conversation was mainly trivial…

On arrival in Berlin, our train was shunted onto a siding… On March 31st, we arrived in Sweden… A red flag was hung up in the waiting room and a meeting was held… From Sweden, we crossed to Finland in small Finnish sledges. Everything was already familiar and dear to us – the wretched third-class cars, the Russian soldiers. It was terribly good… Our people were huddled against the windows. The station platforms we passed were crowded with soldiers. Usyevich leaned out of the window and shouted, “Long live the world revolution!” The soldiers looked at him, puzzled.

Ilych asked the comrades who sat with us if we would be arrested on our arrival. They smiled. Soon we arrived in Petrograd. The Petrograd masses, workers, soldiers and sailors came to meet their leader… There was a sea of people all around.”