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Cartoonists' manifesto

October 15, 2006|Swati Pandey

AMONG THE MANY official documents and manuscripts unearthed from the former Central Communist Party archive after the fall of the Soviet regime were hundreds of caricatures of Bolshevik leaders, drawn not by outsiders but by their colleagues.

Stalin, Trotsky, Molotov, Zinoviev, Dzerzhinsky, Beria and Lenin were all portrayed, drawn most vividly by their talented comrades Nikolai Bukharin, a leading Soviet intellectual who sat on the Comintern and the Politburo, and Valery Mezhlauk, who at the peak of his career served as chairman of the State Planning Committee.

Sketched on notebook pages, official letterhead and the margins of official documents, the caricatures are funny, grotesque and sometimes brutal. Many of them, drawn in the 1920s and '30s, serve as "brilliant illustrations of the darkening sky," according to historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, as Stalin and his top aides became increasing angry, vengeful and tyrannical.

Nearly 200 of the cartoons have been reprinted in "Piggy Foxy and the Sword of Revolution," edited by Alexander Vatlin and Larisa Malashenko, to be published by Yale University Press. They range from the benign (a simple caricature of Vladimir Lenin with light radiating from his head) to the bold (Josef Stalin with an exaggerated nose and blue-penciled hair) to the obscene. One of the caricatures, of Central Committee member Georgy Pyatakov, was drawn by Stalin himself.

The drawings grow increasingly gruesome as the years pass, losing much of their light spirit near the start of the Great Terror. As the reader pages through the book, the mocking, often endearing portraits are annotated by the editors: This official was "condemned in the first show trial of the Great Purge," that one was "found guilty and executed" or "convicted of treason and shot" or "accused of right deviation in 1929 and later committed suicide."

And the artists themselves? Bukharin fell out with Stalin and was executed in 1938 after a show trial. Mezhlauk was arrested in December 1937 and shot the following July. The cartoons remained in the archives.

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These images are excerpted from "Piggy Foxy and the Sword of Revolution: Bolshevik Self-Portraits," edited by Alexander Vatlin and Larisa Malashenko, Copyright 2006 Yale University Press. Several of these images, as well as others, appear in the fall issue of the Paris Review.

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