Although the revolutionary movement's failure to achieve immediate success led Lenin to a bout of pessimism, he continued in his habits of tireless work between 1907 and the outbreak of World War I. He settled first in Switzerland, where he edited the Social Democrats' new party newspaper, Proletary, for some time, and supervised the process whereby it was smuggled into Russia. In spring of 1908, he took a trip to the Mediterranean where he joined abstract inter-Marxist debates involving his friend, the writer Maxim Gorky, and several other Marxist intellectuals. This journey eventually spawned his next book, Materialism and Empiro- Criticism, which attempted to buttress the Bolshevik call for immediate and violent action against alternative Marxist theories stressing education and gradual redistribution of wealth. He and Krupskaya moved to Paris in December 1908, and the following year met the Marxist activist Inessa Armand, an attractive woman with whom Lenin soon formed an intense friendship- -a friendship that may have blossomed into an affair, although direct evidence to that effect is lacking.

It was with Armand's help that Lenin was able to establish, early in 1911, a school in the village of Longjumeau outside Paris. There, he lectured the students on Marxism and revolutionary tactics, assisted by both Armand and his wife.

He took time off from his work at the school for a pair of lecture tours in autumn 1911, and then again in January-February 1912, when he used a Party Conference held in Prague to finally make his break with the Mensheviks official. From then on, the Bolsheviks operated as an independent organization, with their own party apparatus–including a Central Committee and a new newspaper, which was called Pravda, meaning "The Truth," and would later become the official newspaper of the Soviet Union. (As the leader of the party, Lenin had the right to appoint the Central Committee members, and as one of these he chose Stalin, who had visited the older man in Switzerland several years before.) The Mensheviks had not yet conceded defeat, however; in March 1912, they organized a separate Congress in Prague, attended by Plekhanov and Martov, among others, and led by a rising young Marxist named Leon Trotsky. Russian Marxism was now divided into two openly warring camps.

Lenin's Bolsheviks held the first Central Committee meeting in Krakow, a Polish city ruled by Austria, in November 1913. (It was on his return to Russia from this meeting that Stalin was arrested and exiled to Siberia, not to return west until 1916.) Shortly thereafter, Lenin decided to make a permanent move into Austrian-ruled Poland, settling into the sleepy mountain village of Poronin with Krupskaya. His stay there was interrupted by a trip to Berne, in Switzerland, in July 1913, where Krupskaya had thyroid surgery, but he was back in Poland by summer 1914, and sending instructions to Inessa, who was attending a futile Unity Conference in Brussels and sparring verbally with Trotsky and Martov, among others. It was in Poronin that word first reached Lenin of the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and then, in August of 1914, of the outbreak of World War I.

The First World War, more than any other event, brought revolution to Russia. It presented stresses that the Tsar's government, still recovering from the damage of the 1905 Revolution, could not bear. Lenin perceived this immediately, writing that "but for the war, Russia could have gone on living for years and decades without a revolution against the capitalists. The war has made that objectively impossible. The alternatives are either ruin or a revolution against the capitalists." In order to help bring about the latter alternative, Lenin left Austrian-ruled Poland, after being briefly detained and questioned by the authorities, and made his way to Switzerland in September 1915, while German armies were crushing the Russian forces at the Battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. From Berne, and later Zurich, Lenin would direct a stream of anti-war propaganda toward Russia–and would make his first contacts with the German government, who naturally had an interest in promoting domestic chaos in their enemy-nation.

Meanwhile, Russia staggered under the German assault, but did not break. Despite heavy casualties, the nation recovered from the initial defeats of 1914, and even launched counterattacks against Germany's ally, Austria, in the following year. But while the army fought on, the government was ripe for a fall. Nicholas II was a gentle, distracted man, poorly suited for absolute power, and his wife Alexandra was a German princess who had never enjoyed the public's trust. The Tsar had suspended the Duma at the beginning of the war, reviving suspicions of his desire to eliminate all traces of constitutional government, and had only restored it under heavy pressure from the middle classes. At the same time, Alexandra had come to rely on a mysterious self- proclaimed holy man named Grigory Rasputin to help her hemophiliac son. Rasputin managed to gain control over court appointments and government policy before being assassinated by disgruntled nobles on December 30, 1916. It was in this climate that, in March 1917, food shortages in St. Petersburg (renamed Petrograd because of war-inspired hate for Germany and the old German name) led to protests and a mutiny by the Tsar's troops; on the advice of his generals, Nicholas abdicated, and a Provisional Government formed, claiming authority over all of Russia, and pledging to continue the war effort in the west. After a centuries-long reign, the autocracy had met its end.

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