Lenin in London

Lionel Kochan describes how two of the most important of Russian Revolutionary Conferences were held in Edwardian London.

England in the nineteenth and early twentieth century was more hospitable to political exiles and refugees than perhaps any other European country of the time. It gave shelter to fallen emperors, such as Napoleon III, and to communist revolutionaries, such as Marx and Engels; to Russian aristocrats such as Herzen, and to Italian nationalists such as Garibaldi and Mazzini.

But it would be difficult to challenge the view that the hospitality extended to Lenin was the most pregnant in its consequences for the future. It was at London, in 1903 and 1907, that Lenin dominated the two most important pre-war conferences of the Russian Social-Democrats.

Moreover, such English social thinkers as the Webbs and J. A. Hobson gave Lenin crucial insight into Western European theories of society and foreign policy that contributed much to his own thought, both positively and negatively.

In a sense, therefore, Lenin’s first acquaintance with England can be said to be his translation of the Webbs’ Theory and Practice of Trade Unionism (1894). He had a high opinion of the Webbs, at least in the 1890s, and in 1898 coupled them with J.A. Hobson, the economic historian and critic of English imperialism, as ‘representatives of some of the advanced trends of English social thought’.

The translation of the Webbs’ book was part of Lenin’s literary activity in Siberian exile. He secured the commission through the instrumentality of Peter Struve (a Marxist who later became a liberal), and carried it out with the help of Krupskaya, his newly-wedded wife.

It must have been, in fact, their first joint venture as a married couple, for they began work on the translation in July 1898—the month of their marriage—and delivered it to the publisher in St Petersburg towards the end of August. It brought the young couple 1,000 roubles.

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