Lenin Turns Himself In For Trial After July Days

Whan an arrest warrant was issued for Lenin (and Zinoviev, Trotsky, and others) after the July Days, he seems for a while to have seriously considered turning himself in for trial:

"By the next morning, Lenin had decided to stand trial—as he told [his sister] Maria and Nadya when they visited him. “Gregory [Zinoviev] and I have decided to appear,” he told his wife. “Go and tell Kamenev.”

"Maria tried to argue with him, but Nadya had been with him in too many crises. She got up without a word to carry out her orders. “ ‘ Let's say good-bye,' Ilyich checked me,” Nadya recorded. “ ‘ We may not see each other again.' We embraced. I went to Kamenev and gave him Ilyich's message.”

"That night, however, at yet another meeting of some of the party leaders in the Alliluyev apartment, the decision was changed. Sverdlov, in particular, was violently opposed to Lenin's standing trial...." https://archive.org/details/SealedTrainLeninPearson_201903/page/n235/

Some Bolsheviks were puzzled--why is he fleeing instead of fighting these calumnies about "German gold"? Even some Mensheviks thought the charges were slanderous and could not understand his fleeing instead of answering them.. One of them, Sukhanov, ridiculed Lenin's justification--which was of course adopted by Soviet historians--that he couldn't get a fair trial, might be lynched, etc. (Lenin told one of his comrades, "At worst you'll be arrested but *I'll* swing .") https://archive.org/details/SealedTrainLeninPearson_201903/page/n237/mode/2up

It has to be admitted that there *was* some talk of hanging Lenin (even though the death penalty had been abolished; even after the July Days it was restored only for soldiers at the front). A right-wing newspaper, the *Petrogradskaia gazeta* had this cartoon:


"'Save Russia, save the motherland!' right- wing deputy Vladimir Purishkevich shouted, as he called for hanging the initiators of the insurrection.8 Pro- government soldiers grabbed suspected Bolsheviks or anarchists off the street and threatened to kill them (and did in the case of one young Bolshevik." https://books.google.com/books?id=GBPcDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA644

Sukhanov however dismisses the possibility that Lenin might meet the violent end Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were to meet in 1919:

"Why was it necessary? Was he in any real danger? Absurd, in the summer of 1917! There could be no question of lynch-law, of the death penalty or of hard labour. However biased the court, however minimal the guarantees of justice nevertheless Lenin risked absolutely nothing but imprisonment.

"Lenin of course may have prized not his life or health, but his freedom of political action. But in a prison of the time could he have been more hampered than in his underground retreat? He could unquestionably have written his fortnightly *Pravda* articles from prison, while from the point of view of the political effect the very fact of Lenin's imprisonment would have had an enormous positive significance. His flight had only a negative one.

"The example of Lenin's comrades completely confirms all this. Many of them were arrested and put on trial for the same crimes. They safely sat out six weeks or two months in prison and went on with their writing there. With their martyrs' haloes they served as an inexhaustible source of agitation against the Government of Kerensky and Tsereteli. And then, without the slightest evil consequences for anyone, they returned to their posts.

"From a political and moral point of view the flight of Lenin and Zinoviev, devoid of any practical sense, was reprehensible. And I'm not surprised that this example was not followed by their own comrades.

"But, as is well known, there was another circumstance that heightened the odium of Lenin's flight a thousandfold. For after all, besides the accusation of insurrection, a monstrous slander, which was believed by hundreds of thousands and millions of people, had been directed at Lenin. Lenin was accused of the crime, vile and shameful from every point of view, of being in the pay of the German General Staff. . . It was impossible simply to ignore this. And Lenin had not ignored it; he had sent Zinoviev to the Central Ex. Com. to defend his honour and his party. This was not at all difficult to do. After a little time had passed the nonsensical accusation went up like smoke. Nobody had adduced anything in its support and people ceased to believe it. There was no longer the slightest risk that any charge would be brought on this count. But Lenin went into hiding with such a charge hanging over him.

"This was something quite special, unexampled, and incomprehensible. Any other mortal would have demanded an investigation and trial even in the most unfavourable conditions. Any other mortal would personally and publicly have done everything possible, as energetically as he could, to rehabilitate himself. But Lenin proposed that others, his adversaries, should do this, while he sought safety in flight.

"I consider that the fact of Lenin's disappearance must lie at the very root of any description of the personality of the future ruler of Russia. In the whole world only he could have behaved thus.

The most obvious answer is that Lenin had indeed been taking money from the Germans, and that while the Provisional Government's evidence at the time was thin, Lenin couldn't be sure there wasn't *additional* evidence that might turn up at trial. (Unfortunately for the PG, it obviously could not know that some months later the German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Kühlmann would write the Kaiser boasting that German money had put Lenin in power....) In any event, it is signficant that when the Bolsheviks were debating whether Lenin should stand trial, the most vehemently opposed to the idea was Sverdlov, who knew more about the Party's finances than anyone else...

Still, suppose Lenin was willing to take that risk and stand trial. (Or suppose he had no choice and was arrested before he and Zinvoviev could flee.) I really doubt that the PG would be able to prove "German gold." Even today, while there is little doubt of it--I already mentioned Kühlmann's boasting to the Kaiser, and there is also the simple fact that the sudden prosperity of the Bolshevik Party in 1917 is hard to explain otherwise--the exact mechanisms are hard to prove. From Catherine Merridale’s *Lenin on the Train*:

"There can be no doubt that Germany was pouring money into Russia. In just one instance, on 3 April 1917, the German foreign ministry approved a grant of five million marks for propaganda purposes, much of which probably passed to Parvus (who always refused to sign receipts). While Lenin’s cheap seat on the sealed train had been a gamble on the part of a small group in Germany’s civilian government, other departments and agencies had budgets of their own. The military might have been counting on its submarines to throttle and defeat the enemy, but it still ran a lavish propaganda campaign on the eastern front throughout 1917. As the British War Cabinet noted in April, “German agitators and German money would seem to be having much to do with the unrest in Russia.” The idea of a ‘vast spying organisation’ was fanciful, but with large piles of foreign notes in circulation, many of them forged, it was a challenge to work out who was bankrolling whom. https://books.google.com/books?id=H9klDgAAQBAJ&pg=PA257

"Exactly how that cash flowed east remains a matter for speculation. It is entirely reasonable to suppose that some of Parvus’ German millions reached Lenin’s fighting fund. It is possible that the big man used his research group in Denmark to channel money to the Bolsheviks, a course he could have sorted out with Radek at their secret meeting in April. Some researchers have named the likely handler as a confidential agent called Vladislav Shatsenstein. The other route for moving cash may have been through Stockholm. The most convenient intermediary would have been the firm that Fürstenberg managed for Parvus and his German friend Georg Sklarz, which ploughed some of its profits back into trading but may have used the rest for political operations in Russia. The file is open, although many of the documents have disappeared. What is beyond doubt is that Lenin accepted 2,000 rubles from Fürstenberg in April 1917 when he was planning his journey to Russia, and he took 800 more for Zinoviev. He did not balk at that variety of German gold..." https://books.google.com/books?id=H9klDgAAQBAJ&pg=PA261

Note the words "probably passed," "entirely reasonable to suppose," "It is possible," "may have used the rest," etc. Not exactly conclusive evidence. As for the money he got from Fürstenberg, Lenin might deny that he had any idea it was indirectly from the Germans; and in any event, 2,800 rubles is hardly enough to make a revolution.

Of course there was still the charge of insurrection. But Trotsky, Kamenev and others were jailed on that charge and were released before too long. Would the same happen to Lenin?
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Lavanya Six

Gone Fishin'
Of course there was still the charge of insurrection. But Trotsky, Kamenev and others were jailed on that charge and were released before too long. Would the same happen to Lenin?
As you outline, the likeliest answer is "probably not much happens."

Lenin's reversal on surrendering himself does make sense, from a personal POV. He doesn't know the October Revolution is just around the corner. From his own perspective, the July Days looks like just another case of the government cracking down on a pubic protest/uprising. Russian history wasn't short on those. And if you've spent a lifetime working in the political underground, your ingrained instinct will be to flee when you feel the heat.

Plus, since it seems the Germans were likely funding the Bolsheviks, Lenin could legitimately fear he'd be convicted. Either because new evidence would emerge or — alternatively — that the PG (or its foreign allies) would fabricate evidence to quash the impending communist revolution. A third possibility is that Lenin might fear being assassinated while on trial. All it takes is one hothead with a gun to go from "Did you hear that Lenin is on the Kaiser's payroll?" to "I outta kill the traitor Lenin." Running away makes you look more guilty in the short-term, sure, but at least you're safe amongst friends.

Now, speaking from a purely 'narrative' standpoint, to me the entertaining potential in a "What if... Lenin stood trial after the July Days?" story would be the lingering suspicion. Lenin gets treated just like Trotsky, Kamenev and the others... but the trial raises public doubts about him. He's not convicted of taking the gold but it doesn't matter. Even his comrades side-eye him and think, hmm. Watching an alt-October Revolution play out with additional paranoia amongst the Bolsheviks would be fun. You could milk that story for twists and turns.
Lenin probably would had been hanged but it wouldn't change much beside someone else being leader of communist Russia. Lenin would had seen as martyr and it might had encouraged remaining Bolsheviks.
BTW, I never fail to be struck by how haphazard the PG's July crackdown on the Bolsheviks was. Arrest warrants for Lenin and Zinoviev (both of whom fled) and for Trotsky, Kamenev, and Lunacharsky (who were imprisoned, though not for long). But none for such important members of the Bolshevik Central Committee as Stalin, Sverdlov, and Molotov. I gues the latter three were just too little-known outside leading Bolshevik circles.
Lenin probably would had been hanged but it wouldn't change much beside someone else being leader of communist Russia. Lenin would had seen as martyr and it might had encouraged remaining Bolsheviks.
As other users said, I don’t think Lenin would have been hanged even if he had been convicted, but I disagree with the idea that without Lenin, events would pretty much just go on as OTL. Honestly, without Lenin I’m not sure the Bolsheviks would have the capabilities to pull off what they did IOTL - his death would affect far more than a simple change in leadership IMO.
For those who think (as Sukhanov did) that the prospects of Lenin being lynched were unreal, two sources say it almost happened to Kamenev!

(1) Stephen Kotkin: "Altogether, nearly 800 Bolsheviks and radicals would be imprisoned, including Kamenev, who was nearly lynched, but not Stalin (for reasons that remain unclear)." https://books.google.com/books?id=wLvaCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA203

(2) Richard Pipes: " After Kamenev had been caught and nearly lynched, Lenin decided to take no more chances." https://books.google.com/books?id=XtE54LuhFzEC&pg=PA436