Did Lenin speak English with an Irish accent?

In 1893 after getting expelled from Kazan University where he was studying law, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin moved to Saint Petersburg. In 1896 he was arrested and sent to exile in Siberia for three years. After the exile he decided to leave Russia to go to Western Europe. In 1900 he went to Switzerland then moved to Munich to launch the Russian Marxist newspaper Iskra. In 1901 he adopted the pseudonym “Lenin” and started writing under this name for the first time.

Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in 1895

In 1902 Lenin relocated to London. Here, he had meetings with other exiled revolutionaries and did plenty of research. He obtained a reader’s ticket to the British Museum under the name “Dr Jacob Richter” and worked in the Reading Room every day from opening time till lunch. One of the curators of the Museum recalled Lenin in 1920s as “a very charming gentleman, short and with a pointed beard. A very nicely-spoken gentleman. I remember him very well. Can you tell me, sir, what has become of him?[1] 

Lenin, looking to brush up his English, placed an advertisement in The Times, offering his Russian in exchange for English. A native of Rathmines in Dublin would end up being his English tutor. As a consequence, Vladimir Lenin, founding father of the Soviet Union, started expressing his beliefs against capitalism with an Irish accent at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. His accent would be later confirmed by War of the Worlds autohr H. G. Wells, who met Lenin in 1920 in Russia and noticed his Irish brogue. [2] 

Here is an account from Lenin’s wife Nadezhda Krupskaya’s memoirs:

“The immensity of London staggered us. Although the weather was filthy the day we arrived, Vladimir Ilyich brightened up at once and began to look round at this citadel of capitalism with curiosity [...]

At the station we were met by Nikolai Alexeyev – a political emigrant living in London, who had mastered the English language. He acted as our guide at the beginning, as we found ourselves rather helpless. We thought we knew English, having in fact translated a thick book in Siberia from English into Russian (the Webbs’ book). I had studied English in prison from a self-instructor but had never heard a word of spoken English. When we started translating the Webbs in Sushenskoye Vladimir Ilyich had been horrified at my pronunciation. “My sister had an English teacher, but she never sounded like that,” he said. I did not argue, and started learning over again. When we arrived in London we found we could not understand a thing, nor could anybody understand us. It got us into comical situations at first. It amused Vladimir Ilyich, but at the same time put him on his mettle. He tackled English in earnest. We started going to all kinds of meetings, getting as close as we could to the speaker and carefully watching his mouth. We went fairly often to Hyde Park at the beginning. Speakers there harangue the strolling crowds on all kinds of subjects. One man – an atheist – tried to prove to a group of curious listener; that there was no God. We particularly liked one such speaker – he had an Irish accent, which we were better able to understand. Next to him a Salvation Army officer was shouting out hysterical appeals to Almighty God, while a little way off a salesman was holding forth about the drudgery of shop assistants in the big stores. Listening to English speech helped us a lot. Afterwards Vladimir Ilyich found two Englishmen through an advertisement, who wished to take Russian lessons in exchange for English, and began studying assiduously with them. He got to know the language fairly well.” [3]

It is also in London that Lenin met for the first time Leon Trotsky, who would later become the founder and the first leader of the Red Army and the Defence Minister of the Soviet Union. Lenin and Trotsky attended many meetings in London together and organized the second congress of the party in London. After Lenin died in 1924, Trotsky would be sent to exile due to his ongoing clashes with Stalin and assassinated in Mexico in 1940 on Stalin’s order . 

Having hosted a number of significant events and having brought major personalities together, it wouldn’t be wrong to claim that the foundations of the Soviet Union were laid in London. 

  1. Lionel Kochan, 1970
  2. Simon Leyland, 2014
  3. Krupskaya’s “Reminiscences of Lenin” 
  4. http://comeheretome.com/2012/02/03/vladimir-lenin-and-the-rathmines-accent/

  

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