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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Lenin: Three historic photos and their stories

During the centennial year of Lenin's birth, 1970, Mikhail Yeryomin, a retired Soviet Major-General who was then working for the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in the USSR researching the history behind photos of him, looked at three photos that he had completed the backstories of. His research appeared in Soviet Life magazine and other publications.

The three photos here are of Lenin in Stockholm (April, 1917), at a municipal Duma meeting in Petrograd (November, 1917) and in Moscow with Red Army soldiers (April, 1919).

They tell stories related to Lenin's return to Russia in 1917, his attendance at the final municipal Duma in Petrograd in 1917 and the move of the revolutionary capital from Petrograd to Moscow.

Stockholm, April 13, 1917

The photograph above shows Lenin in Stockholm on the way back to Russia. It was taken on April 13, 1917, by Vicke Malmstrom, a Swedish photographer and a left sympathizer. It was easy to tell that this was not the original but a print made from a duplicate negative. But where was the original and who were the other people in the picture?

We succeeded in identifying two of the group - Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin's wife, and Grigori Usiyevich, a Bolshevik and one of Lenin's associates. But that was all.

I made 20 copies of the Stockholm photograph and sent them to people who knew the old Bolsheviks and to historians. And in the autumn of 1962, in an effort to track down the original, I sent a letter to the Stockholm Town Hall. Two weeks later came a reply from Sweden which informed me that Malmstrom's firm was still at the same address but that its present owner was Ecki Malmstrom, the photographer's elder son.

I wrote the same day asking him a dozen questions.

In the meantime I had identified two others—Raisa Skovno, who had also lived in emigration in Stockholm and had joined Lenin's group there, and Mikha Tskhakaya, a prominent party figure.

In March 1963 I received a parcel from Ecki Malmstrom with the original photograph. It had been taken, he wrote, on April 13, 1917, in Vazagatan Street, several blocks from the Central Railway Station. He also sent us a copy of the original negative, which he had preserved.

Ecki Malmstrom identified some of the others in the photograph. On Lenin's left was Lingdkhagen, the lord mayor of the Swedish capital, on his right was Ture Nerman,(1) and a little in front of him was Frederick Strom (2). With further search we were able to identify almost all the people in the picture. Among others, the group included Waclaw Vorovsky (3)* and Inez Armand (4)*.

1. Editor in chief ff the Swedish newspaper Politiken

2. One of the leaders of the left wing of the Swedish Social Democratic

3. Waclaw Vorovsky (1871-1923) - a professional revolutionary, Bolshevik, and later a prominent Soviet diplomat. A gifted journalist and literary critic.

4. Inez Armand (1875 - 1920) a prominent figure in the international Communist women's movement and a close friend of Lenin's who worked in Moscow on her return from emigration.

*Editor's Note: Waclaw Vorovsky's name is more commonly translated as Vatslav Vorovsky now. He was murdered by a Russian rightist in Switzerland in 1923. Likewise the name of Inez Armand is now more commonly translated as Inessa Armand.


Photo: Lenin is the fourth figure to the left of the platform in the first row

January 1918.

The other photograph was found in 1957 in the archives of the Museum of V. I. Lenin. I was asked to interpret the "hopeless" picture. In three months of work I managed to identify only 10 of the unknown people.

One time when I was examining the picture my eye was drawn to some trees - a rather unusual decoration in a hall. What reporter would have omitted such an interesting detail? I thumbed through some 20,000 newspaper pages, and in one of the issues of 1918 I found this paragraph:

"The hall of the Tavrichesky Palace has been redecorated. . .Evergreen trees in tubs set off the red upholstery of the armchairs on the stage. . ."

And, indeed, other details made it evident that the unknown meeting had taken place in Petrograd (now Leningrad) in the Yekaterininsky Hall of the Tavrichesky Palace. I guessed that the picture had been taken in 1920 at the Second Congress of the Communist International.

But the guess was wrong; one of the figures, the first People's Commissar of Transport, Yelizarov, had died in March 1919. So that the picture must have been taken much earlier.

I knew of one other event that connected Lenin with the palace - the single meeting of the Constituent Assembly on January 5, 1918.

I therefore turned to the well-known drawing at the Museum of the Revolution and saw that the interior was obviously not Yekaterininsky Hall, though the Constituent Assembly had met there.

I came to the conclusion that the photo was probably the Municipal Duma (municipal council) which was dissolved on November 19 (Old Style), 1917. In old periodicals I found a story about the dissolution of the Municipal Duma which confirmed my conclusion.

Presentation of a Red Banner to a class of heavy artillery commanders, Moscow, April 15, 1919. Lenin and Kalinin are standing side by side.

Moscow, April 15, 1919.

Once when I was examining Lenin photographs with a Red Army veteran, I asked him if he knew any of the people in the April 15, 1919, picture. The old commander remembered from someone's stories that the Solovyov brothers, Yuri and Yuli, had been there, but he could not identify them in the picture.

Subsequently I came across the following document: "Yuli Nikolayevich Solovyov is permitted to take his rifle, bearing the number 52,604 and dated 1915, out of Petrograd. V. Ulyanov (Lenin) Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars March 10, 1918"

Perhaps this was one of the Solovyov brothers? I managed to locate a certain Yelena Solovyova whose father's name had been Yuli. I learned from her that her late father and his brother had attended a class for Red commanders and that he was the man to whom Lenin had given the rifle permit. Here is the story as told by Yelena, who heard it from her father.

At 10 o'clock on the evening of March 10, 1918, a train moving the government of the Soviet Republic to its new capital was to leave Petrograd for Moscow. At four o'clock that afternoon there was the usual exchange of sentries at the door of Lenin's office. Smilga, an elderly Latvian, and Yuli Solovyov, a young Red Guard, were on duty. A few minutes later Malkov, Baltic sailor and superintendent of the Smolny, ordered Smilga to go to Moscow with the train carrying the Council of People's Commissars. Solovyov was to remain at his post and leave for Moscow later.

The young man was very worried. Maybe he would not be allowed to go at all? Maybe he would be told that he was too young? Just then Lenin came out of his office.

He greeted the sentries: "Well, comrades, we leave today. This is our last day in Petrograd!"

"Yes, Comrade Lenin," replied Smilga, but not everybody. This young comrade of mine is being left behind."

"Why? What's the trouble, comrade?" Lenin asked the unhappy-looking young Red Army man.

Yuli replied: "They'll probably take my rifle away because I'm too young and send me home. But I earned my rifle. I'd like to go to Moscow with it to join my comrades. My father is moving there too."

"Well, we'll arrange things right away," said Lenin. "Come into my office, young man!"

A few minutes later Yuli left Lenin's office—with the note. The story of the first meeting between Lenin and Yuli Solovyov is told in that note. Their second meeting is pictured in the photograph.


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