Canada Slim and the Sealed Train

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 November 2017

Three thoughts come to my mind when associated with the words “sealed train”:

  1. Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, when Lenin boarded a sealed train in Zürich bound for Petrograd (today´s St. Petersburg), which Winston Churchill described: “The Germans transported Lenin in a sealed train like a plague bacillus from Switzerland into Russia.”
  2. The dark days of World War II when Jews and other “undesirables” were herded into sealed train boxcars bound for concentration camps like Auschwitz
  3. My own adventures in America where I rode empty boxcars in Alabama and was threatened to be shot for trying to sleep under one in Maine

Thoughts #2 and #3 will be left for future posts….

 

Zürich, Switzerland, 2 March 1917

The news of the February Revolution came as just as much as a surprise to Lenin as to everyone else in Europe.

The outbreak of the February Revolution found V.I. Lenin in Zürich, where he and his wife Krupskaia had lived, in a single-room apartment in Spiegelgasse across the street from a sausage factory, since February 1916.

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

(See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead, ….and the Zimmerwald Movement, ….and the Forces of Darkness, ….and the Dawn of a Revolution, ….and the Bloodstained Ground, ….and the High Road to Anarchy, ….and the Birth of a Nation, ….and the Coming of the Fall, ….and the Undiscovered Country of this blog for background on how Lenin came to be living in Switzerland and the events in Switzerland and Russia that lead to today´s story….)

The Polish revolutionary Bronsky first brought Lenin the news of insurrection in Petrograd, stopping by Lenin´s Spiegelgasse flat as Lenin and his wife were leaving for the library.

Above: The Lenins lived on the 2nd floor here at Spiegelgasse 14, Zürich

The effect had been like an electric current.

Lenin paced and shouted and punched the air.

“Staggering! Such a surprise! We must go home.  It´s so incredibly unexpected.”

But the only journey he could make in the short term was down the steep lane to the shore of the Zürichsee, where there were kiosks with a good range of the latest Swiss and foreign newspapers.

He read about it in the Zürich papers, but this is not to say that he was unprepared to take advantage of it.

Lenin had been quietly receiving subsidies from the German government since 1916, when the socialist agent Parvus had first advised Berlin to give Lenin and his Bolsheviks financial support.

(Lenin´s apologists later made much ado out of the agonies Lenin supposedly went through before “allowing” the Germans to send him back to Russia.)

Before the news of the Revolution broke, Lenin´s wife had likened him to the white wolf they had once seen in the London Zoo, the one creature among the tigers and the bears that never grew accustomed to its confinement.

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Above: An Arctic wolf

But now his frustration was intolerable.

“It´s simply shit!”, Lenin spluttered after reading a report of recent speeches in the Soviet.

“I repeat: shit!”

Whenever he picked up a pen that March, he might as well have drawn a pin from a grenade.

The news from Petrograd had shaken the entire Russian community in Switzerland.

Flag of Russia

Above: The flag of Russia

Russia had become the freest country in the world as the new government granted an amnesty for political prisoners, abolished the death penalty and dissolved what was left of the Tsar´s secret police.

The Russian consulate in Davos held a reception to greet the new age of liberty and many of the small foundations that supported refugees began to talk of immediate repatriation.

There were 7,000 Russian nationals in Switzerland, and their welcome was wearing thin, but there still was no easy way to get back home.

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Above: The flag of Switzerland

The newspapers followed the drama of the Revolution day by day, but the trouble was that Lenin remained the comrade who was watching “from afar”.

“You can imagine what torture it is for all of us to be stuck here at a time like this.  We have to go by some means, even if it is through Hell.”

(Lenin´s letter to Yakov Fürstenberg, 11 March 1917.)

There was only one option.

The Swiss exiles would have to travel across Germany to the Baltic coast and from there to Sweden, Finland and home to Russia.

Flag

Above: The flag of Germany (1871 – 1918)

The German government was convinced that the financing of extreme elements would hasten Russia´s disintegration and end their war on the eastern front.

Two weeks passed since the abdication of the Tsar.

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Above: Nicholas II (1868 – 1918), Tsar of Russia (1894 – 1917)

Conditions were agreed upon between Lenin and the German government:

His train carriage would have the status of an extra-territorial entity.

Only Swiss socialist Fritz Platten would have contact between the Russian passengers and their German guards.

No one would enter the exiles´ carriage without permission.

As far as possible, the carriage was to travel without stops.

No passenger could be ordered to leave.

There would be no control of passports and no discrimination against potential passengers on the grounds of their political views.

At the last moment, permission was secured for the group to bring its own food.

News of Lenin´s negotiations spread through Zürich´s cafés within hours.

Irish author James Joyce, who heard the story over a drink, thought that the proposed safe passage was proof that the Germans “must be pretty desperate”.

Portrait of James Joyce

Above: James Joyce (1882 – 1941)

French novelist Romain Rolland dismissed Lenin and his aspiring fellow passengers as nothing more than instruments of Europe´s enemy.

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Above: Romain Rolland (1866 – 1944)

The 8th of April 1917 was Easter Sunday in Switzerland, and the authorities hoped to have the Russians packed on their train before the holiday began.

Instead, that weekend was the most frantic of all.

To make the whole business more difficult, a chorus of abuse accompanied the travellers´ every move.

With plenty of time on their hands, emigrés who were still waiting for a formal invitation from Russia´s Provisional Government joined forces with centre-left Swiss in calling Lenin a traitor.

For the Germans, it was important that the military should approve the precise route from the Swiss border.

Russian-speaking German guards were to be discreetly travelling inside the carriage “for security”.

“The émigrés expect to encounter extreme difficulties, even legal persecution, from the Russian government because of travel through enemy territory.  It is therefore essential that they be able to guarantee not to have spoken with any German in Germany.”

(Gisbert von Romberg, Bern consulate, cable to Berlin, 9 April 1917)

 

Zürich, Switzerland, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

The travellers gathered in the Zähringerhof, the hotel on the square outside Zürich´s classical railway station.

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(Today it is called the Schweizerhof.)

Thirty-two adults were set to travel.

The last thing to be done before leaving Zürich was to eat lunch, a noisy banquet in the Zähringerhof that was accompanied by speeches of farewell.

It was Lenin´s final chance to win over the many critics who were still trying to prevent the trip.

Lenin predicted a worldwide revolution that would sweep away “the filthy froth on the surface of the world labour movement”.

“The objective circumstances of the imperialist war make it certain that the revolution will not be limited to Russia….

Transformation of the imperialist war into civil war is becoming a fact.”

They were returning to their homeland, despite the threat of jail that awaited them.

Every passenger knew the conditions.

Every passenger accepted the risks.

Shouts and hisses followed them across the square as the travellers made for their first train.

 

Zürich, Switzerland, 11 September 2017

This was a rare opportunity.

Between my August trip in Italy and my October trip in London, between work as a teacher (albeit too little work) and work as a barista for Starbucks St. Gallen, I finally had time today to follow Lenin´s route from Zürich to the Swiss border.

I was not unsympathetic to those sadly remembering the anniversary of 9/11, but I felt that the story I had been following of the events leading to Lenin on the train needed to be personally experienced a century later to compare events of yesteryear with the realities of today.

What was it like to travel from Zürich to Singen, following the rail route that Lenin and his fellow travellers took?

I left Landschlacht this morning at 0909, then once in Zürich I bought the day´s New York Times and then walked to the Café Odeon at Limmatquai 2, one of Lenin´s favourite haunts.

Above: Café Odeon and Odeon Apotheke, corner of Limmatquai and Rämistrasse

The place still appears much as it did when Lenin frequented the place, although the clientele has changed considerably since then.

The decor remains Art Nouveau in style, with rich red upholstery, sparkling chandeliers, and brass and marble fittings.

Listing the names of all the writers, poets, painters and musicians who came and went in the Odeon would certainly render a valuable cross-section of the celebrities of well over half a century.

Only a few of those who thronged there and gave the Odeon its reputation of an intellectual meeting place are mentioned here:

Franz Werfel, the Austrian poet and storyteller who had come to Zürich in 1918 to perform his play “The Trojan Women”, which led to peace demonstrations as there had never been before.

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Above: Franz Werfel (1890 – 1945)

Stefan Zweig, Frank Wedekind and Karl Kraus, author of Torch, as well as William Somerset Maugham, the author of plays and short stories….

Erich Maria Remarque, the writer of the anti-war novel All Quiet on The Western Front also belong to them.

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Above: Erich Maria Remarque (1898 – 1970)

Then come Kurt Tucholsky, Rowohlt, Klaus Mann and Alfred Kerr, not to forget the Irish author James Joyce, who spent a total of about five years in Zürich, of which countless hours were at the Odeon.

In his books, names of Zürich’s streets and squares, bars or people appeared over and over again – in encrypted form.

A confidant of the emigrants and a regular at the Odeon was Dr. Emil Oprecht, a publisher and bookseller on Rämistrasse. who helped many writers by printing and selling their work.

Bellevueplatz

In 1915, a group of young bohemians confused waiters and guests with their strange discussions.

The sculptor and poet Hans Arp with his girlfriend, the dancer and arts and crafts teacher Sophie Täuben, the writer Tristan Tzara, the actor and playwright Hugo Ball with his girlfriend Emmie Hennings, the poet and painter Richard Huelsenbeck and the sculptor Marcel Janco set up their quarters at Odeon – thus conferring to the Café its long-lasting reputation for being a birthplace of Dadaism.

Above: First edition, Dada, by Tristan Tzara, Zürich, 1917

In their theses and slogans, the Dadaists protested not only against the war, but also against all well-established civil convictions.

Amongst the famous musicians who were regular visitors of the Odeon, we have to mention Wilhelm Furtwängler, Franz Lehar, Arturo Toscanini and Alban Berg.

Even scientists like Albert Einstein, who enjoyed discussing here physics with students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, was one of the regulars.

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Above: Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

Benito Mussolini, then still a fiery anarchist, and Lenin, fully devoted to reading all the available newspapers, as well as Trotsky, are just a few representatives of the politicians who came in and out.

Another long time regular guest was Ferdinand Sauerbruch, director of the surgical clinic of the Cantonal Hospital.

Because of his astonishing consumption of champagne, he offended some Zurich citizens as every day after work, he ordered and emptied a bottle.

Supposedly, he renounced this habit under the pressure of public opinion.

In fact, he had merely become more diplomatic:

The giant coffee pot from which waiter Mateo, with a wink, poured something liquid did not contain steaming coffee but… sparkling champagne.

In the years leading up to the First World War you could sit here all night, curfew being an unknown word.

The newspaper shelves were filled with international titles still leaving enough room for an encyclopaedia and a can of gasoline to fill up the lighters.

Thick smoke haze was a norm in real Viennese cafés just as were experienced waiters and various games.

At the Odeon, chess was always paramount and every Friday, Colonel Wille, later an army General, would walk in to join to a small group of cards players.

I continued my wandering through Zürich to the Cabaret Voltaire.

Above: Plaque on facade of Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of Dadaism, founded 5 February 1916

Hans Arp, Sophie Täuben, Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, Emmie Hennings, Richard Huelsenbeck, Marcel Janco and Hans Richter began staging Dada art performances at the Cabaret Voltaire at Spiegelgasse 1, where according to Janco the belief was that….

Above: Hugo Ball, Cabaret Voltaire performance, 1916

“Everything had to be demolished.  We would begin again after the tabula rasa.  At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.”

Above: The Janco Dada Museum, Ein Hod, Israel

The performances, like the war they were mirroring, were often raucous and chaotic, and amongst the experimental artists on stage were the likes of Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Max Ernst.

With the end of the war, the original excitement generated at Cabaret Voltaire fizzled out.

Some of the Zürich Dadaists returned home, while others continued Dadaist activities in other cities.

Their efforts eventually helped spawn new and equally controversial artistic genres, such as surrealism, social realism and pop art.

(For more on Dadaism, please see Only imbeciles and Spanish professors: Heidi and Dada and Eternal Bliss and the Edge of Madness: Gaga over Dada of this blog.)

The Cabaret Voltaire still courts controversy today, having been saved from closure in 2002 by a group of neo-Dadaists who occupied the building illegally.

Despite police eviction and an attempt by the Swiss People´s Party (SVP) to cut funding, the building still functions as an alternative arts space.

It also contains the cosy duDA bar and a well-stocked Dada giftshop.

Alongside the fireplace in the original upstairs room can be seen a small black and white picture depicting the Cabaret Voltaire in full swing, with Hugo Ball and his friends on stage….

Bildergebnis für cabaret voltaire zürich 1916

And an enthusiastic Lenin in the audience, his arm outstretched in support.

I climbed Spiegelgasse to photograph the building where Lenin´s flat used to be, then, after lunch and some book shopping, I boarded a train.

 

Zürich, Switzerland, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

Above: Zürich Hauptbahnhof

The travellers´ first train was merely a local Swiss service bound for Schaffhausen and the German border post of Gottmadingen, but the Russians approached it as if walking the plank.

Fritz Platten suggested that the travellers should imagine themselves to be like gladiators squaring up before their greatest and final contest.

Above: Fritz Platten (1883 – 1942)

This image was appropriate, for as the engine finally began to move, Lenin noticed a stranger on the train (whose presence was, in fact, legitimate, since this was not a special service, let alone a sealed carriage).

German socialist Oscar Blum had decided to take his chance and join the travellers.

Assuming him to be a spy, the Russian leader seized the uninvited intruder by the collar and physically threw him out onto the tracks.

The first two hours of the ride were almost jolly after that.

From Zürich, the local train rattled along a valley studded with the chilly stumps of vines.

Most of the passengers relaxed.

Dun-coloured farms and distant slopes had been home territory for years.

As the train slowed, just outside Neuhausen am Rheinfall, there was a momentary gasp as everyone looked to the right.

The tracks here curved beside the largest waterfall in Europe, the Rhine Falls.

(For more on the Rhine Falls, please see Chasing waterfalls and The Grand Guestbook of this blog.)

But those short minutes of romance were forgotten as the station at Neuhausen came into view, for it was one of the last stations before the German border.

A posse of Swiss customs men was waiting for the Russian group a few miles up at Schaffhausen.

The Germans might have promised a free passage for this foreign exile band, but now the Swiss were making clear that they had never signed up for the deal.

 

Zürich, Switzerland, 11 September 2017

Above: Zürich Hauptbahnhof, statue of Alfred Escher in the foreground

At 1630 hours, I boarded the Regional Express to Schaffhausen via Bülach and Neuhausen am Rheinfall.

There were distinct contrasts between Lenin´s journey to the border and my own:

Lenin was filled with impending doom, while I was resigned and determined to finally and firmly see the ghosts of that famous journey disappear from my own thoughts.

I certainly hadn´t needed permission nor did I question the legitimacy of my fellow passengers to ride the rails with me.

Where Lenin had seen fields and orchards in spring blossom, I saw many of these same farms on the cusp of autumn harvest.

Since Lenin´s day, the largest crop production in Bülach seems to be hockey players.

Above: Bülach Railway Station

I already knew both Bülach and Neuhausen quite well as I had walked in the past beside the Thur River from its Alpine origins to its confluence with the Rhine River near Bulach, and I had walked from my village of Landschlacht following the shores of Lake Constance to Konstanz and the Rhine River to Schaffhausen and its junction with the Thur.

So I no longer gasp with astonishment when I see the Rhine Falls, though they still thrill me with their majesty every time I see them.

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Above: The Rhine Falls

Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

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Lenin´s group were escorted from the train.

As they waited on Platform 3, officials of the Swiss police rummaged through the group´s baskets of blankets, books and provisions that they had brought for the journey.

It turned out that there was a wartime rule about exporting food from Switzerland.

The cheese and sausage and the hard-boiled eggs were confiscated.

It was a shock to watch as an entire week´s supply of sustenance was snatched away, and the humiliating process itself (which left only a few bread rolls, precisely counted, and a stamped receipt) was enough to set anyone´s nerves on edge.

 

Schaffhausen, Switzerland, 11 September 2017

Bildergebnis für schaffhausen bahnhof

Above: Schaffhausen Bahnhof

The removal of the passport control signage and the use of the platform kiosk as a customs office on Platform 3 is now a relic of the past.

Bildergebnis für schaffhausen bahnhof

Switzerland, though independent from the European Union countries that surround it, signed the Schengen Agreement in 1985, allowing mostly unrestricted border passage from it to its neighbours.

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Above: European Union members (dark blue), non-European Union members but signatories of the Agreement (light blue)

(Whether this relaxed attitude towards arrivals and departures will continue remains debateable since the 2015 migrant crisis.

For a discussion of the migrant crisis and the European borders issue, see Burkinis on the beach, Behind the veil: Islam(ophobia) for dummies, and Fear Itself of this blog.)

(Interestingly, the restrictions on food are now on food coming into Switzerland rather than leaving it.

Switzerland wants to encourage the Swiss to do their grocery shopping at home, but considering that shopping over the borders is substantially cheaper, this is a difficult argument for the Swiss government with which to convince the Swiss.)

I took a few photos of what remained on Platform 3, grabbed a coffee at the Station and boarded the 1739 train to Thayngen.

 

Thayngen, Switzerland, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

At Thayngen, not far up the line from Schaffhausen, a fresh squad of uniformed men demanded the Russians to go through all their possessions again, for this was the very last station before the German border.

 

Thayngen, Switzerland, 11 September 2017

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Above: Thayngen Railway Station

I had never been in Thayngen before.

Prior to my reading of Catherine Merridale´s fine history, Lenin on the Train, I had never even heard (nor cared) about this village of nearly 5,000.

This village in Canton Schaffhausen is merged with the villages of Altdorf, Bibern, Hofen, and Opfertshofen to form the municipality of Thayngen.

This is a working man´s village, with an unemployment rate of only 1%, though more people work outside the municipality than within it.

Here the hungry traveller can eat at one of the nine restaurants.

Here the weary wanderer can sleep in one of the 31 beds in one of the three hotels.

The village itself is not that particularly fascinating to the international cosmopolitan jetsetter, possessing only two sites of national significance: the Haus zum Hirzen and the Haus zum Rebstock.

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Above: Thayngen town centre

The explorer must leave the village and visit the nearby prehistoric cave dwelling at the Kesslerloch or the Stone Age riverbank settlement called the Weier.

Above: Prehistoric cave dwelling, Kesserloch

The most common site the visitor sees in Thayngen are trucks passing from Germany into Switzerland.

Historically, only three Thayngen personalities leap off the pages of time to grab one´s attention: Hans Stokar (1490 – 1556), a businessman, politician, historian, church reformer and pilgrim to both Santiago de Compostela and Jerusalem; Martin Stamm (1847 – 1918), a pioneer in American surgery; and Everard im Thurn (1852 – 1932), the son of a Thayngen banker, who became an author, explorer, botanist, photographer, and the Governor of Fiji (1904 – 1910).

The weather this day was as problematic and uncertain as my Lenin-following excursion was: dark clouds wrestling to cover the optimistic sun.

But the result was a beautiful rainbow across the sky above the village.

Here, close to the station that aggravated Lenin´s travelling party, I came across an outlet shop of the company Unilever.

The current Unilever logo used since 2004.

Unilever, a British-Dutch company with headquarters in Rotterdam, a manufacturer of food and beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products, is both the world´s largest consumer goods company and the world´s largest producer of food spreads.

Europe´s 7th most valuable company and one of the world´s oldest multinational companies, Unilever has made its products available in over 190 countries, offering over 400 brands, including Axe, Lynx, Dove, Becel, Flora, Hellmann´s, Knorr, Lipton and Rama, just to name a few.

Unilever was founded in 1930 by the merger of the Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and the British soapmaker Lever Brothers and has, over time, made many acquisitions, including Lipton and Ben & Jerry´s.

I happily bought a number of items at the outlet price, not knowing that Unilever has been criticised by Greenpeace for causing deforestation, by Amnesty International for child labour and enforced labour practices, by Israel for salmonella in cereals, and by the Indian town of Kodaikanal for dumping mercury.

Most consumers, myself included, rarely think about the business practices of the companies who produce what we buy.

After filling my backpack with Unilever booty and wandering around Thayngen a bit, I then boarded the 1820 train to Gottmadingen.

 

Gottmadingen, Germany, Easter Monday, 9 April 1917

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When the Swiss train came to its final stop at Gottmadingen, the Bolshevik passengers were close to panic.

To their despair, as they scanned the platform outside, they spotted two unsmiling figures in grey uniform, the hard-faced types that people send when they are planning a surprise arrest.

These German officers were hand-picked men.

Lieutenant von Bühring was the younger of the two, his superior being Captain von der Platz.

The travellers were not to be informed, but Bühring had been selected for the job because he understood Russian.

The officers had both been briefed for the mission by the director of German military operations, General Erich Ludendorff, in person.

After the sterile bureaucrats of Switzerland, Bühring and Platz made a terrifying pair, all gleaming boots and razor-sharp salutes.

They ordered the Russians to form two lines inside the third-class waiting room, the men on one side and the women and children on the other.

Instinctively, the men surrounded Lenin.

Several minutes passed, and although no one dared to speak, most wondered privately how they had fallen for this German trap.

The pause gave the Germans time to count their guests, to watch them and to organise their baggage.

It was a calculated move to show the Russians who was boss.

When the officers were satisfied, they ushered their party from the station building without volunteering an explanation.

Outside, the engine awaited, already spewing out white steam.

Berlin had honoured its agreement to the letter.

This was a journey that cost much, in resources and precious time on railway tracks.

The single wooden carriage, painted green, consisted of three second-class compartments and five third-class ones, two toilets and a baggage room for the émigrés´ baskets.

This was to be the famous sealed train, though what the security amounted to was merely that three of the four doors on the platform side were locked after the passengers had all been counted on board.

There was an awkward moment as the Russians debated who might sit where.

After a token protest, Lenin and his wife agreed to take the first of the three second-class compartments at the front.

The other two were offered to families with women and children.

The rest took their places in third class, resigned to stiff limbs and drowsiness.

The German guards sat at the back.

To preserve the illusion that the Russians would have no contact with the enemy, a chalk line had been drawn on the carriage floor between their territory and the rest.

The only person who could cross it was the Swiss socialist Fritz Platten, who had become the entire company´s official middleman.

As the train slowly headed north, Lenin stood at his dark window, a modest figure in a dusty suit, thumbs locked into his waistcoat pockets.

Beyond his own reflection in the glass, he could see that the alder woods were turning green.

Despite the lengthening shadows, it was still possible to make out yellow celandines and white anemones, the first wild flowers of spring.

The valley broadened, opening to fields.

Switzerland vanished into the trail of steam, the rhythmic rattle of the train encouraging a feeling of momentum, of purpose and progress.

The mood was smoothing and hypnotic.

 

Gottmadingen, Germany, 11 September 2017

Above: Gottmadingen, Germany

Gottmadingen was another town I had never explored and though it is twice the size of Thayngen, I found it half as interesting, for Gottmadingen suffers the fate of all towns too close to more populous and famous locations, it is generally ignored, as it is only 5 km southwest of Singen.

Right up to the 20th century, Gottmadingen remained a tiny village, but economic growth caused by a growing number of new factories demanding workers the village grew to become a town of over 10,000 residents.

Gottmadingen´s industry was mainly based on the production of agricultural machinery.

In the years 1960 to 1970, more than 4,000 workers were employed in the Fahr factory for agricultural engines.

Logo

The factory closed in 2003.

Though the town tries to be productive with the highrise Sudhaus, thriving business at the Hotel Sonne and regular customers at Pimp Your Hair, Gottmadingen felt sleepy and decaying.

Even though Alcan Singen, a Canadian company branch that produces aluminium automobile parts, is located in Gottmadingen, the town itself slumbers.

It has four churches, with St. Ottilia possessing Germany´s oldest church bells (1209).

There are castle ruins strewn all around, with Herlsberg and Kapf Castles behaving much like Gottmadingen itself, present but unattractive.

Randegg Chateau, built in 1214, does still stand and once was the home of painter Otto Dix and his family from 1933 to 1936, but it is now in private hands and open to the public only once every two years for an experimental art exhibition.

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Above: German painter Otto Dix (1891 – 1969)

Except for the town´s Tractor Museum, there isn´t much to attract visitors outside of the cities of Schaffhausen or Singen.

While waiting for a train bound for Singen, I read of a train accident near Andermatt, the 16th anniversary discussion of the unaccounted-for victims of 9/11, Republicans accusing Democrats of wanting to remove 9/11 memorials like they wish to remove Confederate statues, and the proposed evacuation of six million residents from south Florida due to the devastation of Hurricane Irma.

There seemed to be life continuing on beyond the town limits of Gottmadingen.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 November 2017

Lenin, like myself, would continue on to Singen, then we parted company.

Lenin and his band of Bolsheviks would travel through Germany via Rottweil, Horb, Tuttlingen, Herrenberg, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Halle, Berlin and Sassnitz.

They would then take a steamer to Sweden, then another train to Malmö and Stockholm.

After a brief stopover, then yet another train to Lulea and Karungi to the Finnish frontier, then Russian territory, at Tornio.

Then finally arriving at Finland Station in north Petrograd, today´s St. Petersburg.

A few months fraught with uncertainty would follow, but then in October 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks would seize control of Russia from the Provisional Government, in a coup d´ état that would later be called the October or Bolshevik Revolution.

Lenin today remains something of a contested figure in world history.

This is a great injustice for all those he would go on to murder and terrorise.

He would be directly responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people at the hands of his secret police.

A famous quote of his: “A revolution without firing squads is meaningless.”

He gave the order for the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire Romanov family.

According to Simon Montefiore, an authority on Russian history, Lenin was the man “who created the blood-soaked Soviet experiment that was based from the very start on random killing and flint-hearted repression, and which led to the murders of many millions of innocent people“.

Lenin “relished the use of terror and bloodletting and was as frenziedly brutal as he was intelligent and cultured.”

Germany wanted the Russians out of World War I, and by sending Lenin to Russia, this is precisely what they would achieve.

But by doing so, they carried across their borders a true monster of historic proportions.

Switzerland was truly well-rid of Lenin.

By retracing his steps, so was I.

I continued onwards from Singen to Konstanz, back across the Swiss border to Kreuzlingen, and from there back home in Landschlacht.

Evil prospers when good men say nothing.

Evil re-emerges if history is not remembered.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Duncan J.D. Smith, Only in Zürich: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects / Tony Brenton, (editor), Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train / Simon Sebag Montefiore, Titans of History / Robert Service, Lenin: A Biography / Alexander Parker & Tim Richman, 50 People Who Messed Up the World / Café Odeon Website

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Dawn of a Revolution

20 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

Let´s be blunt.

Things are truly horrible in many countries on the planet these days.

Especially in America.

Flag of the United States

And there are some folks who suggest that a second US Civil War is coming.

Which raises two important questions….

Could it happen?

Should it happen?

In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the duty of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests and/or threatens the safety of the people without probable cause.

Above: A replica of the Magna Carta on Display in the rotunda of the United States Capitol.  The Magna Carta, the first constitutional charter of England, marks one of the earliest attempts to limit a sovereign´s authority.

Stated throughout history in one form or another, the belief in this right has been used to justify various revolutions, including the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

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Above: The storming of the Bastille prison, 14 July 1789, has come to symbolise the French Revolution, where a people rose up to exercise their right of Revolution.

By definition, a revolution is a fundamental change in political power or organisational structures that takes place in a relatively short time when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities.

Could Americans become so dissatisfied that they would choose to take up arms against Washington DC and the Trump Administration?

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Above: Donald John Trump (born 1947), 45th President of the United States (2017 – )

If it became clear that Trump and his posse was acting against Americans´ common interests (denial of universal health care, unequal taxation favouring the rich, etc) or was threatening the safety of the people without probable cause (threats to North Korea, denying conservation efforts, denying climate change, etc) then it could be argued that Trump and his gang of misfits should be removed from power.

But for a revolution to be effective, disgruntled Democrats and liberals cannot possibly win without greater support.

Without the overall consent of Congress against Trump -presently dominated by the Republicans…..

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Above: The United States Capitol building, Washington DC

Without the support of the military willing to refrain from answering their call of duty to the government and instead standing up to be counted as supporters of a different way than that being practiced today….

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Without the wealthy financially supporting the removal of the President….

Without the huge population of average workers that dominate the country statistically convinced that a change in the status quo will lead to a brighter and better tomorrow….

A revolution in America could not possibly succeed as things stand today.

Founding Fathers listen to the draft of the Declaration of Independence

Above: The presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

As much as private individuals feel like taking force against their rulers because of malice or because they have been injured by the rulers, they cannot succeed without support from the body of the people – a broad consensus involving all ranks of society.

Private individuals are socially forbidden to take force against their rulers until the body of the people feels concerned about the necessity of revolution.

Impeachment of President Trump may be desirable by many people, but only possible if both houses of the American government – the elected officials in Washington – decide that they can no longer tolerate Trump as the helm.

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For now, the Republicans, of whom Trump leads, are more concerned with keeping their privileged positions rather than actually serving their country´s best interests.

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Above: The logo of the US Republican Party

The Democrats, at present, lack cohesion.

Above: The donkey, a recognised symbol of the US Democratic Party, though not an official logo

Despite the popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democrats continue to marginalise anyone too progressive or too anti-Establishment among their ranks.

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Above: US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont

In this year 2017, a year where great change is desired but denied by circumstances, this year that marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, I think it might be interesting for those dissatisfied with the status quo to observe how within the span of a single week how a nation went from being an autocracy to becoming a republic.

The February Revolution was the first of two Russian revolutions in 1917.

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Above: Attacking the Tsar´s police during the first days of the February Revolution (23 February to 3 March 1917)

The Revolution centred on Petrograd (now known as St. Petersburg), then the Russian capital, where longstanding discontent with the monarchy erupted spontaneously into mass protests against food rationing, and armed clashes with police and military.

Above: Modern St. Petersburg.

(Clockwise from top left: Peter and Paul Fortress, Smolny Cathedral, Senate Square, the Winter Palace, Trinity Cathedral, and the General Staff Building)

Change should have begun within the Duma, the Russian Parliament.

Above: Tauride Palace, meeting place of the Duma and later the Russian Provisional Government

On 14 February 1917, after an extended Christmas break, the Duma assembled for another year.

At a time of mounting popular disturbance, and with several of its members engaged in covert plots to oust the Tsar, the session should have been a lively one.

Instead the deputies seemed to be wandering about “like emaciated flies.

No one believes anything.

All feel and know their powerlessness.

The silence is hopeless.” (A. I. Savenko)

The mood was sluggish and the speeches dull.

Outside the pompous meeting hall, the mood was no more positive among the leaders of the revolutionary underground.

“Not one party was preparing for the great upheaval.

Everyone was dreaming, ruminating, full of foreboding, feeling his way.” (Nikolai Sukhanov)

Across the water where the workers lived, the atmosphere was different.

The food crisis was now acute.

The wealthy could still have their fresh white bread in any restaurant, but families in the factory districts had begun to starve.

It was not just a question of inflation, although the price of everything from kerosene to eggs had multiplied beyond the reach of the hard-pressed.

The real problem in Petrograd, exacerbated by an overstretched railroad network in the provinces, was a shortage of grain.

The city´s wheat and flour stocks, already depleted, had fallen by more than 30% in January, leaving many without bread at all.

“Resentment is worse in large families, where children are starving and no words are heard except: peace, immediate peace, peace at any cost.” (Okhrana – Tsarist secret police – agent report, February 1917)

Even in 1917, Russia still produced enough food to feed itself.

The difficulty was to distribute it to the swollen population of the towns in Russia´s northern industrial regions and to the huge army concentrated in the Empire´s western borderlands.

The railway network had been geared in peacetime to moving grain surpluses from southern Ukraine and Russia´s southern steppe region not northward but to southern export outlets on the Black Sea.

As well there were problems with conflicts between the army, a number of civilian agencies and the local government bodies over how best to price and procure grain.

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The big estates, which marketed all their grain, were hardhit by labour shortages, with 15 million men called up into the armed forces.

Meanwhile, industry could notsimultaneously supply the army and produce consumer goods at a price and quantity that would persuade peasants to sell their grain.

Part of the problem as regards food supply was that the Russian government had a weak presence in the villages where food was grown and most Russians lived.

The First World War required the unprecedented mobilisation of society behind the war effort.

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Above: Scenes from World War I

This depended on a civil society with tentacles stretching down to every family and on a state closely allied to this society and capable of coordinating and co-opting its efforts.

To do this effectively, the state needed a high degree of legitimacy and the many groups and classes in society needed to have common values, confidence and commitments.

The Russian Empire entered the War deficient in all these respects.

The railways were a major problem with very serious consequences for military movements, food supply and  industrial production.

Neither the railway network nor the rolling stock were adequate for the colossal demands of war.

In addition industry was diverted overwhelmingly to military production, with repairs to locomotives, rolling stock and railway lines suffering as a consequence.

Inflation took its toll on morale and discipline among railway men, as it did across the entire workforce.

The war – World War I (1914 – 1918) – was not going well for Russia.

Nearly six million casualities – dead, wounded and missing – had accumulated by January 1917.

Mutinies sprang up often, morale was low and the officers and commanders were very incompetent.

Like all major armies, Russia´s armed forces had inadequate supply.

The desertion rate ran at around 34,000 a month.

In the summer of 1915, in an attempt to boost morale and repair his reputation as a leader, Tsar Nicholas II announced that he would take personal command of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary.

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Above: Nicholas II of Russia (1868 – 1918), Tsar (1894 – 1917)

The result was disastrous.

The monarchy became associated with the unpopular war.

The monarchy´s legitimacy sank with every difficulty or failure in the war effort.

Nicholas proved to be a poor leader of men on the front, often irritating his own commanders with his intereference.

Being at the front meant he was not available to govern in Petrograd.

If Nicholas had departed for the front leaving behind a competent and authoritative Prime Minister to whom he had delegated full powers, this risk would have been worth taking.

He left the reins of power to his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, who proved to be an ineffective ruler, announcing a rapid succession of different Prime Ministers and angering the Duma.

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Above: Alexandra Feodorovna (1872 – 1918), Tsarina (1894 – 1917)

“In the 17 months of the Tsarina´s rule, from September 1915 to February 1917, Russia had 4 Prime Ministers, 5 Ministers of the Interior, 3 Foreign Ministers, 3 War Ministers, 3 Ministers of Transport and 4 Ministers of Agriculture.

This ministerial leapfrog not only removed competent men from power, but also disorganised the work of government since no one remained long enough in office to master their responsibilites.” (Orlando Figes, A People´s Tragedy)

The Duma President Mikhail Rodzianko, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and British Ambassador Sir George Buchanan joined calls for Alexandra to be removed from influence, but Nicholas refused.

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Above: Mikhail Rodzianko (1859 – 1924), Duma Chairman (1911 – 1917)

The Duma warned the Tsar of the impeding danger and advised him to form a new constitutional government.

Nicholas ignored their advice.

Nicholas saw concessions to pressure as both a confession of weakness and a surrender of power to parliamentary government, which in his opinion was certain to lead to the disintegration of authority and lead to social and national revolution.

By stubbornly refusing to reach any working agreement with the Duma, Nicholas undermined the loyalty of even those closest to the throne and opened up an unbridgeable gap between himself and public opinion.

The Tsar no longer had the support of the military, the nobility, the Duma or the Russian people.

By 1917, the majority of Russians had lost faith in the Tsarist regime.

Government corruption was unrestrained.

The inevitable result was revolution.

Meanwhile, refugees from German-occupied Russia came in their millions.

The Russian economy was blocked from the Continent´s markets by the War.

Though industry did not collapse, it was considerably strained and when inflation soared, wages could not keep up.

To help conserve scarce flour stocks, the Commissioner of Food Supply prohibited the baking and sale of cake, buns, pies and biscuits.

There were also new restrictions on the provision of flour to factory kitchens and workers´ canteens.

The move had little impact on the bread supply, but working people greeted it with rage.

Because few people even had a vote, the only thing they could do was join a protest or a strike.

There was comfort in the thought that the most obvious discontent was economic.

“Such strikes as might occur would be primarily on account of the shortage of food supplies, but it is not considered likely that any serious disorders would take place.” (Sir George Buchanan)

Above: Sir George Buchanan (1854 – 1924), British Ambassador to Russia (1910 – 1918)

But what Buchanan failed to understand was that bread itself was political.

In factories and engine sheds, in shipyards and workers´ barracks, socialist activists were using hunger as a means to start a conversation with the people.

Leaflets, speeches and slogans connected the food shortage to the War and the autocracy.

Bread might have been their immediate grievance, but once the people joined a protest they were swept on by rousing songs and revolutionary catchphrases.

On 9 January 1917, the 12th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1905, the protests were explicitly political.

Above: “Bloody” Sunday 22 January 1905 protest, led by Father Gapon, near Narva Gate, St. Petersburg

(See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead for more details about the Revolt of 1905.)

When the Duma convened on 14 February, the Mezhraionka (the Socialist Inter-District Committee) and its allies called the workers out again, this time with slogans about peace, democracy and even a republic.

There had been large scale protests before, but these were new, and called for more from government than cake and buns.

Even an outsider could pick up the change of mood.

“I was struck by the sinister expression on the faces of the poor folk who had lined up in a queue, most of whom had spent the whole night there.” (French Ambassador Maurice Paléologue, Diary entry of 21 February 1917)

Above: Maurice Paléologue (1859 – 1944), French Ambassador to Russia (1914 – 1917)

The peace of Petrograd was depended on its civil governor, Major General A. P. Balk, on the police (a force of 3,500 in a city of two and a half million) and on the governor of the military district, Major General S. S. Khabalov.

In charge of the coordination of them all was Interior Minister Alexander Protopopov, whose team was divided by mistrust.

Alexander Protopopov

Above: Alexander Protopopov (1866 – 1918), Russian Minister of the Interior (1916 – 1917)

Balk declared Khabalov to be “incapable of leading his own subordinates”.

No one trusted the police chief, A. T. Vasilev, whose promotion was entirely due to his friendship with Protopopov, and the best that anyone could say for Balk was that he was good at his paperwork.

Incompetents were nothing new in Russian government.

None of this might have mattered if the troops Khabalov commanded had been the right men for their job.

There were about 200,000 garrison soldiers in Petrograd, quartered in barracks all around the city centre.

Most lived in terrible conditions.

“The only troops in the capital were the depot battalions of the Guard and some depot Units of the line, most of whom had never been to the front.

They were officered by men who had been wounded at the front and who regarded their duty as a sort of convalescent leave from the trenches, or by youths fresh from the military schools.” (British military attaché Colonel Alfred Knox)

“In my opinion, this man (a disaffected Russian general) had confided in November 1916, the troops guarding the capital ought to have been weeded out long ago.

If God does not spare us a revolution, it will be started not by the people but by the army.”

The General was wrong.

The army played a crucial role, but only when the people had already kindled a revolt.

The February Revolution started with a celebration.

The festival of International Women´s Day had been created just before the War by German socialist Clara Zetkin.

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Above: Clara Zetkin, German Marxist Feminist (1857 – 1933)

The event was planned in Petrograd for 23 February, but the comrades in the Russian empire were reluctant to make a special effort over Zetkin´s festival, disputing its propaganda value.

A march was planned, but it risked being small as well as mostly female.

“We need to teach the working class to take to the streets, but we have not had time.” (Alexander Shlyapnikov, letter to Lenin)

Back in December 1916, the Bolsheviks of Petrograd, the Petersburg Committee (they refused to adopt the Tsarist, more anti-German name of Petrograd) were raided by the Tsar´s secret police, the Okhrana, who not only arrested some of the Committee´s members but had captured its precious, costly and strategically vital printing press.

Without their precious printing press, the Bolsheviks could lead no one without a manifesto and a pile of pamphlets.

But other factions viewed the festival as a propaganda opportunity.

A leaflet from the Mezhraionka was crystal clear:

“The government is guilty.

It started the War and it cannot end it.

It is destroying the country and your starving is its fault.

Enough!

Down with the criminal government and the gang of thieves and murders!

Long live peace!”

Thursday 23 February 1916, Petrograd, Russia

If the weather had remained inhibitingly cold….

If Petrograd had received an adequate supply of flour….

If the workplace toilets had been heated to unfreeze the pipes….

The protests might have not been so large.

It was International Women´s Day and the embattled working women of Petrograd intended that their voices should be heard.

Hundreds of them – peasants, factory workers, students, nurses, teachers, wives whose husbands were at the front, and even a few upper class ladies – came out into the streets.

Although some carried banners with traditional suffrage slogans, most bore improvished placards referring to the food crisis.

“There is no bread.  Our husbands have no work.”, they shouted.

As columns of women converged on Nevsky and Litieiny Prospekts, more militant women in the Vyborg (the industrial section of Petrograd) cotton mills were in no mood for compromise.

Since mid-January hunger had been worse by the continuing subzero temperatures affecting the supply of fuel into the city by rail.

Rowing boats on the Neva River were chopped up for firewood and, in the dead of night, people slunk into cemeteries “to fill whole sacks with the wooden crosses from the graves of poor folks and take them home for their fires”.

Throughout Petrograd strikes and protests had become so commonplace that the Okhrana were taking no chances.

On Protopopov´s orders, machine guns had been secretly mounted on the roofs of all the city´s major buildings, particularly around Petrograd´s main square, the Nevsky.

“The Cossacks are again patrolling the city on account of threatened strikes – for the women are beginning to rebel at standing in bread lines from 5 am for shops that open at 10 am in weather 25° below zero.”

(J. Butler Wright, Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright)

Their Women´s Day meetings resulted in a mass walk-out.

As they headed for the Neva, the ladies called on other workers to march with them, including the men of the New Lessner and Erikson factories, the major metalworks and munitions factories.

A large gathering of people outside, some holding banners

By noon, about 50,000 people had joined the protest on Vyborg´s main street, Sampsonievsky Prospect.

“I was extremely indignant at the behaviour of the strikers.

They were blatantly ignoring the instructions of the party district committees.

Yet suddenly here was a strike.

There seemed to be no purpose in it and no reason for it.”

(Bolshevik party representative  and Erikson plant employee Kayurov)

They marched to the Liteiny Bridge to cross over to Nevsky Prospekt only to encounter police cordons on the Bridge barring their way.

The trams “stuffed full of workers” were surrounded by police when they reached the Liteiny Bridge.

Barging aboard, they checked every passenger to weed out those whose hands and clothes looked work-worn.

The idea was keep the poor where they belonged and make sure that their wretched protest could not interfere with decent life. (Alexander Shlyapnikov)

The more determined among them scrambled down onto the frozen river and made their way across the ice instead.

Others managed to get through the police block at the Troitsky Bridge only to be forced back by the police when they crossed the Neva.

On the Field of Mars, men and women were raised on the shoulders of others, shouting: “Let´s stop talking and act.”

A few women began singing the Marseillaise.

As the crowd moved off, heading for Nevsky Prospekt, a tram came swinging around the corner.

The marchers forced it to stop, took the control handle and threw it away into a snowbank.

The same happened to a second, third and fourth tram until the blocked cars extended all the way along the Sadovya to the Nevsky Prospekt.

Florence Harper – the first American female journalist in Petrograd – and her companion, photographer Donald Thompson from Topeka, Kansas, found themselves carried along with the tide of protesters.

Every policeman they passed tried to stop the marchers, but the women just kept on forging ahead, shouting, laughing and singing.

Walking at the head of the column, Thompson saw a man next to him tie a red flag onto a cane and start waving it in the air.

He decided that such a conspicuous position at the head of the marchers was “no place for an innocent boy from Kansas.”

“Bullets had a way of hitting innocent bystanders,” he told Harper, “so let´s beat it, while the going is good.”

That day, in response to increasing tension in the city, Khabalov had posters pasted on walls at every street corner, reassuring the public that “There should be no shortage in bread for sale.”

If stocks were low in some bakeries, this was because people were buying more than they needed and hoarding it.

“There is sufficient rye flour in Petrograd,” the proclamation insisted.

“The delivery of this flour continues without interruption.”

It was clear that the government had run out of excuses for the bread crisis – lack of fuel, heavy snow, rollling stock commandeered for military purposes, shortage of labour….

The people would not be fobbed off any longer.

Hunger was rife, fierce and unrelenting in half a million empty bellies across the working class factory districts.

“Here was a patent confession of laxity.

Whom was it expected to satisfy?

The Socialists who had already made up their minds for revolution, or the dissatisfied man in the street who did not want revolution, but pined for relief from an incapable government?” (Times correspondent Robert Wilton)

As the day went on, the rank of women marchers in and around the Nevsky swelled to around 90,000.

“The singing by this time had become a deep roar, terrifying, but at the same time fascinating….fearful excitement everywhere.” (Donald Thompson)

Once more the Cossacks appeared as if by magic, their long lances gleaming in the sunshine.

Time and again they attempted to scatter the columns of marching women by charging them at a gallop, brandishing their short whips, but the women merely regrouped, cheering the Cossacks wildly each time they charged.

When one woman stumbled and fell in front of them, they jumped their horses right over her.

People were surprised.

These Cossacks weren´t the fierce guardsmen of Tsardom whom the crowds had seen at work in 1905, when hundreds of protesters had been killed in the Bloody Sunday protest.

This time they were quite amiable, playful even.

They seemed eager to capitulate to the mood of the people, and took their hats off and waved them close to the crowd as they moved them on.

So long as they only asked for bread, the Cossacks told the marchers, they would not be on the receiving end of gunfire.

And so it went on, until six in the evening.

As the mob surged to the constant drumbeat calls for bread, the Cossacks charged and scattered people in all directions, but there was no real trouble.

Police rounded up anyone who attempted to stop and give speeches, but protestors otherwise walked the streets with their red flags all day long and had not been fired upon.

It was left to the tsarist police to finally disperse the crowds, who had largely gone home by 7 pm as the cold of the evening drew in.

Across the river, in the industrial quarters, acts of sporadic violence had erupted throughout the day.

Bakeries were broken into and raided.

Grocery stores had their windows smashed.

Later that evening, Major-General Alfred Knox met with the Duma industrialist Alexander Guchkov who described the food shortage as the worst catastrophe his government had faced to date, more crippling and more dangerous than any battlefield defeat.

Alexander Guchkov

Above: Alexander Guchkov (1862 – 1936), 4th Duma Chairman (1910 – 1911), Russian War Minister (1917)

Guchkov could already sense that trouble lay ahead.

“Questioned regarding the attitude of workmen in the towns towards the War, Guchkov conceeded that from 10% to 20% would welcome defeat as likely to strengthen their hands to overthrow the government.” (Alfred Knox)

Throughout the night strike committees in Petrograd and Vyborg were plotting to seize the moment.

A great many troops patrolled the city, for that day a disorganised and elemental force had finally been let loose on Petrograd.

The flame of Revolution had been lit among the hungry marchers on the Nevsky and the strikers across the river.

Revolution – so long talked of, dreaded, fought against, planned for, longed for, died for – had come at last, like a thief in the night, none expecting it, none recognizing it.

One week later Tsar Nicholas II would abdicate, ending the Romanov Dynasty, ending the Russian Empire, ending the chaos that had ensued in the days that followed the Women`s Day march.

Above: Nicholas II (seated) abdicating the Russian throne on 2 March 1917

A dynasty that had ruled for 300 years would depart within a week, with a whimper rather than a bang, because few Russians were willing to defend it.

Eight months later, the second Revolution in Russia in 1917, the October or Bolshevik Revolution would occur when the Bolsheviks led by Lenin – returned from exile in Switzerland – would seize control of the government established after Nicholas´ abdication and transform the liberated-from-autocracy democratic republic into a totalitarian regime.

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1936)

But Russia had, for the briefest of moments, a chance for democracy.

Creating a peasant-based democracy almost from scratch in a country as enormous as Russia was a daunting task.

A democracy begun spontaneously by a group of women tired of long bread lines, tired of hunger, tired of frozen toilets, tired of their men away on the front, tired of casualities.

Brave enough to face certain death by men armed to the teeth.

Maybe that is how change might come to America.

Spontaneously.

When enough Americans become tired of the way things are and brave enough to stand up to the powers that have abused them for far too long.

Perhaps things have to get even worse before spontaneous and united dissatisfaction can occur.

Perhaps darkness must fall before dawn can arise.

Before a true unity – undivided by religion, race, income or partisan politics, but united by a desire for equality of opportunity and respect – can arise.

All things change.

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Above: Cover of “Power to the People” single (1971), John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band

Sources: Wikipedia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train / Dominic Lieven, Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia

Canada Slim and the Zimmerwald Movement

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 September 2017

“I have come not to praise Caesar but to bury him.” (William Shakespeare)

“One hundred years after the Revolution took Russia by storm, it might be the right time to re-examine why it happened, how it developed and why its lessons can still shape our vision and understanding of the world we live in now.

Such fundamental questions as relations between the masses and the elites, the vulnerability of democratic procedures faced with organised violence, or of humanitarian values confronted by a large scale refugee crisis, as well as contradictions between the fairness in society and the practical impossibility of achieving it, are still among those being discussed with the experiences of the Russian Revolution in mind.”

(Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths)

In my last post (Canada Slim and the Bloodythirsty Redhead) I wrote about Vladimir Lenin and his visits to Switzerland prior to the First World War and described how he ended up being exiled here during the global conflict.

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Now what follows are a few words about this period of exile and how Lenin used those years to be able to return to Russia triumphantly leading a Communist Revolution.

I have written about Bern before (Canada Slim in the Capital / Capital Be) and despite the uniqueness of Lenin`s character I am almost certain that he enjoyed Bern during his time there (1914 – 1916).

Much of what he would have seen still stands today: streets lined with cozy, covered arcades; people gathered in the lively market square conversing for bargains in Swiss German or French; gray-green sandstone Holy Ghost Church/Heiliggeistkirche looming above; the delightful bendy Aare River flowing below, its waters pumped into Bern`s eleven historic fountains….

Did Bern`s Prison Tower/Käfigturm strike fear and unpleasant recollection of Lenin´s yearlong imprisonment in St. Petersburg or how he had been held in a cell in the Austrian town of Novy Targ wondering if he might be shot for being a Russian spy on Austrian controlled soil?

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Was smoking within Bern`s walls still forbidden in Lenin´s day or did Swiss soldiers still use the Dutch Tower/Holländerturm to sneak their smokes?

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Lenin probably never noticed, for though he was a baldheaded, stocky and sturdy person, he exercised regularly, enjoying cycling, swimming and hunting.

Would he have walked past the Parliament/Bundeshaus and dreamt of the day when the Tsar´s Palace would finally be stormed by the Russian people?

Did he gaze up, like thousands have before and since, at the Zytglogge Turm (Swiss German: time bell tower) and watch the clock perform its machinations every :56 of each hour: the happy jester coming to life, Father Time turning his hourglass, the rooster crowing, the golden man on top hammering the bell?

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Had he heard of Albert Einstein who had lived in Bern from 1901 to 1909?

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Would Lenin have cared about anything that did not directly lead to the overthrow of Russia´s Tsarist Regime?

Would he have deliberately spurned the Berner Münster/Bern Cathedral as Lenin was an atheist and a critic of religion, believing that socialism was by its very nature atheistic?

A grey stone Gothic spire rises above the Old City of Bern

An amoral man, Lenin´s view was that the end always justified the means.

His criterion of morality was simple:

Does a certain action advance or hinder the cause of the Revolution?

Being fond of animals, would Lenin have visited Bärenpark/Bear Park or would the sight of the bears in their two big, barren concrete pits have depressed him?

Tending to reject unnecessary luxury, Lenin lived a spartan Lifestyle, exceedingly modest in his personal wants, an austere asceticism that despised untidiness.

Lenin always kept his work desk tidy and his pencils sharpened and insisted on total silence when he worked.

Above: The residence of the Lenins in Bern (1914 – 1916)

When Lenin arrived in Switzerland from Austria with his wife Nadja in 1914, he assured the authorities that he was a political exile and not an army deserter.

During his years in Bern, Lenin tried unsuccessfully to convince his Swiss comrades of the need for international revolution, but perhaps their hesitation had something to do with the contradictory character that was Lenin.

“The Lenin who seemed externally so gentle and good-natured, who enjoyed a laugh, who loved animals and was prone to sentimental reminisciences, was transformed when class or political questions arose.

He at once became savagely sharp, uncompromising, remorseless and vengeful.

Even in such a state he was capable of black humour.”

(Lenin biographer Dmitri Volkogonov)

As the chairman of Russia´s Bolsheviks Lenin attended several clandestine socialist conferences where he suggested that the First World War was being fought by the workers on behalf of the elite and that the War should be used as a catalyst for an armed uprising against capitalism.

“The war is being waged for the division of the colonies and the robbery of foreign territory. 

Thieves have fallen out, and to refer to the defeats, at a given moment, of one of the thieves in order to identify the interests of all thieves with the interests of the nation or the Fatherland is an unconscionable bourgeois lie.”

(Vladimir Lenin)

5 September 1915 was a crisp autumn day as 38 ornithologists gathered, organized by Robert Grimm, outside Bern´s Volkshaus.

Only, they were not actually bird watchers – that was just a cover.

These were socialists from all over Europe, meeting to discuss ways to bring peace to a continent ravaged by World War One.

Their peace campaign made secrecy necessary:

Opposing the War was viewed as treason in many countries.

The War had driven division amongst Europe`s socialists, with the International organisation split by national lines.

On 4 August 1914, the German Social Democratic Party voted in the German Parliament for war, citing “defence of the Fatherland”.

This was felt by other European socialists as a betrayal of socialist internationalism, prompting discussion for a new International.

On 15 May 1915, the Executive Committee of the Italian Socialist Party decided to call a conference of all socialist parties and workers´ groups who adhered to the class struggle and were willing to work against the War.

Swiss Socialist Robert Grimm knew the Volkshaus was full of spies, so his guests had barely tasted their first mouthful of Swiss beer before they were handed their tickets for a horse-drawn carriage to take them to the mountains of the Bernese Oberland.

Above: Robert Grimm (1881 – 1958)

So few vehicles were needed – only four – that the occasion was seen as a tragicomic commentary on the feebleness of international socialism.

The group was bound for Zimmerwald, then only a settlement of 21 squat mountain houses in a sea of fading autumn grass.

Two of the most famous participants were Russian: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin, and Leon Trotsky, both political refugees living in neutral Switzerland – Trotsky in Geneva and Lenin in Bern – quietly planning the overthrow of Tsarist Russia.

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Above: Leon Trotsky (1879 – 1940)

Trotsky and Lenin were already good friends having met in London in 1902, where Lenin had fled to escape Bavarian police, seeking to arrest him for printing revolutionary pamphlets in Munich.

Today, Zimmerwald has not much changed from that day in 1915.

It is a sleepy little place, with a population of just over 1,100, with a few farms, a church and the Alps soaring majestically across the valley.

And for 100 years there had been no sign that the founders of the Bolshevik Revolution had ever set foot in the village.

But thousands of kilometers to the east, Zimmerwald was famous.

In classrooms across the Soviet Union, the village was being celebrated as “the Birthplace of the Revolution”, “the founding mythos of the Soviet Union”.

“In the Soviet Union, Zimmerwald was such a famous place. 

Every Soviet school child knew about Zimmerwald, but you can ask any Swiss school child and they would never know what Zimmerwald was about.”

(Historian Julia Richers, Bern University)

Richers describes Switzerland´s attitude to its history as a kind of “forceful forgetting”, especially in Zimmerwald itself, where, in the 1960s, plans to have a small plaque marking Lenin´s presence was formally banned by the village council.

Switzerland`s neutrality lies at the root of that reluctance to acknowledge the past.

During the Cold War, the Swiss were extremely nervous about showing overt friendliness to either East or West, and spent billions on a vast army and on bunkers for every family, in the hope of sitting – neutrally – out of any future conflict.

But in Zimmerwald, reminders of Lenin´s presence dropped through the letter box every day.

Postcards, drawings and notes, from hundreds of Soviet schoolchildren, many of them addressed to the “President of Zimmerwald”, all begged for information about their national hero Lenin.

They asked for photographs, for booklets and some even sent their letters to the Lenin Museum in Zimmerwald.

But there was no Lenin Museum, there were no photographs, there were no booklets.

Most of their letters went unanswered.

In 1945, a Zimmerwald official, made anxious by the excessive amount of mail with Soviet stamps landing on his desk, tried to stem the flow by sending a firm reply:

“Sir, I have not been briefed on your political sympathies.

However, I am not inclined to provide material to a political extremist, which could then beof use to enemies of the state.”

The Zimmerwald Conference was held in the Hotel and Pension Beausejour from 5 to 8 September 1915 and was attended by 38 socialist delegates from across Europe including 2 from the Balkans, 2 from France, 5 from Italy, 3 from Britain, 7 from Russia, 1 from Latvia, 4 from Poland and Lithuania, and 10 from Germany.

Throughout their stay, the delegates kept close to their Hotel, their entertainment limited to yodelling by Grimm.

The Conference began by reading communications from people and organisations who could not be present.

Then the various delegations gave reports of the situations in their respective countries.

“Irrespective of the truth as to the direct responsibility for the outbreak of the War, one thing is certain.

The War which has produced this chaos is the outcome of imperialism, of the attempt on the part of the capitalist classes of each nation, to foster their greed for profit by the exploitation of human labour and of the natural treasures of the entire globe.” (Zimmerwald Manifesto)

It was the first of three conferences, subsequently held in Kienthal and Stockholm, jointly known as “the Zimmerwald Movement”.

For the next three years any socialist who opposed the War or pressed his government for swift peace talks was identified as a “Zimmerwaldist”.

Even in the centenary year of the Conference, Zimmerwald wrestled with the agonising decision whether to commemorate it.

“Zimmerwald was actually a peace conference.

There were young leftists from the whole of Europe, discussing peace, discussing their strategy against war.

A hundred years after Zimmerwald, we are in a similar situation, if we compare the wars that are going on, with 60 million people fleeing.

We have a refugee crisis.

It reminds us how violent the world is, and so it´s important to remember that there was once a conference of people uniting for peace.”

(Fabian Molina, President of Switzerland´s Young Socialists)

Richers agrees, pointing out that the Conference was the only gathering in Europe against the War, and that the final Manifesto from Zimmerwald contained some fundamental principles.

“The Zimmerwald Manifesto stated three important things:

  • There should be a peace without annexations.
  • There should be a peace without war contributions.
  • There should a peace leading to the self-determination of people.

If you look at the peace treaties of World War One, those three things were hardly considered, and we know that World War One led partially to World War Two, and so I think the Manifesto did state some very important points for a peaceful Europe.”

(Historian Julia Richers, Bern University)

But the Manifesto was not revolutionary enough for Lenin and Trotsky, who wanted it to contain references with replacing war between nations with an armed class struggle.

The delegates adopted one last document….

It unanimously passed a Resolution of Sympathy for the victims of the War and of persecution by belligerent governments.

Specifically it mentioned the fate of the Poles, the Belgians, the Armenians and Jewish peoples, the exiled Duma (Russian Parliament) Bolshevik members (arrested in December 1914), Karl Liebknecht (German) (1871 – 1919)(arrested and sent to the Eastern Front for anti-war protest), Klara Zetkin (German)(1857 – 1933)(arrested for anti-war protest), Rosa Luxembourg (German)(1871 – 1919)(arrested for anti-war protest) and Pierre Monatte (French)(1881 – 1960)(arrested for advocating trade unions).

The Resolution also honoured the memory of Jean Jaures (“the first victim of the War”)(French)(1859 – 1914)(assassinated for his pacifism) and socialists who had died in the War.

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Above: Jean Jaures

At the end of the conference an international socialist commission, called the International Socialist Committee was founded with a mandate to establish “a temporary secretariat” in Bern that would act as an intermediary of affliated socialist groups and to begin to publish a Bulletin containing the Manifesto and proceedings of the Conference.

This Committee is said to be the foundation of the Soviet Union.

For Lenin, the Zimmerwald Conference was an opportunity to stake his claim as the leader of the real European left.

Lenin remained apart, refusing to join anything as bloodless as a peace movement.

“At the present time the propaganda of peace unaccompanied by revolutionary mass action can only sow illusions….for it makes the proleteriat believe that the bourgeoise is humane and turns it into a plaything in the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent countries.

In particular, the idea of a so-called democratic peace being possible without a series of revolutions is profoundly erroneous.”

Swiss socialist Fritz Platten remembered Lenin as the most attentive listener at Zimmerwald, but when Lenin spoke his words had the impact of an acid shower.

Above: Fritz Platten (1883 – 1942)

Again and again Lenin pressed the case for common action to bring down the entire structure of imperialism.

While bourgeois governments might weigh their chance at wartime victory or defeat, the European working class could win only when it smashed the systems that oppressed it.

Lenin`s faction was a small minority at every stage – sometimes Lenin was its sole member – but he managed to set the tone of most discussions.

Lenin had transformed himself into a leader on the international stage, the inspiration for a distinct political tendency, the European movement of radical socialists that would be known as “the Zimmerwald Left”. – Lenin, Grigory Zinoviev (Russian Bolshevik), Karl Radek (Polish), Jan Berzin (Latvia), Zeth Höglund (Swedish), Ture Nerman (Swedish), Fritz Platten (Swiss) and Julian Borchardt (German).

Lenin and the Zimmerwald Left found their fellow socialists and social democrats outvoted them, but Lenin continued to harbour hopes that Switzerland might be a fertile ground for staging a revolution.

In the months to come, Lenin and his Zimmerwald Left would work to persuade more socialists to join their cause.

“Lenin once stated that the Swiss could have been the most revolutionary of all, because almost everybody had a gun at home.

But he said that in the end the society was too bourgeois, so he gave up on the Swiss.”

(Historian Julia Richers, Bern University)

“I think Lenin recognised after a few years that it was not a good idea to start a revolution in Switzerland.

Switzerland has always been a quite right-wing country, it never had a left majority, and I think Lenin saw that the revolutionary potential here in Switzerland was quite small.”

(Fabian Molina, President of Switzerland´s Young Socialists)

On the spot where the hotel Lenin and the other Conference members lodged is now only a bus stop.

Zimmerwald, Switzerland, 5 September 2017

I am off on another small adventure today but not at all feeling 100% good about it.

The wife is still at home with a bad cold and bad drama.

Her body says, “Stay home.”.

Her mind and conscience say, “Go to work.”

My remaining home would mean being an unwilling participant in this tragicomedy.

So, off I go to Zimmerwald.

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It takes 4 hours, 3 trains and 2 buses from home, but I finally reach Zimmerwald via Romanshorn, Zürich, Bern, Köniz and Niedermuhlern.

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Finally I see with my own eyes, albeit 102 years later, the town where 38 socialists from across Europe gathered together to ask the world´s nations to end World War One (37 participants´ idea) and plan violent revolution (Lenin`s idea).

The Hotel Beausejour where they met is no more.

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As neutral and conservative, right-leaning Switzerland is not enthusiastic about celebrating Communism there are only three small signs across from the town hall that mention the 1915 Conference at all.

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The number 11 seems to be the theme of my short visit.

I arrive at 11 am, the only store in the village and the town hall close at 11 and the road sign indicates that Zimmerwald is 11 km from Bern.

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Outside the store is a free library.

The only English language book is Philip Kerr´s Berlin Noir.

Zimmerwald is taking its afternoon siesta.

There is nowhere to even buy a cup of coffee.

After walking a bit I flag down a postbus.

 

24 – 30 April 1916, Kienthal, Switzerland

The Kienthal Conference, also known as the Second Zimmerwald Conference, was, like its predecessor, an international conference of socialists who opposed the First World War.

Of the nearly 50 participants at Kienthal, 18 of them had attended the Zimmerwald Conference.

Of the Zimmerwald Left, Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek and Platten were in attendance in Kienthal.

The delegates met in this small Swiss village at the foot of the Blüemlisalp.

Edmondo Peluso of the Portuguese Socialist Party gave a very detailed account:

“The spacious dining room of the Hotel Bären was transformed into a conference chamber.

The President`s (Robert Grimm) chair was in the centre and, as behooved an international conference, the Presidium consisted of a German (Adolph Hoffmann), a Frenchman (Pierre Brizon), an Italian (Oddino Morgari) and a Serb (Tricia Kaclerovic).

Two tables for the delegates were placed on either side and perpendicular to the President´s table, on the right and the left, exactly as in parliaments.

The Italian delegation, being very numerous, took their seats at another table in front of the President.”

The Conference began with a speech by Robert Grimm on the work of the ISC, followed by a report from Hoffmann representing Germany.

French parliamentarian Pierre Brizon then began his speech….

“Comrades, though I am an Internationalist, I am still a Frenchman….

I will not utter one word, nor will I make any gesture, that might injure France, the land of the Revolution.”

Brizon turned to Hoffmann and told him to inform Kaiser Wilhelm that France would gladly exchange Madagascar for the return of Alsace-Lorraine.

Brizon´s speech lasted several hours, was interrupted by him drinking coffee and eating and included at least two attempts to physically assault him.

Finally Brizon declared that he would vote against all war loans – which brought forth a great applause – and then added “but only once hostile troops leave France”, which resulted in the second of the aforementioned assault attempts.

Unlike the first Zimmerwald Conference, the Kienthal Manifesto did not create much controversy.

The Manifesto stated that the War was caused by imperialism and militarism and would only end when all countries abolished their own militarism, it also criticised the social patriots (those who ruled out any opposition to their government while it was still fighting a war) and bourgeois pacifists and stated categorically that the only way wars would end was if the working class took power and abolished private property.

The Zimmerwald Left felt that the revolutionary struggle would arise out of the misery of the masses and the unification of a number of struggles into a single struggle for political power, socialism and the “unification of socialist peoples”.

The Kienthal atmosphere was more tense than Zimmerwald.

It was clear that the pro-peace centre had become more vulnerable and the Zimmerwald Left duly attacked it.

The Left was growing confident.

Lenin took the whole proceedings as a harbinger of future victory.

The peace program of social democracy was, for the Zimmerwald Left, the proletariat turning their weapons on their common enemy – the capitalist governments.

While the delegates were in broad agreement on the causes of the War, there was disagreement on exactly what measures the working class should take to end the War.

They agreed that the War would not end the capitalist economy or imperialism, therefore the War would not do away with the causes of future wars.

There were no schemes that could end wars as long as the capitalist system existed.

“The struggle for lasting peace can, therefore, be only a struggle for the realisation of socialism.” (The Kienthal Manifesto)

The Kienthal delegates declared that it was vital to raise a call for an immediate truce and peace negotiations.

Workers would succeed in hastening the end of the War and influencing the nature of the peace only to the extent that this call found a response within the international proleteriat and led them to “forceful action directed towards overthrowing the capitalist class”.

“Socialism strives to eliminate all national oppression by means of an economic and political unification of the peoples on a democratic basis, something which cannot be realised within the limits of capitalist states.” (The Kienthal Manifesto)

As at Zimmerwald, the Kienthal Conference passed a Resolution of Sympathy for its “persecuted” comrades, repressed in Russia, Germany, France, England and even neutral Switzerland.

 

 

5 September 2017, Kienthal, Switzerland

Restless after quiet Zimmerwald, I decide to visit this town, the site of the Second Zimmerwald Conference.

Blick auf das Dorf Kiental

So after a bus and a tram to Bern Hauptbahnhof, then an hour`s train ride to Reichenbach im Kanderthal (the same river as that forms the Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen)(See Canada Slim and the Final Problem) then a Postbus up Griesalp, I arrive in Kiental.

(Population just over 210, not including cattle and sheep!)

I enjoy a late lunch of Bratwurst (sausages) and Rösti (a potato dish shapped like a pancake) at the Hotel Bären (Bear Hotel).which advertises itself as “well-suited for families, hikers and nature lovers”.

Kienthal is a wonderful place….great scenery, hiking trails galore, gondola chairs up the mountain…Food and accommodation at the historic Hotel Bären as well as other places.

As I eat my lunch I wonder….

Am I sitting where Lenin sat?

By the dining room window staring out at the mountains?

It is said Lenin could speak four languages (English, French, German and Russian).

Which language(s) did he use in Zimmerwald and Kienthal?

Were his thoughts as bloodthirsty as I imagine or was he forced by his peers over time, like Stalin, to commit any atrocities as “the end result always justifies the means”?

The important thing I take away from my visits to Zimmerwald and Kienthal is that at these Conferences in 1915 and 1916 is that honest, albeit disturbing, discussion was made that acknowledged that there is great inequality in the world, that the nobility and the wealthy create and profit from this inequality and that great struggle may be necessary to affect any real change.

Mahatma Gandhi´s ideas of passive resistance had not arrived yet in mainstream political thinking and discussion.

Zimmerwald and Kienthal would bring Lenin to international attention from socialists and those who feared or sought to use socialists.

Within a year of the Kienthal Conference the Germans would finance and arrange for Lenin to take a train ride across Germany and onwards to Petrograd (the renamed St. Petersburg, as the capital`s name sounded too German during a war against Germany), to start a Revolution that would halt the Russian/tsarist war effort against the Germans.

As Lenin gazed out the Bären`s windows at breakfast, did he anticipate that within 24 months of the Kienthal Conference that he would become Russia´s most powerful person?

The mountains remain silent.

Sources: Wikipedia / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train / Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia (Editor), Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths / Dominic Lieven, Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 / Tony Brenton (Editor), Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Imogen Foulkes, “Links to Lenin: The past Swiss villagers tried to forget”, BBC News, 29 November 2015