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evpaty-kolovrat

RATING: 9/10
NOTES: “Russia’s 300.” Also reminiscent of Ironclad, and perhaps Valhalla Rising.
See my other reviews here: http://akarlin.com/reviews/

The Legend of Kolovrat (English: Furious) is a reasonably faithful retelling of the Tale of the Destruction of Ryazan [in Russian; not aware of an English translation], a medieval chronicle describing the Mongol invasion of Rus in 1237-40. The story starts with a clumsy young Evpaty trying to join his Prince’s druzhinniks, when they are ambushed by a Tatar warband. The Russians are all killed except for Anastasia, the daughter of one of the knights, who manages to flee just in time, and Evpaty, who blacks out from a slingshot wound to the head and is left for dead. He is later rescued, nursed back to health, and married off to Anastasia, with whom he has two children. But even though he becomes a great knight, he continues to suffer violent, episodic bouts of amnesia upon waking up every morning, due to the inflicted trauma.

Twelve years pass. The Horde approaches from the East, making camp several leagues from Ryazan. Prince Yury of Ryazan sends his son Fyodor as emissary to Batu Khan with precious gifts. He is accompanied by Evpaty Kolovrat, other druzhinniks, a merchant who knows the Tatar language, and a young servant woman who tends to Kolovrat’s ailment. But the Khan becomes enraged by the Russian refusal to kneel before him, and treacherously attacks the delegation – only a timely warning from the Horde’s Russian slaves prevents a wholesale massacre. Prince Fyodor heroically holds off the Tatars long enough to allow them to escape.

While the decimated group struggles back through a blinding snowstorm, the Mongols sack Ryazan, putting most of its denizens to the sword. They come home to scenes of grief and devastation, including the corpses of Kolovrat’s own wife and two young children, and of Fyodor’s young wife and child, who had thrown herself off a high building to avoid capture. They destroy a Tatar warband that had lingered in the city, and gather the survivors. Some are sent off as emissaries to the other Russian princes, while the fighting men commit to fighting the Horde. They conduct a partisan campaign against the Horde, at one point disguising themselves as evil spirits to take advantage of Mongol superstitions and challenging their morale. Having successfully diverted the Horde away from other Russian cities, they take position on high ground and wait for help to come from the other principalities. But none is forthcoming.

In the heroic last stand, Kolovrat’s warriors fight off progressive waves of Mongols to buy time for the women and children to make a getaway on a sail-powered sanya. It takes a catapult barrage to finally bring down Kolovrat, who tricks Batu Khan into kneeling before him with his dying words.

In his comments on the film, which he watched with the director Dzhanik Fayziev, Putin said that it was “impressive,” and stated that he believed that most people would watch it with interest.

I agree. In my opinion, this is one of the best Russian films of the past decade.

As Egor Kholmogorov notes in his review, it is remarkably true to the source material, at least by the standards of this genre.

The major exceptions can be listed concisely, and there were good reasons for each of them:

1. Fyodor’s wife Eupraxia committed suicide with her infant child after hearing news of her husband’s death out of grief, whereas in the film she does it to avoid capture by the Tatars. This reason is more amenable to modern sensibilities.

2. Prince Yury ventures out to give battle to the Horde after news of the emissaries’ slaughter, where he is defeated. This battle is omitted, probably due to budget constraints.

3. Evpaty Kolovrat returns to Ryazan not from the Horde, but from the Principality of Chernigov, where he had been unsuccessfully negotiating for aid. This allowed the directors to show off the Horde’s camp.

4. Kolovrat’s forces numbered 1,700 men, not a couple of dozen as in the film. That made for a lower budget… and even greater heroism.

Otherwise, the Legend follows the Tale to the letter.

1. During the skirmish with the Tatar band in the ruins of Ryazan, Kolovrat uses the Tatar blades instead of his own twin swords. / “Evpaty fought so intensely, that even his swords grew dull, and he seized the Tatar swords, and slashed away with them.

2. The heroes use special glowing paints applied to their faces to masquerade as evil spirits during one of their partisan raids on the Horde’s camp. / “The Tatars thought that they were the dead arisen… They fought the Tatars so courageously, that even Tsar Batu was struck by fear of them.

3. Kolovrat defeats the Horde’s champion Subotai in single combat, beheading him. / This is perhaps the one questionable deviation – Subotai was a fat, brilliant general who would neither have fought a duel, nor have been risked by the Mongols. I suppose this was on account of Subotai being better known than Khostovrul. “And Tsar Batu sent the son of his sister-in-law, Khostovrul, against Evpaty, and many Tatars went with him. Khostovrul boasted to the Tsar that he would capture him alive. And they were surrounded by the Tatar forces, who wanted to take Evpaty alive. Khostovrul engaged in single combat with Kolovrat, and was split in half. And he continued to kill many of the Tatar troops…

4. Kolovrat is killed by catapults. / The image of Kolovrat getting taken out by a giant rock doesn’t look all that great or convincing in the film, to be honest, but that’s the price of accuracy: “[The remaining Tatar soldiers] aimed their innumerable catapults against Kolovrat, and fired them, and finally managed to kill him.”

The film was also impressively accurate at the more macro level.

In a bold decision to emphasize rootedness over revenue, both the Russians and Mongols speak in their respective contemporary languages (the latter are dubbed). Even scenes that many critics dismissed as fictional or made up had a solid or at least defensible basis on history:

khan-batu1. There were criticisms of the neotenous facial features of Khan Batu, which would seem to be unbecoming of a Mongol warlord. But as Kholmogorov points, the only historical portraiture we have of him is from a Chinese engraving of the 13th century. It shows him to be beardless, somewhat womanly in face and manner, and dressed in luxurious Chinese robes.

2. The use of a sanya (ice sledge) with sails was likewise defensible – there were attempts to make such contraptions work along the icy rivers of medieval Russia, as well as in many other civilizations (e.g. Holland during the Little Ice Age). The modern version of this is called a boeier.

3. One scene features what sniggering liberals claimed was a potato at a dinner, whereas it was in fact a turnip-like vegetable common to medieval Russian dishes.

There were, of course, fully fantastical elements, but this sort of thing is inevitable in any film that doesn’t pretend to be a historical documentary.

Moreover, those fantastical elements that were present tended to be meaningful or highly aesthetic.

serafim-with-bear

Saint Seraphim of Sarov feeding a bear (1903 lithograph).

1. At one point, Kolovrat is saved from a Tatar ambush by a massive bear with the dimensions of a bus. We had previously met that bear as the companion of a hermit priest who had given them refuge from the snowstorm in his cave. Consequently, one cannot consider this a deus ex machina, especially since it was not exploited again: As the priest told his bear after that fight, “Go on, this is not your fight.” This also taps into a Russian trope of hermits, such as Sergius of Radonezh and Seraphim of Sarov, making friends with representatives of the ursine race.

2. Kolovrat fights with two swords. Swordplay with two blades is something that only really happens on the silver screen. Then again, same goes for 95%+ of swordplay in general, and for good reasons – “proper” swordplay doesn’t look impressive at all. So in practice, double wielded swords are used to maximize aesthetics and underline the super-elite level of the swordsman in question (e.g. see Dayne in the Tower of Joy scene from Game of Thrones). It also doesn’t hurt that he carries his swords in parallel on his back like Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher video game series, which happens to be as popular as Russia as it is in its native Poland. I wonder, are any of the people who worked on the film gamers?

In a rare departure from standard Russian cinematography, this film is also unapologetically Russophile.

Medieval Russia is presented as a free, prosperous, and spiritual realm of individuals.

In stark contrast to the The Horde (2012), with its exaltation of the cult of Christian suffering, men and lords are masters of their own fate in The Legend of Kolovrat. The markets are thriving. The houses are clean, homely izbas for commoners, and more spacious terems for the nobles and rich merchants. Commoners are clothed in traditional embroidered garb, while nobles wear elaborate outfits adorned with gold, sable, and precious stones. But they attend Church together, and the Prince’s son trains and jokes with the soldiers.

Yes, there are modest differences in class and social status, but this does not preclude sobornost. There is no fawning or excessive bowing before nobles, or even Prince Yury himself. Ordinary people have a say in the running of Ryazan through the veche. Literacy is widespread, and commoners discuss politics. Nor is there any anti-bourgeois sentiment, as was frequent in Soviet films. Though outwardly very much concerned for his own skin, the merchant called upon to act as translator in the mission to the Horde goes along for the journey, providing comedic relief, and ends up dying a martyr’s death along with the rest of the band of brothers.

Every Russian is portrayed with a certain dignity. While there are some who might be described as “village idiots,” there are no thugs or gopniks. Conversations take place in proper language, with allusions to the Russian chronicles and Scripture. Even the Russian princes who refuse to send help are portrayed sympathetically – how could they justify doing so, when Kolovrat’s band numbers just a couple of dozen warriors?

Predictably, all this triggered the liberals, for whom any positive portrayal of Russia now or then is like a red rag to a bull. Their reviews dripped with elitist spite and unconcealed contempt. Now to be sure, the film does present an idyllic image of medieval Russia. But this is standard for its genre. In their seethist autism, the Russian liberals forgot that it’s not like 300 (2006) is an accurate presentation of Sparta, with its helot-based economy, nor did Beowulf (2007) depict Dark Age Denmark as it really was.

There were several other editorial decisions that failed to satisfy certain narrow demographics. For instance, Christian Rus and the Horde were presented as cardinally hostile, incompatible civilizations, with the latter constituting a foreign element in the Russian lands. This goes against Lev Gumilev’s “Eurasianist” interpretation of the Mongol invasion as the “union” of medieval Rus and the Great Steppe against the Western Crusaders.

Consequently, united in Russophobia, Eurasianists were no more happy with the film than the liberals. (One particularly demented neo-Stalinist even went so far as to condemn the Tale of the Destruction of Ryazan: “An non-objective work, filled with anachronisms, mistakes, and religious allusions”).

But as Kholmogorov put it, there can be no “unity” between victim and murderer, between the conquerors and the conquered. In the chronicles, the Horde is portrayed a barbaric, heathen entity led by an “evil Tsar,” out to punish Christian Russians for their sins. This interpretation is backed up by archaeology. The Mongol invasion constituted an unparalleled disaster for Russian civilization, resulting in the deaths of up to a third of its population and the near elimination of its advanced urban culture (at the time, Kiev was as big as Paris, the largest city in Western Europe).

It is to the credit of the half-Russian, half-Uzbek director Dzhanik Fayziev that he refrained from any Eurasianist editorialization. Nor did he even castigate the Horde any more than it deserved. They are credited with mechanical cleverness – in one scene, Batu Khan plays with some toy models of his devastatingly effective trebuchets. At the end of the film, the Khan pays his respects to a dying Kolovrat, just as he is said to have done in the chronicles. In at least one respect, the film actually spares Batu Khan’s reputation. According to the chronicles, the actual prompt for the massacre of the Ryazan mission was Prince Fyodor’s refusal to send his wife as a hostage to the Khan: “It is not fitting for us, Christians, to bring our wives to you, impious ruler, for lechery. When you conquer us, then shall you possess our wives also.” This is left out of the film.

At the very end, when Kolovrat wakes up for one last time after getting hit by rock from the catapult, he finds that he no longer experiences any amnesia.

I will end this with Kholmogorov’s point that this was deeply symbolic: “We have in Kolovrat a profound symbol of the Russian people and Russian civilization, who regularly forget about themselves, their past, their identity, and their pride due to various traumatic reasons. Several times in the past century our memory was scrambled so hard, that we could barely answer the question: “Who are we?” Just like Kolovrat, who forgets everything, except how to fight, so the Russian people too forgot everything in certain moments other than their exceptional fighting qualities. But in the end, Kolovrat manages to remember, and to become who he is. In this, he is helped by a book he carries with him – a symbol of the literary traditions of Rus, which preserves our memories. And there comes a point after the blow and loss of consciousness, when he remembers everything, and refuses to forget. This is Russia today, which after its last episodic bout of memory loss, it seems, has made a firm decision to never forget anything again and to always remain true to itself.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Film, History, Review, Russia 
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goldberg-alt-left-american-gis

But just because American GIs fought Nazis didn’t necessarily make them Maoist thugs, as @tcjfs pointed out.

pnin-alt-right-american-gis

And another user, @pnin1957, brought up statistics suggesting that the American GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy would have been veritable shitlords today.

These are the results of a 1942 survey of white enlisted personnel in the US military that were uncovered by Think Progress in 2010 (PDF).

This was reflected in American society at large:

Most civilians and military personnel opposed racial integration. One month before President Truman’s Executive Order, a Gallup poll showed that 63% of American adults endorsed the separation of Blacks and Whites in the military; only 26% supported integration. A 1949 survey of white Army personnel revealed that 32% completely opposed racial integration in any form, and 61% opposed integration if it meant that Whites and Blacks would share sleeping quarters and mess halls.

Just like Muhammad Ali in the 1970s, virtually no whites approved of marriages between whites and blacks in 1959.

poll-approval-marriage-blacks-whites

And even in 1965, when social mores began loosening up, a narrow majority still approved of actual state laws banning the practice.

poll-approval-laws-ban-marriage-blacks-whites

Some more polls from @tcjfs.

The people who fought the Nazis don’t appear to have been very Alt Left at all.

Very, very problematic.

And here’s the kicker: These Alt Right or even “Neo-Nazi” views percolated throughout the entire society.

For instance, take the British thinker Bertrand Russell. He wrote the world’s best known popular history of Western philosophy. He was dismissed and almost went to jail for pacifism during WW1. He stood as a suffragette candidate in 1907. He was one of the first to champion sex education and the end of Victorian sexual mores. For all intents and purposes, he was the Chomsky of his time.

And yet, here are his thoughts on… “The Case for White Australia” in 1950 (h/t @whyvert).

Even though Russell’s views on race were very progressive for the time, the ways in which he presented his arguments would have resulted in his immediate excommunication from today’s handshakeworthy society.

bertrand-russel-on-russia

How the worm has turned! (with caveats)

Except the anti-Russian sentiment, I suppose. That’s always a constant.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Alt Right, Opinion Poll, United States 
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ryzhenko-zontik

Pavel Ryzhenko (2008): Umbrella.

The latest in our series of translations of Russian national-conservative intellectual Egor Kholmogorov, as promised.

In his latest article, published at Vzglyad, Kholmogorov demolishes twelve myths about the Bolshevik revolution, using a recent article by the Russian novelist Zakhar Prilepin as a foil. Why Prilepin? Who is he, anyway? You won’t find many mentions of him in the Western media, like you would of Vladimir Sorokin, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, or Dzerzhinsky admirer turned maniac Russophobe Svetlana Alexievich – writers that take a “handshakeworthy” anti-Russian stance. However, Zakhar Prilepin enjoys far more popular acclaim within Russia itself than any of those third rate entities – the only modern Russian literary authors comparable to him in eminence are Boris Akunin (historical mystery), Viktor Pelevin (satire), and Sergey Lukyanenko (sci-fi).

Part of the reason is Prilepin’s background. He has nothing to do with the Moscow intellentsia; he is the quintessential Russian redneck. Worked as a laborer, a security guard, and with the OMON riot police. Chechnya vet. Went into journalism in the 2000s, but found his true calling in artistic literature: Writing socially critical novels, typically about life in the Russian podunks (he himself hails from the rustbelt city of Nizhny Novgorod). Worst of all, he is a vatnik, a Communist (a National Bolshevik, to be precise), and a Donbass supporter. Most definitely not handshakeworthy – especially since he doesn’t exactly keep his politics on a backburner. Prilepin is also Chief Editor of Svobodnaya Pressa, an intelligent online journal and media success story that enjoys 15 million monthly visits (they even once translated one of my articles). He also pals around with DNR bigwigs and has even gathered a batallion for the War in the Donbass, though its more PR spectable than anything else.

As one of Russia’s leading “patriotic”/vatnik intellectuals, and one of the most authoritatative spokespersons for what Russian Neo-Stalinists actually think, a point by point critique of Prilepin’s apologia for the Bolshevik Revolution has value beyond just another recitation of Bolshevik crimes and hypocrisy (of which there is no shortage of anyway). Moreover, even if you substantively or wholly disagree with Egor Kholmogorov’s critique, I hope that this translation will at least help you get a better picture of the actual state of the debate about the Soviet legacy amongst normal Russians, beyond the banal (not to mention 90% wrong) Western representation of it as a binary struggle between a Stalinophile Kremlin and pro-Western liberals.

Translated by: Anatoly Karlin (intro to #5) and Fluctuarius Argenteus (#6-12).

Original: https://vz.ru/columns/2017/11/8/894324.html

***

Twelve Myths of the Bolshevik Revolution: A Conservative Refutation

The defense of Lenin and the Bolshevik regime in Zakhar Prilepin’s recent article is so representative of the genre that one can barely leave it uncommeted.

The Great October Revolution lies in ruins on its centenary. The essence of its defeat lies in that even the modest apologists for Bolshevism hardly ever cite their actual programs, slogans, and values. Nobody knows says that the Revolution opened the path to socialism and Communism all over the world, nobody expresses joy over the collapse of the bourgeoisie and the Tsar’s henchmen, and their replacement by a workers’ state. Nobody says that the light of atheism shone through the darkness of clerical obscurantism, nobody insists that the Bolseviks gave the land to the peasants, the factories to the workers, and peace to the people.

The justification of the October Revolution, of Bolshevism, and of Soviet power – in short, the entirety of Red apologetics – now occurs from within patriotic, nationalist, conspirological, populist, and even Christian Orthodox frameworks, all of which were mostly or entirely antithetical to the Communist value system itself. In practice, this consists of sophistic manipulations of Hegel’s “Cunning of Reason.” That is, the Bolsheviks wanted one thing, but something entirely different happened in reality, and it is actually this unconscious benefit which constitutes the real blessing of the revolution.

This form of apologetics was invented as early as the 1920s by the National Bolsheviks, from Ustryalov – who viewed Lenin as a patriot and a great stateman, and the Whites as agents of foreign powers in the form of the Entente – to Klyuev – who saw the Bolsheviks as liberators of the more authentic, pre-Petrine, “Kerzhen” Russia. But the value of all these apologetics was most poignantly demonstrated by the execution (Ustryalov, Klyuev) or imprisonment (Karsavin, Savitsky, Shulgin) of everyone who glorified Bolshevism through prisms other than Marxism-Leninism. Sure, the Bolsheviks were not averse to using smenovekhovstvo – the White emigres pushing for conciliation with the Soviet regime – for their own purposes, but they most assuredly did not subscribe to their vision of their historical mission as patriots, regatherers of the Russian lands, and custodians of the Russian state.

Why do people still bother with Red apologetics today?

Partly, on account of inflexibility. Russia in the 1990s was infested by ghouls, screeching that they had freed us from Lenin, the Communists, and the revolutionary heritage – which quietly freeing us of the contents of our pockets. And since this looting occured under the banner of anticommunism, it is no surprise that pro-Soviet discourse grew popular, since it, at least, did not brook this mass looting.

For all intents and purposes, Red apologetics was an apologetics for a social state; for public property, that had been created by the common labor of the Soviet people; for the Army, cosmonautics, the military-industrial complex, the Navy, the research centers, and so forth. And this was logical.

To my shame, there was a period, when I myself, despite never having imbibed the Leninist spirit, partook of similar activities. The most popular aspect of these apologetics was the Stalinist one – yes, the Revolution may have been horrific, but then came along Stalin and set everything right again…

But this train has passed. Russian society now faces new challenges, in which the political canonization of Bolshevism, Leninism, and Stalinism are not the friends, but the enemies, of our future.

And yet the Red people are still stuck in their polemics about Gaidar and Chubais. For instance, take the issue of creeping separatism in Tatarstan. It is impossible to solve it from a neo-Soviet position, because it was Lenin who created the Tatar ASSR and accomodated the Sultan-Galievs. The Ukraine, which demolished all its Lenin monuments, was his beloved child. In reality, regardless of which question we consider, appeals to the Soviet experience are block brakes on our future progress. It is either a false alternative to the liberal solution, or it is the liberal solution. Therefore, it is of no surprise that we are hearing increasingly Bolshevik overtones in the rhetoric of our liberal cliques, for example, in the matter of anti-clericalism. The Zyuganov era of traditionalist-friendly Communism is coming to its inevitable end, and is becoming displaced by a new era of Communist liberalism, which is hostile to the Russian traditional values that are held in equal contempt by both liberals and conventional Communists. [1]

It is precisely this form of apologetics that was advanced by Zakhar Prilepin in his recent article 12 Points about the Revolution and the Civil War. His defense of Lenin and the Bolshevik order is so representative that the urge to deconstruct it is irresistable, so that is what we shall do, point by consecutive point.

1. The Bolsheviks did not overthrow the Tsar – they overthrew the liberal-Westernist Provisional Government.

The Bolsheviks were the most categorical supporters of overthrowing the autocracy amongst all the Russian opposition parties. They excluded the possibility of keeping the monarchy even in a purely constitutional form; they were the most consistent republicans.

The Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party considers its immediate political task to be the overview of Tsarist autocracy and its replacement by a democratic republic,” read the program of the RSDRP accepted at its 2nd Congress, the very one where Lenin’s supporters constituted the majority, and henceforth came to be known as the Bolsheviks.

The Bolsheviks didn’t play a major role in the overthrow of the monarchy only because the party was still very weak as of February 1917.

But they more than compensated for this through their murder of the royal family, which, besides the innate abhorrence of the murder of the children and the servants, constituted the true overthrow of the Russian monarchy. As many historians and legal theorists have pointed out, the abdictation of Nicholas II in March 1917 was legally null and reversible, whereas death was final.

2. Prilepin, arguing that the Civil War between Whites and Reds was started by the Februarists (Kornilov, Alekseyev, Savinkov), poses this rhetorical question: “Do those who oppose Lenin and the Bolsheviks really believe that Russia would have been better off in the 20th century if it was governed by liberals, revolutionaries with a penchant for terrorism, and generals who broke their vows”?

Unfortunately, the majority of our readers are still not sufficiently familiar with the history of the anti-Bolshevik resistance, and might therefore be inclined to agree with this assertion. But that doesn’t make it correct.

The leaders, the real icons of the White movement – generals Drozdovsky, Markov, Kappel, Yudenich, Kutepov – were convinced monarchists. The only consistent republican amongst the leadership was Denikin. The position of Admiral Kolchak remains unclear.

The rest in one way or another expressed support for monarchy. Moreover, despite the dissatisfaction of Entente emissaries, the White movements continuously moved rightwards throughout the years of the Civil War towards a more definite monarchism, culminating in a Zemsky Sobor in Vladivostok in 1922.

General Kornilov: “I was never against the monarchy… I am a Cossack. A true Cossack cannot be anything but a monarchist.

General Alekseyev: “In the course of time Russia has to move towards a restoration of monarchy.

General Wrangel: “The Tsar must appear only when the Bolsheviks are vanquished.

Even the republican Denikin admitted that half of his Army consisted of monarchists.

But to honestly answer the question of whether it would have been better for Russia to be ruled by liberals, retired Social Revolutionary pyromaniacs, and turncoat generals in the 20th century, it is merely sufficient to pose the following questions:

“Would Savinkov, the terrorist Social Revolutionary, have implemented general collectivization, dekulakization, and the expulsion of people whose lands and property had been seized, into areas of permafrost, where they died of hunger?”

“Would Kornilov, the general who betrayed the monarchy, has created a system of concentration camps covering the entire country, where people would have been sent for telling a joke about himself, or for stealing a sheaf of wheat from one of Savinkov’s collective farms?”

“Would Kerensky, that undoubted leftist scoundrel, have issued orders blocking relief to the famine-stricken oblasts of Malorossiya, the Kuban, and the Volga, and instead barred their denizens from leaving the disaster zones?”

“Would Denikin, the republican, have signed off on lists of hundreds of names to be executed and approved the requests of local secret police HQs to raise the shooting quotas?”

“Would Milyukov, unrivalled in his liberal vulgarity, have closed churches, shot monks, priests, bishops, and hole fools, tear off crosses from children’s necks and open up holy relics for “examination”?”

An honest answer to these questions demonstrates how even a regime of incredibly odious Februarists was still far preferable to Bolshevik tyranny. Even the most authoritarian right-wing regimes are incomparable to leftist totalitarians in the scale of their repressions and destruction. Pinochet is not Pol Pot.

Furthermore, we can see why even the Februarists were preferable to Communist power by the example of the 1990s. In those years, the new Februarists encountered fierce political, ideological, and sometimes violent resistance from the national-patriotic forces. In the end, before a single decade passed, and Russian February ended, voluntarily surrending power to Putin, who began the process of state rebuilding. Why would the 1920s have been any different?

3. “Supporters of the idea that the Revolution was financed by German and British money should try to explain, first, whether they actually obtained the advantages they sought; and second, identify the goals that both pursued by intervening against Soviet Russia, if the Bolsheviks were indeed their agents.

Nobody ever suspected the Bolsheviks of acting in the interests of the Entente. It is the Februarists, overthrown by the Bolsheviks, who were probably English agents, whereas Lenin and his colleagues are, not without justification, seen as German agents.

There were no even minimally significant clashes between the Bolsheviks and the German Army, which occupied a large portion of Russia under the Brest Peace. Lenin and his government was absolutely loyal to Germany up to the last day of the Hohenzollern monarchy, with tremendous benefits to the German war effort – a large part of the Army was freed from the Eastern Front and hurled west instead, helped along by food supplies from the Ukraine.

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Lenin was most scrupulous about keeping his side of the German contract, up to and including pressuring even his own party to ratify the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It is sufficient to recall that on March 1, 1918 the Bolsheviks matter of factly surrendered Kiev, liberated from the Petlyurites on February 8 as a result of a workers’ uprising.

The enduring nature of the Bolshevik-German alliance is testified to by its quick resurrection under Germany’s new republican rulers, despite them having suppressed all attempts to seize power by Moscow-backed Cominternists.

4. “When discussing the exile of part of the aristocracy from Russia, and its replacement by “cooks and bandits,” as some of us say, it is worth recalling, that Lenin, too, was a noble, as were many of the most prominent Bolshevik figures and leaders of the party” [there follows a discussion of the noble descent of Lenin, Ordzhonikidze, Mayakovsky, and even the Chekist, Gleb Bokii].

There is nothing new about some members of the aristocracy defecting to anti-aristocratic movements. One can cite many other historical examples, from Pericles in Ancient Athens to Philippe I, Duke of Orléans.

The list of names mentioned by Prilepin himself show that the numbers of noblemen amongst the leaders of the Bolsheviks was negligibly small (especially when your exclude Polish nobles such as Dzerzhinsky, who hated everything Russian and were considered revolutionaries a priori in the Russian Empire).

Moreover, the degree of Lenin’s noble stock shouldn’t be exaggerated; his father, Ilya Ulyanov, was the son of a petty bourgeois, and only acquired the rank permitting him to pass on his noble status seven years after Vladimir’s birth.

Relations between the Bolsheviks and the nobility was determined not by individual relationships, but by the political philosophy of Bolshevism, the essence of which was class war – and the nobility, just like the priesthood, the bourgeioisie, and well-to-do peasants peasants were seen as class enemies, destined for destruction.

5. “75,000 former Tsarist officers served in the Red Army (62,000 of whom were of noble origin), whereas the Whites only attracted 35,000 of the 150,000 officer corps of the Russian Empire.

Prilepin’s numbers are an arbitrary fiction concocted by the Soviet researcher Alexander Kavtaradze in the book Military Specialists in the Service of the Soviet Republic 1917-1920. His speculations were refuted in Sergey Volkov’s ground-breaking research manuscript The Tragedy of the Russian Officers.

Kavtaradze arbitrarily sums up completely different categories, such as:

1. The 8,000 officers who voluntarily signed up with the Bolsheviks to participate in the “curtain forces” shielding Russia from German forces in the spring of 1918. These were men who wanted to continue fighting the German enemy, but were betrayed by the Bolsheviks, and subsequently, a signifcant number of them left the Red Army, or even joined up with the Whites.

2. The 48,000 former officers conscripted into the Red Army from 1918-2020, often coercively.

3. The 14,000 imprisoned White officers, who entered the Red Army to save their own life. These former officers constituted around a quarter to a third of the command of the Red Army, but their percentage steadily declined, since the Bolsheviks didn’t trust the Tsarist military experts.

It also a manipulation to put the numbers of the officers corps of the Russian Empire at 150,000. That was the number of officers in the active Army, whereas the numbers given as serving the Bolsheviks included all officers, regardless of where they were in 1918 – in the rear, in hospital, etc. According to Volkov’s calculations, the size of the Russian officer corps was 276,000 at the end of 1917. Consequently, less than a quarter of all Russian officers ended up serving the Reds.

For comparison, there were 170,000 officers who took part in the White movement, of whom 55,000 died in the Civil War, and a similar number of whom ended up in the emigration.

So you still want to talk about how the cooks and bandits deceived and defeated the wonderful, blue-blooded Russian nobles, who didn’t at all renege on their oaths to the Emperor?” asks Prilepin.

The quality of the officers who went to the Bolsheviks should be discussed separately.

The Russian Army command could be separated into two main groups by 1917.

The first group were the cadre officers of the Imperial Army, like Roschin in The Road to Calvary by Alexey Tolstoy. This category was seriously depleted by the war, especially in its early stages, which predetermined the discipline crisis in the Imperial Army.

The second group constituted officers produced by the exingencies of wartime, such as the poet Nikolay Gumilev and Alexander Blok, Telegin from the aforementioned Road to Calvary, the notorious ensign Nikolay Krylenko, etc. These people were, essentially, ordinary intellectuals in epaulettes, neither from military families nor possessing serious military training.

General Gurko spoke with distain about the “clerks and bathhouse attendants” turned officers. A significant part of them, ensigns, didn’t differ much from ordinary soldiers, and from the civilians, whose ranks they had recently withdrawn from. The vast majority of Red officers came from this group, while cadre officers constituted no more than 6% of the command.

Wikipedia currently lists 385 Tsarist generals who served in the Red Army. For comparison, there were close to 4,000 generals in the Imperial Russian Army in 1916, and even more by the end of 1917. No more than 10% of the generals went on to serve in the Red Army.

There were practically no top-level commanders from the First World War; for the most part they were either staff generals (Mikhnevich, Manikovsky, Zayonchkovsky), or dashing colonels, who got their high ranks in the war. Even more telling is that the Bolsheviks did not entrust these generals with indepenent command, instead using them more as as specialist consultants, and surrounding them with commissars. One rare exception was major-general Vladimir Olderogge, who finished off Kolchak’s army in Siberia in 1919.

However, the ultimate fate of most of the Tsarist generals and officers who went to serve the Bolsheviks is even more germane.

They were destroyed in 1931 in the Vesna case, fabricated by the OGPU. A total of 3,000 people were arrested, and many of them – including the aforementioned Olderogge – were shot. In 1937-38, those who had hitherto received only prison sentences were also shot: The great military theorist Svechin, generals Sytin, Verkhovsky, Morozov…

Consequently, we come to the following conclusion: Either the Soviets inducted enemies into the Red Army, who served it insincerely; or the Bolsheviks deliberately destroyed the officers and generals who believed them and chose to serve them out of their love for the Motherland.

6. “The Civil War was unleashed by the Whites…

The first event of the Civil War in Russia was the Bolshevik coup in Petrograd and Moscow that included such acts as the shelling of the Kremlin – that is, an usurpation of power.

Apparently, the author assumes that all citizens of the former Russian Empire had to accept the usurpation simply because some Congress of the Soviets in the capital proclaimed the transfer of power to something called the Sovnarkom.
If every usurper has the right to unconditional submission, then Major Prilepin is out of place in the Donetsk People’s Republic military. By his own logic, they are typical mutineers who failed to accept the self-proclaimed régime in Kiev and “unleashed” a war by refusing to submit to Maidan usurpers.

Fourteen (14!) foreign countries intervened in the Civil War – and, in this situation, blaming its victims on Bolshevism alone is utter hogwash.

Painting the Bolsheviks as Russia’s defenders against intervention is an old propaganda stunt.

The Entente intervention sought to contain the consequences of their largest ally’s withdrawal from the Great War, then in full swing, and the signing of a separate peace treaty by its usurper government.

Neither Britain nor France nor the US sought to annex a part of Russian territory or overthrow the Bolsheviks by military force (however successful those attempts could have been), and lent a very scanty aid to the anti-Bolshevik resistance while being very assertive in demanding gold in exchange for said aid.

In Spring 1919, the Entente decided to completely cease all military intervention in the Russian Civil War. None of the different “interventions” ever posed any credible threat to the Bolshevik régime.

7. “The first pieces of legislation adopted by the Bolsheviks after their rise to power had nothing repressive in their nature. The Bolsheviks came as unprecedented idealists, liberators of the people, and democrats in the best sense of the word”.

On October 27th (November 9th New Style), the Soviets promulgated the Decree of the Press, its fourth decree up to that date.

It justified and introduced criteria for a repressive crackdown on all “bourgeois” press outlets by the Sovnarkom. They were three in total: calling for “a n open resistance or disobedience to the Government of Workers and Peasants” (i.e., when a legitimate government refuses to defer to usurpers); attempts at “fomenting dissent via grossly obvious perversions of fact” (i.e., any information the Bolsheviks deemed unfavorable to their cause); and calling for “acts of patently criminal or felonious nature” (i.e., given that no Penal Code existed at the moment, acts of any nature the Sovnarkom didn’t like).

Over November and December, the preaching of violence in Soviet acts intensified: confiscation of private printing presses and reserves of paper (November 17th, this and the following dates New Style); state monopoly on public notices (November 20th); demands for arrest and trial “by the revolutionary court of the people” for anyone deemed “harmful to the people’s cause” (November 18th); explicit ban on direct and intermediary negotiations with the “leaders of the counterrevolutionary insurrection” (December 8th); arrest warrant for the leadership of Constitutional Democrats branded as the “party of the enemies of the people” (December 11th).
So much for “democrats in the best sense of the word”.

8. “Faced with an impeding collapse of the Empire collapsing and separatist movements at its fringes, the Bolsheviks immediately shifted their tactics and rapidly reassembled the Empire, only permanently losing Finland and Poland, whose being a part of Russia is even now seen as irrelevant and superfluous anyway. The Bolsheviks have done nothing to merit the title of “wreckers of the Empire” – even if they called their offensive campaigns “internationalist”, their result was a traditional Russian territorial expansion.

The Bolshevik Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia, eulogized by Prilepin, explicitly allows for a “right of nations within Russia to free self-determination, including seceding and creating an independent state.

It turns out that Bolsheviks were typical hypocrites – when different nations actually tried to use the rights they were entitled to, they immediately “shifted their tactics” and turned to “territorial expansion”. Seems very familiar in the light of how the Bolsheviks treated all other human rights.

And, of course, the Bolsheviks did not expand to any territory in the end.

By the time the Civil War ended in the Russian Far East, they had lost the Baltics, Western Ukraine, and Western Belarus, ceded to Poland by the Riga peace treaty, as well as Bessarabia, annexed by Romania. Stalin took all of this back in 1939, no thanks to Bolshevism but thanks to World War II and a deal with Hitler (and none of this, save several districts transferred from Estonia and Latvia, was added to the territory of Soviet Russia proper).

The territory that got misplaced on the road to Communism included even the Uriankhai Krai (now the Tuva Republic), only reintegrated in 1944. Permanent losses included regions of Western Armenia ceded by 1921 Moscow and Kars treaties to “our friend Kemal”: Kars, many times washed by the blood of Russian soldiers, and Mount Ararat.

After recognising Finland’s independence, Lenin, in a gesture of largesse, gave up Vyborg, conquered by Peter the Great from the Swedes.
In 1940, Vyborg returned to Russia only thanks to Marshal Mannerheim. His obstinate resistance to Soviet forces caused Stalin to abandon plans for a puppet Democratic Republic of Finland led by Otto Kuusinen. Instead of signing a treaty with the puppet state, voluntarily ceding a good half of Karelia and drawing the border south of Vyborg, the Soviet Union was forced to sign a full-fledged peace treaty with harsh conditions.

The Soviets did exactly zilch in terms of expanding Russian territory until the very capture of Lvov during Stalin’s “liberation campaign” against Poland. However, Lvov would have become a part of the Russian Empire anyway had the Tsar not been deposed. Under Stalin, Lvov became a poisoned gift that contaminated the Ukraine with the most radical strain of nationalism.

9. “Point one: there’s no Tsar. Point two: there are only White generals who are mostly okay with divvying up the country. And there are Bolsheviks who are against this divvying up.

Eulogizing about Leninist national and territorial policy is a particularly arduous affair for Prilepin. He resorts to parroting the Liberal thesis of “all empires are bound to collapse” and appealing to a treaty between Britain and France regarding the “partition of zones of influence in Russia”.

Let’s start with an outright hoax. The Whites were fighting for a united and indivisible Russia. This was the chief slogan and the main goal of the White movement. Gens. Kolchak, Denikin, and Wrangel alike were adamantly against recognizing any separatist statelets that had sprung up in the territory of the Russian Empire.

As has been said, treating a British-French agreement signed on December 23rd 1917 and establishing zones of responsibility of Entente powers in the South of Russia, with the Great War still ongoing, as a “partition of Russia between Britain and France”, is entirely baseless.

The author may fulminate against the idea of Bolshevism as the culprit that had planted the bomb under Russian territorial unity as much as he wishes to. But nothing can be done to disprove the fact that the Bolsheviks established a “Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic” in 1925, rechristened the Kazakh Republic in 1925, its capital until that year having been Orenburg. Such was the revenge of the Bolsheviks against the Orenburg Cossack Host for their resistance. That Russian city having been transferred away from Kazakhstan and back to Russia is nothing short of a miracle. Many other parts of Southern Siberia were much less lucky.

The Soviets, everywhere they could reach, created republics with a right to autonomy and secession, created “titular ethnicities” [2], granted them development funds, constructed their histories and gave them Latin-based writing systems (something reattempted by Nursultan Nazarbayev with much fanfare). [3] Terry Martin’s study The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 is a terrific analysis of this process.

Mykhailo Hrushevsky, the founding father of Ukrainian separatism, came to enact in his capacity as President of the Ukrainian Soviet Academy of Sciences more than he ever could dream of as President of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, – turning millions of Little Russian peasants into “Ukrainians”.

Ukrainization was a central policy of the Soviets in 1920s – 1930s and never ceased completely in later eras. Indeed, Stalin did dampen those processes somewhat (even though he upgraded Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Karelia-Finland from autonomies to full-fledged Soviet republics, the latter fortunately abolished by Khrushchev), but they never stopped for the entirety of the Soviet régime.

Finally, the artificial borders chartered by Communists exploded in 1991 thanks to Liberals.

Who is to blame for falling to the ground – the one who laboriously sawed the chair’s legs or the one who carelessly parked his rear end on its seat?

10. “They say Patriarch Tikhon anathematized the Bolsheviks, and that’s why one cannot support them. But neither did he bless or endorse the White movement.

The Patriarch did not anathematize the Bolsheviks, only those who enacted cruel persecutions against the Church and Orthodox Christians, those who murdered priests, robbed churches, stripped decorations from icons, desecrated holy vessels, and so on.

However, he did censure Bolsheviks proper in his epistle dated October 13th (26th) 1918, and his words are a dreadful argument against Prilepin himself:

Our great Motherland is conquered, diminished, and dismembered, and, as a tribute imposed upon her, you secretly send to Germany the gold that doesn’t belong to you.

No one feels safe anymore. Everyone lives in constant fear of searches, robbery, eviction, arrest, and execution. Innocents are taken by the hundred, tortured in prisons for months, often put to death with no trial or jury, even an expedited trial that you introduced.

The executions affect not only those guilty before you in some way but even those who are patently blameless but taken as “hostages”. Those unfortunates are murdered as a revenge for crimes enacted by people who not only don’t have opinions similar to theirs but also support you or have convictions comparable to yours.

First, under the name of “bourgeoisie”, you robbed well-to-do people; then, under the name of “kulaks”, you turned to robbing richer and more diligent peasants, thus multiplying poverty, even though you must realize that, by ruining a great multitude of individual citizens, you destroy public wealth and lead the entire country to destitution.

In this context, it seems that the point of whether the Patriarch, taken hostage by the Bolsheviks and subject to constant mortal danger, supported the Whites or not is moot.

11. “The Bolsheviks nationalized the industries, harming the interests of large-scale capitalists by siding with those of the laborers. The class most interested in the Civil War were, metaphorically speaking, the Russian Forbes 500…

The identity of the laborers that the Bolsheviks sided with is rather unclear. Were they factory workers doomed to several years of devastation, famine, and non-functional plants? Or peasants, anguishing from the terror of Prodrazvyorstka and Kombeds [4] and later rising up in the Tambov rebellion [5] (and many others), suffocated with chemical weapons?

When the “exploiters” were in charge, Russian economy grew by 8% a year; it took the Soviets more than a decade to reach its 1913 levels.

Regarding the “Russian Forbes 500”: with the exception of Russia’s richest man Nikolay Vtorov, murdered in 1918 in Moscow under suspicious circumstances, the others emigrated and saw the twilight of their years in Paris or Monaco. In the 1920s, Mikhail Tereshchenko’s 127-meter yacht, the Iolanthe, was the world’s largest yacht afloat.

Meanwhile, the living standards of the proletariat liberated from the yoke of capitalists and Tsarist social legislation was graphically described by poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, the chief panegyrist of Bolshevism: “Workers sitting in the dark, munching on damp bread.”

This was all peanuts compared to what came next: a system of forced labor, the main know-how of Stalinist industrialisation. Having no means of concentrating enough capital to fulfil his 5-year plan, Comrade Stalin found an elegant solution – dumping the costs of the other industrial factor, labor itself, to near zero.

For the first time in history, the world saw a modern industrialisation based on slave labor. The Bolsheviks were successful in annihilating private capital. The state remained the sole capitalist. And it was the state, not individual businessmen, who conducted negotiations with workers, with the barrel of an NKVD pistol as its ultima ratio.

While their comrades in both Europe and America successfully campaigned for better wages and welfare and formed the system of the social state, Russian workers spent decades in slave-like conditions and deemed themselves lucky if they weren’t converted from slaves of the 5-year plan to bondsmen of the Gulag.

12. “The main victor of the Civil War was the Russian people. The Russian Revolution of November 7th 1917 is an achievement, a victory, and a tragedy of the Russian nation. It is fully responsible for it, and has every right to be proud of this momentous achievement that changed the course of world history.

I won’t contest that the Russian people emerged victorious from the Civil War. If many, all too many Russians hadn’t thrown their lot with Bolshevism, either actively or by submission, no Latvian riflemen or Chinese volunteers could have led Lenin and his gang to victory.

The Russians, however, won a victory over themselves and their kin who dared to side with honor, God’s truth, and a tormented Fatherland, the united and indivisible Russia. This victory led all who kowtowed before Bolshevism to decades of poverty, terror, slavery, and Kafkaesque everyday life. Their only daily consolation was the hope of suffering for the greater good, a Grand Project.

No one reminded those people that only recently Tsarist Russia had completed one of the most astounding projects in the history of mankind, the transcontinental Trans-Siberian railway. It was achieved with no waste or exhaustion, no payment of tens of thousand of human lives for an infrastructural breakthrough.

Every human community, including the Russians, has a basic set of values and goals. Spiritual: spreading its worldview and faith, bolstering its national character and original creativity in national culture. Material: increasing the welfare of the nation and expanding their numbers. (Geo)political: increasing its national habitat and the security of its borders.

The Russians failed to achieve any of those goals over the 20th century as a direct consequence of the Bolshevik coup.

The Russian Orthodox Church endured a most savage persecution that put it on the brink of extinction. The originality of Russian culture was forcibly erased, having just reached its fin de siècle apex. Russians were subjected to decades of horrific poverty, terror, and famine, falling into a demographic abyss of enormous proportions.

The Bolshevik period ended with a rapid contraction of Russian borders, a reduction of Russian habitat, and our people turned, even within Russia itself, into second-grade citizens.

If this passes as a victory, then our goal is not to triumph over ourselves in this fashion once again.

Translator’s Notes

[1] This entire paragraph does not appear in the Vzglyad text, but did appear in Kholmogorov’s original draft. I considered it too good not to translate and publish anyway. – AK

[2] A semi-official term for ethnic groups whose name coincided with the name of an autonomy of a full-fledged republic in both the USSR and modern Russia (even though they weren’t/aren’t necessarily the most populous ethnicity), e.g. Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, Ukrainians in the Ukraine, Bashkirs in Bashkortostan, etc. Most of the time, the “titular” ethnicity was/is given the largest leeway possible by the central Soviet/Russian government.

[3] Reference to a recent decree of the Kazakh President proclaiming the shift the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic- to Latin-based , to be completed by 2025.

[4] The Prodrazvyorstka was a Soviet policy of forceful grain confiscation, formally reimbursed with a nominal fee much lower than the market price, leading to mass pauperization of peasants and famine. Kombeds (Poor Peasants’ Committees) were organs of Soviet power in rural settlements, mostly charged with enacting said policy.

[5] A 1920-21 peasant insurrection in the Volga region caused by mass grain requisitions and other forms of Soviet-sanctioned abuse, leaving more than 200,000 civilians dead. Often claimed as the first documented use of chemical weapons in internal conflict.

 
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lenin

There is a general consensus that Stalin was a sadistic tyrant. But the ghost of his predecessor remains “handshakeworthy” on the left hand side of the political spectrum. The SWPLy bobos of Seattle, who would not have been long for the Communist world, erected a statue to him in the city center. The New York Times “celebrated” the centenary of the Russian Revolution with odes to the Bolsheviks’ progressivism on the environment, sex, and race (not that Terell J. Starr with his strange ideas of how the USSR “centered the Russian slav” would appreciate it).

Westerners, at least, have a good excuse for subscribing to the self-serving Trotskyite belief that Stalin “betrayed” Lenin’s revolution – after all, the bacillus that Germany unleashed upon Russia during its moment of weakness and disarray did more than anyone else to derail De Tocqueville’s prophesy and ensure that the 20th century would be an exclusively American one.

And yet, as of the centenary of Red October, 56% of Russians – up from 40% in 2006 – maintained a positive view of the grandfather of this dismal experiment. To this day, Lenin’s pyramid-like tomb occupies the center of Moscow, the heart of Russia, as if he was a Pharaoh of old – though perhaps that is ironically appropriate, in light of his zealous drive to drag Russia into the Communist future instead depositing it in a world with the ethical norms of the 3rd millennium BC.

There is thus no better and no more urgent time to consign the “Communist fable of a Lenin supposedly gentler than Stalin” (as Stephen Kotkin put it) to its well-deserved place in the dustbin of history.

Who was Lenin?

The brother of a terrorist. In the totalitarian state that he built, which operated by blood guilt, this would have been as good as a death sentence. Fortunately for Lenin, he lived in the Russian Empire, not the USSR.

Lenin’s “administrative exile” to Siberia – a rite of passage for Russian revolutionaries – might as well have been a holiday. He brought along his mother, wife, and even hired a maid to keep house (how bourgeois). He whiled away his time in Siberia fishing, hunting, and corresponding with other revolutionaries. Needless to say, consequent Siberian vacations would not be near as fun for the 3,777,380 people convicted under the Soviet “counter-revolutionary” articles implemented under Lenin and his successors from 1921-53.

A student who never finished university, a lawyer who never plied his trade. After Siberia, he would spend most of the next seventeen years in European exile, writing articles for low-circulation journals that alternated between rehashing Marx and Engels, engaging in disputes with fellow Marxists who were famous in narrow circles, and penning bromides against “reactionary” Russia from the comfort of London and Geneva, much like latter day liberal Bolsheviks such as Garry Karparov and Ilya Ponomarev today.

Supported and inspired terrorist attacks on Russian police and state bureaucrats. Around 4,500 Tsarist officials were murdered just in 1905-1907. Bolshevik propaganda about “Bloody Nikolashka” aside, only around 6,321 people were executed for all offenses (including purely criminal ones, like murder) in the Russian Empire from 1825-1917. The Red Terror that Lenin would unleash in response to the assassination of just one Bolshevik functionary would claim two orders of magnitude more lives.

Zealotry aside, Lenin wouldn’t be Lenin without a side dish in treason.

Supported Japan in the Russo-Japanese at the 3rd Congress of the RSDRP.

From an article in January 1905:

The proletariat is hostile to the bourgeoisie and all aspects of the bourgeois order, but his hostility does not absolve him from the duty of differentiating between historically progressive and reactionary representatives of the bourgeoisie. It is entirely understandable that the more consistent and decisive representatives of international revolutionary Social Democracy, Jules Guesde in France and Hyndman in England, expressed without reservation their sympathies towards Japan, for its role in destroying Russian autocracy.

On the outbreak of World War I, Lenin happened to be in Krakow, where he was arrested by the Austro-Hungarian authorities as an “enemy alien.” Fortunately, an Austrian socialist leader was there to vouch for him, assuring them that he was no spy, but a “bitter enemy” of Russia and a proponent of Ukrainian separatism. He was dispatched to Switzerland in early September, where he would continue scribbling away.

Letter to Shlyapnikov, 1914:

For us Russians, from the point of view of the laboring masses and the working class of Russia, there can be absolutely no doubt that the lesser evil would be the defeat of Tsarism in this war. For Tsarism is 100 times worse than Kaiserism.

Article in “Social Democrat,” March 1915:

The only correct proletarian slogan is to transform the present imperialist war into a civil war. This transformation flows from all the objective conditions of the current military disaster, and only by systematically propagandising and agitating in that direction can the workers’ parties fulfil the obligations they undertook at Basle. That is the only kind of tactics that will be truly revolutionary working-class tactics, corresponding to the conditions of the new historical epoch.

Article in “Social Democrat”, November 1916:

Whatever the outcome of this war, it is those who say that the only possible socialist way out of it is through a civil war of the proletariat for socialism, who will be proven right. It is those Russian Social Democrats, who said that the defeat of Tsarism and its complete military destruction is the lesser evil.

Letter to Suvarin, December 1916:

Our party has rejected Tolstoy’s teachings, and pacifism, by proclaiming that socialists must work to turn the current war into a civil war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.

But he was growing despondent: In January 1917, he told a socialist gathering that “we old-timers may not live to see the decisive battles of the coming revolution.”

Fortunately for Lenin, he got a big break with the February Revolution, the elite led coup against the Tsarist regime. Soon after, the Germans arranged for him, along with other Bolshevik activists, to be transported to Russia in a “sealed train” (actually sealed in propaganda only; in practice, there were plenty of stop-overs). It is worth noting that the guy who arranged this, the German Communist Fritz Platten, also tried to enlist Socialist Revolutionary exiles for the purpose of destabilizing Russian. To their credit, none of them accepted, not wishing to be associated with Lenin’s overt treason.

Once he was in Russia, Lenin began to implement his program of “revolutionary defeatism.” First proposed at the Zimmerwald Peace Conference in 1915, publication of the doctrine was squashed by the German Foreign Office, on the fear that its contents would let the Okhrana justify mass arrests of Russian socialists. This didn’t sway Lenin from repeating it in his April Theses, whose slogan “down with the war” and call for the abolition of the Russian Army was so radical than even the Bolsheviks’ newspaper, Pravda, initially refused to print it.

All this was sustained in large part thanks to German money. In 1917, a grand total of around 50 million gold marks were transferred to Lenin’s party in Petrograd (this translates to an amzing $1 billion in today’s currency). This helped fund the Bolshevik printing presses, and there are numerous accounts of money being handed out for protests against the Provisional Government throughout 1917 (all standard features of modern color revolutions). This was all done with the firm knowledge that the Bolsheviks served the interests of Germany. Parvus, aka Israel Gelfand, said in a meeting with the German ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1915, “The interests of the German Imperial Government are identical with those of the Russian revolutionaries.” The second key intermediary, Alexander Kesküla, was a one-time socialist who had become a hardcore Estonian nationalist; his motivations for working with Germany were, in his words, simple: “Hatred of Russia.”

To Lenin belongs the dubious honor of carrying out the world’s first color revolution, and its color was red.

map-russia-constituent-assembly-election-1917

Source: @welections
Russian Constituent Assembly election, 1917: Brown = Social Revolutionaries; Red = Bolsheviks; Green = Regional SR’s; Yellow = Local parties.

Rejected the results of the last democratic election in Russian history until 1990 because he didn’t like that the Bolsheviks only won 24.5% of the vote.

Any direct or indirect attempt to consider the Constituent Assembly from a formally legalistic point of view, from within the framework of bourgeois democracy, without taking into account the class struggle or civil war, is treason against the proletariat and a defection to the worldview of the bourgeoisie. It is the duty of revolutionary Social Democracy to warn everybody against this error, which a considerable number of Bolshevik leaders are prone to, apparently unable to properly assess the October Revolution and the tasks before the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Even Rosa Luxemburg, criticizing Lenin for his ultra-liberal attitudes towards small nationalisms, pointed out the irony:

One is immediately struck with the obstinacy and rigid consistency with which Lenin and his comrades struck to this slogan, a slogan which is in sharp contradiction to their otherwise outspoken centralism in politics as well as to the attitude they have assumed towards other democratic principles. While they showed a quite cool contempt for the Constituent Assembly, universal suffrage, freedom of press and assemblage, in short, for the whole apparatus of the basic democratic liberties of the people which, taken all together, constituted the “right of self-determination” inside Russia, they treated the right of self-determination of peoples as a jewel of democratic policy for the sake of which all practical considerations of real criticism had to be stilled. While they did not permit themselves to be imposed upon in the slightest by the plebiscite for the Constituent Assembly in Russia, a plebiscite on the basis of the most democratic suffrage in the world, carried out in the full freedom of a popular republic, and while they simply declared this plebiscite null and void on the basis of a very sober evaluation of its results, still they championed the “popular vote” of the foreign nationalities of Russia on the question of which land they wanted to belong to, as the true palladium of all freedom and democracy, the unadulterated quintessence of the will of the peoples and as the court of last resort in questions of the political fate of nations.

In other words, a German Communist revolutionary, in practice, cared more for Russia’s territorial integrity and the democratic viewpoints of the Russian people than the man whose statues still dot the expanses of the Russian Federation.

In effect capitulated to Germany at Brest-Litovsk, ceded massive territories without military need, and betrayed Russia’s war allies.

map-russia-plans-ww1

What could have been: Map of the “Future Europe” (not like Wilhelm II would have liked it!)

As Winston Churchill wrote in his book The World Crisis (1916-1918):

Surely to no nation has Fate been more malignant than to Russia. Her ship went down in sight of port. She had actually weathered the storm when all was cast away. Every sacrifice had been made; the toil was achieved. Despair and Treachery usurped command at the very moment when the task was done.

Talk of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

In December 1917, set up the Cheka. At the outset, they were predominantly staffed by non-Russians – mostly Latvians – headed by the Pole Felix Dzerzhinsky.

Anecdote about Dzerzhinsky: Before the war, he managed to get beaten up by Polish factory workers, whom he had tried to agitate against the Tsar. There must be some kind of achievement trophy for that level of fail.

But the Cheka was another matter, and no laughing matter.

In August 1918, the Cheka’s Petrograd head Moisei Uritsky was assassinated. The killer, incidentally, was one of history’s forgotten heroes, Leonid Kannegisser, who explained his motives thus:

I am a Jew. I killed a Jewish vampire, who drank Russian blood. I wanted to show the Russian people that to Uritsky wasn’t a Jew to us. He was a renegade. I killed him in the hopes of redeeming the good name of Russian Jews.

One successful assassination and one attempted assasination against Lenin was enough to kickstart the Red Terror.

The famous August 11, 1918 cable to the Communists in Penza:

Comrades! The insurrection of five kulak districts should be pitilessly suppressed. The interests of the whole revolution require this because ‘the last decisive battle’ with the kulaks is now under way everywhere. An example must be demonstrated.

  1. Hang (and make sure that the hanging takes place in full view of the people) no fewer than one hundred known landlords, rich men, bloodsuckers.
  2. Publish their names.
  3. Seize all their grain from them.
  4. Designate hostages in accordance with yesterday’s telegram.

Do it in such a fashion that for hundreds of kilometres around the people might see, tremble, know, shout: “they are strangling, and will strangle to death, the bloodsucking kulaks”.

Telegraph receipt and implementation.

Yours, Lenin.

Find some truly hard people

Whereas previously, mass shootings had numbered in the dozens at most, they would now climb into the thousands, once Sovnarkom authorized mass terror on September 5th. The repressions would now directly affect even other leftist groups. Local Soviets were to arrest all Social Revolutionaries, take hostages from the families of Tsarist officers, and summarily execute anyone suspected of involvement in White Guard activities.

Though statistics are much harder to come by than in the better documented Stalinist period, it is plausible that around one million Russians were killed in the Red Terror – two orders of magnitude more than what the Russian Empire was responsible in the preceeding century, and entirely comparable to the victims of Stalinism.

With zero economic education outside regurgitating Marx and Engels, Lenin implemented war communism.

Within a year, an Empire with one of the world’s highest economic growth rates became a desert, where those who could, fled, and those who could not, died of hunger and typhus. Even amidst the instability of two revolutions, industrial production had remained at 80% during 1917 relative to 1913 figures; it plummeted to around 10% by 1920, as the Bolsheviks confiscated everything from banks and factories to ordinary people’s windmills, workshops, apartments, and private savings. You have a complaint? Justice system now consists of black-leather jacketed thugs that operate on hostage taking and mass shootings. Good luck suing them.

Despite not performing a single day’s worth of “productive” work in his life, Lenin loved to call all sorts of people parasites. For instance, those well-known exploiters, peasants.

From a speech in November 1919:

Peasants do not all understand that free trade in bread is a state crime. “I made bread, this is my product, and I have the right to trade with them,” the peasant argues, out of antiquated habit. But we say that this is a state crime. Free trade in grain means enrichment thanks to this bread – this is a return to old capitalism, we will not allow this, we will fight this at any price.

The death toll of war communism: 5-10 million deaths, a number that is once again entirely comparable to the Stalinist famines of the early 1930s (5-7 million) and 1946-47 (1 million), and again, an order of magnitude worse than the worst famine of the Russian Empire in 1891-92 (500,000 victims).

The ruthless grain requisitions (prodrazvyorstka) provoked the Tambov uprising, which the Bolsheviks crushed with the use of poison gas and concentration camps. Upwards of 200,000 deaths.

Finally, it would be amiss to speak of Lenin’s legacy without mentioning his attitude towards Russia and Russians in the widest sense of the word.

Although formally Russian, Lenin was in reality the métis par excellence: Around 1/4 German-Swedish, 1/4 Jewish, 1/4 Russian, and 1/4 token ethnic minority (Kalmyk).

Come to think of it – remarkably representative of 20th century Communism.

In that respect, it is perhaps of little surprise that the state he founded was based on a rather pecular mixture of socialist and nationalist principles.

From On the Question of the Nationalities, 1922:

Therefore internationalism on the part of the oppressing or so-called “great” nation (although it is great only in violence, great only as a gendarme is) must consist not only in observing formal equality of nations but also in such inequality as would be compensation by the oppressing nation, the big nation, for that inequality which actually takes shape in life. …

In these circumstances it is very natural that the “freedom to leave the union,” with which we justify ourselves, will prove to be just a piece of paper incapable of protecting people of other nationalities from the incursion of that the true Russian, the Great Russian, the chauvinist, in essence, the scoundrel and despoiler which the typical Russian bureaucrat is. There can be no doubt that the insignificant percentage of Soviet and Sovietized workers will drown in this sea of chauvinistic, Great Russian riffraff like a fly in milk.

The result: An Affirmative Action Empire, as Terry Martin styled it:

A third and final premise asserted that non-Russian nationalism was primarily a response to Tsarist oppression and was motivated by a historically justifiable distrust (nedoverie) of the Great Russians. This argument was pressed most forcefully by Lenin, who already in 1914 had attacked Rosa Luxemburg’s denial of the right of self-determination as “objectively aiding the Black Hundred Great Russians… Absorbed by the fight with nationalism in Poland, Rosa Luxemburg forgot about the nationalism of the Great Russians, though it is exactly this nationalism that is the most dangerous of all.” The nationalism of the oppressed, Lenin maintained, had a “democratic content” that must be supported, whereas the nationalism of the oppressor had no redeeming value. He ended with the slogan “Fight against all nationalisms and, first of all, against Great Russian nationalism.”

What polemicists against the Stalinist USSR’s destruction of national intellentsias in the Ukraine or the Baltics leave out is that the Bolsheviks started out with Russia’s.

Just one example: There was a Kiev Club of Russian Nationalists operating from 1908, a tea club of conservative intellectuals who promoted the theory of the triune Russian nation, which saw Malorossiyans (Ukrainians) as one branch of the Russian people. It is conceivable that in a surviving Russian Empire or Republic, these intellectuals would have helped foster the growth of a Malorossiyan identity subsumed to an overarching Russian one, as in Bavaria with respect to Germany, or even subsumed them entirely, as with the Occitans with respect to France. A fascinating what if. But this was not to be. The Bolsheviks got a list of their members on capturing Kiev in January 1919, and all 68 of their members were rounded up and shot.

odessa-ukrainization

The 1920s were to be a period of aggressive Ukranization, which Stalin cemented with the Holodomor.

Needless to say, Bolshevik reprisals against the Russian intelligentsia were not aimed exclusively at its overtly nationalist elements.

At the very top, there was, of course, the execution of the Romanov family (the French revolutionaries, at least, had the decency to spare Louis XVI’s children, and the last Chinese Emperor lived out his twilight days as an ordinary citizen of Maoist China).

The cream of Russia’s intellectual elites left the country. There would be no Sikorsky Airlines, no Zworykin TVs, no Dobzhansky Institutes. Just the “philosopher’s ship” carried away names like Sergey Bulgakov, Nikolay Berdyaev, and Ivan Ilyin.

A large percentage of those who stayed out of patriotic considerations would be killed by Stalin in the late 1930s, or forced to work as cognitive slaves in sharashkas.

Those who left, a “White emigration” numbering 2-3 millions, would instead enrich other countries.

russian-success-usa

In the early 1970s, Russian-Americans had the highest median family income, highest % of college graduates (26% vs. 12% US average), highest percentage of white-collar workers relative to all other European ethnic groups in the United States.

There was an aggressive campaign against Orthodox priests, who were conflated with nationalists.

Lenin in a March 1922 letter to the Politburo:

I come to the conclusion that we must precisely now smash the Black Hundreds clergy most decisively and ruthlessly and put down all resistance with such brutality that they will not forget it for several decades.

Lenin had an exceedingly poor opinion of the great classics of the Russian Silver Age. His learned thoughts on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky:

On this topic, Lenin’s judgments were made confidentaly, said directly and sharply, without equivocation. Lev Tolstoy: On the one hand: “A mirror of the Russian revolution,” a “spirited man” who “unmasked everyone and everything,” but on the other hand, he was also a “worn-out, hysterical slave to power,” preaching non-resistance to evil. Fedor Dostoevsky: “Vomit-inducing moralization,” “penitent hysteria” (on Crime and Punishment), an “odorous work” (on The Brothers Karamazov and Demons), “clearly reactionary filth… I read it and threw it at the wall” (on Demons).

Even the Cyrillic alphabet was an expression of Great Russian privilege. As Lenin told Anatoly Lunacharsky, the Soviet Minister of Education: “I am under no doubt that there will come a time when the Russian alphabet is Latinized… when we gather enough energy for this, all of this will be trivially easy.” This moment seemed to arrive in 1929, when a commission on the matter officially proclaimed that “the imminent transition of Russian to a single international alphabet is inevitable.”

Their arguments are too “powerful” not to cite in full:

The Russian civil alphabet is a relic of the class structure of the 18th-19th century of the Russian feudal landowerners and bourgeoisie – the structures of autocratic oppression, missionary propaganda, Great Russian chauvinism, coercive Russification, and the expansion of Russian Tsarism abroad… To this day it ties the Russian-reading population with the national-bourgeois traditions of Russian pre-revolutionary culture.

In the hands of the Soviet proletariat, a unified Latin alphabet will serve as a means of propagating the cultural revolution in the Soviet East on the basis of the socialist reconstruction of the national economy. This is why it will constitute the alphabet of the proletarian revolution in the Soviet East and a weapon of class war here, on the front of the cultural revolution. See the words of Lenin: “Latinization is the great revolution of the East).

Transition to the Latin alphabet will free the laboring masses of the Russian people from the influence of bourgeois-nationalist and religious pre-revolutionary texts. Of course, artistically and scientifically valuable literature from that period should be republished in the new alphabet.

It was none other than Stalin, who had been criticized as a Great Russian chauvinist by Lenin – and I suppose he was, at least by Lenin’s standards, if not by any other one – who put an abrupt stop to this project: “Tell [them] to stop work on the Latinization of the Russian alphabet.”

Incidentally, at this point you might be getting an inkling of the real reason why Western intellectuals like Lenin a lot more than Stalin.

It is also worth emphasizing that Lenin’s famous Testament on Stalin’s unfitness for office, contrary to its presentation as a premonition of Stalin’s capacity for tyranny – hardly a matter of concern to either man – actually arose as a result of a dispute between the two men on the nationalities policy.

Once again citing Affirmative Action Empire:

His anger climaxed during the notorious Georgian affair of 1922, when he denounced Dzerzhinskii, Stalin, and Ordzhonikidze as Great Russian chauvinists (russified natives, he maintained, were often the worst chauvinists). Such Bolshevik chauvinism inspired Lenin to coin the term rusotiapstvo (mindless Russian chauvinism), which then entered the Bolshevik lexicon and became an invaluable weapon in the rhetorical arsenals of the national republics. …

Lenin’s extreme formulation of this principle led to one of his two differences of opinion with Stalin over nationalities policy in late 1922. Stalin had supported the greatest-danger principle before 1922-1923, reiterated his support in 1923, and from April 1923 to December 1932 supervised a nationalities policy based on that principle. Nevertheless, Stalin was uncomfortable with the insistence that all local nationalism could be explained as a response to great-power chauvinism. Based on his experience in Georgia, Stalin insisted that Georgian nationalism was also characterized by great-power exploitation of their Ossetine and Abkhaz minorities. Stalin therefore always paired his attacks on Great Russian chauvinism with a complementary attack on the lesser danger of local nationalism. … Despite these differences in emphasis, Stalin consistently supported the greatest-danger principle.

Ultimately, it was Lenin’s nationality policy that more than anything else doomed his creation.

Once the socialist system – what Lenin and Co. saw as revealed truth – ran into terminal epistemic and economic failure, the Soviet carapace fell away, revealing the petty nationalisms they had nurtured all that while, and, married to the unleashed appetites of the nomenklatura, the resultant centrifugal forces blew the whole artificial contraption apart. And (Great) Russian (chauvinists), the only ethnicity without a place of their own in the Soviet communal apartment (in Yuri Slezkine’s metaphor), had no good incentives to try to keep it together.

As Vladimir Putin himself remarked in 2016:

It is right to steer the stream of thought, only we need this thought to lead to the right results, unlike in the case of Vladimir Ilyich. Because, eventually, this thought led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, that’s what it led to. There were many such thoughts: autonomation, and so on. They planted an atomic bomb underneath the building called Russia, later it blew up. Nor did we need the global revolution either. There was this thought there, too

This brings me to the final point I wish to make about Lenin: The state he built as a failure.

By extension, Lenin was not just a sadist, a Russophobe, and a tyrant.

He was also a failure.

The slogan “Land, Bread, Peace” turned into a lie as soon as it was implemented. In the end, Russia got two much bloodier wars, the Civil War and World War II, for the price of one – the one that it had as good as won by 1917, with Austria-Hungary and Turkey as good as knocked out the war. Nor was there much bread. The Civil War resulted in a famine ten times worse than than anything seen in the ancien regime, and the populations of Petrograd and Moscow declined by around 70% and 50%, respectively, as civilization went into literal reverse. And what had been an increasingly prosperous peasantry thanks to Stolypin’s reforms and the construction of a mass schooling system in the last two decades of the Empire was soon deprived of both its lands and rights under collectivization; Soviet peasants only gained the right to a passport in 1974.

The world that Lenin and his successors built was a world based on lies; lies with aggressive, impudent, and often deadly pretensions to truth, as lampooned from Koestler to Kundera.

This was a world where the fictive dictatorship of the proletariat was almost immediately replaced by an all too real dictatorship of the nomenklatura based on renewed class privileges, judicial “telephone law,” no division of powers, and but a lame parody of an electoral process.

There would be no world revolution. Apart from military conquest in Eastern Europe, and China setting off down its own demented Maoist experiment, the only other Communist takeovers would only happen in irrelevant parts of the Third World, which would quickly fall apart though not before consuming dollops of Soviet foreign aid, which it generously parcelled out even as it gained the dubious distinction of being the first industrialized country to see a sustained rise in infant mortality during peacetime. The last surviving relicts of that world, Cuba and North Korea, stand as testaments to total failure.

communism-failure

Even a robot realizes this.

A world that by the 1970s was a vast expanse of unproductive rustbelts, unable to compete with the capitalist world and kept afloat by an oil windfall that would peter out by the late 1980s.

A world whose own citizens abandoned it for the promise of a pair of jeans, and whose own masters ended up selling it for real estate in Monaco and Miami.

This is the world that Lenin built and which collapsed during the 1990s.

“The intelligentsia is not the brains of the nation, but its shit.” It’s as if he was talking about himself.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Bolshevik Revolution, Communism, Lenin, Soviet Union 
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On October 26, Almazbek Atambaev, the outgoing President of Kyrgyzstan, signed a decree replacing the November 7 celebrations of the October revolution with a “Day of History and Remembrance.”

The “history” and “remembrance” in question refers to the Urkun, the Kyrgyz name for their 1916 revolt against Tsarist Russia.

Here is an extract from the decree:

The development of history in the past few years and its de-ideologization has allowed researchers to work out new approaches to studying Kyrgyz history… Our people, with their 3,000 year history, having created the Kyrgyz Khanate in the 9th century, has maintained the idea of statehood for many centuries… Generation to generation, the dream of independence moved on. …

The will of the people towards freedom and independence was the main driving force of the events of 1916. The harsh suppression of the uprising by Tsarist punitive batallions, multiple incidences of bloodthirsty reprisals against civilizations, and their forced exile into foreign lands put the Kyrgyz people on the brink of extinction. According to the archives, the most dramatic events and the highest numbers of human casualties during the Urkun took place in autumn 1916.

So what’s left unmentioned in this story?

turkestan-map

Source: Sputnik i Pogrom. Map of Turkestan – epicenter of the rebellion is in the red square.

First, and most important, it was a bit more than just an ordinary uprising. What began as a campaign of assassination against local officials soon escalated to full-scale ethnic cleansing, with thousand-strong bands of Kyrgyz horsemen despoiling defenseless Russian villages which had been largely stripped of their fighting age men by conscription for World War I. All told, around 3,000 Russians were murdered, the vast majority of them women and children, as well as the monks of Przhevalsk Cathedral and the Holy Trinity Monastery of Issyk-Kul.

Writes Father Evstafi Malakhovsky, the abbot of Pokrovsky Church, located 35 versts from Przhevalsk (now Karakol):

On August 11, [the Kyrgyz] attacked the settlements, started to beat the residents and burn houses… No mercy was shown to the Russians: They were cut up and beaten, sparing neither women nor children. There were beheadings, impalements, noses and ears were cut off, children were cut in half, women were raped, maidens and young girls were taken prisoner.

There are many even grislier accounts compiled by the local clergy.

As the ethnic cleansing wore on, Russians started to congregate in larger villages, such as Preobrazhensky. There, a 200-strong militia with rifles, shotguns, and a jerry-rigged cannon held off a 10,000-strong Kyrgyz horde for a month before Army reinforcements arrived and drove them away. Observing the scenes of devastation, the local militias and soldiers were not particularly inclined to show mercy as they pursued the bands into the mountains.

The Kyrgyz historian Shairgul Batyrbaev in a 2013 interview:

The suppression was indeed brutal. But one has to keep the context in mind. When the punitive batallions arrived to pacify the rebellion, they saw the heads of Russian women and children mounted on pikes, and their reaction was understandable.

Officially, 347 people in Semirechie were executed in summary military trials. The direct victims of the pacification campaign numbered 4,000 according to Batyrbaev’s calculations.

The official Kyrgyz narrative, as affirmed by a 2016 commision, is that the Tsarist suppression of the revolt was genocide. RFERL helpfully notes that it is “believed that between 100,000 and 270,000 ethnic Kyrgyz were killed by Tsarist Russia’s punitive battalions.” However, these estimates seem most unlikely, considering that the Kyrgyz population in the territories affected by the rebellion increased from 278,900 in 1897 to 324,000 by 1917. Based on natality and mortality trends, Batyrbaev estinmates there “should have been” 357,600 Kyrgyz by that time, implying total demographic losses of around 35,000.

That includes emigration. For the Kyrgyz, the most tragic episode of the Urkun was the flight of 30,000 Kyrgyz into China. Many thousands died in the high passes, and many of the rest were enslaved by the Uyghurs in China – a traditional practice in Central Asia, before the Russian Empire illegalized it in Russian Turkestan in 1861 and stamped it out over the next few decades.

Now this is not to unequivocally condemn the Kyrgyz, or justify the policies of the Russian Empire.

prokudin-gorsky-russian-settlers-kyrgyzstan

Source: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1911). Photograph of Russian settlers on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul.

The Kyrgyz had real grievances. The influx of landless Russian settlers (one such family is shown in the photograph above) in the wake of Stolypin’s agrarian reforms impinged on the traditional land use patterns of the nomadic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, who needed vast tracts of land for grazing their cattle. The Russian colonists formed growing islands of European civilization that didn’t mix with the locals, stoking resentment amongsts the natives (this is, of course, a familiar pattern the world over). The influence of the mullahs, who occupied a privileged position in Kyrgyz society, was reduced – they lost administrative power to state bureaucrats, and the traditional madrassas had to compete with growing numbers of secular schools. Finally, the local bureaucrats that staffed the lower administrative rungs were fantastically corrupt – there are accounts of them continuing to sell exemptions from mobilization to young Kyrgyz men even as more and more of their fellows were lynched by the enraged mobs of the metastasizing rebellion.

This brings us to the fuse that set off the entire thing – an edict from Interior Minister Boris Stürmer calling for the mobilization of 80,000 men from the steppe region of Turkestan. This was a drop in the bucket relative to the more than 12 million men mobilized by the Russian Empire during World War I, and in any case, the Central Asians were only going to be used for non-military duties. (In the end, only slightly more than 100,000 Central Asians ended up being mobilized during the war). But the scope of these plans grew rapidly in the telling, in what was still a predominantly illiterate society; the call for 80,000 labor conscripts soon turned into an evil Russian plot to kill off the entire Kyrgyz male population in the fields and trenches in a place far away and in a war that few of them understood. This was helped along not just by the usual suspects – German and Turkish intelligence helped fan the rumors – but also by venal Kyrgyz bureaucrats, who saw the horror stories as a good way to increase their earnings from selling exemptions. Finally, the linguistic and cultural gap between the lower Kyrgyz and upper Russian administrative rungs hampered attempts to stiffle the rebellion in its cradle, and delayed a serious response from the central authorities.

But the language of the recent Kyrgyz decree – with its language of “Russian colonizers,” “Russia’s orbit,” “uprising of national liberation,” “cruel suppression by Tsarist punitive batallions,” the “millennial history” through which the Kyrgyz people carried its “idea of “statehood” – has nothing to do with history and everything to do with politics.

And there’s nothing better than genocide myths for nation-building, historical details and nuance be damned.
There are a couple of further factors that underline the significance of this event.

First, Almazbek Atambaev belongs to the ruling Social Democrats, whose candidate won the recent Presidential elections. This is a moderate, comparatively pro-Russian party that supports keeping Russian as an official language. Deputies from the main opposition party, Respublika-Ata Zhurt (an alliance of pro-Western liberals and nationalists; not an uncommon combination in the post-Soviet space), have taken a much harder line; in 2012, they called for financial documentation, technical documents, and parliamentary debates to all happen in Kyrgyz. Further to the right, Nurlan Motuev, leader of the People’s Patriotic Movement of Kyrgyzstan and of the True Muslims of Kyrgyzstan, demanded that Russia recognize the Urkun as a genocide and pay them $100 billion in compensation. To be fair, Motuev is a marginal figure whose projects only ever got tiny single digit shares of the vote, and the man himself has since been sentenced to 7 years in jail for praising Islamic State in the media.

However, less hardcore versions of these anti-Russian sentiments are increasingly prevalent amongst Kyrgyz youth and the Kyrgyz intelligentsia.

(All too predictably, the US is also involved. The National Democratic Institute, amongst its other projects in Kyrgyzstan, financed the TV show “New Trends” (Zhana Bashat), which regularly features all sorts of eccentric guests, such as Dastan Sapygulov, a Tengriist and a supporter of Kyrgyz as the dominant language. The Turks are also busy projecting their pan-Turkic vision, financing the University of Manas, where education is exclusively in the Turkish and Kyrgyz languages.)

Not only are the Social Democrats the main pro-Russian party in Kyrgyzstan, but the country itself is probably Russia’s closest “friend” in Central Asia. They are members of both the CSTO security alliance and the Eurasian Economic Community. Consequently, there are fewer barriers for a Kyrgyz seeking work in Russia than for a humanitarian refugee from the Donbass. Kyrgyz driving licenses are recognized in Russia, and Russia recently forgave a $240 million debt to the impoverished Central Asian nation. Remittances from Kyrgyz Gasterbeiters – most of them of them in Russia – constitute 30.4% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP, which is the second highest indicator in the world after Nepal.

And yet despite all that, its authorities feel entitled to spit in Russia’s face.

All in all, it is hard to think of a single development that best represents the retreat of Russian influence from Central Asia.

This is, of course, hardly a singular affair. Kazakhstan is moving to the Latin alphabet by 2025. Tajikistan banned this year’s Immortal Regiments march on the grounds that it is non-Islamic (though it was not enforced). Uzbekistan has been particularly hostile, removing Europeans from important state positions, dismantling World War II monuments, and leaving both the CSTO and Eurasian Economic Community around 2010. Russia’s response? Mayor Sergey Sobyanin is going to use city funds to install a monument to the late Uzbek President for Life Islam Karimov in the center of Moscow.

And there are no signs that this is going to come to a stop anytime soon. As a rule, the Central Asians are ruled by Soviet relicts with strong cultural ties to (if not exactly sympathy for) Eurasia’s other post-Soviet elites. These are people whom the likes of Putin understand and are comfortable with. But as they age and die off, these countries are going to drift farther and farther away from Russia as the ethnic draw of Turkey, the religious draw of the Islamic ummah, the economic preponderance of China, and the cultural preponderance of America make themselves fully felt on the youngest generations and on the intelligentsia. This is already happening and there is no absolutely no reason to expect that Russia’s alternative, the Great Patriotic War victory cult – in which Central Asians played a marginal role anyway – is going to be a competitive one.

The future of Central Asia is nationalist and Islamic – probably, more of the former in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and more of the latter in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

This shouldn’t translate into any feelings of blame or bitterness. For all the Eurasianists’ efforts to argue otherwise, Russia and Turkestan are separate civilizations that don’t have much more in common than France and its African colonies. As such, it is pointless for Russians to begrudge them their efforts to establish their own “identity”; that it comes at Russia’s expense is only to be expected. It does, however, means that a rational and hard-headed Russian government should start dealing with them as the truly independent, nezalezhnye entities that they so earnestly appear to want to be.

At a minimum, this would mean an immediate end to Central Asian autocrats offloading their surplus labor and drugs onto Russia via open borders, an end to Russian taxpayer-subsidized loans and their inevitable write-offs, and certainly an end to even any discussions about statues to their Great Leaders in the Russian capital.

But it is hard to imagine Putin ceasing to support and subsidize the Soviet fossils with whom he so strongly identifies with. Besides, the cheap labor is good for business, the bodies are good for bolstering attendance at pro-regime demonstrations, and the drugs help keep masses of venal siloviks employed. And so in all likelihood this will continue until the next round of color revolutions drives what remains of Russia’s influence out of Central Asia.

 
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unsolved-socialism-problem

The latest in our series of translations of Russian national-conservative thinker Egor Kholmogorov.

Translated by: Fluctuarius Argenteus; slightly edited by AK.

Original: http://zavtra.ru/blogs/pravoslavnyij-sotsializm

***

Socialism Not Dead: Paradoxes of an Unsolved Problem

It may seem strange that, at the turn of the 21st century, the word “Socialism” is back in the popular political idiom. The final decade of the preceding century seemed to have been the time of its complete (and, so it would seem, irreversible) annihilation.

Soviet-style “Real Socialism” ended in a pathetic disgrace, striking its colors at the sight of a sausage pointed at its heart. Who would have thought that churning out missiles, dams, and factories wouldn’t be enough to sustain a planned economy based on communal property? It was also necessary to grant the Socialist people access to consumer goods at least remotely comparable to those available under Capitalism; otherwise, falling behind not only in living standards but also in technology became inevitable. Soviet Socialism collapsed under the weight of this contradiction, while China enacted reforms so deep that, while looking at Chinese billionaires, one can’t help but wonder whether it’s still Socialism or a “Red Capitalist” oligarchy of the Chinese Communist Party – quite probably no worse than any other oligarchy in history.

Meanwhile, the Capitalist world with its triumphant Liberalism seemed to have scored a doubtless moral victory. Not only did it outpace Socialism, it completely consumed it. All more or less sensible Socialist ideas were incorporated into the structure of the “welfare state”, leaving “Real Socialism” with such dubious achievements as complete socialization of property or pedantic ideological censorship. Socialism appeared to have been entirely devoured and digested by a Capitalism that had reached in this struggle a new stage in its historical evolution.

A quarter of a century after this victory over Socialism, the foundations of the global Liberal order are more and more visibly shaken. Within the US Democratic party, Hillary Clinton’s Liberalism, oriented at racial and sexual minorities, has been challenged by “Democratic Socialist” Bernie Sanders who is cajoling White American workers into rising against the 1%, the Wall Street loan sharks. Socialist? US Presidential candidate? Early 21st century? It seems patently absurd. Meanwhile across the pond, the Labour party in the UK eschewed fine-looking bureaucrats in favour of Jeremy Corbyn, a Socialist, an anti-militarist, and general diehard Leftist. One of his first acts as leader of the Shadow Cabinet was creating a committee for a new economic policy, including such anti-inequality fighters as Thomas Piketty and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.

All of a sudden, we not only see a ressurection of Socialism in two of the leading countries of the Capitalist world, but positioning itself as a powerful political political alternative to the dominant Liberal mainstream. If we take into account that this mainstream is also under attack by right-wing populism of the likes of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen (the program of the latter replete with anti-Capitalist and anti-Globalist vocabulary), the Liberal “end of history” seems to have ended quite rapidly. If this wave hasn’t reached us yet, it is only because both our Liberalism and our Capitalism are quite peculiar, and our political system doesn’t operate under Western-style rules. However, one cannot completely shut oneself off from a revolution of ideas, and it seems likely we will soon hear the march of a new Socialism here in Russia.

What is the cause of this 2010s Socialist re-revolution? The return of economic conditions that had caused the heyday of Socialism in the 19th century and were drastically changed in the 20th. The driving force of the Socialism of two centuries ago was a contradiction between the ideals of civil liberty and equality brought about by the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, and an absolute economic inequality typical of ancien régime Europe. The latter became more prominent and intolerable at the start of the Industrial Revolution, when hundreds of thousands of proletarians became concentrated in the stench and stuffiness of the working-class suburbs of developed countries.

Liberalism was faced with a monstrous and insoluble contradiction: why, after declaring human rights and liberties in thought and politics, giving equal rights to all social strata and doing away with the feudal ladder of estates, should it remain the guardian of a gap between wealth and misery, the protector of economic inequality? The situation of defending equality in the sphere of ideas, less important for most of the people, and championing inequality in the sphere of the stomach, of much greater everyday importance, seemed entirely ridiculous.

Excuses invented for explaining why some people are poor and some rich pushed those who considered this to be an injustice to certain solutions. “Private property is inviolable, you have no right to infringe upon it, therefore, you dare not touch the wealth of others,” said the wealth apologists. “It simply means that property is theft, and it must be destroyed or redistributed to close the gap between wealth and poverty,” replied the champions of the poor. “Liberty is not the equality of results but that of opportunities. We should be equal at square one, and then let each one gain according to his energy and talents,” said the wealth apologists. “Then we should socialize the work effort, and then we’ll have a common result: From each other according to their ability, to each other according to their needs. Also, let’s create truly equal opportunities, because the prospect of equal chances for millionaires and have-nots is a bald-faced lie,” replied the champions of the poor.

The ideas, methods, and moral high ground of the Socialism of yesteryear stemmed from a European yearning for equality, described by Alexis de Tocqueville, and the angst caused by the monstrous material inequality in the Europe in an age when the gaps between wealth and poverty were insurmountable. These gaps are the subject of a spirited dialogue between a young Rastignac and a cynical, conniving Vautrin in Honoré de Balzac’s Le Père Goriot. Vautrin explains to Rastignac, then a young idealist, that his chances of making good money thanks to learning, personal qualities, and industriousness are equal to zero. The only way of winning a fortune is getting it from somebody who already has it, by way of inheritance or marriage. The only way of becoming rich is being rich.

The world that spawned most Socialist theories, especially those of Saint-Simon, Proudhon, and Marx, was not a liberal world of free competition and equal opportunity. It was a polarized world devoid of a middle class: the 1% of haves and the 99% of have-nots.

What did this mean in practice? All talk of alleged opportunity in life granted by a Liberal version of Capitalism seemed naught but a myth. Big money was a magnet that attracted even bigger money. The lion’s share of national income, regardless of the pace of its growth, was distributed in the same proportion that was fixed in the structure of national capital. Simply put, those who controlled the majority of wealth gained the majority of income while making little to no effort.

America was the sole exception, with a lower concentration of wealth and a higher share of income distributed through free competition. Hence the image of the USA as a Promised Land, a land of opportunity, a magnet for migration. A good way of making money in Europe was moving to America (with the possibility of returning to the Old World with newfound wealth in tow left open).

No industrial growth, no Socialist attacks on the government or the bourgeoisie could change anything in the structure of this world until the start of World War I. This explains the revolutionary character of European socialism and the borderline utopian radicalism of its proposed solutions: Total socialization of industry, expropriation of the ruling classes, dictatorship of the proletariat, dreams of a World Revolution.

piketty-capital-income-ratio-europe

Source: Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty. Not part of Kholmogorov’s article.

This World Revolution did come to pass – but it started not in 1917, but in 1914. As brilliantly demonstrated by Thomas Piketty in Capital in the 21st Century, the Great War kickstarted a default of old European wealth. The horrors of war, the collapse of world trade, the Russian Revolution with its devastation and expropriation of the wealthy classes, the defeat and hyperinflation in Germany and Austria, the demographic crisis and budget deficit in the UK and France, the impeding dismantlement of colonialism – all of this led to a catastrophic decline in capital concentration in Europe.

piketty-russia-inequality-history

Source: From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016 by Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty, and Gabriel Zucman (2017). Not part of Kholmogorov’s article.

The revolutionary role of Russia, whose bourgeoisie was sacrificed at the altar of transformation, consisted not so much in socializing property and launching the Socialist experiment as in crashing the world rent. The enormous Russian debt that had fed millions of rentiers all over Europe turned into dust in the blink of an eye and doomed the rentier civilisation to extinction.

From the 1920s to the 1940s, the level of capital concentration in the world capitalist system continued its decline. Contributing factors included the Great Depression that had finally made its way to America, the devastation of World War II, the post-war wave of nationalisations, and tax deductions for national reconstruction. The ratio of capital to national income fell from 6:1 under the old regime to 2:1, i.e. the entirety of concentrated capital (be it in the form of real estate, shares, or foreign assets) became equal to only two years’ worth of national income.

What were the socioeconomic consequences of this Great Default? The grip of Capital loosened, its magnetic effect wasn’t as far-reaching, and the problem of economic equality was tackled within the framework of global Capitalism, without employing the radical recipes of fin de siècle Socialism. More precisely, those radical recipes were relegated to countries that were lagging behind in industrial development, such as Russia and China. The main goal of this radicalism was a wilful, determined achievement of an industrial breakthrough. Socialism in so-called Socialist countries was most concerned with productivity and not wealth redistribution.

Western countries, however, having no need for a “great leap forward”, were able to afford the luxury of a “Socialism sans Socialism”. Social Democracy, Christian Socialism, Swedish Socialism, Social Reformism all followed the same model. Without abolishing private property as such, without creating a dictatorship of Leftist parties, by limiting themselves to a selective nationalisation, they achieved economic equality by fostering a system of high wages and a well-developed social sphere, ushering in the welfare state. Essentially, it was a huge Ponzi scheme organized according to Keynesian precepts: The state took away a sizable portion of incomes via taxation in order to redistribute this money, also as income but under a more egalitarian distribution.

This was the zeitgeist of the treinte glorieuses of 1945-1975, when all Western governments followed, with slight variations, a single socioeconomic policy targeted at bringing social inequality as far down as possible, raising national income redistributed as salaries to the detriment of rents, dividends, etc., and widening the social responsibilities of the state. It was the age of a rising middle class, the 40% that follow the 10%-strong strata of the wealthy; this class laid claim to 30-40% of national wealth as opposed to just 5% before World War I. The 50% of the poor were stuck with the same 5% as before, but at least they gained a much greater chance of breaking out of poverty by dint of education, good work, entrepreneurial spirit and general savvy.

The social lifts seemed to be working. A peculiar anthem of the era is Chuck Berry’s tongue-in-cheek 1964 song You Never Can Tell, the accompaniment to John Travolta’s and Uma Thurman’s wild gyrating in Pulp Fiction. It’s the story of a young Black couple from New Orleans that makes decent money, buys a house, mail-order furniture, a fridge, a phonograph, even a used jalopy… New capital growth was slow but steady, not in the form of rent or foreign bonds but mostly as real estate, shares and equity.

The most positive Soviet-era memories of those who were impacted by the system are based on largely the same processes, just disguised with red banners and “Glory to the Communist Party” posters. The income levels of Soviet workers were incommensurably lower, as was the quality of consumer goods offered by the market (it took a long time to realise that the Western market of the era was just a mechanism for redistributing wealth that was gained through not entirely market-based means). However, the Soviet system was infinitely more helpful with regards to restoring and accumulating… capital. It was even explicitly called “capital construction.” Most Soviet citizens were granted, entirely free of charge, real estate that was worth many years of individual income and still commands an impressive market price. And so construction proceededly rapidly apace to build the cosy, even slightly bourgeois world of 1970s Soviet comedies.

The Socialist system, like that of the West, followed the route of reconstructive capitalism. Meanwhile, Socialism as an idea gradually fell out of favor over the 20th century as its main raison d’être, inequality, disappeared. The semi-Socialist policies of Western countries created a perfect model village of Capitalism: Low inequality levels, broad opportunities, intensive social lifts, high levels of welfare, a wide availability of consumer goods thanks to a developed and flexible market. All of it seemed like a brilliant alternative to Socialist experiments: Socializing not wealth, not industry, but revenue, redistributing it so that everyone could decide where to spend it within a wide spectrum of options.

An ideal world of freedom and equality finally seemed to be within grasping distance. It also had a place for racial and gender equality, the 1960s becoming a triumph for equal rights activists of all stripes. At the same time, Socialism was quagmired in internal antagonism, the total control of the state eroding all freedom and neutering the enjoyment and variety of everyday life.

piketty-top-income-tax-rates

Source: Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty. Not part of Kholmogorov’s article.

However, the economic developments of the treinte glorieuses were the gravedigger for both Soviet Socialism and Western Welfare Capitalism. They signed their own death warrants themselves. A natural accumulation of capital was underway, via saving a part of income in the West or direct capital giveaways by the state in the USSR. But a feature of capital is that it “magnetizes” and draws income. The owner of capital tends to rent-oriented, not work-orientated, behavior. This “capitalist” wants to gain interest and rent, to make his capital inheritable, to pay the lowest taxes he can, and thoroughly despises the have-nots whose claims to a share of his income seem to him most outrageous.

The late 1970s saw the rise of a new Capitalism with many faces, from British Thatcherism to US Reaganomics to the waves of privatization that swept away the Soviet system and its socialist economy. It was a massive uprising of capital that wanted back its right to extract revenue and spend it on itself without sharing with society. Just like the pendulum swinging towards Socialism in the early 20th century, its return towards pure Capitalism at the end of the century was most pronounced and most socially destructive in Russia. A savage, dog-eat-dog oligarchic Capitalism that took sway in the country freed itself from practically all burden of social responsibility. It was a tyranny of wealth limited only by the garrotte in the hands of thugs, be they mafia racketeers or bureaucrat raiders.

However, it would be unreasonable to claim that the nature of the processes that transpired in those decades was drastically different in Russia, Europe, and the US. It was a time of large predatory fortunes, scams and profiteering, social polarization, and growing inequality everywhere. Americans and Western Europeans, accustomed to slogans of “equal opportunity,” suddenly once again found themselves in the era of Rastignac, when the only way to get rich – was to be rich. Also, the very notion of wealth had changed: It was no longer a reasonable, comfortable prosperity, but a blatant, tacky luxury.

In The Price of Inequality, Stiglitz describes the behavior of modern American business as “rent-oriented.” Nobody wants to improve real economic indices, nobody wants to make money, everybody wants to live as a rentier off unfounded bonuses, “golden parachutes,” and other forms of self-financing so common in American corporations. Is it that different from Gazprom cleaning women?[1]

At the other end is the growth of inflamed poverty: according to Stiglitz, the life expectancy of US White men with no college education is plummeting at the rate of 1990s Russia. Over the last 15 years, everyone and their mother have talked about the “death of the middle class.” Piketty projects that at the current rate of increasing inequality, Europe will return to 19th century levels by 2050: 10% of the population will own 80% of capital, and 60% of all income.

The society built by the global anti-Capitalist uprising of the early 1900s is becoming a thing of the past, as is faith in market-based self-regulation of Capitalism, allegedly evolved enough to solve social issues. It turns out that self-regulation played no part whatsoever, and the growth of economic equality occurred due to a catastrophe that had wiped out the “old money,” paving way for a unique Social-Capitalist system. Conversely, growing capital concentration, seemingly normal for a self-regulating capitalism, simply reproduces inequality.

A Neo-Socialism is the natural response of a society that enshrines equality to the emergence of a new inequality. Will it be different from classic Socialism? It will be, and rather strongly so.

Destruction of private property and socialization of the means of production proved to be a rather dubious road to Socialism. In practice, they only led to the creation of a new class – the nomenklatura, a decline in individual initiative, logistic and planning errors leading to shortages and even famines. And, in the long run, they failed to prevent the restoration of Capitalism in its most savage incarnation. In addition, small-scale private property continued to develop even if when it all private property was nominally abolished.

The utopia of complete socialization is opposed by the following fact: As material progress unfolds, a human being demands more, not less space for individual existence and self-expression. The ideal of a normal human, as it turns out, is his own house, not an army barracks. Collectivism invariably leads to a tyranny of mediocrity and dooms the societies that adopt it to backwardness in scientific-technical development.

Under these conditions, Neo-Socialism presupposes, above all, the socialization of income and prohibitive measures on capital concentration. The world of future Socialism is a world where all offshores are annihilated and each and every fatcat is subjected to high income and property taxes, with inheritance laws hampering the transfer of super-wealth. This nullifies the magnetic effect of large capital, and most of income is redistributed as wages in the context of free labor and a free market. From an instrument of optimizing income, the market turns into an instrument of optimizing expenditure.

Here, however, the New Socialism faces several classic pitfalls, already singled out by Joseph Schumpeter in the mid-20th century. The impossibility of super-wealth, limiting unfair and imperfect competition, monopolism, and profiteering lead to the waning of that very entrepreneurial spirit that nurtures the Capitalist economy. There will a dearth of those interested in starting a new business to beat all competitors and make a nice buck. And, needless to say, an “inventor and innovator” certificate[2] is a feeble substitute for super-incomes.

The only remedy to entrepreneurial crisis within Neo-Socialism could be a change in business philosophy: Stop chasing big money and instead take pride in the individuality of your business, its attractiveness and social relevance. This, however, only works for small and middle-sized businesses, while bigger enterprises require investments (including non-returnable ones) and risks so enormous that a small-time businessman can only afford it if he is aiming for a super-income. An alternative is a planned, state-run innovation policy, a “Communism of ideas” that will be of dubious long-term efficacy.

A society that guarantees a relative equality of income would be doomed to low economic growth. However, it is precisely the form of economic growth stabilization – especially within the core of the Capitalist system – envisioned by Neo-Socialist economists, Piketty above all.

Another question inevitably brought forward by Neo-Socialism is its relations with globalization. In a Neo-Liberal world, globalization is a world market system that forces the expenses of wealthy and developed countries on the poor and undeveloped by creating “common markets” that stifle economic development. They confine poor countries to the lower stages of technological chains while keeping the rights to ideas and the final product in the hands of developed countries. This is exactly the principle of the Transatlantic and Trans-Pacific Partnerships, modern attempts to cement the eternal commercial dominance of the US.[3]

An alternative to this economic globalism is economic Nationalism; the greater the drop in economic growth and surge in inequality, the more that will it be visible. Countries with independent industrial potential and inner market resources will isolate themselves from the rest of the world as much as they are able to, from imports to economic immigrants, in order to maintain their development level despite in spite and at the expense of others.

This Nationalist alternative is seen as the greater threat to the Neo-Socialist project. Its defenders keep putting a lot of effort into criticising Nationalist and Protectionist ideas and rallying to the defence of Smithian dogmas of “relative advantage” that lead to international division of labor and creation of common markets.

Nevertheless, preserving global markets under a Neo-Socialist policy would require a serious “leveling of fortunes” everywhere on the planet. Wealthy countries, much like wealthy people, would be compelled to spend most of their wealth to improve the living standards of the poor up to a certain “golden mean.” According to modern GDP per capita statistics, it would be represented by the living standards of a Turkey or a Mexico – probably even lower in reality, because rich countries create much of their GDP and national income by virtue of being rich. Were they to be more modest in their lifestyle, much of their national product simply wouldn’t be produced.

Is it possible to downgrade the living standards of rich countries and prop up the poor ones to even slightly reduce global inequality? One may well doubt this, especially considering that for most of humanity, it is the quality of life in the developed countries that really matters, not the tyranny of averages. Everyone in the world dreams of a Lexus, not a Zaporozhets.[4]

And now we re-encounter a fundamental contradiction within the Socialist dream. It is inspired by a global historical trend towards equality and social justice, but the justice in question turns out to be a tyranny of mediocrity, the erasure of extremes of arrogant wealth and abject poverty. But how is the value of this justice comparable with the imperative of development that presupposes certain extremes? To move forward, one must desire to be the best, which is impossible without a certain, sufficiently wide score chart – even if it comes at the expense of others.

Combining the values of justice and equality with the values of development is a task yet unsolved by the New Socialism.

***

Notes

[1] Allusion to a news item at around the time of this article’s writing featuring a woman employed as a cleaner in the Gazprom office who had reported the theft of her Christian Dior handbag worth $26K.

[2] Allusion to the Soviet practice of rewarding technical and industrial innovators with honorary diplomas and certificates, as opposed to patent rights or other, more substantial awards.

[3] A cheap rear-wheel-drive supermini mass-produced in the USSR (and then, briefly, in independent Ukraine) in 1958-1994 that became a byword for shoddy, uncomfortable, and breakage-prone cars in (post-)Soviet culture.

[4] On January 23, 2017, the US announced its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific trade agreement.

***

Translator’s Note

The article was written in April 2016 and reflects the political and economic situation of the era.

 
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What everyone thinks the Russian Empire was like.

Tsarist Russia was this superstitious land of icons and cockroaches with Cossacks on thot patrol with nagaikas in hand – and it was absolutely horrific!” – Liberals, Marxists.

Tsarist Russia was this superstitious land of icons and cockroaches with Cossacks on thot patrol with nagaikas in hand – and it was absolutely great!” – Neoreactionaries.

Reality: It was in many respects socially liberal even by the standards of Western Europe.

Law

Yes, Stolypin’s neckties and all that. What Communist propagandists don’t like to mention as much is that just during the three years 1904-1907 some 4,500 Tsarist officials were murdered by what would today be classified as Far Left terrorist groups. In contrast, there were just 6,321 executions from 1825 to 1917. This is basically a rounding error by the standards of the Bolsheviks’ multicultural Coalition of the Fringes, including during their “progressive” Trotskyist phase that Western leftist academics and journalists love to laud so much. It doesn’t even compare unfavorably with the 16,000 or so executions in the US since 1700.

The Okhrana secret policy only numbered one thousand in 1900 in an empire of 150 million – it was a little baby relative to the Cheka. Exiles to Siberia essentially took the form of holidays that the “inmates” could cancel at will. Dzhugashvili (Stalin) “escaped” from Siberia around seven or nine times.

stalin-exile-1915

Stalin enjoying the Siberian sunshine.

All forms of corporal punishment were abolished in 1904, ahead of the UK and the US. Despite modern Russia’s 70 year legacy of official atheism, the irony is that Pussy Riot would have spent a maximum of three months in jail under blasphemy laws in the Russian Empire (had they gone to prison at all).

Really, if anything, the Russian Empire had become too progressive, too liberal, too humane for its own good. It was doomed by its own kindness and decency to aspiring Pol Pots. A few contemporary equivalents of free helicopter rides or just stronger enforcement of normal treason laws would have done so much good in 1917.

Social Progressivism

Access to higher education was actually more meritocratic in the late Empire than in contemporary Germany or France by a factor of 2-3x.

Women constituted about a third of Russia’s total numbers of university students, a far larger percentage than in any other European country – and Russia by 1913 had the largest number of university students in Europe (127,000 to 80,000 in Germany, around 40,000 in France and Austria each). Likewise, they constituted an absolute majority in grammar schools, many decades ahead most of the rest of Europe. In 1915, restrictions on co-ed education were dropped across a range of Russian universities by decision of the Tsar and his Council of Ministers.

womens-batallion-of-death-1917

British suffragettes? Russia raises you a Women’s Batallion of Death.

Multiculturalism

Fully half of the four mosques in Moscow were constructed under late Tsarism (including the biggest one that nationalist critics of Putin like to harp on about; he merely restored it). The other Moscow mosques include the historical Old Mosque (constructed in 1823), the Moscow Memorial Mosque (more of a war monument than a place of worship), and one that is part of a complex of religious buildings that also includes a Buddhist stuppa (so not really so much of a mosque as a political monument).

Of Saint-Petersburg’s three mosques, by far the most impressive, with capacity for 5,000 worshippers, was opened in 1913. One of them is actually more of a room than a mosque, being part of the Dagestan Cultural Center.

Culture

The Russian bobos and aristos of the late Empire loved their tattoes.

nicky-tattoo

Here’s Nicky’s.

Here’s a Russian conservative in 1909 lamenting Social Decline (TM) in the Vekhi:

The vast majority of our children enter university having lost their virginity. Who of us doesn’t know that in the senior classes of the gymnasiums there is hardly a boy to be a found who has yet to be acquainted with a maid, or a brothel

Even in France, which is associated in our minds with all sorts of sexual degeneracies, even there, in that land of the southern sun and frivolous literature, there isn’t this prevalence of “fast-ripening fruits” as in cold, northern Russia.

According to a survey of 967 students, of those who clarified their age at first sexual contact, 61% said not later than 17 years, and of them, 53 boys started it before 12 years, 152 – before 14 years.

This was reflected in the high culture of the late Empire: The Russian avant-garde, the first major penetration of post-modernism into traditional art.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring causes a scandalous sensation in Paris, not in Moscow or Saint-Petersburg.

Scriabin, the consummate bohémienne.

Kandinsky.

The Shukhov Tower.

Malevich.

malevich-black-square

He painted his stupid black square in 1915.

Really at this point one can almost sympathize with Mayakovsky:

“Eat your pineapples. Chew your grouse. Your last day is coming. You bourgeois louse.”

It need also be hardly pointed put at this point that the extreme social liberalism – legalization of homosexuality, abortion – and SJWism – abolition of university extrance exams – of the 1920s didn’t come out of a complete void. To the contrary, all this enjoyed the approval of some significant percentage of the Russian intelligentsia.

Stalin of course reversed this, and not only made university exams competitive again but reintroduced tuition fees. After murdering some significant percentage of the professors, and blanketing the country in a stiffling ideological orthodoxy for decades ahead that annulled any meaningful freedom of speech and relegated Russia to the margins of global culture to this day.

Russian Empire 2017

What would Russian culture have been like without the Communist occupation?

Probably a great deal more liberal, actually.

That said, one has to make allowance for the fact that the liberal-leftist strain in Russian cultural life was balanced by liberal-conservative and even a certain conservative-libertarian trend.

For instance, gun rights were very strong in the Russian Empire, unlike in the Soviet Union and its successor the Russian Federation.

chelyabinsk-gun-shop

Fin de siècle Chelyabinsk gunshop – remove the Cyrillic, and it might as well be in the Wild West.

There were also no shortage of conservative and nationalist pundits, who under a normal 20th century trajectory might have developed into US-style conservative talk radio.

Moreover, there are always cycles of social liberalism and social conservatism. To take the example of the US, you had liberalism in the 1920s, conservatism in the 1950s, liberalism in the 1970s, conservatism in the 1980s, liberalism again now – Russia was evidently in a liberal phase during the waning years of the Empire and the 1920s, but this doesn’t mean it would have stayed that way indefinitely. A moderate correction would have been expected by analogy with any other country on a normal development trajectory.

One would also have to account for there being less American influence – Russian (and European) culture would itself have been far stronger, not having undergone a ruinous World War and the stiffling effects of the twin totalitarianisms of Nazism and Stalinism. For that matter, Nazism itself is a significant – if not altogether crucial – component in Europe’s guilt complex, that would have been exceedingly unlikely to arise in the absence of the Red Menace in the early 1930s.

So overall, it doesn’t seem unlikely that Russia would have been in the European mainstream in terms of social attitudes – but that that same European mainstream would be far less “cucked” than it is today.

One undoubtedly negative aspect of the Russian Empire (from a conservative/traditionalist viewpoint) would have been the likely absence of a propiska system regulating internal migration within a surviving Russian Empire, so we can expect there to have been far more Central Asian immigrants to the Russian heartlands – especially since Russia would have been far wealthier without central planning (though their percentage of the population would have been diluted by the Russification of Belorussia and most of Ukraine, as well as a ~30% larger total ethnic Slavic population).

However, it’s not very clear that even this “silver lining” from the Soviet period is of any value. The Putin regime has in recent years made it increasingly clear that it sees Russia’s future in tight integration with Central Asia; just the other day, a Kremlin-linked think-tank released a report advocating an increase in pro-immigration propaganda and the introduction of administrative liability for politicians and bureaucrats who “feed false numbers to the media about immigrants” and “mention ethnic crime.”

So in all likelihood Russia will end up getting the worst of both worlds anyway.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Feminism, History, Liberalism, Tsarist Russia 
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The conventional view of nationalism is that it was a product of mass literacy and the modern state, underpinned by schoolbooks and Tombs of the Unknown Soldier. Recent years have seen challenges to this historiographic consensus at both a general level (e.g. Azar Gat’s Nations), and with respect to specific peoples (Robert Tomb’s recent The English and Their History comes to mind).

Our latest translation of Russian conservative intellectual Egor Kholmogorov is more than just a Russian contribution to this debate. It makes the much more radical argument that not only was Russia not a laggard in the process of nation-building, as European historiography has long claimed, but was at the very forefront of this process for longer than a millennium, from Novgorod’s implicit devotion to the Russian commonweal in the 13th century to Russia’s defense of a “Europe of Fatherlands” against the globalist tide of national annihilation today.


russian-mammoths

Mammoths and Patriots on the Russian Plain

A Brief History of Russian National Sentiment

by Egor Kholmogorov

Translated by Fluctuarius Argenteus

Original: https://um.plus/2016/04/09/rossiya-rodina-mamontov-i-patriotov/

Sometimes I hear that saying “patriotism as a national idea” is akin to saying that water is wet. However, this argument comes from people with a very superficial understanding of how difficult it is to be patriot given that, unlike a comfortable cosmopolitanism, patriotism is the path of struggle. Also, they fail to realize how important the contribution of Russia and Russian culture is to shaping the very phenomenon of a patriotic consciousness in the modern world. The Russians developed patriotism as a national idea far earlier than most European nations. And it is Russia that keeps its faith in a “Europe of Fatherlands” or a “World of Fatherlands” in today’s age of identity erasure.

“Russia is the Motherland of elephants.” This zinger, coined as a mockery of Russian patriotism[1], is, however, entirely true, with a slight correction: Russia is the Motherland of mammoths. It is thanks to the hunt of those majestic beasts that the first humans on the Russian Plain, then half-concealed by the Great Glacier, created a culture highly developed for its time. Nowadays, archaeologists even speak of a “mammoth hunter civilization.”

Indeed, even nowadays the remains of long-term housing built out of mammoth ivory, exhibited at the museum of Kostenki village, Voronezh Oblast, are no less amazing than some stone ruins from Oriental or European antiquity. Overall, it seems that the mammoth joke is on the jokers.

With the same minor correction, one can claim that Russia is the Motherland of patriotism. Of course, patriotism is a word of Latin roots, also hearkening back to Greek. Of course, the cult of pride for one’s country, its history and its heroes, was developed in Greece and Rome, and new European nations learned this art from the ancients (for example, Old Rus’ via Byzantium).

But there are different kinds of patriotism. “The thrust of the Greek notion of freedom was directed at their closest neighbors: being free meant not being dependent on them”, as noted by Robert Wipper (1859 – 1954), one of our foremost Classical scholars. Only two or three times out of the entirety of Hellenic history the Greeks showed a capacity for working together and for a Pan-Hellenic patriotism, but even 300 Spartans, defending a bottleneck that led to the heart of Greece, believed they were fighting for “Laconic law.” The Greeks saw Hellas not as a common home country but as a common space for competing hometowns, peaceful if possible (at the Olympic Games).

Roman patriotism was more similar to ours. It was a not solely urban but also imperial patriotism, that of a city turned superpower. The history of a city that defended its freedom from foreign invaders and domestic tyrants, vanquished all of its neighbors, and transformed into a worldwide Empire formed the archetype of a patriotic myth for future generations.

The Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg houses a sculpture by Vasily Demut-Malinovsky (1776 – 1846) named The Russian Scaevola. A very Classical-looking Russian peasant with an axe is chopping off his arm bearing a brand of the letter N, meaning “Napoleon.” This patriotic legend was born as an imitation of a celebrated Roman historical myth. A young Roman patrician named Gaius Mucius, nicknamed Scaevola (“Left-Handed”), attempted to assassinate Porsenna, the Etruscan king. When he was caught and subjected to torture, he placed his right hand on a brazier and endured the pain until it became completely charred. Porcenna, terrified by the Roman’s defiant fortitude, sued for peace with his city.

However, it was the city that formed the nucleus of Roman patriotism. If Russia truly were “Muscovy”, if Moscow had been seen as a creator of a new world and not as a unifier of Russian lands, then we could have developed a Roman-styled urban patriotism.

But Russian patriotism existed long before the rise of Moscow, and had at its forefront not the City, but the Land. Russian patriotic consciousness is the oldest national consciousness among European peoples. There is no France yet, only a “Western Frankia.” There is no Germany yet, just the Holy Roman Empire, which would only have the “of the Germanic nation” appended to its name in 1512. England, only recently under the rule of Danish kings and separated into territories of Danelaw and Saxon Law, has fallen under the sway of new conquerors, the haughty Normans marked by both Frankish arrogance and Norse ruthlessness. Meanwhile, a Russian chronicler is already penning the title of his work containing the question: “From whence came the Russian Land?”[2]

150 years before that, Russian envoys already come to Constantinople bearing the words, “We are of Russian kindred”, and they come, as the chronicle puts it, “from the great Russian prince, and all other princes, and all people of the Russian land.” The oldest historical document mentioning the Russians, the Annales Bertiniani from the year 838, already contains this “Russian kindred” formula (id est gentem suam, Rhos vocari dicebant). The chronicler still remembers the differences between Polans, Drevlians, and Vyatichi[3], he knows that Russian princes united Varangians and Slavs, but the unity of this society named “Rus’” seems to him indisputable and beyond all doubt. The first Russian chronicler deliberately constructs the image of Russian history as that of a unified people creating a unified country and subject to a unified authority. The same is discussed by Hilarion of Kiev (11th century) in his Sermon on Law and Grace with regards to Prince Vladimir: “For he was the sole ruler of his land, bringing all neighboring countries under his sway, some of them by peace, and the unruly ones by the sword.

Those three elements – Land, People, Empire – are, in their unity, the true formula of Russian patriotism, inherited by Russia from the times when Western European peoples had no patriotic consciousness to speak of. Only in 1214, when French king Philip II Augustus crushed the joint forces of the Holy Roman Empire and England near Bouvines, can we discover a semblance of French national pride. Only three decades later, an anonymous Russian scribes writes the Lay of the Ruin of the Russian Land, a haunting patriotic manifesto lamenting the destruction of Rus’ in the flames of the Mongol invasion.

Due to the vagaries of history, the tale of the destruction per se is not extant[4], yet we can still read the preamble, a veritable hymn to old pre-Mongol Rus’ demonstrating the height of its patriotic sentiment. The Lay is a love-letter to the Russian Land, a paean to its beauty and wealth. In my opinion, the text should be learned by heart as a part of school curriculum.

“Oh Russian Land, bright with brightness and adorned with adornments! Many are thy beauties: thou art adorned by many lakes, rivers and wells famed in thy lands, mountains, steep hills, tall oak woods, clean fields, marvellous beasts, diverse birds, countless great cities, marvellous villages, vineries of monasteries, houses of the Lord and redoubtable princes, honest boyars, noblemen aplenty. The Russian Land is filled with everything, oh true Christian faith!”

But it is not just the beauty of nature of Rus’ that he relishes; it is also its might, its dominion over other nations and the prestige of its rulers:

“From here to Hungarians and Poles and Czechs, from Czechs to Yotvingians[5], from Yotvingians to Lithuanians to Germans, from Germans to Karelians, from Karelians to Ustyug[6], where live the pagan Toymichi[7], and beyond the Breathing Sea[8], from the sea to Bulgars, from Bulgars to Burtasians[9], from Burtasians to Cheremis[10], from Cheremis to Mordva[11] – everything did the Lord bring under the sway of Christian people. The pagan lands submitted to the Grand Prince Vsevolod[12], and his father Yuri, prince of Kiev[13], and his grandfather Vladimir Monomakh[14], with whose name the Polovtsy[15] scared their children in their cradles. And Lithuanians dared not crawl out of their swamps, and Hungarians fortified their stone cities with iron gates so that the great Vladimir would not strike at them, and the Germans rejoiced, living far away beyond the Blue Sea[16]”

This common national memory, the idea of the Russian Land as a unity was the force that kept Russia from disintegration and destruction during the years of the Mongol yoke. Serapion, Bishop of Vladimir (? – 1275), lamented that “our majesty is brought to the ground, our beauty is dead, our wealth profits others, our works inherited by pagans, our land is the legacy of outlanders.” This, by the way, is the best answer of a contemporary of the Mongol invasion to those that today would present this incursion from the East as a time of friendship and cooperation.

“We cannot relish our own bread.” This formula of Serapion’s is a precise description of centuries-long Russian woes that intensified in the years of the Horde: we cannot have the joy of relishing our bread, it is either won with blood and tears, or stolen by foreign invaders, or the harvest fails. A simple Russian dream: to relish our own bread.

Nevertheless, that dream required fighting for. The Russians afforded particular reverence to those that would fight for Rus’, like Saint Alexander Nevsky. For Novgorod, he was both protector and hangman when he forced a rich mercantile city untouched by the Mongol invasion to pay the tribute imposed by the Horde. This was done to relieve the burden of other Russian lands, pillaged and impoverished. He chopped heads off, drowned peolpe, gouged eyes out; he should have been remembered as a tyrant. Yet here are the words of a Novgorod chronicler in the First Novgorod Chronicle (oldest recension) regarding the prince’s passing: “Merciful Lord, reveal Thy Countenance to him in the ages to come, for he labored much for the sake of Novgorod and the whole of Russian Land.”

“For the whole of Russian Land”, words written in Novgorod, a city oftentimes presented today as something of an independent state forcefully subjugated by Muscovy. However, in spite of all trade ties to the West, Novgorodians gave priority to a Pan-Russian patriotic sentiment, even judging the prince that had harshly mistreated them from the viewpoint of an integral Russian cause, and not just that of their city.

That is the ideological foundation of the unified Russian state, the great Russia, which appeared not with a delay compared to Western Europe, but with a lead. Dmitry Likhachov (1906 – 1999) noted in his book Russian Culture of the Period of Russian Nation-State Formation (1946): “The origins of national elements of specific cultures are more or less simultaneous everywhere in Europe, but only in Russia do they receive support in the form of a proper Russian nation-state. That is why the national character of 14-15th century culture of Rus’ is more pronounced than in that of England, France, or Germany of the same period. The unity of the Russian language is much stronger than that of French, English, German, Italian national languages. Russian literature is much more subordinate to the theme of state-building than that of other nations…”

I cannot agree with Lev Gumilyov’s (1912 – 1992) statement claiming that “they came to the Kulikovo Field[17] as men of Moscow, Serpukhov, Rostov, Beloozero, Smolensk, Murom, etc., but returned as Russians.” The desire to frame the great battle as a turning point is understandable, but the warriors came to fight, came as Russians already, not only those from from the Vladimir Principality and its vassals, but also from Lithuanian-held Rus’. They realized quite well that the true Pan-Russian cause was that of Moscow and not Lithuania. Simeon the Proud, the uncle of Dmitry Donskoy, the victor of Kulikovo, already claimed the title “of all Russias”[18], and the Byzantine emperor referred to him in his epistles as riks pasis Rossias, “the king of all Russia.” Therefore, the warriors of Kulikovo were already fighting for Russia and just Moscow.

Thanks to Joan of Arc, the French got the idea that Englishmen have no right to claim La Belle France for themselves. The Hundred Years’ War in general played an enormous part in developing national awareness in European peoples. It would suffice to compare two versions of the same chronicle written by the famous Jean Froissart with a difference of several decades and describing the same events. The first version is steeped in chivalric ideas, the second one is inspired by the concept of nationality. Froissart interprets the same act first as conforming to the concept of honor, then as typical of English or French character.

In spite of this dichotomy, it is hard to imagine a 15th or early 16th-century French or English king justifying his claims to a certain territory with a national principle, not defending his own domain but demanding to cede a different one “because Frenchmen live there.” At the same time, barely freed from the yoke of the Horde, Russia begins an irredentist struggle for Russian lands. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Livonia are seen as thieves of “ancestral lands” inherited by Russian princes from their forefather, Prince Vladimir.

The Papal envoys, while attempting to cajole Vasily III into a war with distant Turkey, got the following reply from the boyars: “The Grand Prince wants his ancestral domain, the Russian Land” (at that particular moment this claim also included Kiev). Those demands were invariably followed by lengthy historical justifications of the rights Russian state that would shock European diplomats.“Russian diplomats skilfully used their historical learning and created a complex theory of Muscovite princely power that elevated the prestige of the Russian monarchy… It was a creative political ideology that directed the politics of the Russian state towards the defence of national interests and culture in the complex milieu of European civilisation”, writes Dmitry Likhachov in National Consciousness of Old Rus’.

At that time Europe was engulfed in wars of religion. The battle of Catholics and Protestants almost succeeded in stamping out the sprouts of nascent national consciousness. Only horror and revulsion at the atrocities inflicted by kin and kith speaking the same language keeps national consciousness alive in spite of religious boundaries. European nations mostly grew out of a rejection of religious schism, and this was a positive and unifying side of European nationalism. But it was also marred by a certain Hellenic particularism, all too often national bigotry was directed at closest neighbors and formed a nation based on this hostility. What are the French without hating Englishmen, Germans, or Spaniards?

Russian national awareness evolved in a different way. It was not directed against a neighbor. Even the attitude towards Poland-Lithuania, in spite of incessant hostilities, never developed into an ethnophobia. If Russophobia is an unfortunate fixture of Polish national awareness, the Russian side of the conflict limited itself to “I’ll have my revenge and then forget.” Russian self-awareness was based on a positive patriotism, on love for one’s own land, people, culture, and ruler. The rejection of others expressed itself not in hatred but in a good-natured gibe similar to the manner in which The Lay of the Ruin describes the neighbors of Rus’.

The “foreign” becomes a threat only if it is injurious and harmful to Russian identity. It is menacing not as an external but as an internal threat, as demonstrated by the Time of Troubles. Russia has no difficulty in repelling invaders but wasted much effort on surpassing internal conflict that almost wrecked the state itself. Ivan Timofeev (ca. 1555 – 1631), one of the most acute observers of the Time of Troubles, saw the root of all evil in an obsession with all things foreign that had engulfed Ivan the Terrible and Boris Godunov. He chastises the first Russian czar for straying from national identity:

“He slew many nobles of his czardom that were loyal to him, others he exiled into lands of heathen faiths, and instead of them he favored those who had come from foreign lands… That is why we are surprised: even people of moderate reason would have understood that one cannot trust one’s enemies forever. And he, a man of such great wisdom, was laid low by his own weak conscience, willingly putting his head into serpent’s jaws. All enemies that came from other lands would have never defeated him if he hadn’t surrendered himself into their hands. Alas! All of his secrets were in the hands of barbarians, and they did what they pleased with him. I will say nothing more – he was a traitor to himself.”

Timofeev reproaches the common folk as well. “Their tongues grew mute and their mouths were shut with bribery; all of our feelings were weakened by fear” is his description of Boris Godunov’s rise to power, the ascendancy of a man who was seen by many as a criminal and a child-murderer. The same complacence in the face of wickedness at the beginning of the Time of Trouble is lambasted by Avraamy Palitsyn (? – ca. 1625), who speaks of “a mad silence of the entire people.”

The restoration of the country begins with a loud patriotic proclamations: the epistles of Patriarch Hermogenes (ca. 1530 – 1612), calling Russia to resist brigands and invaders; the letters of the Nizhny Novgorod volunteer army[19] calling to “stand united against common enemies and Russian brigands that spill our own blood in the country.” Patriotic rhetoric and patriotic awareness were the remedy that nursed Russia back to health in the moment where its statehood was in tatters. The Chronograph (1617)[20] describes the Council of the Land that elected a new dynasty[21] by painting a picture of national unity: “From the borders to the hinterlands of the Russian land the Orthodox people, men both meek and powerful, rich and poor, old and young, were granted the generous gift of life-giving wisdom and illuminated with the light of virtuously minded concord. Even though they came from different lands, they spoke with one voice, even though they were dissimilar as they lived far apart, they were gathered in one council as equals.”

The Time of Troubles and the heroism of Minin and Pozharsky’s resistance army are a damning argument against the popular myth that denies the existence of the Russian nation in that period. On the contrary, Russia, in the depth of its national and patriotic consciousness, was a step or two ahead of even the most progressive of neighbouring countries, where even a century later collusion with foreigners against one’s own nation was not considered dishonorable and considered a legitimate political instrument.

In Russia this was already unthinkable. There, patriotic consciousness was a hallmark of identity, which enabled the reunification of Ukraine, the patriotic heroism of the Great Northern War that required a mighty collective effort of the entire nation to carve out a space among great European powers, the brilliant achievements of Catherine the Great, the majestic victory over Napoleon in 1812. The last war is particularly remarkable: not only ex post facto, but even during the campaign itself it was seen as, and called, a Patriotic War. All gestures and words of the actors in this patriotic drama were made for the cause of the Fatherland.

The Russian propaganda machine left Napoleon no chance to subjugate the Russian people or entrench his dominance. The narcissistic conqueror was opposed not only by soldiers but by artists of rhetoric, from patriotic admiral Alexander Shishkov (1754 – 1841) who wrote the czar’s manifestos to populist propaganda virtuoso Count Fyodor Rostopchin (1763 – 1826) and his broadsides[22]. Without understanding the cultural and symbolic background we can never understand the most important of historical events, from the Battle of Borodino, fought mainly for political reasons, where every Russian officer saw death or injury as the highest honor, to the epic and terrifying fire of Moscow. Russia opposed Napoleon not only with a superior fighting spirit but also with a superior, elaborate patriotic ideology.

Even in Europe, German nationalism was not a predecessor but perhaps a byproduct of Russian patriotic resistance to Napoleon. Russia created a vast network of resistance, inspiring many European minds. Alexander Svechin (1878 – 1938), a prominent military theorist, gives the following description of the German front of Russian propaganda wars:

Russia organized a German Committee under the de facto leadership of Baron Heinrich von und zu Stein, the political head of the German national movement, who consented to leading the Russian propaganda effort. With a brilliant cadre of German patriotic officers that had resigned Prussian service when Prussia had been strongarmed into an alliance with Napoleon, Stein decided to create a German Legion staffed with German deserters and prisoners of war from La Grande Armée. The Legion was intended as a revolutionary challenge to a Germany enslaved by the French and then the core of an armed insurrection within Germany itself.

A fine example of propaganda tracts published in Saint Petersburg in October 1812 at the printers of the Senate, financed by an absolute monarch, is the “Brief Catechism of the German Soldier” written by Ernst Moritz Arndt by special commission. It claimed that German soldiers used to have their own emperor, but then they made a pact with Satan and Hell in the guise of Napoleon. People who were once free became slaves and are being sent to far-flung countries to turn free and happy peoples into slaves just as themselves. A German emperor sends a German soldier to war; must he fight? No, says Arndt; the idea of monarchy is subordinate to that of the nation and Fatherland. If the sovereign forces his soldiers to oppress the innocent and violate their rights, if he conspires against the happiness and freedom of his own subjects, if he colludes with the enemies of his own nation, if he allows his population to be robbed, dishonored, and raped, then following the orders of such a sovereign would be an affront to divine law. German honor commands the German soldier to break the sword that German despots force him to raise for the cause of his nation’s enemies, the French. The soldier must remember that the Fatherland and nation are timeless and deathless, while monarchs and all kinds of superiors will stay in the past with their petty ambitions and disgraceful misdeeds…

The success of propaganda among German regiments that defended Napoleon’s operation lines in 1812 was largely instrumental for the Berezina battle plan, an encirclement of the La Grande Armée core that had delved too deep into Moscow.

This fact seems like a veritable mockery of the popular Western “time zones of nationalism” theory formulated by Ernest Gellner. Allegedly, national consciousness in Europe develops from West to East. The further to the West, the more developed the national sentiment, the stronger its civic nature. Conversely, the further you look to the East, the more tardy and ethnocentric the national sentiment there.

As we can see, this is patently untrue. Russian national sentiment is not younger but older than German, or even the French and English. It is the oldest among the modern peoples of Europe, based on an identity of the Russian Land already pronounced in 10-11th centuries. There is no reason for assigning the Russians a more recent birth date. At the same time, the Russian self-awareness is perhaps not the most but the least ethnocentric, sometimes overly so, causing certain inconveniences for the Russians themselves.

The object of this sentiment is not the place of a particular ethnic group among others but the Fatherland, the Russian Land, its beauty and grandeur among other lands.

The Russians were indeed late in realising the ethnic aspect of nationalism, not due to an alleged backwardness, but because they were late in encountering ethnic nationalism directed against them, mostly in the western borderlands of the Russian Empire. A certain part was played by the German nationalism in the Baltic region; having clashed with it, Yuri Samarin (1819 – 1876) formulated his idea of Russians as a nation that needs equal rights within its own empire in his Letters from Riga (1849)[23].

In spite of the “time zone” theory, German nationalism – in the form of a Pan-German, unifying, state-driven national sentiment – was not a predecessor but a product of Russian patriotism that manifested in the anti-Napoleonic struggle. Russia stimulated German nationalism as an opposition to a Pan-European empire, not imitated it. Russia became a protector of identity and national diversity in Europe in spite of all attempts to forge it into some faceless union.

Nowadays, Russian patriotism preserves the same importance. As justly reminded by Vladimir Putin: “For Russia, for a Russian person […] the patriotic sentiment is very important, the sense of national belonging that is now, to their chagrin, being eroded in certain European countries.” In today’s Europe, the eyes of those who seek to preserve their national identity, those who are patriots and nationalists in the best sense of the word, are fixed upon Moscow. Conversely, those who yell the loudest about a “Russian menace” and a “European unity in the face of Russian aggression” are mostly partisans of a complete erasure of European faces and borders, oriented towards the EU Quarter of Brussels and the White House.

As I have attempted to demonstrate, this is really old news. Russia is still the Motherland of patriotism in Europe, and now, in defiance of an artificial denationalisation imposed by Communism, we are returning to our old mission – keeping the flame of nationality in Europe, preserving it as a Europe of Fatherlands and not a public thoroughfare.


Notes

[1] The origins of this memetic phrase are in the so-called Anti-Cosmopolitan campaign enacted in the final years of Stalinism (1948-53); one of its prominent traits was the “discovery” Russian “firsts” in science, invention, the arts, etc.; many of such “discoveries” were based on dubious or outright falsified data. The “Motherland of elephants” joke was born as a parody of this propaganda blitz.

[2] An allusion to the Primary Chronicle, a.k.a. The Tale of Past Years (ca. 1110), Russia’s oldest surviving historical chronicle traditionally attributed to Nestor (ca. 1056 – 1114), a monk of the Kiev Monastery of the Caves. Its first words, often interpreted as the work’s title, are “These are the tales of past years, of where the Russian Land comes from, of who reigned the first in Kiev, and of how the Russian Land came to be.”

[3] Early East Slavic tribal groups.

[4] The anonymous 13th-century work only survives in fragments and quotations, most of them limited to its poetic preamble.

[5] Baltic tribal group.

[6] Modern-day Velikiy Ustyug, a city in the far Russian North.

[7] An obscure Finno-Ugric tribe.

[8] The White Sea or the Arctic Ocean.

[9] A defunct Volga ethnic group of unknown origin.

[10] An ancient name for the Mari ethnic group, in the modern-day Mariy El Republic of Russia.

[11] A Finno-Ugric ethnic group, in the modern-day Mordovia Republic of Russia.

[12] Vsevolod the Big Nest (1154 – 1212), Grand Prince of Vladimir.

[13] Yuri Dolgorukiy (ca. 1099 – 1157), Grand Prince of Suzdal and Kiev, founder of Moscow.

[14] Vladimir Monomakh (1053 – 1125), Grand Prince of Kiev. Famous, among other things, for organizing successful collective Russians expeditions against steppe nomads.

[15] Russian name for Cumans, nomads of Turkic origin.

[16] The Baltic.

[17] The battle of Kulikovo (1380) was fought by a Muscovy-led coalition of Russian principalities and was the first major Russian victory over Mongols in decades.

[18] This traditional English translation of title is something of a misnomer, a more precise one would be “of the whole of Rus’” or “of the united Rus’.”

[19] A popular resistance force organized in 1611 in the Volga city of Nizhny Novgorod by the merchant Kuzma Minin and the nobleman Dmitry Pozharsky with the goal of suppressing roving bands of brigands, expelling Polish invaders, and preventing the complete collapse of the Russian state. It was instrumental in defeating the Polish garrison in Moscow in 1612 and restoring an independent Russian monarchy in 1613.

[20] Compendium of Russian and world history from Biblical events to recent times, including the events of the Time of Troubles.

[21] An irregularly convened assembly of delegates from all estates of Russian feudal society (sometimes including peasantry) that discussed and voted on the affairs of the state, active ca. 1549 – ca. 1683. The Council of 1613 was particularly important for electing a new dynasty (the Romanovs) to take the vacant Russian throne.

[22] As governor of Moscow during the Napoleonic invasion, Rostopchin became famous for the mass printing and distribution of colorful broadsides with grotesque caricatures and easy-to-grasp text, written in a deliberately folksy style, that satirized the enemy and called for a mass popular resistance.

[23] In 1846, as a government inspector, Samarin travelled through what now is Latvia, documenting many facts of abusive and arrogant attitude towards Russia and the Russians by privileged Baltic German nobility amid the tacit or open support of Russian government officials. Drawing from those experiences, he published a pamphlet titled Letters from Riga (1849), considered one of the first Slavophile manifestos and a seminal document of modern Russian nationalism. The publication caused a scandal that led to Samarin’s brief imprisonment and exile for “fomenting anti-government dissent.”


Translator’s Notes

  1. Several abridgements were made in accordance with the author’s wishes.
  2. The translator took the liberty of making the text more accesible to readers not possessing an in-depth knowledge of Russian history. All names were rendered in their full form, and mentions of most Russian historical figures come with birth and death years for easier reference.
  3. Only names, events, etc. that cannot be identified with a quick Google or Wikipedia search were annotated. So were several allusions to historical events known to every educated Russian but obscure in the West.
 
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Ilya Glazunov, one of Russia’s great painters is dead at the age of 87.

The “official” art of the modern age is an aesthetic desert; a postmodernist joke that celebrates fraudsters and degenerates, and benefits art dealers and billionaires. Yet there are still men of idealism, far from the cameras and the accolades of handshakeworthy critics, who labor on, creating Great Art for this lost age, and ages yet to come.

Ilya Glazunov was undoubtedly such a man, capturing the “spirit” of Russia’s 20th century on canvass with a flair that no-one else has matched. A nationalist of monarchic and Orthodox inclination who was alternatively persecuted by and accomodated for by the Soviet regime, the unloosening of social and political strictures following its collapse – especially in tandem with the dark backdrop of the despair and moral anomie of the 1990s – offerd Glazunov the scope to realize his full potential.

It is unclear who will carry on his legacy. Pavel Ryzhenko, a pupil of his, was the prime candidate, until his untimely death in 2014 from a heart attack at the age of 44 (his life’s work is now tirelessly propounded by his widow, whom I met at an exhibition a few months ago). That said, he headed an academy that churned out dozens of graduates trained in his style of realistic painting every year, so there is a good chance that some of them will rise to deserved prominence.

His website where you can view many of his works: http://glazunov.ru/en

A longer, more comprehensive article about him by Russia Insider’s Ricky Twisdale.

***

glazunov-tsarevitch-dmitry

Tsarevich Dmitry, 1967

glazunov-mystery-of-the-20th-century

Mystery of the 20th Century, 1976. (I ts display in 1988 was one of the first steps towards Solzhenitsyn’s rehabilitation).

glazunov-roads-of-war

The Roads of War, 1985.

glazunov-the-legend-of-kitezh

The Legend of the City of Kitezh, 1986.

glazunov-eternal-russia

Eternal Russia, 1988.

glazunov-in-memory-of-wife

In Memory of Wife, 1994. (His wife committed suicide, a trauma he only managed to artistically address eight years after the event).

glazunov-market-of-democracy

The Market of Our Democracy, 1999.

glazunov-dekulakization

Dekulakization, 2010.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Art, Obituary, Russia 
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The USSR played the leading role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, which the majority of Europeans recognized in 1945 even if half a century of Hollywood propaganda successfully displaced it in the public imagination in favor of the USA. But what about within the USSR itself?

Back in January 2015, during his brief nationalist phase after the return of Crimea, Putin declared that Russians played the leading role in the defeat of Nazism and paid the highest sacrifices. That seems like a dream today. Official rhetoric proclaims that “we achieved victory together” played over footage of Ramzan Kadyrov and Tajik workers wearing St. George’s ribbons (in the meantime, Tajikistan has banned the Immortal Regiments march on the grounds that it is un-Islamic).

So who’s right: Putin 2015, or Putin 2017?

I compiled the following two graphs based on the results of the Soviet Census of 1939 and Grigory Krivosheev’s statistics on military deaths by ethnicity in WW2 (table 122).

soviet-military-deaths-ww2-by-ethnicity

Predictably, Russians bore the highest number of absolute losses – some two thirds of the 8.7 million total.

Together with the Ukrainians and Belorussians that figure rises to 85%.

soviet-military-deaths-ww2-by-percentage-of-ethnicity

Moreover, Russians also bore the highest relative military losses as a percentage of their population, together with the Buryats.

The Ukrainians and Belorussians were somewhat lower, though this is explainable on account of them being occupied for part of the war, and incurring a greater share of civilian deaths as a result. There would have been be a similar dynamic with respect to the Jews, a large percentage of whom unfortunately fell within the Nazi zone of occupation.

I recall reading a history paper (can’t find it at the moment) where it was claimed that the USSR would create ethnic minority units from the Finno-Ugric peoples and intentionally send them to the hottest fronts so as to make them incur heavier casualties and shift the demographic balance in favor of Russins. That is obviously nonsense based on these figures, though that said, they did almost do their fair share.

The Central Asians, especially the Uzbeks and Tajiks, are underrepresented – the latter by a factor of almost three. This is perhaps not that bad a thing, since they had a reputation for technical incompetence; even in the late USSR, conscripts from those regions tended to go into “Class C” rear divisions with simple, obsolete equipment.

Of the major ethnicities, the worst group in terms of its lack of contribution were the restive Muslim provinces of the North Caucasus. Dagestan underdid its fair share by a factor of four, while the Chechens and Ingush as is known pretty much defected to the Germans en masse (hence the deportations).

I didn’t include any figures for the Balts and Moldovans. They were annexed by the USSR after the 1939 Census, so their percentages would be meaningless.

For comparison, the Germans lost approximately 6.1% of their population as military losses in WW2, including: Germany proper: 6.4%; Austria: 3.9%; The German diaspora in Eastern Europe: 7.2%, according to Rüdiger Overmans’s calculations.

***

Nationality Population (1939) WW2 Mil. Deaths % All Mil. Deaths % Deaths Population
Russians 99,591,520 5,756,000 66.40% 5.78%
Ukrainians 28,111,007 1,377,400 15.89% 4.90%
Belorussians 5,275,393 252,900 2.92% 4.79%
Georgians 2,249,636 79,500 0.92% 3.53%
Azeris 2,275,678 58,400 0.67% 2.57%
Armenians 2,152,860 83,700 0.97% 3.89%
Uzbeks 4,845,140 117,900 1.36% 2.43%
Turkmen 812,404 21,300 0.25% 2.62%
Tajiks 1,229,170 22,900 0.26% 1.86%
Kazakhs 3,100,949 125,500 1.45% 4.05%
Kyrgyz 884,615 26,600 0.31% 3.01%
Karelians 252,716 9,500 0.11% 3.76%
Komi 422,317 11,600 0.13% 2.75%
Bashkirs 843,648 31,700 0.37% 3.76%
Udmurts 606,326 23,200 0.27% 3.83%
Tatars 4,313,488 187,700 2.17% 4.35%
Mari 481,587 20,900 0.24% 4.34%
Mordovians 1,456,330 63,300 0.73% 4.35%
Chuvash 1,369,574 63,300 0.73% 4.62%
Kalmyks 134,402 4,000 0.05% 2.98%
Buryats 224,719 13,000 0.15% 5.79%
Jews 3,028,538 142,500 1.64% 4.71%
Kabardians & Balkars 206,870 3,400 0.04% 1.64%
Chechens & Ingush 500,088 2,300 0.03% 0.46%
Ossetians 354,818 10,700 0.12% 3.02%
Dagestanis 857,499 11,100 0.13% 1.29%
Bulgars 113,494 1,100 0.01% 0.97%
Greeks 286,444 2,400 0.03% 0.84%
Chinese 32,023 400 0.00% 1.25%
Poles 630,097 10,100 0.12% 1.60%
Finns 143,437 1,600 0.02% 1.12%
Others 3,770,306 132,500 1.53% 3.51%
TOTAL 170,557,093 8,668,400 100.00% 5.08%
 
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About two thirds of the USSR’s 27 million casualties were civilians – that is, almost 10% of its prewar population. Had those percentages been applied to Nazi Germany, it would lost 8 million people – an order of magnitude than the 400,000 civilians it lost due to Allied strategic bombing, and the 600,000 who died during the expulsions of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe (the vast majority of which were carried out by local authorities, not the Red Army or the NKVD).

About 3.3 million out of 5.7 million Soviet POWs died in Nazi custody (compared to 15% of German POWs in the half-starved USSR, and low single digit figures for Allied POWs in Nazi Germany). Had the Soviets treated its 4.2 million German POWs as harshly, with a death rate of 60%, the German number of military dead would have risen from 5.3 million to around 7.3 million. That’s not far off the figure of 8.7 million Soviet military deaths (9.2 million taking into account unregistered militia in 1941).

It’s now well known that Nazi long-term plans called for the eventual genocide of about 75% of the Soviet population, and the helotization/expulsion of the rest. If we count probabilities, assuming there was a 50% chance of Nazi victory over the USSR in 1941-42, and a 50% chance of Generalplan Ost being implemented in its full scale, that translates to around 200 million times 25% equals 50 million additional deaths. This means that in the average of all possible timelines, about 75 million Soviet citizens died, or 37.5% of its prewar population. That translates to around 30 million if these percentages are applied to Germany and its East European diaspora.

And yet for some people – for the most part, the most Rusophobic neocons and Cold Warriors, the more Nazi elements of the Alt Right, and deranged Poles and Balts who don’t quite realize what Hitler had in store for them – the Soviet rape of about 2 million women in Eastern Germany at the end of the war is supposed to be a really huge, defining war crime, even something that delegitimizes the overall Soviet victory.*

How many rapes is one death/murder “worth”? My intuition is that murder is quite a lot worse, perhaps by an order of magnitude if I had to quantify it, and I suspect that most people will agree. It just so happens that so do sentencing guidelines. The typical term for murder in the US is 30 years to life (which might functionally translate to an average of 50 years). The average term for rape is 10 years, of which about 5 are served. This is a differential of five. It also happens to be almost exactly the differential between the murder rate in the US (~5 cases / 100,000 anually) and the rate of rape and sexual assault (~30 / 100,000 annually, as per police records and self-victimization surveys). Let us then provisionally estimate that rape is on average 20% as “bad” as murder. (Note: I actually think it’s considerably less, because sentencing for murder is range constricted by biological ageing. And the homicide problem is usually considered to be worse than the sexual violence one, even though there are usually far fewer of them than there are rapes).

Therefore, let’s say 2 million rapes translates to 400,000 deaths. Compare this to 27 million Soviet civilian deaths (of which two thirds were civilians) in a war started by Nazi Germany, or the 75 million or so Soviet deaths across all timelines. Even assuming that the worst estimates of the Red Army rapes are accurate – they were still, at most, equivalent to far less than 1% of the Nazi crimes against Russia.

Now to be sure you can argue that not all “murders” are equal, especially in war. Direct genocide, like the gassings of Jews or the massacres of Belorussian villagers, seems to be worse than deaths incurred by incidental effects of war, such as bombings of industrial facilities or famine incurred due to the stresses of the war effort, which in turn are worse than military deaths, since society tends to consider soldiers as pretty much “fair game” (though it is questionable to what extent this can be applied to conscripts on the Eastern Front, who did not even get the theoretical possibility of opting out by applying for a “conscientious objector” status at the cost of their social reputation, as in the less “total” conflict of World War I). But there are many different types of rapes as well. There were traumatic gang rapes, to military brothels relying on considerable degrees of coercion, to women semi-voluntarily hooking up with one particular soldier in return for security, or just trading their bodies for food.

dyukov-what-soviets-fought-for Furthermore, contrary to the myth of the “clean Wehrmacht” spread by retired Nazi generals and their wehraboo admirers after the war, there was plenty of rape amongst German soldiers in the USSR. For instance, here is a quote from historian Alexander Dyukov’s 2007 book “What the Soviet People Fought For”:

Rape continued, and acquired an organized character. From time to time “hunting groups” ventured out of Wehrmacht positions. “We ventured out to the village near Rozhdestvenno near Gatchina,” said Peter Schuber, a private who was at the Seversky airport, “We had orders to bring girls to the officers. We did the operation successfully, surrounding all the houses. We grabbed a truckload of girls. The officers held the girls all night, and gave them to us soldiers in the morning.”

In the large cities, permanent brothels were organized. This was standard Wehrmacht practice. “There were military brothels, called Puff,” recalls SS officer Avenir Benningsen, “They were present on almost all fronts. Girls from all Europe, all nationalities, gathered up from all camps. By the way, the two condoms regularly handed out to men and officers were indispensable posessions.” But whereas in the European countries the Wehrmacht brothels were staffed more or less voluntarily, in the USSR there were no such considerations. Girls and women were forcibly rounded up, in scenes seared into the memories of people undergoing the occupation. In Smolensk, for instance, women were dragged off by the arms, by the hair, dragged along the pavement, into the officers’ brothel in one of the hotels. Those who refused to remain there were shot.

After Red Army soldiers drove the Germans out of Kerch, they encoutered a terrible sight: “In the courtyard of the prison there was a shapeless heap of naked female bodies, horrifically mutilated by the fascists.”

So even if we are to tally sexual crimes completely separately, the rapes of the Wehrmacht carried an organized, long-term character – similar to the Japanese Army’s abuse of Chinese and Korean comfort women – whereas Red Army rapes happened in a concentrated orgy of violence in the last few months of the war. That fury in turn was fueled by a regrettable but very understandable hatred for the death and devastation the Germans had wreaked in the USSR, made all the more inexplicable by the overwhelming prosperity of the Germans relative to the ramshackle poverty of Soviet life.

Incidentally, soon after the war, as the follow-up to his “toast to the Russian people,” Stalin presided over another famine that took 500,000 Russian lives (more than fifty years after the worst famine of late Imperial Russia, in which a similar number died). Why? Because the USSR was exporting grain to support its new Communist client states, including East Germany. (Functionally, Stalin agreed with the Nazis that German lives were worth more than Russian lives). This one event alone is by utilitarian metrics considerably more horrific than all the Red Army rapes in Germany.

The real “Soviet Story“: Stalin mutilates Russia. Hitler mutilates Russia. Stalin mutilates Hitler, then mutilates Russia some more. Russophobe ideologues conclude that Russia is as bad as Hitler (if not worse).

Just people who insist on questioning the lethality of Zyklon B or how many people the shower rooms in Auschwitz could accomodate tend to have motives that are suspect, to put it mildly, so it is a pretty good bet that anyone who consistently gives primacy to the Red Army rapes and looting in Germany when discussing the moral weightings of the USSR vs. Nazi Germany might sooner be looking to replay Hitler’s/Stalin’s joint genocide against Russia.

* I would note that there are questions about whether there actually were that many Red Army rapes in Germany; for instance, there are arguments that they are based on unrealistic extrapolations from a small sample of abortion statistics. I haven’t studied this issue in any depth myself and will assume that the conventional mass rape narrative is broadly correct. If this is not the case and there actually were much fewer rapes, that makes the main argument even stronger.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Rape, Soviet Union, World War II 
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I don’t follow many people on YouTube, since it’s not really my format, but EmperorTigerstar is one of the few people I make an exception for.

Not only has he mapped all the classics – WW2, WW1, Napoleonic Wars, history of Europe and the Roman Empire – but also plenty of relatively less well known conflicts such as the Wars of German/Italian Unification, Balkan Wars, Chinese Civil War, and Rise/Fall of Assyria

 
• Category: History • Tags: Map, Ukraine, War in Donbass 
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The (excellent) historical journal Arzamas has a quiz, now translated into English, about your political compass location in the context of 1917 Russia.

You can take it here: http://arzamas.academy/materials/1269

My own result, probably unsurprisingly, was Black Hundreds.

political-compass-russia-1917

 
• Category: History • Tags: Russia 
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Simon Hix has published graphs showing the percentage share accruing to different ideological families in European elections since 1918.

a-history-of-ideology

The first thing that strikes one is how constant things have been, all things considered. There was a Radical Right spike in the early 1930s, and a longer-term Radical Left resurgence following the war that petered out half a century later, but otherwise preferences have been remarkably steady.

Some might be concerned about the modern day Radical Right surge, especially since it appears to be far more stable than the fleeting one during the Great Depression. However, its worth emphasizing that the Radical Right today are essentialy the Conservatives of yesteryear. For instance, here is what Charles de Gaulle had to say about multiculturalism:

It is very good that there are yellow French, black French, brown French. They show that France is open to all races and has a universal vocation. But [it is good] on condition that they remain a small minority. Otherwise, France would no longer be France. We are still primarily a European people of the white race, Greek and Latin culture, and the Christian religion. Those who advocate integration have the brain of a hummingbird. Arabs are Arabs, the French are French. Do you think the French body politic can absorb ten million Muslims, who tomorrow will be twenty million, after tomorrow forty? If we integrated, if all the Arabs and Berbers of Algeria were considered French, would you prevent them to settle in France, where the standard of living is so much higher? My village would no longer be called Colombey-The-Two-Churches but Colombey-The-Two-Mosques.

Compare and contrast with his ideological successor, Nicolas “Le métissage obligatoire” Sarkozy.

The Left, too, has grown far less hardcore. Nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and some degree of openness to central planning characterized Social Democracy a half-century ago and earlier. Now they’re just a slightly different shade of the neoliberal center, while most Communists now abandoned the class struggle in favor of various SJW inanities.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Elections, Ideologies 
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stalin-the-tajik

Stalin waxing lyrical about the friendship of peoples in April 1941, a famous period of international idyll when there were no other important concerns:

… I want to say a few words about the Tajiks. The Tajiks are a special people. They are not Uzbeks, Kazakhs, or Kyrgiz – they are Tajiks, the most ancient people of Central Asia. The Tajik – that means the one who wears the crown, that is how they were called by the Iranians, and the Tajiks have justified this title.

Out of the all the non-Russian Muslim peoples of the USSR, the Tajiks are the sole non-Turkic ethnicity – they are an Iranian ethnicity. The Tajiks are the people whose intelligentsia produced the great poet Ferdowsi, and it is no surprise that the Tajiks draw their cultural traditions from him. You must have felt the artistic flair of the Tajiks in the past decade, that their ancient culture and unique artistic talent as expressed in music, and song, and dance.

Sometimes our Russian colleagues mix them up: The Tajiks with Uzbeks, the Uzbeks with Turkmen, the Armenians with Georgians. This is, of course, incorrect. The Tajiks are a unique people, with a huge and ancient culture, and under our Soviet conditions they are marked out for a great future. And the entire Soviet Union must help them with that. I want their art to enjoy everyone’s attention.

I propose a toast to the flowering of Tajik art, to the Tajik people, and so that we, Muscovites, are always prepared to help them with everything that is necessary.

This is approximately a bazillion times less well known than Stalin’s toast to the Russian people at the end of World War 2, which is often cited by anti-Russian Cold Warriors (and many deluded Russian nationalists) to equate Stalinism with Russian nationalism.

While I don’t have anything particular against the Tajiks, the above toast does not strike me as something that would be uttered by any Russian nationalist like… ever.

The reality is that Stalin hated and persecuted Russian nationalism as much as any other Bolshevik ideologue, but opportunistically adopted some of its talking points every now and then to shore up his regime. Of course actual Russian nationalists who took him at his word seriously enough to return to the USSR tended to meet sticky ends.

The main thing that distinguished Stalin from his multinational predecessors was that he was more consistent and also went after the other national minority – Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish, etc. – nationalisms that the Old Bolsheviks had fostered. Considering the ethnic composition of the most active Cold Warriors and neocons explains a lot about their curiously specific hatred of Stalin and (regrettably, rather successful) efforts to associate him with Russian nationalism in the Western discourse.

 
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stalin-worship

It’s hard to view Stalin as any sort of Russian national hero considering the demonstrable idiocy of his apologists’ arguments.

Trying to portray him as such involves descending into a fantasy world in which no country had ever managed to industrialize itself without killing off millions of its most intelligent and productive people or have won a war against a European Great Power without the indispensable strategic wisdom that you could only get from a Georgian dropout who spent his youth robbing banks and sitting in jail with his fellow Bolshevik comrades and sundry ethnic minority activists. A more rabidly Russophobic outlook could scarcely be imagined.

So its pretty sad to see that Russian sentiments towards Stalin generally are (and have been) positive, despite the Kremlin’s half-hearted attempts to disassociate him from the Great Victory cult that is now the primary spiritual glue used to keep Russia together.

russian-sentiments-on-stalin

That said, it is very valid to ask why said apologetics industry for Stalin developed in Russia from the 2000s in the first place. Was it Kremlin propaganda? Nope. Only people whose only exposure to Russia is through the dregs of Western journalism can seriously believe that. Putin’s own statements on Stalin have been consistently ambivalent, and even the infamous “Stalinist” textbook episode of 2009 – just one minor textbook of many dozens, which the Western media portrayed as a state-backed “rehabilitation” of Stalin – contained sentences such as “ruthless exploitation of the population.”

So if this wasn’t due to a Kremlin propaganda campaign, then why the enduring Stalinophilia? My view is that it was Russian society’s response to the wholesale “blackwashing” of Stalin that took place in the 1990s with rhetoric about “muh 72 million victims of Communism” lifted from Cold War scholars in the West who had to speculate in the absence of archival access.

Such extreme positions were uncritically pushed by the Westernizing ideologues who constitute Russian liberalism once society opened up in the late 1980s and 1990s, to the extent that the phenomenon even got its own ironic meme (“billions shot dead personally by Stalin”). Considering some of the truly crazy stuff that was floating about – there were entirely serious articles in the liberal press arguing that Nazi conquest could have been better for Russia than Stalin – this was not too surprising in hindsight.

One would think that given Stalin’s actual record, which was sordid enough, you would not need to “blackwash” him any further, but ideologues will be ideologues, so what happened happened, and next thing you know many people started suspecting that given the false facts and figures being pushed about Stalin – demonstrated so by the newly accessible archival evidence itself – then maybe they were lying about everything else as well, and well maybe Stalin was actually the good guy after all, maligned by his bitter and limp-wristed successors who “sold out” the Glorious Leader.

And thus a huge strand of the Russian “patriotic” opposition to the liberal neocon hegemony of the 1990s, which had decidedly triumphed by the end of Putin’s first term, had in the process also become infested with Stalinophilia – even though it is not really compatible with Russian patriotism, let alone Russian nationalism (which the Communists, including Stalin, ruthlessly persecuted). The tendency of Stalin’s popularity to wax and wane in sync with the state of Russia’s relations with the West – lower when they are good, and higher when they are bad – strongly suggests that the debate over Stalin in Russia has nothing to do with real history. Instead, it is merely one of several tribal identifiers in politics, much like denial of global warming is a tenet of the Red Tribe and blank slatism is a tenet of the Blue Tribe, both of which have everything to do with American-specific politics and nothing to do with science. In Russia’s case, this Stalinist identifier – like the broader patriotic Great Patriotic War ideology onto which it has affixed itself – gets deflated and boosted whenever Russia veers between globalist integrationism and siege mentality, respectively.

This is not critical in the short term. To be sure, it generates negative headlines in the West, but that’s irrelevant because even if Russia were to uneqivocally start condemning Stalin, Western editors would just find something else to latch onto so long as Russia remains a sovereign country. In the longer term, however, these contradictions will have to be resolved.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Iosef Stalin, Russia, Soviet Union 
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rosa-luxemburg Rosa Luxemburg in her 1918 book on the Russian Revolution:

Ukrainian nationalism in Russia was something quite different from, let us say, Czechish, Polish or Finnish nationalism in that the former was a mere whim, a folly of a few dozen petty-bourgeois intellectuals without the slightest roots in the economic, political or psychological relationships of the country; it was without any historical tradition, since the Ukraine never formed a nation or government, was without any national culture, except for the reactionary-romantic poems of Shevschenko. It is exactly as if, one fine day, the people living in the Wasserkante should want to found a new Low-German (Plattdeutsche) nation and government! And this ridiculous pose of a few university professors and students was inflated into a political force by Lenin and his comrades through their doctrinaire agitation concerning the “right of self-determination including etc.”

It is actually rather remarkable how much her critiques echoes that of Russian conservative opponents of the Bolsheviks (even if from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum):

The Bolsheviks are in part responsible for the fact that the military defeat was transformed into the collapse and breakdown of Russia. Moreover, the Bolsheviks themselves have, to a great extent, sharpened the objective difficulties of this situation by a slogan which they placed in the foreground of their policies: the so-called right of self-determination of peoples, or – something which was really implicit in this slogan – the disintegration of Russia… One is immediately struck with the obstinacy and rigid consistency with which Lenin and his comrades struck to this slogan, a slogan which is in sharp contradiction to their otherwise outspoken centralism in politics as well as to the attitude they have assumed towards other democratic principles. While they showed a quite cool contempt for the Constituent Assembly, universal suffrage, freedom of press and assemblage, in short, for the whole apparatus of the basic democratic liberties of the people which, taken all together, constituted the “right of self-determination” inside Russia, they treated the right of self-determination of peoples as a jewel of democratic policy for the sake of which all practical considerations of real criticism had to be stilled.

Incidentally, Lenin himself had extensively critiqued Luxemburg on the nationalities question.

Just goes to further show that Ukrainian nationalists should be laying wreaths on the statues of the man who did more than any other to found their state instead of so ungratefully toppling them.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Communism, Ukraine 
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When I posted a 2007 map of the share of European children born out of wedlock from Reddit to Twitter, it generated considerably discussion, including a discussion at Razib Kan’s blog.

europe-nonmarital-fertility-2007

There are many rather interesting patterns here:

  • The Nordics, France, The Former GDR, Estonia, Bulgaria all have high rates out of wedlock births. Most but not all of them are socially liberal; all of them, however, are highly secular and irreligious.
  • There does not seem to be a high correlation between out of wedlock births and total fertility rates. “Traditionalist” Italy, West Germany, and Spain all have low TFRs; conservative and strongly religious Poland has one of the very lowest TFRs in all of Europe.
  • On the other hand, ultraconservative and very religious Far West Ukraine has consistently had some of the very highest TFRs in Europe, along with moderately conservative Ireland and very liberal France, Scandinavia, and Iceland.

A query from Charles Murray provoked me into seeking out its source: A 2015 paper by Sebastian Klüsener, “Spatial variation in non-marital fertility across Europe in the 20th-21st centuries.”

That study is basically a statistical survey of the history of nonmarital fertility (NMF) in Europe in the past three centuries.

Here is a map of nonmarital fertility rates in 1910, just before modern nationstates began to break down traditional marriage folkways through laws and regulations:

europe-nonmarital-fertility-1910

As we can see, there are significant but not overwhelming continuities between 1910 and 2007. Klüsener found a Spearman’s rho correlation of 0.29 between regional out of wedlock shares of births.

What determines NMF?

Klüsener lays out several factors:

  • Economic instability – Favors NMF.
  • Preexisting traditions – Some regions like Iceland and parts of Sweden have always had less of an absolute emphasis on marriage.
  • Laws/Customs – Historically, Jews in Austrian Galicia had children almost entirely within wedlock, but they were not officially registered; hence the unexpectedly rather high share of out of wedlock births across the eastern Habsburg domains in the 1910 map are more a statistical artefact than a reality. Today, similar factors apply to Kosovan Muslims.
  • Agricultural inheritance systems
  • Secularization levels – Favors NMF.
  • Female autonomy and economic participation – Favors NMF.

In Temporal Terms

Initially very low before the early 18th century, NMF became a significant phenomenon in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. He doesn’t mention a cause, but the obvious suspect would be the wellknown secularization of European society after the religious wars of the 17th century.

NMF decreased significantly during the postwar miracle economy years, ushering in the “Golden Age of Marriage.” After 1960, however, this model began breaking down.

europe-nonmarital-fertility-history It began in Northern Europe, and then spread to Western and Central Europe by the 1980s; Southern and Eastern Europe followed in the 1990s, albeit the latter reversed direction from the mid-2000s, presumably due to some combination of economic stabilization and post-Soviet desecularization (indeed, Eastern Europe went from being the region with the highest share of out of wedlock births in the 1950s and 1960s, to the lowest share as of today). NMF in Northern Europe seems to have reached a plateau at around 50%, but continues rising steadily in Western Europe, having reached 64% in France.

The author links this with legislative actions providing greater autonomy for women, which is supported by institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights and the EU. Its worth noting that French laws on marriage and paternity are (in)famously favorable to women, prohibiting paternity testing without both partners’ consent and obligating men to look after “their” children even if they discover they are not theirs. In substantial part, ergo for Sweden. In such a legal environment, coupled with the high secularism rates and expansive welfare states, it is hardly surprising that many men appear to be “striking” against marriage.

In Regional Terms

In the 1910 map, the big cities in the more backward and traditionalist countries – Madrid in Spain, Rome in Italy, Saint Petersburg and Moscow in Russia – stand out, having West European like NMF rates in a sea of near universal traditional marriage patterns.

central-europe-nonmarital-fertilityA century ago and earlier, Germany used to have a general east/west division, in which Bavaria belonged to the high NMF region (this is also mentioned by Emmanuel Todd in The Explanation of Ideology). But while Austria, which also had historically high NMF, remains an NMF hotspot to this day, Bavaria has converged with the rest of Western Germany; the author links this to its adoption of the unified German civil code in 1900, which stated that children born outside marriage were not related to the father and invalidated Bavarian regional legal norms giving out of wedlock children substantial rights.

Switzerland has traditionally had the lowest NMF rates of any Germanic region. Is in any way connected to the fact it was the last major European country to give women the vote?

intermarium-nonmarital-fertility This traditional east German propensity for high NMF (present well before the GDR), even continues to be reflected on the map of Poland today, where the parts previous under German rule continue to have somewhat higher NMF rates than the otherwise very low Polish average (just like the famous map of Polish voting patterns). Poland has traditionally had the lowest NMF rates in East-Central Europe, but since 1990 and especially since 2000 they have started going up sharply. In this case at least, Estonia can into Nordic.

east-europe-nonmarital-fertility In the future, Klüsener suggests increasing convergence between the Protestant and Catholic regions of Europe, as secularization in the latter drives up their NMF rates further. However, the Orthodox regions of Europe may be an exception to the general European pattern due to their “reactionary trend” of rising religiosity and rejection of a “wide range of family formation behaviors that are not in line with traditional norms.” As for the Muslim regions of Europe, their NMF rates remain stable at a very low level.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Demographics, Fertility 
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Here’s a map from the May 16, 1941 edition of the St. Petersburg Times showing the results of a Gallup poll on support for declaring war against Germany:

map-war-sentiment-usa-1941

And here is a map of percentage German ancestry from the 1890 Census:

map-german-ancestry-usa-1890

 

Lingering cultural ties to Germany? Ethnic genetic interests? Something related to the American nations? And/or just the old banal North/South division of US politics?

 
• Category: History • Tags: United States, World War II 
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The cultural and scientific achievements of Ancient Greece are so manifold that it is barely worth recounting them. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle laid the foundations of Western philosophy. Pythogoras, Euclid, and Archimedes launched mathematics as a disciple grounded on logic and proof, a break from the approximative techniques that had held sway in other civilizations (and would largely continue to do so). To this day many medical schools have their students swear an oath under the name of Hippocrates. Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides – the originators of, and still giants in, the Western literary canon. Herodotus and Thucydides, the founders of a historiography that was something more than just a court chronicle.

Ancient Greek IQ = 125 (Galton)

Bearing in mind the very small population from which these intellectual giants were drawn – at its height, Ancient Athens had no more than 50,000 male citizens – it is little wonder that many thinkers and historians have posited a very high average IQ to the ancient Greeks, including most recently evolutionary psychologist Gregory Cochran. But the argument was perhaps best stated by the Victorian polymath and inventor of psychometrics Francis Galton, in the (not very politically correctly titled) “Comparative Worth of Different Races” chapter of his book Hereditary Genius:

The ablest race of whom history bears record is unquestionably the ancient Greek, partly because their master-pieces in the principal departments of intellectual activity are still unsurpassed, and in many respects unequalled, and partly because the population that gave birth to the creators of those master-pieces was very small. Of the various Greek sub-races, that of Attica was the ablest, and she was no doubt largely indebted to the following cause, for her superiority. Athens opened her arms to immigrants, but not indiscriminately, for her social life was such that none but very able men could take any pleasure in it; on the other hand, she offered attractions such as men of the highest ability and culture could find in no other city. Thus, by a system of partly unconscious selection, she built up a magnificent breed of human animals, which, in the space of one century—viz. between 530 and 430 B.C.—produced the following illustrious persons, fourteen in number:—

Statesmen and Commanders.—Themistocles (mother an alien), Miltiades, Aristeides, Cimon (son of Miltiades), Pericles (son of Xanthippus, the victor at Mycalc).
Literary and Scientific Men.—Thucydides, Socrates, Xenophon, Plato.
Poets.— Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes.
Sculptor.—Phidias.

We are able to make a closely-approximate estimate of the population that produced these men, because the number of the inhabitants of Attica has been a matter of frequent inquiry, and critics appear at length to be quite agreed in the general results. It seems that the little district of Attica contained, during its most flourishing period (Smith’s Class. Geog. Dict.), less than 90,000 native free-born persons, 40,000 resident aliens, and a labouring and artisan population of 400,000 slaves. The first item is the only one that concerns us here, namely, the 90,000 free-born persons. Again, the common estimate that population renews itself three times in a century is very close to the truth, and may be accepted in the present case. Consequently, we have to deal with a total population of 270,000 free-born persons, or 135,000 males, born in the century I have named. Of these, about one-half, or 67.500, would survive the age of 26, and one-third, or 45,000, would survive that of 50. As 14 Athenians became illustrious, the selection is only as I to 4,822 in respect to the former limitation, and as I to 3, 214 in respect to the latter. Referring to the table in page 34, it will be seen that this degree of selection corresponds very fairly to the classes F (1 in 4, 300) and above, of the Athenian race. Again, as G is one-sixteenth or one-seventeenth as numerous as F, it would be reasonable to expect to find one of class G among the fourteen; we might, however, by accident, meet with two, three, or even four of that class— say Pericles, Socrates, Plato, and Phidias.

Now let us attempt to compare the Athenian standard of ability with that of our own race and time. We have no men to put by the side of Socrates and Phidias, because the millions of all Europe, breeding as they have done for the subsequent 2,000 years, have never produced their equals. They are, therefore, two or three grades above our G—they might rank as I or J. But, supposing we do not count them at all, saying that some freak of nature acting at that time, may have produced them, what must we say about the rest? Pericles and Plato would rank, I suppose, the one among the greatest of philosophical statesmen, and the other as at least the equal of Lord Bacon. They would, therefore, stand somewhere among our unclassed X, one or two grades above G—let us call them between H and I. All the remainder—the F of the Athenian race— would rank above our G, and equal to or close upon our H. It follows from all this, that the average ability of the Athenian race is, on the lowest possible estimate, very nearly two grades higher than our own—that is, about as much as our race is above that of the African negro. This estimate, which may seem prodigious to some, is confirmed by the quick intelligence and high culture of the Athenian commonalty, before whom literary works were recited, and works of art exhibited, of a far more severe character than could possibly be appreciated by the average of our race, the calibre of whose intellect is easily gauged by a glance at the contents of a railway book-stall.

Francis Galton was writing before the invention of the standard deviation, but in his methodology a “grade” was equivalent to 10.44 IQ points (under an S.D. of 15), so in practice the Athenians had an IQ of perhaps 120 relative to a Victorian British mean of 100. (And presumably, therefore, about 110 relative to the modern Greenwich mean, which is considerably higher than a century ago due to the Flynn Effect).

There are however a few problems with this.

Ancient Greek IQ = 90 (Apollo’s Ascent)

First off, there is no particularly obvious explanation for why this part of the Mediterranean world evolved such a high average IQ – a standard deviation higher than everyone else – in the first place. One would then likewise have to explain why they then lost it so thoroughly that modern Greeks now consistently place lower in European IQ assessments than all but a few Balkan backwaters.

However, it turns out that using the Apollo’s Ascent method of computing aggregate mindpower – with adjustment for the intellectual discovery threshold – as a function of population size, literacy rate, and average IQ can explain the record of Greek achievement just as succinctly without requiring positing superhumanly high average IQ levels which are so dubious from an evolutionary perspective.

Let us treat each of these factors in turn:

Ancient Greek Demography

It is often forgotten that when we are speaking of ancient Greek accomplishment it is more than just a story of Athens, a city that drew the cognitive elites of the entire oikoumene to itself (much as major metropolises like New York, London, Paris, etc. do so today).

To be sure, Athens might have had 50,000 male citizens, and a total population of 250,000-300,000 [CORRECTION: Actually refers to the entire Athenian city-state. Population of just the city was probably about twice less]. But the population of Greece proper was probably at least five times larger, because the total urbanization rate never went much above 20% in any preindustrial country that we know of. Moreover, Greeks were scattered all across the Mediterranean world, in Ionia and Sicily and the shorelines of Egypt, the Italian “boot,” France, Spain, and the Pontic steppe.

map-of-ancient-greek-world

Greece: More than just Greece. Source.

According to recent calculations, the total population of Greeks in the 4th century BC was at least 7.5 million, and probably more like 8-10 million (Mogens Herman Hansen in An Update on the Shotgun Method). For perspective, at the time, this represented just under 5% of the world’s population (i.e. remarkably similar to the US today). These figures might still be modest, but they are essentially comparable in magnitude to those of even the biggest preindustrial civilizations (source: Several, but mainly Angus Maddison):

  • Egypt: A consistent 5 million in both Roman and Islamic times
  • Persia: Likewise, around 5 million
  • Roman Empire: 50-60 million (of which 20 million were in the Greek East)
  • Qin China: 22 million in ~210BC (only 2x more than Greek world!)
  • Han China around 1AD: 60 million
  • Byzantine Empire: 10-12 million when it was at its geographical peak
  • Abbasid Caliphate: 30 million
  • Medieval China: 100 million
  • Medieval France: 20 million (most populated W. European country; peak)
  • Renaissance Italy: 10.5 million in 1500

To be sure, many ancient Greeks were slaves and women who were more or less excluded from participating in intellectual endevours. But in that respect they were no different from any other preindustrial civilization that we know of.

Ancient Greek Literacy

In William V. Harris’ Ancient Literacy, he estimates that the literacy rate of late Classical Greece was 5-10%, rising to 10% in the Hellenistic period, and 10-15% in Roman Italy (but considerably lower in the peripheries like Gaul). This might seem very low and it is. But in that period, it was low everywhere; in reality, the literacy rates attained in the classical Mediterranean world were far higher than had been previously seen anywhere else. Because Classical Greece was pretty much the first society in the world (only much smaller Phoenicia could have been even a remote contender) to attain what he calls “craftsman literacy” i.e. around 10%. All previous societies had been limited to the 1-2% rates that he calls “priestly literacy.”

Although he doesn’t spell it out explicitly, the key factor that must have enabled this in my view was the development of the alphabet, which occured first amongst the Phoenicians (who were also respectably creative for their numbers).

It is speculated that the alphabet might have arisen as a result of the intense trading culture of the Phoenicians, which made simplification of the writing system highly adaptive. Due to Greek and Roman influence, Mesopotamian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs were displaced. In contrast, perhaps by the time trade had reached similarly intensive levels in China – perhaps after the construction of the Grand Canal in the 7th century AD – the characters system was already too embedded in the bureaucracy and was kept on due to a QWERTY effect. However, there might also be an HBD angle. Peter Frost has suggested the spread of the ASPM gene from Middle Eastern origins – large lacking in East Asians, and associated with continuous text processing – could have tipped the scales in favor of the adoption of alphabetic systems in the Near East and the Mediterranean in a way that could not have happened in East Asia. (Note that Korea’s Sejong the Great introduced an alphabetic system in the 15th century, for the express reason of increasing literacy amongst the commonfolk, but it took until the 20th century for it to truly catch on).

Whatever the case, it is a simple fact that learning literacy is incredibly easier with alphabet based systems than character based systems. Learn the 50 or fewer symbols of your typical alphabet and their vocalizations and you are pretty much set; everything else is style and detail. In contrast, you need to know 1,000-1,500 characters just to be considered literate in Chinese (and you would still struggle a great deal even with newspaper texts). An average Chinese college graduate is expected to recognize around 5,000 characters and even they frequently have trouble with some remarkably “straightforward” characters. Here is an anecdote that represents this really well from David Moser’s classic essay Why Chinese is So Damn Hard:

I happened to have a cold that day, and was trying to write a brief note to a friend canceling an appointment that day. I found that I couldn’t remember how to write the character 嚔, as in da penti 打喷嚔 “to sneeze”. I asked my three friends how to write the character, and to my surprise, all three of them simply shrugged in sheepish embarrassment. Not one of them could correctly produce the character. Now, Peking University is usually considered the “Harvard of China”. Can you imagine three Ph.D. students in English at Harvard forgetting how to write the English word “sneeze”?? Yet this state of affairs is by no means uncommon in China.

By medieval times, China had by far the world’s most sophisticated infrastructure for increasing human capital, such as movable type (invented 400 years in advance of Gutenberg), cheap mass produced paper (in contrast, the Mediterranean world had to rely on expensive Egyptian papyru, which put a further limit on mass literacy), the system of meritocratic exams for entry into the Confucian bureaucracy, and a vast network of writing tutors, including free ones (the founder of the Ming dynasty Zhu Yuanzhang was an impoverished orphan who was taught literacy in a Buddhist monastery). Even so, held back by its writing systems, medieval China’s literacy rate was no higher than 10% at best (that was the rate at the close of the Qing dynasty and that came after the beginning of education reforms).

There are some scholars like Evelyn Rawski who argue China’s historical literacy rates were far higher. I addressed them in my Introduction to Apollo’s Ascent article (Ctrl-F for “fish literacy”).

Of course at the time of the Ancient Greeks none of this existed yet in China, so the literacy rate then was probably around 1-2% as was typical of societies with “priestly literacy.” Ergo for the great civilizations of the Middle East before the classical era.

This is common sense, but the point needs to be made regardless: Without literacy, no matter how intelligent you are, you can almost never meaningfully contribute to scientific or cultural progress.

With a literacy rate 5 or even 10 times as high as that of other contemporary civilizations (barring the Romans), their modest demographic preponderance over Greece is put into necessary perspective. To be sure, a literacy rate of 10% might not functionally translate into 5 times as much aggregate mindpower (all else equal) as a 2% literacy rate, because presumably, it is the brightest people who tend to become literate in the first place. On the other hand, however, this was a world of hereditary caste and class, of Plato’s Golds, Silvers, and Bronzes. The advanced cognitive sorting that developed in the US in the second part of the 20th century, as described in detail in Charles Murray’s Bell Curve, was totally unimaginable then. Furthermore, there might be a network effect from having a relatively dense concentration of literate people. I would imagine these two factors substantially or wholly cancel out the effect of diminishing returns to higher literacy in terms of human accomplishment. (If you have any ideas as to how this could be quantified, please feel free to mention it in the comments).

Ancient Greek IQ

As I wrote in Introduction to Apollo’s Ascent, there are a number of factors which have been shown to strongly influence IQ, making it just about feasible to guesstimate them historically.

Some of the most important ones as they pertain to Ancient Greece vs. everyone else are:

  • Nutrition
  • Inbreeding/consanguineous marriage
  • Parasitic Load

It just so happens that so far as all of these are concerned the Greeks hit the jackpot.

Nutrition: The Ancient Greeks were remarkable effective at escaping the Malthusian trap for a preindustrial society. (I am not sure why that was the case. Slavery? Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments).

According to a 2005 paper by Geoffrey Kron, citing Lawrence Angel, the average heights for Classical Greece males are 170.5cm, rising to 171.5cm for Hellenistic Greek males, which is similar to the levels attained by Britain and Germany in the early 20th century, and furthermore, compares very well with the average heights of Greek conscripts in the mid-20th century. The n=927 Roman average from 500BC to 500AD was 168.3cm, and the figures for the Byzantine Empire (at least in Crete) appear to have been similar. Here are some figures for other times and places for comparison from Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms:

historical-heights

In other words, the Ancient Greeks were about as tall as the Georgian British, some of the tallest Europeans at that time, who were on the cusp of permanently escaping the Malthusian trap and were likewise undergoing a remarkable cultural and scientific explosion.

This must have been enabled by a remarkable level of personal prosperity, as expressed in how much grain the average laborer could buy with a day’s wage. Again via Gregory Clark:

laborers-wages-in-wheat

The Odyssey is full of people sacrificing ridiculous numbers of bulls. While presumably not to be taken literally, it does probably illustrate that there were no major shortages of animal proteins. (The same certainly could not be said for China, India, or Japan, where diets have always been almost fully dominated by carbohydrates). To be sure the Odyssey takes place in the 8th century BC, but cattle shares in the Mediterranean remained high through the period of Classical Greece and only plunged as Greece transitioned into the Hellenistic period, according to an exhaustive paper by Nikola Koepke:

history-of-european-cattle

Additionally, as a seafaring culture, fish and sea products must have played a substantial part in the Greek diet. This would have helped them avoid the iodine deficiency that tends to depress IQ and lead to cretinism in more inland and mountainous areas. Even the very poor who could not afford fish would have used garum, the fish sauce popularized by the Romans but invented by Greeks, to flavor their staples.

Inbreeding: Inbreeding/cousin marriage, especially of the FBD type, directly lowers IQ and to a very large extent. But as prominent blogger hdbchick noticed, the Greeks had begun to outbreed extensively in the Archaic Age:

well, from mitterauer again we have [pg. 69]:

“Greek was the first European language to eliminate the terminological distinction between the father’s and mother’s side, a transition that began as early as between the fifth and third century BC.35

so that’s just at the transition point between archaic greece and classical greece. but starting at least in the early part of the archaic period and lasting throughout to the classical period the archaic greeks were outbreeding! at least the upper class ones were — difficult/impossible to know about the lower classes. from Women in Ancient Greece [pg. 67]:

“Marriages were arranged by the prospective groom and the prospective bride’s guardian, and the wife usually (although not always) went to live with her husband’s family. In the early Archaic Age [800 BC – 480 BC], to judge from the evidence of Homer’s poems (e.g. ‘Odyssey’ 4.5), male members of the upper classes generally married women who were not related to them, and who came from different areas. This upper-class habit of exogamy — marrying outside the community — was related to the political importance which marriage possessed in these circles. Marriage exchanges were one of the means by which noble families created political alliances with groups living in other areas, and in this way they made a considerable contribution to the aristocracy’s stranglehold on power. This practice survived to the end of the Archaic Age. However, with the emergence of the *polis*, exogamy began to give way in some places to endogamy — to marriage within the community. For the upper classes, this meant marriage within a tight circle of aristocratic families living in the same *polis*.”

so there was outbreeding in archaic greece for a few hundred years (at least amongst the upper classes), and, then, eventually — after about 400 years or so — there was a linguistic shift to more general kinship terms which reflected that outbreeding.

Moreover, of Emmanuel Todd’s four main European family systems – nuclear, egalitarian, authoritarian/stem, and communitarian (see Craig Willy’s post for a detailed explanation) – the Ancient Greeks practiced the authoritarian type, in which the eldest son stays with the parents while his siblings leave and inherits most or all of his family’s property.

The authoritarian family system, also seen in regions such as Germany, Sweden, Scotland, the Jews, Korea, and Japan (after ~1500), and substantially in 18th century Britain, seems to be highly eugenic in terms of selection for IQ and longterm planning. This stands to reason. Families with a lot of land/property can breed a lot of children and disperse them into the general population, and when they die, the eldest son who inherits everything can himself repeat the process. Those families who mismanage their affairs and lose land no longer have the resources to produce so many children (surviving ones, at any rate) and thus their contribution to the overall genepool peters out.

This is the opposite of the dynamics involved in communitarian family systems, in which property is divided equally amongst the sons. But all of the major Middle Eastern civilizations, as well as the Etruscan Roman heartlands, were characterized by communitarian family systems (albeit with varying rates of cousin marriage: Low in the Roman world, much higher in the Middle East and especially Egypt, where even brother/sister marriages appear to have been been quite widespread under both the Pharaohs and the Greco-Romans).

In communitarian family systems the eugenic factor is much weaker. Family ties play a big role with associated nepotism and (especially in the most endogamous societies) clannishness. Reproductive success is tied not so much on one’s own capability to use intelligence and planning to create surpluses as on support from the extended family and clan. hbdchick calls this “clannish dysgenics,” though considering that communitarian family systems are the “default” for most of human histor, I would argue it might be more apt to talk of “nuclear/stem family eugenics.” Be as it may, aggregate selection for increased IQ is much weaker.

The ancient Greeks also practiced direct eugenics, exposing physically deformed babies. The Spartans in particular are (in)famous for it. However, this seems to have been more or less universally prevalent in preindustrial history, so I doubt this could have been much of a factor.

Parasitic Load: The Mediterranean climatic and agricultural system made for a (relatively) very salubrious environment, in stark contrast to subtropical environments with their humidity and endemic diseases (e.g. India, South China) and to inland agricultural systems heavily dependent on irrigation, in which large bodies of still water are breeding grounds for all sorts of nasty parasites (most major civilizations outside Europe).

In particular, as noted in Mark Elvin’s The Pattern of the Chinese Past, aggregate parasitic load steadily INCREASED in China over the past two millennia, as its demographic center of gravity shifted inexorably south, which was characterized by irrigated rice growing and high humidity.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Ancient Greeks and other Mediterraneans also had one of the most potent counters to parastitic load in the form of their advanced viniculture. Due to their relative wealth (see above), they could afford a lot of wine, and back then it was usually stronger too.

Aggregate Mindpower in Ancient Greece

And now we can put together the final tally for Ancient Greece:

  • Could draw on a population of ~10 million Greeks (Romans: 50 million; Han Chinese: 60 million; Renaissance Italy: 10 million)
  • Had a literacy rate of 10%. Romans – Also 10%; Chinese – ~2%; Renaissance Italy – about 20% (see Van Zanden et al., 2009).

Some back of the envelope calculations for IQ:

  • Greeks are Caucasoids so let’s take the modern Greenwich mean of 100 as first default approximation, and slightly higher for Mongoloids (Romans: 100; Chinese: 105; Italy: 100)
  • Nutrition (subtract from optimal): Greeks – minus 5; Romans – minus 8; Chinese – minus 10 (would increase later); Italy – minus 5 (was very well fed in the depopulated years after the Black Death).
  • Inbreeding/Family Systems: Greeks – minus o (positive advantage of stem family type cancels out relatively modest incidence of cousin marriage); Romans – minus 2 (exagamous communitarian); Chinese – minus 5 (exagamous communitarian but more cousin marriage than amongst Romans); Italy – minus 0 (egalitarian family system with little cousin marriage thanks to Catholic Church regulations)
  • Parasitic Load: Greeks – minus 5 (let’s say that’s best possible in preindustrial age); Romans – minus 7 (did have more irrigation); Chinese – minus 10; Italy – minus 7
  • Guesstimated IQ: Greeks – 90; Romans – 83; Han Chinese – 80; Renaissance Italy – 88. Incidentally, this would give the Greeks enough of an edge to give substance to ancient stereotypes about their intelligence and craftiness but without having to evoke superhuman IQ levels.

Let us recall some definitions:

Assume that the intellectual output of an average IQ (=100, S.D.=15) young adult Briton in the year 2000 – as good an encapsulation of the “Greenwich mean” of intelligence as any – is equivalent to one nous (1 ν).

This can be used to calculate the aggregate mindpower (M) in a country.

and…

Technological growth c * M(>threshold IQ for new discovery) * literacy rate

Here are some rough calculations:

ancient-greece-and-aggregate-mindpower

Reminders:

  • c is information tech multipliers, i.e. things that make scientific/cultural progress easier. A modern example would be the Internet. I gave Renaissance Italy a bonus because of its invention of eyeglasses, which essentially doubled the creative lifespans of skilled artisans (and at the peak of their powers), and the spread of the printing press from the mid-15th century.
  • M is total aggregate mindpower. It does not have much meaning for Malthusian societies, but in the modern world it would generally correlate with total GDP.
  • The other Ms refer to the aggregate mindpower that is above the Greenwich mean to one, two, and three standard deviations respectively. Recall that not even a trillion homo erectus will come up with the calculus; you need to be above a certain threshold to make any progress. Recall also that the discovery threshold is generally 2 S.D. above the mastery threshold.
  • Recall also the assumption that (beyond the threshold) more intelligent people are exponentially more effective at solving problems that duller people; but of course the absolute numbers of those highly intelligent people taper off dramatically due to bell curve dynamics.

To understand the Pythagoras Theorem you need an IQ of around 100, implying that to discover it, the threshold is around 130. The Odyssey might be a great classic, but it has a simple, linear storyline with no particularly deep moral themes or conundrums (reminder: The putative heroes end up hanging all the female household servants who had allegedly slept with the suitors and no time is lost on further introspection). I suspect the threshold for writing it is also around 130.

map-7th-century-BC

Source: Classwell.com

This implies that around that period – the 8th-6th centuries BC in the Mediterranean – you needed a 130 IQ to move the intellectual boundaries outwards. As we can see, Ancient Greece was overshadowed by both the Roman Empire and Renaissance Italy at ΔT(+2.0), except that… conveniently, neither of the latter two existed. Its competitors at the time, civilizations like the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians, lagged substantially in IQ and literacy, and did not compensate demographically; Phoenicia might have matched Greek literacy, but was probably behind in IQ, and had far fewer people. Remarkably, it was vastly ahead of China even 500 years later.

Literacy increased during this period, and the population rose steadily to its plateau of ~10 million as Greeks colonized the Mediterranean rim, and so during this time, intellectually they were the only game in town.

During the two centuries of Classical Greece’s flowering from the 5th-4th centuries BC, the Ancient Greeks almost singlehandedly pushed the discovery threshold up by almost a standard deviation. In the process, tons of discoveries and advancements were made. To really appreciate Euclid, you probably need an IQ closer to 115. Archimedes was perhaps the most quantitatively brilliant Greek of them all, coming tantalizingly close to uncovering the calculus. Understanding classical Greek philosophy (and for that matter, the later works of the Neoplatonists and Gnostics) likewise becomes far more demanding but is not beyond the capabilities of a committed 110 or 115 IQ person. Even so, they have nothing on the likes of 20th century philosophers like Ludwig Wittgenstein or Martin Heidegger. Even very intelligent people have to commit years of dedicated effort in order to master their ideas. The complexity of the Antikythera mechanism (Hellenistic times) has been compared to late medieval European mechanical clocks. To really master them, I suspect the minimal IQ is likewise around 110-115, hence innovating it might require a threshold IQ of around 140-145.

By Hellenistic times, progress became much harder, not because Greeks had become (much) dumber or had become culturally Orientalized, but because the low hanging fruit had already been picked. Naturally, the same went for the Romans.

ΔT(+2.0) i.e. at the 130 discovery threshold for Ancient Greece as of ~500 BC was 43,000 (plus/minus a very large percentage error). ΔT(+3.0) i.e. at the 145 discovery threshold for the Romans as of ~0AD was 2,500 – and there were far more discoveries to be made. Naturally, progress slowed down drastically.

ΔT(+3.0) i.e. at the 145 discovery threshold of Renaissance Italy just by itself more than twice as dynamic as the entire Roman Empire. And the figures for Europe as a whole would have been vastly bigger still. Hence the (real) perception that by the Renaissance, the boundaries were once again being pushed outwards at a face rate, which would become a positive explosion from the 17th century on, when the first incipient mass literacy programs were launched and demographic mass also started soaring.

 
• Category: History, Science • Tags: Ancient Near East, Apollo's Ascent, BigPost 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.