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From Communism to Anti-Communism

Andre Liebich
Svetlana Yakimovich

From the Revolution to the Comintern

Demonstration, Petrograd [Celebration of October Revolution 1919?]

Andre Liebich

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The back of the document reads in Russian and French: “Украшение Народной библиотеки 1-го мая” – “Décoration de la Bibliothèque Populaire le 1er mai” – [“Decoration of the People’s Library”]. The first lines of the banner read in Russian: “Убийством вождей буржуазии…” – [“By murder the leaders of the bourgeoisie…”]. Black and white photograph; 11 x 15.5 cm.

1The overwhelming and overpowering presence of the imperial past in the former tsarist capital was manifested particularly in its architecture and monuments. Among the solutions adopted by the Bolsheviks and even the previous Provisional Government to temper the overpowering evocations of the past was to change names; for example, Dvortsovaya Ploshchad’(Court or Palace Square) became Ploshchad’ Uritskogo, after Moisei Solomonovich Uritsky, an early Soviet martyr. Another solution was to cover or envelope tsarist monuments for particular holidays or in more permanent fashion.

2This appears to be the solution adopted in this photo for the equestrian monument to Alexander III. The monument, under cover in this photo, had been erected in 1909 and celebrated the creator of the Trans-Siberian railway. It stood in what had been known as Znamenskaya Ploshchad’, named after the Church of the Sign located there, and renamed under the Bolsheviks as Ploshchad’ Vosstaniya or Insurrection Square.

3Judging by the winter clothes of the demonstrators in the photograph, it is doubtful that the date of 1 May is accurate. It is more likely that this was a celebration of the October Revolution; if so, it would have been in 1919, as contemporary documents reveal a different scene at this place the previous year. It may also have been a demonstration connected with the launching of the “Red Terror” in autumn 1918 or to protest against the assassinations of German revolutionaries, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in January 1919. This is what the banner which reads “[by] murder the leaders of the bourgeoisie” completed by the statement “will not be able to stop the march of our revolution” would seem to suggest. It is not clear when the covering of the monument to Alexander III took the form represented in this photo. The reference to the “Bibliothèque populaire” or “People’s Library” is also puzzling as it does not seem to correspond to any known institution at the time, and certainly not at this location. The Winter Palace on Palace Square or Uritsky Square was renamed the “People’s House” and later the “Palace of Arts” housing the Museum of the Revolution. It may be that a “People’s Library” was planned for Insurrection Square but not carried out or it may simply be a confusion on the part of Souvarine who was witnessing these events from afar.

4Note the large number, indeed, the overwhelming presence of children in this photo. Mobilization of youth was an important Bolshevik objective and, in this case, it appears to have been successful though the bewildered expressions of many of these children suggest that they had not (yet?) integrated the Bolshevik narrative and were unsure of themselves and perhaps curious as well as somewhat fearful of the photographer.


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


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