Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale

Catherine Merridale's "Lenin on the Train" is a bit difficult to categorize.  This is not a monograph for academics or specialists, the lack of archival research and the limited citations means this is more a 'popular' approach to this period (WWI, Russian Revolution) and personality (Lenin).  Simultaneously, however, the avalanche of names, locations, events, and dates mean readers need to have a rather in-depth understanding of the First World War and the Russian Revolution if they want to understand the narrative Merridale has created.

While the initial approach offered by the author sparked some interest, specifically the question of what role did Germany actually play in allowing Lenin to travel through their territory and destabilize the Eastern Front has some parallels to events occurring today in both Eastern Europe and the United States (to what extent can state and non-state actors influence revolutions, revolutionary movements, or the democratic process) the rest of the text unfolded as a rather unoriginal attempt to contextualize Lenin, the lead-up to the Russian Revolution, and Lenin's eventual return, escape, and re-return to Russia.  The most significant contribution Merridale makes is to showcase the chaotic nature of the Russian Revolution, how fragile the system that existed between the two revolutions was, and that Germany had no qualms about facilitating the return of personalities like Lenin to Russia if it would help get Russia out of the war and allow Germany to concentrate on the Western Front and potentially win the war.

As much as Lenin might have had to live down that his return was facilitated by a state that was simultaneously at war with the Russia, this was also the man that authorized the treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  Making deals with enemies and utilizing opportunities to continue preaching his brand of Marxism is what made Lenin the man he was.  Thus, reiterating that Germany was complicit in Lenin's return really does little to enhance our understanding of either the Russian Revolution or Lenin.  And once again I'm forced to wonder who is the intended audience for this text.

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