Cartoons from the Kremlin

Piggy Foxy and the Sword of Revolution: Bolshevik Self-Portraits: Alexander Vatlin and Larisa MalashenkoHow did the rulers of the Soviet Union pass the time during long Politburo meetings in the Kremlin? They doodled.

Sketching on notebook pages, official letterheads, and the margins of draft documents, prominent Soviet leaders in the 1920s and 1930s amused themselves and their colleagues with drawings of one another. Nearly 200 of these informal sketches, only recently uncovered in secret Soviet files, are reproduced in Piggy Foxy and the Sword of Revolution.

“Stalin, Trotsky, Molotov, Zinoviev, Dzerzhinsky, Beria and Lenin were all portrayed,” says the op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. “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.”

“It’s interesting to see that Nikolai Bukharin — the original for the character of Rubashov in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and perhaps the single most talented (and humanly appealing) figure in the Bolshevik leadership — was also a gifted and witty caricaturist,” says Scott McLemee in Inside Higher Ed. “Some of his drawings shape-shift his colleagues into animals. In his own self-portrait, he has a fox’s tail, while fellow ‘Old Bolshevik’ Lev Kamanev appears as an overweight dog, absent-mindedly pooping.”

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