[Marxism] Fwd: 'Vlady Lives' by Suzie Weissman

Brian Shannon Brian_Shannon at verizon.net
Fri Aug 5 07:20:33 MDT 2005

This is a valuable piece, and I thought it worth reformatting for 
Marxmail readers. I have a Macintosh and don't know of a "stripper" or 
the equivalent for the Mac.

I first paste the text into word, then search and replace all double 
returns with ###. Then I replace all single returns with a space. And 
then, of course, replace the ### that I created with double returns. If 
needed, I also get rid of double spaces and small indents in a similar 
fashion. I haven't bothered to automate this. I am sure that it would 
be simple for those who work with keystroke programs.

I don't think that I am more emotional than most men my age, but this 
short essay reminded me of when I saw an historical photo exhibit on 
the Soviet Union in NYC at a museum near Columbus Circle sometime in 
the early 1970s.

I remember being overwhelmed thinking about the feelings that Natalia 
Sedova and Leon Trotsky must have felt from time to time during their 
exile. Of course, Trotsky would not have openly expressed this, but I 
believe Natalia would have.

Brian Shannon

Vlady: ¡Presente!

By Susan Weissman

Vlady Kibalchich, born in Petrograd in June 1920, died on July 21, 2005 
at home (in his studio) in Cuernavaca, Mexico after a difficult battle 
with cancer which began as a melanoma, but spread to his brain. He was 

It is customary to say that someone of that age had a ‘full life’ but 
in Vlady’s case it is an understatement. The 20th century was his life. 
La Jornada headlined his death saying “a subversive creator and critic 
of power has died.”

For Vlady, the Russo-Mexican artist (painter, muralist and 
lithographer) art was resistance and his themes were revolution and 
liberty. He was called a heretic and a rebel, but one who transformed 
his rebellion into art. Though he painted with Renaissance formulas and 
Venetian colors, everything about Vlady was revolutionary. His art, his 
daily life, his writing: Social revolution, cultural revolution, 
revolution of material, revolution of colors. His murals can be seen in 
the Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada in Mexico City, and in the 
National Palace of the Revolution in Managua, Nicaragua. In 1994 he was 
commissioned to produce four monumental paintings for the Ministry of 
the Interior. True to form, Vlady used this commission to question 
power through his art. The paintings soon suffered the fate of 
revolutionaries in disfavor – they were ‘disappeared’ – sequestered in 
the old Lecumberri prison because the authorities decided they were a 
tribute to the Zapatista rebellion. They will re-surface, we are told, 
in an exhibition of his work next year.

Vlady belonged to the world but he was Mexico's national treasure. Last 
year he donated some 4600 works to Mexico’s National Institute of Fine 
Arts, enough to fill a museum in itself. There will be an homage to 
Vlady at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in April of 2006. And just this 
month Vlady’s dream of an exhibition in Moscow was fulfilled – though 
he was too sick to be there to see it.

Vlady lived in Mexico for 64 years, but he dressed in a Russian peasant 
blouse, had a long pony-tail and always wore a workers’ cloth cap. 
While his father, the anarcho-Bolshevik revolutionary novelist and 
historian Victor Serge was arguably more Belgian-French than Russian, 
Vlady was considered Russian, though his real nationality was that of 

Vlady’s life mirrored the political development of the Soviet Union: 
born in the Civil War, child of the opposition, gulag and defeat. Vlady 
said he understood nationalism and for that reason he detested it. His 
teacher was the history he lived through and participated in, his 
friends the generation of revolutionaries surrounding him -- erudite 
autodidacts of the times. Vlady often said this generation is on the 
way to extinction. He is one of the last links, and a Mexican newspaper 
called him the last Bolshevik.

Trotsky once accused Serge of having the temperament of the poet or 
artist. It was much more true of Vlady. Like his father, Vlady was 
largely self-taught. Serge's teachers were the Russian 
anarcho-populists in exile after the assassination of Tsar Alexander 
II; his parents were part of the group, Narodnaya Volya, and his uncle 
was executed for his role in the assassination itself. Vlady's teachers 
were the exiled Left Oppositionist Bolsheviks, sent to internal 
deportation in Orenburg, near the border between Russia and Asia. Vlady 
did attend high school for a while, but was expelled for insisting that 
free trade unions existed in France.

Vlady’s mother Liuba Russokova was Lenin’s stenographer. Lenin was a 
frequent guest in the apartment at the famous Astoria Hotel in 
Petrograd. Vlady liked to tell the story of the time Lenin visited, to 
find the baby Vlady crawling naked. Lenin affectionately picked up baby 
Vlady, only to find himself bathed in the warm jet of Vlady’s urine. 
Depending on the audience, Vlady would adjust the story, saying 
instead, “I shat on Lenin.”

The Astoria was just a few blocks from the Hermitage, or Winter Palace, 
where Vlady spent many of his days while skipping school, which he 
found boring. The Hermitage changed his life – it was his refuge, and 
he spent countless hours in the rooms featuring the artists of the 

Vlady said his house was filled with the fire of revolution, tales of 
sacrifice, repression, death, and pogroms, told in many languages and 
cultures. Vlady grew up in Leningrad, Berlin, Vienna, Orenburg, 
Brussels, Paris and Marseilles. In 1921 Serge went on Comintern 
assignment to Germany and participated in the German Revolution of 
1923; then to Austria until 1925. Vlady’s first language was German, 
but he was most at home in Russian, French and later Spanish.

Vlady’s first Trotskyist act came at the age of seven when he rescued a 
portrait of Trotsky from under the heels of the GPU agents ransacking 
the apartment. As they arrested his father, Vlady wept: not in fear but 

He was a teenager when he accompanied his father into the gulag of 
internal exile. Liuba, Vlady’s mother, was driven insane by the 
Stalinist persecution and remained behind, hospitalized in Leningrad. 
In Orenburg Vlady and his father nearly starved and froze to death. 
They survived thanks to food packets and money from the sale of Serge’s 
novels in France. Magdeleine Paz sent one with flour, sugar, rice and 
olives, and Serge gave Vlady a single olive, which he divided among a 
group of schoolmates – none of them had ever seen one.

Art was Vlady’s escape from the tightening noose of Stalinism, the 
detention of his father and his mother’s growing insanity. Art was also 
his resistance.

In April 1936 Serge and his family were expelled from the Soviet Union, 
just a few short months before Stalin began the trials that ushered in 
the great terror. They were saved, their comrades were not. Serge, his 
wife Liuba, baby daughter Jeannine and Vlady went first to Belgium, 
then to Paris, just as the thunderclouds of fascism were darkening 

In Paris, Vlady came into contact with the surrealist painters and 
poets. Along with his father, Vlady joined the POUM (the anti-Stalinist 
Spanish Marxist Workers Party who were largely massacred by the 
Stalinists and fascists during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39).

As Paris was falling, Vlady and Serge were making their way to 
Marseilles, teeming with refugees in search of a visa out of the 
nightmare. Liuba retreated from sanity and lived out her life in a 
mental institution in Aix-en-Provence. Jeannine was temporarily with 
friends in the Dordogne. In Marseilles Serge hooked up with Varian Fry, 
Mary-Jayne Gold, Andre Bretón and others in a lovely villa Serge dubbed 
“château espere-visa.” The surrealists around Bretón shifted their 
presence from the cafés of Paris to the beauty of the château. Vlady, 
considered the passionate young Marxist of the crew, developed his 
entrepreneurial talent, collecting dried fruits and nuts and making 
them into croque-fruit, or fruit rolls to sell, so there would be food 
to eat. While Serge wrote The Case of Comrade Tulayev, and Andre Bretón 
was writing Fata Morgana, Vlady sketched relentlessly.

Serge and Vlady finally sailed for Mexico (the US refused a visa to the 
Bolshevik Serge), first being detained in Martinique, Santo Domingo and 
then Cuba. On the boat Vlady read Bukharin and Preobrazhensky’s The 
ABCs of Marxism which prompted Serge to angrily toss it into the sea, 
telling Vlady now was the time to study a Spanish primer.

In Mexico Vlady was part of a political group of exiles, mostly from 
the Spanish Civil War. He met his wife Isabel Diaz Fabela, who survives 
him. His father, Victor Serge, died in 1947, the year Vlady and Isabel 
married. In 1949 Vlady became a naturalized Mexican citizen. For the 
next two decades, Vlady traveled and painted. He spent 1966 in Paris, 
and 1968 in New York, thanks to a Guggenheim grant. Vlady is celebrated 
as part of the school of ‘nuevo muralismo mexicano’ along with Orozco, 
Rivera and Siqueiros. Yet Vlady reacted against the nationalistic works 
of Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros, and came to lead Mexico’s ‘rupture 

In an interview in Mexico Vlady was asked what he thought of Rivera and 
Siqueiros. In particular, Vlady was asked if his ‘Sergean vision of the 
Stalinist fantasma’ colored his view: Vlady swore that wasn’t the case. 
But Siqueiros lost the talent he had, Vlady insisted – not because a 
painter is bad because he is a Stalinist – but because Vlady believed 
he was a Stalinist because he was a bad painter.

In 1986 Vlady took me to an exhibition of his work at Bellas Artes. His 
gigantic portrayal that he painted and repainted for years of the 
Persian emperor Xerxes hung in the museum as a testament to the 
absurdity of autocratic absolute power. All around the grotesque Xerxes 
(a Cyclops in Vlady’s painting) were tiny soldiers, trying to follow 
his command to whip the sea for swallowing his fleet.

Unfortunately the next day the workers at the museum went on strike, 
making entry impossible without crossing a picket line. Vlady said to 
me sardonically -- if only the workers understood the content and 
message of the work they were now making it impossible to see. For 
Vlady, it was incomprehensible that the workers struck when he – 
Mexico’s uncompromising revolutionary artist -- finally got an 
exhibition and he saw it as a comment on the condition of working class 
consciousness in Mexico.

In 1989 Vlady and I traveled to Russia. It was his first time back in 
57 years, and we were there to press for the rehabilitation of Trotsky 
and Serge in the glory days of glasnost and perestroika. Having Vlady 
as my Russian tour guide was like a stroll through the thirties. His 
Russian was beautiful and we walked the familiar streets of his youth, 
stopping at the art museums as well as the infamous Lubyanka. When he 
saw the Kremlin he noted that it was yellow, the color of cowardice. In 
the Manezh (art museum) across the street, Vlady imagined the 
exhibition of his work, a life long dream finally realized this month, 
the month of his death.

At a public meeting at the house of writers discussing the 
rehabilitation of Trotsky (this was March 1989, at the time of the then 
Soviet Union's first semi-free elections), several relatives of left 
oppositionists came to Vlady to introduce themselves. It was both 
moving and strange, this collection of the children of the revolution's 
heroes, converted into enemies and undesirables.

In 1987 Vlady commented that he and his father lived ‘in the tail of 
Trotsky’s comet.’ He belonged to a unique generation who saw clearly, 
fought tenaciously, but were defeated. Vlady was generous of spirit and 
intellect, an artist and a revolutionary to his core; he refused 
compromise yet socialized in wide circles of poets, politicians, 
writers, artists and dignitaries. He had the kind of energy that makes 
his death unbelievable: Vlady just seemed immortal.

Vlady is survived by his wife Isabel, his sister Jeannine, and five 

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