Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov better known by his alias Lenin, was a Russian revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. Very early in his career, while Russia was ruled by a Tsarist government, Lenin was arrested for sedition and was sentenced to internal exile for three years in the small southern Siberian settlement of Shushenskoye.
Nadezdha Krupskaya, a Marxist activist who was also arrested and sentenced to exile, obtained permission to serve her term with Lenin from 1897 to 1900 in Siberia. They later married in Shushenskoye, located 3500km southeast of Moscow as the crow flies (nearly 4,400km by road, a very long way in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).
While in exile, the two exerted much of their energy developing and outlining their political thoughts and plans. Lenin also spent some time hunting, as Chekov may have noted, a gun was hung on Lenin’s bedroom wall. The leader-to-be was a trained lawyer, and despite his unofficial status he was often called upon by locals to arbitrate on legal disputes.
When visiting Siberia, I visited Lenin’s place of internal exile, which has been a museum since 1970, as well as his home, which held the infamous bookcase.
Well known to every Russian schoolchild is the tale of Lenin’s bookcase, which was subjected to an inspection by the authorities searching for literature and other seditious material that Lenin may have acquired by remaining in contact with his revolutionary contacts while in exile.
Nadezdha Krupskaya recalled the incident in her book, Reminiscences of Lenin, Exile 1898–1901. Krupskaya tells us that Lenin had made plans, towards the end of his exile, to create an ‘all-Russian’ newspaper which was to be connected to Socialist organisations. Lenin was so committed to his project that he became sleep deprived, thinner and obsessed with the minute details.
Krupskaya also reminisces (though not particularly fondly) on the moment she and Lenin learnt that the police had acquired a search warrant after they had found a letter from Lyakhovsky to Lenin. Fortunately, the police were unable to find ‘anything of interest’ because the ‘illegal correspondence’ had been hidden, though not well, in Lenin’s bookcase.
“Vladimir Ilyich pushed up a bench for the gendarmes to stand on, and they began their search from the top shelves, which were lined with various statistical publications. They got so tired that they did not even look at the bottom shelf and were satisfied with my statement that it only contained my books on pedagogics.”
There was fear that the police and authorities would use the search to as an excuse to extend the time in exile, but, fortunately, everything stayed as it was.
The end of Lenin’s exile
Upon completing his term of Siberian exile in January 1900, Lenin left Russia and was joined later by Nadezhda Krupskaya in Munich. Here, the newspaper Iskra (‘The Spark’) was produced, in the hope that it would help to unify the Russian Marxist groups that were scattered throughout Russia and Western Europe into a cohesive Social-Democratic party.
Lenin and Krupskaya were to spend the greater part of the next two decades in exile outside Russia whilst continuing to further their cause. They briefly returned to Russia during the Russian Revolution of 1905. Then in 1917 they returned to Russia and Lenin led the second Revolution.
Lenin’s time as leader of Russia
Lenin was to serve as the first and founding head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924, and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia, and later the Soviet Union, became a one-party socialist state governed by the Soviet Communist Party.
Nadezhda Krupskaya became chair of the education committee in 1920 and had a long and important career as a minister in education.
Both played significant roles in world changing events in the early part of the 20th century.
What may have happened if two tired police officers had carried out a more diligent search of the lower shelves of a bookcase in a small house in a small settlement in remote southern Siberia must remain a matter of conjecture?