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89 posts categorized "Russia"

22 April 2017

Lenin's Birthday

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One of my very first childhood memories was a happy day, 22 April 1970, when the entire Soviet Union was celebrating the centenary of Lenin’s birth. I still remember an overwhelming sensation of pride, an excitement that spring brings with its smells after long winter, and envy toward the Young Pioneers who were assembled to march along the main street of Moscow to Red Square. I was watching them from the fourth floor flat in this main street wishing to grow up as quickly as possible to become a Little Octobrist and then a Young Pioneer and a member of Komsomol .

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Badges of the Soviet youth groups, l.-r., Little Octobrists (7-9 years), Young Pioneers (10-15) and Komsomol (14-28)

My childhood wish was very easily satisfied as membership of these organisations was technically compulsory. As I grew older Lenin on my badge was also becoming older and bolder. The image of the ‘most human of all humans’ was ubiquitous and based on legendary accounts and fake memoirs. Some historians believe that the attempt on Lenin’s life on 30 August 1918, which triggered the Red Terror, also laid the foundations of a cult of Lenin, as his recovery from the serious wounds was miraculously quick.

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Soviet Wall Calendar, 1920s. Cup.645.a.6.(65).

The design of this wall calendar imitates popular traditional motives and the composition of the Resurrection from Christian icons. However, Christ has been replaced with Lenin and the traditional warrior figure on the left bears the hammer and sickle on his breastplate. Lenin himself was not keen on being the object of worship, but even in his own lifetime he could not prevent it, and by the time of his death he was fully sacralised.

Natan Altman, a star of the Russian avant-garde, was interested in immortalising Lenin in the visual arts. His series of drawings of Lenin in his office in the Kremlin was published straight after Altman had finished it. The artist spent six weeks with Lenin in July 1920 and recalled that they spoke a lot about art and revolution. Based on these sketches, he created Lenin’s bust in bronze. It was the first portrait of Lenin to be shown abroad – at the Paris exhibition in 1925, where Altman received a gold medal for his work.

45b-Lenin-Altman-C.135.g.32 (1)-NOT ON THE LIST

45b-Lenin-Altman-C.135.g.32 (2)
Sketches from Natan Altman, Lenin: Risunki Al’tmana (St Petersburg, 1921) C.135.g.22.

In 1920 Lenin was very busy also sitting for the English sculptress, journalist and writer Clare Sheridan, who at that time was having an affair with the prominent revolutionary and Lenin’s Deputy Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars (government) Lev Kamenev. She stayed in the Kremlin for two months, where she made busts of the prominent leaders of the Russian Revolution. She spoke candidly with the Bolsheviks as she worked, discussing with Lenin his dislike of her cousin Winston Churchill. She later wrote a book Russian portraits, where she described her Russian experience.

Sheridan1
Portrait of Clare Sheridan wearing a Russian-style fur hat from her book Russian Portraits (London, 1921) 9456.d.22.

Book tributes to Lenin started appearing before his death. Such was, for a example, a chronicle of his life published for his 50th birthday.

Lenin's 50th 1765.f.2
Ko dniu piatidesiatiletiia so dnia rozhdeniia Vladimira Il’icha Ul’ianova (Lenina) 
(Moscow, 1920) 1765.f.2

One of the key figures of Russian literary Futurism, Aleksei Kruchenykh, wrote a book where he examined Lenin’s speeches and his style. He endeavoured to study them from a linguistic point of view as an example of propaganda art. Kruchenykh’s artistic study was inspired by academic works coming from the circle of literary critics and scholars called ‘formalists’, who were more interested in analysing the structures of literary texts, rather than in their historical, social and other contexts. Although the book could be seen as part of the trend of the rising cult of Lenin, the foundations principles of formalism were severally criticised under Stalin, and the book was forgotten.

45a-IAzyk Lenina-C.136.b.30-NOT ON THE LIS
Aleksei Kruchenykh, Iazyk Lenina: 11 priemov leninskoi rechi (Moscow, 1925) C.136.b.30.

One of the ‘devices’ of Lenin’s rhetorical style was what Kruchenykh called ‘resoluteness’. He insisted that Lenin was primarily the ‘person of deeds’, and not a ‘person of words’: ‘He doesn’t leave space for hesitation, as many authors or speakers do, when they speak as if asking for an advice from the audience. He sets himself a task not to convince the audience, but to put the audience face to face with the necessity to agree with the [inevitable] facts’.

This ‘resoluteness’ was probably a feature of Lenin’s character rather than only a rhetorical device. The country built by the man who did not know hesitation and probably was incapable of simple empathy collapsed having murdered millions of its citizens. Little did I know on this happy day 22 April 1970 how wrong were my feelings. Unfortunately, the birth of the third child in the family of a civil servant Ilia Nikolaevich Ul’ianov was not such a happy day for the course of the Russian and world history.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state.

16 April 2017

Happy Easter from Imperial Russia

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Among various collections of visual material at the British Library we have a collection of postcards (HS.74/2027) published by the pioneer of postcard production in Russia, the Society of Saint Eugenia. The Society started as a charity organisation to support  nurses who had served in the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, but after the war had no means of livelihood. Supported by artists and elites the society was patronised by Princess Eugenia of Leuchtenberg (1845-1925), a cousin of Tsar Alexander III, father of Nicholas II.

The Society supported hospitals, subsidised nursing homes and organised learning courses for young nurses to prepare them for work at the front in the war-time. To fund its activities, the Society started a publishing business, producing popular and commercially viable picture postcards with landscapes, photographs, art works reproduced on cards and made especially for the postcard format. Artists close to the World of Art group as well as other famous and popular painters and illustrators, such as Dmitrii Mitrokhin, Nikolai Samokish, Stepan Iaremich and many others took active part in the work of the society and contributed their art works to the print production of the Society.

The first printing endeavour of the Society was a decorative envelope for Easter 1896. Under a different name the Society continued its work after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and in 30 years of its existence produced around 6,500 postcards, with an average print-run of 10,000 each.

Vol 8  sleeve 10

Vol 14  sleeve 22

The use of postcards for holiday greetings definitely commercialised even religious holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. But we think that you might like to get our sincere Easter greetings with these old Russian postcards.

Happy Easter!

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state.

15 March 2017

Pskov, Pskov, 35.015: Railway and Revolution

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In Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr Zhivago there is an episode when a young telephone operator Kolya is having a conversation the meaning of which is not initially quite clear to the reader:

Kolya was as usual conducting another conversation and, judging by the decimal fractions which embellished his speech, transmitting a message in code over a third instrument. ‘Pskov, Pskov, can you hear me? – What rebels? What help? What are you talking about, Mademoiselle? Ring off, please. – Pskov, Pskov, thirty-six point nought one five. – Oh, hell, they’ve cut me off. – Hullo, hullo, I can’t hear. – Is that you again, Mademoiselle? I’ve told you, I can’t, speak to the station-master. All lies, fable – Thirty six … Oh, he… Get off the line, Mademoiselle’ (translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari).

Pskov Pskov railway station (postcard)

In fact the author made this character in his novel into a witness and a player in the big game which was to change Russian history for good. From the beginning of the unrest in Petrograd that started on 8 March (23 February) 1917, parliamentarians and politicians had been discussing various options of dealing with the disorder.

Yurii Lomonosov, a transport engineer and employee of the Ministry of Transport recorded in his diary on 14 (1) March 1917:

In the Duma, they debated for the whole day what had to be done. There were various suggestions: dethronement, abdication or persuasion, in other words – Tsarina’s arrest and appointment of a responsible ministry. They agreed on abdication. The Department of Exploitation clerk brought me an order to send the Tsar’s train to Pskov. I wish to believe that this was the last Imperial train.

Just before discontent started in the capital, Tsar Nicholas II had left his family residence in the suburbs of Petrograd, Tsarskoe Selo, for his army Headquarters in Mogilev.

Tsarskoe selo
Tsarskoe Selo railway station (postcard)

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Mogilev railway station (postcard)

Yurii Lomonosov and Alexander Bublikov, also a railway engineer and member of the Duma, were tasked with preventing the Tsar’s train from re-entering Petrograd, so that he could not get support from any loyal troops or advisors, and negotiators could put pressure on  the monarch to abdicate. As General Spiridovich, Commander of the Imperial Guards, recalled in his memoirs:

The Tsar ordered to reply that he was waiting for Rodzianko [Head of the Duma] at the Dno station. The Tsar was walking along the platform for quite a while. All were surprised to learn that General Ivanov [commander of the Petrograd Military District with powers of martial law granted by the Tsar] had just arrived to the station with his train […]. We found out that while General Ivanov was at the station, several trains full of drunken soldiers arrived there. Many were rude and imprudent. Ivanov ordered to arrest several dozens of soldiers. Many of them were searched and a lot of officers’ belongings were found on them. They had probably been looted in Petrograd. In a manner of an old father figure Ivanov berated them, ordered to stay on their knees, beg pardon. He took the arrested in his train. All this, as told by witnesses was very strange and made an impression of something trivial, funny and sham.

On  15 (2) March 1917 Nicholas II signed an act of abdication under pressure from his ministers. Unwilling to place the burden of rulership on his frail 13-year-old son Alexei, he named his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as his successor. The following day, Michael announced that he would not take the throne unless a constituent assembly elected by ‘universal, direct, equal and secret suffrage’ voted to maintain the monarchy.  

Michael's authograph
Grans Duke Michael’s autograph refusal to accept the throne (From Wikimedia Commons)

As Yurii Lomonosov recorded in his diary, words changed their meaning overnight: mutineers became revolutionaries and loyal troop turned rebels:

‘What is the disposition?’
‘General  Ivanov  is in Semrin. He is on the phone with the gendarme officers who are going to meet him half way […]. The War Duma Committee ordered to stop all the [rail] traffic. We obeyed […] the order, but instead of destroying the tracks we took away parts of railroad switches, numbered them and took to Petrograd.’
‘Brilliant idea! Thank you very much. One of our telephones will be always connected with your telegraph. Let me know about all movements of General Ivanov.’
And it should be mentioned that the telegraph operators were excellent. They kept sending messages while General Ivanov was shooting their comrades behind the wall. We knew his every step.
As soon as I finished this telephone conversation, I was called again […]:
‘What is happening in Gatchina [an Imperial residence near St Petersburg]?’
‘Twenty thousand loyal troops are there’
‘What do you mean ‘loyal’?’
‘Not revolutionary…’
‘Do remember once and for all: these are rebels. Loyal – are those who are on the people’s side. So, Gatchina has been taken by the rebels. Go on…’   [From the conversation between Lomonosov and the Senior Railway Manager;  16 (3) March 1917]

HS.74-1870(5)

HS.74-1870(6)
 The Act of Abdication of Nicholas II and his brother Grand Duke Michael, published as a placard that would be distributed by hand or pasted to walls (shelfmark:  HS.74/1870)

Already on 12 March (27 February), the ‘Temporary Committee of the State Duma and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies – the two competing branches of power – had been formed, and the following day, the Petrograd Soviet published the first issue of its newsletter, Izvestiia (News). On the day of the abdication Izvestiia issued a special edition in a form of a leaflet, informing their readers about the epoch-making event:

HS.74-1870(1)

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state.

08 March 2017

Music of the Revolution: the Hymn of Free Russia

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There has been great agitation in Petrograd all day. Processions have been parading the main streets. At several points the mob shouted for ‘Bread and peace!’ At others it sang the Working Man’s Marseillaise. In the Nevsky Prospekt there have been slight disorders.

This is how the French Ambassador to Russia Maurice Paléologue recorded 8 March (23 February old style) 1917, the day when the Russian Revolution started.

  Image 1 _Paleologue
Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador's memoirs, translated by F. A. Holt. (London, 1923-25) 09455.ff.3.

Spontaneous demonstrations to mark International Women’s Day were joined by angry women in bread-lines. The next day meetings, riots and strikes in Petrograd were multiplying and mixing with acts of hooliganism and vandalism. Almost all industrial enterprises were shut down and people were matching along the central street in Petrograd, the Nevsky Prospekt, causing severe disruptions to public transport.

Demonstrators were met sympathetically by the middle class and even by some troops. Nicholas II, who had left for the Staff Head Quarters (Stavka) at Mogilev some 400 miles away from the capital just days before the unrest, received belated reports and underestimated (or wanted to underestimate?) the seriousness of the events. When he finally commanded the use of troops to restore order, riots had already spread to some of the regiments stationed in Petrograd. Attempts to restore order ended in clashes between the troops and the protestors which only incited further protests. At the same time, politicians at the Duma (parliament), statesmen at the State Council (the supreme state advisory body to the Tsar) and the cabinet ministers all saw themselves as Russia’s saviours. The overall crisis of the old political system and the regime was so deep that the Tsar’s abdication seemed to be the most straightforward and secure solution. The situation spiralled out of control and within a week Russian Tsarism was over, no-one having risen to defend it.

The news was greeted with great enthusiasm by most Russian intellectuals and liberals. Expectations were high and hopes that a truly free Russia was already a reality turned into a creative euphoria: lyrics, essays and graphics glorifying and celebrating the Revolution and the people who made it happen, appeared in print and were read at rallies and meetings.

On 24 (11) March, the newspaper Birzhevye vedomosti (‘Stock-Exchange News’; Mic.B.1089) published a memo ‘Glazunov and Gorky’, informing readers that the actors of the ex-Imperial – now State – Mariinski Theatre asked the Director of the Petrograd Conservatoire, composer Aleksandr Glazunov, to write a new hymn for the new Russia. This was required for the ceremonial re-opening of the Opera House, which had been closed for a month during the unrest in the capital. As the re-opening was scheduled for the 26 (13) March, Glazunov declined saying that it was an impossible task for him at such a short notice. According to the memo, he suggested to ‬sing a Russian folk song Ekh, ukhnem! aka the ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’ (you can her it performed here by Feodor Chaliapin in a recording from 1902:Download Эй,_ухнем!_-_Фёдор_Шаляпин). The popular writer Maxim Gorky was asked to make necessary amendments to the lyrics.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, another Romantic composer Aleksandr Grechaninov  also came up with the idea of a hymn, performed here in 1926 by David Medoff:  Download The_hymn_of_free_Russia_-_Гимн_свободной_России_(text_and_music_-_1917)

Images 2a GrechaninovPortrait of Grechaninov from the Russian edition of his memoirs (New York, 1952), 10796.bb.23; an English translation by Nicolas Slonimsky (W11/4835) appeared in the same year.

In his memoirs, written in 1934 when he was living abroad having fled Soviet Russia, Grechaninov recalled:

The news of the Revolution of February, 1917, was greeted in Moscow with enthusiasm. People poured into the streets wearing red flowers in their lapels. Strangers embraced each other with tears of joy in their eyes. […] An idea suddenly struck me: I must write a new national anthem! I hurried home, and in half an hour I had composed music of the anthem. But what about the words? The first two lines, "Long live Russia — The country of the free," I took from a poem by Fedor Sologub, but I did not like the rest of the poem. What was I to do? I telephoned Constants Balmont , the poet. He came to see me without delay, and in a few minutes wrote out the text. Manuscript in hand, I went to see Gutheil [a music publisher]. Without wasting any time he sent the music to the printer, and on the following afternoon the Gutheil store displayed copies of my Hymn of Free Russia. The proceeds from the sales were turned over to the liberated political prisoners. The Bolshoy Theater was closed for only a few days. As soon as it reopened, my new anthem was performed, along with the Marseillaise, by the chorus and orchestra of the Bolshoy Theater led by Emil Cooper. Thanks to the simple melody and fine text, my anthem soon became popular, not only in Russia but also abroad. My American friends, Kurt Schindler and his wife, translated it into English, and it was published by the G. Schirmer Company.

 Grechaninov, obviously, was not aware that the score had already been published in London in 1917, with ‘with harmonisation and poem by Clarence Lucas’, a Canadian composer, who wrote his own lyrics instead of translating Balmont’s.

Image 3 Score
A. Grechaninov, The Hymn of Free Russia, harmonisation and poem by Clarence Lucas. (London, 1917) F.1623.e.(9.)

Grechaninov claimed that “the Hymn of Free Russia was still sung even when there was no more freedom left in Russia”, and indeed the tune became a theme of Radio Liberty (RL), that was broadcast to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

01 March 2017

A Silver Watch

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One of the first Decrees of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of People’s Commissars was the Decree of 10 (23) November 1917 On Abolition of Estates and Ranks. On 16 (29) December 1917 Lenin also signed the Decree on the Equalization of Rights of All Serving in the Army, which if effect eliminated all rewards, orders and decorations. But building the Red Army brought back the question of ranks, distinctions and awards. In September 1918 the Order of the Red Banner for heroism, dedication, and courage demonstrated on the battlefield was introduced in the Soviet Russia and later in other Soviet republics.


Image 1-Orden_Krasnogo_Znameni_RSFSR_1918
First variant Russian Order of the Red Banner on red cloth backing 1918-1924 (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

After the Soviet Union had been formed in 1922, the Order of the Red Banner received the status (in 1924) of an All-Union award. As of 1 September 1928, 14,678 people had received this award. For a long time it was the only award of the Soviet State, and therefore 285 people were awarded it twice, 31 three times and four people got four orders.

Of course, a problem soon became obvious – how should those who were not exceptionally heroic be encouraged? The Decree of 8 April 1920 stipulated that valuable gifts and cash prizes could be awarded to the military personnel in exceptional circumstances at the discretion of the Revolutionary Military Councils of the fronts and armies.

Here is an award list certifying that one medical doctor Ivan Iosifovich Timofeev of the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 56th Infantry Division of the Western Front was rewarded with a silver watch for his dedicated work providing medical care to the sick and wounded during the Civil War. In 1918-19 the Red Army attempted a westward offensive into areas abandoned by defeated Germany. Following on this operation, in 1920 Soviet Russia fought a war against the newly-established republic of Poland, advancing as far as the outskirts of Warsaw before being driven back and signing the Peace of Riga in March 1921. However, the armies of the Western front were still stationed in Western Russia with the headquarters in Smolensk.

Image 2- 23-Award list-RF.2014.b.34

Award list, 1922. RF.2014.b.34

The certificate is dated June 1922 and signed by the Deputy Commander of the armies Nikolai Efimovich Varfolomeev (1890-1939) and the Member of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Western Front Nikolai Frolovich Novikov (1891-1937). Professional officer Varfolomeev joined the Red Army voluntarily in March 1918 and immediately was included in the commission that worked out the new borders between Soviet Russia and Germany in accordance with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ended the war between the two countries. Second in command of the Western Front after Mikhail Tukhachevsky (1893-1937), in 1925 Varfolomeev was appointed his deputy as head of strategic training of all military academies of the Red Army. In the British Library, we have books written by Nikolai Varfolomeev on the year 1918 at the Western Front of the ‘Imperialist war’ (Moscow, 1933; Ac.4343.b/3) and the military operation near the town of Mozyr in 1920 (Moscow, 1930; YA.1996.a.23226).

After the civil war was mainly over Nikolai Frolovich Novikov made a career in the party ranks and lived in Moscow in the infamous House on the Embankment, where Tukhachevsky was his neighbour. Tukhachevsky, Varfolomeev and Novikov were executed during the Stalin purges. We do not know the fate of the medical doctor Ivan Timofeev or the secretary who also signed the certificate. But maybe a silver watch treasured in one family is still going.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state.

14 February 2017

There, on the Other Shore of the Amur: Stories from Russian Life in China

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A historian of Sino-Western relations with a special interest in China’s relationship with Russia, I came to the British Library with a shopping list of titles I had found in the Library’s catalogue and which were unavailable anywhere else. One of them, a rarity and a witness to an era, is the subject of this post.

Measuring only 10 x 14 cm, the little book of stories by I. Georgievskii, Tam, na drugom beregu Amura (‘There, on the Other Shore of the Amur’), is kept in an envelope marked “fragile item, please handle with care”. I hope readers will enjoy a synopsis of the contents; some thoughts on the book will follow.

MarkGamsaGeorgievskii cover
Cover of I. Georgievskii, Tam, na drugom beregu Amura (Harbin, 1930) British Library 012590.a.24

The title story describes a young woman who, with her three-year-old son, makes a desperate attempt to escape Soviet Russia and join her lost husband. Other than the Amur, the river separating Russia and China, no place names – not even the word China – are mentioned. Smugglers take the two over the Amur at night in a small rowing boat. There is great suspense, but then a happy end: mother and child having somehow transferred to a steamboat, they dock on a bright June day at a friendly wharf. By chance, Lina’s husband happens to be there, awaiting a cargo delivery. The city, into which he then whisks them away in a chauffeur-driven Packard looks more like glamorous Shanghai than Harbin, the Russian-founded railway city in Manchuria and subsequently a haven for Russian refugees from the Revolution and Civil War, where the book was published.

The next story, ‘Shuran’ is about a Russian team transporting a herd of 100,000 sheep to Mongolia through a terrible snow storm, the shuran of the title. The men manage to revive the animals, which had been covered by the snow, but not their old Mongol guide, who had predicted the storm and been frozen to death on his horse.

The rest of the collection has more humour than drama. The hilarious ‘Oy Vey, Masha!’ is about a Jewish colourman, who had escaped the Revolution to China with his wife and two daughters; alas, the family’s new servant Masha, put up in the daughters’ bedroom, turns out to be a young male impostor, a former tsarist officer-in-training. ‘A Night of Horrors’ takes place in Siberia during the Civil War: the ‘horrors’ are merely the very human fears of a soldier guarding an isolated hay warehouse: at first, he is alarmed by an impoverished peasant, then by two dogs, and he displays compassion towards all three. In ‘Crud’, set in tsarist Russia, an elderly shop assistant gets bullied by the senior staff for his shabby appearance and sacked for no fault of his own. However, he soon makes a surprising return in gentleman’s clothes: he was in fact the shop’s owner, who had wanted to test his employees. Another variation on the impostor theme is ‘The Waltz “On Manchurian Hills”’: an inebriated middle-aged man is allowed a dance to a tune made popular after the Russo-Japanese War, but the tender lady who accepts his invitation is a circus strongwoman, and ends up whizzing her poor suitor away to a splashing fall on the dance floor.

There follow four ‘miniatures’. ‘The Sage Fa-Tsai’ is about an old Chinese, whose pearls of wisdom astound his simple-minded employers: thus he suggests to a farmer, who seeks advice about marriage, that he would be better off taking two 20-year-old wives than one 40-year-old. ‘Blood and Sand’ describes a native peddler, apparently a Mongolian, trying hard to sell off a long-suffering marmot in an unidentified small town in Manchuria: haggling over the creature’s price with a potential buyer is conducted in Russo-Chinese pidgin before the sudden appearance of a fierce dog ends the marmot’s life along with the peddler’s hopes for a profit. ‘St Nicholas – Our Saviour on the Waters’ mirrors a perception among Harbin Russians, that the Chinese in town venerated the icon of St Nicholas of Myra, a patron of seafarers in the Russian Orthodox faith which was prominently displayed at the Harbin Central Railway Station. Finally, ‘A Lady from Rouen’ is a sketch of an old Frenchwoman, who was once married in Russia. Speaking funnily in broken Russian, she says she would rather live on as a ‘Russian émigré’ in China than return to her native France, which by now seems alien to her.

Nothing is known about the author of these stories and even his initial cannot be deciphered. The 106 pages of text contain many typos, as well as occasional remnants of Russian pre-revolutionary orthography. The back matter of the book advertised two other forthcoming titles by I. Georgievskii, but apparently neither came out: bibliographies of Russian publishing in China do not list them.

MarkGamsaGeorgievskii back matter
The back cover of Tam, na drugom beregu Amura, advertising further works by the author.

Georgievskii’s book is both a reminder of China as a place of escape from the suffering unleashed by the Russian Revolution a century ago and, in its own little way, is testimony to the new tribulations that awaited émigrés in their unexpected refuge. Russian life in Manchuria was to be severely tested by the Japanese occupation of the region that began in 1931. The Chinese Communist takeover in 1949 signalled the end of the Russian diaspora in China, when its members were dispersed between the Soviet Union and numerous other countries.

Mark Gamsa, Tel Aviv University

 

10 February 2017

Mutilated history: Russian Revolution and Beyond

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Propaganda was considered an important instrument in legitimising the Bolshevik power from the very start. In spring 1918, when the Bolsheviks were struggling to maintain their power, Lenin already started an ambitious project of ‘Monumental Propaganda’. He suggested employing visual art, such as revolutionary slogans and monumental sculpture, as an important means for propagating revolutionary and communist ideas. Even porcelain was recognised as a medium of conveying communist messages.

But of course, printed material, such as posters, magazines and books that could be produced in relatively large numbers, could reach a wider audience and had a better impact. In 1920, two souvenir books prepared by the Propaganda Bureau of the Communist International  were printed in Soviet Russia: Deialeli Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala (The Leaders of the Communist International) and Oktiabr’: Foto-ocherk po istorii Velikoi Oktiabr’skoi Revoliutsii, 1917-1920 (October: Photo-essay on the history of the Great October Revolution, 1917-1920). Frontispieces of both books were designed in a very distinct style by Sergei Chekhonin.

Image 1-Deiateli Kommunisticheskogo Internatsionala-LF.31.b.1026

The Leaders of the Communist International (LF.31.b.1026) above and October (LF.31.b.1027) below.

Image 2 -October-LF.31.b.1027

The Leaders of the Communist International contained 48 plates – portraits of members of the International and reproductions of paintings and drawings of the events related to its activities. All the artworks were created by prominent contemporary artists, such as Mstislav Dobuzhinzkii, Issak Brodskii, Boris Kustodiev, Georgii Vereiskii, and Konstantin Veshchilov. October contains collages of photographs documenting the Revolution and the first years of the Soviet state. The books were intended as presents for the delegates of the Second Congress of the Third International that took place in Petrograd from 19 July–7 August 1920.

During the Stalin purges that followed soon, many of those had been presented with these books were executed or exiled. And, those who had proudly appeared in the portraits and photographs were called ‘enemies of the people’. The Soviet practice was that such ‘enemies’ would disappear not only from life but from all records – books, photographs, paintings, films, etc. This fully applies to these two books . Many copies were destroyed or mutilated by their owners. Complete and pristine copies are extremely rare.

The copies held at the British Library were purchased in the early 2000s. The title page of The Leaders of the Communist International is cut in half, leaving a tiny curve in blue ink, the remains of a lost dedication. The book clearly belonged to someone whose name we had to forget. Our copy of October is signed: ‘Eigentum Frey’ (property of Frey). It is very likely that it belonged to Josef Frey (1882-1957), the founder of the Austrian Communist Party who was expelled from it for it in 1927 for being a Trotskyist.

I could not trace the fate of this copy of the book any further, but it definitely suffered a lot. On one of the first pages there is a cut just in the middle.


Image 3

According to the list of illustrations, Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev stood next to the scaffolding from which Lenin was giving his speech.

Image 4

If we compare the British Library copy with a copy recently digitised by the Russian State Historical Public Library we can notice that pages 8, 12, 13, 16-18, 20, 23 and 26 with photos of the prominent leaders of the world socialist movement that had become ‘enemies of the people’ have been removed.

Image 5 p 26

 Page 26, missing in the British Library copy of October, from the copy in the Russian State Historical Public Library

Interestingly, the British Library copy contains p.25 (see below) which looks like a half of a folding plate where the right half is missing. It is not included in the digitised copy, so we cannot say whose photograph became a reason for cutting it out.

Image 6

The collage on p.38 tells a story of the of ‘Monumental Propaganda’ plan. On the photograph in the bottom corner Grigorii Zinoviev  is shown giving a speech at the opening of one of the first Soviet monuments – a monument to the revolutionary V.Volodarskii, who had been assassinated on June 20, 1918.

Image 7

 The British Library's copy of October with a  photograph cut out (above) and  The Russian State Historical Public Library's copy with the photograph retained (below)

Image 7a

We can fairly easily find information on Trotsky, Zinoviev or Volodarskii, but what happened to the woman in a hat in the right corner or to the boy with a holster on the car step next to Zinoviev? Unfortunately, they also were cut out of the history together with those who made it.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state.

21 December 2016

The Lettered Bridge: Aleksandr Kazem-Bek

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Long before the Soviets began their process of korenizatsiia, Imperial Russia boasted a small but prominent cadre of indigenous non-Russian academics. Among those from the 19th century is Aleksandr Kasimovich Kazem-Bek, a colourful mid-century scholar of Turkic and Persian. Kazem-Bek was born Muhammad Ali Kazem-Bek in 1802 in Rasht, Iran, the son of a prominent Shi’ite scholar and daughter of the local governor. At the age of 9, his family moved from Rasht to his father’s native Derbent in contemporary Dagestan. It was here that he met Scottish Presbyterian missionaries, and eventually decided to convert to Christianity.

Kazem-Bek portrait X.809-1671

Portrait of Kazem-Bek from Mirza Kazem-Bek by A.Rzaev (Baku, 1965). X.809/1671

Kazem-Bek’s conversion caused concern among Muslims and Russian Christians alike. The local authorities were worried that he would act as a bridgehead for British influence among the local populations, and he was exiled to Astrakhan. Although punitive, the move allowed him to begin his career in service of the Russian Imperial government as a translator from Persian and Azeri into Russian. It was first step that led to posts in both Kazan – the seat of one of the country’s largest Oriental Studies departments – and St. Petersburg, the Imperial capital. His immersion in both the Islamic and Christian faiths (notwithstanding his occasional polemics against Islam) and his mastery of Russian, Turkish, Tatar, Arabic and Farsi allowed him to act as a conduit of knowledge from the newly conquered regions on the southern fringe of the Empire to the Imperial centres of military, political and economic power.

Kazem-Bek memoir 864.g.43

Among the earliest of his works was an autobiographical account of his conversion from Islam to Christianity entitled A Brief Memoir of the Life and Conversion of Mahomed Ali Bey, a Learned Persian of Derbent (Philadelphia, 1827; 864.g.43; title-page above). This essay was more than simply an ego project: it marked the first of a number of endeavours over the next thirty years to explain and scrutinize the faith of Russia’s new Muslim populations for the benefit of Russian-speaking readers. From 1844, for example, we have his translation of the Kitab mukhtaṣar al-wiḳāyā fī masā’il al-hidāyā (‘The Book of the Collection of Consciousness in the Questions of Gifts’), a 12th century tract dedicated to the examination of the Shar’ia, or Islamic law. There is even a work in the Library’s collection from as late as 1859 entitled Miftāḥ kunūz al-Ḳur’ān (‘Key to the Treasures of the Qur’an’) (St. Petersburg, 1859; 14514.d.13), demonstrating that inter-religious comparison ran like a thread through Kazem-Bek’s oeuvre.

  Kazem-Bek MS notes 306.412.B.7

Kitab mukhtaṣar al-wiḳāyā fī masā’il al-hidāyā (Kazan, 1844; 306.41.B.7). An introduction to the work including autobiographical details by the editor, Aleksandr Kazem-Bek, with grammatical corrections to the Arabic, possibly in Kazem-Bek’s own hand.

The scholar’s two most passionate interests, however, were history and language. In many ways, Kazem-Bek’s writings adumbrated the shift in emphasis from religious community to ethno-linguistic belonging that would grow apace following the 1905 Revolution in Russia. This is exemplified by his insistence on studying the vernacular cultures of Russia’s Turkic subjects. The earliest of his historical works held at the Library is the Asseb" o-sseĭiar" / Sem' planet" soderzhashchii istoriiu  Krymskikh" khanov" (‘The Seven Planets Comprising the History of the Crimean Khans’) 

Kazem-Bek 14456.h.21. titlepage

Title-page of Asseb" o-sseĭiar"(Kazan, 1832) 14456.h.21

 This is followed by an English version of his Derbend-Nâmeh, or The History of Derbent. His choice of topic is an indication that, despite his conversion and exile from Azerbaijan, Kazem-Bek never forgot his childhood home or the territory of his ancestors. Finally, among the later works produced on the history of the region, we hold his Bab" i babidy:  religiozno-politicheskiia smuty v" Persīi v" 1844-1852 godakh" (‘Babas and the Babids: Politico-Religious Turmoil in Persia’ 1844-1852) (St.Petersburg, 1865; 4504.f.30). Even as a professor and an eminent scholar, Kazem-Bek did not tire of analyzing the social environment of the Caspian region.

Kazem-Bek 11456.h.14 Titlepage

Derbend-Nâmeh, or The History of Derbent (St. Petersburg, 1851) 14456.h.14. Title-page (above) and signed; inscription by Kazem-Bek (below)

Kazem-Bek 14456.h.14 inscription

Within the realm of language and linguistics, among his most passionate topics was the typology of Turkic languages and cultures. The Library holds both the original 1846 Russian version (12906.c.34) and the 1848 German translation (T.6887) of his primary work of historical linguistics, Obshchaia  grammatika Turetsko-Tatarskago iazyka (‘General Grammar of the Turco-Tatar Language’). Whatever the value of Kazem-Bek’s theoretical approaches to the study of language, his interest in the languages and dialects of the Eurasian steppe – particularly Kazan Tatar and Uighur – helped focus contemporary minds on the distinctive characteristics of the various Turkic idioms. This too translated into socio-political action, especially cultural and social reform. Indeed, Kazem-Bek is known to have been in contact with another Azeri linguistic reformer, Fathali Akhundzade, about issues of modernization and popular education.

Kazem-Bek Grammar Russian 12906.c.34 Kazem-Bek grammar German T.6887
Russian and German editions of Kazan-Bek’s Turko-Tatar grammar

 Aleksandr Kazem-Bek was no stranger to controversy, and it is indeed partly thanks to this controversy that his memory has lived on through the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. The works of his housed at the British Library and other institutions, however, demonstrate that he was a formidable part of 19th century Turkic intellectual history, and an important builder of the foundation of Russian Oriental Studies.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections

 

19 December 2016

Stones, Coffins and Violin Cases: Andrey Platonov

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I began translating Andrey Platonov (1899-1951) over 40 years ago. Joseph Brodsky saw him as at least the equal of Proust, Joyce, Musil or Kafka. I myself feel the same. I am hoping that a few quotations may be enough to make readers wish to learn more about him.

Платонов,_Андрей_Платонович_(1922)PORTRAIT

Andrey Platonov in 1922

The son of a railway worker who also gilded the cupolas of churches, Andrey Platonov was born at the turn of a century – on 1 September 1899 – and between town and country, on the edge of the central Russian city of Voronezh. He was a talented engineer and many of his heroes are craftsmen of some kind, often eccentric and lonely. Here are the first lines of his novel Chevengur (1927-28; the British Library holds a 2008 edition with illustrations by Svetlana Filippova:  YF.2009.a.29735):

Old provincial towns have tumbledown outskirts, and people come straight from nature to live there. A man appears, with a keen-eyed face that has been worn out to the point of sadness, a man who can fix up or equip anything but who has himself lived through life unequipped. There was not one object, from a frying pan to an alarm clock, that had not at some time passed through the hands of this man. […] But he had never made anything for himself – neither a family, nor a dwelling.

There is a great deal of pain, a sense of brokenness, in Platonov’s earlier work. Many of his heroes and heroines are orphans. This is from the second paragraph of his novel Schastlivaia Moskva (‘Happy Moscow’, 1934-36; British Library editions at: YA.2000.a.35626 and YF.2011.a.168):

Her father died from typhoid; the hungry, orphaned girl went out of the house and never went back there again. Remembering neither people nor space, her soul gone to sleep, for several years she walked and ate up and down her country, as if her mother land were an emptiness, until she came to herself in a children’s home and at school.

This girl goes on to become a glamorous flying instructor, but her traumatic childhood remains with her, dragging her down. She loses her job. Working as a manual labourer on the construction of the Moscow metro, she then loses one leg in an accident.

HappyMoscowCover

Andrey Platonov, Happy Moscow, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler (London, 2013) H.2014/.6789 

Platonov was a passionate supporter of the 1917 Revolution and remained sympathetic to the dream that gave birth to it, yet no one wrote more searingly of its consequences. He treats collectivisation and the Terror Famine with black humour:

‘The coffins!’ the peasant announced. ‘We stacked those wooden coffins into the cave for future use – and now you’re digging up the whole gully. Give us our coffins back! […] Them coffins are made to measure – we’ve marked each one so we know who goes where. Our coffins are what keep us all going. Yes, they’re all we’ve got left – a coffin’s an entire livelihood to us. And before we buried them in the cave, we lay down in them – we’ve got them worn in!’

Platonov writes equally vividly about the lives of a member of the Moscow elite and of a railwayman in a remote northern forest, about the lives of a baby hare and a steam engine. The tenderness and precision of his description of the baby hare makes me think of D.H. Lawrence at his best. Here, though, are a few lines about Platonov’s favourite bird, the proletarian sparrow:

In the depth of winter, near midnight, a blizzard began. The old man was playing his last piece – Schubert’s Winterreise – and then he intended to go off to rest. Just then, from the middle of the wind and snow, appeared the familiar, greying sparrow. With his delicate, insignificant little feet he settled on the frosty snow; then he walked a little around the violin case, fearless and indifferent to the whirls of wind buffeting him over his entire body – and then he flew right inside the case. There the sparrow began pecking the bread, almost burying himself in its warm softness.

Platonov’s place in the Soviet literary world was always borderline. Some of his works were published—and subjected to fierce criticism. Others were accepted for publication—yet never actually published. Unable to publish original work during his last years, he received a commission for a book of adaptations of Russian folk tales. With only the subtlest of changes, he was able to make these his own:

‘Thank you, young man,’ he said. ‘There was charm in the forbidden dress and wisdom in the book. The mirror showed all things visible – all that seems in the world. I thought I’d collected a good dowry for my daughter, only I didn’t want to give it to her too soon. I thought I’d brought her gifts of every kind, but I’d left out the one kind that matters, the kindness that was there inside you. I went far away in search of this gift, but it was close at hand all the time. It’s never a given, nor can anyone give it – it seems we must each seek it out for ourselves.’

PLatonovFolkTales1986

Andrei Platonov. Ivan-chudo: rasskazy, skazki (Cheliabinsk, 1986). YA.1995.a.4659

The death of Platonov’s son – from tuberculosis caught in the Gulag – was only one of many tragedies that he endured with extraordinary courage. He did not intend it as such, but I see this description of a plane tree as a self-portrait:

During its spring floods, the river must have flung mountain stones at the very heart of the plane, but the tree had consumed these vast stones into its body, encircled them with patient bark, made them something it could live with, endured them into its own self, and gone on growing further, meekly lifting up as it grew taller what should have destroyed it.

 Robert Chandler, translator (All translations by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler)

Robert Chandler will be talking about Platonov and about his recent translation Fourteen Little Red Huts and other plays at an event at Pushkin House on 14 February 2017. Further details and how to book here.  

 PlatonovNewTranslation

15 December 2016

The dangerous language

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Can there be anyone in the world more harmless than an Esperanto enthusiast? Probably not. Speakers of the international language Esperanto are mainly interested in languages, foreign cultures and world peace. However, since the first book of Esperanto was published in 1887 they have lived through recurrent periods of intolerance and repression.

This is the subject of Ulrich Lins’ book Dangerous Language whose new revised edition in Esperanto has just been published as La danĝera lingvo – Studo pri la persekutoj kontraŭ Esperanto. This book has also been translated into German (1988), Italian (1990), Russian (1999), Lithuanian (2005) and Korean (2013), besides an earlier draft into Japanese in 1975, and will soon appear in English.

DangeraLingvoDuEldonojDSC_3718Lins, Ulrich, La danĝera lingvo. Studo pri la persekutoj kontraŭ Esperanto (Gerlingen, 1988; YA.1989.a.13531). First edition (on the left); New revised edition (Rotterdam, 2016; YF.2016.a.19474) on the right.

 The last century was no less bloody and bellicose than earlier ones, but it was also the century of Esperanto, whose speakers represented an idealistic view that all peoples, languages and cultures were of equal value, a view apparently seldom shared by national leaders. From the earliest days of Esperanto, governments were quick to see potential dangers to their authority in the message spread by Esperanto.

As early as February 1895, when the language still had its base in the Russian Empire, the magazine La Esperantisto  was blocked by the censor because it included an article by Leo Tolstoy, an enthusiastic supporter of Esperanto.

LaEsperantisto1895 La Esperantisto. February issue with Tolstoy’s article Prudento au Kredo? P.P. 4939

In Nazi Germany the authorities immediately understood that the internationalism, pacifism and equality which went hand in hand with Esperanto were the exact opposite of everything proclaimed by the Nazi ideal of a superior “Aryan” race destined to rule over other “Untermenschen” (“subhumans”). Added to this, in Mein Kampf (Vol.1, Chap.XI) Hitler expressed his belief that Esperanto would be used by the Jews to achieve world domination. When the Jews were deported from Warsaw, the Gestapo received specific orders from Berlin to search for the descendants of Zamenhof (the creator of Esperanto). All three of his children died in the concentration camps. The only survivors were his daughter-in-law and her teenage son, Zamenhof's grandson, who still lives today in Paris.

In Japan, too, the imperial police force immediately recognized the progressive (and potentially communist) tendencies of the Esperanto movement. In the first decade of the 20th century the police began to take an interest in the relationship between anarchists and Esperantists, and in 1934 the Japanese Proletarian Esperantist Union was shut down.

It is harder to understand the reasoning behind the persecution of Esperanto speakers in the USSR under Stalin. Immediately after the Russian Revolution there was a flowering of languages in the new Soviet Union. New alphabets were created, all minority languages were recognized, and there was support for Esperanto.

However, in Stalin’s time Soviet society underwent a period of closing in on itself and suspecting everything which potentially had links with other countries. Esperantists were people who corresponded with foreigners, or at least were in a position to do so. As Sergej Kuznecov wrote in the afterword to the previous edition of La danĝera lingvo, the treatment of Esperanto speakers can be seen as the measure of the totalitarianism of every regime. In the purges of the 1930s, many outstanding Esperantists perished even though they were sincere communists: Yevgeny Mikhalski, Vladimir Varankin, Ernest Drezen  and others too numerous to list here.

SovetiajEsperantistojMurditaj

 Books by Drezen,  Varankin and Mihalski from the British Library’s Esperanto collection.

La danĝera lingvo describes in rather less detail the persecutions against Esperanto and its speakers in Spain, Portugal, Italy and other European regimes. Esperantists were even executed in those countries, most notably in Cordoba in Spain, when the Fascist army occupied the town in 1937 and shot all members of the local Esperanto group.

The difficulties in reviving Esperanto organizations after Stalin’s death are described in detail by Lins. The Association of Soviet Esperantists (ASE) was founded in 1979, but remained under strict government control for years. Even in some Western countries it was necessary to wait for the collapse of former regimes; the Portuguese association was only revived in 1972.

ASE-SEJMEsperantoBlog
Memoirs about ASE and SEJM (Soviet Esperantist Youth Movement) by prominent  Esperantists in the British Library’s collection.

In 2017 UNESCO will be commemorating the centenary of the death of Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof. It is fitting that as that year approaches we should also remember the persecutions which have taken place against Esperanto and Esperanto speakers over the past century.

It is surprising now to realise that Zamenhof’s concerns were not primarily linguistic. He was far more interested in bringing an end to wars between different peoples, and in creating conditions for international understanding and peace. He lived through a period of pogroms and major wars in Europe, and it is not by chance that the present period of increasing xenophobia and intolerance in many parts of Europe and the world reminds us of events in Zamenhof’s lifetime. This shows yet again that the road leading towards progress and civilization is neither straight nor easy, but Esperanto remains a tool of vital importance in making Zamenhof's vision of world peace and mutual understanding a reality.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics, La Sapienza University Rome, former president of the World Esperanto Association, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto.

Further reading

Garvía Soto, Roberto. Esperanto and its rivals : the struggle for an international language. (Philadelphia, [2015]) m15/.11262

Richardson, David. Learning and Using the International Language. (Washington, 2004). YD.2007.a.8182