Lenin in Letchworth

Sara Gaines's picture

A quirky story about a possible visit by revolutionary Russian leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin to Letchworth, has shone a light on the town’s pioneering history. R4’s Lenin in Letchworth investigated reports that Lenin visited the town in Spring 1907 to see the new utopia being built.

Lenin had been in London for a meeting of exiled communists where they plotted the overthrow of the Russian tsar. He reputedly visited the garden city around the same time, to see work progressing on plans which aimed, in founder Ebenezer Howard’s words, to raise the standard of living of all workers, whatever the grade.

Presenter Francis Spufford found concrete evidence of the visit impossible to find, but pointed out it was certainly plausible. In 1907 Vladimir Lenin was a relative unknown while Letchworth had sparked global interest.

Historian Tristram Hunt pointed to the paradox of Lenin seeing Letchworth’s emerging society with its kindergartens, commitment to health living and parliamentary democracy and the steely communist state which emerged in Russia when the communists seized power a decade later.

What George Orwell disparagingly referred to as the “sandal-wearing” people did not shape the legacy of Lenin and his fervent, blood-thirsty revolutionaries. But the new Jerusalem being built in Letchworth did appear to have left a lasting impression, seemingly influencing the design of Moscow and Stalingrad.

The programme will be on the BBC iplayer for seven days: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01r9r3x/Lenin_in_Letchworth/