Long live the Republic!

Among the photos of the Dicescu collection, presented yesterday, there is one – picture 13 in the first mosaic –, in which, it seems, we can discover the earliest example of the well-known Stalinist photoshop procedure.

In the photo, taken in the first days of the February Revolution, the soldiers posing for a group picture on St. Petersburg’s Liteyny Prospect with drawn swords, cheer the revolution. This is also emphasized by the inscriptions of the banner and flag in the background: В борьбе обретешь ты право свое – “In struggle you find your rights,” and Долой монархию! Да здравствует республика! – “Down with the monarchy! Long live the Republic!”

However, David King’s great overview, The Commissar vanishes: The falsification of photographs and art in Stalin’s Russia (1997) also publishes a previous version of this image.

The waving of the flag is much more natural here than in the previous photo, but we do not know what is written on it, if anything at all. And about the banner, it turns out that it was retouched onto the place of a shop sign in the background, whose original inscription was: Часы, золото и серебро – “Clocks, gold and silver”.

In David King, this beautiful circular story, as the earliest example of Communist photo retouching, ends here. However, there are some additional details that deserve attention.

On the Russian internet you can already find the heretofore unpublished archival original of this picture. The original photo clearly shows that the flag actually had an inscription, and it really began with Долой мо…

And in another photo, which displays the same soldiers in another pose, you can see not only the entire shop sign in the background, but also the inscription of the flag. And it reads the same as in the retouched picture, though somewhat erroneously: Долой монорхію. Да Здравствует Демократическая Республика – “Down with the monorchy. Long live the Democratic Republic!”

That even the previous image is still not completely retouch-free, is proven by this “more original” version, with a larger cut-out and handwritten caption, which suggests that it was also part of the Ion Dicescu collection.

But what is the other inscription retouched on the photo: In struggle you find your rights? For assistance, let us contact the classic:

“Koreyko was attentively watching Sinitsky’s new riddle. On the beautiful image of the goose there was also a sack, from which the following things were peeking out: a letter T, a pine tree, behind which the sun was rising, and a sparrow sitting on musical staves. The riddle ended with a comma upside down.
– This is certainly no child’s play to decipher – Sinitsky said. – You will have to rack your brains for a while!
– Come on, come on – Koreyko replied with a smile. – Only this goose disturbs me. What on earth does this goose do here? Aha! Got it! Done! In struggle you find your rights!
– Yes – said the old man, frustrated, in a drawled tone. – How did you get it so fast? You’re an incredibly talented person. One can immediately see that you’re a first-class bookkeeper.
– Second-class – corrected Koreyko. – But for whom did you make this riddle? For the press?
– For the press.
– Then it was a totally pointless work – Koreyko said. – In struggle you find your rights: this is the slogan of the Socialist Revolutionaries. Not suitable for print.”

The Socialist Revolutionaries – the esers (эсеры or “S.R.s”) – who, until the armed Bolshevik putsch in October, were the leading party of the revolution and the organizers of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, drew the slogan of their movement from the German jurist Rudolf von Jhering.

“In struggle you find your rights!” Socialist Revolutionary posters, 1917

The retouched photo has therefore nothing to do with the Communists; on the contrary, it comes from the party which they considered their most powerful rival, and whose memory after the civil war they condemned to oblivion. And the purpose of the retouching was also not that kind of falsification of history, the Orwellian retrospective change of the past, what we know from the manipulated photos of Stalinism.

Think about it: these photos were distributed right after the well-known events, in the form of postcards. Their purpose was propaganda: to popularize the achievements of the revolution and the party standing behind them. They do not alter the events depicted in them, but, in the manner of folk luboks, they make their message unambiguous for recipients who are familiar with this visual formula. One of the two retouched inscriptions makes clearly visible the slogan which was really carried by the soldiers, and the other represents the one which must be somewhere in the picture in order to make it clear, to whom the republic is due. It could also be placed in a caption, but when there is space for it in the place of the absolutely irrelevant shop sign, let it be there, as in the luboks. Just as in that other picture from the Dicescu collection, of which the postcard version was also complemented with a flag labeled Long live the Republic! with the purpose of disambiguation.

“Absolutely irrelevant shop sign”, I say,  in full awareness that, in the later decades of the Russian revolution it is prophetically relevant that you read “Clocks, gold and silver!” in the place of the slogan of the Red Army. Just like the fact that the signs betraying this pursuit are carefully retouched from the picture, which we have already written about in connection with Yevgeny Khaldei’s 1945 Reichstag photo.

2 comentarios:

MOCKBA dijo...

Да Здравствует Демокрация и Республика
probably actually Демократическая Республика, the Democratic Republic, as post-imperial Russia was officially known.

Also in the previous post on the same series of photographs, Russian жертва (translated as "prey") means not just "victim" but also, "sacrifice". The opening line of the funeral hymn may be translated as "You fell, martyrs of the fateful struggle"

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you, corrected!