Blood and laughter

Posted on 21st May 2013 by simonbeattie

Ovod (The Gadfly): 6 issues were published, between January and the first half of March 1906; the editor was sentenced to 6 months in prison, and the publication was banned

The boom years of 1890s Russia came to an abrupt halt at the turn of the century when an economic slump left many of the new urban working class jobless and led to unrest in the countryside.  The Tsar’s popularity took another knock when hopes of a quick military victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904) were quashed by a series of disasters and humiliations on land and at sea.  Strikes at home ensued.

On 9 January 1905, 150,000 striking Petersburgers and their families converged outside the Winter Palace to hand a petition to the Tsar, demanding basic civil rights and labour laws.  But the peaceful demonstration, led by Father Gapon, was broken up by live rounds from the Imperial Guards; as many as 1000 people were killed, and several thousand others injured.  The 1905 Revolution—in Lenin’s words, ‘the dress rehearsal for the October Revolution’—had begun.

Nagaechka (The Little Whip): 5 issues were published, the first two nos. November–December 1905, the others in January 1906; no. 4 was seized at the newspaper-sellers, no. 5 was confiscated and destroyed at the press; the editor was arrested and the press shut down

‘Bloody Sunday [as 9 January came to be known] killed superstition, the old faith in a just Tsar, and unleashed a tumultuous rage among the masses …  A huge wave of strikes swept the country, paralysing more than 100 towns and drawing in a million men and women.  Throughout the summer peasants rioted while terrorists struck at figures of authority.

‘Alongside the struggle in the street and factory was the struggle for the free press.  Ministers and clerics suffered assassination more by the pen than the bullet as the revolution strove for the expression of powerful emotions long suppressed.  A flood of satirical journals poured from the presses, honouring the dead and vilifying the mighty.  Drawings of frenzied immediacy and extraordinary technical virtuosity were combined with prose and verse written in a popular underground language …

Strely (Arrows): 9 issues were published, nos. 1–7 30 October to 22 December 1905, nos. 8–9 1–7 April 1906; nos. 2 and 5 were confiscated, no. 9 was destroyed by the authorities

‘For a few brief months the journals spoke with the great and unprecedented rage that neither arrest not exile could silence.  At first their approach was oblique, their allusions veiled, and they fell victim to the censor’s pencil.  But people had suffered censorship for too long.  Satirists constantly expanded their targets of attack, demolishing one obstacle after another as they went, thriving on censorship.  The workers’ movement grew in boldness, culminating in the birth of the St Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, the people’s government.  For fifty days the Tsar and his ministers were confronted by another power, another law.  Journalists and printers seized the right to publish without submitting to the censor.  The satirical journals then reached their apotheosis, until the revolution died as it had risen, bathed in blood.  More clearly than any party resolution or government proclamation, the caricatures of 1905 tell the story of that heroic failure …’ (Cathy Porter, Introduction to Blood and Laughter: Caricatures from the 1905 Revolution, London, Jonathan Cape, 1983, pp. 18–9).

Sekira (The Pole-Axe): 14 issues were published, 17 December 1905 to 6 January 1906

Plamia (The Flame): 4 issues were published, the first three 1–23 December 1905, no. 4 on 4 January 1906

Fonar’ (The Lantern): 5 issues were published, 1–3 between 8 and 29 December 1905, and then 1–2 in January 1906

Puli (Bullets): 9 issues were published, nos. 1–2 in December 1905, and then nos. 1–7 in 1906; nos. 1 and 2 from 1906 were confiscated

Vampir (The Vampire): 8 issues were published, between January and April 1906

Zabiiaka (The Trouble-maker): 4 issues were published, No. 1 on 30 December 1905, then 1–3 in January 1906; no. 1 from 1906 was confiscated, the editor sentenced to two months imprisonment, and the publication shut down

Gvozd’ (The Nail): 3 issues were published, between 8 January and 9 February 1906; nos. 1 (the content of which is repeated in nos. 2 and 3) and 3 were confiscated and destroyed at the press

Pulemet (The Machine-gun): 5 issues, plus one “nomer-ekspress”, were published, November 1905 to early January 1906; publication continued in 1917. ‘The most striking journal of the 1905 Revolution. No. 1 was quickly confiscated and is rare … The editor was arrested twice’ (Smirnov-Sokolsky)

Zanoza (The Splinter): 14 issues were published, between January and December 1906; nos. 6 and 11 were confiscated at the press

Zarnitsy (Summer lightning): 8 issues, numbered 1–6, 8–9, were actually published (no. 7 was seized at the press and never appeared), between January and March 1906; no. 6 was confiscated

Ezh (The Hedgehog): 8 issues were published, the first in 1906, the rest in 1907

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2 responses to “Blood and laughter”

  1. Fred Reames says:

    All good artwork. even the early Soviet posters to motivate the “workers’ were good art. Very stylized.

  2. […] First State Duma, Russia’s first ever elected parliament, was the direct result of the 1905 Revolution, and sat between April and July 1906 at St Petersburg’s Tauride Palace (built by Catherine the […]

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