The Epoch-making Train: Lenin’s Return to Russia

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin

By Vejas Liulevicius Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

For decades, communism was just a theoretical discipline with no real-world manifestations. It was only after the rise of a communist government to power in Russia that the world started to see this school of thought in action. How did communism evolve from Marx to Lenin? And, how did Lenin succeed in making this vision come true? It is interesting to know that everything hinged on a certain train ride.

Front view cabin of the old Soviet train. Locomotive Front. Revolutionary train, Five pointed star, Profile of Stalin and Lenin
Vladimir Lenin realized a manifestation of communism. (Image: Hunter82/Shutterstock)

Lenin Returns from Exile

Let us go back in history to Germany in the heat of the First World War, April 1917. A seemingly ordinary train with otherwise insignificant passengers is going through the German cities all the way from the Swiss border to its destination – Petrograd in Russia. Very few would have guessed the train is carrying a history-making passenger who will change the course of history in major parts of the world for several decades to come.

This iconic locomotive of history is taking Vladimir Lenin to Russia on his way to shattering the foundations of socialism, made possible by the First World War. He has spent the past ten years in exile and now on this train, strictly guarded by German soldiers, he is headed to establish his revolutionary government. Lenin and his revolutionary comrades are traveling with special privileges, exempting them from any passport checks or wagon searches.

Learn more about the making of Lenin.

Why Was Lenin released by the German Government?

Lenin was a revolutionary Marxist who had been arrested and exiled for his activities against the Tsarist Government. But why did the German officials agree to give the passengers of this train such privileges? After all, Lenin was an outlaw who was deemed so dangerous to be exiled to another country. They had good reasons for this decision. They thought by allowing Lenin to return to Russia along with his revolutionary forces and conduct the revolution, they would be easing their way toward victory in the war by erasing Russia from the face of the war. After all, the Tsarist Russian Empire would be too busy tackling the revolutionary forces, and regardless of the victor, the country would not take an active role in the world war. This was a win-win situation as the revolutionaries were finally able to provoke the upheaval in the Tsarist Empire facilitated by the global war. 

This is a transcript from the video series The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

What happened on Lenin’s Ride Back Home?

Anyone having the slightest interest in history would yearn to know what was happening on that train ride. Were Lenin and his comrades celebrating their imminent victory? Did they assume their triumph a destined outcome or did they fear being arrested upon arrival in Russia? Or were they contemplating the prospects of seeing the results of hardships in exile?

Vladimir Lenin at his desk.
Vladimir Lenin set strict rules for the train ride, to avoid possible problems. (Image: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

Actually none of these was happening. Lenin required his comrades to be quiet and avoid making noise in the compartments. He even set rules on how they could take turns using the toilet for cigarette breaks. More importantly, he stayed in his exclusive compartment and spent his time reading and thinking about and working on his plans of revolution.

Lenin Gets Ready to Take Action

In those solitary moments, Lenin had chosen not to relish the vision of his victory and instead to continue working and planning to help the revolution move forward. This committed revolutionary was determined to overturn one of the largest empires in the world. He wanted to use every chance to work on realizing his dream and now he was approaching the momentous event that shattered the foundations of the system. After a long journey across Europe, he finally arrived in Petrograd and without sparing any time, he got ready to take action.

A Ripple Effect in History

This fateful train trip not only changed the history of the largest country in the world but also created a ripple effect around the world. It wreaked havoc on foundations of many socialist governments and created a new world order the remnants of which are still felt in many parts of the world. Had it not been for this train ride, the Bolsheviks probably would not have been able to seize power in Russia.

Learn more about Marxism after Marx.

The ripple effect that started from Stalin’s rise to power was followed by the establishment of the Soviet Union in Russia, the emergence of politicians like Mussolini and Hitler in Italy, and Germany purporting to eliminate the threat of communism. They initiated the Second World War, which in turn led to the cold war as well as the spread of communism in Eastern Asia, the erection of Berlin Wall, and even the Vietnam War. All of these were in one way or another the outcomes of that train ride.

Large communist flag floating in the wind with a blue sky background
Even though Lenin is gone, his manifestation of communism lives to date in many countries. (Image: All themes/Shutterstock)

Today, the most remarkable manifestations of communism like the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union have collapsed. But some parts of the world are still ruled by the communist system of organization. This is because Lenin brought such big changes in the history that were not limited to his own country and had consequences for many other nations across the world.

Common Questions about Lenin’s Return to Russia

Q: Which country helped Lenin return to Russia?

The country that helped Lenin return to Russia was Germany. The German Government made sure that Lenin would return to his county safely in a perfectly guarded wagon. The train was not to be inspected by the police throughout the journey.

Q: What did Lenin do for Russia?

After Lenin returned to Russia, he overthrew the Tsarist Empire in the 1917 revolution and established the first communist government ever. He changed the lives of millions of people not only in Russia but also around the world.

Q: What secret weapon did Germany send to Russia?

As far as we know, Germany did not send weapons to Russia but they did facilitate Lenin’s return to Russia. They though the revolution in Russia would take the country out of the First World War.

Q: Did Germany send Lenin back to Russia?

Yes. The Germans allowed Lenin to travel back to Russia on a train from the Swiss border to Petrograd. They ensured the journey took place in complete security.

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