On October 6, 1920, the renowned English science fiction master Herbert George Wells was received by Vladimir Lenin and had a lengthy conversation with him.
H.G. Wells’ first acquaintance with Russia started as early as 1914, when he met with Maxim Gorky and other artists. At that time, many of the world’s greatest minds were occupied by the changes occurring in the young Soviet Russia, and Wells was no exception.
Wells’ second visit to Russia happened in October of 1920, when he met Vladimir Lenin and conversed with him, summarizing his impressions in the book entitled “Russia in the Shadows” – a work which had earned a reputation as one of the most reliable sources about contemporary Russia and the birth of the Communist Party in the West. The Russian émigrés, however, considered the piece to be too superficial, as Ivan Bunin, the great Russian writer, commented on it, “Oh, give me a break, [the Soviet officials] have been lying to him about everything, and here he comes – in 15 days he managed to learn everything he needed to about one sixth of the planet.”
Russia, as Wells saw it, lay in ruins after a series of wars. Its economic performance had fallen sevenfold as compared to 1913. Agriculture was on the verge of collapse, and the country had practically no transportation system. Wells had little faith in the possibility that such a Russia, with huts and oil lanterns, would ever become a civilized country. On hearing Lenin’s plans to connect up the entire country in no time, he sarcastically called him “The Dreamer in the Kremlin” and later that name was given to the chapter of his book where the actual conversation with Lenin was described.
Moscow, in his view, was in better shape than was St. Petersburg, with churches open and people coming in and out. He was astonished by the sign hanging over the church entrance that read “Religion is the opiate of the people”, but he saw that no one else was because the majority of people were illiterate.
Irritated by the long wait, Wells was finally taken to Lenin’s study through an intricate maze of halls and passageways. The most surprising thing for Wells was that Lenin, despite all of his assumptions, was a very short man, a fact which contradicted his status as the leading Marxist.
Wells’ main concern was to find out how Lenin would manage to raise such a gigantic country from the ruins, but Lenin promised him that he would build smaller but more developed cities all around the country, followed by the total electrification of the country and modernization of agriculture. Wells, who had witnessed the scale of the destruction Russia had suffered, was very pessimistic about it. In response, Lenin suggested that he come back in ten years to see how the country has changed. Lenin was so persuasive and eloquent that, finally, Wells conceded and agreed to believe that “this amazing little man” might actually succeed in building a new socialist Russia. Wells left convinced that Western nations should do all they could to provide aid, especially food to prevent a looming famine during the coming winter. He feared that, should Russia enter another revolution, the situation could end a lot worse than it was under Lenin’s regime; moreover, the Socialist fever could engulf the West, and “possibly all modern civilization may tumble in.”
Wells’ “Russia in the Shadows” sold well in England, though it was condemned by Communists for its attacks on Marx, while conservatives blamed it for tolerance of the Russian experiment and admiration of Lenin. Winston Churchill, the major adversary of Communism, anathematized Wells’ book, his harsh response leading to a long period of estrangement with the writer. As for Lenin himself, when the book arrived to Moscow, he read it through very meticulously, considering all of Wells’ thoughts and suggestions.