Lenin Arrives in Petrograd
Lenin’s arrival at the Finland Station, in a Stalin-era painting. Note how Stalin is pictured above Lenin; he was not actually present, and in fact was not overly impressed by Lenin’s April Theses.
April 16 1917, Petrograd–After a long journey via Germany, the Baltic, Sweden, and Finland (then part of Russia), Lenin arrived by train in Petrograd shortly before midnight on April 16. This happened to coincide with the last day of the All-Russian Bolshevik Conference, and they gave him a grand welcome at the train station, along with representatives of the Petrograd Soviet. A band struck up the Marseillaise (not Lenin’s preferred Internationale) as revolutionary sailors stood at attention.
Lenin was not expecting this sort of reception, and gave a short impromptu speech in the waiting room of the station. His fellow Bolsheviks soon escorted him outside the station, to an armored car that was to lead a procession to the conference. Lenin went up onto the turret of the armored car, silhouetted by a electric light, and started an impassioned speech that continued as the armored car went along the streets of Petrograd. The speech’s text is unknown; here is a short selection from his speech in the waiting room:
Any day now the whole of European capitalism may crash. The Russian revolution accomplished by you has prepared the way and opened a new epoch. Long live the worldwide socialist revolution!
At the meeting of the Bolsheviks that night, Lenin delivered a ninety-minute speech in a similar vein, starting at two in the morning. He was convinced that the “second stage” of the revolution, in which the proletariat would take power. He called for an immediate end to the war, and to not negotiate with the other liberal or socialist parties that merely called for a war without annexation. “To demand of a government of capitalists that it should renounce annexations is a nonsense, a crying mockery.”
The speech was not received well; most thought that Lenin’s urging for a continued revolution (even if he did acknowledge some patience might be required) were ill-thought-out at best. Lenin had not been in the country for years, had not been present in February; even so, they thought, he still must have known that Russia was not ready for such a drastic step, which would only lead to reaction and counter-revolution. Lenin recognized this attitude as his speech was winding down, and concluded: “You comrades have a trusting attitude to the government. If that is so, our paths diverge. I prefer to remain in a minority.” Lenin crystallized these thoughts in a short treatise, his April Theses, which were published in Pravda, after some delay, and with a note explaining that it did not represent the view of the rest of Petrograd’s Bolsheviks.
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Sources include: Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution; Catherine Meridale, Lenin on the Train.