The anniversaries from the World War I era keep coming - this week marks the arrival of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov - Lenin - in St. Petersburg to take control of the spontaneous Russian revolution.
Historian Ted Widmer gives a fascinating account on the New Yorker's web site of Lenin's 8-day rail journey from Zurich, Switzerland, to the Finland Station in St. Petersburg, a trip set up by the German government, Russia's enemy in World War I. Lenin arrived in St. Petersburg on April 16, 1917, a date that marks a major shift in world history.
While the aging Lenin was stewing in Zurich, the Russian people revolted against war losses and food shortages. At last, the czar abdicated in March, 1917, raising Lenin's desperation to return to Russia. The Germans, believing Lenin's revolutionary agitation would further disrupt Russia and bring its withdrawal from the war, set up the journey.
Lenin and around 30 associates traveled in a single rail car, equipped with two toilets. They were watched by German soldiers, separated from the Russian revolutionaries by a chalk line that represented the border between the two countries. A new book by Catherine Merridale, "Lenin on the Train," chronicles the the journey. Earlier, Edmund Wilson wrote about the event in his 1940 classic, "To the Finland Station."
Widmer also discusses the return to Russia of another revolutionary, Leon Trotsky, who was at the time living in the Bronx in New York City and working at the small Russian language revolutionary newspaper, Novy Mir, at 77 St. Mark Place. Trotsky commuted to work every day on the elevated train, sometimes stopping for a cheap meal at the Triangle Diary Restaurant.
Like his comrade Lenin, Trotsky heard about the people's revolution and hurried to get to Russia. He was detained for a few days in Nova Scotia, but then allowed by the British government to continue his trip.
A later Soviet-era painting of Lenin's arrival at the station shows Joseph Stalin standing behind Lenin. But Stalin, at that time still an unknown local revolutionary, was not there. He seized power much later, ousting Trotsky after Lenin's death.
Lenin's arrival came 10 days after the United States declared war on Germany. That's why the Germans were desperate for Russia to withdraw. With Russia no longer fighting, the Germans could bring men from the Eastern Front to counter the arrival of the Americans.
After a brief reign of a liberal parliamentary government, Lenin's Bolsheviks took control of Russia, defeating the more moderate Mensheviks in a brutal civil war. The Bolsheviks created the Soviet Union, eventually led by Stalin. The German sponsorship of Lenin's trip brought about the Germans' defeat in World War II by Stalin's troops.
After World War II came the Cold War, and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union. Now Vladimir Putin downplays the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, as he seeks to revive the power of the imperial Russia destroyed by Lenin and his colleagues.