IN October or November, 1881, as soon as my wife passed her examination, we removed from Thonon to London, where we stayed nearly twelve months. Few years separate us from that time, and yet I can say that the intellectual life of London and of all England was quite different then from what it became a little later. Every one knows that in the forties England stood almost at the head of the socialist movement in Europe; but during the years of reaction that followed, the great movement, which had deeply affected the working classes, and in which all that is now put forward as scientific or anarchist socialism had already been said, came to a standstill. It was forgotten, in England as well as on the Continent, and what the French writers describe as "the third awakening of the proletarians" had not yet begun in Britain. The labors of the agricultural commission of 1871, the propaganda amongst the agricultural laborers, and the previous efforts of the Christian socialists had certainly done something to prepare the way; but the outburst of socialist feeling in England which followed the publication of Henry George's "Progress and Poverty" had not yet taken place.
The year that I then passed in London was a year of real exile. For one who held advanced socialist opinions, there was no atmosphere to breathe in. There was no sign of that animated socialist movement which I found so largely developed on my return in 1886. Burns, Champion, Hardie, and the other labor leaders were not yet heard of; the Fabians did not exist; Morris had not declared himself a socialist; and the trade unions, limited in London to a few privileged trades only, were hostile to socialism. The only active and outspoken representatives of the socialist movement were Mr. and Mrs. Hyndman, with a very few workers grouped round them. They had held in the autumn of 1881 a small congress, and we used to say jokingly-but it was very nearly true- that Mrs. Hyndman had received all the congress in her house. Moreover, the more or less socialist radical movement which was certainly going on in the minds of men did not assert itself frankly and openly. That considerable number of educated men and women who appeared in public life four years later, and, without committing themselves to socialism, took part in various movements connected with the well-being or the education of the masses, and who have now created in almost every city of England and Scotland a quite new atmosphere of reform and a new society of reformers, had not then made themselves felt. They were there, of course; they thought and spoke; all the elements for a widespread movement were in existence; but, finding none of those centres of attraction which the socialist groups subsequently became, they were lost in the crowd; they did not know one another, or remained unconscious of their own selves.
Tchaykóvsky was then in London, and as in years past, we began a socialist propaganda amongst the workers. Aided by a few English workers whose acquaintance we had made at the congress of 1881, or whom the prosecutions against John Most had attracted to the socialists, we went to the radical clubs, speaking about Russian affairs, the movement of our youth toward the people, and socialism in general. We had ridiculously small audiences, seldom consisting of more than a dozen men. Occasionally some gray-bearded Chartist would rise from the audience and tell us that all we were saying had been said forty years before, and was greeted then with enthusiasm by crowds of workers, but that now all was dead, and there was no hope of reviving it.
Mr. Hyndman had just published his excellent exposition of Marxist socialism under the title of "England for All;" and I remember, one day in the summer of 1882, earnestly advisinf him to start a socialist paper. I told him what small means we had when we started "Le Révolté," and predicted a certain success if he would make the attempt. But so unpromising was its general outlook that even he thought the undertaking would be absolutely hopeless unless he had the means to degray all its expenses. Perhaps he was right; but when, less than three years later, he started "Justice," it found a hearty support among the workers, and early in 1886 there were three socialist papers, and the social democratic federation was an influentials body.
In the summer of 1882 I spoke, in broken English, before the Durham miners at their annual gathering; I delivered lectures at Newcastle, Glasgow, and Edinburgh about the Russian movement, and was received with enthusiasm, a crowd of workers giving hearty cheers for the nihilists, after the meeting, in the street. But my wife and I felt so lonely in London, and our efforts to awaken a socialist movement in England seemed so hopeless, that in the autumn of 1882 we decided to remove again to France. We were sure that in France I should soon be arrested; but we often said to each other; "Better a French prison than this grave."
Those who are prone to speak of the slowness of evolution ought to study the development of socialism in England. Evolution is slow; but its rate is not uniform. It has its periods of slumber and its periods of sudden progress.