Georgi Safarov

Georgi Safarov

Georgi Ivanovich Safarov was born in Saint Petersburg in 1871. Safarov joined the Bolsheviks in 1908 and became leader of the youth organization in the city. It eventually became too dangerous for him in Russia and he went into exile. (1)

Prince George Lvov, was appointed the new head of the Provisional Government in March, 1917. One of his first decisions was to allow all political prisoners to return to their homes. Lenin was living in Zürich and he did not hear this news until the 15th March. A group of about twenty Russian exiles arrived at Lenin's home to discuss this important event. Lenin's wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, explained: "From the moment the news of the February revolution came, Ilyich burned with eagerness to go to Russia. England and France would not for the world have allowed the Bolsheviks to pass through to Russia... As there was no legal way it was necessary to travel illegally. But how?" (2)

Aware that the British and French would never allow him a transit visa to Russia through Allied territory in Europe. It was suggested that he should try to return via England under a false passport, but it was decided that this was far too risky and if he was arrested he would be probably interned for the duration of the war. On 19th March 1917 a meeting of socialists was held to discuss the issue. The German socialist Willi Münzenberg was there and later reported that Lenin paced up and down the room declaring, "we must go at all costs". Julius Martov suggested that the best chance would be to send word to the Petrograd Soviet, asking them to offer the Germans repatriation of German prisoners in exchange for the group's safe conduct home via Germany. (3)

Lenin's Sealed Train

The Swiss socialist, Robert Grimm, who Lenin had described as a "detestable centrist", offered to negotiate with the German government in order to obtain a safe passage to Russia. He pointed out that Germany had been spending a great deal of money in producing revolutionary anti-war propaganda in Russia since 1915, in the hope of engineering a withdrawal from the war. This would enable German troops on the Eastern Front to be diverted to the western campaign against Britain and France. Grimm began talks with Count Gisbert von Romberg, the German ambassador in Berne. (4)

Alexander Parvus also arrived in Switzerland. The former German Social Democrat who had originally helped to fund Iskra, the Russian revolutionary newspaper, had now gone over to the German government, operating as an arms contractor and recruiter for the war effort. he had been heavily involved in the German propaganda drive among tsarist troops to destabilize Nicholas II. Parvus made contact with Richard von Kühlmann, a minister at the German Foreign Office. (5)

Von Kühlmann sent a message to Army Headquarters explaining the strategy of the German Foreign Office: "The disruption of the Entente and the subsequent creation of political combinations agreeable to us constitute the most important war aim of our diplomacy. Russia appeared to be the weakest link in the enemy chain, the task therefore was gradually to loosen it, and, when possible, to remove it. This was the purpose of the subversive activity we caused to be carried out in Russia behind the front - in the first place promotion of separatist tendencies and support of the Bolsheviks had received a steady flow of funds through various channels and under different labels that they were in a position to be able to build up their main organ, Pravda, to conduct energetic propaganda and appreciably to extend the originally narrow basis of their party." (6)

Parvus also made contact with General Erich Ludendorff who later admitted his involvement in his autobiography, My War Memories, 1914-1918 (1920) that he told senior officials: "Our government, in sending Lenin to Russia, took upon itself a tremendous responsibility. From a military point of view his journey was justified, for it was imperative that Russia should fall." (7)

Lenin insisted that his party of thirty-two should include some twenty non-Bolsheviks, in order to offset the unfavourable impression produced by his trip under German auspices. The people who travelled with him included Georgi Safarov, Gregory Zinoviev, Karl Radek, Inessa Armand, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Zinaida Lilina and Moisey Kharitonov. Lenin's supporters milled around the waiting train carrying revolutionary banners and singing the "Internationale". There was a group of anti-German socialists, shouted, "Spies! German spies! Look how happy they are - going home at the Kaiser's expense!" Anatoli Lunacharsky said that Lenin looked "composed and happy". (8)

Bolshevik Revolution

Lenin now decided it was time to overthrow the Provisional Government. On 20th October, the Bolshevik Military Revolutionary Committee had its first meeting. Members included Joseph Stalin, Andrey Bubnov, Moisei Uritsky, Felix Dzerzhinsky and Yakov Sverdlov. According to Robert V. Daniels, the author of Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967): "Despite Menshevik charges of an insurrectionary plot, the Bolsheviks were still vague about the role this organisation might play... Several days were to pass before the committee became an active force. Nevertheless, here was the conception, if not the actual birth, of the body which was to superintend the overthrow of the Provisional Government." (9)

Leon Trotsky supported Lenin's view and urged the overthrow of the Provisional Government. On the evening of 24th October, orders were given for the Bolsheviks to occupy the railway stations, the telephone exchange and the State Bank. The Smolny Institute became the headquarters of the revolution and was transformed into a fortress. Trotsky reported that the "chief of the machine-gun company came to tell me that his men were all on the side of the Bolsheviks". (10)

The following day the Red Guards surrounded the Winter Palace. Inside was most of the country's Cabinet, although Kerensky had managed to escape from the city. The palace was defended by Cossacks, some junior army officers and the Woman's Battalion. At 9 p.m. The Aurora and the Peter and Paul Fortress began to open fire on the palace. Little damage was done but the action persuaded most of those defending the building to surrender. The Red Guards, led by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, now entered the Winter Palace. (11)

On 26th October, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Lenin was elected chairman and other appointments included Leon Trotsky (Foreign Affairs) Alexei Rykov (Internal Affairs), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Education), Alexandra Kollontai (Social Welfare), Victor Nogin (Trade and Industry), Joseph Stalin (Nationalities), Peter Stuchka (Justice), Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (War), Nikolai Krylenko (War Affairs), Pavel Dybenko (Navy Affairs), Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov (Finance), Vladimir Milyutin (Agriculture), Ivan Teodorovich (Food), Georgy Oppokov (Justice) and Nikolai Glebov-Avilov (Posts & Telegraphs). (12)

Some Bolsheviks were critical of how Lenin had reduced the debate on policy issues in the Communist Party after the October Revolution. In 1921 Alexandra Kollantai (Commissar for Welfare), Alexander Shlyapnikov (Commissar for Labour) and Sergei Medvedev (All-Russian Union of Metalworkers) formed a faction that became known as the Workers' Opposition. In 1921 Kollantai published a pamphlet The Workers' Opposition, where she called for members of the party to be allowed to discuss policy issues and for more political freedom for trade unionists. She also advocated that before the government attempts to "rid Soviet institutions of the bureaucracy that lurks within them, the Party must first rid itself of its own bureaucracy." (13)

Victor Serge pointed out: "The Workers Opposition, led by Shliapnikov, Alexandra Kollontai, and Medvedev, believed that the revolution was doomed if the Party failed to introduce radical changes in the organization of work, restore freedom and authority to the trade unions, and make an immediate turn towards establishing a true Soviet democracy. I had long discussions on this question with Shliapnikov. A former metalworker, he kept about him, even when in power, the mentality, the prejudices, and even the old clothes he had possessed as a worker." (14)

Execution of Georgi Safarov

Georgi Safarov was a supporter of the Workers' Opposition group but accepted its defeat when at the Tenth Party Congress in 1922, Lenin proposed a resolution that would ban all factions within the party. He argued that factions within the party were "harmful" and encouraged rebellions such as the Kronstadt Rising. The Party Congress agreed with Lenin and the Workers' Opposition was dissolved. (15)

After the death of Lenin, Joseph Stalin became the leading political figure in the Soviet Union. Stalin favoured what he called "socialism in one country" whereas Leon Trotsky still supported the idea of Permanent Revolution. Safarov agreed with Trotsky and in September, 1927, Stalin decided to purge the opposition. Safarov, Trotsky, Yuri Piatakov, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Karl Radek, Ivan Smirnov, Mikhail Lashevich and Grigori Sokolnikov were all expelled from the party. (16)

On 1st December, 1934, Sergy Kirov was shot dead by Leonid Nikolayev. He was immediately arrested and after being tortured by Genrikh Yagoda he signed a statement saying that several Bolsheviks associated with Leon Trotsky were involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Kirov. This included Safarov who gave evidence for the prosecution. On 16th January 1935, nineteen men, including Zinoviev and Kamenev, were sentenced to between ten and five years imprisonment. Soon afterwards, Safarov and twenty-eight others were sentenced to exile. However, as Robert Conquest, the author of The Great Terror (1990) pointed out: "The length of the sentences was in any case to prove unimportant, as there is no known instance of any of these figures, major or minor, ever being released." (17)

Georgi Safarov was executed on 27th July, 1942.

Primary Sources

(1) Helen Rappaport, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile (2009)

The Germans had, of course, been well aware, since Lenin's arrest in Galicia in 1914, of his usefulness to them in subverting the Russian war effort and bringing it towards a speedy conclusion. They had been pumping German marks into revolutionary anti-war propaganda in Russia since 1915, in hopes of engineering a defeatist peace in Russia so that their troops on the Eastern Front could be diverted to the deadlocked western campaign against Britain and France. Robert Grimm now approached Count Gisbert von Romberg, the German ambassador in Berne, who was coming under pressure even from the Kaiser himself to accede to the Russians' request for safe conduct through Germany. Lenin's Polish colleague Yakub Hanecki was already in Stockholm raising money for his return, and had been officially appointed as his foreign representative to the Bolshevik Central Committee, when another player and an associate of Hanecki's entered the game. Alexander Helphand, codenamed Parvus, the enigmatic German Social Democrat who had provided Lenin with valuable assistance during Iskra days in Munich, arrived in Switzerland. Now grown fat, sexually corrupt and wealthy on business concerns in Turkey and with a penchant for expensive cigars, the opportunistic Helphand had gone over to the German government, operating its an aims contractor and recruiter for the war effort, with an import-export business based in Copenhagen as the front.

Student Activities

Russian Revolution Simmulation

Bloody Sunday (Answer Commentary)

1905 Russian Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Russia and the First World War (Answer Commentary)

The Life and Death of Rasputin (Answer Commentary)

The Abdication of Tsar Nicholas II (Answer Commentary)

The Provisional Government (Answer Commentary)

The Kornilov Revolt (Answer Commentary)

The Bolsheviks (Answer Commentary)

The Bolshevik Revolution (Answer Commentary)

Classroom Activities by Subject

The Middle Ages

The Normans

The Tudors

The English Civil War

Industrial Revolution

First World War

Russian Revolution

Nazi Germany


(1) Helen Rappaport, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile (2009) page 214

(2) Nadezhda Krupskaya, Reminiscences of Lenin (1926) page 286

(3) Helen Rappaport, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile (2009) page 265

(4) Michael Pearson, The Sealed Train Journey to Revolution (1975) page 104

(5) J. Ley, The New Statesman (19th April, 1958)

(6) Richard von Kühlmann, telegram to Army Headquarters (December, 1917)

(7) General Erich Ludendorff, My War Memories, 1914-1918 (1920) page 407

(8) Harrison E. Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia's Revolutions 1905-1917 (1977) page 406

(9) Robert V. Daniels, Red October: The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (1967) page 74

(10) Leon Trotsky, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (1970) page 333

(11) Harrison E. Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia's Revolutions 1905-1917 (1977) page 512

(12) David Shub, Lenin (1948) page 288

(13) Alexandra Kollontai, The Workers' Opposition (1921)

(14) Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1951) page 144

(15) Adam B. Ulam, Lenin and the Bolsheviks (1965) page 621

(16) Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) page 17

(17) Robert Conquest, The Great Terror (1990) page 49