The Russian Revolution.
Alexander Israel Helphand, also known as “Parvus,” played a valuable role in this history. While I cannot say that I am overly well-read in this episode, I have read enough to wonder why I haven’t come across this name before.
I found him in David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace.
First, a biographical introduction:
Alexander Lvovich Parvus, born Israel Lazarevich Gelfand (1867-1924), was a Marxist theoretician, revolutionary, and a controversial activist in the Social Democratic Party of Germany.
He was born in what is now Belarus to a lower middle-class family. Little is known of his early childhood. When he was a small boy his family moved to Odessa, the hometown of his paternal grandfather, due to a fire that destroyed the family home. His reading led him to question the legitimacy of the tsarist regime.
In 1886 he left Russia for Switzerland; thereafter he moved to Germany, joined the Social Democratic Party and befriended German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. In 1900 he first met Lenin, in Munich. They each respected the work of the other.
During this time he developed the concept of using a foreign war to provoke an internal revolt within a country. It was at this time that Parvus revived, from Karl Marx, the concept-strategy of "permanent revolution". He communicated this philosophy to Trotsky who then further expanded and developed it. Through Trotsky, the method was eventually adopted by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Lenin's April Theses in 1917.
Parvus sounds pretty important.
In 1905, Parvus is attributed with contributing to the Russian Revolution of 1905; he caused agitation in St. Petersburg sufficient to warrant the attention of the Tsar’s government:
In connection with this provocation and Parvus' involvement in the organization of anti-government actions during the 1905 revolution, Parvus (together with other revolutionaries such as Leon Trotsky) was arrested by the Russian police. While in prison he became close with other revolutionaries, and was visited by Rosa Luxemburg. Sentenced to three years exile in Siberia, Parvus escaped and emigrated to Germany….
Shortly thereafter, in 1910, Parvus arrived in Istanbul, turning to business concerns and setting aside publishing and revolutionary activities…but not completely:
Having become a sophisticated though dissatisfied socialist intellectual in Germany, Parvus embraced the possibilities of influence, power, and enrichment that opened to him in Istanbul during the Balkan wars and World War I--wars that he treated as means to his final aim of world revolution.
Regarding his business concerns:
His firm dealt with the deliveries of foodstuffs for the Turkish army and he was a business partner of the Krupp concern, of Vickers Limited, and of the famous arms dealer Basil Zaharov.
Krupp had a strong presence in both the Ottoman Empire and Russia:
Russia and the Ottoman Empire both bought large quantities of Krupp guns. By 1887, Russia had bought 3,096 Krupp guns, while the Ottomans bought 2,773 Krupp guns.
Krupp had no problem selling to both sides of a conflict:
By the start of the Balkan wars the largest export market for Krupp worldwide was Turkey, which purchased 3,943 Krupp guns of various types between 1854 and 1912. The 2nd largest customer in the Balkans was Romania, which purchased 1,450 guns in the same period, while Bulgaria purchased 517 pieces, Greece 356, Austria-Hungary 298, Montenegro 25, and Serbia just 6 guns.
…from 1902 Krupps was contracted by Vickers to supply its patented fuses to Vickers bullets. It is known that wounded and deceased German soldiers were found to have spent Vickers bullets with the German inscription "Krupps patent zuinder [fuses]" lying around their bodies.
Vickers was a major British armaments manufacturer, also with customers in numerous countries. Basil Zaharoff, aka “The Merchant of Death,” was a Greek-born arms dealer, industrialist and philanthropist:
Zaharoff's success was forged through his cunning, often aggressive and sharp business tactics. These included the sale of arms to opposing sides in conflicts, sometimes delivering fake or faulty machinery, and reportedly sabotaging trade demonstrations.
By 1915, Zaharoff had close ties with both David Lloyd George and Aristide Briand…. By the end of World War I, The Times estimated that Zaharoff had laid out £50 million in the Allied cause.
Pretty lofty company for a revolutionary.
By 1912, he had established close contact with Young Turk government officials, with whose aid he obtained contracts to provide supplies for the Ottoman armies in the Balkan Wars.
When World War One broke out, Parvus wrote articles in support of and otherwise advised the Ottoman government that a German victory would serve Ottoman interests. He helped foment similar feelings in the Balkan countries. When the Ottomans entered the war, he helped secure supplies from Germany, to include a profit for himself, of course.
And it is at this point where Parvis’ revolutionary roots return to the fore:
Through his contacts, Helphand [Parvus] managed to arrange an interview with the German ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He met von Wangenheim on 7 January 1915, and told him that “The interests of the German government are identical with those of the Russian revolutionaries.”
Parvus told von Wangenheim that the interest of Russian revolutionaries could only be achieved by the total destruction of Tsarism. The Germans should consider helping Parvus in a program of uniting the revolutionaries.
The German government showed interest; at the end of February, Parvus went to Berlin to meet with officials at the Foreign Ministry. He told the Germans about Lenin and his Bolshevik faction, and that Lenin and several of his supporters were, at that time, in Switzerland.
The Germans forwarded one million marks (at the time, equal to 240,000 dollars; $4.5 million today according to the BLS) for Parvus to begin his work. He began with former associates such as Luxemburg and Bronstein; they felt he had changed since his youth: a scoundrel, con-man, and informer. Trotsky described him as “politically deceased.”
By May, he sought out Lenin in Zurich. Lenin accused Parvus of turning into a German “chauvinist,” ordering him to leave and never return. In the meantime, a friend of Lenin’s continued to work behind the scenes with Parvus.
It appears that it would have been problematic for Lenin to work directly with, or otherwise be seen as collaborating with, Parvus. But this did not stop the interaction. He had convinced the Germans of Lenin’s importance, and he eventually convinced Lenin of the value of cooperating.
Thus Helphand, the Constantinople-based intimate of the Young Turks, had brought into play a strange new weapon with which Turkey’s ally Germany could attempt to bring their common Russian foe crashing down.
Events in Petrograd were proceeding smartly without Lenin. Strikes and protests were numerous, and by February 1917 the streets were filled with hundreds of thousands of protestors against the Tsar’s regime. In March, the Tsar abdicated. The revolutionary parties played no direct role in making a revolution.
Lenin’s frustration at not being in Russia during these events was overwhelming. He agreed to the plan presented by Parvus, despite knowing that he would be seen by other revolutionaries as collaborating with philosophical enemies.
In April, Lenin was off on his secret train, courtesy of the Germans but arranged by Parvus. By the fall, Lenin and his Bolsheviks consumed the revolution. In March 1918, Lenin took Russia out of the war and the Russians signed a peace treaty with Germany.
Britain’s worst nightmare and the Ottoman’s greatest dream were both realized – the collapse of the Russian Empire and the withdrawal of Russia from the war.
Courtesy of Alexander Israel Helphand, aka “Parvus.”