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From Communism to Anti-Communism

 | 
Andre Liebich
, 
Svetlana Yakimovich

From the Revolution to the Comintern

Commemoration of October Revolution, City Council Building, Petrograd, [1919]

Jean-François Fayet

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “Дом Лассаля во время Октябрьских торжеств” – “Maison de Lassal [sic] les jours des fêtes d’Octobre” – [“Lassal House during the October Celebrations”]. Black and white photograph; 12 x 16.5 cm.

1Situated at number 33 Nevsky Prospekt, at the angle of Dumskaya Street, this neo-classical building erected under Catherine the Great was modified several times in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.

2This building, which had housed the municipal council before the October Revolution, was eventually put to use for congresses, exhibitions, theatre performances and concerts. As part of the plan for transformation of the Nevsky Prospekt, itself renamed the Avenue of 25 October, into a site of monumental propaganda, 6 October 1918 saw the unveiling in the entrance of the building of a gypsum bust of Ferdinand Lassalle. In honoring the German socialist, founder of the first workers’ party (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverband) the Bolsheviks sought to identify themselves with the traditions of the international workers’ movement.

3The budget of the celebration of the October Revolution having been reduced to one-fifth that of the previous year, festive decorations were, in general, very limited compared to those of the first anniversary: no novelties, few multicolored canvasses or plywood constructions; nothing on the façades of the buildings or on the lampposts of the avenue, a traditional parade site. Nor were there any posters (notwithstanding the boom in poster production at the time) garlands, or flags. Soviet iconography did not yet dominate public space where the urban style of tsarism still prevailed. The restrictions on material and human resources imposed by War Communism are obvious.

4The photograph shows the relatively spontaneous, chaotic and austere atmosphere of early celebrations. A meeting is being held in front of the building, under the two staircases which converge in front of the bust of Lassalle. Nearby, a column of demonstrators, in orderly file behind a banner in rectangular form borne by a staff topped by a pickaxe, seems to be awaiting its departure. Small groups listen to a propagandist charged with crowd coordination. One also sees several giants mounted on stilts. The different groups seem totally independent of each other. But this scene probably occurs early in the morning before the official beginning of the parade. As it happens, some Bolsheviks criticized the practice of “demonstrations” which they likened to religious processions.

5Although 7 November is the most important holiday in the Soviet calendar the processions and other commemorative celebrations do not yet monopolize urban space nor upset daily life. Apart from the demonstrators there are passers-by, onlookers, and many children. All hope to be treated to some food in this period of food crisis. Municipal cafeteria serve children, whether abandoned or not, distribute tea, sugar and coffee to adults; factories offer manufactured goods to the demonstrators. As is the case at every anniversary during the Civil War, rations for the families of soldiers of the Red Army have been increased. The free distribution of food products is a fundamental component of the celebration.

Bibliographie

Frederick C., Telling October : Memory and the Making of the Bolshevik Revolution, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2004.

Regis Gayraud, Les actions de masse des années 1920 en Russie : un nouveau spectacle pour la révolution,Annales historiques de la Révolution française. 2012/1, no 367, pp. 175-193.

James von Geldern, Bolshevik Festivals, 1917–1920, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “Дом Лассаля во время Октябрьских торжеств” – “Maison de Lassal [sic] les jours des fêtes d’Octobre” – [“Lassal House during the October Celebrations”]. Black and white photograph; 12 x 16.5 cm.
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