Russian prisoners captured by the Germans at TannenbergRussia’s hopes for victory over Germany were dashed early. At Tannenberg and the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes, in 1914, the Czar lost two entire armies of over 250,000 troops. Although the Russian advance into East Prussia disrupted the German plan of attack and impacted on, or indeed prevented the fall of Paris on the Western Front, it also signalled the beginning of an unrelenting Russian retreat on the Eastern Front. By the middle of 1915 all of Russian Poland and Lithuania, and most of Latvia, were overrun by the German army. Fortunately for the Russians, their performance on the field of battle improved in 1916. The supply of rifles and artillery shells to the Eastern Front had been markedly improved, and in June 1916, Russia achieved significant victories over the Austrians and the Turks. However, the country’s political and economic problems were greatly exacerbated by the war. Many factors – including the militarisation of industry and crises in food supply – threatened disaster on the home front. [1] But where were the leaders of the revolution?

After war had been declared, all opposition was clamped down. In the early months of fighting, five Soviet Deputies and other members of the Duma who condemned the war, were arrested and exiled in Siberia. Pravda was suppressed and the central Bolshevik organisation in Russia was virtually broken by the authorities. Local bolshevik groups inside Russia continued surreptitious propaganda, but communications with Lenin and the central committee in Switzerland were intermittent and dangerous. Lenin was resident in Vienna when the war began, but moved to the comfort and safety of neutral Switzerland where he wrote, watched and waited. The Bolshevik movement was relatively quiescent because so many leading members were either exiled abroad or had been sent to Siberia.


Lenin’s small émigré cabal held a conference in Berne and called on all armies to turn their weapons ‘not against brothers and the hired slaves of other countries, but against the reactionary and Bourgeois governments of all countries’. [2] Communication with Russia was slow, but Lenin gained a growing impression that ‘an earthquake’ was approaching because of the hardships imposed by war and the strain of constant defeats.

Lenin resided in Switzerland for the first two years of war while Trotsky spent 1915-1916 across the border in France, repeatedly irritating the French authorities. He attended the international socialist conference in Zimmerwald, Switzerland, in September 2015 which called for an end to the war and wrote inflammatory articles for a small anti-militarist Menshevik journal Nashe Slovo (Our Word). In September 1916 a group of Russian soldiers from a transport ship at Marseilles rioted and stoned their colonel to death. When the riot was put down and the soldiers arrested, some were found to be in possession of Nashe Slovo which contained anti-war articles written by Trotsky. He claimed that the newspapers had been planted by French police to provide a reason to expel him from the country. On 30 October 1916, two gendarmes escorted him to the Spanish border from where Trotsky made his way to Madrid. On 9 November, after ten days of unrestricted freedom in that expansive city, Spanish detectives apparently tracked him down and arrested him as a ‘known anarchist’ and undesirable alien. [3]

Here begins a remarkable story, largely drawn from Leon Trotsky’s autobiography. [4] A mysterious benefactor arranged Trotsky’s release from jail in Madrid and his transfer, under police supervision, to the southern port of Cadiz. There he waited for another six weeks. On 24 November, Trotsky wrote a long and revealing letter to his comrade Moisei Uritskii in Copenhagen in which he confessed that when he arrived in Cadiz he had roughly 40 francs in his pocket. Somehow, the Trotsky–Uritskii letter fell into the hands of the British Secret Service. British intelligence, under the control of the admiralty’s Naval Intelligence Division (NID), headed by Admiral William Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall [5] watched his every move. Hall played a central role for the Secret Elite inside the admiralty and amongst his dubious achievements he manoeuvred the Lusitania into the jaws of a German U-Boat off the south coast of Ireland in 1915 and monitored communications between the American embassy in London and Washington. [See Blog] But who was Moisei Uritskii?

Moisei Uritskii

A Russian lawyer, Uritskii was a member of the Jewish socialist party, the Labour Bund, and spent a period of time in exile. After the Bolsheviks seized power, Uritskii was installed as head of the Petrograd division of the feared Bolshevik secret police, the Cheka, and directly responsible for the torture and death of many innocents. In Copenhagen, Moisei Uritskii was closely associated with another revolutionary plotter, Alexander Israel Helphand-Parvus,’ [6] yet another very important player in Secret Elite intrigues. These connections cannot be explained by chance.

After a relaxing stay in Cadiz, Trotsky was taken to Barcelona to be ‘deported’ to New York. Why Barcelona? Cadiz was an equally important seaport with closer connections to New York. According to Trotsky, ‘I managed to get permission to go there to meet my family.’ [7] Trotsky’s second wife, Natalia, and their two sons were brought by ‘special arrangement’ from Paris to join him in Barcelona where they were taken on tourist trips by the detectives. From whom did he obtain special ‘permission’? This was not the normal sequence of events; first class prison cell, hotels in Cadiz and Barcelona, sightseeing with his detectives? The man was not being treated as an ‘undesirable alien’. He and his family were being pampered. At Barcelona, on Christmas Day 1916, they boarded the Spanish passenger ship, Monserrat to New York. Immigration Service archives relating to foreign nationals arriving at Ellis Island in 1916 indicated that the Trotsky family travelled first class to New York. Moreover, information collected by American immigration showed that the fares had been purchased for him not by him. [8] But by whom?

Poster for Cravan's 1916 fight in Spain 1916

A fellow passenger, one of the very few with whom Trotsky engaged, was the light-heavyweight prize fighter, Arthur Cravan who had been defeated in a world title fight in Barcelona in front of a crowd of 30,000. The purpose behind Cravan’s journey is unknown, but the intriguing possibility has been raised that he was a British agent sent to glean as much information as he could from Trotsky. On arrival in New York he would have reported to Sir William Wiseman, head of British Intelligence in the United States. [9] There is the additional possibility that the tall, powerfully built, Cravan  served as Trotsky’s personal bodyguard. This is not as fanciful as it might first appear. He had clearly been exceptionally well protected by plain clothes police officers throughout his time in Spain. Trotsky’s expected arrival in the United States had been published in the American press at the very time anti-German propaganda and pro-war jingoism moved into overdrive. The international bankers who were to use him as one of their major pawns in their Russian intervention wanted no mishap to befall a key player before the game had even started.

Monserrat arrived in New York late at night on January 13, 1917. The passenger manifest prepared for the U.S. immigration authorities showed that Trotsky was carrying at least $500 (an equivalent of $10,000 today). His initial residence was given as the exclusive Astor Hotel, the favoured haunt of the banking and financial elites when in New York. The reservation had been made for him by persons as yet unknown. [10] Trotsky failed to record in his autobiography that he and his family stayed at the Astor, but related how he ‘rented’ an apartment in a ‘workers district’, paying three month’s rent in advance.

Trotsky's apartment at 1522 Vyse Avenue in the Bronx.

The apartment, on Vyse Avenue in the Bronx, had every convenience, including ‘a gas cooking range, bath, telephone, automatic service elevator and a chute for garbage.’ [11] There was even a concierge. Perhaps most astonishingly, the family used a chauffeured limousine. Trotsky, the ‘impoverished, undesirable’ revolutionary, had enjoyed a first-class cell in Madrid; stayed at upmarket hotels in Cadiz then Barcelona for six weeks; went on guided tours with his family; travelled first-class on a 13 day voyage to New York; stayed at a luxury hotel before renting an excellent apartment in New York and enjoyed stylish living standards and a chauffeur. How? In stark contrast to his immense good fortune, concurrent events in Russia precipitated disaster. While Trotsky luxuriated in New York, revolution exploded on the streets of St Petersburg. Odd that Trotsky and Lenin were comfortably moth-balled outwith the danger zone, leaders-in-waiting, supported and protected by un-named persons.

The Czar and military authorities recognised that civilian discontent was once again rampant throughout the country. They were likewise acutely aware ‘that gigantic forces were at work fomenting a revolutionary movement on an unprecedented scale.’ [12] In late December 1916 the highly controversial Russian faith healer, Grigori Rasputin, was brutally murdered. The Czarina had fallen completely under Rasputin’s influence in 1907 when she believed he had the power to save her haemophiliac son.

Other violent events presaged the ‘earthquake’ that Lenin had predicted but the Czar hoped to ward off revolution by victory in the field and the ultimate prize of Constantinople. Desperate to achieve this, Russia’s most able military leaders planned a great summer offensive in 1917 with upwards of 7,000,000 troops thrown onto the Eastern Front. They intended to breach the gates of Berlin, Vienna and Constantinople. Insufficient armaments, especially artillery, was a problem, but they were confident that Britain and America would supply these vital requirements. The Russians believed that ‘the very pressure of this colossal army, combined with a simultaneous offensive by the British and French on the Western Front, would beat Germany to her knees and lead to an overwhelming victory by September, 1917.’ [13]

Alarm bells rang in the hidden corridors of power. The secret cabal in London no longer had any need for a massive Russian offensive to win the war. They knew, from the earliest days of 1915, that victory was certain once supplies of food, oil, minerals, gun cotton and the wherewithal to produce munitions in Germany, were stopped. But the war had to be prolonged almost beyond endurance to crush Germany. That was at all times the primary objective. April 1917 saw America abandon her sham neutrality and enter the fray. Fresh blood from across the Atlantic would help replace the millions still being haemorrhaged on the Western Front. Russia had more or less served her purpose. The Americans were coming.

Constantinople, the Czar's prime target which would give his Imperial Navy access to an all year warm water port.

The Secret Elite had promised the Czar that Russia would be given Constantinople as a just reward for the Russian war effort, but were determined that it would never come to pass. Although the Allies had sacrificed a quarter of a million men on the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns, as explained earlier, these were deliberately set to fail in order to keep Russia involved in the war but out of Constantinople. In 1915 such action was critically important. Two years on, circumstances had radically changed. The Secret Elite would certainly not allow Russia to take possession of the Ottoman capital in 1917 through a major offensive that might end the war. They intended to carve up the Ottoman Empire for themselves, and Russia would not be permitted to interfere.

Further steps had to be taken to ensure Russian failure. If that caused a consequent regime change, so be it. There was no love for the Romanovs in the foreign office. The Secret Elite had to ensure that a possible future rival for key parts of the Turkish Empire, the oil-rich sands of Persia or the vital trading routes to India was removed. Permanently.

1. Dr Jonathan Smele, Warned the Revolution in Russia, 1914-1921 in BBC History
2. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, p. 66.
3. Richard B. Spence, Hidden Agendas; Spies, Lies and Intrigue surrounding Trotsky’s American visit of January-April 1917.
4. Leon Trotsky, My Life, An Attempt at an Autobiography.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Trotsky, My Life, p. 267.
8. Richard B. Spence, Hidden Agendas; Spies, Lies and Intrigue surrounding Trotsky’s American visit of January-April 1917.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Boris L. Brasol, The World at the Crossroads, p. 58.
13. Ibid., pp. 62-64.