On this day August 30, 1918

Fanny Kaplan shot and wounded Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, helping to spark the Red Terror in the Soviet Union, a repression against Socialist-Revolutionary Party members and other political opponents.

Fanni Kaplan

Fanni Kaplan

Fanya Kaplan Фанни Ефимовна Каплан, a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, approached Lenin after he had spoken at a meeting and was on the way to his car. He had his foot on the running board. She called out to Lenin, who turned to answer.

She allegedly immediately fired three shots hitting Lenin twice: one bullet, relatively harmless, lodged in the arm; the second round, more seriously entering at the juncture of Lenin’s jaw and neck, the third shot striking a woman who was talking with Lenin when the shooting began.

Lenin fell to the ground, unconscious. He was taken to his apartment in the Kremlin, refusing to venture to a hospital since he believed that other assassins would be waiting there. Doctors were summoned but decided that it was too dangerous to remove the bullets.

While Lenin began his slow recovery, Pravda ridiculed Kaplan as a latter-day Charlotte Corday; assuring its readers that immediately after the shooting: “Lenin, shot through twice, with pierced lungs, spilling blood, refuses help and goes on his own.

The next morning, still threatened with death, he reads papers, listens, learns, and observes to see that the engine of the locomotive that carries us towards global revolution has not stopped working…” Although Lenin had no “pierced lungs”, the potentially fatal neck-jaw wound had allowed blood to enter one of his lungs, which is still a very serious condition.

Other than similar exhortation by the press, little was revealed to the Russian public – either about the attempted assassination, the suspect, or Lenin’s condition. Richard Pipes, Professor Emeritus at Harvard wrote, “The impression one gains … is that the Bolsheviks deliberately underplayed the event to convince the public that whatever happened to Lenin, they were firmly in control.”

Popular reaction to the assassination attempt was described at the time by Leonid Krasin, who wrote to his wife on 7 September 1918:

As it happens, the attempt to kill Lenin has made him much more popular than he was. One hears a great many people who are far from having any sympathy with the Bolsheviks, saying that it would be an absolute disaster if Lenin had succumbed to his wounds, as it was first thought he would. And they are quite right, for in the midst of all this chaos and confusion he is the backbone of the new body politic, the main support on which everything rests.”

A personal cult of Lenin, which he himself tried to discourage, began with this incident. Lenin’s health declined from this point. Some believe that the incident contributed to his later strokes.

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