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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

From the Revolution to the Comintern

Procession, Field of Mars, Comintern Congress, Petrograd, 19 July 1920

Lars Lih

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The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “На площади жертв Революции” – “Sur la place des victimes de la Révolution” – [“On the Square of the Victims of the Revolution”]. Black and white photograph; 11 x 15.5 cm.

1After the adjournment of the short opening session at the Tauride Palace (as the official record tells us), “the delegates set out for the Field of Mars, accompanied by a huge crowd of workers, soldiers, and sailors in an endless procession. At the grave of fighters for the revolution, they lay a wreath bearing the inscription ‘The Second Congress of the Communist International of proletarians of all countries – to brothers fallen in the struggle for communism’.

2An overview of the procession can be seen here with delegates pulling a giant wreath. The delegate in the front of the procession in the center of the picture is the romantic American radical John Reed whose Ten Days That Shook the World is a classic account of the Russian Revolution. Reed is the only American to be buried in the walls of the Kremlin.

3The Field of Mars is a large park in the center of Petrograd that became a memorial location for victims of the revolution immediately after the February Revolution in 1917 (that is, when the Bolsheviks were still a small minority). The procession there in March 1917 honoring those who fell in the February Revolution had been, no doubt, the largest mass procession seen in Russia up to that time. The solemn re-enactment of that procession among the ceremonies held at the beginning of the Second Congress of the Comintern was designed both to memorialize and reiterate that earlier episode. It was now carefully choreographed with its impressive framing of the marching delegates by an honor guard, apparently of sailors, in gleaming white shirts, including a second line of white-shirted guards, further separating the marchers from the spectators. In this event too the Bolsheviks were drawing on the choreography worked out at earlier socialist meetings. Their control of public space allowed for some genuinely impressive spectacles such as this solemn procession but the genuine drama of actual contestation with independent forces was absent.


Kevin J. Callahan, Demonstration Culture: European Socialism and the Second International, Leicester: Troubadour Publishing, 2010.

John Riddell, ed., Workers of the World and Oppressed People, Unite! Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress of the Communist International, [vol. 2, The Communist International in Lenin’s Time], New York: Pathfinder, 1991.

Alfred Rosmer, Moscow under Lenin, Introduction by Tamara Deutscher, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973 [1st French edition, 1951].


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