Monday, April 25, 2011

The Star-Spangled Trotsky, or St George, Revolutionary Style

St George's Day is the national day of England. It is on 23 April, the accepted day of his death in 303 A.D.  When it falls on Easter week the Church moves the feast of St George to the nearest Monday after Easter. This year for example it is on 2 May. But St George is also popular in many other countries including Russia. St George is the patron saint of Moscow.

The image of St George slaying the dragon has been popular throughout history. Here is a curious example of how an early Soviet propaganda poster showed Leon Trotsky, commander of the Red Army at the time, in 1918,  as St George slaying the dragon of capitalist counter-revolution (the inscription on the dragon's tail).

Note how Christian, nationalist, communist and internationalist symbols blend in this work. The whole composition is unmistakeably Christian. The golden star behind Trotsky's head looks like a saintly halo, but the red star on his shield bears the communist hammer and sickle. He is dressed in a stylised suit of armour of a Russian medieval warrior – a nationalist symbol, but has red stars on boots and shoulders. The dragon wears a silky top hat, a traditional image in Soviet art for depicting bourgeois enemies.

Having looked at several dozen images of St George I couldn't help noticing that Trotsky is charging at the West – to the left, but in most other images St George is advancing on the East – to the right.
St George on British half-sovereign

The best part is the starry sky around the central image. The white-on-blue stars of the background have an unmistakeable resemblance to the US flag. Why? And why so many stars? I counted 91? In the American flag white stars represent the member states of the Union. I think the symbolism may be the same in this poster. It is probably a reference to the coming 'world revolution'. Early on after the October revolution of 1917 many believed that similar events would soon follow throughout the world, at least throughout Europe, other nations will get rid of their bourgeoisie and join Russia in a union of socialist republics.

One of the lesser known maxims of marxism was that revolution can only happen in a country where proletariat (working class) represents a substantial part of the population and is politicallly conscious. Taking into account the number of working class people in Russia at the beginning of the 20th Century many revolutionaries believed that socialist transformation could only happen if revolutions succeeded in other countries as well. In fact, Trotsky was one of the strongest proponents of 'permanent revolution' and the 'export of revolution'. In a few years time Lenin would postulate that it was possible for socialism to succeed in one separate country. That would be one of the major reasons for the split with Trotsky and his eventual downfall when Stalin took control of the country.
Coat of arms of Moscow

But in 1918 the multitude of stars in the poster represented the expectation that other nations would soon join Russia in a revolutionary union and showed Trotsky as the leader of that victorious struggle.

A new book exploring the influence of religious thinking on Russian revolutionaries is out in the US: Laurie Manchester, Holy Fathers, Secular Sons: Clergy, Intelligentsia, and the Modern Self in Revolutionary Russia.  (A review and an interview with Manchester is on New Books in Russian Studies). Many studies have concentrated on persecution and extermination of the Russian priesthood by the bolsheviks. But many of Russian revolutionaries themselves came from priests' families, including the iconic figure in Russian revolutionary movement Nikolai Chernyshevsky. This book looks at how Orthodox Christian ideas contributed to the intelligentsia's, and in particular the revolutionaries' sense of mission, to their impatient desire to change the world and the people for the better.

Poster from here, author unknown.


Dean Nardi said...

ThankS for the assistance with the analysis of this poster, most enlightening.


Anonymous said...

St George was Turkish. And why shouldn't Trotsky appear to have a halo behind him.He and his followers are far better people than most people.They are the true Communists who were murdered by the pretenders and those backed by the super rich capitalist filth like the rockefellers to destroy any chance these countries had of being communist and look at all the bullshi in the media followers of trotsky have had to put up with since

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