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53 posts categorized "Russian Revolution"

08 March 2017

Music of the Revolution: the Hymn of Free Russia

There has been great agitation in Petrograd all day. Processions have been parading the main streets. At several points the mob shouted for ‘Bread and peace!’ At others it sang the Working Man’s Marseillaise. In the Nevsky Prospekt there have been slight disorders.

This is how the French Ambassador to Russia Maurice Paléologue recorded 8 March (23 February old style) 1917, the day when the Russian Revolution started.

  Title-page of An Ambassador's memoirs with a frontispiece photograph of Tsar Nicholas II shovelling snow
Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador's memoirs, translated by F. A. Holt. (London, 1923-25) 09455.ff.3.

Spontaneous demonstrations to mark International Women’s Day were joined by angry women in bread-lines. The next day meetings, riots and strikes in Petrograd were multiplying and mixing with acts of hooliganism and vandalism. Almost all industrial enterprises were shut down and people were matching along the central street in Petrograd, the Nevsky Prospekt, causing severe disruptions to public transport.

Demonstrators were met sympathetically by the middle class and even by some troops. Nicholas II, who had left for the Staff Head Quarters (Stavka) at Mogilev some 400 miles away from the capital just days before the unrest, received belated reports and underestimated (or wanted to underestimate?) the seriousness of the events. When he finally commanded the use of troops to restore order, riots had already spread to some of the regiments stationed in Petrograd. Attempts to restore order ended in clashes between the troops and the protestors which only incited further protests. At the same time, politicians at the Duma (parliament), statesmen at the State Council (the supreme state advisory body to the Tsar) and the cabinet ministers all saw themselves as Russia’s saviours. The overall crisis of the old political system and the regime was so deep that the Tsar’s abdication seemed to be the most straightforward and secure solution. The situation spiralled out of control and within a week Russian Tsarism was over, no-one having risen to defend it.

The news was greeted with great enthusiasm by most Russian intellectuals and liberals. Expectations were high and hopes that a truly free Russia was already a reality turned into a creative euphoria: lyrics, essays and graphics glorifying and celebrating the Revolution and the people who made it happen, appeared in print and were read at rallies and meetings.

On 24 (11) March, the newspaper Birzhevye vedomosti (‘Stock-Exchange News’; Mic.B.1089) published a memo ‘Glazunov and Gorky’, informing readers that the actors of the ex-Imperial – now State – Mariinski Theatre asked the Director of the Petrograd Conservatoire, composer Aleksandr Glazunov, to write a new hymn for the new Russia. This was required for the ceremonial re-opening of the Opera House, which had been closed for a month during the unrest in the capital. As the re-opening was scheduled for the 26 (13) March, Glazunov declined saying that it was an impossible task for him at such a short notice. According to the memo, he suggested to ‬sing a Russian folk song Ekh, ukhnem! aka the ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’ (you can her it performed here by Feodor Chaliapin in a recording from 1902:Download Эй,_ухнем!_-_Фёдор_Шаляпин). The popular writer Maxim Gorky was asked to make necessary amendments to the lyrics.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, another Romantic composer Aleksandr Grechaninov  also came up with the idea of a hymn, performed here in 1926 by David Medoff:  Download The_hymn_of_free_Russia_-_Гимн_свободной_России_(text_and_music_-_1917)

Photograph of Akexander Grechaninov with a facsimile of his signaturePortrait of Grechaninov from the Russian edition of his memoirs (New York, 1952),; an English translation by Nicolas Slonimsky (W11/4835) appeared in the same year.

In his memoirs, written in 1934 when he was living abroad having fled Soviet Russia, Grechaninov recalled:

The news of the Revolution of February, 1917, was greeted in Moscow with enthusiasm. People poured into the streets wearing red flowers in their lapels. Strangers embraced each other with tears of joy in their eyes. […] An idea suddenly struck me: I must write a new national anthem! I hurried home, and in half an hour I had composed music of the anthem. But what about the words? The first two lines, "Long live Russia — The country of the free," I took from a poem by Fedor Sologub, but I did not like the rest of the poem. What was I to do? I telephoned Constants Balmont , the poet. He came to see me without delay, and in a few minutes wrote out the text. Manuscript in hand, I went to see Gutheil [a music publisher]. Without wasting any time he sent the music to the printer, and on the following afternoon the Gutheil store displayed copies of my Hymn of Free Russia. The proceeds from the sales were turned over to the liberated political prisoners. The Bolshoy Theater was closed for only a few days. As soon as it reopened, my new anthem was performed, along with the Marseillaise, by the chorus and orchestra of the Bolshoy Theater led by Emil Cooper. Thanks to the simple melody and fine text, my anthem soon became popular, not only in Russia but also abroad. My American friends, Kurt Schindler and his wife, translated it into English, and it was published by the G. Schirmer Company.

 Grechaninov, obviously, was not aware that the score had already been published in London in 1917, with ‘with harmonisation and poem by Clarence Lucas’, a Canadian composer, who wrote his own lyrics instead of translating Balmont’s.

Opening bars of The Hymn of Free Russia in English translation
A. Grechaninov, The Hymn of Free Russia, harmonisation and poem by Clarence Lucas. (London, 1917) F.1623.e.(9.)

Grechaninov claimed that “the Hymn of Free Russia was still sung even when there was no more freedom left in Russia”, and indeed the tune became a theme of Radio Liberty (RL), that was broadcast to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

01 March 2017

A Silver Watch

One of the first Decrees of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of People’s Commissars was the Decree of 10 (23) November 1917 On Abolition of Estates and Ranks. On 16 (29) December 1917 Lenin also signed the Decree on the Equalization of Rights of All Serving in the Army, which if effect eliminated all rewards, orders and decorations. But building the Red Army brought back the question of ranks, distinctions and awards. In September 1918 the Order of the Red Banner for heroism, dedication, and courage demonstrated on the battlefield was introduced in the Soviet Russia and later in other Soviet republics.

A metal badge with various soviet emblems on a red rosette
First variant Russian Order of the Red Banner on red cloth backing 1918-1924 (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

After the Soviet Union had been formed in 1922, the Order of the Red Banner received the status (in 1924) of an All-Union award. As of 1 September 1928, 14,678 people had received this award. For a long time it was the only award of the Soviet State, and therefore 285 people were awarded it twice, 31 three times and four people got four orders.

Of course, a problem soon became obvious – how should those who were not exceptionally heroic be encouraged? The Decree of 8 April 1920 stipulated that valuable gifts and cash prizes could be awarded to the military personnel in exceptional circumstances at the discretion of the Revolutionary Military Councils of the fronts and armies.

Here is an award list certifying that one medical doctor Ivan Iosifovich Timofeev of the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 56th Infantry Division of the Western Front was rewarded with a silver watch for his dedicated work providing medical care to the sick and wounded during the Civil War. In 1918-19 the Red Army attempted a westward offensive into areas abandoned by defeated Germany. Following on this operation, in 1920 Soviet Russia fought a war against the newly-established republic of Poland, advancing as far as the outskirts of Warsaw before being driven back and signing the Peace of Riga in March 1921. However, the armies of the Western front were still stationed in Western Russia with the headquarters in Smolensk.

Certificate of an award made to Ivan Iosifovich Timofeev

Award list, 1922. RF.2014.b.34

The certificate is dated June 1922 and signed by the Deputy Commander of the armies Nikolai Efimovich Varfolomeev (1890-1939) and the Member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Western Front Nikolai Frolovich Novikov (1891-1937). Professional officer Varfolomeev joined the Red Army voluntarily in March 1918 and immediately was included in the commission that worked out the new borders between Soviet Russia and Germany in accordance with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ended the war between the two countries. Second in command of the Western Front after Mikhail Tukhachevsky (1893-1937), in 1925 Varfolomeev was appointed his deputy as head of strategic training of all military academies of the Red Army. In the British Library, we have books written by Nikolai Varfolomeev on the year 1918 at the Western Front of the ‘Imperialist war’ (Moscow, 1933; Ac.4343.b/3) and the military operation near the town of Mozyr in 1920 (Moscow, 1930; YA.1996.a.23226).

After the civil war was mainly over Nikolai Frolovich Novikov made a career in the party ranks and lived in Moscow in the infamous House on the Embankment, where Tukhachevsky was his neighbour. Tukhachevsky, Varfolomeev and Novikov were executed during the Stalin purges. We do not know the fate of the medical doctor Ivan Timofeev or the secretary who also signed the certificate. But maybe a silver watch treasured in one family is still going.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state.

14 February 2017

There, on the Other Shore of the Amur: Stories from Russian Life in China

A historian of Sino-Western relations with a special interest in China’s relationship with Russia, I came to the British Library with a shopping list of titles I had found in the Library’s catalogue and which were unavailable anywhere else. One of them, a rarity and a witness to an era, is the subject of this post.

Measuring only 10 x 14 cm, the little book of stories by I. Georgievskii, Tam, na drugom beregu Amura (‘There, on the Other Shore of the Amur’), is kept in an envelope marked “fragile item, please handle with care”. I hope readers will enjoy a synopsis of the contents; some thoughts on the book will follow.

Cover of I. Georgievskii, Tam, na drugom beregu Amura
Cover of I. Georgievskii, Tam, na drugom beregu Amura (Harbin, 1930) British Library 012590.a.24

The title story describes a young woman who, with her three-year-old son, makes a desperate attempt to escape Soviet Russia and join her lost husband. Other than the Amur, the river separating Russia and China, no place names – not even the word China – are mentioned. Smugglers take the two over the Amur at night in a small rowing boat. There is great suspense, but then a happy end: mother and child having somehow transferred to a steamboat, they dock on a bright June day at a friendly wharf. By chance, Lina’s husband happens to be there, awaiting a cargo delivery. The city, into which he then whisks them away in a chauffeur-driven Packard looks more like glamorous Shanghai than Harbin, the Russian-founded railway city in Manchuria and subsequently a haven for Russian refugees from the Revolution and Civil War, where the book was published.

The next story, ‘Shuran’ is about a Russian team transporting a herd of 100,000 sheep to Mongolia through a terrible snow storm, the shuran of the title. The men manage to revive the animals, which had been covered by the snow, but not their old Mongol guide, who had predicted the storm and been frozen to death on his horse.

The rest of the collection has more humour than drama. The hilarious ‘Oy Vey, Masha!’ is about a Jewish colourman, who had escaped the Revolution to China with his wife and two daughters; alas, the family’s new servant Masha, put up in the daughters’ bedroom, turns out to be a young male impostor, a former tsarist officer-in-training. ‘A Night of Horrors’ takes place in Siberia during the Civil War: the ‘horrors’ are merely the very human fears of a soldier guarding an isolated hay warehouse: at first, he is alarmed by an impoverished peasant, then by two dogs, and he displays compassion towards all three. In ‘Crud’, set in tsarist Russia, an elderly shop assistant gets bullied by the senior staff for his shabby appearance and sacked for no fault of his own. However, he soon makes a surprising return in gentleman’s clothes: he was in fact the shop’s owner, who had wanted to test his employees. Another variation on the impostor theme is ‘The Waltz “On Manchurian Hills”’: an inebriated middle-aged man is allowed a dance to a tune made popular after the Russo-Japanese War, but the tender lady who accepts his invitation is a circus strongwoman, and ends up whizzing her poor suitor away to a splashing fall on the dance floor.

There follow four ‘miniatures’. ‘The Sage Fa-Tsai’ is about an old Chinese, whose pearls of wisdom astound his simple-minded employers: thus he suggests to a farmer, who seeks advice about marriage, that he would be better off taking two 20-year-old wives than one 40-year-old. ‘Blood and Sand’ describes a native peddler, apparently a Mongolian, trying hard to sell off a long-suffering marmot in an unidentified small town in Manchuria: haggling over the creature’s price with a potential buyer is conducted in Russo-Chinese pidgin before the sudden appearance of a fierce dog ends the marmot’s life along with the peddler’s hopes for a profit. ‘St Nicholas – Our Saviour on the Waters’ mirrors a perception among Harbin Russians, that the Chinese in town venerated the icon of St Nicholas of Myra, a patron of seafarers in the Russian Orthodox faith which was prominently displayed at the Harbin Central Railway Station. Finally, ‘A Lady from Rouen’ is a sketch of an old Frenchwoman, who was once married in Russia. Speaking funnily in broken Russian, she says she would rather live on as a ‘Russian émigré’ in China than return to her native France, which by now seems alien to her.

Nothing is known about the author of these stories and even his initial cannot be deciphered. The 106 pages of text contain many typos, as well as occasional remnants of Russian pre-revolutionary orthography. The back matter of the book advertised two other forthcoming titles by I. Georgievskii, but apparently neither came out: bibliographies of Russian publishing in China do not list them.

The back cover of Tam, na drugom beregu Amura, advertising further works by the author
The back cover of Tam, na drugom beregu Amura, advertising further works by the author.

Georgievskii’s book is both a reminder of China as a place of escape from the suffering unleashed by the Russian Revolution a century ago and, in its own little way, is testimony to the new tribulations that awaited émigrés in their unexpected refuge. Russian life in Manchuria was to be severely tested by the Japanese occupation of the region that began in 1931. The Chinese Communist takeover in 1949 signalled the end of the Russian diaspora in China, when its members were dispersed between the Soviet Union and numerous other countries.

Mark Gamsa, Tel Aviv University


10 February 2017

Mutilated history: Russian Revolution and Beyond

Propaganda was considered an important instrument in legitimising the Bolshevik power from the very start. In spring 1918, when the Bolsheviks were struggling to maintain their power, Lenin already started an ambitious project of ‘Monumental Propaganda’. He suggested employing visual art, such as revolutionary slogans and monumental sculpture, as an important means for propagating revolutionary and communist ideas. Even porcelain was recognised as a medium of conveying communist messages.

But of course, printed material, such as posters, magazines and books that could be produced in relatively large numbers, could reach a wider audience and had a better impact. In 1920, two souvenir books prepared by the Propaganda Bureau of the Communist International  were printed in Soviet Russia: Deialeli Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala (The Leaders of the Communist International) and Oktiabr’: Foto-ocherk po istorii Velikoi Oktiabr’skoi Revoliutsii, 1917-1920 (October: Photo-essay on the history of the Great October Revolution, 1917-1920). Frontispieces of both books were designed in a very distinct style by Sergei Chekhonin.

Illustrated cover for 'The Leaders of the Communist International' with a hammer and sickle

The Leaders of the Communist International (LF.31.b.1026) above and October (LF.31.b.1027) below.

Illustrated cover for 'October' featuring a worker holding a hammer

The Leaders of the Communist International contained 48 plates – portraits of members of the International and reproductions of paintings and drawings of the events related to its activities. All the artworks were created by prominent contemporary artists, such as Mstislav Dobuzhinzkii, Issak Brodskii, Boris Kustodiev, Georgii Vereiskii, and Konstantin Veshchilov. October contains collages of photographs documenting the Revolution and the first years of the Soviet state. The books were intended as presents for the delegates of the Second Congress of the Third International that took place in Petrograd from 19 July–7 August 1920.

During the Stalin purges that followed soon, many of those had been presented with these books were executed or exiled. And, those who had proudly appeared in the portraits and photographs were called ‘enemies of the people’. The Soviet practice was that such ‘enemies’ would disappear not only from life but from all records – books, photographs, paintings, films, etc. This fully applies to these two books . Many copies were destroyed or mutilated by their owners. Complete and pristine copies are extremely rare.

The copies held at the British Library were purchased in the early 2000s. The title page of The Leaders of the Communist International is cut in half, leaving a tiny curve in blue ink, the remains of a lost dedication. The book clearly belonged to someone whose name we had to forget. Our copy of October is signed: ‘Eigentum Frey’ (property of Frey). It is very likely that it belonged to Josef Frey (1882-1957), the founder of the Austrian Communist Party who was expelled from it for it in 1927 for being a Trotskyist.

I could not trace the fate of this copy of the book any further, but it definitely suffered a lot. On one of the first pages there is a cut just in the middle.

Page from 'October' with a photograph of Lenin giving a speech

According to the list of illustrations, Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev stood next to the scaffolding from which Lenin was giving his speech.

List of photographs included in 'October'

If we compare the British Library copy with a copy recently digitised by the Russian State Historical Public Library we can notice that pages 8, 12, 13, 16-18, 20, 23 and 26 with photos of the prominent leaders of the world socialist movement that had become ‘enemies of the people’ have been removed.

Page from 'October' with photographs of party leaders

 Page 26, missing in the British Library copy of October, from the copy in the Russian State Historical Public Library

Interestingly, the British Library copy contains p.25 (see below) which looks like a half of a folding plate where the right half is missing. It is not included in the digitised copy, so we cannot say whose photograph became a reason for cutting it out.

Page from 'October' with a photograph of a crowd

The collage on p.38 tells a story of the of ‘Monumental Propaganda’ plan. On the photograph in the bottom corner Grigorii Zinoviev  is shown giving a speech at the opening of one of the first Soviet monuments – a monument to the revolutionary V.Volodarskii, who had been assassinated on June 20, 1918.

Collage from the British Library's copy of 'October' with a photograph cut out

 The British Library's copy of October with a  photograph cut out (above) and  The Russian State Historical Public Library's copy with the photograph retained (below)

Collage on page 38 of 'October' with the photograph intact

We can fairly easily find information on Trotsky, Zinoviev or Volodarskii, but what happened to the woman in a hat in the right corner or to the boy with a holster on the car step next to Zinoviev? Unfortunately, they also were cut out of the history together with those who made it.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state.

07 December 2016

Commemorating the Russian Revolution

Last week the British Library announced some of our forthcoming cultural highlights for 2017. Among them is a major exhibition to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution. For the curators involved, this will be the culmination of many months of planning: deciding on the exhibition’s ‘storyline’ and selecting items from our rich collections to illustrate it, complemented by loans of artefacts from other institutions.

The exhibition will begin in the reign of the last Tsar, looking at social and political conditions in Russia in the early years of the 20th century, and exploring the growth of revolutionary movements. Exhibits will include the lavish album published to commemorate the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II and, at the other end of the political spectrum, a letter from Lenin (under the pseudonym ‘Jacob Richter’) applying for a reader’s ticket for the British Museum Library.

Painting of a huge crowd of people packing the Khodynka Field in St Petersburg
Crowds celebrating the Coronation of Nicholas II from the album Les Solennités du saint couronnement... (St Petersburg, 1896). The scene here later turned to tragedy when there was a stampede for souvenir gifts, food and drink in which over 1,300 people were killed.

Among the items illustrating the Revolution itself, alongside images of events and key players, will be Order No. 1, published by the Petrograd Soviet in March 1917. This initiated a new era of soldier–officer relations, requiring officers to treat soldiers respectfully and giving soldiers the same rights as civilians when off duty, overturning centuries of traditional military discipline.

Printed handbill with text of the Petrograd Soviet's 'Order number 1'
Prikaz No. 1 (Order no. 1), 14 (1) March 1917. HS.74/1870

The Civil War which engulfed Russia in the aftermath of the Revolution is also examined, with material from both sides of the conflict. A striking White Army recruitment poster aimed at Muslim communities in the Caucasus is a reminder of the huge geographical, ethnic and linguistic scope of Russia and of the conflict that arose from the Revolution.

Army Recruiting Poster showing a rider on a white horse in a mountain landscape
White Army recruituing poster, with text in four langauges: Russian, Arabic, Circassian and Nogay. 1856.g.8.(30)

The combination of War, Revolution and Civil War brought huge problems to Russia, and the tragedy of famine for people on all sides and none of the conflict. For many supporters – or perceived supporters – of the old order, the Revolution also led to exile from their homeland. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks were trying to consolidate and maintain power and to create and celebrate their new world. Drives for popular literacy and to encourage workers’ co-operation led to the creation of material such as a striking hand-painted and hand-lettered ‘wall newspaper’ produced by a local women’s committee in Yalta. It contains reports on their joint achievements, amateur poetry and stories intended to inspire and promote new communist values.

A hand-written and painted 'wall newspaper' with pictures of its creators and their daily work
Ialtinskaia delegatka (The Yalta Female Delegate), hand-lettered wall newspaper, 1927. Add MS 57556. The four women pictured are the main authors and artists. 

The Bolsheviks also hoped to export the revolution, and Socialist revolutionary movements flourished briefly in several European countries immediately after the First World War. At the same time, many of Russia’s former imperial possessions fought for independence from the new Russian state with greater or lesser degrees of success.

Picture of a red-shirted worker setting fire to the globe with a flaming torch
Exporting Revolution: in this ‘Red Army Alphabet’ the letter G stands for the Russian word for ‘to burn’ (goret’). The picture caption reads: ‘The Earth burns with a fire / Lit by the worker’s hand.’ Dmitri Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa (Moscow, 1921). Cup.401.g.25

As well as the familiar figures and key players of the Revolution – the Romanovs, Rasputin, Lenin, Trotsky – the exhibition also seeks to convey the lives of ordinary people during these turbulent years, using quotations from contemporary diaries and letters. As the exhibition title, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths, suggests, there are many sides to the story of the Revolution, and many aspects that have been mythologised by subsequent generations. We hope that our telling of that story, based on the most recent research, will introduce it to new audiences and bring a fresh perspective to those familiar with it.

The exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths will run from 28 April until 29 August 2017 in the PACCAR Gallery. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.

24 October 2016

Trotsky, Sri Lanka and an ‘Olympian goddess’

What links Trotsky, Sri Lanka and a young Bolshevik woman journalist? The answer lies in a 20-page book published in Maradana, Sri Lanka, in 1948.

Cover of 'Svyashk' with a cartoon of Trotsky as a lion defeating his enemies

 Larisa Reiner, Svyazhsk: An Epic of the Russian Civil War – 1918 (Maradana, 1948) 9458.b.10

Entitled Svyazhsk: An Epic of the Russian Civil War – 1918, the book contains the only known English-language translation of a civil war-era work by Larisa Reisner, a journalist and writer who reported on the Russian Civil Wars while simultaneously serving as a political commissar in the Red Army.

Image 1 Larisa_Rejsner

 Portrait of Larisa Reisner (From Wikimedia Commons

Svyazhsk tells the story of the Red Army’s successful campaign in the town of the same name – 490 miles southeast of Moscow on the Volga River – to recapture the nearby city of Kazan from anti-Bolshevik forces in August/September 1918. Reisner, who participated in the events as part of the Fifth Army, describes how Trotsky was sent to organise the campaign:

No matter what his calling or his name, it is clear that this creator of the Red Army, the future chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic, would have had to be in Svyazhsk; had to live through the entire practical experience if these weeks of battle; had to call upon all the resources of his will and organisational genius for the defence of Svyazhsk, for the defence of the army organism smashed under the fire of the whites.

A version of Svyazhsk was first published in Russian in 1923, in the Soviet historical journal Proletarskaia revoliutsiia (‘Proletarian revolution’; Mic.C.1326). The following year, a slightly longer version was published in Front, an edited collection of Reisner’s articles from the frontline. Almost a decade later, in 1943, an English-language translation of the Front piece – by John G. Wright, a leader of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) who became well-known as a translator of many of Trotsky’s works into English, and the lesser known Amy Jensen – appeared in the SWP’s journal Fourth International (Mic.B.617/1,2). While remaining faithful to Reisner’s text, Wright and Jensen added headings – such as ‘The Arrival of Trotsky’s Train’ – to signpost various stages of the campaign. It is this translation which was published in book form in Sri Lanka in 1948. Four years later, in 1952, the book was deposited in the British Museum Library.

Cartoon of Trotsky as a lion defeating the forces of counter-revolution

 Bolshevik propaganda painting showing Trotsky, depicted as a lion, destroying the counter revolution. This is the original of the image shown in grainy black-and white on the front over of the LSSP edition of Svyazhsk. Image from:

As detailed on its front cover (along with a striking pro-Trotsky propaganda image), the book is dedicated to the memory of Trotsky, who was assassinated in August 1940. It was published by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) – a Trotskyist party founded in Sri Lanka in 1935. Several works by, or relating to, Trotsky were published by the LSSP, making Sri Lanka one of the main places to publish Trotskyist works at a time when they were banned in the Soviet Union. As noted by the editors of the LSSP edition of Svyazhsk, Reisner’s civil war sketches were also forbidden in the Soviet Union during this period ‘for their unforgettable portraits of the civil war leaders murdered by Stalin.’ The chapter Svyazhsk was removed from later editions of Front – even those published as late as 1980 (X.950/14395).

Logo if the 4th international, a hammer and sickle superimposed on the figure 4

 The logo of the Fourth International as printed on the inside-back cover of the LSSP edition of Svyazhsk

Reisner undoubtedly provides a celebratory account of Trotsky’s role in the Svyazhsk campaign, but her piece was also chosen by the LSSP as a memorial publication for another reason. Trotsky and Reisner were close acquaintances, writing informally to each other in the decade after the October Revolution. The feeling of admiration was clearly mutual. In Trotsky’s autobiography My Life, published a few years after Reisner’s untimely death at the age of 31 in 1926, he described her as an ‘Olympian goddess’ who ‘combined a subtle and ironical mind and the courage of a warrior.’

Katie McElvanney, British Library – QMUL Collaborative PhD student


Larisa Reisner, Izbrannoe (Moscow, 1980). X.950/14395.

Larisa Reisner, Sobranie sochinenii (Moscow, 1928). 12593.l.24.

Trotsky, Leon, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography (Harmondsworth, 1979). X.708/22026.


04 January 2016

Definitely Not Lenin and Trotsky: Donald C. Thompson’s Photographs of 1917

The images of Lenin and Trotsky have become iconic, and it seems impossible to think of the Russian revolutions of 1917 without calling to mind what their fellow revolutionary Anatoly Lunacharsky described as ‘the colossal dome of [Lenin’s] forehead’. Yet, when they were first introduced to the English speaking world by photographer Donald C. Thompson at the end of 1917, their appearance was strikingly different…

  Photograph of a group of men, captioned 'Lenine & Trotzky'
Photograph of “Lenine and Trotzky” in Donald C. Thompson, Donald Thompson in Russia (New York, 1918) 10292.bbb.15.

Thompson was an American freelance photographer, arriving in Russia in January 1917 on behalf of the Leslie’s Weekly magazine shortly before the first revolution in February. He remained until the end of July, capturing many interesting images of the Russians in war and revolution, many of which can be viewed on the Alexander Palace website.

  Photograph of two men captioned 'Lenin and Trotzky'
Another of Thompson’s photographs, here reprinted in Catherine Radziwill’s The Firebrand of Bolshevism (Boston, 1919)

Despite looking little like Lenin and Trotsky, these two mysterious figures crop up a number of times throughout his work, ending up in large-circulation journals like the Illustrated London News and books like Catherine Radziwill’s The Firebrand of Bolshevism (Boston, 1919;, most often alongside the argument that the two revolutionary leaders were either working for Germany or were even secretly Germans themselves. They are among the earliest representations of the Bolshevik leaders in broad circulation.

Photograph of Donald Thompson
Photographer Donald C. Thompson, from Donald Thompson in Russia

In December 1917, the same month that his photographs began to be printed in the English-speaking press, Thompson released his film The German Curse in Russia in New York, purporting to show Lenin and Trotsky’s ‘vile German intrigue working in the unthinking masses’ (See the blog post by Ron van Dopperen at ‘First World War on Film’). Unfortunately, it is one of the ‘lost’ films of the First World War.

Caricature of Trotsky as a blood-soaked demon presiding over a scene of murder
An unsympathetic caricature of Trotsky - still more accurate than Thompson’s photographs. Миръ и свобода въ Совдепіи [A cartoon against Trotsky and the Red Army.] (1920?) 1856.g.2.(46.).

So why were these images circulated as ‘Lenine and Trotzky’? Thompson claims to have taken them on 15 July 1917 (just before the beginning of the July Days) at the mansion of the famous dancer Mathilde Kschessinska, then in the possession of the Russian Social Democrats. As he wrote:

I went out to Lenine’s place and tried to see him and make a picture of him. I saw him after a wait of two hours and asked him to pose for a picture. When Boris told him I was from America, he told Boris to tell me he would have nothing to do with me and that we had better leave Petrograd. I told Boris to tell him that I was not going to leave Petrograd and that I would stay as long as I wished.
I have made photographs of Lenine and a man named Trotzky who has come from New York. Trotzky I find a very mysterious man. He does not commit himself. (Thompson in Russia, p. 284.)

Cartoon of Lenin holding two agruing politicians in his hand
Lenin as we know him… British Cartoon of Lenin from Communist Cartoons (By “Espoir” and others) (London, 1922) 1878.f.26

Was Thompson deceived by his translator Boris into thinking he had met the Bolshevik leader? Were Lenin and Trotsky using body doubles, ‘political decoys’ as fellow Bolshevik Joseph Stalin would later allegedly do? Or, we might be tempted to ask whether there were any financial incentives in spuriously claiming to have photos of Lenin and Trotsky for immediate use by newspapers after the October revolution.

Photograph of two men alleged to be Lenin and Trotsky
‘Not recognised by the Allied governments… ’: Thompson’s photograph illustrating a G.K. Chesterton column,  ‘Our Notebook’, Illustrated London News, 15 December 1917. P.P.7611.

So, we may know who the figures in these photographs are not, but figuring out who they are is a more difficult question. Despite their distinctive style of dress, facial characteristics and their seemingly high level of importance, the true identity of these supposed revolutionaries has eluded me, so if anybody has any information or can speculate as to who they could be it would be interesting to hear your comments.

Mike Carey, CDA Student

References/further reading:

Anatoly Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes (London, 1967). X.700/2555.

David Mould, ‘Donald Thompson: Photographer at War’, Kansas History 5, 3 (September, 1982), 154-67.

10 December 2015

The Russian Refugee Crisis of the 1920s

‘Never in the history of Europe has a political cataclysm torn such huge numbers of people from their mother country and from their homes’.

These words, written by Russian émigré journalist and politician Ariadna Tyrkova-Williams in December 1921 (British Library Add MS 54466, ff. 93-96), refer to the revolution and civil war that tore Russia apart from 1917 until the early 1920s. The war led to the displacement of over one million people, including countless children. The majority of the refugees sympathised with the Whites, the group of forces who fought the Bolsheviks on a number of fronts across the country, and were from Russia’s educated classes. Due to their political affiliation and the effects of war and famine, people chose, or were forced, to flee their homes as the Whites suffered heavier defeats. Those who could left Russia for Europe or the Far East. Tens of thousands initially fled to Constantinople before settling in the newly independent Baltic countries or cities such as London, Belgrade, Paris, and Berlin.

Photograph of Russian refugees on board a train, 1919
Russian refugees during the Civil War, 1919. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The British Library’s Tyrkova-Williams Collection contains a number of English, French and Russian-language documents concerning the international response to the refugee crisis and the activities of Russian émigré organisations, such as the London-based Russian Refugees Relief Association (RRRA). The RRRA was established in late 1920, immediately after the White Army General Wrangel’s forces were evacuated from the Crimea and ‘200,000 refugees were added to the hundreds of thousands of the Russian émigrés whom civil war had driven out of Russia [sic]’ (Add MS 54466, ff. 74-78).

Chaired by Tyrkova-Williams, the organisation counted both Russian and British figures among its members. Alongside printing and distributing appeals for clothing and money (see for example Add MS 54466, f. 88), the RRRA organised fundraising events, such as a June 1922 dance held at Chesham House, the former Russian Embassy in London. Patronesses of the dance included several members of the British aristocracy, such as Lady Maud Hoare, wife of British Conservative politician Sir Samuel Hoare, highlighting the RRRA’s standing in British society.  

Poster advertising a 1922 charity dance held by the RRRA
Poster advertising the charity dance in aid of the Russian Refugee Relief Association in June 1922. Cup.410.f.1187

While the RRRA’s primary aim was to aid those fleeing the war, its political agenda must not be forgotten. A number of the organisation’s key members, including its chair Tyrkova-Williams, were actively involved in supporting the White movement’s propaganda activities against the Bolsheviks. Appeals to the British public to assist Russia’s refugees therefore had a second purpose: to direct public opinion firmly away from the Bolsheviks by drawing attention to the suffering experienced by Russians living under their rule. 

In 1921, formal international efforts to aid the Russian refugees began when the International Committee of the Red Cross appealed to the League of Nations to assist them. The British Library’s manuscript collection includes reports by the Russian Red Cross (RRC) relating to the issue of wider international assistance. One document summarises a 1921 report made by Dr Ladyzhenski, the RRC delegate in Geneva, on the ‘most urgent needs of the Russian refugees’, particularly those in Constantinople (Add MS 54466, f. 91). Discussing issues such as the provision of food, legal status and the fair distribution of the refugees across Europe, the report provides an insight into international attitudes towards the refugee crisis and the challenges facing organisations attempting to assist them.

These documents are particularly poignant in the context of the current refugee crisis in Europe and the increased charity appeals for aid in the run up to Christmas and the onset of winter. Nearly one hundred years later we still see the same devastating consequences of civil war. Yet we also witness the same compassionate responses from ordinary citizens and charity organisations trying to help those in need.

Katie McElvanney


H. W. Williams Papers, Add MS 54436-54476

Tyrkova-Williams Collection, Cup.410.f.1185 - Cup.410.g.702

Katie McElvanney is a collaborative PhD student at the British Library and Queen Mary University of London. She is currently cataloguing the BL’s H. W. Williams Papers (part of the Tyrkova-Williams Collection).

12 October 2015

Author’s fees for banned books, or a story of one donation: Lenin in the British Library 3

Lenin’s presence in London is well known and documented. A fascinating story of the area where he used to stay during his visits is described in the Survey of London.

A white marble bust of Lenin
A bust of Lenin from the Islington Museum (via Europe A la carta )

Lenin’s visits to the British Museum Library are also documented and written about (see our previous posts on Lenin at the British Library by our former colleague Dr Robert Henderson).

The British Museum Donation Register lists presents 152 (11 Jan. 1908) and 537 (14 Mar 1908):  Za 12 let (“12 Years Writings”) and Agrarnyi  vopros (“The agrarian question”) respectively.  These two books meant to constitute the first two volumes of a three-volume collection.  A copy of Za 12 let is Lenin’s only donation to bear a note made by a member of the British Museum staff: “Donation from the author”.  According to his letters, it doesn’t seem that Lenin left Geneva between January and March 1908, but he definitely was in London in May 1908, so who presented the volumes on these two occasions remains unclear.

Cover of Za 12 let. with a British Library shelfmark and note that it was presented by the author Za 12 let.  Tom pervyi. Shelfmark Cup.403.w.8

Lenin’s works appeared under one of his pseudonyms – Vl. Il’in. The title of the book is an allusion to then recently published collection of Georgii Plekhanov’s  works Za 20 let (“20 years of Writing”; St Petersburg, 1905). Lenin selected articles previously published between 1894 and 1905, edited and shortened some of them, and wrote a preface. The first volume that contained Chto delat’? (“What’s to be done?”), Shag vpered, dva shaga nazad (“One step forward, two steps back”), Zadachi russkikh sotsial-demokratov  (“The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats”), etc.  was legally published  in 1907 (although the date given on the title page is 1908) by the Bolshevik publishing house Vpered (“Forward”) founded and managed by a politician and writer Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, who served as Lenin’s secretary after the October revolution. When Vpered was closed by the police in summer 1907 all the materials very transferred to the publishing house Zveno (“A Chain”), led by Mikhail Kedrov, in the Soviet period – a Chekist and organizer of the first labour camps in the USSR. Printing was done by by the Bezobrazov printing house in St Petersburg, which produced books on a variety of topics from Greek etymology to the popular cookery book by Elena Molokhovets. 

Lenin attempted to publish his almost complete collection of writings (excluding Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii - “The Development of capitalism in Russia”) for the second edition of which he had already had a contract with another publisher that brought him about 2,000 Roubles, at the very end of the period of press liberalisation that had started with the 1905 October Manifesto. After the second Duma  had been dissolved on 3 June 1907, the newly emerged free press was crushed by a system of fines and bans which in effect restored the pre-1905 censorship. However, advertisements  for this collection of works appeared in Russian newspapers, e.g. in the weekly Novaia kniga (“The New Book”) and subscription for the first two volumes at the price of four Roubles was announced. 

The subscription campaign was not very successful, and by the time the first book came out only 200 subscribers had contributed towards its cost. The first volume appeared in 3,000 copies, and Lenin received an agreed fee of 60 Roubles per  24 pages of typescript for reprinted works and 100 Roubles per 24 pages for contributions written specially for this edition.  It was not too bad money, considering that in the 1900s the best-paid ‘proletarian’ Russian author, Maxim Gorky's rate was around 1200 Roubles, Ivan Bunin's - 600 Roubles, and medium range authors received around 200 per 24 pages.

The first volume of Za 12 let was banned by the Russian authorities, as it was announced in the newspaper Rus’ on 11 December (28 November)  1907. So it was decided to publish the second volume under the separate title Agrarnyi  vopros (“The agrarian question”) in two parts, where part one would consist of previously ‘legally’ published articles, and part two would contain the Bolsheviks’ agrarian programme.

Image 3 Agrarnyi vopros. Chast 1.  British Library's shelfmark Cup.403.w.8

However, when the proofs were sent by the printers to the Zveno office, the police were already there to confiscate it. After this there were no further attempts before the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 to publish the rest of this collection.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, European Studies

References/further reading:

Robert Service,  Lenin: a biography (London , 2000) YC.2001.a.8941


09 October 2015

Presents as propaganda: Lenin at the British Library 2

Taking into account Lenin’s great admiration for the Library of the British Museum, and the fact that he donated several of his books to other European libraries it is surprising to find only four donations recorded in the British Museum’s ‘Book of Presents’. This lists:

Present 152: (11 Jan. 1908) “12 Years Ago” " by Vl. Il'in, tom 1 (in Russian) Pres'd. by the Author.

Present 537: (14 Mar 1908) “The Agrarian Question”  by V.C. Oulsanov [sic] Pres' the Author, Rue des deux Ponts 17, Geneve.

Present 857: (11 Apr 1908)  “Development of Capitalism in Russia” by V.Ilin, 1908. (In Russian) Pres'd. by Mr. Oulianoff,17 Rue des deux Ponts, Geneve. (i.e. Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii. Izdanie vtoroe, dopolnennoe (St-Petersburg, 1908). 08226.i.22)

Present 2153: (11 Nov 1911)  “Deux Partis” par G. Kameneff,1911 Pres'd. by Mr. Oulianoff, 4 Rue Marie Rose, Paris. (i.e.: Dvie partii s predisloviem N. Lenina,"((Paris, 1911)  8094.k.43.

Cover of Dve partii s predisloviem N. LeninaDve partii s predisloviem N. Lenina

Presents 152 and 537 are the two parts of Za 12 let. Sobranie statei. tom 1,2 chast.1. (St Petersburg, 1908; Cup.403.w.8) marked in the catalogue as “Author’s presentation copy to the British Museum”, while  537 and 857 correspond to the two books mentioned in his letter of 18 May 1908. Many more of Lenin’s books held by the British Library bear the yellow stamp signifying a donated work. However, these are either not listed in the Book of Presents, or are entered as anonymous gifts or as donations from elsewhere. A case in point is Present 582 for 12 April 1902:

 “What's to be done” by N. Lenin  (in Russian) Pres'd. by J.H.W. Dietz, Nachf. Stuttgart. (Chto delat’? Nabolevshie voprosy nashego dvizheniia. (Stuttgart,1902) C.121.c.3.)

Cover of Chto delat’? with black type on a red backgroundChto delat’? Nabolevshie voprosy nashego dvizheniia

Unfortunately, it is impossible to say whether Dietz, his German publishers, made this donation on their own account, or whether they were instructed to do so by Lenin. On the other hand, the Library's copy of the first edition of K derevenskoi bednote (‘To the Village Poor’), also bears a yellow stamp, and even though it is not listed in the Book of Presents, one may be inclined to believe that if Lenin had to donate only one of his works this would most certainly have been his choice, since it was based largely on the research work which he carried out during his first visit to the Library.

Cover of K derevenskoi bednoteK derevenskoi bednote (Geneva, 1903)  C.121.a.6(8)

R. Henderson, Honorary Research Associate, School of History, Queen Mary University of London

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