Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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The Image of an Old Revolutionary in Soviet Propaganda: Vera Figner and the Women's Liberation Movement in "The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty"
Dunja Dogo

Last modified: 2010-05-12


In this paper I shall examine a brief excerpt from the Soviet film chronicle The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (Esfir' Shub, 1927) as a resource for the historian to reflect on the image of the women's liberation movement in 1917. The analysis will draw the attention on how a specific part of the Bolshevik propaganda could relate to the theme of women's involvement in the Russian revolution  (notably, the Democratic women's organizations), in the context of creating a public memory of the Revolution. The scope of my investigation may be widened to a thesis concerning other Soviet historical-epics realized for the tenth anniversary of October. Apart from the common Leitmotiv of Bolsheviks heroes (militia, political elite, sympathizers), what seems to unite these films is indeed the 'removal' of the role of women's mobilization from the plots. October (Sergei M. Eizenshtein, 1927-1928) could serve as evidence of this phenomenon: throughout the sequences there are no particular female protagonists, except from two minor archetypical figures - an anonymous girl who dies like a martyr and the female soldiers who defend the Provisional Government against the Bolshevik Guards, storming the Winter Palace.

The shaping of the revolutionary narrative in films of the period was accompanied by a prodigious state-sponsored program to produce foundation epics, whereby legitimate the ruling elite, who conquered power through the coup d'état of October. As a result of precise instructions from above, in The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty, the riots following the downfall of autocracy are meant for a prelude to the 'real' revolution of October. In this kind of narrative under direct Party control, the women's involvement in any event of February 1917 is drastically reduced. Nevertheless, the scholar might benefit from an important documentary fragment, which allows us to recover a part of the Russian socio-historical memory of the February revolution. This footage is introduced by an intertitle, which designates Vera Figner as an "old revolutionary, a member of the People's will Party". There can be little doubt that this statement is a pure invention of the propaganda: in 1917, the People's Will party has, indeed, completely disappeared, since its forcible suppression in the last decade of the 19th century. Thus, in these frames, Vera is glorified as a living part of a never-ending struggle with deep roots in the past. She is defined "terrorist" to establish an ideal lineage which is to unite chosen radical elements of 19th century populists to representatives of the Bolshevik party. 



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