(p. 15) With all the inevitable attention on the Bolshevik takeover in October 1917, when Lenin and Leon Trotsky seized power from the ill-fated provisional government, the extraordinary events of February and March should not be forgotten. It was then that unexpected riots over lack of food and fuel by thousands of people in the imperial capital of Petrograd and the ensuing mutiny by garrison troops compelled Czar Nicholas II to abdicate, ending 300 years of Romanov rule and handing political authority to a group of high-minded liberal figures. “Russia became the freest country in the world,” Merridale writes, “as the new government granted an amnesty for political prisoners, abolished the death penalty and dissolved what was left of the detested secret police.” (It also abolished the infamous Pale of Settlement, which had required the czar’s Jewish subjects to live within a defined area of the country; they were now made equal before the law.)
The provisional government inherited power from a discredited autocracy that had resisted any sensible move to establish a constitutional monarchy. Leaders like Alexander Kerensky, Paul Miliukov and Georgy Lvov tried in vain to establish a stable government and withstand the appeal of extreme forces. But the Romanov collapse was so sudden and so thorough that it left no credible institutions capable of governing effectively, let alone in the midst of widespread social turmoil, an imploding economy and the devastations of World War I.
. . .
. . . it was Lenin himself who made it clear that the Bolsheviks would reject democratic values. He “had not traveled back to join a coalition,” Merridale writes, but to undermine the provisional government and establish a dictatorship in the name of the proletariat. It was Lenin who instituted severe censorship, established one-party rule and resorted to terror against his political enemies. Stalin took these measures to further extremes for his own sinister purposes. Merridale is right to recall Winston Churchill’s famous observation about Lenin’s return. The Germans, Churchill wrote, “turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia.”
For the full review, see:
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 9, 2017, and has the title “Lenin’s Return From Exile Put Russia on the Fast Track to Revolution.”)
The book under review is:
Merridale, Catherine. Lenin on the Train. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017.