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The Assassination of Lenin

By Nigel Cawthorne

A century ago, Britain was accused of masterminding a failed plot to kill Lenin and overthrow his fledgling Bolshevik regime. It was dismissed as Soviet propaganda. But history now suggests otherwise.

For decades what became known as the ‘Lockhart plot’ has been etched in the annals of the Soviet archives.

In early 1918, with the war on the Western Front still at its blood-thirsty height, Russia’s new Bolshevik government was negotiating a peace deal with Germany and withdrawing its exhausted troops from the front in the East.

This did not please London. The move would enable the Germans – who had been fighting a war on two fronts – to concentrate all their forces in the West.

Determined to get the Russians back into the war on the Allied side, the British despatched a young man in his 30s to be London’s representative in Moscow. His name was Robert Bruce Lockhart and he was at the centre of a plot to assassinate Lenin which involved such diverse figures as ‘Ace of Spies’ Sidney Reilly, W. Somerset Maugham and Arthur Ransome.

Lenin was not a worker. A hereditary nobleman on both sides, he was born to a squire’s family. He had money enough to study to become a lawyer and later became a familiar figure in fashionable London. But in all his time in the city, holding forth at Communist congresses and publishing an incendiary newspaper that was smuggled back to Russia, no one seemed to notice that Lenin was a dangerous revolutionary. It was only when he returned to Russia and had the Tsar and his entire family killed that the British realised what a danger he was.

British agents were sent to Russia who plotted to get rid of him – and ultimately did so, with disastrous consequences. So began the battle of political wits that eventually gave us the fictional James Bond and the factual double agent Kim Philby.

Nigel Cawthorne has made a painstaking exploration of the rise of the Russian Revolution in his latest historical chronicle, The Assassination of Lenin. You may find his results astonishing. Cawthorne’s fascination with history bears powerful testimony to the idea that fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

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