Lenin Speaks to the Troops


On May 5th 1920, during the Bolshevik Revolution, this photograph was taken of Vladimir Lenin atop a platform, speaking to the troops on the Sverdlov Square in front of the Bolshoi Theater. The soldiers are about to depart for the Polish front to fight Marshal Pilsudski’s forces, which had recently invaded Ukraine. In the original photo, Trotsky (and Kamenev partly obsured behind Trotsky) can be seen standing beside the platform on Lenin’s left side. The original was taken by G. P. Goldshtein.

The subsequent falsification of this photo was probably the first and certainly the most famous example of Stalinist retouching. When power struggles within the revolution forced Trotsky out of the party 7 years later he was “retouched” out of the picture (Figure 2).  Using paint, razors, and airbrushes, Soviet photo artists made several altered versions of the picture.

The original photo, which achieved the iconic status while Lenin was alive and Trotsky still had power, was published throughout the world. It became as much as symbol of the revolutionary Russia as the hammer and sickle or the red flag. After Troksky’s downfall, the photograph was never again shown in its entirety in the USSR even during the Gorbachev years.

For full details, see The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia (1997).

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