Lenin: An Assassination Delayed?

Late on the afternoon of 30 August 1918 having addressed workers at the Hammer and Sickle Metallurgical Factory in Moscow, Lenin was stepping into his car when three shots were fired, one bullet tore through the sleeve of his overcoat, another struck him in the collarbone, and a third lodged in his throat. In the furore that followed and as Lenin was taken back to the Kremlin in haste, a young woman, 28 year old Feiga ‘Fanni’ Kaplan was arrested at the scene.

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Despite the severity of his injuries which were considered life threatening, Lenin, fearing further attempts on his life, refused to leave the safety of the Kremlin to attend hospital and his denial of proper treatment of his wounds was to impact greatly on his future health hastening the series of strokes that were to take his life just six years later.

In the meantime, Fanni , her hands bound, roughly handled, and dragged by the hair was taken off to prison for interrogation where it was quickly revealed that she had been born Feiga Haimovna Royblat in the Ukraine to a large Jewish family and had been a committed Socialist Revolutionary since childhood. In 1906, at the age of just sixteen she had been implicated in a plot to murder a Government Official and sentenced to life in prison.

She refused to be cowed by her predicament however, and despite the brutal treatment often meted out to her including being regularly stripped naked and whipped she never ceased to be a committed revolutionary even when the beatings became so severe that she temporarily lost her sight only ever regaining partial vision.

She had only been released from prison on 3 March 1917, following the February Revolution and the overthrow of the Tsar.

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The events that would lead to the attempted assassination of the Bolshevik leader had occurred the previous November when nationwide elections to a new Constituent Assembly had resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Socialist Revolutionaries who had polled 58% of the vote and had acquired 370 Deputies to the Bolsheviks 175 but Lenin, who had earlier vowed to abide by the results of the election now refused to relinquish power.

Fanni believed him to be a reactionary, just another Tsar in waiting, and to have betrayed the workers he claimed to represent. She now resolved, along with others who remain largely unknown, to murder him. But could the nearly blind Fanni who had to use a stick to guide her so accurately have fired three shots into the heavily guarded Lenin whilst being jostled by the crowd surrounding him? Many think not and it has been suggested that the real culprit was Lydia Kopaleva, a woman Fanni had formed a close relationship with in prison and had since fallen in love with.

Under interrogation Fanni confessed to the crime and refused to provide details of any plot or reveal details that might implicate others:

“My name is Fanni Kaplan. Today, I shot Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say from whom I received my revolver. I will give no details. I had resolved to kill Lenin long ago. I consider him a traitor to the Revolution.”

Frustrated in their attempts to uncover a conspiracy on 3 September Fanni’s guards dragged her from her prison cell into the courtyard and shot her once in the back of the head. The day after Fanni’s murder Lenin ordered the clampdown on all dissent to Bolshevik rule that was to become known as the “Red Terror” and over the next few weeks 800 leading Socialist Revolutionaries were rounded up and executed.

As Russia descended into Civil War the killings escalated as the Head of the Soviet Secret Police, the Cheka Felix Dzerzhinsky declared the Revolution to be first and foremost organised terror:

“We exist to terrorise, arrest, and exterminate the enemies of the revolution on the basis of their class affiliation or pre-revolutionary roles.”

Within three years of Fanni Kaplan’s own execution more than a million Russians had been killed by their fellow countrymen.

On 21 January 1924, Vladimir Lenin died following the last of a series of strokes, aged just 53.

It was said that he never fully recovered from the wounds he had received six years earlier and that with his body so weakened recovery in the event of illness was unlikely. So it was perhaps just an assassination delayed, but unlike earlier by the time of his death the Bolshevik Revolution and their grip on power had been secured.

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