Trotsky was effaced, in photos…
…. exiled in Paris, Lenin met the beautiful Inès Armand…
The recent poisoning of a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and the murder, using radioactive polonium in his tea, of Alexander Litvinenko are stark reminders of the reach of the Russian state. In 2006, the British media had heart-wrenching pictures of the young handsome but bald Russian defector and former officer of the Russian FSB secret service lying in his bed connected by tubes and wires to machines which ultimately proved to be useless. Russia is a violent place with scant regard for democratic principles. The old USSR was born in the violence of peasant revolt and the devastating war with Germany in October 1917. Two charismatic leaders and orators, Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin charmed and cajoled supporters and risked their lives to achieve a stupendous transformation of a centuries old empire into an egalitarian state. However, it was not without much bloodletting and subsequent events and history has not been equally kind to them.
Leon Trotsky was born on November 7, 1879, in the Ukraine with the name Lev Davidovich Bronstein but he changed his name to avoid being known as a Jew. Born, 22 April 1870, to a wealthy middle-class family in Simbirsk,Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, was better known as Lenin.
Russia is such a mixture of contradictions. Hidden in the high latitudes, it straddles northern Asia and northern Europe. Across the largest country in the world, three great religions have vied for importance throughout the centuries, Islam from the Turkish invaders, Christianity from Constantinople and Judaism from the Khazars.
Great countries’ rulers need significant recognition. Churches and statues are the human way of commemoration. Skilfully, on assuming the throne in 1762, Catherine the Great (a German with scant claim to the throne) set about nailing her colours to the mast of Peter the Great. Immediately she commissioned a statue as an expression of her admiration for her predecessor and her view of her own place in the line of great Russian rulers. Everything about the statue was great. The Thunder Stone was the biggest ever stone to be moved and on it the Frenchman Falconet set his bronze flying horseman with Peter mounted in a commanding manner in his eponymous city. She made sure that her name ‘Catharina’ was equally as important as ‘Petro.’ Inscribed with the phrase Petro Primo Catharina Secunda MDCCLXXXII in Latin and Петру перьвому Екатерина вторая, лѣта 1782 in Russian, both meaning ‘Catherine the Second to Peter the First, 1782’.
If Catherine was Great then Trotsky and Lenin deserve recognition. Lenin got his whereas Trotsky, despite Stalin’s praise in Pravda on 10 November 1918, ‘All practical work in connection with the organization of the uprising was done under the immediate direction of Comrade Trotsky, the President of the Petrograd Soviet. It can be stated with certainty that the Party is indebted primarily and principally to Comrade Trotsky for the rapid going over of the garrison to the side of the Soviet and the efficient manner in which the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee was organized.‘ got none.
Quickly, Trotsky fell out with Stalin who ruled with an iron fist in an iron glove. The man of steel wanted to be rid of the Jew. On his orders, he was demoted, exiled and ultimately murdered (with an ice axe in Mexico). Trotsky was effaced, in photos and in Stalin’s book, which expunged the above citation in later editions. For Stalin, Trotsky never existed.
Lenin by contrast went on to be revered god-like (not easy for atheist Communists) and statues to him abound across the old USSR and in foreign countries as well.
In 1994, I met Sergei and Sasha. Unlike their hero Lenin, Sasha and Sergei both wore rimless circular spectacles. Sasha was smaller, younger and, bizarrely, balder. We stood in front of the colonnaded front of the State University of Kazan next to a statue of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. He looked decidedly youthful and his short coat was unusual for a Lenin stature.
‘He is normally portrayed wearing a half open overcoat with its coat-tails flying in a perpetual winter wind as he addresses an eager nation tired of the Romanovs,’ said Sasha.
‘Here, he’s wearing his summer jacket,’ said Sergei with the broadest of smiles on his face and a sense of trying equally to impress me. ‘This statue commemorates him as a student of the university in 1887. Of course, you know his importance to the October Revolution, perhaps he has more statues to him than any other person in history.’
Both Sasha and Sergei were evidently proud to have studied at the same university as Ulyanov or Lenin, albeit it 100 years later.
Their comments set me thinking. I’d seen several Lenin statues before but had never noticed the subtle differences. And so began a mini routine of having my photo taken next to a statue of Lenin. I noticed his differing declamatory poses, an arm pointing forward and upward, an arm tight to his chest suggesting resistance. In Yalta, he looks donnish, in Almetyevsk, oratorical and everywhere heroic. In Red Square, Moscow, his embalmed body defies time and is still visited by thousands annually, nearly one hundred years from his death.
But he’s not only found in Russia. In Kolkata, he was just around the corner from our hotel on Chowringhee Road. He’s even in New York. In fact, thewanderingscot has seen him in about sixty cities, from Brest to Vladivostok :http://thewanderingscot.com/statues/lenins/.
Yet, it is in Paris where a simple plaque commemorates not the great orator or political thinker but the ardent lover of Inés Armand.
Paris is the city of love and, among the Russian revolutionaries exiled in Paris, Lenin met the beautiful Inès Armand, a French communist activist married to Alexander Armand, a very rich Russian capitalist. Ines is 35 years old but seems to be 25. By contrast, Nadezhda, Lenin’s wife, is 41 but appears over fifty. Very quickly cupid’s arrow did its work and for six months as winter’s dreariness gave way to spring’s flowers, Lenin and Inés strolled for hours on the Grands Boulevards. In December 1908, he moved to a small two-room apartment on the second floor of number 4, rue Marie-Rose. The discreet neighbourhood suited him. Still unknown, the future Bolshevik leader liked to walk in the park Montsouris, and meet his Russian friends gathered between the Porte d’Orléans and Montparnasse. He lived the love affair over glasses of wine and cups of coffee in the cafes of the avenue d’Orléans. Quickly, Lenin installed his mistress close by at number 2, rue Marie-Rose. Meanwhile, cuckolded Alexander Armand tolerated the passionate relationship and, despite knowing that ‘Secrets travel fast in Paris’ according to Napoleon Bonaparte, it remained a well kept secret. Nothing would be allowed to disturb the image of an ideal Bolshevik revolutionary and a perfect husband.
Both Trotsky and Lenin were key figures of the revolution but one has been written out of history whereas the other has more stone statues to him world-wide than any other person in history.
Like Trotsky, Sergei Skripal, and Alexander Litvinenko have learned the hard way that Russia boasts an impressive list of leaders, from tsars such as Ivan IV (the Terrible), Stalin in the Soviet Union, to President Putin in the Russian Federation today, whose regard for human life is second to the demands of their autocratic rule.
But Lenin, at least, had a softer side.