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Eyewitness accounts: visitors to Soviet Russia, 1917-1928

Our digital collection includes various reports, photographs and other documents which record visits of delegations and individuals to Russia and the Soviet Union in the decade following the Russian Revolution. Many of the sources come from the archives of trade unions or of individuals connected with left-wing politics, and many are therefore sympathetic to the new Soviet regime.

Information about documents relating to the Trades Union Congress delegations of 1920 and 1924 and the visits of Tom Mann is available elsewhere. Photographs taken during a visit to the Soviet Union in 1925 are included in Henry Sara's lantern lectures.

Selected sources:

  • British Labour Delegation among the Russian Soldiers, 1917. Photograph of Will Thorne MP, James O' Grady MP and William Stephen Sanders with members of the Volinsky Regiment, who had refused to fire on demonstrators during the February Revolution.
  • Life in Moscow, September 1918. Extract from a long letter on living conditions in the Russian capital sent by a Russian anarchist to his brother in Britain, published in the anarchist journal Freedom. A letter sent by the same author from Odessa, including comment on the taking of the city by supporters of the Social Democrat Petliura, is included in the January 1919 issue of Freedom.
  • The New Russia by Paul Birukoff (an Anglicised version of Pavel Birioukov), 1919. Pamphlet written after Birioukov's three month visit to Moscow during the winter of 1918/19 as a representative of the Swiss Red Cross, published by the Independent Labour Party. Birioukov was born in Russia and had been a close friend of Leo Tolstoy. He was exiled for his anti-militarist activism under the Tsarist regime.
  • The Rise of a New Russian Autocracy: Kolchak, Autocrat and Tyrant by Dr Joshua Rosett, 1919. Pamphlet written by a representative of the United States Committee on Public Information, following his nine month stay in Siberia during 1918/19, and published by the Independent Labour Party. Rosett criticises the 'White' Russian government of Alexander Kolchak.
  • An Eye-witness from Russia by John Rickman, 1919. Pamphlet published by the People’s Russian Information Bureau. Rickman had been working in the Samara area of Russia since autumn 1916 on behalf of the Society of Friends' War Victims' Relief Committee. The pamphlet describes Rickman's impressions of early Bolshevik rule in the Buzutuk department of Samara, and his observations on the Czechoslovak Legion during the Russian Civil War (encountered during his return journey from Siberia to Britain in July 1918).
  • Petrograd under the Terror, 1919. Article published in The Times on 8 August 1919, and described as an "altogether trustworthy account of life in Petrograd to-day ... by a much-respected Russian officer, who was compelled to serve with the Bolshevists, and who escaped as recently as July 10".
  • Where the Arctic Cable Ends, by A.E. Thompson. Illustrated article published in The Telegraph and Telephone Journal, June 1920. The author describes some of his experiences whilst stationed in and near Archangel, as a wireless operator with the British military forces.
  • An engineer in Soviet Russia, by William McLaine, 1920. Illustrated article published in the Amalgamated Engineering Union Monthly Report and Journal, October 1920. The author describes some of his experiences during a ten week visit to Russia (including Petrograd, Tula and Nijni-Novgorod) as a delegate of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
  • What I saw in Russia, 1920. Book written by the journalist and Labour politician George Lansbury. It includes descriptions of his meetings with Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks, and of the conditions he encountered (with sections on education, law and order, British prisoners and public health).
  • Russia a Ruined Country — Merchant's Indictment of Soviet Rule, 1921. "A graphic and appalling word-picture of Russia under Soviet rule" published in the United Manufacturers Journal, February 1921 (it had previously been printed in the Birmingham Post). The account was sent to a Birmingham company by one of their Russian customers, who had lived in Odessa during 1919 and 1920.
  • 'On the Russian railways', 1921. Personal account of 14 months in Russia (focusing particularly on the conditions of Russian railway workers) by the Communist Tom Quelch, published in the National Union of Railwaymen's newspaper 'The Railway Review'.
  • First Workers' Loan and International Economic Help Campaign for Soviet Russia, 1923. Illustrated pamphlet published by the Workers’ International Russian Relief Industrial and Trading Company Limited. As well as details of the committee's campaigns, the publication includes descriptions and photographs of agricultural schemes in Russia funded by their aid.
  • 'Russia, as it really is'. Articles written by W.R. Creed of the London Labour Council, serialised in 'The Railway Review' between September 1924-January 1925. He presents a very favourable view of life in Soviet Russia, following his visit to Leningrad and Moscow.
  • Report of the English and French Delegation of the Workers' International Relief to the economic enterprises of the W.I.R. in Soviet Russia, 1925. Typescript report on the delegation's visit to enterprises funded by the Workers' International Relief in the Soviet Union. These include film, building and export companies in Moscow and eight agricultural estates in the areas of Kazan and Sverdlovsk.
  • Soviet Russia: an investigation by British women trade unionists - April to July, 1925. Large, illustrated report on the visit by Mary Quaile, Anne Loughlin, Annie Bridge, L.A. Aspinall, Zelda K. Coates and May Purcell to the Soviet Union (including to Moscow, Kharkov, the Crimea, Balaclava, Sebastopol, Rostov-on-Don, Grozny, Baku and Tiflis). The investigation was set up in response to the lack of any women being appointed to the 1924 Trades Union Congress delegation. A souvenir postcard album presented to Annie Bridge is also available online.

  • Russia as I saw it: Russia, Siberia, China, 1925-6 ("a veritable hell of misery"). Article by Mrs Ethel Alec-Tweedie, written after spending a month in Moscow and Siberia.
  • The Soviets and the technician, 1926. Article by a British draughtsman who had spent several years working in Russia, published in the journal of the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen. He comments on the role of the technician in Soviet society and the "religious" nature of the Communist system, and describes seeing a group of "politicals" being transported under armed guard.
  • Correspondence and photographs relating to the visit of Percy Collick, railwayman, to the Soviet Union in 1926. The photographs show meetings attended by Collick and other members of the unofficial railway union delegation. The correspondence dates from before and after his visit, and includes information about how the visit was organised and letters from Russian trade unionists (and a Ukrainian translator) after the visit - asking for information about Britain, supplying some details about their own lives, and apologising for the temporary detaining of Collick's notebooks.
  • Two duplicated letters sent by Robert Williams during his 1926 visit to the Soviet Union - letter from Livadya, Yalta, 6 July 1926, and more impressions of Russia re-visited, Moscow, 14 July 1926. Williams had been a member of the 1920 Trades Union Congress delegation to Russia. Biographical information about Robert Williams is included in a 1923 election leaflet for Coventry.
  • The Workers' Sports Movement (including an account of the experiences of the first British Workers' football team in Soviet Russia), 1927. Illustrated report of the tour of a football team from the London Group of the British Workers' Sports Federation, written by George Sinfield. The team played seven matches in Moscow, Leningrad, Kharkov, the Don Basin and Kiev in front of large crowds. The pamphlet was disowned by the Secretary of the British Workers' Sports Federation.
  • British Workers' Sports Federation football tour in USSR, 1927. An account of the tour by Alec Pelham and Frederick J. Taylor, published in the Monthly Journal of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, November 1927.
  • The real truth about the Soviet Government of Russia, 1927. Pamphlet published by the (anti-Soviet Union) National Union of Seamen on the case of David Scott, a ship's fireman. It includes a sworn declaration by Scott on his experiences whilst living in Novorrossisk, a port on the Black Sea, between December 1923-December 1925, and on his imprisonment between December 1925 and October 1926, after he had been observed talking with foreigners. A Trades Union Congress report of an interview with David Scott and a summary of the similar case of Franz Pakosch, a German engineer, are also available.
  • Women in Russia, 1928. Illustrated report by five British women who visited the Soviet Union in 1927 to attend the All-Union Congress of Women in Moscow. They also saw the celebrations in Moscow to mark the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution, visited factories in Leningrad, Moscow and Kharkov, and visited mining districts in the Don Basin and the oil fields at Baku.
  • Report of delegation to the Eighth Congress of Russian Woodworkers, 1928, published in the Monthly Journal of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, September 1928. The author, W.J. Nichol, describes his impressions of the journey, "Moscow the Mysterious" and the Congress, as well as the factories, sanatoria, rest homes, housing projects and shipyards he was shown whilst in the Soviet Union.
  • Moscow under the Soviet: Trades Union Congress memorandum of an interview with Dr Charles Theodore Hagberg Wright, Librarian at the London Library and translator of Tolstoy, following Wright's recent visit to Moscow to meet Tolstoy's literary executor. It includes observations by Wright on living conditions, Soviet treatment of the peasantry and personal liberty. Wright was a former acquaintance of Lenin, Maxim Litvinov, Maxim Gorky, Vladimir Nabokov, and Peter Kropotkin.
  • The Riddle of Russia, series of 22 articles written by the war correspondent and traveller Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett following his visit to Moscow, published in the Daily Telegraph between 22 January-20 February 1929.

Additional documents on visits and delegations to Russia and the Soviet Union are available through our digital collection on the Russian Revolution and Britain, 1917-1928.