One of the most unexpected findings in the central Communist Party archive in Moscow is a collection from the twenties and thirties of drawings by Bolshevik Party leaders of their fellow commissars. These portraits and cartoons were sketched on notebook pages and on the backs and margins of Party records. The dates and inscriptions indicate that they were mostly drawn during official gatherings—plenums of the Central Committee and Party congresses. Often a drawing would be passed around and annotated by the artists’ comrades in a sort of Politburo parlor game: Stalin’s blue pencil jottings are easily recognized alongside the crude jokes of his entourage. In contrast to the official discourse of a dismal era, the “funny pictures” that follow stand as spontaneous, and frequently sincere, responses by Bolshevik leaders to one another and to the events of the time. They are largely free of the falseness and sycophancy of the Soviet elite on the eve of the Terror. Within a few years, most of the artists and their subjects were shot on Stalin’s orders.

—Alexander Vatlin and Larisa Malashenko


Self-portrait by Nikolai Bukharin. February 17, 1927. Bukharin, whom Lenin described as “the darling of the party,” served as editor of Pravda from 1917 to 1929.


Josef Stalin by Nikolai Bukharin. February 20, 1928.


Grigory Zinoviev by Nikolai Bukharin. Zinoviev was a member of the Politburo from 1921 to 1926. The inscription reads: “Bukharin’s depiction of Zinoviev at the PB [Politburo meeting]. March 3, [19]26.”


Self-portrait by Nikolai Bukharin. Artist's inscription: “Piggy foxy in his (current) old age.”


Aron Solts by Nikolai Bukharin. October 20, 1927. Book title: “Code of the Party Moral Laws.” Because of his involvement with the Soviet Supreme Court, Solts was known as the “conscience of the party.”


Feliks Dzerzhinsky by Nikolai Bukharin. June 30, 1925. Dzerzhinsky was founder of the Cheka, the Soviet state secret police. Artist's inscription: “The punishing sword of the proletarian dictatorship, or Dzerzhinchik guarding the revolution.” Inscription by Dzerzhinsky, top left: “Missing here are Bukharin, Kalinin, and Sokolnikov with files dulling the ‘sword’.”


Nadezhda Krupskaya by Valery Mezhlauk. June 1, 1933. Krupskaya was Lenin's wife. Mezhlauk served as Vyacheslav Molotiv’s deputy.


Solomon Kruglikov, deputy head of the People’s Commissariat of the Heavy Industry, by Valery Mezhlauk. June 20, 1931. Artist’s inscription: “C[omrade] Kruglikov reports on raising the prices for coal: ‘You, comrade, will pay just a tad more, a mere 500 thousand’.”


Leon Trotsky by Valery Mezhlauk.


Gregory Piatakov by Valery Mezhlauk. June 8, 1932. Piatakov served as chairman of the board of the Soviet State Bank.


Gregory Zinoviev by Valery Mezhlauk. Artist’s inscription: “Masha, tonight is the plenum of the Central Committee. Please clean the kulak and the nepman, and, after I return, sprinkle them with mothballs: we won't need them until fall.”


V.S. Bogushevsky and Lev Mekhlis by Valery Mezhlauk. April 4, 1933. Bogushevsky was a disciple of Bukharin who wrote for the journal Bolshevik. Mekhlis served as the editor of Pravda in 1933. Artist’s inscription: “Mekhlis to Bogushevsky: Wait patiently until I finish eating you.”


Nikolai Bukharin by Valery Mezhlauk. March 10, 1935. Artist’s inscription: “To N.I. Bukharin, his portrait, in gratitude for posting in Izvestia caricatures on the CEC [Central Executive Committee] Presidium and the SNK [Council of People’s Commissars] of the USSR.”


Valery Mezhlauk by Nikolai Bukharin. March 10, 1935. Artist’s inscription: “To V.I. Mezhlauk in return. N.B.”


Josef Stalin and Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, artist unknown. 1927. Yaroslavsky was on the editorial boards of Pravda and Bolshevik from 1923 to 1934. Artist’s inscription: “All-party oppressor and gendarme Stalin ... and his sleuth-dog, Yaroslavka.” Prison cell at right labeled “party apparatus” and prisoner labeled “VKP,” the initials of the Communist Party. Stalin is trampling on a banner that reads “party democracy.”


Stanislav Kosior by Yemelyan Yaroslavsky. Kosior was secretary of the Central Committee from 1925 to 1928.


Nikolai Bryukhanov by Valery Mezhlauk. April 5, 1930. Artist’s inscription: “People’s Commissar of Finances of the USSR at the second day of trial.”


Inscription by Stalin, attached: “To the members of the PB. For all the sins, past and present, hang Kryukhanov by the balls. If the balls hold out, consider him acquitted by trial. If they do not hold, drown him in the river. J. St.”