As Bolshevik groups work to foment revolution among Russia’s peasants, Alexander Helphand, a wealthy Bolshevik businessman working as a German agent, approaches the German ambassador to Turkey in Constantinople to let him know how closely German and Bolshevik interests are aligned.
The interests of the German government are identical with those of the Russian revolutionaries, Helphand claimed. The Bolsheviks were working feverishly to destroy the czarist regime and break the country into smaller socialist republics. At the same time, Germany was depending on a major upheaval within Russia to break the stalemate on the Eastern Front and push the immense but volatile country toward peace negotiations with the Germans. Helphand persuaded the German Foreign Ministry that a mass strike was the key to revolution in Russia—and that Germany should lend a hand to the Bolsheviks in their efforts to engineer that strike.
The conversation marked the beginning of Germany’s growing interest in the fomentation of the Russian revolution—an interest that culminated in their facilitation, in April 1917, of the return of exiled Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in a train that passed over German soil. His journey was the result of efforts made by the German foreign secretary, Arthur Zimmermann, to convince the kaiser and the army that Lenin’s presence was paramount to the success of revolution in Russia—a revolution Germany should support despite the inherent threat Marxism posed to imperial regimes like the kaiser’s. Germany did not have to wait long to see the results of its investment. In November 1917 Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power. Barely a month later, Russia sought peace with Germany.