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1907 Russian Revolutionary congress at Southgate Road, Hackney, London 1/4

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Uploaded on Jul 30, 2010

When still completely unknown, Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky, Gorky and Litvinov came to London in 1907 for the 5th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party, held at the Brotherhood Church, a Fabian socialist institute which once stood on the corner of Southgate Road and Balmes Road, N1, across the road from a former factory gate, now an entrance to Rosemary Gardens on Southgate Road. This is an excerpt from the BBC4 programme "Watching The Russians", presented by Stella Rimington, the former DG of MI5.

"A hundred years ago, De Beauvoir was the scene of a three-week meeting that helped change the face of the world. The location was a chapel, now long gone, in Southgate Road at the corner of Balmes Road, opposite the present Rosemary Gardens. There, 336 delegates of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, precursor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, held their fifth congress. It lasted from April 30 to May 19, 1907. Those who took part included Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky. The two main factions, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, dominated the discussion and the meeting sealed their divisions, the former triumphing. They plotted revolution, which came in 1917 with the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas. They could not meet in Russia and the Tsarist government had put pressure on other countries, including Sweden and Denmark, to refuse the meeting a home.

The congress elected Lenin to the presidium, along with Feliks Dzerzhinsky, who went on to found the KGB. Stalin, then little known outside his home country of Georgia, stayed in Tower House, a doss house off Whitechapel Road, making his way daily to De Beauvoir. He never referred to his stay in London. Here is how the writer Maxim Gorky recalled the chapel: "I can still see vividly before me those bare wooden walls unadorned to the point of absurdity, the lancet windows looking down on a small, narrow hall which might have been a classroom in a poor school." The building appears on Ordnance Survey maps as a Congregational Chapel and Congregational Church but was in use at the time by the Brotherhood Church, a Quaker offshoot that still survives, running a farm in Yorkshire on organic and ecological principles. The Brotherhood Church was formed in 1891 when John Bruce Wallace, who preached a mixture of Christianity and Marxism, took over the then-derelict church in Southgate Road. He also opened a food co-operative in Downham Road. In 1897, attendees to the 4th International Vegetarian Congress 1897 heard a humanitarian sermon at the chapel. The building's association with political causes continued: the National Film Archive has footage of mounted police ("the forces of loyalty and patriotism") breaking up a pacifist meeting there in 1917 when it was still known as the Brotherhood Chapel. The chapel ceased to function in the 1930s. The whitelead works opposite (the site of Rosemary Gardens) was destroyed by German bombing in World War Two."

(Paul Bolding - De Beauvoir Association newsletter, 2007)

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