History

Who’s going to be campaigning for the restoration of Lenin’s statue in London?

As I pointed out on Twitter, citing a Parliamentary debate from 1947, controversies and protests over statues aren’t anything new:

(Fair dos if they don’t get to campaigning for this one as they’re tied up first with campaigning for the restoration of the Jimmy Savile statues that have been removed.)

The story of that Lenin statue is a curious one, as recounted by the BBC:

This bust was the centrepiece of a monument erected in 1942 by Finsbury Council in London. It was designed by the Russian architect Berthold Lubetkin. The bust itself came from the Soviet Embassy. The monument stood in Holford Square, Islington, looking towards number 30 where Lenin had lived in 1902-3.

Lenin and his wife lived in Islington while he worked on his revolutionary newspaper ‘Iskra’ (‘The Spark’), sharing the office of a socialist publisher on Clerkenwell Green. This building is now the Marx Memorial Library.

When Russia became Britain’s ally in World War Two, Finsbury Council, a socialist borough, planned the monument as a sign of friendship. Some thought Communism should not be celebrated and the bust was vandalised. It was moved into storage in 1951 and eventually displayed at Islington Town Hall in the 1970s but was vandalised twice more when red paint was thrown over it. It became one of the symbols of what the press called a ‘Looney Left’ council in the 1980s.

The removal of the memorial that included the bust of Lenin was no minor affair by the way, as a photo of the time with a huge crane shows. As the description with that photo explains:

In 1942 during the siege of Leningrad the Foreign Office suggested to Finsbury Borough Council that a memorial should be erected to Lenin who had briefly lived at 30, Holford Square in 1902-1903. Only part of this house remained as the square had been almost obliterated by enemy action.

The blandishments of the Foreign Office together with Lubetkin’s more forceful arguments convinced Finsbury Council to take appropriate action and the memorial was unveiled in May, 1942 with the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, and the Russian ambassador in attendance.

The bust, however, was quickly defaced by vandals and after an acrimonious dispute that led to questions being raised in Parliament, Lubetkin and a few fellow members of Tecton [a radical architectural group] took the matter into their own hands, removed the structure with a crane and buried it in a grave in Holford Square. Lubetkin’s idea that the square should be laid out as a new housing estate eventually came to fruition, but Lenin’s image was replaced by one of Ernest Bevin (1881-1951), the Minister of Labour in the war-time coalition government and Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour Government.

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