Lenin orders the massacre of sex workers, 1918

Kaganovich, 1934

Lenin's letter to G. F. Fyodorov ordering "mass terror, shoot and deport the hundreds of prostitutes who are making drunkards of the soldiers, former officers and the like." in Nizhni, where the Czech white forces were amassing. Kaganovich implemented the terror although while there is some evidence of a sex industry operating in Nizhni (see comments) actual executions during the terror are estimated to be in the low hundreds and predominately men.

August 9, 1918

Comrade Fyodorov,

It is obvious that a whiteguard insurrection is being prepared in Nizhni. You must strain every effort, appoint three men with dictatorial powers (yourself, Markin and one other), organise immediately mass terror, shoot and deport the hundreds of prostitutes who are making drunkards of the soldiers, former officers and the like.

Not a minute of delay.

I can’t understand how Romanov could leave at a time like this!

I do not know the bearer. His name is Alexei Nikolayevich Bobrov. He says he worked in Vyborgskaya Storona District in Petrograd (from 1916).... Previously worked in Nizhni in 1905.

Judging by his credentials, he can be trusted. Check up on this and set him to work.

Peters, Chairman of the Extraordinary Commission, says that they also have reliable people in Nizhni.

You must act with all energy. Mass searches. Execution for concealing arms. Mass deportation of Mensheviks and unreliables. Change the guards at warehouses, put in reliable people.

They say Raskolnikov and Danishevsky are on their way to see you from Kazan.

Read this letter to the friends and reply by telegraph or telephone.


Reproduced from https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/aug/09gff.htm

Published: First published, but not in full, in 1938 in Bolshevik No. 2. Sent to Nizhni-Novgorod. Printed in full from a photo-copy of the original.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1976], Moscow, Volume 35, page 349.
Translated: Andrew Rothstein
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive. You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work, as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Posted By

Mike Harman
Feb 9 2018 22:59


  • You must strain every effort, appoint three men will) dictatorial powers (yourself, Markin and one other), organise immediately mass terror, shoot and deport the hundreds of prostitutes who are making drunkards of the soldiers, former officers and the like.

    Lenin, 1918

Attached files


Mar 29 2018 19:41
Noa Rodman wrote:
Kollontai acknowledges some local authorities did consider them criminals and thrown into forced labour camps (I was not denying that, just would like to be sure about/know more of the specifics), but it's not a party line, nor one that she advocates. If there was a leading bolshevik who consciously argued that prostitutes should be round up as criminals, I think that would be more damning than the actual incidences of arrests by some chekists in a pretty undefined legal environment (i.e. revolution/civil war).

1: No that is not remotely what she's saying in that speech. She explicitly says its perfectly acceptable to treat sex workers like other `labour deserters` and put them in labour camps if it is deemed necessary. She's opposing making it a law not because she doesn't want sex workers in labour camps, but because she doesn't see how its possible to come up with a law against sex work that doesn't also criminalise wives and possibly husbands as well.

"A prostitute is not a special case; as with other categories of deserter, she is only sent to do forced labour if she repeatedly avoids work. Prostitutes are not treated any differently from other labour deserters. This is an important and courageous step, worthy of the world’s first labour republic."

"There were some on the commission who were in favour of this, but they had to give up the idea, which did not follow on logically from our basic premises. How is a client to be defined? Is he someone who buys a woman’s favours? In that case the husbands of many legal wives will be guilty. Who is to decide who is a client and who is not? It was suggested that this problem be studied further before a decision was made, but the Central Department and the majority of the commission were against this. As the representative of the Commissariat of justice, admitted, if it were not possible to define exactly when a crime had been committed, then the idea of punishing clients was untenable."

2: The very reason she is giving that speech in 1921 is to argue against a proposal by leading Bolsheviks to pass such a law.

"How should we fight this situation? The interdepartmental commission had to tackle the important question of whether or not prostitution should be made a criminal offence. Many of the representatives of the commission were inclined to the view that prostitution should be an offence, arguing that professional prostitutes are clearly labour deserters. If such a law were passed, the round-up and placing of prostitutes in forced labour camps would become accepted policy."

You keep framing your increasingly bizarre arguments as being as accurate as possible to the information, but here you've decided to give us your expert opinion when its quite clear you didn't even bother reading the text beyond the bit quoted above.

You are quite literally saying the opposite of what Kollontai is saying here. If this the standards you've been using throughout then that's very worrying.

Noa Rodman
Mar 29 2018 20:08
The very reason she is giving that speech in 1921 is to argue against a proposal by leading Bolsheviks to pass such a law.

so she is against the view that prostitution as such should be an offence, do I understand it correctly?

Mar 30 2018 01:46
Noa Rodman wrote:
The very reason she is giving that speech in 1921 is to argue against a proposal by leading Bolsheviks to pass such a law.

so she is against the view that prostitution as such should be an offence, do I understand it correctly?

No, no you don't. She says she opposed the proposed laws against sex work on the grounds that the proposals couldn't define what sex work actually was in a way that didn't apply also to every married woman. She also states that the proposals that advocating criminalising clients would also criminalise husbands.

She also argued that the proposals were unnneccesary since they could and did already send suspected sex workers to labour camps along with the other categories of labour deserters.

She's saying sex workers are commiting labour desertion and should be treated as such, not singled out..

Noa Rodman
Apr 2 2018 12:34

Well seems I could be wrong about the level of organisation of prostitution back then in Nizhny.

The Nizhny Novgorod Fair was annually held in July. According to Russian wiki:

After the establishment of the Soviet power in the city, the fair continued to function for a while, but on January 17, 1918 the Nizhny Novgorod Soviets ordered to annex (?) the fair grounds to Nizhny Novgorod (city?) and abolish the meeting of authorized fair merchants and the fair committee.

The economic policy pursued by the Soviet government did not allow the functioning of normal trade relations. So in 1918 at the fair it was assumed that the goods would change only for bread, without cash calculations. As a result, the trade turnover amounted to 28 million rubles, while goods for another 40 million rubles were simply not realized.

A note to some 1910 report says that in Nizhny "at the time of the famous fair, where prostitutes from all over Russia gathered" (ежегодно приглашаемая в Нижний Новгород на время работы знаменитой ярмарки, куда съезжались проститутки со всей России).

Here's a 2016 article (in Russian) 'Sexual Rhythms of the Nizniy Novgorod Fair' (in the mid-19th century): https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2866355

The article considers the issues related to the features of functioning of the market of sexual services during the Nizniy Novgorod Fair at early 1840s. On the basis of archival documents it can be traced the routs of movements, ethnic and social structure of the gangs of prostitutes, the peculiarities of the organizing the delivery of intimate services during the period of the fair. It is noted the behavioral specifics of prostitutes related to the trade cycles of the fair. It shows the attempts of the authorities to counteract the spread of immoral behavior.

Did they solve the problem for the future? No. Loving himself in the Volga expanses in 1858, A. Dumas wrote about the settlement spreading in the lowlands near Nizhny Novgorod:

"This town is entirely inhabited by women, that is, it's simply a town of prostitutes; there are from seven to eight thousand inhabitants who come here with the most philanthropic [love-of-mankind] goals from all parts of the European and even Asian Russia for six weeks of the fair. "

Seeing in the summer of 1861 another French writer T. Gautier, the priestesses of love demonstrated the same sexual practices of hunting for clients as their predecessors from 1843:

"Sometimes the drozhki carried more beautifully two painted and powdered women, as if they were idols, in bright clothes, crinolines. They smiled, showing their teeth, and looked to the right and left with the carnivorous looks of the courtesans, as if setting up nets for catching whenever possible all coveted looks on them. Fair in Nizhny Novgorod attracts these birds - robbers from all the bad places in Russia, and even from more remote places. Steamers bring them in whole flocks, they are given a special quarter. Insatiable debauchery wants its prey - more or less fresh meat. "

After a busy trading day, a vicious fun began:

"Through the open doors, the illuminated windows of houses, in the whirring of balalaikas, mixed with the guttural cries, the bizarre silhouettes of people appeared. On the narrow boards of the sidewalks the unsteady gait of the drunken shadow or the person in extravagant toilets moved, then drowning in darkness, then arising in a scourging light. "

Unlimited fun and a drunken frenzy grinded merchants' profits, fueling the vicious industry of sexual services.

Mike Harman
Apr 2 2018 12:57

So that suggests a pretty sound historical basis to the 'hundreds of prostitutes' line being used for Nizhni and not elsewhere then, it's a good find.

One of the footnotes in the wikipedia article is on archive.org by the way:


Durland, Kellogg. "The Red Reign, The True Story of an Adventurous Year in Russia." New York: The Century Company, 1908, 320-329. Another interesting description of the fair, which the author, a journalist, visited in 1905 just after the dissolution of the first Duma.

It doesn't mention prostitution in relation to the fair, but it does have a long description of the fair in the midst of the 1905 revolution.

btw I think it would be good to collate some of the sources in this thread, but I'd suggest a separate article about 1918 in NIzhni which links back and forth from this one - it wouldn't need to do a lot more than quote relevant sections and a few paragraphs to stitch things togeter (plus footnotes) probably.

Red Marriott
Apr 2 2018 17:29

Prostitution was highly state-regulated in pre-revolutionary Russia. If Nizhy's role as a centre of prostitution was well known even by foreigners it's most likely Lenin knew it too and that motivated his notorious order.