Victor Serge

The Museum of the Revolution in Petrograd

(2 August 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 54 [32], 2 August 1923, pp. 576–577.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The museums of the revolution, such as are to be found in several large Russian cities, are quite without their like in the “democratic” countries. In these countries the chief task of the museums is to please the eyes of the propertied classes by artistic and scientific collections. There is but little in these museums to remind us of the social crimes of the rich. They contain nothing for the instruction of the poor. Nothing that might prepare the minds of the people for the social revolution. Even the relics of such a great revolution as the French revolution of 1789–93 are merely accorded a modest corner in the bourgeois museum, between the glorious reminders of the time of Louis XIV and of Napoleon's government. In the French museums the revolution constitutes a piece of old lumber in the lumber room.

In Russia, on the other hand, the revolution is felt to be a decisive period in the life of the people, the prerequisite of a future worthy of humanity. The revolution is studied, loved and followed with passionate zeal to its first beginnings. The victorious uprising of the people has given the revolution its rightful place in life and history. The fact that revolutions, the midwives of new ruling classes, have hitherto been disregarded and forgotten, is due to the fact that the victorious clashes, having drawn their advantages form the revolution, have endeavored to conceal the origin of their victory. The Russians have broken with this tradition. The Russians want to continue the work of revolution, and it is for this reason they that they attach so much importance to the history of the revolution.

As we go through the numerous rooms thrown open to the public in the Petrograd Museum of Revolution, we get an idea of the store set by Russia on its revolutionary memories. The rooms of this museum are on the ground floor of the Winter Palace; these rooms were formerly occupied by the governesses of the royal children.

The first beginnings of the revolution are here shown by innumerable documents and memorials dating back a hundred years. All this evidence calls to mind the sufferings aud death of the best sons of Russia. Here we find the origin and the justification for everything, the Red Terror of 1918 included. Here is to be seen a sheet of paper from the year 1823, yellow with age. The decree of a Czar on the sale of peasant slaves. A whip has been appropriately hung above this document, such a long whip as was used at that time for the chastisement of the enslaved peasants.

There is also a small copper bell which could tell a long story. In 1848 this bell punctuated the philosophical discussions held in the house of one Petraschevsky, an inhabitant of Petrograd. Dostoievsky was one of the members of this circle. Petraschevsky and some of his friends were condemned to death for discussing the first beginnings of European socialism; they underwent a dreadful pretence of execution, and were then sent to Siberia. Dostoievsky was sentenced to 10 years hard labor for the same offence. The good old times of holy Russia under the paternal Czars!

From the year 1825 these paternal Czars were the objects of the hate of their subjects. In December of this year, a military conspiracy, the work of aristocratic officers, attempted to force the Czar Nicolas I to grant a constitution. The conspirators were freemasons, and a document of their order, bearing their names, is to be found in the museum.

An endless array of portraits shows the victims of Czarist prisons, penal establishments, and exile. These pictures symbolize 80 years of ceaseless revolutionary struggle. And here we also see a collection of minerals and insects made by our old comrade Morozov in the garden of the Schlüsselburg prison, where he had to spend 20 years. Today Morozov is the leader of a scientific institution in Petrograd. A large painting by Repi occupies the whole of one side of one of the rooms. It depicts the execution of the seven authors of the assassination of March 1, 1886. These were the seven revolutionists who killed Alexander II.

We would need hours to study all the age-yellow photographs of the Siberian exiles. In one group photograph we see Trotzky as a young man.

A primitive secret printing press, confiscated by the police in 1880, reminds us of the long and weary path traversed before the Pravda and the Isvestya came into existence. Several apartments are devoted to the history of the Czarist secret police. Detailed tables and records show the results of police investigations with reference to an individual comrade, a group, and a whole party. As soon as the police had got to know enough, it struck its blow, and “liquidated” the group concerned. It liquidated many a group in the course of die long years, hit it could not prevent itself from being liquidated in the end. Here, in geld frames, hang the portraits of those ministers for internal affairs who untiringly “liquidated” the revolution: Pleve, Stolypin, and Sipjagin. These three all fell victims to the vengeance of the revolutionists.

In the Petrograd Museum there is also a room in commemoration of the French revolution and the Commune. Here the relics are not numerous, but very valuable. Here we see a standard from the year 1793, bearing an interesting variation of the Jacobin watchword: “Liberty, equality, discipline, fraternity”.

The revolutionists of 1793, precisely like the revolutionists of 1918, recognized the value of discipline, and inscribed this word on their banner.

The section of the museum devoted to the October revolution seemed to me somewhat poor. It would have been easy to render this an exceedingly extensive collection. The portraits of Lenin also leave much to be desired. It seems as if no artist has as yet been able to paint a really good portrait of Lenin. The painters have been lacking in simplicity in relation to the simplest man in the world.

The Petrograd Museum of Revolution is also lacking up to now in a good foreign department representing the history of the Communist International. And yet Russia is the only country in which the revolutionists of the whole world, and of every party tendency, may hope to have their documents carefully preserved. Things insignificant in themselves, letters, newspapers, posters, etc., such as are more often thrown away, may serve as important witnesses of the social revolution. Thus, for instance, it would be appropriate to collect some documents on the origin of the CGTU., membership cards, newspapers, letters, photographs of meetings, etc. One of the founders of the Spanish trade muon federation, Salvador Segui, was murdered this year in Barcelona. Would it not be fitting to collect some relics in memory of this man?

The curators of the Museum of Revolution in Petrograd are anxious that their institution be known and aided abroad. The bureau of the Petrograd Museum of Revolution is managed by comrade Zinoviev. All letters and parcels are to be sent to the address: Revolution Museum, Winter Palace, Petrograd.

Last updated on 2 May 2023