Back to Solzhenitsyn index
Back to Parvus-Bogrov index


The passage concerning the confrontation between Parvus and Lenin is one of the few occasions (maybe, I think, the only occasion) in which Solzhenitsyn allows himself to indulge in fantasy - one might indeed say 'fantasmagoria'. Another of his many enemies, Andrei Sinyavsky, wrote a manifesto against Socialist Realism arguing that the proper mode of Russian literature was 'fantasmagoria' after the manner of Gogol's The Nose or Bulgakov's The Master and Marguerita

In Sletches of Exile (Part 1, pp.149-50) Solzhenitsyn explains:

'Out of the mountain of material I had accumulated, I saw emerging and growing in size, to the point that he was catching up with Lenin himself, a personage I hadn't previously thought of, that of Parvus, with his plan of a simplicity of genius: destroy Russia through a combination of revolutionary methods and national separations, above all that of Ukraine, by cultivating the Ukrainians in the camps of Russian prisoners and stirring up among them an irreconcilable attitude to Russia (and it worked, that plan! While no British Empire would have been able at that time to do anything like it: they wouldn't have dared to light the revolutionary fire). But there was a problem: how to arrange a meeting between Parvus and Lenin in 1916, to have a direct dialogue between them? They had indeed met, but in Bern in 1915, and I had decided against giving an account of the year 1915. There was no meeting between them in Zurich in 1916, only an exchange of letters. So, forced into it, I put my usual realism aside and had recourse to fantasy to turn their correspondence into a dialogue. I introduced a touch of devilry: the emissary didn't just bring a letter but at the same time Parvus himself, reduced and confined in a suitcase. The progressive swelling up, the emergence, then the disappearance of the personage after the interview, the element of fantasy was limited to that; the whole Lenin-Parvus dialogue and the confrontation of their ideas and their plans are given in their reality and in perfect conformity with the historical truth.' (3)

(3) Alexandre Soljénitsyne: Le Grain tombé entre les meules - esquisses d'exil t.1, Fayard, 1998. The book isn't yet available in English translation so extracts given here, from this and from the second volume, are my translation from the French.

The emissary in question is George Sklarz (an 'energetic little Galician Jew,' November 1916, p.635 - the relationship between Sklarz and Parvus has something of the relationship between Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon) and, since Solzhenitsyn isn't able to quite go the whole hog with fantasmagoria, Lenin is portrayed as being ill and prone to hallucinating. But the main point is that both men consider themselves and each other to be the most formidable minds in the revolutionary movement. And we have the clear impression that Solzhenitsyn agrees.

Lenin has proclaimed a policy of turning the inter-Imperialist war into a civil war. Instead of fighting for 'their own' country, the working classes of each of the warring nations should turn against 'their own' ruling class. It is a policy perhaps impossible to reduce to practise once rejected by the supposedly international workers' movement, but keeps the attention of its supporters firmly fixed on the need for revolution independent of the confusion of interests generated by the war:

'A joyful inspiration took shape in his dynamic mind, one of the most powerful, swiftest and surest decisions of his life. The smell of printer's ink from the newspapers, the smell of blood and medicaments from the station hall evaporated - and suddenly, like a soaring eagle following the movements of a little bird, you have eyes only for the one truth that matters, your heart pounds, like an eagle you swoop down on it, seize it by its trembling tail as it is vanishing into a crevice in the rock, and you tug and tug and rise into the air, unfurling it like a ribbon, like a streamer bearing the slogan TRANSFORM THIS WAR INTO CIVIL WAR! And this war, this war will bring all the governments of Europe down in ruins!' (August 1914, p.178)

Parvus on the other hand has straightforwardly gone over to the enemy camp:

'Why ask who bears the "war guilt", "who attacked first" when world imperialism has been preparing for this fight for decades [...] think like Socialists: how are we, the world proletariat, to make use of the war, or in other words on which side should we fight? Germany has the most powerful Social Democratic Party in the world. Germany is the stronghold of socialism and for Germany this is a war of self defence. If Socialism is smashed in Germany it will be defeated everywhere. The road to victory of world socialism lies through the reinforcement of German military power, while the fact that Tsarism is on the same side as the Entente reveals even more clearly where the true enemies of socialism are: thus, the victory of the Entente would bring a new age of oppression to the whole world. So workers' parties throughout the world must fight against Russian Tsarism. Advising the proletariat to adopt neutrality (as Trotsky does) means opting out from history, it is revolutionary cretinism. So the object of world socialism is the crushing defeat of Russia and a revolution in that country! Unless Russia is decentralised and democratised the whole world is in danger. And since Germany bears the main burden of the struggle against Muscovite imperialism, the revolutionary movement there must be suspended for the time being. At a later stage victory in war will bring class victories for the proletariat. THE VICTORY OF GERMANY IS THE VICTORY OF SOCIALISM!.' (November 1916, pp.647-8)

One wonders if there might be a resemblance between the pro-German arguments of Parvus and the pro-German arguments of James Connolly and Roger Casement.

Parvus had worked with Lenin on the journal Iskra since 1900 but at the time of the Bolshevik/Menshevik split he had sided with the Mensheviks, without totally identifying with them. According to the account by Heinz Schurer: 'Parvus and Rosa Luxemburg both upheld the conception of the spontaneous action of the masses as opposed to the Leninist idea of the direction of the movement by a spearhead of professional revolutionaries.' About the same time Parvus was contacted by the younger Trotsky and together they had taken charge of the Socialist contribution to the 1905 revolution. To quote Schurer again:

'By the end of 1904 Trotsky had completed the manuscript of a pamphlet on the prospects of the Russian revolution to come. No sooner had he placed it in Parvus' hands than the stirring events of January 9, 1905 {the massacre of demonstrators led by the priest, Georgiy Apollonovich Gapon, in St Petersburg - PB] took place. Profoundly moved by these developments Parvus wrote a preface to the pamphlet which in the boldness of its prognosis went far beyond anything any Russian Marxist had yet dared to predict. Parvus set the course firmly for the conquest of political power in Russia by the social democratic party alone ... The only one who accepted the idea was Trotsky ...' (4)

(4) 4 Heinz Schurer: 'Alexander Helphand-Parvus - Russian revolutionary and German patriot', The Russian Review, vol 18, no 4, pp.313-331. According to Tony Cliff (Trotsky: Towards October 1879-1917, ch 6 'Trotsky and Parvus: The inception of the theory of permanent revolution' (available at Trotsky's pamphlet was called 'Up to the 9th January'. Solzhenitsyn (November 1916, p.639) has Lenin ruminating on Parvus' 'grotesque fantasy about the possibility of a socialist party wining power and turning it against the majority of the people, suppressing the trade unions.'

In Solzhenitsyn's account, to Lenin, stranded in Geneva and firing 'letter after letter' to Russia:

'It had all seemed so obvious. Knuckle dusters! Clubs! Gasoline-soaked rags! Spades! Guncotton! Barbed wire! Nails (for use against mounted police) [...] Climb to the upper stories of buildings and rain stones down on the troops! Pour boiling water on them! Keep acid up there to pour on the police!

'Parvus and Trotsky had done none of these things, but merely arrived in Petersburg, issued a proclamation, and convened a new organ of government: The Soviet of Workers' Deputies. They asked no one's permission, and nobody hindered them. A pure workers' government! Already in session! Although they arrived a mere two weeks before the others [the other revolutionary exiles - PB], they had taken control of everything. The chairman of the Soviet was their man of straw, Nosar; its outstanding orator and general favourite, Trotsky; while its inventor Parvus, directed it from behind the scenes. They had taken over the struggling Russian Gazette, which sold for one kopeck and was popular in style and tone, and suddenly sales rose to half a million and the ideas of the two friends flowed out to the masses.' (pp 640-1)


(5) Schurer says that while Trotsky had arrived in January, Parvus didn't arrive until October and, though he had certainly been Trotsky's mentor, he was in 1905 very much in his shadow.

In the repression that followed 1905, while Lenin was tied up in his philosophical dispute with Alexander Bogdanov and what we might almost call the mystical wing of Bolshevism, Parvus was in Turkey, establishing himself as a major industrialist, making a fortune and acting as financial and political adviser to the Young Turk government. His pro-German policy gave him a voice in the councils of the German government. He had, in other words, what Lenin so conspicuously lacked - power within the existing financial and political system. Lenin, on the other hand, had - or at least Parvus, on Solzhenitsyn's reading, thought he had - a disciplined body of determined revolutionaries organised under his command throughout Russia. Parvus also recognised Lenin as the best, most determined mind among the revolutionaries.

Parvus, then, is proposing a deal to Lenin. He, with the backing of the German government, would provide money and weapons which Lenin would use to organise a series of mass revolts both on the basis of class and national minority interests ('our most important lever is the Ukrainian movement. Without the Ukraine to buttress it the Russian edifice will soon topple over', p.650). Lenin, however, knows that he doesn't have the means Parvus thinks he has:

'What he had was ... a tiny group, calling itself a party, and he could not account for all its members - some might have split off. What he had was ... What is to be done?, Two Tactics, Empiriocriticism, Imperialism. What he had was ... a head, capable at any moment of providing a centralised organisation with decisions, each individual revolutionary with detailed instructions and the masses with thrilling slogans. And nothing more, no more today than he had eighteen months ago ...' (p.677). 

He turns Parvus's offer down:

'Lenin tried to think how he could refuse help without giving offense, without losing an ally, how to conceal his own secret while divining that of his companion [...] If there was no chink in his armour, why was he making this second approach, and so insistently? Had his strength failed him? Or his funds perhaps? Had his network broken down? Or perhaps the German government was no longer paying so well? They made you work for your money, once they had you hooked.

'How good it was to be independent! Oh no, we're not so weak as you think! Not nearly as weak as some! [...]

'Trotsky's complaints against his former mentor - that he was frivolous, lacked stamina, and abandoned his friends in time of trouble - were so much sentimental rubbish. These were all pardonable faults and need not stand in the way of an alliance. If only Parvus had not committed gross political errors. He should not have exposed himself by rushing at a mirage of revolution. He should not have made The Bell a cesspool of German chauvinism. The hippo had wallowed in the mire with Hindenburg - and destroyed his reputation. Destroyed himself as a socialist once and for all.

'It was sad. There were not many Socialists like him!

'(But although he had destroyed himself, there was no sense in quarrelling. Parvus might still be enormously helpful.)'

As he was when it came time to return to Russia in 1917.