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December 12: Smuggling Lenin Into Russia

Lawrence Bush
December 12, 2016
Alexander Israel Helphand, an Odessa-born socialist writer and activist who helped to mastermind the 1917 return of V.I. Lenin through Germany to revolutionary Russia in a sealed train, and convinced the German government to funnel two million marks to the Bolsheviks because of the likelihood that, in victory, they would withdraw Russia from World War I, died in Berlin at 57 on this date in 1924. Helphand had been arrested by the tsarist police and sentenced to imprisonment in Siberia in 1906, but escaped to Germany. Known as Parvus, he was described by Leon Trotsky as “unquestionably one of the most important of the Marxists at the turn of the century. He used the Marxian methods skilfully, was possessed of wide vision, and kept a keen eye on everything of importance in world events. This, coupled with his fearless thinking and his virile, muscular style, made him a remarkable writer.” (In the photo at top, Parvus is at left, Trotsky center, Leo Deutsch at right.) During the world war, however, Parvus became a wealthy arms dealer and German nationalist, and developed a reputation for dishonesty (Maxim Gorky accused him of swindling him of royalties). Lenin would not permit him reentry to Russia following the revolution. “His early studies brought me closer to the problems of the social revolution, and, for me, definitely transformed the conquest of power by the proletariat from an astronomical ‘final’ goal to a practical task for our own day.” --Leon Trotsky

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.