What was Hitler's relationship with Lenin?

Russian revolution

Gerd Koenen

To person

is a doctor of history and journalist. His work "The Color Red. Origins and History of Communism" will be published in September 2017.
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The role that the German Reich played in the conquest of power by the Bolsheviks in October 1917 and in the rise of the USSR to a new type of world power of its own can hardly be overestimated, but easily underestimated. Hitler's "unfaithful attack" (as the then Soviet head of government Vyacheslav Molotov said on the radio) in June 1941 has in many ways obscured how it got to this point. Because this existential clash actually resulted from a mutual fixation and dependency, which one could date back to the beginnings of a German-Bolshevik cooperation in autumn 1915. [1]

Strategic collaboration

From its inception, Lenin's party has been the group most strongly oriented towards Germany in the spectrum of parties in the tsarist empire. This was true not only for the political-ideological orientation towards Marxism as a "scientific socialism" of German characteristics. For a considerable part of the Bolshevik founding cadre, the German technical-industrial organizational culture also served as a model for a thoroughgoing modernization of their own country. The other Russian socialists, the Menshevik Social Democrats or the Social Revolutionary Party, on the other hand, were more oriented towards Anglo-Saxon or French models.

The fact that the German majority Social Democrats, as the strongest party of the Socialist International, against all oaths when war broke out in the summer of 1914, opted for war credits and mass mobilizations in their country, as did the majority of the Russian, French and English socialists, did nothing to change Lenin's attitude . His policy of "revolutionary defeatism", that is, the active advocacy of "the defeat of the tsarist monarchy, the most reactionary and barbaric government" [2] among all belligerents, inevitably brought him into a factual community of interests with the German world war strategy in which "revolutionization "of the Russian multi-ethnic empire played a more central role, the more the German armies ran into trench warfare. Only then did Lenin and his mini-party, which had melted down to a few thousand followers, have the real possibility of following his central slogans, "turning the world war into a civil war" and "turning Russia off its hinges" - as he actually succeeded in the revolutionary year 1917.

For the Berlin Reich and Army Command, the active collaboration with various Russian revolutionaries that began in 1915 was just one action among many, but if successful, it was one that opened up the broadest prospects: "Victory and first place in the world as a prize is ours, if we succeed in revolutionizing Russia in time and thereby breaking the coalition [of the opposing powers], "wrote the ambassador in Copenhagen, Ulrich Graf Brockdorff-Rantzau, who had arranged these contacts, in a memorandum to Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann in December 1915 Hollweg. [3]

That the leader of the Bolsheviks finally agreed to the various, discreet initiations, is not surprising, and essentially one does not have to rely on guesswork. One might rather wonder how sensationally fluffy people have whispered and oracles about the "German gold" that is said to have formed the glue for the "devil's pact" [4] that led the Bolsheviks to get Lenin through his exile in Switzerland to Petrograd in the "sealed train" in April 1917 only opened the way to power. Conversely, however, one can also be amazed at the pious shyness with which a large part of serious historiography repeatedly relegated and banished this highly significant collusion between the German Reich leadership and Lenin's exile organization, which is extremely important for the history of the twentieth century and its basic features are clearly verifiable.

This secret consent materialized less in the money transfers and other assistance, but above all in the creation of a political line of action and the creation of a power constellation that would give Germany a real chance of victory in the World War and would carry the Bolsheviks to power or keep them there - an interplay that took on very real shape in 1917/18, had a decisive influence on the global political situation in the interwar period between 1919 and 1933 and did not end even with the epochal clash of 1941.

Lenin set this course in the autumn of 1915 at a moment when his ties to Russia had largely been severed and he found himself thrown back on his tiny house in Zurich with his wife, mother-in-law and a handful of helpers. The notebook of his wife Nadezhda Krupskaja, who formed his personal secretariat, contained just twenty operational contact addresses in Russia in 1915/16, including those of his two sisters in Petrograd. [5]

But even among the most radical European opponents of the war - who, Trotsky noted, fit into four fiakers (horse-drawn carriages) at the Zimmerwald conference in early September 1915 - Lenin found himself almost completely isolated. Even the handful of his closest followers could not follow his furious polemics against the "social pacifists" who advocated an end to the world war "without annexations and contributions", and his vision of transforming the world war into a pan-European civil war. In fact, Lenin was already shifting all the traditional principles and perspectives of socialism with a Marxist character when he wrote in 1916: "Whoever" expects a 'pure' social revolution will never experience it. "Besides the struggles of factory workers, especially in the centers of the armaments industries, are to be expected as a consequence of the world war: global uprisings of oppressed nations and nationalities; attacks by semi-proletarian peasant masses against landowners and the church; soldiers mutinies against all powers; as well as rebellions of the petty-bourgeois classes with all their "reactionary fantasies", such as those of Russia the anti-Semitic pogromists of the "Black Hundreds" were represented in the West by the emerging, initially nameless "fascist" movements. [6]

The Bolsheviks, it meant, had to be the ones who would be willing to ride the tiger of all the "dark", anarchic, perhaps even reactionary passions of the masses, even to spur them on to destroy the old world, which was just tearing itself apart, to finally lay it in ruins and in the midst of this tumult to take power in its own name and following its historical mission.