The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact

By Gail M. Schwab; John R. Jeanneney | Go to book overview

25
Uses of the Past: Bolshevism and the French Revolutionary Tradition

Gabriel Schoenfeld

Some months after the October Revolution, when the fate of the Revolution still hung in the balance, the new Soviet government turned its attention to the important matter of renaming the streets of Petrograd. A street in St. Petersburg -- Petrograd as it was called at the time -- that bore the name of two tsars, Nicholas the First and Nicholas the Second, was renamed after Marat. An embankment along the Neva was renamed after Robespierre. 1

One day after the Soviet government moved from Petrograd to Moscow in March 1918, Lenin, together with his wife Krupskaia, and his comrades Sverdlov and Bonch-Bruevich, took a tour of historical monuments in and around the Kremlin. 2 For several days before this walking tour, Lenin had been discussing the idea of "propaganda through monuments" with the Soviet government's Commissar of Enlightenment, A. V. Lunacharskii. As Lenin and Lunacharskii conceived of it, this type of propaganda would involve, on the one hand, the dismantling and removal of statues and other monuments to the now deposed tsarist rulers and other objectionable historical personages, and on the other hand, the erection of statues commemorating leading scholars, writers, and artists and great revolutionaries, including the outstanding figures of the French and Russian Revolutions. 3

On April 12, the Council of People's Commissars, the principal ruling body at the time, issued an ukase entitled "Decree on Statues of the Republic." Signed by Lenin, Stalin, and Lunacharskii, it initiated a program of "monument propaganda." Monuments that were deemed undesirable, according to the decree issued by the Kremlin, were to be removed from public view and "consigned to warehouses" or used for "utilitarian purposes," the latter category presumably including melting the metal of the statues for reuse in some other form. A special commission was established to decide which statues to remove as well as to "mobilize artistic forces" and to organize an extensive competition for the creation of sketches of the new statues that would take the place of the monuments left by the tsarist regime.

In late July after considerable delay that greatly agitated Lenin, the historian Mikhail N. Pokrovsky presented a report to the Council of People's Commissars with a tentative list of the names of fifty great men who were to be honored with statues. On July 30 the Council of People's Commissars

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