Posts tagged Tolstoy

“Till My Tale is Told” – Part V – “Demoralized Individuals”

“…an unrelenting and protracted campaign waged against unarmed, divided, and often demoralized individuals by a merciless and seemingly omnipotent regime.”

The above quote I got out of the book “Till My Tale is Told” editted by Simeon Vilensky and published by Indiana University Press in 1999.  I need to read the entire book by Vilensky of accounts written by these said “demoralized individuals.” Yet so many other victims of the Soviet regime will have stories that are left untold because it was against the law to be writing anything about the cruelties and vulgarities of the Soviet system.  There were brave heroes who did battle in their own way, using the gifts they were given to put their experiences into verse, such as the poet Anna Barkova.  See what she wrote in 1952 in Russian about her experience, thankfully it has been translated into English:

THE HEROES OF OUR TIME

Our time has its own heroes,

Not twenty, not thirty years old.

Such could not bear this burden,

No!

We’re the heroes, born with the century,

Walking in step with the years;

We are victims, we’re prophets and heralds,

Allies and enemies.

We cast spells with Blok the magician,

We fought the noble fight,

We treasured one blond curl as keepsake,

And slunk to brothels at night.

We struck off our chains with “the people”,

And proclaimed ourselves in their debt;

Like Gorky, we wandered with beggars;

Like Tolstoy, we wore peasant shirts.

The troops of Old Belief Cossacks

Bruised our backs with their flails,

And we gnawed at the meagre portions

Served to us in Bolshevik jails.

We shook when we saw diamond emblems

or collars of raspberry hue:

We sheltered from German bombardment

And answered our inquisitors, “No!”

We’ve seen everything, and survived it,

We were shot, beaten, tempered like steel;

The embittered sons, angry daughters,

Of a country embittered, brought low.

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“Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl” (Part IV)

Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl, 1932-1937 by Nina Lugovskaya

 p. 130 Dec. 2, 1934 – Around eleven they announced that comrade Kirov, a member of the Politburo, had been killed in Leningrad . “O-oh, my God!” Evgeny exclaimed.  His voice was full of tears.  I felt a little ashamed that nothing inside me shuddered at this report.  On the contrary, I felt glad; that means there’s still a struggle going on, there are still organizations and real people.  Not everything is gobbling the slops of socialism.

p. 132 Dec. 11, 1934How could I refute their mindless, mechanical arguments: “If you’re not for the Bolsheviks, you’re against Soviet rule”; “this is all temporary, things will get better”? Were those five million deaths [of the famine as a result of collectivization] in the Ukraine temporary? What about the 69 people who were shot? [referring to those arrested and executed without a trial right after Kirov’s murder] Sixty-nine!! What government under what rule could pass such a sentence with such cold cruelty?  What nation would agree to all these outrages with such slavish meekness and obedience?  How I cursed my stupidity and inability to express myself.  How could I, with such strong weapons as the facts and the truth, not prove to my sisters the lie of the Bolshevik system? I must be extraordinarily inept.

p. 141 Dec. 30, 1934 – Many days have gone by since Nikolaev, a member of an underground terrorist group, murdered Kirov at the Smolny [Kirov’s murder was in fact organized by Stalin who saw in Kirov his main rival.  The murder also gave Stalin a pretext for unleashing his campaign against “enemies of the people.”]

Many lead articles in the papers have screamed about it, and many parrots and Soviet self-seekers, shaking their fists, have screamed over the heads of the workers: “Get the viper!” “Execute the traitor whose cowardly shot snatched from our ranks” and so on. And many so-called Soviet citizens, who have lost all sense of human dignity, have behaved like beasts and raised their hands in favor of execution.

Today they shot another fourteen “conspirators” and all for one Bolshevik life.  It made me think of the nineteenth century reign of Alexander II and his assassination of the People’s Will.  What a furor people raised over the execution of the six assassins.  Why is noone incensed now? Why is this now considered perfectly natural and normal?  Why is it that now no one will tell you straight out that the Bolsheviks are scoundrels? And what right do these Bolsheviks have to deal with the country and its people so cruelly and arbitrarily, to so brazenly proclaim outrageous laws in the name of the people, to lie and hide behind big words that have lost their meaning: “Socialism” and “communism.”

…what do they think abroad?  Can they really be saying there, too, “That how it should be?” Oh, no!  My God, when will this all change?  When will we be able to truly say that all power belongs to the people, that we have complete equality and freedom?  What we have not is not socialism, it’s the Inquisition!

P. 173 May 19, 1935 – Yesterday the huge eight-motor aeroplane Maksim Gorky – not only the pride and glory of the USSR , but the biggest plane in the world – crashed.  (As for its being the biggest, I don’t know anything for certain, and you can’t trust our newspapers.)  The Maksim Gorky took off accompanied by two biplanes, one of which was flying too close when it began looping loops.  The biplane hit the wing of the Maksim Gorky and damage it: the 65 meter behemoth came tumbling down, somersaulting, slashing the bright expanse and losing parts.  Of the beautifully built giant, there remained a gray and red metal heap and 47 mutilated bodies, which a minute before had been living, thinking, feeling people flying high over Moscow

It [Maksim Gorky] wasn’t built for a purpose, for transportation or for the military, but so that the Soviet Union could occupy one of the top places in the world, so that we could say, “Look what engineers we have! Look what giants we create!” We do so many senseless things for show: we do so much boasting. And because of that boasting, we suffer.”

 p. 194 Nov. 28, 1935 – Mama and I went to Butyrka [prison to which Nina’s father had been transferred from internal exile after his latest arrest]

 p. 199 Jan. 11, 1936 – I’ve been reading about Tolstoy and have again fallen under his influence.  I’ve always had a passion for self-improvement, and now I have the clarity of self-criticism, merciless self-revelation and frankness.  I find more and more in common with Tolstoy: his unfortunate looks, his early tendency to self-analysis; his pride and even his vanity; his endless searching for something and his restiveness.

p. 202 March 16, 1936 – I went to see Papa not long ago.  He has grown a beard and looks like a priest.  He’ll be leaving soon for Alma Ata [Nina’s father had been sentenced to three years of exile in Kazakhstan ].  I love him now. 

p. 209 Nov. 6, 1936 – It’s my opinion that a diary is an unnecessary and superfluous thing; it is of no use whatsoever and therefore a detriment.  A diary can’t develop one’s style and it’s no good to posterity.  So then what is it for?  Still, I do like to write about what’s inside me, to tell someone about it.

p. 211 Nov. 20, 1936 – Papa once said: “Don’t get into that ‘top-marks mire’” [to excel in a Soviet school one had to be not only bright but politically orthodox and active as well.  As a result, the students who got the best marks tended to be opportunists or people without convictions]

p. 211 Nov. 26, 1936 – We have a bad attitude towards the teachers; it’s something repressed and malicious.  We don’t have the new, good attitude—what they now call the “Soviet” attitude.  We all want to annoy them, to play dirty tricks and then refuse to say who did it rather than betray a friend (that is what earns our respect)

 

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Servant’s “Bit Part” in King Lear

Braveheart comes to mind when I think of the valiant efforts of western foreigners who are trying to make sense of our duties as university teachers in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  For those who have watched the three hours starring Mel Gibson, the major role he plays of William Wallace has you saying aloud in your head what Wallace yells at the end as he is drawn and quartered.  “Freedom!!!” 

 

Perhaps Braveheart may be easier to watch than reading Leo Tolstoy’s monolithic masterpiece of War and Peace concerning marriage, unity and disunity.  Fortunately, I have the long holiday weekend to plow through all 1455 pages of Tolstoy’s writings.  Maybe I’ll come to a better understanding about our teaching situation by the end of it.  I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina while I was teaching in China from 1986-88 and understood my Norwegian grandpa better who gave it to me.  Reading Tolstoy will be a major event for me, I’m accountable to my blog audience to achieve this goal.

 

Reading C.S. Lewis and his interpretation of King Lear got me to think about our institution of higher learning.  My Mom sized up our situation the other day in her concise way: It seems to me that it is hard enough to get along with people in the education business here in America but then to throw in people from many different cultures and make the mix work must be a real problem.”  Yes, that is it in a nutshell, unfortunately we are interfacing with people from various cultures who do not cope well with our present reality.  They are either dealing with their own past dysfunction or have grandiose ideas (read visionary) about the future.  See if Shakespeare’s King Lear character with a “bit part” according to C.S. Lewis, casts some light on our troublesome situation:

 

“…the idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience.  And it is a myth which distracts us from our real duties and our real interest.  It is our attempt to guess the plot of a drama in which we are the characters.  But how can the characters ina play guess the plot?  We are not the playwright, we are not the producer, we are not even the audience.  We are on the stage.  To play well the scenes in which we are ‘on’ concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes that follow it…

 

In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely ‘First Servant’.  All the characters around him – Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund – have fine, long term plans.  They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong.  The servant has no such delusions.  He has no notion how the play is going to go.  But he understands the present scene.  He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place.  He will not stand it.  His sword is out and pointed as his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind.  That is his whole part: eight lines all told.  But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.”

 

I’m reminded of Job’s words, along with Braveheart’s, from 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him, Even so I will defend my own ways before Him.”

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