One of many factual events in the novel Commissar is the attempted assassination of the Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. In the evening of August 30th, 1918, as he was leaving a political rally at the Michelson factory in Moscow, Lenin was shot and seriously wounded. The apprehended assassin was a 28-year-old woman named Dora Kaplan, also known as Fanny Kaplan and by several other names in the revolutionary circles.
Kaplan had spent much of her life in the Katorga system, the hard labor prisons of the imperial Russia. She had been convicted in 1906 — along with several of her Socialist Revolutionary co-conspirators — for the bombing assassination of a Tsarist official in Kiev.
She was meant to serve out a life sentence, but was freed after the first revolution of 1917, when the monarchy was abolished and all political prisoners of the empire were released. The fact that this slight-figured 16-year-old girl had survived 11 years working the Nerchinsk lead mines in Siberia is remarkable.
In her statement to the Cheka about her attempt on Lenin’s life, Kaplan said that he had betrayed the Russian people by dismantling the Constituent Assembly in favor of government by the soviets — a centralized hierarchy of local and regional councils.
Kaplan claimed to have acted alone, but the Cheka was unconvinced, given her former ties to the terrorism group within the Socialist Revolutionary party, and the fact that the head of the Petrograd Cheka Moisei Uritsky was assassinated on the same day.
While she was unsuccessful in her attempt on Lenin’s life, the wounds he sustained led to a series of strokes and ultimately his death in 1924. Uritsky’s assassination as well as the attempt on Lenin prompted the Bolsheviks to implement Red Terror — a violent campaign of repression against political opposition that would continue through much the Russian Civil War.