Lenin, active head of the revolution

Lenin, active head of the revolution

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Title: Lenin giving a speech in Red Square to celebrate the first anniversary of the October Revolution

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1918

Date shown: October 25, 1918

Technique and other indications: photography

Storage place: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin) website

Contact copyright: © BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / BPK image

Picture reference: 08-502475

Lenin giving a speech in Red Square to celebrate the first anniversary of the October Revolution

© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / BPK image

Publication date: April 2019

Historical context

A still fragile revolution

The photograph of Lenin in action taken by an anonymous photographer on November 7, 1918 is one of the guide’s most famous portraits of the revolution and the times of the civil war. After having dissolved on January 8, 1918 the first session of the Constituent Assembly whose election they had authorized at the end of November 1917, they signed the separate peace of Brest-Litovsk to better "transform the imperialist war into a civil war".

These prophetic words were spoken on the 1er November 1914 by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known as Lenin (1870-1924), a lawyer by training who since 1895 has become one of the leading theorists of Marxist parties in Russia. October was his work: he convinced his party to take power by force of arms when the ballot boxes were favorable to them after a year of 1917 of democratization and polarization. His determination forced his contemporaries to define themselves for or against the Bolshevik revolution, for or against Lenin.

Image Analysis

Chief Harangeur

Obviously in black and white, Lenin's photography offers an ideal framing and contrast with the white Moscow winter sky. Much to his passionate harangue, the subject does not look at the lens but stands at the corner of the rostrum. This wooden grandstand adorned with red - hence the intensity of the black - which is reminiscent of both a ship's prow and a university pulpit. Lenin appears to be united with the platform and with his words the diaphragm closed at the auspicious moment when the speaker made a forward movement which gives dynamism to the image. The hands clasped on the railing, the contraction of the muscles of the neck and the half-closed gaze carried away betray the physical effort imposed by this exercise and the entire tension of the individual, his total commitment to the cause he pleads. . The anonymous photographer who approached the podium on that cold day in November 1918 apparently had no access to it and had no choice but to take his shot by pointing his camera up. But make no mistake, it was just a fluke. The photographic revolution led in particular by Alexander Rodchenko in the USSR has not yet taken place. In November 1918, photography was still only an information tool, certainly ideologically oriented; it is the poster and the cinema, already used during the Great War, that the Bolsheviks favor.


The beginnings of a cult

There are many other pictures of this demonstration on Red Square which off-center the subject and show in particular very little assistance grouped at the foot of a far too high platform. But only this photograph had an exceptional destiny with hundreds of republications in the USSR and abroad. When you observe her closely, you realize that she is not really to Lenin's advantage: her grimace accentuates the Asian features of her face and reminds those who have seen her of her rather peculiar accent. In addition, he wears a toque and a fur-lined coat that looks very "bourgeois" instead of the simple costume and workman's cap that he had the idea of ​​wearing on his return to Russia in 1917. But the low angle produced its effect and the posture captured is very typical of resolution, a trait often emphasized by his contemporaries. In addition, Lenin was the victim of a bullet attack on the previous August 31, and he insisted on appearing in front of the barely recovered cameras in early October. The communist leader knows that he has yet to give of himself, prove that he is alive and that the revolution has an implacable leader within him. The aftermath of the operation and the physical and nervous exhaustion of the civil war wiped out his health in 1922, when attacks left him semi-paralyzed.

The civil war once won, Lenin left his main comrades to encourage a budding cult, coming from the base, which he did not displease. Before his death on January 21, 1924, it took a discreet form: multiple editions of his writings, painted portraits (notably by Isaak Brodksi) and popular images, such as the famous poster "Lenin cleans the world of its filth" (Deni & Tcheremnykh , 1920). Lenin embodies the October Revolution, as Stalin later embodies the Soviet regime.

  • photography
  • Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, says)
  • Russian revolution
  • Moscow
  • Bolshevism
  • Rebellion
  • Mensheviks
  • Trotsky (Leon)
  • speaker
  • Russia
  • Red place
  • Rodchenko (Alexander)
  • Communism


Gianni Haver, Jean-François Fayet, Valérie Gorin, Emilia Koustova (dir.), The spectacle of the Revolution. The visual culture of October commemorations, Lausanne, Antipodes, 2017.

Alexandre Sumpf, 1917. Russia and the Russians in revolutions, Paris, Perrin, 2017.

Nina Tumarkin, Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1983.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "Lenin, active head of the revolution"

Video: Lenin: Untold Story of The Leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and Communist Russia