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Revolutionary’s Letter to Lenin Auctioned

March 23, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ A handwritten 1918 letter from Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky to V.I. Lenin was auctioned Thursday for $27,500, an ″extreme bargain″ in the view of the buyer, a California book dealer.

But an original manuscript of drawings and writings by the late actor Orson Welles failed to draw a bid after being offered for $11,000 at the Swann Galleries auction.

Louis Weinstein, owner of the Heritage Bookshop Inc. of Los Angeles, bought the one-page Trotsky letter, and said he planned to offer it for resale at a New York book fair this weekend.

″It was very cheap. I expected it would go for $60,000 to $70,000,″ he said.

The letter, addressed to ″Dear Vladimir Ilyich,″ is considered historically significant because it outlined Trotsky’s own plan for a ″no war, no peace″ settlement with the so-called Central Powers, led by Germany, near the end of World War I. It was also intended for Lenin’s cohort, Josef Stalin.

The day’s most successful bid was $57,750 for a 1663 collection of William Shakespeare’s ″Comedies, Histories and Tragedies,″ a price nearly three times the initial bid of $20,000.

Caroline Birenbaum, a spokeswoman for the gallery, said the buyer, who bid by telephone, wanted to remain anonymous.

Neither the Trotsky letter nor the Welles manuscript had a estimated price in the catalog, but it was evident that Swann officials were disappointed at the response to the two highly publicized items.

However, George Lowry, the president and chief auctioneer of Swann Galleries, disagreed with Weinstein’s estimate on the letter. ″We figured it at between $20,000 and $30,000 and it came in right in the middle,″ he said.

Lowry said he thought the Welles material was ″the victim of its own advance publicity.″ Several prospective buyers were on the telephone but did not bid, and others evidently could not get through, Lowry said.

Birenbaum said later that ″several expressions of interest″ had been received after the auction for the Welles manuscript, a 68-page collection of sketches and written text done by the actor in 1956 as a gift to his daughter, Rebecca, who consigned it for sale.

It deals with the Bravades, a three-day festival held each year at the French resort city of St. Tropez.

The Trotsky letter, written during the turbulent period just after the abdication of Czar Nicholas II and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, has been quoted in previous writings on the period but had not itself been available to scholars of the Russian Revolution.

It was offered for sale from the estate of Adele Bernstein of Binghamton, the daughter-in-law of Herman Bernstein, a noted American foreign correspondent who obtained the letter in Russia.

In the letter, Trotsky outlined his views of what Russia’s position should be in regard to German demands that it withdraw from the allied side in the war.

″It is impossible to sign their peace,″ Trotsky wrote, adding that he would propose instead an end to Russian involvement without signing any agreement. This ″no war, no peace″ position has been likened to the Cold War following World War II.

In fact he took that stance as head of the Russian delegation at Brest- Litovsk a month later, a strategy that backfired by allowing the Germans to drive farther into Russia. The Russians were forced to sign a less advantageous treaty, but were saved by Germany’s eventual defeat.

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