Saturday, May 20, 2017

We Awl Want to Change the World

I had many more cartoons about Russia's political turmoil in May, 1917 than I could use last week; so Surplusback Saturday picks up the story in a multi-ethnic mode.
"Scraps from the Master's Table" by Leon Israel in Der Groyser Kundes, New York, April or May, 1917
Der Groyser Kundes ("The Big Stick") was a socialist-leaning Yiddish publication in New York City from 1909 to 1927. Leon Israel (1887-1955), who cartooned under the pen name "Lola," emigrated from Pinsk (now in Belarus) to the U.S. in 1905. There was no love lost between Russian Jews and the deposed czarist regime, so the depiction here of Nicholas Romanov having to settle for the refuse from the plate of a Russian peasant (or could that even be Marx?) is meant to be gleeful.

Israel's Jewish readership would have recognized this scene of a Passover Seder; the rabbi appears to be reading a haggadah open to the words "we were slaves." Christians might also recall the reference to the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician or Canaanite woman. The folk maxims in that exchange about feeding dogs from one's table no doubt have a Hebrew origin and might explain why Moses outside the window appears to be horrified. Or perhaps that's Elijah, miffed because there's no chair for him.

(Thank you to David Benkov and Yosef Landa for help with the Ashkenazi/Yiddish translations.)
"Will He Blow Out the Gas?" by Rollin Kirby in New York World, May, 1917
Rollin Kirby's (1875-1952) cartoon needed no explanation to a 1917 audience, a good many of whom still lit their rooms with gas flame, and understood that blowing out the flame did not necessarily stop the flow of gas out from the light fixture.
"Samson and Delilah" by Pierre-Georges Jeanniot in Le Rire, Paris, May or June, 1917
Turning to cartoons from overseas, Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848-1934) references another biblical story to warn "Moujik" (a French spelling of a word for a Russian peasant) against succumbing to the charms of a licentious temptress armed with a pair of scissors. A friend of Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet, Jeanniot's talents extended to painting, engraving, and lithography.

"A Poison Gas Attack on New Russia" by Louis Raemaekers for International News Service, May or June, 1917
The Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers (1869-1956) doesn't bother with allegory or subtlety here, and unlike Jeanniot's cartoon, his Russian woman is as innocent as her Russian beau. Poison gas was the WMD that came of age with World War I, and wielded here by "anarchy."

It's worth noting that when Raemaekers visited the U.S. in 1917, he signed a contract with William Randolph Hearst's International News Service in spite of its reputation for antipathy toward the Allies. Raemaekers explained that Hearst's readership was "the most important target group because the readers are poisoned daily by tendentious articles."
"Shake Hands, Brother..." by cartoonist in Novy Satirikon, Petrograd, May or June, 1917
Russian cartoonists — at least the ones reprinted in allied newspapers and magazines — inveighed against letting down their country's guard against Germany. Such was still the official policy of the Russian government.

One Russian democrat, a Professor B.E. Shatsky, seeking to reassure the Allies that Russia would commit to the war effort, acknowledged the peaceniks in his country, but discounted their influence:
There is no doubt that among the Socialist elements in Russia there is a certain group which is working for "peace at any price." This group is represented by its leader, Nicholas Lennin. The cables from Copenhagen and Stockholm exaggerate Lennin's power and influence. The greatest Socialist leaders in Russia, such men as George Plekhanoff, Prince Kropotkin, and Vladimir Bourtzeff, have indorsed the war on the side of the Allies since its beginning, and are indorsing it most sincerely now that Russian despotism is overthrown and the nature of the war as a fight between democratic and autocratic principles is clearly seen by the entire world.
Russian Social Democrats led by George Plekhanoff, Russian Socialist revolutionists under the leadership of Mr. Avkxentieff, [and] the Russian labor group led by Mr. Kerenski, are indorsing the war and are very successfully combating the small group of Russian Socialists represented by Mr. Lennin. This latter group does not comprise more than five per cent of Russian workingmen and peasants, and its propaganda is almost negligible and of no consequence in Russia's fight, together with the Allies,  for liberty and democracy in Europe. 
 "Lenin - Proletarian, or an Awl in a Sack," possibly by A. Lebedev, in Стрекоза (Dragonfly) magazine, Petrograd, № 30, 1917
On the topic of Russian collusion, this last cartoon accuses Lenin of being in the pay of the Kaiser, and refers to a Russian proverb that "you cannot hide an awl in a sack," or, as its English equivalent puts it, "The truth will out."

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