Was British spy Somerset Maugham sent to kill Lenin?

The author of Theatre, and The Razor’s Edge was an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service during World War I, and he was entrusted with a secret mission to Russia, the true nature of which remains a mystery even 100 years later.

The trip to Russia in 1917 was not Maugham’s first experience as a secret agent for British Intelligence. By then he had already worked a couple of years for what later would be known as MI-6. After his first mission in Switzerland in 1915 he wanted to quit for personal reasons – he had divorced and his male lover had been sent out of Britain. However, according to one of his biographers, Maugham was intrigued by the life of a secret agent because he liked pulling strings from behind the scenes.

Nevertheless, when he was approached with the chance to go to Russia, he was uncertain. As he recalled afterwards, he thought that he didn't have the right qualities for the task. In the end, the desire “to see the country of Tolstoi, Dostoievski and Chekov” outweighed any doubts, and he accepted.

According to what is known about his Russian mission, Maugham was given a very daunting task. As he put it himself, he was supposed “to devise a scheme that would keep Russia in the war and prevent the Bolsheviks, supported by the Central Powers, from seizing power.” By that time the war was unpopular in Russia, and the Bolsheviks demanded immediate peace, which was a main slogan in their propaganda campaign.

Maugham was given financial resources to fulfill the mission, around 21,000 pounds sterling, which today equals about $300 000. There were also several people of Czech origin at his disposal working as liaison officers. There was the hope that Maugham could somehow mobilize and rely upon thousands of Czechoslovakian soldiers who at that time were stranded in Russia. In fact, the following year those units would become one of the main military forces to challenge the new Soviet regime.

Maugham managed to establish contacts with Alexander Kerensky, the Prime Minister of the Russian Provisional Government. Every week Maugham entertained him and his cabinet ministers in one of the finest restaurants in Petrograd, Medved' (The Bear), plying them with much vodka and caviar.

Maugham soon became disillusioned with Russia, however. “The endless talk when action was needed, the vacillations, the apathy when apathy could only result in destruction, the high-flown protestations, the insincerity and half-heartedness that I found everywhere sickened me with Russia and the Russians,” he recalled later.

There was one man, however, whom Maugham liked a lot. Boris Savinkov was one of the leaders of a terrorist organization in pre-revolutionary Russia who in 1917 worked for the government. Maugham described his as “one of the most extraordinary men” he ever met. Savinkov had no sympathy towards the Bolsheviks and had no illusion about the resolve of their leader, Vladimir Lenin. Savinkov allegedly said that “either Lenin will stand me up in front of a wall and shoot me, or I shall stand him in front of a wall and shoot him.”

Read more >>>


Popular posts from this blog

Solzhenitsyn’s cathedrals

Why Stalin Starved Ukraine

Svetlana Alexievich: ‘After communism we thought everything would be fine. But people don’t understand freedom’