Posts tagged Bolsheviks

“I think I should tell you about myself” from Rawicz’s book

Finished Slavomir Rawicz’s book titled “The Long Walk.” Different in other ways from the recent Hollywoodized movie “The Way Back.”  Why did the movie veer off as it did from this true story from the early 1940s? More than enough drama without going off the serpentine path these escapees took from a Siberian prison camp, all 4,000 miles of it.  Without giving all the story away, if you are interested in reading the book or watching the movie, I will insert something from p. 116 that I thought was particularly good. It fits with the drum I’ve been beating for a long time about what conditions were like in Ukraine in the 1930s.  So much sadness even before the 1940s for those who survived the terror famine in the 1930s and what they encountered once sent off to Siberia or Kazakhstan to be “rehabilitated.”

The movie changed the name of the one fugitive girl (Irena) that joined the party of escapees, her name was Kristina in the book.  She wanted to let the other seven men know who she was so thus the title of this blog, she started with:

“I think I should tell you about myself,” she said.  We nodded.  It was a variation of a story we all knew.  The prison camps were filled with men who could tell of similar experiences.  The location and the details might differ, but the horror and the leaden misery were common ingredients and stemmed from the same authorship.

After the first World War Kristina Polanska’s father had been rewarded for his war services by a grant of land in the Ukraine under the reorganization of Central European territory.  He had fought against the Bolsheviks, and General Pilsudski was thus able to give a practical expression of Polish gratitude.  The girl was the only child.  They were a hard-working couple, these parents, and they intended that Kristina should have every advantage their industry could provide.  In 1939 she was attending high school in Luck and the Polanskas were well pleased with the progress she was making.

Came September 1939. The Russians started moving in.  Ahead of the Red Army “Liberators” the news of their coming reached the Ukrainian farm workers.  The well-organized Communist underground was ready.  It needed only a few inflammatory speeches on the theme of the overthrow of the foreign landowners and restoration of the land to the workers, and the Ukrainian peasants were transformed into killer mobs.  The Polanskas knew their position was desperate.  They knew the mob would come for them.  They hid Kristina in a loft and waited…”

The rest of Kristina’s story is too sad to recount here in this blog as is true of all these stories coming out of Ukraine and Kazakhstan I have collected over the years.  Suffice it to say, Kristina was an orphan and met up with these men who had gone through far worse trials of being separated from their families and also severely tortured.  The movie, of course, did not go indepth as to what had happened to Kristina before she met up with them. Nor had the movie shown the tortures that Rawicz went through at the hands of the Soviets which is at the beginning of the book.

Therefore, next time an old timer from the Old Country might say to you, “I think I should tell you about myself…” Let them tell their story. But my guess is that you will have to patiently ask questions (maybe loudly and insistently) and need a box of tissues handy when you get the answers.

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“I Write as I Please” 1935 Book (Part VI)

I am sure some in my reading audience wonders when this old, yellow paged book will ever end. I know from looking at my statistics that my reader numbers have jumped up instead of gone down. That indicates to me that I have some serious thinkers who know about the truth of Soviet Union’s dark history.  It wasn’t pretty.  I know because I am in the middle of reading John Noble’s book “I was a Slave in Russia.” Not sure I want to take notes on that book, it’s too surreal with all the agony and pain he witnessed and lived to write about it.

I’m up to page 288 in my notes for “I Write as I Please” and this is the best part where Walter Duranty writes of his experience going to Central Asia.  Of course, he is more interested in Uzbekistan but this is some shared history with those people who live in Kazakhstan too.

p. 288 James Elroy Flecker wrote a play called “Hassan” and a poem “The Golden Road to Samarkand” – Tamerlane’s proud capital [I will try to find by googling that play and poem to see if it is still around]

Walter Duranty wrote about F.G. Burnaby – hero of “Ride to Khiva” – reached ancient city far south of Aral Sea at Khiva, dikes built when Sumeria ruled Mesopotamia

Khan rebelled in 1922 against the Bolsheviks [what is in Kazakhstan’s history books about THIS event?]

p. 292 – WD wants to see Tamerlane’s tomb and they want to show dam and tobacco factory

Molly Van Rensselaer Cogswell was the hero because she rescued W.D. and two other veteran reporters Jim Mills with A.P., and Ed Deuss with Hearst so they could see the Registran instead of going to a boring factory that was built by the Soviets and hosted by the Soviet officials on this important junket [at least W.D. had his interest in history to spur him on to see the actual historical sites]

Lord Curzon praised Samarkand

Russian archeologist had been there since 1890 – earthquake in 1886

Mosque Bibi Khanoum – Tamerlane built in memory of dearest wife suffered damage dreadfully

p. 295 Bokhara

Ermin fled to Afghanistan in 1920-21 when Red Army advanced, he financed the “Basmachee” religious uprising against Bolshevik in 1922

p. 297 – kill those who are insane – admires the comet German regime with sterilization

p. 300 – “I Re-write as I please” (chapter title) rushed into collectivization – desirable in theory but it meant in practice mismanagement and woe.  Rescued by Political Section from the militant communists

W.D. wrote that “people suffered greatly in the the process of 1928-1933” [that would be an understatement]

p. 301 – Even to a reporter who prides himself on having no bowels of compassion to weep over ruined homes and broken hearts, it is not always easy or plan and to describe such wreckage?  [W.D. hearkens back to the cost of war and what he lived through during WWI, seems that nothing could top what he experienced as a war correspondent, his experience seemed to trump all others’ suffering under communism]

p. 302 – “unprecedented capital investment in socialized industry and has simultaneously converted agriculture for narrow and obsolete individualism to modern Socialist methods…their cost in blood and tears and other terms of human suffering has been prodigious, but I am not prepared to say that it is unjustified.” [so in other words, W.D. is willing to say “the end justifies the means”]

“ex malo scilicet bonum” =  “don’t let yourself be defeated by difficulties you must try to turn them to your advantage.” [Did W.D. turn others’ suffering to his advantage by writing this book “I Write as I please?”

p. 304 – W.D. noted that the Bolsheviks used language by deliberate intent words incomprehensible to all save adepts.  Their aims and ideas were magnificent but their methods distressing.

Does the end justify the means?  [W.D. had to ask himself that question over and over again, I’m sure]

(to be continued)

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“I Write as I Please” 1935 book (Part IV)

If you look at the index of Walter Duranty’s book, it is chock full of names and places, five pages worth.  As a journalist Duranty knew to include as many people as possible which may have brought this book up on the charts of the New York Times bestseller list, if they kept track of such things back then.  People like to see their names in print whether in a newspaper article or in a book, so he knew that all who were “readers” would like to buy a copy of this book which was published so long ago.  Yet, there are many things that remain the same or history definitely repeats itself.  I’ll continue where I left off with what I think are interesting quotes:

p. 212 – Liatsis theory of Red Terror and warning and example [other references to who wrote the manual on terror and how to get people to do what the communist regime wanted them to do]

“His Majesty’s Opposition” – English phrase – W.D. learned to read between the lines of the Soviet Press. “Bewildering difference between Russian and non-Russian and Bolshevik and non-Bolshevik mentality.” [I have the same problem here in Astana, what is Kazakh and not Kazakh, what is post-Soviet and what is just human nature?]

In the spring of 1930, Walter Duranty went to Alma Ata where Trotsky was first exiled to do an interview.  So few references to Central Asia so to me this is interesting.  Christopher Robbins, in his book “Apples are from Kazakhstan” writes about Trotsky’s exile to Kazakhstan.

I like the following poem that Duranty quoted, it fits with living here in Kazakhstan, especially in the capital city of Astana:

p. 240

There was an owl who in an oak

The more he heard the less he spoke

The less he spoke the more he heard

Soldiers, imitate that wise bird

p. 247 – “The tempo of life by which the Bolsheviks /////[can’t read my writing] the rush of their progress, the haste of their desire to catch up and surpass the capitalist world in material achievement, has been too swift to allow any of them to pause awhile by the wayside, and think.”

p. 249 Three old enemies of newspaper:  time, space and selection

How to handle news in Russia – 1st rule – believe nothing that I hear, little of what I read and not at all of what I see

p. 278 – “I had no intention of being an apologist for the Stalin administration” [whether he intended or not, he was the mouthpiece that many people listened to, especially Governor Roosevelt from New York, who later opened up relations with U.S.S.R. in 1933 when he became President.]

(to be continued)

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“Till My Tale is Told” – Part VI – “Stalin’s Broken Omelette”

The following will be the last of my series from the book “Till My Tale is Told.”  Here are three quotes that were the “unwritten laws” and the mentality of Marxists, Leninists and Stalin himself was attributed for saying the following:

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

Obviously people of Stalin’s ilk knew nothing about cooking and nurturing of the family with providing food. However, he DID know a lot about destruction and keeping people off balance with his different diabolical tactics.  All the early Bolsheviks could think about was destroying the aristocracy and catching up with the western nations by industrializing. (Where were the environmentalists who claim to care about the environment then?  Look no further than the Aral Sea for your answer to Stalin’s broken omelette) The Soviet mentality was to crush as many people who stood in the way of that goal to be omnipotent.

Another quote common in that era of frenzied fervor was “If you chop down trees, the chips are bound to fly.” Also, these Soviet agitators against families who worked the ground for sustenance probably couldn’t pick up an axe and chop trees if their life depended on it.  All Marx knew how to do was write volumes on the very paper that came from these felled trees. Marx had a secure life, he was underwritten by a man who believed in what he wrote.  Oh, to have such a patron, but what devastating consequences because of Stalin’s zeal for revolution using Marx words to buttress his strategies.

Lastly another quote appropriate to the Russian Revolution of 1917 was, “You can’t make a revolution wearing white gloves.” How many people were wearing white gloves in those days?  The aristocracy perhaps but also if you did manual labor, gloves were a way of hiding the callouses on the hands. Much blood will be on the hands of Stalin and all who followed his orders, millions of people perished during his autocratic rule of 30 years.  His was a broken omelette and with this final series, I will use one more poem from Anna Barkova which she wrote in the Karaganda prison camp in 1935, close to Astana, Kazakhstan:

In the Prison-Camp Barracks

I can’t sleep, and blizzards are howling

In a time that has left no trace,

And Tamburlaine’s gaudy pavilions

Strew the steppes… Bonfires blaze, bonfires blaze.

Let me go, like a Mongol tsaritsa,

To the depths of the years that have fled;

I’d lash to the tail of my steppe mare

My enemies, lovers, and friends.

And you, the world that I’d conquered,

My savage revenge would lay waste;

While in my pavilion the fallen

Ate the barbarous meats of my feast.

And then, at one of the battles –

Unimaginable orgy of blood –

And defeat’s ineluctable moment

I’d throw myself on my own sword.

So I am a woman, a poet:

Now, tell me: what purpose has that?

Angry and sad as a she-wolf

I gaze at the years that are past.

And burn with a strange savage hunger,

And burn with a strange savage rage.

I am far from Tamburlaine’s bonfires,

His tents are far away, far away.

Karaganda 1935

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Astana Billboards of Vets from “Great Patriotic War”

Yesterday’s bike ride along the highway to Astana’s airport yielded many photos of true heroes. Bold and honorable men and women who loved their Motherland enough to fight for their freedom against the Nazi Germans. That is, if you believe the Soviet version that the freedom they gained from the Bolsheviks (means “majority” in Russian which Lenin’s cohort wasn’t really a majority against comrade Kerensky who originally overthrew the Russian czar) was TRUE freedom.  Confused yet?

Let me explain, before the 1917 revolution there were many Kazakh nomads on the steppes who moved their sheep and cattle around and had strong connections with their property and their families that went back many thousands of years. Tradition, tradition!!! My husband (an ex-Sovietologist)  is currently studying about agriculture in Kazakhstan, something he did back in 1992-1995 when he first came to the Almaty area.  My sad and despairing point is that many of these Kazakhs or Kazakhstanis were forced to fight in a war after their nomadic lifestyle had been decimated by the collectivization policies from Moscow. Those who fought in what we as westerners know as World War II was necessarily dubbed “Great Patriotic War” by Leader Stalin (Ironman) as if to rally the troops around the concept of patriotism and love of the Motherland.  If these veterans in Kazakhstan are still living, they probably have many sad stories to tell even before they witnessed the bloodshed of the war on USSR soil.  That was sad enough, the reason I blog is to highlight the neglected facts from a Kazakh perspective that seemingly are covered over by history books written in the Soviet Union’s favor.

I draw my readers’ attention to the misnomer of the name of the war while at the same time I do not wish to negate the tragedy of those who bravely fought in it and saw many of their own die on the battlefield.  They are all heroes and many of those lived on after the war are much loved by their families.  I know, I have all my Kazakh students write about their grandparents and I get story after story about how these vets are greatly admired.  I will feature their photos the next several days to honor these vets as well.

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Grandmothers in “The Whisperers” (Part III)

The following quotes show how far I’ve gotten in this book by Orlando Figes titled “The Whisperers.”  I need to carve out some time to finish it but there is no time right now, too much to do in our new city of Astana.  I’m finding out what a wonderful place this new place is compared to Almaty, Kazakshtan.  I already know that the Kazakhs are amazing people, their grandparents are/were even more incredible because of what they went through under the Soviet system.

p. 44 Grandmothers were also the main practitioners and guardians of religious faith.

p. 50 The peasantry’s attachment to individual family labor on the private household farm made it the last major bastion of individualism in Soviet Russia and in the view of the Bolsheviks, the main social obstacle to their Communist utopia.

p. 53 “God is in the sky and father in the house.” Meaning of a saying about a patriarchal family, the father is the head of the house.

p. 56 Polar explorers were portrayed as heroes in Soviet books and films, and during the 1920s, the Soviet government invested a large share of its scientific budget in geological surveys of potential mining operations in the Arctic zone.

p. 59 check out Dmitry Furmanov’s Chapaev ( 1925) a Soviet classic ready by every schoolchild.

p. 68 Moscow’s Jewish population grew from 15,000 in 1914 to a quarter of a million 25,000 (the cities second largest ethnic group) in 1937.  The Jews flourished in the Soviet Union.  They made up a large proportion of the elite in the Party, the bureaucracy the military command and the police.  Judging from the memoirs of the period, there was relatively little anti-Semitism or discrimination…

“We did not want to think of ourselves as Jews nor did we want to be Russians though we lived in Russia and were steeped in its culture.  We thought of ourselves as Soviet Citizens.”

p. 81 “Collectivization was the great turning point in Soviet history.  It destroyed a way of life that had developed over many centuries – a life based on the family farm, the ancient peasant commune, the independent village and its church and the rural market, all of which were seen by the Bolsheviks as obstacles to socialist industrialization.  Millions of people were uprooted from their homes and dispersed across the Soviet Union: runaways from collective farms, victims of the famine the resulted from the over-requisitioning of kolkhoz grain; orphaned children, ‘kulaks’ and their family.  This nomadic population became the main labor force of Stalin’s industrial revolution, filling the cities and industrial building sites

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“The Whisperers” (Part II)

Here’s a continuation of yesterday’s blog about Orlando Figes’ book titled “The Whisperers.”  I love some of his quotes because whatever he uncovered from his research about Russian families is even more true about Kazakh families.

p. 1 “In these circles, where every Bolshevik was expected to subordinate his personal interests to the common cause, it was considered ‘philistine’ to think about one’s personal life at a time when the Party was engaged in the decisive struggle for the liberation of humanity.”

p. 3-4 “In their utopian vision the revolutionary activist was the prototype of a new kind of human being – a ‘collective personality’ living only for the common good – who would populate the future Communist society.”

p. 4 “According to the Bolsheviks, the idea of ‘private life’ as separate from the realm of politics was nonsensical, for politics affected everything; there was nothing in a person’s so-call ‘private life’ that was not political. The personal sphere should thus be subject to public supervision and control.”

p. 8 “As the Bolsheviks saw it, the family was the biggest obstacle to the socialization of children.  ‘By loving a child, the family turns him into a egotistical being, encouraging him to see himself as the centre of the universe.’ Wrote the Soviet educational thinker Zlata Lilina.

p. 14-15 The Bolshevik idealists of the 1920s made a cult of this Spartan way of life.  They inherited a strong element of asceticism from the revolutionary underground, the source of their values and their principles in the early years of the Soviet regime.  The rejection of material possessions was central to the culture and ideology of the Russian socialist intelligentsia…in the Bolshevik aesthetic it was philistine to lavish attention on the decoration of one’s home.”

p. 20 “…to inculcate in them the public values of a Communist society. ‘The young person should be taught to think in terms of “we” and all private interests should be left behind.” Anatoly Lunacharsky, the Commissar for Education, 1918

Political indoctrination was geared towards producing activists.  The propaganda image of the ideal child was a precocious political orator mouthing agitprop.

p. 22 “A pioneer of Soviet pedagogical theories and a close associate of Krupskaia in her educational work…her theories were derived largely from the ideas of Pyotr Lesgaft.

p. 24 schoolfriend’s comradeship – “we had no need for calculated strategies or conspiracies, we lived according to an unwritten code: the only thing that mattered was loyalty to our comrades.

p. 25 oath learned by heart “I, a Young Pioneer of the Soviet Union, before my comrades do solemnly swear to be true to the precepts of Lenin, to stand firmly for the cause of our Communist Party and for the cause of Communism.”

p. 27 “According to the psychologist and educational theorist A.B. Zalkind, the Party’s leading spokesman on the social conditioning of the personality, the aim of the Pioneer movement was to train ‘revolutionary-Communist fighters fully freed from the class poisons of bourgeois ideology.”

Subbotniki = voluntary work which was really Saturday labor campaigns, not just days but weeks were set aside when the population would be called upon to work without pay.

p. 29 “Members of the Komsomol were supposed to put their loyalty to the Revolution above their loyalty to the family…it provided volunteers for Party work as well as spies and informers ready to denounce corruption and abuse….members were charged with exposing ‘class enemies’ among parents and teachers and as if in training for the job, took part in mock trials of ‘counter-revolutionaries’ in schools and colleges.

p. 30 ‘abolish individualism’ in moral terms too, they were absolutists, struggling to break free of the old conventions…Those who showed off or complained were called rotten intellectuals. “Rotten intellectuals’ was one of the most insulting labels.  Only “self-seeker” was worse.”

p. 32 However, the children of Party members had a well-developed sense of entitlement.

p. 33 “Whatever the case, Communist morality left no room for the Western notion of the conscience as a private dialogue with the inner self.  The Russian word for “conscience” in this sense (sovest) almost disappeared from official use after 1917.  It was replaced by the word soznatel’nost’ which carries the idea of consciousness or the capacity to reach a higher moral judgement and understanding of the world.  In Bolshevik discourse soznatel’nost’ signified the attainment of a higher moral-revolutionary logic, that is, Marxist-Leninist ideology.

p. 37 “Everything in the Party member’s private life was social and political; everything he did had a direct impact on the Party’s interests…Yet in reality this mutual surveillance did just the opposite: it encouraged people to present themselves as conforming to Soviet ideals whilst concealing their true selves in a secret private sphere.  Such dissimulation would become widespread in the Soviet system, which demanded the display of loyalty and punished the expression of dissent.  During the terror of the 1930s, when secrecy and deception became necessary survival strategies for almost everyone in the Soviet Union, a whole new type of personality and society arose. But this double-life was already a reality for large sections of the population in the 1920s

p. 41 “For the older generation the situation posed a moral dilemma; on the one hand, they wanted to pass down family traditions and beliefs to their children; on the other, they had to bring them up as Soviet citizens.”

In the words of the poet Vladimir Kornilov “it seemed that in our years there were no mothers, There were only grandmothers.

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