Specialist Julian Wilson picks out compelling highlights from our inaugural online sale of documents of geopolitical change — photographs, pamphlets and proclamations charting events such as the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War
Uprising! Geopolitical Snapshots of the 20th Century is Christie’s first auction dedicated exclusively to artefacts of political change. The online sale features 118 lots, including photographs, posters, pamphlets and maps, which bear witness to extraordinary shifts in the global order. Julian Wilson, a Books, Maps & Manuscripts specialist at Christie’s in London, picks out some of his favourite pieces.
Russia and the creation of the USSR
This year marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution. The first six lots of Uprising! cover the tumultuous events in Russia 100 years ago, and the international reaction to it. These include pamphlets and leaflets defending the Revolution, such as Arthur Ransome’s The Truth about Russia. Ransome, then Russia correspondent
for the Daily News, was one of the few foreign journalists with close personal ties to the Bolsheviks.
When the Bolsheviks signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany in March 1918, hostilities ceased on the Eastern Front. The Allies feared this would allow Germany to divert resources to the Western Front, and decided to intervene in Russia, siding with the White Army in the Russian Civil War. An important photograph album shows the Royal Air Force in Siberia as part of British attempts to support the White Army (below).
The Soviet-era material is bookended by two exceptional items. A Soviet travelling exhibition comprising 18 folding propaganda panels (below) praises the workers’ triumph over Nazi Germany in the Second World War, and the industrial exploitation of the region around Donetsk in the Ukraine.
Following Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Khruschev became leader of the Soviet Union. On 24 February 1956, in a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, Khruschev accused his predecessor of the unwarranted arrest and persecution of loyal party members in the 1930s.
Translated into Polish for the Polish Communist Party, the so-called ‘Secret Speech’ (below) was the only version of his remarks to be officially published during the Cold War — the original Russian version was not discovered until 1989. The Americans obtained the Polish version, translated it into Russian, and circulated it in Russia. Khruschev’s actions helped to create the conditions for the Cold War thaw.
British rule in Iraq
Continuing its focus on British geopolitical involvement, the Uprising! sale features a key proclamation of British rule in Iraq, 1918 (below), printed in Arabic and English. William Marshall, the General Officer Commanding, outlines that Britain comes ‘not as conquerors, but deliverers’.
Palestine under the British Mandate, 1918-48
Some two-thirds of the Uprising! sale centres on Palestine under the British Mandate (1918-48), and the foundation of the state of Israel.
This rare poster, which shows a large panorama of Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives, may have been part of the promotional material from Lowell Thomas’s famous stage travelogue, With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia. Alongside this piece, the sale features four photograph albums showing the Egyptian Expeditionary Force advancing into Palestine (lots 31-34).
The sale features some dozen lots — mainly photograph albums — from the Arab Rebellion of 1936-39, which tell the story of the conflict from the viewpoint of British officers and police.
Perhaps one of the best albums ever to come to market is lot 66 (below), a stunning collection of photographs compiled by Captain Roger Francis Mortimer of the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards. The 28-year-old Mortimer arrived in Egypt in December 1937, and went on to serve in Palestine during the height of the Arab Rebellion in 1938–39. The Guards started their Palestine tour in the spring of 1938 with operations in Jericho, Jerusalem, Gaza and Ramleh; the album includes images of each of these deployments.
Among the more striking contemporary press photographs are those documenting the British military effort to clamp down on the Arab Rebellion. The sale includes images of an RAF plane above Tel Aviv (below); other lots show checkpoints, joint police-army patrols, and Arab homes being destroyed by the British as a form of collective punishment.
The end of British imperial rule in India, and the founding of Pakistan
Photographs taken by T. H. Spencer Cox, of the 14th Field Regiment in Lahore (below), illustrate the dying days of British rule in India. The album includes an image of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern-day Pakistan, on 14 August 1947 — the day of partition. Other images document the regiment’s departure from Karachi in October of that year.
Pakistan’s creation and subsequent division led to the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, whereby East Pakistan seceded and became modern-day Bangladesh. Included in the sale are dramatic, large-format press photographs from this period (below).
The Algerian War of Independence
Some 123 press photographs of the Algerian War of Independence, 1956-62 (below), document many of the main protagonists of this vicious war. The images reveal the increase in the deployment of French forces in Algeria, urban riots, barricades and demonstrations, among other seminal events.
Also in the sale is a collection of 29 pamphlets on Japanese imperial ambition in China in the 1930s (below). These are accompanied by a letter signed by Stanley Dixon, chairman of the United Aid to China Fund, on behalf of the Vice Presidents including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Mrs. Clement Attlee, Mrs. Anthony Eden, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir John Hope Simpson.
The Spanish Civil War
During the Spanish Civil War, left-wing and anti-fascist activity was reported in two important newspapers, published by P.O.U.M. and the International Brigade (lots 13 and 14, see below).
Among further sale highlights are two significant collections of pamphlets on Conscientious Objectors. Lot 17 features 18 pamphlets relating to those who objected to serving in the First World War. Lot 18 (below) contains 40 pamphlets on conscription and objection to armed service in the Second World War.