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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

From the Revolution to the Comintern

Commemoration of October Revolution, Petrograd, Hermitage, 1919

Jean-François Fayet

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “II-я годовщина Октябрьской революции” – “IIème Anniversaire de la Révolution d’Octobre” – [“2nd anniversary of the October Revolution”]. Black and white photograph; 11.5 x 16.5 cm.

1The meeting was held in front of the New Hermitage, at 35 Millionnaya Street which leads to Palace Square, renamed Uritsky Square after Moisei Solomonovich Uritsky, an early Soviet martyr. The former Winter Palace, now, and already in 1919, the Hermitage Museum stands at the northern tip of Nevsky Prospekt. This building commissioned by Catherine the Great to serve as a museum was inaugurated in 1851. On the first anniversary of the Revolution, Millionnaya Street, lined on both sides by aristocratic palaces, was renamed Khalturin Street in memory of Stepan Khalturin, a member of the Narodnaya Volya (People’ Will) organization, who carried out a bomb attack on the Winter Palace in 1880 and was later hung for another assassination attempt.

2The relatively orderly crowd stands behind two Red Army soldiers wearing sashes across their coats. One is holding a red flag with an unreadable inscription sown on; this is certainly the initials of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic (RSFSR). The fact that a soldier is the flag holder is typical of the commemorations of the period of War Communism, both symbolically (the future of the Revolution is being decided at the front, fewer than fifty kilometers from Petrograd) and materially (only the army has flags). Among the participants one sees women (of a very conventional, even “bourgeois” sort, as attested by their hairdos and their fur coats), children and elderly people. The men, several soldiers or Red Guards with caps or Cossack fur hats (ushanka), sometimes decorated with a pentagonal red star, are rarer, due to mobilization for obligatory military service or economic mobilization into the requisition brigades. One also sees in the crowd some wind instruments, notably tubas, which play the International, the Marseillaise or the Dubinushka of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at every stop of the procession in between speeches and other solemnities.

3The photo reveals the poverty of commemoration rites at the time of the Civil War often limited to a procession drawn up behind a red flag. This is a far cry from the allegory of “the people marching towards the revolution,” dear to the theoreticians of revolutionary festivities such as Anatolii Lunacharsky, People’s Commissar for Education (Narkompros). In contrast to the previous year, all such events have been entrusted to amateurs since professional actors and artists, members of the theatre and graphic divisions (TEO and IZO) of the Narkompros and of Proletkult have been exercising their talents with the troops. This is the period of propaganda trains on all fronts.

4In the evening festivities continued in workers’ clubs with memorial evenings during which participants in the revolutionary events told their story or modest performances were organized by proletarian art groups. All newspapers in reporting on these events emphasized the restrained nature of the commemorative events of 1919, marked by austerity and extreme uncertainty as to the future of the régime.


I.M. Bibikova, N.I. Levchenko, Agitatsionno-massovoe iskusstvo. Oformlenie prazdnestv. 1917-1932: Tablitsy, Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1984.

Susan M. Cobesero, The anniversaries of the October Revolution, 1918–1927: Politics and Imagery, PhD, University of Pittsburgh, 2005.

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

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “II-я годовщина Октябрьской революции” – “IIème Anniversaire de la Révolution d’Octobre” – [“2nd anniversary of the October Revolution”]. Black and white photograph; 11.5 x 16.5 cm.
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