Compare these two photographs carefully. Did you notice that someone is missing from the second picture? Look again carefully at the first picture. Do you see the man with the glasses who is touching his hat? He is missing from the second image.

Image 1

Image 2


Image 1 was taken shortly after the Russian Revolution. It shows, in the center of the photograph, two of the key leaders of that revolution: V. I. Lenin (left) and Leon Trotsky (right). After Lenin’s death on January 21, 1924, a power struggle ensued to determine who would take over the leadership of the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.). Joseph Stalin emerged as the winner of this struggle and by 1929 had solidified his place as Lenin’s successor. He then had Trotsky expelled from the U.S.S.R., and erased his name and image from the written and visual records of the revolution. To achieve this, Trotsky was removed from Image 2 by retouching the photograph’s negative.


Stalin was the brutal dictator of the Soviet Union for three decades. His reach extended far beyond his death in 1953, dominating the historical narrative until the early 1980s. Stalin’s presence crowded out not only those who had been expelled, such as Trotsky, but also those who held lesser positions of power like Mikhail Kalinin, who was president of the republic during Stalin’s regime. Only after the rise of reformer Mikhail Gorbachev in 1984 did Soviet historians and politicians begin to grapple with the complexities of Soviet history. One result of this process was an attempt to deemphasize Stalin in their stories of the past.


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