On this day in history, 28-year-old anarchist Fanny Kaplan attempted to assassinate Vladimir Lenin as he emerged from a meeting at the Hammer and Sickle Factory in Moscow. She fired three shots: one missed him, but one went into his left shoulder, and one went through his neck.
Kaplan had already been arrested for terrorist activity and sentenced to Siberia, but she was released following the February Revolution of 1917 as part of the post-revolutionary political amnesty. In captivity, however, she had become almost blind. Nevertheless, she made her way to Moscow and joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR) which had expected to share power with the Bolsheviks. When the SR rejected most of Lenin’s suggestions, however, he dissolved their joint ruling assembly. The SR then vowed to eliminate Lenin, although in captivity, Kaplan claimed she came up with the idea and plan on her own.
On September 3, Fanny Kaplan was escorted into a garage and executed with a single bullet to the back of her head. Her corpse was bundled into a barrel and set alight. The order came from Yakov Sverdlov, a Bolshevik party leader who, just six weeks before, had ordered the execution of the tsar and his family.
Historians question whether Kaplan was actually the one who fired the gun, since she could hardly see. (The bullet, removed from Lenin’s neck, almost four years later, was found not to have been fired from Kaplan’s gun.) Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks used the event to arouse public sympathy for the Lenin, and as an excuse to launch their campaign of “Red Terror” the next day.
The Red Terror, announced on September 3, 1918 by Sverdlov, refers to a campaign of mass killings, torture, and systematic oppression that ended about October 1918. Sverdlov, who served as Chairman of the Secretariat of the Communist Party, allegedly died of disease in March, 1919, but it is also possible he was “eliminated” just as he had eliminated so many others.