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Part One

'Down with the monarchy'

In St Petersburg (Petrograd, as briefly known), in the lit-up mansion, the Smolny, formerly, a young ladies’ academy, they were making furious plans. Exactly a century ago from now. It was the middle of the night, late autumn, the cold already coming in off the Baltic. Through corridors with offices designated with hand-tacked signs — the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC), the Party Secretariat, Communications — they were running back and forth, exhausted men and women, arguing, making up, formulating plans on the hop.

Outside, in the lit dark of the Venice of the North, city life continued as ever. The theatres and all-night bars were still open, the trams still ran. In one room in the Smolny, the MRC leader Lev Bronstein calmly assessed the situation, weighing the pros and cons of when to give the order. Suddenly, amid the crowd in the room appeared Ulyanov, the party leader. Ordered to stay in hiding, he had nevertheless made his way in, disguised in bandages and a moptop wig. “Go now!” he said. “For god’s sake!”

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Part Two

The revolution we had to have

“Why are you being burdened with these trifles?!”

 — From volume 39 of Lenin: Collected Works (Progress Press)*

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Part Three

Rundle: intrigue and skulduggery

He was seen in the Unter den Linden, en route to the German Reich offices; boarding the Orient Express in Constantinople, headed to Vienna; in Copenhagen’s plush Klampenborg district; arriving in Zurich. A friend and confidante to ambassadors, generals and sultans, in silk-top hat, fur-collared coat, cravat and walking cane, hugely fat, he was the living embodiment of revolutionary socialists’ caricature of the millionaire they were going to sweep from the planet. Except, he was a revolutionary socialist, a friend — mostly ex-friend — to the leading radicals of the era. He made at least two revolutions, and the century, and if you’ve never heard of Alexander Helphand-Parvus, well, thereby hangs a tale.

Alexander who? He was born Israel Lazarevich Gelfand (a transliteration) to a Minsk Jewish couple in 1867, grew up in Odessa, and went to university in Switzerland, a common trek at the time. Studying economics, he became a Marxist, and moved to Germany in the 1880s, eventually becoming a writer and editor of note, under the pseudonym “Parvus”. He quickly acquired a reputation as an agile theorist on international trade.

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