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1907 Russian revolutionary congress in London 3/4

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Uploaded on Jul 28, 2010

Stalin's East End - Evening Standard 12.10.04




Stalin stayed in Stepney during the 1907 Marxist congress, travelling each day to meetings in Hackney

If you walk down Jubilee Road in Stepney, your thoughts are unlikely to turn to the Russian Revolution. Nearby are noisy market stalls, Bangladeshi restaurants and continuous heavy traffic.

A hundred years ago, the inhabitants included many Irish and Jewish immigrants. The Irish came for work; the Jews had fled the pogroms in the Russian Empire. Some had political reasons for seeking asylum.

In Russia, the Tsarist police hunted down democrats and revolutionaries with a vengeance, putting them in prison or sending them to Siberian exile. Russian political parties had to find places abroad to meet. In 1907, the Marxists chose to hold their congress in London, and so it came about that a certain Ivanovich took up lodgings at 77 Jubilee Road.


His real name was Joseph Dzhughashvili; he became better-known in later years as the Soviet dictator Stalin. He chose Stepney because the lodgings were cheap and the poor Jewish landlords spoke Russian. Congress participants could fold themselves into the local community without being noticed by the police.

The Metropolitan police were, in any event, not much interested in visiting dissidents. Tsarist Russia had a bad reputation among most British politicians, even though Nicholas II was a lookalike cousin of the future King George V. The British government wanted Russia to democratise and declined to arrest Russian revolutionaries for the sake of diplomatic harmony.

Some ecclesiastical figures felt the same. The venue for the 1907 Marxist congress was Reverend Swann's Brotherhood Church at the corner of Southgate Road and Balmes Road, Hackney. I have not been able to discover much about Swann, beyond that he was a follower of William Morris, the socialist poet and pre-Raphaelite painter.

His congregation consisted of pacifists and socialists who welcomed persecuted minorities from eastern Europe. Every day, Stalin and his comrades would trudge from Stepney to the Brotherhood Church.

Revolutionary strategy was keenly debated. How should power be seized? How should the middle class be treated? Was it acceptable to rob banks - as Stalin had been doing in Georgia - to raise funds for the party? Since the proceedings were conducted in Russian, Swann will have had no clue about what kind of politics was being incubated on his consecrated premises.

Most participants at the congress lodged in Stepney. But not all of them. The individuals who then headed the Marxist movement - Lenin, Georgii Plekhanov and Yuli Martov - preferred to stay in bourgeois Bloomsbury.

They admired its cleanliness and orderliness. With the British Museum in the vicinity they obtained readers tickets under pseudonyms. Among the egalitarian Marxists, some were more equal than others.

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