Parallels in history over a century later are fraught with difficulties. However, there are some parallels with the imperialist aims of modern Russia in their invasion of Ukraine and the financing of their interests through the UK financial system.
In Keir Hardie's day, Russia was the great dictatorship, the apogee of feudal cruelty and imperial oppression. British socialists worked closely with Russian exiles, including many Jews escaping persecutions. Hardie was particularly friendly with the nihilist Sergius Stepniak and the anarchist Prince Kropotkin, both exiles in London. He strongly supported allowing refugees into the country escaping persecution in eastern Europe during the debate over the Aliens Bill of 1905. This was when right-wing politicians were busy exploiting racial prejudice in the east end of London and other cities.
The main business of the ILP Easter Conference in 1908 was to declare its opposition to the Russian government for its 'infamous tyranny' which 'condemned great numbers of our Russian comrades to imprisonment, torture, and death.’ If this sounds familiar to current events, it may well be because Vladimir Putin has a 19th-century imperialist view of Russia and a similar approach to dissidents.
In arguably another analogous call, Hardie condemned an official visit to Russia by King Edward VII. Hardie protested in Parliament, accusing the King of going in order to render Russia safe for European capitalists to exploit. The root cause of the 1907 entente with Russia was the need to protect British investors in the Near East, as Russian troops invaded Persia. He accused the King of condoning Russian ‘atrocities’, referencing the shooting of political and industrial demonstrators. When the Tsar made a return visit, Hardie was one of the first to oppose the visit. In Parliament, he said the Tsar 'did not represent the people of Russia, and King Edward did not represent the people of Great Britain.’ The Tsar never left his ship at Cowes.
Hardie is also well known for his opposition to war. He was present at the 1904 Congress of the International when the Russo-Japanese war broke out, which opposed that conflict, as Hardie had done earlier over the Boer War. A war he argued as being for the profits of the few, mainly Rhodes. He argued that the working class should not ‘bow to the yoke of imperialism.' Hardie, the pacifist, believed socialism was 'revolutionary' but 'that it can only be won by violent outbreak is in no sense true.’ He also opposed the First World War, and he despaired as German and French socialists supported their respective governments. The Labour Party initially declared against the war, but it also bent to the war fever of the initial war period.
Even in his address to the anti-war meeting in Trafalgar Square on 2 August 1914, he had Russia in his sights, ‘We should not be in this position but for our alliance with Russia. Friends and comrades, this very square has rung with denunciations of Russian atrocities. Surely if there is one country under the sun which we ought to have no agreement with it is the foul government of anti-democratic Russia.’ Had he succeeded in uniting workers across Europe, millions of lives would have been saved.