Lived in London: Uncle Joe

young stalin

There are tales that you want to be true.

The Crown Tavern on Clerkenwell Green, Farringdon, is reputedly where Stalin and Lenin first met in 1905. Lenin worked in Clerkenwell as editor of the revolutionary paper Iskra (The Spark) from 1902 until 1903. The office was at 37a Clerkenwell Green now the Marx Memorial Library. Stalin, having met Lenin at a 1905 conference in Finland, visited him that year in London, and local legend has it that they used to talk together in the Crown and Anchor pub (now the Crown Tavern) on Clerkenwell Green.

“Alas, this is a myth” according to Dr Sarah Young .” Stalin most definitely wasnot at the 1905 congress. Even the sycophantic Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute biography of Stalin, which tries its best to affiliate Stalin to Lenin’s victories and decisions from the earliest possible stage, doesn’t manage to place him at the scene, and states that the two men first met at the Bolshevik congress in Finland in December 1905-January 1906”.[i]

However, Stalin was in London in the April/May of 1907 attending the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party, along with the likes of Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg. Stalin’s account of the Congress can be found in his Notes of a Delgate that are full of the factional polemics and debates , that according to Stalin’s report “ended in the victory of “Bolshevism,” in the victory of revolutionary Social-Democracy over the opportunist wing of our Party, over “Menshevism.” [ii] Of London, there is an absence of detail or impressions made upon the young revolutionary.

According to most accounts, Stalin lodged at Tower House, Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel one of six hostels built to provide cheap and clean accommodation for people who flocked to London looking for work.

Stalin paid sixpence a night for his  stay at Tower House — described by the author Jack London as a “monster doss house” in People of the Abyss. Tower House is still standing in Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, now a smart refurbished block advertising loft-style apartments.

Robert Service got it wrong when he describes “a certain Ivanovich took up lodgings at 77 Jubilee Road. “[iii]. There is no such place in the East End; he means Jubilee Street that runs between Whitechapel Road and the Commercial Road, Tower Hamlets. Service says the landlords spoke Russian.

On arrival in London, Stalin and the others registered at the Polish Socialist Club on Fulbourne Street off the Whitechapel Road across from the London Hospital. Observed by Special Branch detectives and excited journalists, they received their sparse allowance of two shillings a day, guidance on how to find the main Congress, and secret passwords to avoid Okhrana infiltration. The venue for the 1907 RSDLP congress was the Brotherhood Church at the corner of Southgate Road and Balmes Road, Hackney. There was also supposedly a Bolshevik caucus held at the socialist club in Fulbourne Street, off Whitechapel Road on 10 May.

Three hundred and thirty six delegates took part between April 30 and May 19 1907. Stalin did not speak during the entire Congress. He knew that the Mensheviks, who hated him for his truculence and banditry, were gunning for him as part of their campaign to ban bank robberies and score points off Lenin. When Lenin proposed the vote on credentials, Martov, the Russian Menshevik leader, prompted by Jordania, challenged Stalin, Tskhakaya and Shaumian.

There is a rich in detail and colourful account of his stay in London in chapter two of The Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore which traces Stalin’s journey, disembarking at Harwich, and “Legend says he spent the first nights with Litvinov, whom he now met for the first time, in the Tower House hostel on Fieldgate Street, Stepney, … Its conditions were so dire that Stalin supposedly led a mutiny and got everyone rehoused. He was settled into a cramped first – floor backroom at 77 Jubilee Street in Stepney, which he rented from a Jewish – Russian cobbler”  shared with Mikhail Tskhakaya and Stepan Shaumian. The house on Jubilee Street no longer exists.

Service draws upon recollections of Arthur Bacon, to The Daily Express in January 1950, as a Stepney working-class boy had met “Mr Ivanovich” in 1907. Young Bacon earned pocket money by running errands for the congress delegates. The revolutionaries needed messages to be discreetly carried from house to house before going up to Hackney. For each job he received a halfpenny. But Mr Ivanovich gave him half a crown. Young Arthur responded by taking him toffees. He remembered to the end of his days the bushy moustache, the knee-length boots and the friendly attitude.

Bill Fishman, perhaps the best expert on these events in London, would tell the story of how Stalin chatted up a young Irish woman on an evening walk by the Thames. The young woman’s male companions took exception to the foreigner’s advances and set upon Stalin with fists and sticks. [iv]

Simon Sebag Montefiore recalls, “Litvinov supposedly rescued him. According to his daughter, Litvinov joked that this was the only reason Stalin later spared him, saying, “I haven’t forgotten that time in London.”

Stalin probably saw little of London outside of the East end. When the Congress ended, Stalin and Shaumian remained in London to nurse Mikhail Tskhakaya, who had fallen sick. “I had a temperature of 39 or even more,” recounts Tskhakaya, so Stalin and Shaumian stayed on “to care for me because we all lived in one room.”

There are tales that you want to be true.

There is a legend among Welsh Communists that, after the Congress, Stalin forsook his nursing duties to visit the miners of the Valleys: after all, his 1905 stronghold, Chiatura, was a mining town. But despite a miraculous blossoming of sightings of “Stalin in Wales” among the Communists of the Rhondda during the Second World War, there is not the slightest evidence that he visited Wales. Besides, he had not yet invented the name “Stalin.” But he was also supposedly spotted on the docks of Liverpool, a Scouse version of his encounter with the London dockers. Simon Sebag Montefiore writes: Sadly, “Stalin in Liverpool” belongs with “Stalin in Wales” in that fabulous realm of urban mythology, regional aspirational fantasia and leftist personality cult.”

After about three weeks in London, Stalin spent a week in Paris before returning to Imperial Russia. Today Stalin’s face returns courtesy of the CPGB (ML) in the May Day Parade in London streets.

stalin banner






56. Lived in London : Uncle Ho

Born Nguyen Sinh Cung [1890-1969], HoChi Minhlater he was known as Nguyen-Ai-Quoc, and before, as a young man in Paris, embracing a radical internationalism[i], Nguyen stayed in south east England, taking on jobs as a waiter, baker, and pastry chef. Prior to arriving in England, Nguyen had arrived from Vietnam firstly in France in 1911, before traveling on to New York and Boston in 1912.

He moved to Paris France in 1919  where political awakening saw Nguyen-Ai-Quoc (the later known as Ho Chi Minh) speaking at the foundational congress of the French Communist Party in December 1920.


Before he served his revolutionary apprenticeship in France, Ho arrived in London in 1913, living in West Ealing and Crouch End, though the addresses are unknown, and spent several years there before moving on to Paris, Russia and China, before returning to French occupied Vietnam.

Little is known about Ho Chi Minh’s time in England, according to Quynh Le from the BBC’s Vietnamese Service [ii] ,”His time in Great Britain is among the least documented of his life. We don’t know exactly when he worked at the pub, or how long he was there,” said Quynh Le, adding “He wasn’t very political at that time.”

An official ten-volume chronology notes only that President Ho shovelled furnace coal when he first arrived in London. After a two-week illness, around February 1914, he took work at the Drayton Court Hotel on The Avenue in West Ealing .Nguyen worked in its kitchens, as a cleaner and dishwasher.[iii] The hotel was and still is a pub owned by Fuller’s.

He then went on to work at the Carlton Hotel at the Corner of Haymarket and Pall Mall, (later destroyed during the 1940 bombings and its replacement is New Zealand House, a modern office building) which has a plaque commemorating his time there placed by the Britain Vietnam Association.  It is suggested that he was “probably working as a pastry chef”[iv]

So it was entirely conceivable that Ho Chi Minh  did work as a pastry chef on the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry in the year following the First World War [v]. Indeed, a statue of communist leader Ho Chi Minh has been given to a Sussex town when the Vietnam Ambassador to the UK, Vu Quang Minh, unveiled a bronze statue at the town’s museum in May 2013.[vi] There is scant supporting evidence to support this but Newhaven council is using its link with Ho Chi Minh as part of its tourism drive.

It was during the six years that he spent in France (1917–23), he became politically active under the name Nguyen Ai Quoc (“Nguyen the Patriot”), and started his revolutionary course that saw his name chanted throughout the world, as anti-war protestors gave voice to Ho Chi Minh.

And in his own words, why he embarked upon that political journey, an article from Ho Chi Minh, Selected Writings 1920-1969, Foreign Language Publishing House , Hanoi 1977 : THE PATH WHICH LED ME TO LENINISM.

[i] Ian Birchall, The Young Ho Chi Minh.

[ii]  May 18th 2004

[iii] Retracing the steps of Ho Chi Minh October 11th 2005

[iv] Ditto.

[v] Tom Batchelor Ho Chi Minh in Newhaven April 5th 2015 The Independent Online

[vi] Ho Chi Minh ‘friendship’ statue unveiled in Newhaven. May 19th 2013



55. The British Upper classes & the Nazis

newspaperIn 2015 what surfaced was a black and white film obtained by The Sun tabloid: the seven-year-old future Queen and her mother are seen raising their rights arms to perform the Heil Hitler salute. The 17-second clip ends with the Queen’s mother and her Uncle Edward saluting.

“I don’t think any criticism of a seven-year-old child would be remotely appropriate and I don’t intend to make any” said Board of Deputies of British Jews President Jonathan Arkush condemning criticism of the Queen after a film of her giving a Nazi salute was revealed.[i]

Indeed the child and her younger sister Margaret did not know the symbolism of what they were doing, although it raises questions about what kind of dysfunctional family would teach the Hitler salute to children. Obviously it was Edward – known within the family as David – who had urged his sister-in-law and ignorant nieces in fascist horseplay.

Jonathan Arkush voiced a common response: “It’s really important for us not to judge this event with hindsight. Obviously the Nazi salute now carries horrible memories and bitterness for us, but I do not think for one moment that it would be appropriate for me to suggest that the full horror of Nazi Germany was known at that point.”

There is a much more sinister undertone to the story. There is a vast news cuttings collection, TV documentaries and scholarly studies that point to the affinity and unsavory historical connections between the British upper classes and Nazi Germany. However it is easier to avoid “the challenging past” if speculation replaces disclosure, after all rumors, never proved definitively the narrative and the Royal Archives have always ensured that letters from German relatives of the royal family in the run up to World War II remain closed.

No members of the current Royal Family have Nazi sympathies. Occasional lack of Prince Harry Nazi-Costumejudgement or ‘bad taste’ is shown: the racism passed off as Prince Philip’s gaffe, “If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” (to British students in China, during the 1986 state visit).[ii] Or the 20-year-old Prince Harry after the publication of a photograph showing him wearing Nazi insignia at a private party. It runs in the family: Edward, then the Prince of Wales, future King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, his racism on a visit to Australia in 1920. He wrote of Indigenous Australians: “they are the most revolting form of living creatures I’ve ever seen!! They are the lowest known form of human beings & are the nearest thing to monkeys.” [iii]

The Duke of Windsor’s dalliances with the Nazis, detailed in cables, telegrams and other documents, has been examined over the years by historians and journalists. With the former King Edward VIII the smoking gun seems more evident as he is widely thought to be Nazi sympathizer. Although there is a common defence along the lines that whether the reports on the Duke of Windsor accurately reflected his thinking at the time or whether they were merely inaccurate cocktail party gossip is impossible to tell from the diplomatic reports.

The weight of evidence from others tips the scales unfavorably:

British diplomat Sir Robert Gilbert Vansittart wrote in his diaries that in the early 1930s the Prince of Wales, expressed his full support to Hitler’s dictatorship, turning a blind eye to the persecution of Jews.

His pro-German feelings frequently found expression in indiscreet remarks that were not only insensitive to the brutalities of the Nazi regime but critical of “slip-shod democracy.” In July 1933, he told former Kaiser Wilhelm II’s grandson, Prince Louis Ferdinand, that it was “no business of ours to interfere in Germany’s internal affairs either re Jews or re anything else.” “Dictators are very popular these days,” Edward had added. “We might want one in England before long.”[iv]


 Duke of Windsor    Section 2

 Nazi in the family  Section 3

British enthusiasts for Nazi Germany  Section 4

 Cultural exchange  Section 5

 Readings  Section 6


[i] Questions prompted by royal Nazi salutes.


[iii] Godfrey, Rupert, ed. (1998), “11 July 1920”, Letters From a Prince: Edward to Mrs. Freda Dudley Ward 1918–1921, Little, Brown & Co.

[iv] Fact-checking ‘The Crown’: Did the Duke of Windsor plot with Hitler to betray Britain? by Michael S. Rosenwald December 30th 2017