How Dubious Loyalties Shaped the 1917 October Revolution

In the wild political landscape of 1917 Russia, the October Revolution unfolded with bizarre twists. Trotsky's Menshevik-to-Bolshevik switch, Left SRs' strange bedfellowship, and Germany's support for Lenin created shifting loyalties and unforeseen alliances.

How Dubious Loyalties Shaped the 1917 October Revolution
Leon Trotsky, once a Menshevik, made a surprising switch to the Bolsheviks, altering the course of history.

In the swirling political maelstrom of 1917 Russia, where intrigue and espionage were as common as borscht and vodka, the October Revolution unfolded in a bizarre atmosphere of shifting loyalties and unexpected alliances. This chapter in history, often obscured by grand ideologies and fervent rhetoric, reveals the bizarre twists and turns of fate that brought the Bolsheviks to power.

Our tale begins with a character almost as enigmatic as Rasputin himself – Leon Trotsky. Until a few months before the October Revolution, Trotsky sported a political badge of honor as a Menshevik, a faction of Russian Social Democrats that stood in opposition to Lenin's Bolsheviks. This unusual entry on Trotsky's resume would surely have raised some eyebrows at Bolshevik HQ.

But as history would have it, Trotsky, like a political chameleon, changed colors and hopped onto the Bolshevik bandwagon just in time for the revolution. His opportunistic switch from Menshevik to Bolshevik would forever be etched in the annals of history, though it wasn't without its consequences.

If Trotsky's change of heart wasn't enough, enter the “Left SRs” – a faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR). The SRs were far from your typical Marxists. They championed peasant revolution and urban terrorism, and their popularity in Russia was second to none.

The Left SRs initially flirted with the Bolsheviks, but fully embraced them when Lenin announced the redistribution of land to the peasantry. In a move that lent a veneer of plurality to the Bolshevik government, the Left SRs jumped on board. However, they would jump ship just as quickly in March 1918 when they disagreed with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

But wait, the plot thickens! Not everyone within the Bolshevik ranks was thrilled about the October Revolution. There were those, like Lev Rozenfeld (“Kamenev”) and Hirsch Apfelbaum (“Grigory Zinoviev”), who remained loyal Bolsheviks but vehemently opposed the insurrection. It's almost like watching a scene from a Shakespearean tragedy, with comrades-turned-foes within the same camp.

The Fatal Gamble of Dubious Loyalties

Fast-forward to the 1930s, and the grim specter of the Great Purges loomed over Russia. Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, and even the Left SR leader Boris Kamkov all met their untimely ends. The purges, it seems, aimed to eliminate any potential fifth column in the event of a war with Germany – a strategy Oleg Jlevniuk convincingly demonstrated.

And speaking of Germany, it turns out that the Bolsheviks weren't the only ones playing political roulette. Back in 1917, Germany had a knack for financing “fifth columns” in their rivals' territories. In a bizarre twist of fate, history repeated itself in Russia.

In 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese attaché in Stockholm had financed revolutionaries like Georgy Gapon. In Mexico, in 1917, Germany's Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann famously offered an alliance against the United States to Venustiano Carranza's government, promising Mexico the “recovery” of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.

By 1915, Germany was eyeing Russia and its revolutionaries. They first tried to support Viktor Chernov, the SR leader. When that plan fell through, they turned to none other than Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary most opposed to the war.

The link between Germany and Lenin was forged by Yakov Fürstenberg, a Polish Bolshevik who smuggled goods across borders. These covert operations included arranging a train for Lenin to cross Germany non-stop from south to north – no passport checks required. It was an urgent move to stabilize the Eastern front before the United States joined the war against Germany and its allies.

Bolsheviks on German Payroll

Lenin's Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda, had been receiving German financing since its re-founding in March 1917. A German diplomat's telegram from Stockholm to Berlin on April 8, 1917, read, “Lenin's entry into Russia successful. Works exactly as we wished.”

The gamble paid off. The Bolsheviks, now in power, swiftly decreed peace and entered negotiations in Brest, where Trotsky would concede the Western Provinces to Germany. But when Germany lost the war, Russia set out to regain these territories in a new conflict.

The German support for Lenin might not have been a meticulously calculated strategy but rather a series of coincidences and sociopolitical realities within Russia. When Stalin embarked on purging potential fifth columnists in the 1930s, he couldn't help but recall Germany's 1917 strategy. After all, the Bolsheviks had come to power with a little help from their German friends.

In history, it's the characters, unexpected alliances, and bizarre twists of fate that often shape the course of nations. The October Revolution, with its opportunistic actors and dubious loyalties, is a prime example. So, the next time you hear about a political flip-flop or a strange alliance, remember that it might just be another chapter in the nooks of history.

In-Text Citation: Franco, Rainer Matos. ‘A 100 Años de La Revolución de Octubre En Rusia | Rainer Matos Franco’. Revista de La Universidad de México, Accessed 25 Sept. 2023.