THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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88 posts categorized "Politics"

27 March 2018

Le Journal de Marseille: a new periodical in the British Library’s French Revolutionary collections

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1IMG_8141a Le journal de Marseille, 1793-94, RB.23.a.37976.

This year, a grant from the Friends of the British Library enabled the purchase of the complete set of a rare periodical published in 1793-94 during the French Revolution: 62 issues of the Journal de Marseille, along with 14 issues of its Supplement. It is an important addition to our holdings from the period of French Revolution, in particular the French Revolution tracts collection, comprising some 2,200 volumes.

2IMG_3893 French Revolution tracts in the British Library basement

The world of print changed dramatically during and after the French Revolution and the development of the Press reflected the vivacity of the political debates, contributing to the emergence of a public opinion. In the Library’s collections, the Journal de Marseille complements accounts of the revolutionary events which happened in Marseilles and the South of France, printed either in Paris or locally. It can be read alongside other periodicals, such as the Bulletin des Marseillois,  the Journal du Département du Var,  the Journal de Lyon or the Journal de Bordeaux , as well as the Jacobin Journal des débats de la Société des Amis de la Constitution

3IMG_8144aJournal de Marseille, 1st issue, 1 October 1793

Marseilles was a key city during the French Revolution (it gave its name to the revolutionary national anthem). The Journal de Marseille et des départemens méridionaux shows how debates within the revolutionary movement added to tensions between royalists and republicans. It was published three times a week (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday) between October 1793 and February 1794 by the Club des Jacobins de Marseille, a local branch of this left-wing society which included members of rival political factions, the Girondins and the Mountain. The Mountain, led by Maximilien Robespierre, and supported by the most militant members of the Club des Jacobins de Marseilles, held radical views which led to extremism and the Reign of Terror in the years 1793-1794. They brutally expelled the Girondins from the National Convention in the summer of 1793, an event which fostered rebellions, especially in the South, where the Girondins, who promoted federalism, were very influential.

4IMG_8158a Journal républicain de la Commune sans nom, issue 58, 12 Pluviôse an II (31 January 1794)

The Convention sent troops against the Marseilles insurgents: they took control of the city on 25 August 1793 and set up a Republican tribunal. The city was then deprived of its name and temporarily re-baptised “la Ville sans nom”: from issue 52 onwards, the name of the periodical thus changes to Journal républicain de la Commune sans nom et des départemens méridionaux.

5IMG_8145 Journal de Marseille, 2nd issue, 4 October 1793

The Journal was thus at the centre of burning political interests. Its initial editors were Alexandre Ricord (1770-1829) and Sébastien Brumeaux de Lacroix (b. 1768). Ricord was general prosecutor of the Bouches-du-Rhône department and between March 1792 and May 1793 had co-edited the Journal des départemens méridionaux et des débats des amis de la Constitution de Marseille  (whose publication was interrupted by the federalist movement in Marseilles) and issues 2 to 8 of the Journal de Marseille. Lacroix, “jacobin de Paris”, was sent to Marseilles as a delegate appointed by the Convention, and took the sole editorship of the periodical from issue 9 onwards.

6IMG_8143a Journal de Marseille, Prospectus, pp. 6-7

The Journal results from an initiative of the Convention delegates for southern French departments: it was designed to “remedy the vagaries of public opinion, its lack of instruction and enlightenment” and “purge the public spirit from the venom distilled by enemies of the Motherland, coward federalists”, given the difficulties in disseminating Paris journals. It is conceived as the voice of “the Nation, responsible for providing moral food for the people and enlightening it on its interests, rights and duties”. It gives accounts of the Convention’s meetings and discussions.

7IMG_8142 Journal de Marseille, Prospectus, p. 1

The political dimension of the Journal de Marseille is clear from the start, its Prospectus starting with the motto “Le salut du peuple est la suprême loi”, and a declaration praising the “journaux patriotiques” which since 1789 have enlightened the people and promoted Freedom, supporting the durable Rule of All rather than One. The periodical places itself against publications “paid for by aristocrats, royalists and federalists”, accused of “delaying the progress of human reason”. In ominous terms, the editor vows to “track traitors in their cellars and attics, to unmask the looters of the Nation, to denounce to the jury of the public opinion unfaithful administrators, conspiring generals, and delegates of the people”, including “members of the Mountain, the Marsh or the Plain, federalists and their vile supporters.” Under the Reign of Terror, the Journal is openly conceived as the nexus of an “active and general surveillance, a beacon to illuminate federalist conspiracies.” It wants to inspire the people with “the strength so necessary in the fight between crime and virtue, freedom and slavery.”

8IMG_8149a Journal de Marseille, issue 44, 14 Nivôse an II (3 January 1794)

From issue 44 onwards, “Mittié fils” succeeded Lacroix as editor of the Journal de Marseille. Both names still appear on the first page until issue 55, when Mittié’s name remains. Jean-Corisandre Mittié, who was sent by the Comité de Salut public to Marseilles in 1794, authored dramatic works like La prise de Toulon, which features at the end of our volume.

9IMG_8159a Journal de Marseille, Supplément, issue 1, 3 frimaire an II (23 November 1793)

While the Prospectus and first eight issues of the Journal were published by Marc Aurel, “printer of the people’s representatives sent to the southern departments”, later issues were printed by Auguste Mossy, a printer who played an important role in Marseilles politics under the Revolution and the First Empire. Auguste came from a family of Marseilles printers: he worked, alongside his brother Jean (1758-1835), in their father’s printing shop before opening his own press.

The copy of the Journal de Marseille acquired by the British Library is kept in a modest but original brown leather binding with parchment corners and paste paper sides. It is stained, but traces of important use attest to the interest the collection has raised. Indeed, additional revolutionary tracts with a strong southern anchorage, including several pamphlets printed by the Mossy presses, are collected at the end of the volume – they will be the subject of another blog post!

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator Romance collections

References / Further reading

Audrey C. Brodhurst, ‘The French Revolution Collections in the British Library’, British Library Journal (1976), 138-158.

Christophe Cave, Denis Reynaud, Danièle Willemart, 1793: l’esprit des journaux (Saint-Étienne, 1993). YA.1994.b.4058

René Gérard, Un Journal de province sous la Révolution. Le “Journal de Marseille” (originally the “Journal de Provence”) de Ferréol Beaugeard, 1781-1797 (Paris, 1964). W.P.686/29.

Hubert C. Johnson, The Midi in revolution: a study of regional political diversity, 1789-1793 (Princeton, 1986). YH.1987.b.380

Michael L. Kennedy, The Jacobin Club of Marseilles, 1790-1794 (Ithaca, 1973). 73/13539

Des McTernan, ‘The printed French Revolution collections in the British Library’, FSLG Annual Review, 6 (2009-10), 31-44.

 

25 March 2018

The Centenary of the Belarusian Democratic Republic

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I remember very vividly my confusion when in March 1990 I found myself on a park bench reading a thin samizdat publication, Dzien Voli (‘Freedom Day’), dedicated to the anniversary of Belarusian independence. It was delivered to Minsk from Vilnius where much Belarusian samizdat was published at that time. In the Soviet Union, we were told that Belarus and Belarusians had always been part of something else – of other countries and peoples.

From Dzien Voli I learned for the first time a story of the Belarusian Democratic Republic (also translated as Belarusian People’s Republic; BNR in its Belarusian abbreviation). It was proclaimed independent by representatives of civic and political organisations and parties in Minsk on 25 March 1918. They used a very short window of opportunity – just a few days – between the Russian Bolshevik army leaving Minsk and the advancing Germans entering the city.

Belarus Nationalemblems8296tt46
Flag and state coat of arms of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, frontispiece from Za Dziarzhaunuiu Nezalezhnasts' Belarusi = For national independence of Byelorussia (London, 1960). 8296.tt.46

Neither the occupying German authorities nor the Russian Bolshevik government fully recognised the BNR, though both had to take its existence into account. The BNR government in Minsk attempted to form its own army, school system, local authorities, trade and diplomatic missions. It was most successful in building relations with the Ukrainian Democratic Republic, which had declared its independence three months earlier and secured recognition from the occupying German authorities. The BNR’s main income came from forest wood sold to the Ukrainian government in exchange for cash and food supplies. The BNR government managed to established diplomatic missions in several other countries and took part in the Versailles Peace Conference after the First World War.

BelarusGovernment_of_BNRNational Secretariat (the first government of the Belarusian Democratic Republic). Reproduced in  Uladzimir Arloŭ, This country called Belarus: an illustrated history. (Bratislava, 2013). YD.2013.b.892

In January 1919, the BNR government left Minsk before the advancing Bolshevik army. It later operated in Vilnius, Hrodna (Grodno), Berlin and Prague. After the Second World War the Belarusian diaspora sustained its existence. Its role as a government in exile has always been symbolic, but symbols are capable of communicating memories and inspiring the strongest feelings.

Without BNR, the Bolshevik government might never have permitted the creation of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), which was among the founding members of the Soviet Union in 1922. Having their own state entity as part of the Soviet Union, though powerless in many respects, allowed the Belarusians to survive and develop further as a nation until full independence in 1991.

The BNR’s proclamation of independence was preceded by two other charters from the same body of civic and political representatives in February-March 1918. They confirmed the intention to build the future national state on democratic principles which can be easily found in the contemporary Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. The BNR government adopted the ancient Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s coat of arms as the state emblem and the white-red-white flag as the state flag. The independent post-Soviet Republic of Belarus initially adopted the same symbols. They were replaced, however, with variations of the BSSR symbols four years later –society was not yet ready for radical changes.

Belarus StampPahonia_(25_Hrošaŭ _Blue) _Stamp_of_Belarusian_People's_Republic

Pahonia: Stamp of Belarusian Democratic Republic (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

For decades, the BNR was the subject of ideological wars and myths. The discourse started acquiring a more evidence-based form when in 1998 two monumental volumes Arkhivy Belaruskaĭ Narodnaĭ Rėspubliki (‘Archives of the Belarusian Democratic Republic’) were published. These contained about 60 percent of documents from the early years of the BNR government. These documents survived in the State Historical Archives of the Lithuanian Republic  in Vilnius. Until the end of the Soviet Union, only selected and approved researchers had access to them. After Lithuania regained its independence, Siarhiej Šupa, a talented  journalist and translator (among his translations into Belarusian were George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984), stumbled upon them almost by chance and spent six years preparing their publication.

BelarusArkhivyBNR
Arkhivy Belaruskaĭ Narodnaĭ Rėspubliki (Vilnius, 1998) YA.2001.a.24459

In Belarus, the consensus about the Belarusian Democratic Republic is still in its infancy. The topic has been politicised to an extreme degree until very recently. A new political situation, partly prompted by the events in Ukrainian Crimea and Donbas, has forced the authorities to re-examine the nation’s foundational events. The newspaper Nasha Niva recently reported that the Presidential Administration commissioned a report on the role of the BNR from the Belarusian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History. The report has not been made public, but its essence can be deduced from the book to which the Director of the Institute referred the journalist investigating the story. In the Institute’s collective work Historyia belaruskaĭ dziarzhaŭnastsi ŭ kantsy XVIII - pachatku XXI st. (‘A history of Belarusian statehood from the end of 18th to the beginning of 21st centuries’) the BNR is characterised as the first attempt at a national Belarusian state.

BelarusHistoryiaHistoryia belaruskaĭ dziarzhaŭnastsi ŭ kantsy XVIII - pachatku XXI st. (Minsk, 2011-2012) ZF.9.a.9153

A new generation of civic leaders, more pragmatic than those who led the political opposition in Belarus in the last twenty years, worked on getting permission from the authorities to celebrate the BNR centenary publicly. They also run a large and successful crowdfunding campaign to fund the celebrations. Among the events the authorities agreed on is a large open-air concert in Minsk and the installation of a memorial plaque on the building in which the independence of the Belarusian Democratic Republic was proclaimed on 25 March 1918. It is fascinating to see how a sleepy (until very recently) country gets busy on rethinking its own past and how this past may shape the nation’s future.

Ihar IvanouHead of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London.

Further reading:

D. Michaluk, ‘From the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Belarusian Democratic Republic: the Idea of Belarusian Statehood, 1915-1919’Journal of Belarusian studies vol 7, no. 2 (2014), pp. 3-36. ZC.9.a.9127

Pers Anders Rudling, The Rise and Fall of Belarusian nationalism, 1906-1931. (Pittsburg, 2015). YC.2016.a.6887

Jan Zaprudnik, Belarus: at a crossroads in history (Boulder, 1993). YC.1995.b.7225

The proclamation of Byelorussian independence, 25th of March 1918. (London, 1968). X.709/26118.

Siarhiej Šupa talks about his research [in Belarusian]: https://www.svaboda.org/a/29048119.html 

01 March 2018

The Battle of Valle Giulia 50 Years After - 1 March 1968

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50 years ago today a new era began in Italy. Students joined the global wave of dissent, protesting against the bourgeois value system, fighting for equality and civil rights, and requesting a modernisation of the education system in the country.
‘La contestazione’ started in Rome, on Friday 1 March 1968. The School of Architecture of the University of Rome, in Via di Valle Giulia, became the battlefield for the first violent encounter in Italy between the student movement and the police. 

1968_giacconeFausto Giaccone, Fight between police and students outside the School of Architecture at Valle Giulia. Rome, 1 March 1968. From ’68. Un anno di confine (Milano, 2008) LF.31.b.4963 

Some accounts of the participants have been recorded about that day, which was described as ‘a collective initiation’. 
In the words of Oreste Scalzone, a student at the time, who later became a politician:  

Freedom was the morning of Valle Giulia. They [the police officers] had seized the school of Architecture […]. The night before, discussing the protest at a university committee meeting, we decided that we would go to get it back. We woke up early and we went [… ]. We arrived by the green esplanade and started throwing eggs at the police, who seemed all wrapped up, unprepared, because they were used to repressing protests without expecting any form of resistance. When they charged, we didn’t run away. We withdrew and then counterattacked [our] stones against [their] tear gas grenades […] (quoted by Nanni Balestrini in L’Orda d’Oro (Milan, 1997; YA.2001.a.31572); own translation). 

At the end of the battle, 148 police officers and 478 of about 1500 protesters were injured, 4 were arrested, and 228 reported to the police.

1971_lucasUliano Lucas, Piazzale Accursio, Milan, 1971.  From ’68. Un anno di confine (Milan, 2008) LF.31.b.4963

Among the students and the police officers involved, many then had careers in journalism (Giuliano Ferrara, Paolo Liguori, Ernesto Galli della Loggia), others in politics (Aldo Brandirali, and the above-mentioned Oreste Scalzone), others in the arts, like the actor Michele Placido, the architect Massimiliano Fuksas and the songwriter and director Paolo Pietrangeli, who wrote a song called ‘Valle Giulia’ to celebrate that, suddenly, on that day a new thing happened: ‘non siam scappati piu’ (‘we didn’t run away any more’). The song quickly became the iconic anthem of the protest: ‘No alla scuola dei padroni! Via il governo, dimissioni!’  (‘Down with the bosses’ schools, out with the government, resignation now!’).

Pier-paolo-pasoliniPier Paolo Pasolini on the set of The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Pier Paolo Pasolini  famously wrote about the event. Some verses of his poem ‘Il PCI ai Giovani’ (‘The Italian Communist Party to the Young People’), written in the aftermath of the Battle of Valle Giulia, have been quoted for decades to state that Pasolini was supporting the police:

Pasolini PCI ai giovani
Extract from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Il PCI ai Giovani, 1968Translation into English by Guido Monte  

But if one reads the full poem, it becomes clear that the Pasolini uses his irony to provoke the students, urging them to abandon their bourgeois rebellion, to take their fight under the wing of the Communist Party and closer to the workers because, in his idea, Communism was the only way to make a revolution happen. 

Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections (Italian) 

References/Further Reading

Alessandro Portelli, The Battle of Valle Giulia. Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (Wisconsin, 1997) YC.1997.a.3597

Michele Brambilla, Dieci anni di illusioni. La storia del Sessantotto (Milan, 1994) YA.2001.a.34307

Wu Ming 1, The Police vs. Pasolini, Pasolini vs. The Police, translation from Italian by Ayan Meer 

12 February 2018

1918 and the Eclipse of Populist Marxism

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2017 saw a number of important milestones in the history of Russian Marxism, including the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Das Kapital and the centenary of the Russian Revolution. From 1 May to 5 August 2018, the British Library will be celebrating 200 years since Marx’s birth with an exhibition in the Treasures Gallery.

This year will also see the centenaries of the deaths of five central figures from the generation of ‘Populist’ Russians who began to engage with the ideas of Marx – V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky (b. 1829), Nikolai Danielson (b. 1844), Nikolai Liubavin (b. 1845), German Lopatin (b. 1845) and Vasily Vorontsov (b. 1847). The British Library holds original editions of many of their books, the manuscripts of the extensive correspondence between Danielson and Marx  (Add MS 38075), and the fruits of their work: Russian translations of the three volumes of Das Kapital, completed between 1872 and 1896.

Populism Capital

Above: Title page of volume 1 of Karl Marx, Kapital (St Petersburg, 1872-1896) C.185.b.12. The first translation of volume one of Das Kapital into any foreign language. Below: Inscription on the title-page of the second volume (completed by Danielson in 1885 after Marx’s death): ‘To the British Museum from the literary executors of Karl Marx. London 1.2.86. Presented by F. Engels & Eleanor Marx Aveling’.  

Populism Engels

These Populist ‘fathers’ represent something of a forgotten generation, overshadowed by the more familiar names of the Social Democratic ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’: the Mensheviks Georgi Plekhanov (who also died in 1918), Vera Zasulich, and Yuri Martov; and the Bolsheviks Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin.

Many commentators have depicted a rigid division between Populism and Marxism. Lenin  wrote that Populism was a ‘whole vision of the world whose history begins with Herzen and ends with Danielson’ – a precursor of his own revolutionary ideology, but essentially non-Marxist.

Populism Flerovsky  Danielson  Lopatin  Vorontsov
Top row, left to right: V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky (date unknown) and Nikolai Danielson (1908). Bottom row, left to right: German Lopatin (c.1895) and Vasily Vorontsov (date unknown). Images from Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Populists’ did not see it that way. As well as being involved in the translation of Das Kapital into Russian (in the case of Danielson, Liubavin, and Lopatin), they also sought to grasp what it meant for Russia. In the book, Marx vividly depicted what he called the ‘primitive accumulation of capital’, which shifted resources from pre-capitalist agricultural forms to the developing industrial capitalist sector - with devastating consequences for agricultural communities.

In Marx’s work, this is a historical account of a task already substantially achieved by the bourgeoisie – the subordination of agriculture to industry. For his Russian readers, however, this process lay not in the recent past but in their immediate future. They feared that the famines and social dislocation of industrialisation in the British Empire might be repeated in Russia.

Populism RepinA common experience for Marx’s early advocates in Russia. Ilya Repin’s Arrest of a Propagandist (1880-92). Image from Wikimedia Commons

Must Moscow travel the British road, ‘the expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil’? In the closing decades of the 19th century, Russian intellectuals drew on Marx to argue for various positions in relation to this question.

Though with differing emphases and political approaches, Bervi-Flerovsky, Danielson, Liubavin, Lopatin, and Vorontsov foresaw a ‘non-capitalist’ industrialisation in Russia, which would avoid the horrors of the ‘primitive accumulation of capital’. By exposing the economic mechanisms driving development in Western Europe, they argued, Marx opened up the possibility of a more self-conscious and planned process. They hoped for a more humane path which would allow the peasant commune to persist in some form, or at least enable the class of peasants to become modern socialist citizens without severe disruption.

Populism Vorontsov 1892

 Vorontsov’s  Krest'ianskaia Obshchina (‘The Peasant Commune’) (Moscow, 1892) 08207.k.30.

Other readers of Marx advanced a more fatalistic interpretation. For Nikolai Ziber (1844-88), known as ‘the first Russian Marxist’, there could be no path to socialism except through a long period of capitalist development exactly as depicted in Das Kapital. There must first be a bourgeois-democratic revolution to enable the unfettered accumulation of capital. A socialist revolution would follow only once more traditional economic forms had been dismantled, and the peasantry forcibly transformed into a wage-earning proletariat. This reading became known as ‘orthodox Marxism’, influencing the Social Democratic movement as well as the Legal Marxist intellectuals like Peter Struve.

By 1917, Lenin had resolved to cut the Gordian Knot by a third solution: to try to spark a world revolution, and contribute to the success of socialism in the developed capitalist countries. Socialist Russia would then be able to modernise in collaboration with the advanced economies of Socialist Europe.

Populism Lopatin 1926

 An early Soviet work about Lopatin. I. I. Popov, German Aleksandrovich Lopatin (Moscow, 1926) 010795.aa.85.

The daring actions of the Leninists in 1917 brought their particular strand of Russian Marxism to the fore, eclipsing all rival interpretations. In 1918 the Bolsheviks celebrated the centenary of Marx’s birth as the rulers of Soviet Russia, staking their claim to be his only faithful followers.

However, the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary ideology itself had emerged out of engagement with these older figures, albeit often in passionate argument with them. As the world socialist revolution failed in the years after 1917, the question of the fate of the peasantry along Russia’s path of industrial development, which had been so central for these early readers of Marx, returned with even greater urgency.

Mike Carey, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further Reading

Ewa Borowska, ‘Marx and Russia’, Studies in East European Thought 54, 1/2 (March, 2002), 87-103. 8490.413600

Henry Eaton, ‘Marx and the Russians’, Journal of the History of Ideas 41, 1 (January-March, 1980), 89-112. 5000.900000

Letters of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to Nikolai Frantsevitch Daniel’son (1868-1895) Add MS 38075.

Derek Offord, ‘The Contribution of V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky to Russian Populism’, The Slavonic and East European Review 66, 2 (April, 1988), 236-51.

Albert Resis, ‘Das Kapital Comes to Russia’, Slavic Review 29, 2 (June, 1970), 219-37. 8309.385000

Andrzej Walicki, The Controversy Over Capitalism: Studies in the Social Philosophy of the Russian Populists (Oxford, 1969) X.529/10228.

02 January 2018

Polish mathematicians and cracking the Enigma

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For centuries all cryptosystems had a linguistic orientation. However after the First World War cryptography entered the era of mechanisation and as a result cipher machines were built with the set of rotors as a primary component. They were used for encrypting and decrypting secret messages. To break their ciphers mathematical knowledge was needed.

The Enigma, the most famous example of the cipher machine, was created by the Germans at the end of the First World War. It was used for commercial and military purposes, although the two versions differ significantly. In the late 1920s Germany had the most sophisticated communications in the world. The British, French and Americans tried to tackle the Enigma cipher but failed to break it. One country, however, desperate to monitor German secret messages, achieved considerable results. This was Poland.

Sandwiched between two powerful neighbours, Soviet Union to the east and Germany to the west, Poland, a newly-created state after the First World War, was in great need of finding a way to ensure her security. The success of the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1920 was due to intelligence activities in which Polish cryptographers played a crucial role. To continue the work on cryptology seemed to be an obvious choice.

Enigma Memorial
Memorial at Bletchley Park commemorating three Polish mathematicians. (Photo by Magda Szkuta)

Polish Intelligence was successful in cracking the German military ciphers until the German cryptograms began to change in 1926. The Poles quickly realized that they were machine-enciphered and identified the machine as the Enigma. A commercial model purchased by the Polish Cipher Bureau was however different from the German military Enigma. Unable to decipher military messages and to reconstruct the machine they decided to turn to a mathematical approach. In 1932 a team of young mathematicians from the University of Poznań was set up. Among them were the main code breakers Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. It was Rejewski who first cracked the Enigma code, in only ten weeks. His excellent mathematical education, fluent command of German, exceptional intuition and completion of a course in cryptology, together with the intelligence information he received from the French Secret Service, led to his success. The first messages were deciphered as early as Christmas 1932.

Enigma Rejewski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, Marian Rejewski: the man who defeated Enigma. (Krakow, 2013) YD.2014.a.1832

Rejewski was now joined by Różycki and Zygalski. Their contributions included the Różycki clock and the Zygalski sheets Subsequently the Poles were able to replicate the Enigma machine and design mechanical devices which allowed them to break the Enigma code. A crucial device which made it possible to reconstruct daily codes in two hours was the cyclometer. It was substantially developed by Alan Turing in the Second World War. In 1938 the German cryptographers increased Enigma’s security and the Poles’ techniques no longer worked. There were no resources to carry out further work either. By that time the Polish cryptographers had read about 75% of intercepted German Radio communications. This was kept strictly confidential.

Enigma Zygalski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, The triumph of Zygalski’s sheets: the Polish Enigma in the early 1940. (Kraków, 2015). YD.2016.a.4085

In July 1939, with the German invasion of Poland imminent, the Poles invited French and British code breakers for a secret meeting near Warsaw. The Polish team disclosed their Enigma results and handed their allies-to-be copies of the Enigma machine. On 1 September the war broke out. The three genius mathematicians fled Poland and later joined the French cryptographers in France. The knowledge they had provided considerably contributed to the cracking of the more complicated wartime Enigma codes used by the Germans. This happened at Bletchley Park. The breaking of Enigma had a significant impact on the course of the Second World War. It is believed that it shortened the war by two years and saved countless lives.

An original Enigma machine is currently on display in the British Library outside the Alan Turing Institute.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

David Kahn, Seizing the Enigma (London, 2010). YC.2011.a.1687

Frank Carter, The first breaking of Enigma: some of the pioneering techniques developed by the Polish Cipher Bureau (Milton Keynes, 2008). YK.2010.a.35748

 Simon Singh, The Code Book (London, 1999). YC.1999.b.8756

Enigma Machine
The Enigma Machine on display in the Library (Photo by Clare Kendall)

 

21 November 2017

Orwell in Translation

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George Orwell’s Animal Farm was first published on 17 August 1945 and on 28 August the Russian scholar and critic Gleb Struve wrote to Orwell to say that he found the book “delightful” and would like to translate it for the benefit of Russians, “who could read the truth about their country only when outside it”. Replying to this letter on 1 September, Orwell wondered “what the procedure is. Are books in Russian published in this country, i.e. from non-official sources?” He told Struve that, at about the same time, he had received a letter from a Pole who wanted to translate the book into Polish. Orwell’s main worry was how to pay his translators, but he said he was “anxious that the book should find its way into other languages. If translations into the Slav languages were made, I shouldn’t want any money out of them myself (The Complete Works of George Orwell (CWGO), vol. 17, pp. 274-5). 

Animal Farm Polish

Cover page of Polish translation: Zwierzęcy folwark ....(London,1947). 012642.pp.100.

The first translation of Animal Farm into a Slavic language – in fact, into any language! – was into Polish. It was made by Teresa Jelenska, the wife of a Polish diplomat, and published at the turn of 1946 and 1947 in London by the League of Poles Abroad.

Teresa Jelenska was also instrumental in putting her son’s friend, a young Polish-born Ukrainian Ihor Szewczenko  in touch with Orwell. Szewczenko, then aged 25, wrote to Orwell in April 1946 immediately after he had read Animal Farm and saw at once, as he put it, “that a translation of the tale into Ukrainian would be of great value to my countrymen” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 72). Szewczenko (who later changed the spelling of his name to Ševčenko, the heading under which his works can be found in the British Library’s catalogue), translated Animal Farm while commuting between Munich, where he lived with his wife and mother-in-law, both Soviet-Ukrainian refugees, and Quackenbrück in the British zone of Germany, where he worked for a Polish newspaper.

A year later, when the translation was ready for publication by the Munich publisher Prometheus, Szewczenko wrote to Orwell again asking him for a preface for the book and Orwell, although he was “frightfully busy”, did indeed write the preface to the Ukrainian edition, which remains his most detailed explanation of his motives for writing the “fairy story”. He was particularly glad to find out from Szewczenko, who published his translation under the pseudonym of Ivan Cherniatynskyi, that his publishers in Munich were the Soviet Ukrainians, who defended the “acquisitions of the October revolution”, but turned against the “counter-revolutionary Bonapartism” of Stalin and the Russian nationalistic exploitation of the Ukrainian people. Orwell was “encouraged to learn that that kind of opposition exists in the USSR” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 73).

Animal Farm Ukrainian

Cover of  the Ukrainian translation. Kolhosp tvaryn: kazka. Translated by ‘Ivan Cherniatynskyi’ with an introduction by George Orwell. ([Munich, 1947?]) 12593.f.40.

The first Ukrainian edition was not very lucky. Orwell informed his friend, writer Arthur Koestler on 20 September 1947 (CWGO, vol. 19, pp. 206-7), that “the American authorities in Munich have seized 1500 copies of it and handed them over to the Soviet repatriation people, but it appears 2000 copies got distributed among the DPs (Displaced Persons) first”. In the same letter Orwell told Koestler that he had given Szewczenko his address and added: “I have been saying ever since 1945 that the DPs were a godsent opportunity for breaking down the wall between Russia and the West”. Shortly before that, in his review of James Burnham’s book The Struggle for the World (London, 1947; 8011.ee.32.), he expressed a similar thought even more directly: “one of the most important problems at this moment is to find a way of speaking to the Russian people over the heads of their rulers” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 105).

It was precisely the plan to send Animal Farm into the Soviet Union that made Orwell agree to fund the publication of Gleb Struve’s translation into Russian by the DP publisher Possev. Approached by Possev six months before his death, Orwell immediately supported the idea of publishing the translation in a book form (it had already been serialized in the publisher’s weekly magazine of the same name (no. 7-32, 1949) and smuggling it into the USSR, but he still wanted to know for sure who he was dealing with. “I suppose the editors of this paper are bona fide people and also not Whites?” – he asked his recent acquaintance, a German communist Ruth Fischer in a letter of 15 July 1949 (CWGO, vol. 20, p.146). The first part of his question could easily be confirmed, but it was more complicated with the second. As Orwell had feared Possev, unlike the Ukrainian publishers of Animal Farm, were indeed “Whites”. They enjoyed Orwell’s satire of the Soviet regime, but could not stomach him satirising the church and religion and the role they played in society. That is why – as it became known much later, in the 1980s – they censored Orwell and cut out from Animal Farm two paragraphs describing the role of Moses, the tame raven, who tells the animals about “Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died.”

Animal Farm Russian

Title-page of the  Russian translation. Skotskii khutor. ([Frankfurt am Main], 1950). 12654.de.12.

This was of course only the beginning. Eventually Animal Farm was translated into at least 70 languages, including Esperanto, but it is worth stressing that the Slavic languages (Polish, Ukrainian, Russian) were among the first. The French publication appeared later than expected, only in October 1947, because, as Orwell wrote to Koestler in January 1946, “The French publisher, who had signed a contract to translate Animal Farm, has got cold feet and says it is impossible «for political reasons»” (CWGO, vol. 18. p.28) – this no doubt was the result of the 1945 elections in France, when the Communists became the largest party in the French National Assembly. But those whose countries were directly under the Communist rule continued publishing the book abroad – in 1952 Animal Farm came out in Lithuanian and in 1955 in Serbian.

Animal Farm Lithuanian

Cover of the  Lithuanian translation. Gyvulių ūkis. Fantastině apysaka. (London, 1952). X.950/31145

Masha Karp, editor of The Orwell Society Journal and author of a forthcoming  Russian biography of George Orwell

References/Further reading

The Complete Works of George Orwell edited by Peter Davison (London, 2000-2002). Vols. 17 (YC.2001.a.13719), 18 (YC.2001.a.16202), 19 (YC.2002.a.23095) and 20 (YC.2002.a.23177)

Masha Karp. ‘The Raven Vanishes’. The Orwell Society Journal. No. 9, December 2016, pp. 16-19

Ksenya Kiebuzinski. ‘Not Lost in Translation: Orwell’s Animal Farm Among Refugees and Beyond the Iron Curtain’, The Halcyon: Newsletter of the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, no. 59, June 2017.  

08 November 2017

Heroes and victims of the Revolution

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 In November 1918, the first anniversary of the Bolshevik military insurrection (as the October Revolution was then known) was ‘celebrated in style’ in Soviet Russia. Around 3,500 metres of red fabric was allocated for decorating the Kremlin in Moscow. Over 400 metres of ropes were supposed to hold posters and panels during the celebration. On 7 November 1918 Lenin, who had made a remarkably prompt recovery after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt some two months earlier, managed to give several speeches in different parts of Moscow. A large memorial plaque in commemoration of those who lost their lives “in the struggle for peace and the brotherhood of nations” was unveiled on Red Square and a temporary monument to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was also erected in the centre of the capital. A mass show “The Pantomime of the Great Revolution” was staged in the streets. Such mass festivals and reenactments of “revolutionary events” would soon become a usual feature of each commemoration and celebration in the early years of Soviet Russia. You can see photographs of those first anniversary celebrations here.

Those Russian artists who embraced the Bolshevik Revolution were happy to glorify it in arts. Vladimir Mayakovski was quite active in promoting the celebrations. For the first anniversary he wrote a ‘comic opera’ – Misteriia-buff (Mystery-Bouffe) – which was accepted to be part of the festivities. Staged by the famous theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold with designs by Kazimir Malevich the play was premiered on 7 November 1918 and then shown two more times. The author also appeared on stage as a ‘common man’, but then had to play a couple more roles as some actors did not turn up.

Image 1 - Misteriia Buff-Mayakovski-Ac.4635.ca.6

Above: Designs by Kazimir Malevich, from Istoriia sovetskogo teatra ed ited by V.E.Rafalobich, Vol.1 (Leningrad, 1933). Ac.4635.ca.6; Below: Vladimir Mayakovski, poster for Misteriia-buff, 1918. From The Soviet theatrical poster (Leningrad, 1977). HS.74/2256

Image 2 - Misteriia-Buff poster

Seven pairs of ‘clean’ (‘bloodsuckers’) and seven pairs of ‘unclean’ (‘workers’), as well as The Hysterical Lady, The Common Man (The Man of the Future), Devils, Saints (including Leo Tolstoy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) performed a ‘satirical drama’ in The Entire universe, The Ark, Hell, Paradise, Land of Chaos and finally – in The Promised Land. By the end of the year the play was published as a separate edition.

Image 3 - 1st edition

Cover by Mayakovski for the 1st edition of Misteriia-buff. (Petrograd, 1918). C.135.g.23

The Revolution affected everyone in the country, but it was also important for avant-garde artists and the Bolsheviks as well to stress the final divide between the past and the present, the rich and poor, the victors and losers, the heroes and victims and leave no space in between so that each and every one should clearly take sides. This irreversible split was also presented in another work by Mayakovski created for the anniversary – the album of drawings and short verses Geroi i zhertvy revoliutsii (Heroes and Victims of the Revolution’; Cup.410.c.81). Heroes (Worker, Red Army Soldier, Farm Labourer, Sailor, Seamstress, Laundress, Motorist, Telegraph Operator and Railway Worker) and Victims (Factory Owner, Banker, Landlord, Kulak, Lady, Priest, Bureaucrat, General and Merchant) are presented by four artists: Kseniia Boguslavskaia , Vladimir Kozlinskii, Sergei Makletsov and Ivan Puny.

Below are four of the album’s Heroes’: the Red Army soldier, Laundress,  Motorist and Railway worker:

Image 4 (3)


  Image 4 (7)

Image 4 (8)


Image 4 (10)

And here are some of the Victims’: Merchant, Kulak, Lady and Priest

  Image 4 (1)

Image 4 (14)

    Image 4 (15)

Image 4 (16)

It was proven before and happened this time again – Revolution devours its children. In 1919, Boguslavskaia and Puny left Russia for good; in 1930 Mayakovski committed suicide; in 1935, Malevich died of cancer having been banned from exhibiting ‘bourgeois’ abstract art; and in 1940, Meyerhold was shot dead in Stalin’s purges as an ‘enemy of the people’.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

12 October 2017

Righteous Gentile and honorary Irishman: Zdeněk Urbánek

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When Václav Havel, playwright and future president of the Czech Republic, was imprisoned in the 1970s, he came across a novel entitled The Road to Don Quixote (Cestou za Quijote; 1949), freely based on Cervantes’s experiences in an Algerian prison. As he read it, admiring the prophetically modern quality of the book and the author’s imaginative grasp of what it felt like to be a prisoner, he realised that he had actually met the author. At that time, when he was a young man in his early twenties attempting to break into the world of Czech literature and drama, the older man – a writer of short stories and essays, and a translator of Shakespeare and Joyce – inspired his respect, but little more. It was not until later, as they worked together as friends and co-signatories of Charter 77, that Havel came to appreciate the true qualities of Zdeněk Urbánek.

F_urbanek_zdenek_1917_0001

 Portrait of Zdeněk Urbánek (Image from The Archive of Fine Arts, Creative Commons non-commercial use-Share-Alike 3.0)

Urbánek was born on 12 October 1917 in Prague. After graduating he became an editor, first at the publishing house Evropský literární klub and in 1945 of the periodical Svobodné slovo, before working in the Ministry of Information and the Czechoslovak state film company as a script reviewer. In 1957, however, he contracted tuberculosis and left full-time employment to devote himself to translation. He had a special affinity with Irish literature, describing himself as an ‘honorary Irishman’; his translation of James Joyce’s Dubliners (Dubliňané; Prague, 1959; 011313.kk.22) testifies to this.

Among the many British and American authors whom he translated were T. S. Eliot, Eugene O’Neill, Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Dickens, but his crowning achievement was his translation of seven of Shakespeare’s plays; the British Library holds a three-volume edition of these containing Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III, Julius Caesar, Hamlet and all three parts of Henry IV (Brno, 1992-95; YA.2002.a.740). Of these, Hamlet retained a place in the repertoire of the National Theatre in Prague from 1959 to 1965.

Urbanek Romeo and Juliet

Frontispiece and tittle-page from Romeo a Julie (Prague, 1964; 11760.a.6),translated by Urbánek, illustrated by Ota Janeček.

The British Library is also privileged to own a copy of Urbánek’s earliest published work, a collection of short stories entitled Jitřenka smutku (‘Mourning star’), which bears a dedication in the author’s own hand.

Urbanek Jitrenka smutku inscription

 Manuscript dedication on the flyleaf of Jitřenka smutku (Prague, 1939; X.909/81940).

At the same time as he was embarking on his literary career and establishing himself in publishing, Urbánek was also becoming active in a very different sphere. Since the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous year he had been living in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and the growing persecution of the Jews was brought home to him in a particularly forceful way when his friend Jiří Ohrenstein, a Jewish poet who wrote under the name of Jiří Orten, was knocked down by a German ambulance in 1941 and died after being denied hospital treatment on racial grounds. Urbánek could not save him, but he could at least preserve his work and his literary reputation, and wrote an introductory essay for a collection of his writings, Eta, Eta, žlutí ptáci (‘Eta, Eta, yellow birds’ ; Liberec, 1966; X.909/8664). On a more practical level, Urbánek and his wife Věra provided temporary shelter in their two-room apartment for several Jewish fugitives on their way to safer refuges, and also offered a collection-point for food parcels being sent to others who had already been dispatched to Terezín. In recognition of his efforts, Urbánek was subsequently designated as a ‘Righteous Gentile’ by the State of Israel.

Urbanek Jitrenka smutku cover

  Cover of Jitřenka smutku.

Urbánek never hesitated to put his personal safety at risk in the service of both humanitarian and literary causes. He was frequently subjected to police questioning, and even his work as a translator exposed him to danger through his choices of authors and the ideas which they expressed, leading him to publish them anonymously or under borrowed names. From 1972 onwards he contributed to various samizdat and exile literary publications, as after 1968 he had been placed on the list of banned writers.

In one of his short stories, ‘The Visit’, translated by William Harkins in On the Sky’s Clayey Bottom: Sketches and Happenings from the Years of Silence (New York, 1992; YA.1993.a.20757), he describes a visit from a State Security representative hoping to recruit Urbánek’s wife to spy on a guest coming to stay with their neighbours. When it turns out to be a mistake (the man was looking for a Party member with a similar name living two floors down), the unwelcome caller departs, grumbling; ‘We’re already loaded down with work and they send me another two floors up. Goodbye then. And keep quiet or you’ll get it.’ In just three short pages Urbánek pithily and trenchantly captures the atmosphere of claustrophobia and distrust which prevailed immediately before the end of communism in Czechoslovakia (the story was first published in May 1992, only months before the ‘Velvet Divorce’ which divided the Czech Republic from Slovakia). He himself had made a significant contribution to the downfall of the old regime through his work with the human rights declaration Charter 77, signed by many leading cultural figures who were punished by imprisonment or dismissal from their posts; Urbánek was forbidden to leave Czechoslovakia after returning in 1969 from a six-month stay at All Souls College, Oxford, and did not do so again until October 1989, when he was finally able to visit the USA as a guest of the Charter 77 Foundation.

Despite the fact that Urbánek was 90 when he died in 2008, Havel declared that he had died before his time. ‘Without him,’ he stated, ‘I can hardly form an adequate conception of what Czech fiction, Czech essay writing, or Czech translation today have to tell us’.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

 

14 September 2017

150 Years of Capital

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The British Library claims an important relationship with Karl Marx and his associates. Arriving to London as an exile in 1849, Marx became a familiar face in the reading rooms of the British Library (then part of the British Museum), making use of their extensive collections to pursue information that would later prove foundational to his famous critique of political economy, Capital. The first edition of this canonical work was received with little fanfare, selling only 1000 copies in its first four years. In 1872, Marx himself presented a copy, published in German, for our collections (C.120.b.1). The donation was acknowledged like any other, with a cursory record in a large, leather-bound index that now sits in our corporate archives. Now, 150 years since its original publication date on 14 September 1867, it is among our most treasured texts.

  Marx register
Marx’s donation index entry. BL Corporate Archives DH53/6

In preparation for the 2018 bicentenary of Marx’s birth, we have been tracing the course of his time with the British Library. It is a well-trodden path; few figures have been subject to as much intense historical and ideological scrutiny, and it is hard to believe that after two centuries our explorations may yield new discoveries. But it would seem that the Library still has secrets to give up. This week, consulting the donation indexes led to the discovery that Marx also presented a second copy of Capital, this one in French.


Marx French
Title page of Le Capital (Paris, 1872) C.120.g.2.

The text, with its intricately-embellished chapter headings and impressive title page, is a thing to behold. Closer inspection also reveals various handwritten annotations in the margins of the page. Words are crossed out, better alternatives suggested, and minor errors deleted. In his search for a common unit of value between two comparable commodities – cloth and coat – the word toile (‘linen’) is substituted for the less accurate drap (‘sheet’): 

Marx corrections 1   Marx corrections 2
Handwritten corrections in the donated copy of Le Capital

There is good reason to suspect that these annotations are written in the author’s own hand. The birth of the French edition was, for Marx, lengthy and tortuous. In his opinion:

although the French edition…has been prepared by a great expert in both languages, he has often translated too literally. I have therefore found myself compelled to re-write whole passages in French, to make them accessible to the French public. It will be all the easier later on to translate the book from French into English and the Romance languages. (Letter to Nikolai Danielson, 28 February 1872, MECW, vol.44, p.327)

One is inclined to feel some sympathy for the long-suffering translator, Joseph Roy, working as he was from the second German edition of Capital handwritten in Marx’s famously dreadful scrawl. Marx was a ruthless editor, and it is easy to imagine the famously rigorous intellectual leafing through the copy en route to the library, unable to resist making a few last-minute alterations.

Marx was also a constantly evolving writer, and the ideas contained in the French edition differed significantly from those of its predecessor. Notably, the much-discussed section outlining the fetishism of commodities was refined. Where the German edition concerns itself with the fantastical appearance of the commodity, the French edition foregrounds the necessary reality of ‘material relations between persons and social relations between things’. In short, then, this is a work unpopulated by phantoms; instead, we begin to see how the workings of capital come to modify the essence of human personhood. Marx himself claimed that the French edition ‘possessed a scientific value independent of the original and should be consulted even by readers familiar with German’. Still, it was long neglected by the Anglophone world, largely due to Engels’s own preference for the earlier German incarnation.

  Marx Register 2
Donation index entry for the final instalment of Le Capital. BL Corporate Archives DH53/7

The donation registers show that the French edition was delivered to the British Library in six instalments, between 12 October 1872 and 8 January 8 1876. This period corresponds with various complications in Marx’s life, with frequent bouts of insomnia and liver disease affecting his ability to work. In a letter to Friedrich Sorge on 4 August 1874 (MECW, vol.45, p.28), Marx lamented that ‘that damned liver complaint has made such headway that I was positively unable to continue the revision of the French translation (which actually amounts almost to complete rewriting)’. So the staggered delivery of the manuscript likely reflects these intellectual and physical obstacles, but it is also revealing of the audience that Marx had in mind for his work. The French edition was initially published in a serialized format in workers’ newspapers between 1872 and 1875. ‘In this form,’ Marx wrote,‘the book will be more accessible to the working-class, a consideration which to me outweighs everything else.’ However, he fretted that the French public, ‘always impatient to come to a conclusion…zealously seeking the truth’, would be frustrated by the wait between instalments. A puzzling concern for a man whose work had hitherto been received with so little public zeal.

For the Library’s administrators, these piecemeal instalments of Capital, and interactions with its author, only proved something of a mild inconvenience. In a letter dated 17 July 1873, the Library’s Assistant Secretary wrote to William Butler Rye, Keeper of Printed Books, with the following request:

Dear Mr. Rye,
I am directed by Mr. Jones to forward to you fasc. IV of the French edition of Das Kapital. In a letter received from Dr. Karl Marx on the 15th, he says: “I feel not sure whether or not I have sent the 6th and last fascicile [sic] of the first volume of the German edition” (of Das Kapital). Would you be so good as to communicate with Dr. Marx on the object: he writes from No.1 Maitland Park Road.
Believe me,
Yours truly,
Thomas Butler

Butler letter 1 Butler letter 2 Butler letter 3
Letter to William Butler Rye, BL Corporate Archives DH4/13

Izzy Gibbin, UCL Anthropology.  (Izzy is working with the British Library on a doctoral placement scheme looking at ways to mark the bicentenary of Marx’s birth, including an exhibition in the Treasures Gallery and a series of related events)

References

Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Collected works (MECW) (London, 1975-2004) X.0809/543.

15 August 2017

Miracle on the Vistula

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The present British Library exhibition on the Russian Revolution also touches upon the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. The war started over the disputed territory of Ukraine between Soviet Russia and the newly -created independent Polish state (1918), following the Polish-Ukrainian combats. Poland’s independence was threatened by the advance of the Red Army into Europe, the aim of which was to spread the Bolshevik revolution in the West. The military conflict escalated when Józef Piłsudski, Poland’s Chief of State, formed an alliance against Soviet Russia with the Ukrainian leader Symon Petlyura in April 1920. Following the initial successful offensive in Ukraine by their combined forces the Polish troops were pushed back by the Red Army towards Warsaw, the Polish capital. The turning-point of the war was the Battle of Warsaw, which took place on the outskirts of the capital between 12 and 25 August 1920.

Polish-Soviet War poster LF.37.b.277

Polish poster from Soviet-Polish war, reproduced in Rok 1920 : plakaty ze zbiorów Centralnej Biblioteki Wojskowej im. Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego. (Warsaw, [ca. 2011]), LF.37.b.277

The Soviets planned to take Warsaw by enveloping the city from the north and south, and attacking it from the northwest. The Polish plan assumed the concentration of the Polish troops on the North and South Fronts to counterattack an anticipated Soviet advance. The forces of the third Central Front were to attack Soviet’s weakest positions. The Soviet intelligence discovered the Polish plan but because of its simplicity they considered it a trick to mislead the Red Army.

However, essential to the success of the Battle of Warsaw was the monitoring of Soviet communications which started as early as September 1919. The Polish Army Cipher Bureau (Biuro Szyfrów) was set up in May 1919 and its first head was Jan Kowalewski, a polyglot and cryptologist. With the help of a group of university mathematicians – Stanisław Leśniewski, Stefan Mazurkiewicz and Wacław Sierpiński – Polish cryptologists broke practically all the Red Army ciphers and codes. During the course of the war they deciphered a few thousand Soviet military messages. This significantly contributed to the victory of the Polish Army as the Poles became aware of gaps in the Soviet lines and the manoeuvres of the Red Army.

Zanim zlamano ZF.9.a.3584
Cover of Grzegorz Nowik, Zanim złamano “Enigmę” -: polski radiowywiad podczas wojny z bolszewicką Rosją 1918-1920 (Warsaw, 2004-2010).  ZF.9.a.3584

In the critical days of the Battle of Warsaw Polish radio-telegraphers blocked Soviet commander Mikhail Tuchachevsky’s orders to his troops by reading Bible excerpts on the same frequency as that used by the Soviet radio station. As a result the commander lost contact with his headquarters and the troops marched north instead of following the order to turn south. The decisive moment of the Battle was the recapture of Radzymin, a small town 23 km from the capital, by the Polish forces on 15 August. It halted the Soviet advance on Warsaw, also boosting Polish morale. After the war the Battle of Warsaw was known as the “Miracle on the Vistula”. As we know now it was no miracle; it was down to the Polish military intelligence.

Miracle on the Vistula painting by Jerzy Kossak
Miracle on the Vistula. Painting by Jerzy Kossak (image from Wikimedia Commons)

The Feast of the Polish Armed Forces is celebrated in Poland annually on 15 August to commemorate the anniversary of the 1920 victory over Soviet Russia at the Battle of Warsaw.

The Battle of Warsaw has been regarded as one of the most decisive battles in world history, since it saved Europe from the spread of communism at the time.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

Further reading:

Edgar Vincent, The Eighteenth decisive battle of the world. Warsaw, 1920, (London, 1931).  9100.aaa.20

Adam Zamoyski, Warsaw 1920. Lenin’s failed conquest of Europe. (London, 2008).  YC.2008.a.8810

Grzegorz Nowik, Wojna swiatów 1920: Bitwa Warszawska, (Poznań, 2011).  ZF.2013.a.26243

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website