Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Lenin’

Fanny Get Your Gun

Posted in General, On This Day on August 30th, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

August 30, 1918:  Fanny Kaplan Becomes One of History’s Greatest Footnotes

Fanny Kaplan is not the kind of name with any historical portent.  In my old neighborhood, I might have known six of them, all friends of my grandmother.  None of these elderly yentas would be thought of as Fanny the Great.  So, who is the Fanny Kaplan?   This one killed Vladimir Lenin.  That sounds more erotic than it actually was.  Comrade Kaplan actually shot Lenin.

She was a Socialist Revolutionary, a political party more radical than the Bolsheviks.  It advocated land distribution to the peasants and terrorism.  The Socialist Revolutionaries (let’s be informal and call them the SR) had been in the forefront of resistance to the Tsar–when the Bolsheviks were debating dialectic materialism and playing chess.  Furthermore, the SR were just as defiant of Bolshevik tyranny.  The SR certainly were more popular than Lenin’s gang.  Russia had an election for a constituent assembly in November 25, 1917.  With their agrarian platform in a land where 90 percent of the people were peasants, the SR won more than half the seats in the assembly.  By contrast, the Bolsheviks came in a distant second.  When the Assembly met in January 1918, the Bolsheviks simply disbanded it.  The SR had the votes but the Bolsheviks had the guns.

Actually, the SR had guns, too.  They attempted an uprising in July 1918.  The Bolsheviks crushed it, but the SR still had recourse to political assassination.  On August 30, 1918 in Moscow, Lenin was shot twice by Fanny Kaplan.  One bullet did no worse than hitting his  shoulder, but the other lodged in the neck.  He did not die; by contrast, Kaplan’s execution was an immediate success.

However, the Russians were afraid to remove the bullet in Lenin’s neck.  At first, ignoring the bullet seemed an effective therapy.  Lenin seemed just as effective a tyrant as ever, leading the Reds to victory in a Civil War and initiating an agrarian policy of land distribution which he shamelessly stole from the SRs.  (From their ability, to his needs…)  Nor had Lenin lost his sense of fun; he sometimes ordered a Politiburo meeting to be conducted in English, German or French.  Speaking Russian just wasn’t enough of an intellectual challenge.

But then Lenin began suffering from headaches and insomnia.  He was physically deteriorating; the bullet in his neck clearly was threatening his life.  So Lenin finally agreed to an operation. No doctor in the Soviet Union had the skill or the nerve; a German specialist performed the surgery in April 1922.  The bullet was successfully extracted, and Lenin no longer had headaches and insomnia.  However, there may have been one side effect; he had a stroke in May.  He seemed to recover from it, but then a second stroke in December left him partially paralyzed.  In March 1923, a third stroke left him mute and bedridden.  He died in January 1924.

So, Fanny Kaplan killed Lenin, even if it took five years for him to realize it.

Kreme de la Kremlin

Posted in General, On This Day on December 20th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Vladimir Putin is feeling sentimental today. It is the 98th anniversary of the founding of the Cheka, the first Soviet secret police. In honor of this special day, 98 journalists will be assassinated. (To make that quota, the corpse pile will have to include four movie critics and seven cooking columnists; Russia is running out of journalists.)

We tend to think of Lenin as a misunderstood old dear, just a badly tailored Edmund Gwenn. Of course, that is only because we are comparing him to Stalin. In fact, Lenin wasn’t that old, a mere 47 at the time of the November Revolution. (Now, don’t you feel like an under-achiever.) Nor was he remotely lovable. Although he was not a Stalinoid monster, Lenin was a certifiable creep. He was an obsessed, remorseless tyrant who actually read calculus books for fun. Would you be any less dead if Lenin shot you for the sake of dialectic materialism than if Stalin shot you because it was his hobby?

So, it was not surprising that Lenin would establish a secret police just six weeks after the November Revolution. (So much for the honeymoon.) The first head of the Cheka was Felix Dzerzhinsky who was unique among the Bolshevik aristocracy in that he really was an aristocrat. Anyone who slighted him at a soiree or beat him at tennis probably did not live to regret it. Dzerzhinsky may have betrayed his class but not his tastes. In the midst of revolution and civil war, Dzerzhinsky requisitioned a Rolls-Royce for his personal use. It should be noted that his timing was as impeccable as his style. He died of heart attack in 1926, and so avoided a less natural cause of death from Stalin.

In organizing the Cheka, Lenin was just observiing a hallowed Russian tradition. Since Ivan the Terrible, the Tsars had relied on secret police as well. Indeed, Ivan set the standard. His death squads, the Oprichniki, had a very distinctive insignia: the severed head of a dog on their saddles. The dog’s head presumably would sniff out treason. Ivan distrusted his nobles, and the Oprichniki eliminated the causes of his anxiety. Of course, even the Oprichniki found that Ivan could be a little too whimsical. There is a story of a father-and-son team who had risen high in the Oprichniki hierarchy. While at a feast, Ivan thought of a test of loyalty for entertainment. The son was ordered to strangle the father. Before the guests, the son did as he was ordered. Then Ivan ordered the son to be executed; after all, how could Ivan trust anyone who would kill his father?

At least, subsequent Tsars and their secret police refrained from decapitating dogs for decor. (However, Faberge could have made some wonderful facsimiles.) In the last decades of the Russian Empire, the secret police was known as the Okhrana. Their chief concern was suppressing the growing radical movement. They proved so successful at infiltrating revolutionaries groups that Okhrana agents actually were managing many of the revolutionary plots. In 1911, Okhrana oversaw the assassination of the Russian Prime Minister, Pyotr Stolypin. A political moderate, at least by Russian standards, Stolypin’s attempts at reforms outraged the conservatives. So, Okhrana manipulated a thoroughly infiltrated radical group to kill him. The actual assassin was a genuine revolutionary but his supervisor and his supervisor’s supervisor were all on the Okhrana payroll. It was a perfect Okhrana coup: the reactionaries kill the moderate and frame the radicals.

Yes, the Okhrana even infiltrated the Bolsheviks. One of their double agents was a young Georgian who called himself Stalin. We can surmise that Stalin only gave up the names of the people he didn’t like. Of course, that could have been enough to crowd Siberia.

Oprichniki, Okrana, Cheka, KGB…These are the happy memories that Vladimir Putin is enjoying today. And who says that you can’t bring back the good old days?