If you have an interest in the history of Ireland and left internationalism in the 20th century, then you have probably seen this photo before.
Several sources, including myself on multiple occasions, have cited this image as depicting Lenin and Roddy Connolly. Recently, I tweeted the image after finding it in a 1920 book of revolutionary images published in Soviet Russia. The caption for the image in this particular book described it as: “Com. Lenin with a huge bunch of flowers presented by a little girl in the name of schools and childrens homes.”
I was curious: could Russian sources provide more detail into the photo? I decided to find out.
Looking through some remarkable photos from the Congress that were posted on LiveJournal in January of this year, I came across the photo once more – but this time with an intriguing caption: “1920. 19 июля. В.И. Ленин с делегатами II конгресса Коминтерна у дворца Урицкого. Г.Е. Евдокимов, С.С. Зорин, М.М. Лашевич, К.Я. Грасис”
(V. I. Lenin with delegates of the 2nd Congress of the Comintern by the Uritskii Palace. G. E. Evdokimov, C. C. Zorin, M. M. Lashevich, K. Ya. Grasis)
According to this caption, there isn’t a Connolly in sight. Let’s take a closer look at the figures and faces behind the names to see if they match.
According to the LiveJournal caption, the figure on the far left (bald and blurry) is Grigori Evdokimov (1884-1936), a Party activist prominent in the 1920s and a member of the Left Opposition. The best image I have found for comparison features Evdokimov with a moustache and hair, but there is some facial similarity.
The next figure, to the right of Evdokimov, must be Sergei Zorin, rather than the man whom I had previously believed it to be: Eadmonn Mac Alpine (an Irish-American Communist who accompanied Connolly to the Congress). Sergei Zorin (1890-1937) was a Bolshevik activist close to Trotsky during the 1920s. Here we find Zorin photographed on what must be the exact same day in June 1920: dressed precisely as he was in the photo with Lenin.
The man on Zorin’s right in military dress is almost certainly Mikhail Lashevich (1884-1928). In the mid-1920s, Lashevich’s criticisms of Stalin led to him being sent to Harbin to act as chair of the Chinese Eastern Railway.
This brings us to Lenin and the figure on his right, who, I previously believed, was Roddy Connolly. It now seems to me more likely that this figure is not an Irish revolutionary, but Karl Grasis (1894-1937), a journalist and Party activist from Latvia who was previously associated with the Menshevik wing of the Latvian Social Democratic and Labour Party.
Looking to images of Grasis available online, there is a strong resemblance to the man on Lenin’s right.
Sovetskaya Chuvashiya, a newspaper that included Grasis among its initial staff and still in existence over 100 years later, included the June 1920 Uritskii Palace image in a piece about its founding journalists published in January 2017.
Each of these figures had tragic ends: Lashevich committed suicide in 1928 whereas Evdokimov, Grasis and Zorin were both arrested in the early-1930s and later executed when the Stalinist Terror reached its devastating height from 1936-1937.
Looking to an image of an elderly Roddy Connolly, one can certainly see a resemblance with the figure to Lenin’s right. The facial structure and spectacles seem to line up perfectly. It would be helpful to compare the 1920 image with a photo of a young Roddy Connolly (if such an image exists). The possibility certainly remains that, indeed, this is an image of Connolly and Lenin. However, my personal feeling is that the weight of evidence is against this conclusion.
Zorin and Lashevich are almost certainly the two other figures in the picture and it makes sense, given the intertwining political pasts and ultimate fates that they shared with Grasis and Yevdokimov, that all of these men would be congregating together outside the Uritskii Palace in June 1920.
It will be disappointing to no longer have a definite photograph of Lenin with the son of Ireland’s eminent socialist revolutionary, but who knows what might one day emerge from the archives (when they re-open, that is). This is one instance where I would love to see some evidence to refute my thesis, so if anyone can shed any further light on this conundrum, get in touch.
Caoimhe Nic Dháibhéid drew my attention to a 27 August 1976 Irish Times profile of Roddy Connolly, which may well be the source of this photo being cited as Roddy Connolly and Lenin.
The appearance of the photo in the IT has some curious details that upend my thinking above, not least the fact that Roddy would have been alive and entirely capable of saying “That’s not me”.
Then there is the caption: “Lenin, Soviet leader, in the centre of picture, and Roddy Connolly on his left, and on the extreme left is Eamon MacAlpine, a journalist from Belfast, who was co-delegate with Connolly to the Comintern Conference. On the extreme right is a Comintern official named Zorin.”
If we follow the logic of the caption and view the figures depicted according to a Lenin’s eye view of the photo, then things seem to line up. Zorin is indeed on Lenin’s “extreme right” (our left) while one of the figures on Lenin’s “extreme left” (our right) could be Eadmonn MacAlpine, a figure that none of the Russian sources have identified.
If we can find a photo of MacAlpine that accords with one of these figures, then we might have securely returned to “This is a photo of Roddy Connolly and Lenin” territory.
Another (admittedly blunt) test that strikes against my thesis: I google-book-searched John Riddell’s comprehensive transcripts of the Second Comintern Congress and found no mention of Grasis. Of course, Connolly and MacAlpine show up multiple times.