From The Gulag To Freedom

This month, we are so very delighted to present this unique interview with Nikita Krivoshein who was born in Paris, in 1934. His family of Russian noblemen, fled communism during the First Wave of emigrants. His grandfather, Alexander Vasilievich Krivoshein, was Minister of Agriculture in the Russian Empire and Prime Minister of the Government of Southern Russia, under General Wrangel. His father and uncle were decorated fighters in the French Resistance during World War II. His father was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Buchenwald and then Dachau.

Nikita, along with his father and mother, returned to the Soviet Union, in 1948, thinking that they were going back home to peace and security. Instead, his father was soon arrested and sent into the Gulag.

Nikita himself was arrested in August 1957 by the KGB for an unsigned article in Le Monde about the Soviet invasion of Hungary. He was convicted and sent into Mordovian political camps (the Gulag), where he worked at a sawmill, as a loader. After his release from prison, he worked as a translator and simultaneous interpreter, from 1960 to 1970. He was able to return to France in 1971. His parents also returned to France in 1974. He lives in Paris. He has just published a book about his Gulag experiences.

Nikita Krivoshein is interviewed by Christophe Geffroy of La Nef.



Christophe Geffroy (CG): You have had an unimaginable journey. Birth in France, then departure for the USSR where you came to experience the gulag and return to France. Could you summarize it for us?

Nikita Krivochein (NK): Heaven was merciful and generous. I was able to return to France, to reintegrate myself, to bring my parents back, to found a home. Among the young emigrants taken to the USSR after the war, those who had this chance can be counted on the fingers of one hand. From Paris, I was able to see the collapse of the communist regime, and this without bloodshed! A great wave of murderous settlements of accounts was more than likely. We survived in the USSR physically as well as in our faith, our vision. But how many “repatriates” preferred to make themselves invisible, to depersonalize themselves to survive. My return to France was, and remains, a great happiness!

CG: Why did your parents return with you to the USSR in 1948, when the totalitarianism of Soviet communism was manifest?

NK: In the immediate post-war period, the totalitarianism was muted and less obvious. From 1943 onwards, Stalin had noticed that the Russians were not very keen on being killed by the Wehrmacht in the “name of communism, the radiant future of all mankind,” so he changed his tune and started to invoke “Great Russia,” its military, its culture, and reopened the churches. He changed the national anthem and renounced the motto, “Proletarians of all countries, unite,” revived the officer corps. In 1946, he returned to the repression of the Church. In 1949, he launched a very dire wave of arrests (including that of my father). But during the war the illusion of a renunciation of communism worked.

CG: What was the most important thing about your life in the USSR and your time in the camps?

NK: I have intimately felt and internalized that Hope is a great virtue. It would have been enough to stop living it, even for a moment, to sink into the great nothingness of “homo sovieticus.”

Our family was one of the few in the Russian diaspora in Paris who did not live in misery. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, my early childhood was happy. With my parents, we lived in a large three-room apartment on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Eiffel Tower. We lived in a comfort that was rare at the time, especially in the families of Russian emigrants. My father had studied at the Sorbonne and had become a specialist in household appliances. When I was born, he was chief engineer at Lemercier Frères. My father owned a black Citroën, and with my mother they traveled a lot. I was an only child, born late.

In June 1946, Stalin organized a vast propaganda campaign – amnesty was proposed to all former white emigrants in France, with the delivery of a Soviet passport and the possibility of returning to their homeland. Pravda came out with a new, flashy slogan: “For our Soviet homeland!” – instead of “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” And the radio no longer played The International but Powerful Russia… The Russians thought that “debolshevization” was indeed launched.

I found myself in the USSR in 1948 and then for many years I was obsessed with the idea of running away. Our ship, which left from Marseille, docked in the port of Odessa. It had on board many Russians who wanted to return to the country. The next day was May 1st. We were waiting. A soldier in a NKVD uniform entered our cabin, asked my mother to open her purse and confiscated three fashion magazines. “This is forbidden!”

We were told – you are going to Lüstdorf, an old German town near Odessa. On the landing pier, trucks were waiting for us, driven by soldiers. We were taken to a real camp, with watchtowers, dogs, barbed wire and barracks! We were transferred to Ulyanovsk in a wagon (40 men, 8 horses, 12 days trip). In 1949 my father was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in the camps for “collaboration with the international bourgeoisie.” My happy childhood was over. I relate all this in my book.

CG: In your book, you warmly evoke the beautiful figure of Canon Stanislas Kiskis, a Lithuanian Catholic priest. What place did religion have in the Gulag and what relationship did it fashion among Orthodox and other Christians?

NK: This question would require a whole study. In 1958, when I arrived at the camp in Mordovia, an old deportee said to me in French: “Allow me to introduce you to Canon Stanislav Kiskis.” That meeting marked my entire stay in deportation. Our friendship continued after our release.
He was a short, stocky man. His face, his head, what a presence! One could immediately sense that he was a strong person in every respect. A week had hardly passed when Kiskis was transferred to our team to load trucks. There were about ten of us, almost all from the countryside, war criminals, quite a few Ukrainians and Belorussians, all of them certainly not ordinary fellows.

Kiskis had chosen the method of Socrates’ maieutics for his mission.
I guess he had practiced his speech in previous camps. On the subject of the “nature of property,” for example, without addressing anyone in particular, Father Stanislav would ask, “And this pile of stones, who owns it? What about the land on which the pile is located?” The answers were obvious. “To no one.” Or, “to those stupid communists and Chekists!” Or, “We don’t know.”

Stanislav and I used to analyze Roman dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception, the rational proof of God’s existence and papal infallibility. We did this exclusively from an analytical and historical point of view. The canon-psychotherapist had to express himself in a more delicate and confused way than when he was dealing with property, but he succeeded in demonstrating what distinguishes work as a punishment inflicted on Adam from that which is the principal sign of our likeness to God. He even succeeded in establishing a quality, a usefulness and a saving side to certain aspects of forced camp labor. On his return to Lithuania, he was warmly welcomed by the Catholic hierarchy.

CG: You knew Solzhenitsyn. What do you remember about the man and, more than twelve years after his death, what can we say today about the historical role he played?

NK: My father was in the First Circle camp at the same time as Solzhenitsyn. It was a lifelong friendship between them. When I left the former USSR, Alexandr Issaevich honored me by coming to say goodbye and encouraging my decision to emigrate.

CG: More generally, what was the influence of the dissidents in the USSR? In what way are they an example for us today?

NK: It is certain that the resistance fighters in the USSR (preferable to “dissidents”), by their actions, hastened the collapse of the system. They are an example because, according to Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, they did not accept to “live in a lie.” But the Communists continue to hate and vilify them.

CG: When we read in your book, the amount of suffering that you and your parents had to face, haven’t we in the West lost the tragic sense of life?

NK: It is enough to be aware of mortality. One can very well do without the Gulag to be aware of the tragedy of existence.

CG: How do you analyze the current situation in Russia? Has the page of communism definitively been turned?

NK: Alas, no! As long as the “stuffed man,” as we used to call the tenant of the mausoleum, remains in his quarters, nothing is irreversible. Stalin worshippers remain numerous, and monuments to this criminal are even erected clandestinely here and there.

CG: While Nazism was unanimously rejected, the same cannot be said of Communism, whose crimes do not arouse the same repulsion (statues of Lenin can still be found in Russia). Why such a difference? And why should Russia not engage in an “examination of conscience” about Communism?
NK: National Socialism never promised anyone a happy life. Communism, on the other hand, has managed to gain acceptance as the “bright future of all mankind.” When a genuine Nuremberg-style decommunization takes place, I will celebrate it wholeheartedly. But the utopia of the earthly paradise has the gift of not setting free its followers.

CG: You are a believer. How do you see the future of our societies, which are moving further and further away from God? And how do you see the future of relations between Orthodox and Catholics?

NK: Five generations of believers have lived under a deicidal regime. The martyrs cannot be counted. The Christian revival was felt in Russia long before 1991. The period of agnosticism that we went through is coming to an end. Man cannot live on bread alone for too long a time. A new generation, not genetically infected with “homo sovieticus,” has appeared. The parishes are full of young people.


This articles appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef.


The featured image shows, “Rehabilitated,” by Nikolai Getman, ca. 1980s.

Igor Sikorsky: A Winged Legacy

It has been said that Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky achieved distinction in three separate careers, all in the field of aviation. He created the world’s first multi-engine airplane in Russia in 1913; he launched a second career in the United States and became famous for his Flying Clippers; lastly, he conceived and developed the world’s first practical helicopter. He is best known, perhaps, for this third career.

He was born in Kyiv, Imperial Russia (now Ukraine), on May 25, 1889. As a boy, influenced by his mother, a medical school graduate, and his father, a doctor and a psychology professor, he showed an interest in science, particularly aviation. He built and flew model aircraft; he became acquainted at an early age with Leonardo da Vinci’s theory of the flying screw. He was 14 when Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and that event, more than any other, decided his career. He spent three years at the Naval College in

St. Petersburg, and was still a student at the Mechanical Engineering College of the Polytechnic Institute in Kyiv when he determined to build his first helicopter.

He traveled to Paris, then the aeronautical center of Europe, where he met some of the early names in aviation, men like Louis Bleriot, first to fly the English Channel, before returning home with a 25 horsepower Anzani engine. He built his first helicopter in 1909, his second in 1910. The second accomplished what the first did not — it proved able to lift itself -but it was unable to sustain the weight of a pilot.

HistoryMr. Sikorsky turned to fixed-wing planes and, in 1910 made his first solo in an aircraft of his own design and construction. His approach was practical; he made-sketches of the plane he wanted to build, built it, then trained himself to handle it, correcting his errors as a pilot as he corrected errors in design.

He defied the experts of that early period by building the first four-engine airplane in 1913. The plane, called The Grand, included such luxuries as an enclosed cabin, a washroom, upholstered chairs, and an exterior balcony for passengers. The Grand was followed by a larger aircraft, called the Ilia Mourometz, after a legendary Russian hero of the 10th Century, which, in a military version, proved highly successful as a bomber in World War I. More than 70 of these bombers were built.

The Revolution ended Mr. Sikorsky’s career in Russian aviation. He traveled to the United States in 1919, after short stays in England and France. Lectures to Russian immigrant groups gave him money for room and food, while he dreamed of new conquests of the air. America had been a beacon to him. “As a youth, I was impressed by the skyscrapers that were taller than anywhere else,” he recalled in 1967, “by the railroad system that included more miles of rails than the total of the rest of the world. I was inspired by the achievements of such men as Edison, Ford, and others, and in my case particularly, the Wright Brothers.”

In 1923, he organized the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation on a farm near Roosevelt Field on Long Island. The first aircraft built was the S-29-A, the A for America, a successful twin-engine, all-metal transport. A number of other aircraft followed, including the S-38 amphibian which Pan American Airways used to blaze new air trails to Central and South America. Mr. Sikorsky’s company became a division of United Aircraft Corporation in 1929, and the combination gave aviation a series of historic flying boats. The first 40-passenger Flying Clippers were built in 1931, followed by the first transoceanic flying boat, the S-42, which pioneered commercial air transportation across the Pacific and Atlantic.

By 1938, the pioneering of oceans was over, and Sikorsky returned seriously to the field of vertical lift. Through the years, he had kept notes on ideas for helicopter designs. His first helicopter, the VS-300, was begun in early 1939 at the Vought-Sikorsky plant in Stratford, Connecticut by fall, it was completed, a strange-looking tubular skeleton which rose a few feet from the ground on September 14, 1939.

The VS-300, in point of time, actually dates back to 1929 when Mr. Sikorsky concluded that a successful helicopter soon would be possible. In 1931 he applied for a helicopter patent that incorporated most of the features of the VS-300. There was one main lifting screw and a small auxiliary rotor at the rear of the fuselage to counteract torque. The VS-300 was powered by a four-cylinder, 75-horsepower, air-cooled engine; it had a three-bladed main rotor, 28 feet in diameter, and a welded steel frame, a power transmission combination of v-belts and bevel gears, a two-wheeled landing gear, and a completely open pilot’s seat. The VS-300, now part of the Ford Museum at Dearborn, Michigan, established a world endurance record by staying aloft an hour and 32 minutes on May 6, 1941. Thus, the helicopter fundamentals were established.

There was a period of evolution in the VS-300. Mr. Sikorsky tried 19 different configurations before he was satisfied with the final design. Military contracts followed, and in 1943 large-scale manufacture of the R-4 made it the world’s first production helicopter. Public acceptance of this strange new vehicle, however, was far from immediate. The helicopter had to prove itself. It did just that in the Korean War, serving as a troop transport and rescue aircraft; men injured in combat were flown directly to field hospitals, their chances of recovery greatly enhanced.

Mr. Sikorsky saw the helicopter as a vehicle that freed aviation from dependence on airports. The helicopter’s ability to take off and land vertically was a breakthrough long dreamed by engineers, but never fully realized until Mr. Sikorsky launched his third career. The helicopter gradually established its versatility in peace and war, but Mr. Sikorsky himself found the greatest satisfaction in the knowledge that helicopters were responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives as rescue aircraft. Pilots of rescue helicopters have contributed “one of the most glorious pages in the history of human flight,” he said in 1967. “It is to these gallant airmen that I address my thankfulness, respect, and admiration,”he said

A deeply religious man, Mr. Sikorsky wrote two books called “The Message of the Lord’s Prayer” and “The Invisible Encounter.” In summation of his beliefs, in the latter he wrote: “Our concerns sink into insignificance when compared with the eternal value of human personality — a potential child of God which is destined to triumph over lie, pain, and death. No one can take this sublime meaning of life away from us, and this is the one thing that matters.” He also wrote an autobiographical account of his life in aviation called “The Story of the Winged S.”

His contributions to aviation brought him many honors and awards. In 1952, Thomas K. Finletter, then Secretary of the Air Force, presented Mr. Sikorsky with the National Defense Transportation Award and said: “He is a milestone in the history of aviation, an equal giant and pioneer. Look upon him well and remember him.” In 1966, Mr. Sikorsky was named Man of the Year by the Air Force Association. Congratulating him on the award, President Lyndon B. Johnson said: “Your skill and perseverance have broadened the horizons of man’s progress.”

In 1967, accepting the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy of the National Aeronautical Association, Mr. Sikorsky expressed his belief in the importance of the individual, a belief that carried him stubbornly past frustrations and failures to success in his three careers. “Creative work is still with us,” he said, “still here to stay, and still remains a tremendously vital factor in the progress of mankind. The work of the individual still remains the spark which moves mankind ahead.”

Igor I. Sikorsky, the legendary aviation pioneer, will long be remembered as the man who gave the world its first practical helicopter.

This achievement alone was significant enough to ensure the gentle Russian immigrant’s place in the history books, but it was only one facet of an extraordinary man’s remarkable career … a career that paralleled the history of powered flight.

Often described as a humble genius, Mr. Sikorsky had already achieved worldwide recognition in two other fields of aviation before he built and successfully flew his VS-300 helicopter in 1939.

Born in Kiev, Imperial Russia,(now Ukrain) on May 25, 1889, Mr. Sikorsky developed an early interest in aviation, thanks largely to the influence of his mother, who was a doctor, and his father, a psychology professor.

A youthful tour of Germany in the company of his father, during which he first heard of the Wright brothers and came in detailed contact with the work of Count Zeppelin, more or less settled the question of what career the youthful Sikorsky was to follow.

He graduated from the Petrograd Naval College, studied engineering in Paris, returned to Kiev and entered the Mechanical Engineering College of the Polytechnical Institute in 1907. But in 1909, his young mind full of aviation, Mr. Sikorsky went back to Paris, then the aeronautical center of Europe, to learn what he could of the embryo science.

While in Paris, he became known to many of the men who later were to make great names in aviation – Bleriot, Ferber, and others. Despite advice to the contrary from these and other experienced men, Mr. Sikorsky announced plans to build a helicopter. Having learned all he could of aviation as it was then known in Europe, he bought a 25 h.p. Anzani engine and went home to Kiev to begin building a rotary-wing aircraft.

The helicopter failed, as did its successor due to a lack of power and understanding of the rotary-wing art. Undiscouraged, Mr. Sikorsky then turned his attention to fixed-wing aircraft.

First success came with the S-2, the second fixedwing plane of his design and construction. His fifth airplane, the
S-5, won him national recognition as well as F.A.I. license Number 64. His S-6-A received the highest award at the 1912 Moscow Aviation Exhibition. and in the fall of that year the aircraft won for its young designer, builder and pilot first prize in the military competition at Petrograd.History

Mr. Sikorsky’s success in 1912 led to a position as head of the aviation subsidiary of the Russian Baltic Railroad Car Works. In this position, as a result of a mosquito-clogged carburetor and subsequent engine failure, he conceived the idea of an aircraft having more than one engine -a most radical idea for the times. With the blessings of his parent company, he embarked on an engineering project which gave the world its first multi-engine airplane, the four-engined “The Grand.” The revolutionary aircraft featured such things as an enclosed cabin. a lavatory, upholstered chairs and an exterior catwalk atop the fuselage where passengers could take a turn about in the air.

His success with “The Grand” led him to design an even bigger aircraft, called the Ilia Mourometz, after a legendary 10th Century Russian hero. More than 70 military versions of the Ilia Mourometz were built for use as bombers during World War 1.

The Revolution put an end to Mr. Sikorsky’s career in Russian aviation. Sacrificing a considerable personal fortune, he emigrated to France where he Historywas commissioned to build a bomber for Allied service. The aircraft was still on the drawing board when the Armistice was signed and Mr. Sikorsky, after casting about in vain for a position in French aviation, traveled to the United States in 1919.

After another fruitless search for some position in aviation, Mr. Sikorsky resorted to teaching. He lectured in New York, mostly to fellow emigres. Finally, in 1923, a group of students and friends who knew of his reputation in prewar Russia pooled their meager resources and launched him on his first American aviation venture, The Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corp.

The first aircraft built by the young and financially insecure concern was the S-29-A (for America), a twin-engine, all-metal transport which proved a forerunner of the modern airliner. A number of aircraft followed but the company achieved its most significant success with the twin-engine S-38 amphibian, which Pan American Airways used to open new air routes to Central and South America. Later, as a subsidiary of United Aircraft Corporation (now United Technologies) Sikorsky’s company produced the famous Flying Clippers that pioneered commercial air transportation across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The last Sikorsky flying boat, the S-44, held the Blue Ribbon for the fastest trans-Atlantic passage for years. All Sikorsky aircraft of the time were known for ease of handling and luxurious comfort.

With two careers behind him and the oceans conquered, Mr. Sikorsky turned once again to the helicopter. Through the years he had jotted down ideas for possible designs, some of which were patented.

Finally, on September 14, 1939, Mr. Sikorsky took his VS-300 a few feet off the ground to give the western hemisphere its first practical helicopter. His dogged determination and faith in his own ability to build what many considered to be an impossible vehicle established the bedrock upon which today’s helicopter industry rests.

Military contracts followed the success of the VS-300, and in 1943, large-scale manufacture of the R-4 made it the world’s first production helicopter.

The R-4 was followed by a succession of bigger and better machines and since then, the helicopter has clearly established its ability to perform a myriad of difficult missions, including the saving of thousands of lives, in both peace and war. Mr. Sikorsky was especially proud of the helicopter’s life saving ability and of organizations such as the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service which had put helicopters to what he believed was their finest use. During his career, he rarely passed up an opportunity to stress this role or praise the men whose skill and courage made the rescues possible. The pilots of rescue helicopters have contributed “one of the most glorious pages in the history of human flight,” he once remarked.

The awards and honors accorded to Mr. Sikorsky fill nine typewritten pages and include the National Medal of Science, the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Thomas D. White National Defense Award, and the Royal Aeronautical Society of England’s Silver Medal. He is enshrined at both the International Aerospace and the Aviation Halls of Fame.

Although recognized primarily as a practical inventor of material things, Mr. Sikorsky was also a deeply religious visionary and philosopher with an intense interest in man, the world and the universe. Remembered by those who knew him as a kind and considerate person with a sincere concern for his fellow man, Mr. Sikorsky’s two sides are perhaps best described in the following quote from his friend Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

“The thing that’s remarkable about Igor is the great precision in his thought and speech, combined with an extraordinary soaring beyond facts. He can soar out with the mystics and come right back to the practical, to daily life and people. He never excludes people. Sometimes the religious minded exclude people or force their beliefs on others. Igor never does.”

Although he never attempted to force anyone to accept his beliefs, Mr. Sikorsky wrote two books, “The Message of the Lord’s Prayer,” and “The Invisible Encounter,” as well as numerous pamphlets, to express them.

In the first book, Mr. Sikorsky expressed his belief in a final destiny for man and a higher order of existence, while in the second, he pleaded that modern civilization has a greater need for spiritual rather than material power.

It was Mr. Sikorsky’s abiding faith in God and his strong belief in the importance of the individual that helped him overcome the frustrations and failures that marked his career.

Mr. Sikorsky liked to say that “the work of the individual still remains the spark which moves mankind ahead,” and he proved it throughout his life.

Even after his retirement in 1957 at the age of 68 Mr. Sikorsky continued to work as an engineering consultant for Sikorsky and he was at his desk the day before he died, on October 26, 1972, at the age of 83.


Dan Libertino is the President of the Sikorsky Archives, whose kind courtesy has made this article possible.


The featured image shows a protrait of Igor Sikorsky, by Boris Artzybashef.

What A Piece Of Work Is A Man: Dostoevsky And Humanity

Your meeting with a book that became one of the most important books in life remains forever in your memory. And the writer who created that book becomes close to you, like family. Of course, this is not immediately understood, but only after the years go by. You return again and again in your memory to that day and hour when that cherished meeting took place. This happened with me when, as a student of the Urals University, I left the reading room all shaken after reading the novel, The Idiot. It seemed to me that my hair was standing on end, that my soul was as if struck, and it shook from the blow.

And so, from that same university winter, from age nineteen and for the rest of my life, the characters of Prince Myshkin, Nastasia Philippovna, Parfen Rogozhin, and others in that immortal novel entered into the very center of my heart. And later, throughout the course of my life did this novel and Dostoevsky’s fate call back to me, often determining turns in that course—at times even sharp turns.

This is what I want to tell you about today. Especially since we are in the “Year of Dostoevsky.”

Dostoevsky As A Herald Of Christ

After the second year of university, we students of the journalism school were sent for internships to the regional newspaper. I ended up in the town of Bogdanovich in Sverdlovsk province, at the newspaper called, “Flag of Victory”. I was supposed to write about the harvest, and how things stood with dairy yields. And after my ridiculous forays into the fields and dairy farms, my searches for people who were supposed to tell about the business (I could have gotten all this information over the telephone but I was “studying life”), barely alive because I either hitchhiked or used my own two feet, I flopped down on the dormitory bed to have at least a tiny rest. Then I rose early to write my reportage on the zealous work in the fields and farms.

And so, in the morning as I walked past the movie theater to the office, I saw an announcement for the film, “The Idiot”. I was stunned. All that day I only thought about getting to the theater as soon as possible to watch that film.

I watched it. And that same evening I set about writing my first review. I really regret that I didn’t save it. The editor stripped down my “creative torments” to mere notes. His conclusion was that it was “too long”. The newspaper was of a small format—culture and sports, weather, and all the rest that allowed it to pay for itself left but a small spot on the fourth column. Into that spot did they squeeze my ecstatic notes on the film. I’m sure that it must have looked crazy in that newspaper.

It was 1958; after all, the “thaw” had begun, and our dreams were swirling around something as yet unrecognized but definitely significant, and human—something pertaining not to the number of hectares of harvested wheat and rye, but to the life of the human soul.

I recall those notes because when I returned to Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg), I had something to talk with my brother about. At the time, Anatoly was studying in the acting studio at the drama theater. Of course he had read The Idiot, and we watched the film together, then discussed it vigorously. In the theater, the excellent theatrical production of The Insulted and Humiliated was on, with Boris Feodorovich Iyin, a “people’s artist of the USSR”, brilliantly playing the role of Prince Valkovsky. And the young hero, the writer Vanya, was played by our favorite actor Constantine Petrovich Maximov, Anatoly’s teacher. He knew about my brother’s passion (besides Dostoevsky, we were voraciously reading the poetry of the “Silver Age” and had even organized an “Evening of forgotten poets”).

That is why he confirmed in the role of Andrei Rublev the totally unknown provincial actor, Anatoly Solonytsin, against the opinion of the entire artistic council.

But why does Prince Myshkin touch us so deeply, even stun us with his character, his fate? Why does Feodor Dostoevsky’s hero so stir us, despite the eccentricity of his actions? One critic has aptly compared Dostoevsky’s prose with “congealed lava”. Yes, he writes in such a way that his words as if erupt from the crater of a volcano, flow rapidly down the slope, wiping out everything on their path, and then congeal before our eyes, in our souls. The “golden pens” of the Russian literati, such as Turgenev and Bunin, even accused Feodor Mikhailovich of chaotic and sloppy writing.

Yes, Dostoevsky’s prose really was “unpolished”, as the author himself has said. But that is what makes it so remarkable and unique—its force and impetus. His characters are taken into “borderline” situations, when the “major” issues of life, as the author put it, are in the balance—into man’s existence in general.

Can a person in such moments of life talk without “choking on his own words”, in separate phrases? Moreover his heroes get entangled, and the entanglement comes from the fact that Dostoevsky is not afraid to show man’s “duplicity”, digging down at times to the most hidden depths of the soul. That is why his heroes say one thing but mean something entirely different, twist their way out of it and lie, while Prince Myshkin’s openness and childlike ingenuousness exposes them.

Just as do the exceedingly bold and “reckless” acts of Nastasya Filippovna.

Recall how she throws the bundle of 100,000 rubles Rogozhin brought into burning fireplace. One researcher of Dostoevsky’s works figured out that 100,000 rubles in Dostoevsky’s time would equal over a million USD today.

In the 1960s, out of romanticism I left for Kaliningrad to get a job on the whaling ship, the “Yuri Dolgoruki”. Because I was considered “unreliable” and therefore not someone who could be let out of the country, they didn’t take me out to sea. But I wrote my first stories about sailors “ashore”, and published my first book, with which I was accepted into the Soviet Writers’ Union. This took place at a meeting of young authors of the Northwest in Leningrad. There I saw the famous stage presentation of “The Idiot” with Innokenty Smoktunovsky in the main role.

I am not the only one who was stunned by the show. All who saw how Smoktunovsky played his role understood that a miracle was happening before their eyes. His Myshkin was naïve like a child, open, defenseless—and at the same time protected by the truth of Christ the Savior. It could even be that the actor did not understand that he was embodying on the stage a blessed one, whom everyone around him took for an idiot. Nor did the theater understand this. Years later, just before his death, on a lengthy television program the actor related that he roused the entire theater against himself because he continued to shape the role differently from how everyone—from the chief director down—was telling him to do it. He did it according to his heart’s urgings. The show’s premier was scheduled for December 31. It was four hours long. G. Tovstonogov was prepared for a failure, and that is why the premier was scheduled for New Year’s Eve.

For the first time in many years, the theater was half empty. But on January 1, news spread throughout Leningrad that in the Great Drama Theater a miracle had taken place. Then it became simply impossible to get a ticket. Because on that stage, for the first time in nearly century of godless rule, people saw authenticity of feeling, not human but divine truth, which shown in the actor’s eyes, in his inimitable intonation as he pronounced words about faith, love, and God. And the souls of all present in the theater opened up, empathized, wept, and laughed together with him.

Here is what Prince Myshkin says when Parfen Rogozhin asks him whether or not he believes in God:

“An hour ago, as I was returning to the hotel, I ran into peasant woman with her infant. The woman was still young, and the babe would have been about six weeks old. The child smiled at her, as she observed, for the first time since she was born. I looked, and the woman very, very piously, suddenly crossed herself. “What’s that, young lass?” I said (for I asked her about everything then). Well, she said it’s maternal joy for seeing her infant smile at her for the first time; for God has the same joy when He sees from heaven how a sinner starts praying to him with his whole heart for the first time. That is what the woman said to me in almost those exact words; and such a profound, such a subtle and truly religious thought, a thought in which the whole essence of Christianity is expressed in a moment; that is, the whole understanding of God as our own father… It’s a most important thought about Christ! A simple peasant woman!.. Listen, Parfen, you asked me just now and here is my answer: The essence of religious feeling doesn’t fit into any sort of discussion, any actions or crimes, any kind of atheism. Something is amiss there, and it will be that way for eternity. There is something on which atheism will forever slip up and miss the point. But the main thing is that you’ll most probably and clearly notice this “something” in the Russian heart—and that is my conclusion!”

When the show was over, for two or three minutes there was a sepulchral silence. Then the auditorium exploded in applause, shouts, and in such a pervading stormy ecstasy that’s hard to describe. This went on for twenty to thirty minutes. I was told that there were times when it lasted even longer. As the years passed, critics both in Russia and abroad (the presentation played also in London) understood that an event had taken place that was so huge, on a scale so significant that it’s hard to express in words. Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky stood before the people—alive, authentic, the man who is rightfully called a Russian genius.

The role of Prince Myshkin, I think, was the one for which actor Innokenty Mikhailovich Smoktunovsky was born. He played about a hundred roles in the movies. He acted in many good, even excellent theater productions. But none of them reached the heights of Prince Myshkin. The actor did not act, but lived on the stage the life, I repeat, of a man of God. He was also like that in real life—strange, and unfathomable for many. And in his best roles in both theater and film are heard those familiar intonations of Prince Myshkin—pauses, expressions of the eyes, gestures—of a man who is not of this world.

The [communist] party leadership also felt this, and that is why the performance was never videotaped. Only small snippets were saved for programs. Thank God, it was at least preserved on vinyl record disks, and a three-volume album was made available.

I still have my old “music center”, and favorite records. From time to time I listen to the recording of that amazing show, which during atheistic times told of a man who sacrificed his own life for the sake of his love of God and people.

What did Feodor Dostoevsky write about in his immortal novel?

To Guess At The Mystery

In a letter to his brother Mikhail, the seventeen-year-old Dostoevsky wrote:

“Man is a mystery. It must be unraveled, and even if you’ve spent you whole life unraveling it, you can’t say that you’ve wasted time. I am occupied with this mystery, for I want to be a man.”

That is how the young Feodor determined the purposed of his life even before he’d written his first short story, Poor Folk, which Belinsky read and then exclaimed ecstatically, “A new Gogol has appeared!”

Feodor Mikhailovich felt with his heart his purpose in life. It is important to determine this purpose, or it would be better to say, calling, which is the meaning of your life. It is important not to betray it, but to walk what is often a thorny path, but a path that calls to you to follow the call of your soul. I don’t in any way want to compare the scope of the great writer’s gifts with those directors and actors who had the fortitude to play and produce the author’s works in theater and film. But the yearning to express in their creative work the hidden mystery that is embedded in his great novels, remains the cherished dream of many. This would include such film producers as Andrei Arsenievich Tarkovsky. After his films, “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Andrei Rublev”, which brought him international fame, he wrote an expansive proposal for the screening of “The Idiot.” An anniversary date was approaching—in 1981 it was proposed to have a grand celebration of the one hundred years since Dostoevsky’s death, and 160 years since his birth. Tarkovsky had the idea of filming a television series. In his diaries he wrote, “Solonitsyn would be ideal for the role of Dostoevsky.” In his proposal he determined that the author of the novel, i.e., Dostoevsky, should play the role of the narrator. This actor, Anatoly, was entrusted with the role of Lebedev—that very liar who swears his love for the “excellent prince” but at the same time writes an “exposé” about him. Myshkin was to be played by Alexander Kaidanovsky, and Nastasia Filipovna by Margarita Terekhova. My brother and I were transported when talked about the work ahead. Anatoly was even ready to have plastic surgery in order to look more like his favorite author.

“How are you going to play other roles if you undergo such surgery?” Tarkovsky asked him.

“Why would I need any other roles, if I’ve played Dostoevsky?” my brother answered.

The surgery never happened, because Tarkovsky’s proposal was rejected. But Anatoly would yet experience the happiness of embodying the great writer’s image on screen—albeit in a film of a completely different scale.

The film was called, “26 Days in the Life of Dostoevky”.

I’ll tell you in a little more detail why in that memorable time an amazing “coincidence”, as it would seem at first glance, took place.

Anatoly was forty-five years old—just like his hero when in 1866 he dictated the novel, The Gambler (to a stenographer). Like his hero, after a family catastrophe Anatoly had proposed to a girl who was half his age. Like his hero, Anatoly’s love was requited—and she transformed the entire rest of his life.

And hadn’t Anatoly also worked under similar circumstances?

“Well, the novel will have to be rushed by post-horses”, Feodor Mikhailovich said to Anna Grigorievna [his stenographer and future wife].

And the film was also shot as if by “post-horse”. Anatoly was under pressure to make a down payment on a cooperative apartment, and he was in debt up to his ears.

When I arrived in Moscow and met with my brother, I read the scenario and told him about all this.

He smiled, “Do you think they know about this? They hired me as a serious and reliable professional, and that’s all.”

But in fact they didn’t just “hire” him so simply. N. T. Sizov, director of Mosfilm at the time, summoned Anatoly and asked him to help the group of “26 Days in the Life of Dostoevsky”. “People’s Artist of the USSR” Oleg Borisov, who was playing the leading role, had just left the group. Half of the film had already been shot, but the creative formats of the director and the actor, different from the very beginning, had now irreversibly diverged. My brother could not bring himself to refuse the requests of the general director, who had shown both attention and care towards the actor, and of the producer, who had produced Anatoly’s favorite films from childhood on. Anatoly knew that the picture would be filmed under tough deadlines—a plan is a plan, and cinema is also a production line. But as an actor, Anatoly always needed time to “rev up”, time to take on his role. Anatoly was also dissatisfied with much of the screenplay. But after all, we’re talking about Dostoevsky!

“I don’t have enough time… You see, I’m living in a hotel across the street from Mosfilm. We’re punching two shifts in a row… It’s an endless race… You know, the only thing that seems not so bad to me so far … One scene… Where he’s with students, where Anna has taken him. He talks about hard labor in prison, and argues with the youths… And then he has an epileptic fit… Only don’t tell anyone this, understand? (He always began with these words whenever he wanted to tell me something important.) Do you understand, they started applauding. The entire group… That’s not acceptable in filmmaking, it’s sort of against the rules of decency. But they applauded, and Zarkhi didn’t criticize anyone for it. Then another double, and again applause. It’s stupid of course. The guys explained that they couldn’t help it. Well, there you are, I’m boasting… But even without the applause I feel that the scene was successful.”

But that very episode was cut from the film—it supposedly “didn’t reflect the writer’s character.”

Our bureaucrats “of art”, as if they had a mine detector in their hands, always find the very best scenes or pages in books, which they simply must “delete as extraneous”. And this applies not only to the past—even today these “mine detectors” are still in their hands for some reason.

Nevertheless, the film was successful not only in our own country but also on the international level. It represented our film industry at the thirty-first International Film Festival in Western Berlin. Here is what the papers wrote:

“Outstanding in the film was the role by Anatoly Solonitsyn. In conjunction with the sincere ingenuousness of Evgenia Simonova, it all together gives us a glimpse into the creative mystery of those literary works of genius, and into the character of a great man who inspired the whole world’s admiration… (Die Welt).

There is no point in comparing the performances of actors in films and plays in which they played the same roles. Different times determine differently both the position of the producers and, correspondingly, the role of the actors. But there are “breakthroughs”, when the performer of the leading role refuses to conform himself to the will of circumstances, producers, or even collective opinion, and does not waiver from the path leading to understanding a man’s mystery.

So it was with Innokenty Smoktunovsky, who wouldn’t heed the “vulgar” advice of famous actors and a no less famous director, as he expressed it in the foregoing story I’ve told you concerning the play, “The Idiot”. He walked a torturous path to the hidden mystery of the man whom Dostoevsky named, Prince Myshkin.

So also was it with Anatoly Solonitsyn, who against all circumstances, both mundane and creative, was able by force of his God-given talent to break through to the secret of that author, who lived and created to the glory of God.


Alexei Solonitsyn is a prominent Russian actor and film script-writer. This article appears courtesy of Pravoslavie.


The featured image shows a portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky, by Ilya Glazunov; painted in 1968.

The Bolshevik Revolution: A Pile Of Rubbish

This is an excerpt from Mikhail Agursky’s book-length study of the impact of the Bolsheviks on Russia. The book, entitled, Идеология национал большевизма (The Ideology of National Bolshevism), and published in 1980, in Paris, remains untranslated.


From the point of view of common sense, everything in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution was as bad as it could be. Bloody chaos reigned all around. The country was falling apart. One after another, Poland, Finland, the Baltic States, Bessarabia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Central Asia fell away – national fringes, where Russians were suddenly in danger. Their legal and property status was upended. Once part of a dominant nation, Russians now suddenly found themselves as the minority in many places and were deeply wounded. Many foreigners appeared as heads of state, and in local jurisdictions, which had never been seen before. Traditional foundations collapsed, anti-religious terror raged, and age-old values were destroyed. Russia was threatened with foreign conquest. At first, the Germans steadily moved eastward and, in the end, occupied the gigantic territories of western Russia. Then foreign expeditionary troops landed in different parts of the country. The overwhelming majority of Russian society, which did not accept Bolshevism, therefore perceived the revolution and the power of the Bolsheviks as an eschatological national tragedy, as a national catastrophe, as the death of Russia.

This perception was largely honed by tragic premonitions that were widespread before the revolution. “The Russian kingdom is vacillating,” said Archpriest John of Kronstadt (Sergiev), an outstanding representative of Russian Orthodoxy in 1907. “The Russian kingdom is vacillating, about to fall. If Russia is not be cleansed of the many tares, then it will become desolate, like the ancient kingdoms and cities, erased by the justice of God from the face of the earth for their godlessness and lawlessness.” Yet, for John of Kronstadt, such a prospect was conditional. The catastrophe might not have come. But now everything justified this gloomy prediction among traditional circles, which, departing from the conventions of John of Kronstadt, were wholly at the mercy of the darkest eschatology. According to the testimony of F. Stepun, “To the Orthodox consciousness and confession, Bolshevism was not the beginning of history, but its end; not the morning star of the coming kingdom of light, but the dawn of a world entangled in sin.” E. Lundberg speaks of the expectation of a world catastrophe among religious circles in December 1917. It was thought of, first and foremost, as the death of Christianity, as the fullness of temptations, as the limit of physical trials and troubles.

The expectation of the end of the world has always appeared and spread during times of great crises and with foreign invasions. After the fall of Constantinople, conquered by the Turks, many works appeared in Byzantium interpreting what was happening as an undoubted sign of the impending end of the world. The end of the world was also expected in Russia at the end of the 19th century. Another outstanding Russian ecclesiastical thinker, Bishop Theophan (Govorov), predicted: “It is pleasant to meet some writers with bright images of Christianity in the future, but there is nothing to justify them… On earth, the Savior himself predicted the reign of evil and unbelief. He warned of the imminent appearance of the Antichrist.”

Political events were viewed through the prism of the Apocalypse, as well as various dark prophecies and popular eschatological beliefs. These sentiments sharply intensified in January 1918 after Patriarch Tikhon pronounced Bolsheviks to be anathema.

The pessimistic eschatology of traditional Orthodox circles is not surprising, but the reaction to the Bolshevik revolution among liberal and left non-Bolshevik circles (Mensheviks and part of the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries) was not very different. In their extreme rejection of it. Some, though close to the revolutionary movement, declared Russia a kingdom of evil. The Bolshevik revolution was for them a national catastrophe, a fall into the abyss, from which it was possible to get out only through superhuman effort, repentance, and armed struggle.

In 1918, a group of liberal scientists and publicists, the core of which was made up of former participants in the Vekhi collection of essays (1909), namely, Pyotr Struve, Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Alexander Izgoev, Semyon Frank and others, also prepared the collection, From the Depths (De profundis), which was only published 50 years later and contained a sharp denunciation of Bolshevism. Struve expressed the general opinion of the authors of the collection in these words: “The Russian revolution is a national bankruptcy and a world shame.”

Leonid Andreyev, who eagerly welcomed the February revolution, saw in the October coup a riot destroying the beneficial consequences of this revolution. Russia for him was now “heaps of rubble and rubbish without a name, the bloody chaos of a fratricidal war.”

Among those who considered the Bolshevik revolution as a national disgrace and catastrophe was also Maxim Gorky (though briefly): “I painfully and anxiously love Russia. I love the Russian people…” he declared in December 1917. “But the practical maximalism of the anarcho-communists and dreamers from Smolny is pernicious for Russia, and above all for the Russian working class.” The People’s Commissars, Gorky accuses the Bolsheviks, “treat Russia as a material for experiment. The Russian people for them is the horse that bacteriological scientists inoculate with typhus so that the horse develops anti-typhoid serum in its blood. Commissars make over the Russian people, not thinking that an exhausted, half-starved horse can die.”

“The reformers from Smolny,” Gorky grew indignant, “do not care about Russia. They coolly condemn it for their dream of a world or European revolution.”

Mikhail Agursky

From the point of view of common sense, everything in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution was as bad as it could be. Bloody chaos reigned all around. The country was falling apart. One after another, Poland, Finland, the Baltic States, Bessarabia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Central Asia fell away – national fringes, where Russians were suddenly in danger. Their legal and property status was upended. Once part of a dominant nation, Russians now suddenly found themselves as the minority in many places and were deeply wounded. Many foreigners appeared as heads of state, and in local jurisdictions, which had never been seen before. Traditional foundations collapsed, anti-religious terror raged, and age-old values were destroyed. Russia was threatened with foreign conquest. At first, the Germans steadily moved eastward and, in the end, occupied the gigantic territories of western Russia. Then foreign expeditionary troops landed in different parts of the country. The overwhelming majority of Russian society, which did not accept Bolshevism, therefore perceived the revolution and the power of the Bolsheviks as an eschatological national tragedy, as a national catastrophe, as the death of Russia.

This perception was largely honed by tragic premonitions that were widespread before the revolution. “The Russian kingdom is vacillating,” said Archpriest John of Kronstadt (Sergiev), an outstanding representative of Russian Orthodoxy in 1907. “The Russian kingdom is vacillating, about to fall. If Russia is not be cleansed of the many tares, then it will become desolate, like the ancient kingdoms and cities, erased by the justice of God from the face of the earth for their godlessness and lawlessness.” Yet, for John of Kronstadt, such a prospect was conditional. The catastrophe might not have come. But now everything justified this gloomy prediction among traditional circles, which, departing from the conventions of John of Kronstadt, were wholly at the mercy of the darkest eschatology. According to the testimony of F. Stepun, “To the Orthodox consciousness and confession, Bolshevism was not the beginning of history, but its end; not the morning star of the coming kingdom of light, but the dawn of a world entangled in sin.” E. Lundberg speaks of the expectation of a world catastrophe among religious circles in December 1917. It was thought of, first and foremost, as the death of Christianity, as the fullness of temptations, as the limit of physical trials and troubles.

The expectation of the end of the world has always appeared and spread during times of great crises and with foreign invasions. After the fall of Constantinople, conquered by the Turks, many works appeared in Byzantium interpreting what was happening as an undoubted sign of the impending end of the world. The end of the world was also expected in Russia at the end of the 19th century. Another outstanding Russian ecclesiastical thinker, Bishop Theophan (Govorov), predicted: “It is pleasant to meet some writers with bright images of Christianity in the future, but there is nothing to justify them… On earth, the Savior himself predicted the reign of evil and unbelief. He warned of the imminent appearance of the Antichrist.”

Political events were viewed through the prism of the Apocalypse, as well as various dark prophecies and popular eschatological beliefs. These sentiments sharply intensified in January 1918 after Patriarch Tikhon pronounced Bolsheviks to be anathema.

The pessimistic eschatology of traditional Orthodox circles is not surprising, but the reaction to the Bolshevik revolution among liberal and left non-Bolshevik circles (Mensheviks and part of the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries) was not very different. In their extreme rejection of it. Some, though close to the revolutionary movement, declared Russia a kingdom of evil. The Bolshevik revolution was for them a national catastrophe, a fall into the abyss, from which it was possible to get out only through superhuman effort, repentance, and armed struggle.

In 1918, a group of liberal scientists and publicists, the core of which was made up of former participants in the Vekhi collection of essays (1909), namely, Pyotr Struve, Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Alexander Izgoev, Semyon Frank and others, also prepared the collection, From the Depths (De profundis), which was only published 50 years later and contained a sharp denunciation of Bolshevism. Struve expressed the general opinion of the authors of the collection in these words: “The Russian revolution is a national bankruptcy and a world shame.”

Leonid Andreyev, who eagerly welcomed the February revolution, saw in the October coup a riot destroying the beneficial consequences of this revolution. Russia for him was now “heaps of rubble and rubbish without a name, the bloody chaos of a fratricidal war.”

Among those who considered the Bolshevik revolution as a national disgrace and catastrophe was also Maxim Gorky (though briefly): “I painfully and anxiously love Russia. I love the Russian people…” he declared in December 1917. “But the practical maximalism of the anarcho-communists and dreamers from Smolny is pernicious for Russia, and above all for the Russian working class.” The People’s Commissars, Gorky accuses the Bolsheviks, “treat Russia as a material for experiment. The Russian people for them is the horse that bacteriological scientists inoculate with typhus so that the horse develops anti-typhoid serum in its blood. Commissars make over the Russian people, not thinking that an exhausted, half-starved horse can die.”

“The reformers from Smolny,” Gorky grew indignant, “do not care about Russia. They coolly condemn it for their dream of a world or European revolution.”


Mikhail Agursky (1933-1991) was a cyberneticist and historian of Bolshevism, who died under mysterious circumstances, in Moscow, in 1991.


The featured image shows, “Former Tsarist officials on forced labor,” a watercolor by Ivan Vladimirov, ca. pre-1947.

Marxism, Revisionism, Liberalism: A Conversation With Piotr Nowak

We are so very delighted to presented this interesting and wide-ranging conversation with Piotr Nowak, who is Professor of Philosophy at the Bialystok University in Poland. He translated works of such writers as Hannah Arendt, W. H. Auden, Leo Strauss, Alexander Kojève, Allan Bloom, Boris Pasternak, Vasyli Rozanov, Andrei Bely, Pavel Florensky, Jacob Taubes, Semyon Frank. He is the deputy editor‐in‐chief of the philosophical quarterly Kronos (in Polish), and the annual Kronos. Philosophical Journal (in English). He is also a member of the Board of the Count August Cieszkowski Foundation. He is the author of the following monographs: Ontology of Success: An Essay on the Philosophy of Alexandre Kojève (Gdańsk 2006), The Prince’s Signature: Reflections on Strength and Weakness (Warsaw 2013), The Ancients and Shakespeare on Time: Some Remarks on the War of Generations (Amsterdam–New York 2014; in English), Troglodyte Breeding: Comments on Higher Education and the Mental Culture of Contemporary Man (Warsaw 2014), I Die Therefore I Am (Warsaw 2016), The Box with Pandora Within (Warsaw 2016). His most recent book is Violence and Words. Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt (Warsaw 2018), for which he was awarded the 2019 Daedalus’ Wings Literary Prize founded by the National Library of Poland. He is also the host of two TV programs and a visiting professor at Warsaw University.

In this discussion with Zbigniew Janowski, Professor Nowak provides us with a profound analysis of modernity and the kind of society that we are sleepwalking into, where we have become prisoners of democracy.


Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): I would like to focus our conversation on the topic of “revisionism.” We know this term from the history of socialism or Communism. Marxist revisionism was an important stage in the life of socialist philosophers, socialism itself, and Communism’s slow demise. It started after the so-called “October Thaw,” in 1956, and continued throughout the 1960s. It was an attempt to “revise” Marxist socialism after Stalin’s death in such a way as to make it look “human.” That is how the famous expression “Socialism with a human face” came about.

It is 2021, Communism is gone. However, over the last 20 or so years, Liberalism has evolved into what is sometimes called “soft-totalitarianism.” To be sure, this is not a system that operates on the basis of broken bones, mass-purges, imprisonment, or the existence of gulags, as socialism did; but, if we leave aside the free-market economy, today’s Liberalism became an ideology which controls as many aspects of human life as Communism, or even more. The first thing is the control of speech and our behavior.

Piotr Nowak (PN): Recently, I have reread the memoirs of Barbara Skarga, entitled, After the Liberation (1944-1956). Skarga, who later became a prominent philosopher in Poland, was an officer in the Home Army during the war. She was captured by the NKVD (Soviet secret police, responsible for purges and murders) when she was 24. She was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in Siberia. She returned to Poland at a time when former Stalinists were trying to assume a “human face.”

Piotr Nowak. Photo Credit: Bartek Syta.

For years I have been reading Gulag literature with my students, among them Skarga’s book, but also Shalamov, Ginzburg, Herling-Grudziński’s A World Apart. Over time, I noticed a decline of interest in reading these books among students. It is exotic for young people today, but not for me. Unlike them, I know well – fortunately not from personal experience – what the totalitarian regime was like, what Siberia was and what a penal colony in Asiatic Russia was. On the other hand, I know from experience what authoritarianism, martial law, and military rule are. So, I quite dread using the term “totalitarianism” – in a reckless way. In the end, it seems reserved, to paraphrase Karl Jaspers, for liminal situations in history, such as Kołyma or Auschwitz.

At the same time, I accept your important disclaimer that “totalitarianism” (here the quotation marks are indispensable) exists in hard and soft versions. In my mind, the difference seems to be quite significant. Today, political opponents are not murdered in Warsaw and Berlin; rather, they are denied recognition. However, from a certain point of view – and you got me here – it is one and the same thing. Please note that Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, the protagonist of Gogol’s The Overcoat, does not die from the cold, from the lack of a coat, but precisely from being denied recognition.

ZJ: Can you explain when and in what circumstances Revisionism under Communism came into being.

PN: It’s hard to say exactly. It was certainly not immediately after Stalin’s death, in 1953, but some three or four years later. In addition to Soviet Marxism, which appeared immediately after the war, the hitherto unknown in Poland, and even more so in the Soviet Union, Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 were discovered. At the same time, such prominent figures of Marxist thought as Gramsci, Lukacs, and later also Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno, had “arrived” in Poland too. Suddenly, it turned out that there was plenty to choose from; and the stuff was even an interesting read!

Besides, after the war, ideology was important in shaping social practice. If someone shared leftist values, it was difficult for him to question them. We need to remember that at that time the whole world accepted the Manichaean view of reality. This was the case not just in Europe but even in America. Communism was regarded as an angelic regime, maybe a bit degenerated and fallen, but angelic nonetheless. Such a view was partly because of the fact that it largely defeated fascism – undoubtedly the work of Satan. That is how people reasoned after the war all over the world. And this belief is still cultivated in some places in Italy and, above all, at the French universities.

In Poland, leftist sympathies proved to be strong for yet another reason. It is here that the Germans created the hell of Auschwitz. The very name of this place – apart from the association with the terrible suffering of millions of human beings – reminded us of the collapse of the old, pre-war, “fascist” moral order. In a place such as Auschwitz or Warsaw, 90% of which was razed to the ground, the mere thought of moral behavior, of old values, such as, honor, good birth, responsibility for others became questionable, or even impossible. The most important values on which humanity was founded turned out to be fleeting and completely obsolete. Hence, calls for the restitution of the old status quo appeared impossible to the majority of the population. For this reason, it was necessary to fill in the empty space, replace the old values with the new – victorious – ones. And that is what the communists did.

The hunger for meaning was sated quite quickly by giving people hope for a better tomorrow, without poverty and without fascists. This prospect turned out to be tempting and easy to accept, especially by those who were not victims. The joyful May 1st parade (International Workers’ Day), was celebrated each year. Its goal was to suppress the screams of the tortured victims, the slaughtered soldiers of the anti-communist underground, or the tormented Home Army soldiers. It was supposed to drown out the lamentations of the former landowners, robbed and dispossessed of their family estates by the communists. It was a politics of redirecting people’s attention to the radiant – communist – future.

Back then no one wanted to talk about Manichaeism seen from a different angle, that would make you see the face of the devil not only in Fascism, but also in Communism. The Red Army defeated the German Fascists and brought its own understanding of history. History is written by the victor, and the victor was Communism.

The opposition did not come right away; it was only later, around 1957, along with the Khrushchev Thaw. In the literary realm, there was a break too. In 1955, the poet Adam Ważyk wrote, “A Poem for Adults” which describes the madness of the situation, as in the following last two stanzas:

I went home,
like a man who had gone out to buy medicine,
and returned twenty years later.
My wife asked: Where were you?
The children asked: Where were you?
I was silent, trembling like a mouse.

The trouble with “madness” is that madness isolates and cannot become a collective state of mind. While someone can shout on his own behalf that he is crazy, his shouts can’t be repeated in pluralis majestatis, unless the term is used metaphorically, to the tune of: “The whole nation lost its mind to walk hand in hand with the communists.”

There is a book by Jacek Trznadel about the entanglement of Polish intellectuals in Communism, which stands in stark contrast to Miłosz’s The Captive Mind. According to Miłosz, it was the “Hegelian bite” – the intoxication of the great minds with ideology. Trznadel, on the other hand, argues that the mainsprings of ideological commitment and conformist behavior of intellectuals were fear and greed for influence and money, but also the hatred of the “ancien regime.”

As far as Revisionism is concerned, the most important attempt was undertaken, in 1956, by the young Leszek Kolakowski in Światopogląd i życie codzienne (Worldview and Daily Life, and which was published in German under the title, Der Mensch ohne Alternative. Von der Möglichkeit und Unmöglichkeit Marxist zu sein).

ZJ: One could say that post 1956 Revisionism was an attempt to create what came to be called “Socialism with a human face.” If pre 1956 reality was oppressive and brutal (“Stalinist”), it had nothing to do with Marxism; rather, it had everything to do with the actions and decisions of the corrupt State apparatchiks, who distorted Marx’s message. This was a way of absolving Marx’s philosophy of responsibility for the practice of socialism, which found expression in the famous slogan, “Socialism Yes. Distortions No.” After each upheaval, in each communist country, roughly every decade, we had a new Polit-bureau, composed of the new communists who would dispose of the old bastards who were guilty of abuses and responsible for “distortions.” But Marxism, so the argument went, was innocent.

PN: To all those who are able to spot a “human face” in socialism, I have a suggestion – try to find it! Leszek Kołakowski – probably the most outstanding Marxist revisionist of the second half of the twentieth century – ends his essay, Karl Marx and the Classic Definition of Truth, by paraphrasing Thomas Mann: “In the whole universe, man cannot find a well deep enough to not discover, looking into it, his own face down at the bottom.” The thing is, sometimes that face – a human face – happens to be a vulgar mug. Kołakowski writes about it in another essay, The Marxist Roots of Stalinism (republished in his collection of essays, My Correct Views on Everything), which, in my opinion, should be a mandatory reading at contemporary French and American universities.

We were told many times, and some still seem to believe it, that there was nothing Marxist in Stalinism. However, as Kołakowski argues in his essay, even if Stalinism was one of the many incarnations of Marxism, it was a legitimate one. If so, we must assume that even behind the face of a well-bred graduate of the École Normale Supérieure, we may find the face of a butcher.

ZJ: You have mentioned Kolakowski’s influential collection of essays which appeared in England as Marxism and Beyond and, in America as, Toward a Marxist Humanism. I would also add the issue of TriQuarterly: A Leszek Kołakowski Reader, with several essays written in the same period. These books contain most of his important Revisionist writings, which were quite influential among Western Marxists, especially in the UK and North America. Interesting as they are, as part of Marxist historiography, they did not save Marxism. The history of several decades –1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, which led to the collapse of Communism – was to demonstrate that.
Here is something I would like you to comment on – could one say that Revisionism was a failed attempt to breath new life into a world-view that was bound to breed economic inefficiency, oppressiveness, lack of freedom in the private realm and cultural poverty.

PN: Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say. It was bound to fail. Communism is a poisoned fruit. A fruit beautiful at times, occasionally even tasty and tempting, but fundamentally poisoned.

ZJ: But only a handful of intellectuals quickly realized that. That is, as you put it, the socialist idea was a poisoned fruit. Here two people, who realized relatively early what it was, stand out – Raymond Aron, the author of The Opium of the Intellectuals, and Czesław Milosz, the author of The Captive Mind. Kołakowski was another, but his realization came a decade later (he was also younger than Aron and Miłosz). You referred to his The Marxist Roots of Stalinism. But there is another important but less known piece by him where he seems to argue that absolving the old Marx by pointing to the “humanist” young Marx will not do. (He wrote this in “Althuser’s Marx,” for The Socialist Register, 1971; reprinted in The Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on Philosophers). Which is another way of saying, Revisionism was a waste of time.

Over the last five years or so, given what I experienced at American universities, I decided to teach a class on totalitarianism. I would regularly assign Orwell’s 1984. A friend of mine told me, forget about Orwell, make them read Miłosz, it is by far the best analysis of Communism. What Miłosz realized with full force was that Communism required faith to operate successfully. He called it a New Faith. As soon as people lost faith in the possibility of building “a just” (socialist) society, Communism started cracking. One could write a history of Communism through the prism of those cracks: 1956, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1981. The final nail in the coffin came in 1981 – the imposition of martial law in Poland. After that, only a few people retained faith, and eight years later, in 1989, Communism was buried in Eastern Europe. Do you agree with Miłosz that Communism required faith? And if, so, why did so many people – some very intelligent ones, like Kolakowski — “converted” into it? At the beginning of our conversation you answered this question to some extent; historical circumstances after WWII certainly helped.

PN: Different things require different commitment, including faith. Communists believe in a better tomorrow; and therefore they believe in progress. The title of the Czech communist Julius Fucik’s book about a country where “tomorrow is already yesterday” conveys this idea quite well. This faith is contagious even today. The blind rush, headlong, ever onwards, always ends up in a nosedive. This attitude is perfectly reflected in Alfred Kubin’s 1902 painting The Man. It shows a human figure rushing downward from who knows where, going ever faster and faster. The problem is that there is no stopping this motion. As the knowledge of it dawns on her, the terror grows. Left-wing thinkers do not take this into account at all. For them, progress means not only technological advancement, but also a moral one; the improvement of humanity. They are convinced that in order to eradicate evil it is enough to correct poorly functioning social institutions and persistently strive to advocate for justice.

Both the Scriptures and Thomas Hobbes hold a different view: there is an evil in man that resists reforms. Man is terrible; he has done so much evil throughout history that there is no redemption for him in this world. We have to struggle with evil in us. Communism is the embodiment of evil, one of its many forms; perhaps it is the most demonic and bloody of evils. It harnesses beautiful words only to vulgarize and destroy them. Values, such as, hope, love, brotherhood and peace – all of them have fallen prey to the communist practice of vulgarizing them. In their hands, words changed meaning. Peace is a state of war, freedom becomes enslavement, and so on. We find it in Orwell!

As far as Miłosz is concerned, a lot has been written about him. Mark Lilla did a good job adapting him in writing his The Reckless Mind, for use at American universities (incidentally, I helped him with the Polish translation of this interesting book). Miłosz, on the other hand, translated Aron’s The Opium of the Intellectuals back in the 1950s. These are not only bibliographical details. They show how ideas circulated then and how they circulate today, and their mutual influence. Certainly, the problems of Communism did not concern only this part of the European continent.
Kołakowski, on the other hand, interests and inspires me not when he reaches “belief” in a better tomorrow, but when he abandons it and becomes a Christian. You say he was intelligent. Certainly not when he wrote that the Catholic Church was responsible for the death camps (Szkice o filozofii katolickiej [Essays on Catholic Philosophy], p. 57). He acquired wisdom and intelligence with age, especially when he recovered from “the beautiful disease of leftism.”

ZJ: Several points in your explanation as to why Communism was such a powerful force can be applied to Liberalism as well. It is also based on the idea of a better future, equality and justice. Contemporary politics revolves almost exclusively around these two notions. They are the axis of contemporary social policies, and it is there, in my opinion, where the problem of coercive nature of Liberalism lies. To be against “social justice” is to be, very much like the communists saw it, “The enemy of the people,” who deserve no place in society. Not to join the “social justice” crusade is tantamount to displaying anti-social behavior, very much like not participating in a May 1st parade, or in various social activities under Communism, which could get you in trouble. Those who dare to do it are castigated, scorned, looked down upon, eliminated, made to look like social pariahs. Elimination is not a physical one, but a social one; being fired from a job, from a university post, being “accused,” etc. Would you agree?

PN: Today’s Liberalism does not have much in common with classical Liberalism. If Locke and Mill’s Liberalism was conceived in such a way that it could support freedom – not only economic, but also academic, spiritual – then the Liberalism we are dealing with today has become hard-headed, moralizing, and schematic. Classical Liberalism fortified people, while the contemporary one wants to tell them how to live; wants to transform and reform them; bring everyone down to the same level; fashion them into one mould, contrived by who knows whom.

ZJ: By whom? By social activists! It is the fastest growing “profession.” They are experts in raising “social consciousness” about “social justice.” They are the producers of slogans calling on expanding equity and dismantling whatever is left of hierarchy (the so-called “power structure,” as we say in America).

PN: You are probably right. Liberals are not interested in the common good, but, as you say, in “social justice.” The res publica, the State, the nation do not exist in their minds. In consequence, they are nothing but a convenient instrument in the hands of the rich, a bargaining chip for people of influence. Such a weak State can’t make decisions or settle disputes. Conformist behavior is rewarded. Ordinary people are intimidated on a massive scale (“next we come for you”), reprimanded or intimidated. Adults are treated like children.

Are the people who influence and shape reality today still liberals? I don’t know for sure. I know that they dominate and willingly refer to liberal philosophy as a kind of legitimization for their ever-bolder actions. They are followers of progress and infinite improvement, which command people to part with everything they have learned at home, which they have acquired through tradition. Old and worn-down values are replaced by new ones.

ZJ: You ask whether they are liberal? I would say, very much so. If you really want to know, observe the actions (or the silence) of those who claim to be so-called classical liberals. They will say to you (in private), “I don’t agree with this or that; I don’t support this or that policy;” they will even be sincerely appalled by some things the radicals do, but have you seen them vote against the liberal radicals, or raise a voice of protest against the dumbest proposals in local politics, or oppose destructive changes in university curricula? You soon see which side they are on. They invariably support the same policies that the radicals do.

In their outer actions they are as radical as the true radicals; in their hearts they are most likely cowards. They use the term classical Liberalism to find absolution, to distance themselves from the wrongs done by their ideological affiliates. The so-called classical Liberalism exists in their imagination, just like true socialism existed in the heads of those who believed that the socialism in the countries of real socialism had nothing to do with Marx’s socialism.

PN: Those who experienced Communism know that the same thing happened half a century ago and earlier among the communists who created Homo Sovieticus, the new Soviet man, in Central and Eastern Europe. In that sense, Martin Heidegger did not err in equating – as he did in his Letter on Humanism – the degenerated, hurtling rudderless Liberalism with Communism. I remember that back in the time of the communist Polish People’s Republic, when I read this text for the first time, I did not understand this kind of association at all. Today I understand it. Both ideologies adhere to two common values: egalitarianism and the complete economization of community life.

Ford, Soros, and Stalin go along with lesser acolytes through the jungle of the 20th and 21st centuries practically side by side, causing untold catastrophes and destruction. Entire villages and cities disappear from the economic map of their countries. In schools and universities, propaganda centers are created, where courses in tolerance, adaptation, sexual harassment, gender identity and the oppressive nature of the modern family are organized. At other training courses – known once as “the reforging of souls” – you can learn how to eat European meringue and what equality is and why it has become the most important value in all areas of social and political life. Thanks to the newest ideological trends, deeply humanistic values, still so close to Mill, recur as their own caricature, a farce. Because this is how past events come back to us: history – said Marx – always returns as a farce.

ZJ: Historical circumstances – economic crises of the 1920s and 1930s, the rise of Fascism, WWII, and other events – made Socialism attractive to many people. Stalin’s death and the year 1956 made Revisionism necessary, at least for Marxists who wanted to save it. It was an attempt to save Socialism’s face; to make it look human! However, contrary to their hopes, Revisionism was not tolerated for long. Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, even insisted that Gomulka, the First Secretary of the Polish Communist Party, organize an international trial of the Revisionists, Kołakowski being the main culprit. In Khrushchev’s mind, or those who advised him, Revisionism was dangerous for the maintenance of power, unity of the Party, but above all, its ideological legitimacy. When Kołakowski was fired from the Party’s ranks and his university post, the official document stated that he “fashioned the minds of the youth with ideology which was contrary to the development of the country.” Whether the communists understood Marx and Kołakowski’s reading of him, is irrelevant; but they suspected that philosophers’ reading of Marx could be dangerous. Insofar as the communist state was based on Marx’s ideas, interpretation of Marx was crucial. It was not just the Communist apparatchiks who were concerned but philosophers such as Jurgen Habermas who supposedly remarked, in the 1970s, that Kołakowski is a disaster for the European Left.

I bring this up to show that reading and interpretation of philosophical texts matters; and it was the reading of Marx which contributed to the demise of Marxist ideology, and people’s loss of faith in the system. Ultimately the system collapsed because the faith in it had been undermined by intellectuals.

As I said, and you seem to agree with me on this point, if Liberalism is becoming, or has become, totalitarian, its eventual demise – if it follows the trajectory of Communism – can be accomplished only if Liberalism finds critics among its own believers, who will come to the inevitable conclusion, as did the Marxist Revisionists, that the system is fundamentally flawed, that “distortions” are not distortions but fundamental features of the ideology. Are there any Liberal Revisionists, not just critics of Liberalism who never claimed to be Liberal? Mark Lilla, whose writings you know, seems to find Liberalism more and more disappointing; but he is far from breaking away from it.

PN: This argument about corrupting the youth is as old as philosophy itself, stretching all the way back to the trial and death of Socrates. We will not come up with anything new here. Politicians will always accuse philosophers of anything and everything, not only corrupting the youth, since they cannot bear the thought of free people, independent from their decisions.

You say that something in Kołakowski’s thought did not sit well with Habermas. That is just fine. There is a problem with German philosophy in general. The thing is that World War II seriously thinned out the Germans; and the Germans killed off the Jews. Meanwhile, for centuries both have provided us with intellectual fuel. War put an end to that. The defeat of the Third Reich has driven all German philosophy to the grave. German philosophy ceased to exist. With one exception – Martin Heidegger, the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. The French took this opportunity to devise a hokum called postmodernism, talking about which here is a waste of time. We will do well not to refer to either the Germans or the postmodernists in a conversation about Marx, revisionism or Liberalism.

Of course, as everywhere, there are brilliant exceptions. In France, they include – to limit this listing to the living – Rémi Brague, Alain Besançon, who was a gauchist in the 1950s, and Pierre Manent, a French Straussian. That latter said in an interview with Benedicte Delorme-Montini something along the lines of, “if you aspire to understand modern politics, you must have a certain understanding of the United States; therefore you must have a little love for them … A minimum of sympathy and recognition for American achievements is a basic prerequisite of understanding politics even a little bit.” I will add from myself that it is good not only to love and understand them, but also visit and be interested in them.

In my mind the US is entwined – as is the case with of millions of Poles who are Americanophiles – with a childish dream of freedom. Growing up under Communism, we dreamed of the States as if it was Arcadia. Liberalism was also an Arcadian myth for me, a positive myth. In order to be able to revise the ideas on which a political system was founded, one must grow organically in it. Nobody can be a substitute for the British or the Americans in this. The “revisionist” impulse must come from them.
Mark Lilla is not entirely convincing in his writings. At first, I was amazed by his book on intellectuals because it was really well-written. Later, as I read his other books and essays he has written for The New York Review of Books, I realized that he was a literarily gifted opportunist who woke up one day and realized – like everyone in his social circle – that there is no God. Eureka! His The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West came from such a discovery. I stopped reading him after that book.

Today, when the history of ideas in the West has receded several decades in relation to, for example, the late works of Martin Heidegger, the humanistic thought of the young Kołakowski has a chance for a renaissance. It fits quite well with the anticlerical antipathies of such authors as Mark Lilla, Stephen Greenblatt, Noah Harari, Christopher Hitchens, Giovanni Vattimo, Richard Dawkins, taken in concert with all the Frenchmen who fell out of Alain Badiou’s back pocket. These thinkers, like pack-donkeys, gradually and painstakingly reach the ideas developed by Kołakowski in the 1950s and 1960s, which he abandoned in his further philosophical work, and which brought such dazzling gems as The Presence of Myth or Metaphysical Horror.

ZJ: What was it about Lilla’s book or books that drew your attention? Did you see him as a Liberal Revisionist?

PN: No, Lilla’s books do not have that potential. I only skimmed through the latest ones. They adulate the liberal system in all its pathological layers, and if they undertake criticism, it is a predictable and authorized one. But the Americans had ingenious “revisionists.” They have forgotten about them. I am preparing an issue of Kronos magazine about Allan Bloom. So, I am re-reading his essays, such as those collected in Giants and Dwarfs. I doubt their “revisionist” power is remembered.

ZJ: Unlike Marxism, Liberalism does not seem to have the venerated “founding fathers,” to whose writings we can go back to. Juxtapose young Marx to late Marx; only to realize that the theory was flawed from the beginning. There is no body of writings like the Federalist Papers in the US, the Constitution, which we need to know how to read in order to get politics right. Perhaps that is why there is little chance that Liberalism will collapse the way socialism did because the theory contained in the writings of the founders turned out to be simply wrong.

PN: You have published two volumes of John Stuart Mill’s minor writings. You do not spare him harsh words. You are right. Something went wrong. We need to investigate what happened and when. But, let’s leave it to the Anglos. Personally, I would start by weakening John Rawls’s position in the American humanities. I suggest we should reread Bloom’s critique of Rawls, which he published in 1975, in American Political Science Review (69 [2]). I know of no more convincing criticism of his philosophy.

ZJ: I would disagree with you saying, let’s leave it to the Anglos, for several reasons. Liberal ideology enveloped not just the US, Canada, the UK. It is doing the same in Continental Europe, including the former socialist countries, and parts of Asia, South America. Liberal language of rights, justice and equality is everywhere the same. Rawls and company are not just an American problem; they are a problem for everyone. It does not matter whether a critique of Rawls comes from America or Scotland or England, so long as someone formulates it. There are others who wrote critically about Rawls: Roger Scruton and John Gray. The latter wrote a good book in the early 1990s called, Liberalisms (plural). It is worth rereading today.

Secondly, for critique of Rawls to be effective, one needs to undermine that which underlies Rawls project, that is egalitarianism. His whole theory of justice is based on the premise of the equality of outcome, and unless we go after equality, show how detrimental it is to man’s private life and social organization, we will always have another Rawls, another theory of justice. What is needed is a serious historical work, which shows how the egalitarian world came about. No one who read Peter Laslett’s The World We Have Lost: England Before the Industrial Age (1965) would give credence to Marx and Engels’ philosophy of history. As Laslett shows, in his line-by-line commentary to The Communist Manifesto, it was based on an erroneous interpretation of history. Jonathan Clark is doing similar revisionist work, and everybody who is interested in the subject of Liberalism should read his Revolution and Rebellion and The Language of Liberty.

Be that as it may, here is what I would like to ask: unlike Western Europeans and North Americans who lived through the entire time under the roof of liberal democracy, Eastern Europeans did not; their experience between 1945, the end of WWII, and 1989, the end of Communism, was different. We were inoculated against ideological thinking. Are Poles, for example, better equipped to formulate such arguments and thus can better offer their Western friends a piece of advice?

PN: I do not think so. For this I blame the stupid, naive, childish and probably unrequited love of Poles for the United States. For millions of Poles, Anglo-Liberalism (please do not confuse it with the economic doctrine of Jeffrey Sachs and Leszek Balcerowicz) will always be associated with freedom that was still there in the 1980s.

ZJ: As for my decision to put out Mill’s minor writings, I wanted to find out who is responsible for the social, moral and political chaos today. Not the chaos and demoralization created by socialism, but the chaos in the formerly admired liberal democracies. Mill appeared to me to be the best candidate. As I was preparing my first volume of his writings, I started realizing that he is to Liberalism what Marx is to Socialism. Just like Marx was not the first socialist, nor was Mill the first Liberal. But they both gave full expression to two traditions that existed before them. They codified them and made them into coherent systems.

When you read those minor writings (the second volume is scheduled to appear in the Fall) you no longer see Mill as the serious philosopher (as per, On Liberty, Utilitarianism, or Considerations on Representative Government, but an angry social activist, a propagandist, polemicist, who, like Marx wants to change the world.

What you are struck by is his dislike of the old hierarchical order – the aristocracy, the Anglican Church, religion, the State and, finally, his love of equality. This is what motivated his philosophy of Liberalism. To be sure, he was less radical than Marx and Engels, but his vision of the future of the world is similar: it is a world in which equality reigns supreme. This is what he says on the last two pages of his Utilitarianism, which sounds very much like Marx/Engels’ Communist Manifesto. And equality, like classless society in Marx, is what drives the liberal world today. I consider it to be a dangerous state of mind, which will not stop before it destroys all social institutions. Socialism did it then. Liberalism is doing it now.

PN: You suggested I read Mill, for which I would like to thank you separately. I took his minor writings seriously, and my colleagues in the editorial staff of Kronos magazine found them interesting as well. We decided to translate a considerable portion of them and devote the issue to Mill. I hope that it will contribute to the debate you care so deeply about here, in Poland.

It is true, there is a lot in them about equality – a noble idea in general, which our times have so exaggerated and vulgarized. For example, mentally ill and dysfunctional people are considered not to be different from healthy people. They are “just different.” The result is that we undermine the category of mental health, and thus we can’t cure them. We are not allowed to talk of disease; we use the language of “different sensitivity.” Less and less attention is being paid to crime victims.

At the same time, huge public funds are being committed to the resocialization of criminals, who often see themselves as victims of the social system, unable to take responsibility for what they have done. My daughter wanted to pursue this topic professionally – she graduated from forensic psychology at one of the English universities – but was successfully dissuaded from doing that. There are topics that may not be discussed in today’s academia! And that is utterly unprecedented! Wasn’t that what the right to freedom of expression was about, especially in academic matters? Was it not also postulated by Mill in On Liberty? The same Mill, who called for the liberalization of the law in relation to criminals.

Today the majority has been cornered by the minority. Nay! By numerous minorities who demand the same rights as the majority. Western democracies are on the brink of a civil war.

ZJ: You expressed concerns not just about American universities but also referred to the French ones, the intellectual scene there, and the French romance with Marxism. To be sure, Poles, unlike the French, may not find reading Marxist literature palatable, but in their general outlook, their thinking about the State as a provider of all kinds of goods and services, the power of centralized government, are, in my opinion, not different from that of the French. The Americans too. Whether it is the French egalité or Marx’s classless society, the Poles and other Europeans are true believers in equality. I would even go further: I would say that post-socialist countries may be in a worse situation than the Western European countries because we have had a state-sponsored egalitarian (Marxist) ideology for 45 years. We may have shaken off the Marxist new-speak, but not necessarily the belief in equality which socialism engrained in us. It is what Liberalism is doing now in the countries which by Marxist standards were class societies.
The alternative to equality of any kind and provenance would be a society based on hierarchy, merit, and privilege. All three were the primary object of Mill’s attack. Except for Sir Roger Scruton and Jonathan Clark, I do not know of anyone who would dare to defend it. Say to the Poles that you are a partisan of hierarchy and inequality based on merit, and you are likely to be socially decapitated, just like in the US. I believe you experienced it as well.

PN: I prefer not to talk about personal experiences, which will not teach anyone anything who refuses to understand the problems of the liberal societies we live in. On the other hand, people like us – you and I – understand the danger all too well. All I can say is that we are coming awfully close to communist reality in various fields, where people were destroyed for even being suspected of having views contrary to the existing ideology. Unless we wake up from our progressive dream, totalitarianism will always be with us.

As for your question about the Poles, let me give you an example. Poles have always shed their blood. You know the slogan “For your freedom and ours.” Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the commander of the Polish Army during the 1794 uprising against Russia, was one of the Polish generals who came to America to fight in the war of independence. He designed the defenses of West Point during the revolutionary war, and, later, suggested to Jefferson that Americans establish a military school for officers. There is a monument of Kosciuszko at West Point and on the square in front of the White House. Now he did not go to America because he was a partisan of equality! He just could not bear the thought that there are people who live in bondage. When he was returning to Poland, he left Jefferson his American estate to sell and use all the money from the sale – well over a million dollars in today’s money – to free as many Blacks as possible. I was tempted to find out how many people could be freed for it and it turned out to be about a hundred!

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Nowak, for such an interesting and invigorating conversation.


The featured image shows, “The Fair at Kawaria Zabrzydowska, Poland,” by Wojciech Weiss, painted ca. 1913.

Tracing The Descendants Grigory Rasputin

Some saw him as a charlatan, others a “saint”, who foretold the fall of the Russian Empire shortly before his own death. His descendants had had to live in the shadow of the ‘tsarist monk’ for years to come – almost all of them succumbing to the same fate.

Grigory Rasputin – a favorite of the Romanov Dynasty, was a man with a very controversial reputation. After his murder in 1916, his image and role in Russian history became subject to a campaign of demonization. By 1933, the Rasputin name was all but erased, with nearly all of his descendants dying under similar circumstances. All of them, but one.

“Malignant Agents”

Of Grigory Rasputin’s seven children, only three survived to adulthood: Matrena, Varvara and Dmitry. They lived with their mother in the Pokrovskoye village, some 1,150 km from Moscow, until 1913. When Rasputin’s situation in the Royal court solidified, he decided to relocate to St. Petersburg permanently, along with his daughters, seeking to secure a future for them as upstanding ladies. Having enrolled Matrena and Varvara into a prep school staffed by the best teachers, he began to gradually introduce them to his new circle of friends – the royals.

Nicholas II’s children resembled something akin to delicate china dolls, Matrena would later recall in her memoirs: “The tsar’s children wanted to know everything about me: what gymnasium I study at, who does my hair and dresses me, if I have any mechanical toys, if I’ve seen their yacht yet, what our cow’s name was in Pokrovskoye and so on and so forth!” The girls quickly befriended the Romanov children. Matrena soon swapped her lower-class name for a softer-sounding Maria. However, anti-Rasputin sentiments began to grow after the family’s relocation to St. Petersburg a year later. They reached their peak after his death at the Yusupov palace. Rasputin’s family left town, but only Maria managed to leave the country.

Not long before, she married Boris Solovyev – an officer and loyal follower of her father’s and the royal family. She also acquired new identification papers and left for Europe via Vladivostok, as one couldn’t head westward because of the war. The trains on the Transsiberian often got stuck for months on end. The pair then left Vladivostok on a ferry, which was evacuating a portion of the Czechoslovakian corps. They had to get to Europe by way of Japan, Singapore and the Suez Canal. The journey took all of two years, with Maria delivering her firstborn. The family settled in Berlin, before relocating to Paris four years later. This escape saved Maria’s life – something that couldn’t be said for her brother and sister.

After her father’s murder, Varvara returned to Pokrovskoye to her brother. In 1922, they were stripiped of all rights and accused of being “malignant elements”. In the 1930s, Dmitry, his mother and family were arrested and sent to do labor in the North, where they died of dysentery. Meanwhile, Varvara simply disappeared. One theory claims that she died of typhus in the 1920s.

Daughter Of A Mad Monk

Things weren’t going so well for the only surviving Rasputin daughter in Paris, either. Boris Solovyev opened a restaurant, but the business didn’t take off, with most customers being poor Russian emigrants dining there on open tabs. In 1924, he contracted tuberculosis and died soon after. By then, Maria had already had two children, Marie and Tatiana.

Having been left with nothing, she first worked as a housekeeper for rich families, before taking a job as a dancer at the Empire Theater (her ballet classes helped in that).

Maria Rasputin

Her life would soon change, however. In the 1930s, the famous daughter of the Russian tsar’s favorite monk was spotted by the director of the ‘Barnun’ – an American circus. She got the job on the condition that she would perform in a cage with a lion. “Grandmother, of course, agreed,” her granddaughter (and daughter of Tatiana), Laurence Huot-Solovieff wrote. “Having fled the Revolution, as well as the First and the Civil Wars, a lion cage didn’t produce the same fear in her.”

Her famed surname played a significant role: the public showed great interest in seeing “Maria Rasputina, the daughter of the mad monk, made famous by his exploits in Russia” (as she was advertised on the posters), who, supposedly, had the ability to tame wild animals with nothing but her inherited “Rasputin gaze”. Maria toured almost all of Europe and the United States with that show.

It all came to an end in Miami: she was attacked by a polar bear. Having gone through a lengthy recovery at the hospital, she ended her career as animal tamer. Journalists would later sensationalize the story, writing that the fur of the bear that Rasputin collapsed on after being shot in 1916 was also that of a polar bear.

Maria then worked as a riveter at an American shipbuilding factory. After World War II, she transitioned to weapons factories, where she worked until old age, having received U.S. citizenship in 1945. She died in 1977 at almost 80 years old. Her surviving descendents reside in the West and her granddaughter Laurence Huot-Solovyeva occasionally visits Russia.

Forbidden Topic

Laurence currently resides in a mansion in Paris, which has been outfitted with furniture she inherited from Maria Rasputin. Her bedroom contains photos of her great-grandfather.

For a long time, the Rasputin name was a forbidden topic in the family. “I remember father slamming his fist on the table and demanding that the name never be uttered at home and that the family’s Russian roots never be spoken of,” she told Kommersant daily. This ban on discussion was explained by the name’s dark reputation, which could have influenced the family’s life in Paris. “Here, Rasputin carries a negative connotation, as it is reserved for politicians with a strong penchant for giving advice.”

“Only with father’s passing, my cousin, his nephew, said: ‘We must remember our entire history, everything we know about great-granddad’,” although, even then, the conversation was kept strictly in the family.

Laurence told that story to her friends on the day of her 60th birthday: “Our guests nearly fell from their chairs from shock,” she laughed. Since then, the topic was no longer taboo and she now has a mission to spread the story so as to stop her great-grandfather’s name from being mythologized.

“If anyone thinks that I possess some unusual gifts, I must disappoint them,” Laurence says. “I’m simply a woman. Having been left alone, I worked as a secretary and raised children. I have three grandchildren. Over the past few years, my life has gained a new meaning spiritually… I’m more into Russian history, the history of Orthodox Christianity, I study my roots and spend time with Russian people.”

Laurence works with journalists, takes part in science conferences, but still confesses that some people try to avoid her. “I have friends that say: ‘You know, Laurence, I like you, but I cannot introduce you to my family.’ Simply because I’m Rasputin’s descendant.”


Yekaterina Sinelschikova is a graduate of the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University’s Faculty of Journalism. This article appears courtesy of Russia Beyond.


The featured image shows, “Portrait of Rasputin,” by Theodora Krarup, painted in 1916.

We: A Dystopian Masterpiece By Yevgeny Zamyatin

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, written in 1921, is the ur-dystopia of all modern dystopias. True, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984, both of which this book influenced, get more attention today. In fact, it is nearly a cliché, at least on the Right, that we are heading to some combination of the two, the only question being which our future society will resemble more, if we do not first overthrow the lords of the present age. That is as it may be, but Zamyatin’s novel offers a third future, certainly a future more to the liking of today’s ruling class than either of those other futures. And, crucially, its story ends with a lesson lacking in those other books, even though that lesson is, it appears, universally ignored by those who discuss this book.

I warn you now, this entire review is one big spoiler. We is written as a journal of sorts, the stream of consciousness of a man named D-503. He is a mathematician and the Chief Engineer of a spaceship, named INTEGRAL, being prepared for imminent launch to explore Venus, Mars, and beyond. D-503 is a citizen of OneState, under the absolute rule of, apparently, one man, the Benefactor. D-503, along with other members of the citizenry, has been ordered by the Benefactor to create intellectual cargo for INTEGRAL, to be delivered to inhabitants of other planets in order to propagate the ideology of OneState. He decides to simply record what he sees around him, because what he sees is the “mathematically perfect life of OneState.” To speak of it is to herald its perfection. But D-503’s journal turns out to be, without his intent, a journal of his awakening.

Why does D-503 consider OneState perfect? It is the twenty-sixth century; OneState is two hundred years old, and followed two hundred years of war that killed the vast majority of Earth’s population. OneState is a single city, surrounded by an impenetrable glass wall, the Green Wall. All construction within is also of glass, both a technological achievement and a means of ensuring every citizen may be observed. Nobody ever goes beyond the Green Wall—not because the wilderness is a blasted wasteland, but rather because it is the opposite, an area of uncontrolled growth, a riot of plants and animals.

It is not random that D-503’s rocket is named INTEGRAL. The theme of calculus is shot through this book, and the purpose of the rocket is to “integrate the indefinite equation of the universe”—that is, to subject the rest of the universe to the perfection that is OneState, to turn the natural curves of the universe into the straight line and finite quantity of OneState. It will be, for those unknown peoples in space, “the fiery Tamerlane of happiness.”

OneState aims to order the life of man rationally, in contrast to the disordered irrationality of past ages, that led to war, disease, and suchlike unclean and inefficient happenings. The ideology of OneState is not Communism, or any other modern ideology that actually gained traction in real life. We should remember that Zamyatin wrote in the early days of Bolshevism, and before any example existed of the modern cult of personality. Thus, not only is this book not an attack on Communism, the Benefactor is not an analog of Stalin or other Communist big men. He is not even an absolute ruler, but simply the manifestation of the ruling class that has created and maintained this supposed utopia. Who the others at the top are, how they live, and how power is handed onward, is unclear. It doesn’t matter; what matters is the ideology of OneState, and what that does to the minds and lives of the mass of citizens.

The ideology of OneState is Taylorism, or rather the perfectibility of man through Taylorism, the achievement of his total happiness through a total loss of freedom. Frederick Winslow Taylor, who died in 1915, was, of course, the apostle of efficiency engineering—the breakdown of industrial tasks into smaller tasks and an obsessive focus on completing each such task as efficiently as possible, that is in minimum time with minimum labor. (Very strangely, a translator’s footnote says that the Taylor constantly mentioned in the book was “long thought to be” an obscure early eighteenth-century British mathematician, Brook Taylor, who worked with calculus. How that mistake could be made is beyond me, even with the frequent references to mathematics in the book.) Taylor’s “motions per second” are the underpinning of the Table of Hours, which for each citizen, each Number, is a breakdown of what he is to be doing at any given moment throughout the day, down to “fifty statutory chews of each mouthful.” The story sold by OneState to the citizens, as the narrator tries to remind himself as the truth dawns on him, is that because of the reduction of all action to pure rationality, “the gods have become like us—ergo, we’ve become like gods.” This fake theosis is what the ruling class of OneState offers the regimented citizenry.

Conformity to the Table of Hours is enforced by the secret police, the Guardians. They are needed because not all is as perfect as it seems. In fact, public executions for crimes against the state are common, for such crimes as writing a poem that criticizes the Benefactor. Such executions are a public religious ritual, a type of Girardian scapegoating. Zamyatin describes one, conducted as always through dematerialization by the Benefactor’s Machine. He explicitly analogizes it to the ancients’ “divine service” and the Benefactor to a high priest, who “slowly passed through the stands—in His wake were gentle white female hands raised aloft like branches and a million hosannas in unison,” with the invisible (to the populace) Guardians standing in as angels.

The government’s control over the minutes of citizens’ lives is subject to only one limit: two hours in the day when citizens have Personal Hours, and can occupy their time with what they please, within strict limits, naturally. This highlights the interesting separation between the ideology of OneState and that of Communism, or more broadly the ideology of the Left, of which Communism is merely one branch. Left ideologies desire to control the thought of the people; this is what Orwell got right. To that end they use many tools, among the most important of which are the mutilation of language and the perversion of justice. But even as their thoughts are constrained, citizens can spend their time largely as they please, the opposite of OneState. As Orwell pointed out, in a review before he published 1984, in which both thoughts and actions are regimented, Zamyatin offers a much more realistic dystopia than Brave New World, which would in practice immediately collapse of ennui and enervation. Here, the citizenry has a feeling, even if wholly artificially inculcated, of meaning, unity, and accomplishment, which can continue indefinitely—until the spell is broken.

We should remember that in 1921, all elite opinion, or at least that found in decent circles, West or East, assumed the scientific perfectibility of man, and that is still a core belief of the Left. (This was one reason the Bolsheviks were treated as serious thinkers; there was some small excuse for reasonable people thinking that at the time.) Still, the idea of regimentation under total government control has always seemed undesirable to most of us in the West; that’s why We has always been thought of as a dystopia. Liberty, or now libertinism, sells better. Or at least it did until 2020, when our own governments reacted to the very modest problem of the Wuhan Plague with a grab for total control, aided and abetted by large swathes of the population, ants who were suddenly revealed as eager for safety and the comfort of being regimented.

As I have noted before, there is something in human nature, and in particular in those who climb the greasy pole of political power, that loves an unfettered ability to minutely control others—but they need an excuse to get the people to swallow it, and usually the excuse fails to convince the populace (as was the case with global warming alarmism). Rarely does the populace cooperate, but when they do, climbing back out is not allowed, as we see all over the West today. The desire for control is not purely a Left impulse, to be sure, although because extreme control is needed to allow rule while denying reality, as the Left inherently does, it is necessarily a very prominent trait among all Left regimes. But maybe, if there were any Right regimes, it might be evident there as well. Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, generally center-right and reality-based, has implemented an extremely strict plague regime, which surprises me, and is something I cannot understand, but perhaps this is the answer. After all, virtuous regimes that enforce limited government reach are not thick on the ground of modern history.

Despite the best efforts of the ruling class, peeking through the Taylorized life of OneState are human emotions such as jealousy, and the desire of the woman sexually “assigned” (non-exclusively) to D-503 to have a child, forbidden to her because she is short, and eugenics demands she meet the Maternal Norm for height to be allowed to reproduce. D-503 largely lacks the vocabulary or thought patterns to identify emotions, however, making such things, and any non-rational human behavior generally, an irritation to him, because they are something unquantifiable and therefore disturbing. But, as happens, he falls in love, another emotion that has been supposedly Taylorized out of existence. The object of his love is I-330, a mysterious woman he meets, whose public behavior skirts the boundaries of acceptability, and whose private behavior, smoking and drinking and talking treason, goes far beyond it. The meeting is not coincidental; she has targeted him, because she is a leader of a group desiring the overthrow of OneState, the Mephi, and he is the operational leader of INTEGRAL, which they wish to hijack.

No surprise, falling in love troubles D-503, who cannot understand what is happening to him. When I-330 fails to follow the Table, he knows he should report her to the Guardians, but finds excuses to not do so. He logically concludes that he is sick. This sickness is not just his newly discovered romantic feelings, but all his newly discovered emotions and unbidden thoughts, slowly morphing into the realization that he has been lied to his entire life—a realization against which he struggles mightily. He intermittently tries to retreat into the linear realities of mathematics, which he has always believed are the same realities as those offered by OneState—but even there, reality pursues him.

As he descends into what feels like madness, but is really coming awake, D-503 realizes that the conspiracy of the Mephi is broad, and extends through tunnels to outside the Green Wall, where live wild, fur-covered humans. It even extends to within the Guardians, perhaps. He also realizes that I-330 is, if not wholly using him, at least partially using him. But he doesn’t care. Tension rises in the city as the Mephi begin to move—a mini-riot ensues when a marching citizen (they all march in unison as a matter of course) breaks ranks to try to free a prisoner of the Guardians he sees on the street. The newspapers start to make strange statements: “Reliable sources report the discovery once again of signs pointing to an elusive organization whose goal is liberation from the beneficent yoke of the State.” Then comes the annual Day of Unanimity, where the Benefactor is reelected by the assembled populace, the “We” of the title, who vote publicly to show their devotion. He descends from the sky, explicitly a divine figure—and when the pro forma question is asked who votes “No” to his reelection, thousands of hands are raised, instantly casting the city into chaos, as the Guardians pursue those who have dared defy the power of OneState.

The city is, to a small degree, as the organs of OneState retreat, left free. Yet for every action, a reaction, and only a fool ignores this truth in his battles. The powers of OneState announce “Rejoice! For henceforth you are perfect!” In what way? In that every person is to complete the transition to a machine of flesh, through an operation to burn out the “imagination”—meaning independence of thought, including emotion. (This being allegory, we can ignore that turning a person into a calculating machine might very well result in him calculating that the overthrow of the Benefactor made mathematical sense, even for a purely rational actor.)

Perhaps surprising the ruling class, the Operation is greeted with widespread opposition from the populace at large. Wildfire, disorganized resistance arises. Meanwhile, the Mephi implement their plan to seize INTEGRAL—which is thwarted by the Guardians, who had caught wind of the plan. No matter—fighting spreads in the City, and the Mephi smash through the Wall, something thought impossible, letting in the wild outside, heralded by the appearance of birds of prey in the air. Free men skirmish with Guardians and “postoperatives,” bringing up light arms and then heavy weapons; D-503 perceives his civilization collapsing.

Or does he? The last pages are written deadpan again, without the strained emotion characterizing those immediately before; D-503 has been seized and subjected to the Operation. He then gladly, or rather without emotion, betrays what he knows of the Mephi. I-303 and her compatriots have been tortured and are to be executed the next day. But why tomorrow? Because OneState actually is collapsing. The executions “can’t be put off, because in the western quarters there is still chaos, roaring, corpses, animals, and, unfortunately, quite a lot of Numbers who have betrayed reason. But on Fortieth Avenue, which runs crosstown, they’ve managed to build a temporary wall of high-voltage wires. And I hope we’ll win. More—I’m certain we’ll win. Because reason has to win.”

But of course, reason, with its ever-fluid meaning in the modern world, doesn’t have to win. Reality has to win, and that final sentence reveals the truth—OneState is doomed. D-503’s journal is a narration, though he never realizes it, of the inevitable reimposition of reality. Reality cannot be made to conform to calculation; this is the flaw in all ideologies that purport to perfect mankind, because reality always returns, whatever its opposition. The revolt of the citizens of OneState could, for example, be an allegory of the January 2021 Electoral Justice Protest (which, I just noticed, took place nearly one hundred years to the day after this book was written). The parallels between this book and that event are not coincidental; they are the nature of resistance to the loathsome tyrannies of the modern age, which resistance will always rise in a recognizable shape.

As I say, Zamyatin’s book has of late started receiving more mention on the Right, as intellectuals on the Right try to understand the present moment. Yet they ignore the crucial lesson of the book—that OneState is tottering and about to fall, not because of an inspiring book or pithy article, but because the Green Wall has been breached with explosives, corpses litter the street, and the Guardians have been reduced to cobbling together makeshift barriers to the advance of militia forces. Our Right intellectuals ignore that the road back to reality when oppressed by a pernicious ideology, forward to renewal, is always steeped in blood, because ideologues never give up their power voluntarily. He who denies this lies to himself. Once all men knew this; they will be reminded of it, to their sorrow and pain.

Those on the Right who wail about the coming dystopia, whatever brand they forecast, are entirely right that we have already long passed the foothills of dystopia, though its shape remains to be revealed precisely. But most refuse to countenance that the Mephi are right, and they are wrong, with their Benedict Options and grey-man passivism. In a passage that some say was the cause of Zamyatin being exiled by the Bolsheviks, even though his book was not published in Russia until 1988, I-330 says just as infinity dictates there can be no final number, then “how can there be a final revolution? There is no final one. The number of revolutions is infinite. The last one—that’s for children.” So it is.

What does that imply for us? Does it imply that we should join whatever the equivalent of today’s Mephi is? Not necessarily—though not because things aren’t that bad. On the contrary, they are that bad. Our current state is fully as evil as OneState (with our internet standing in for their ubiquitous glass). It offers less Taylorism, and more of an even fouler tyranny of false emancipation and forced egalitarianism, combined with sedation through catering to each citizen’s emotions and base desires, as long as those emotions and desires are approved ones. These are distinctions without a difference; the control sought by our rulers is the same as the rulers of OneState, as is their behavior. Just ask Derek Chauvin, this week sacrificed in a Left religious ritual, a parody of justice, on our equivalent of the Benefactor’s Machine.

To be clear—our current American state is entirely illegitimate and a criminal organization; it has no moral claim on our loyalty, and actively working for its complete destruction is wholly morally justified, that our children may live decently. Paradoxically, however, the reason it now makes little sense to form or join our own Mephi is because our Brawndo Tyranny is far more fragile than the state Zamyatin portrays. Unlike the Benefactor and his myrmidons, our overlords are incompetent idiots, disunited, fragile, stupid, and cowardly. Perhaps that means they could be pushed over the easier, but cornered rats fight, and why pay the cost if not needed? We can be sure they will begin to fracture of their own accord, or under the pressure of external events, at which point the equivalent of the Mephi will be much more effective, though no doubt the types of costs borne by our Mephi, even then, will be the same as those borne by Zamyatin’s. It is in denying that the Mephi are ever necessary that the error lies, not in refusing to build the Mephi now.

To be sure, this is the easier and safer course, and lays the proponent open to the charge of dissimulating, trying to avoid risk while talking big. Perhaps this is a fair charge. Time will tell, and not much time, either.


Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.


The featured image shows an illustration for We.

Moscow’s Stability Operations: A Brief History

Stability operations initiated by Moscow, whether in the Soviet or post-Cold War era contexts, are peculiar in their own history and methods from all the others set up by the UN, by other international and regional organizations and by the “coalition of the willing.”

Moscow put such military operations on two different levels: ones led by the UN, and those that can be attributed to the Community of Independent States (CIS), and considered by Moscow almost as internal affairs, and thus conceived, directed, and managed as such.

The first such operation began relatively late, in November 1973, with the dispatch of 36 military observers, all unarmed commissioned officers, to the oldest peace operation of the United Nations (UNTSO). The observers were accompanied by a further 36 “interpreters” (or controllers, likely coming from the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence service). The UNTSO, ad hoc expanded, was to operate in support of the troops of the UN interposition force deployed after the Yom Kippur War in Sinai, UNEF II.

The presence of these “interpreters” immediately created a major problem for the UN (which could not give consideration to military observers, given that they had to express themselves and write in English, the working language of the organization) – not to mention the financial, logistical, insurance and legal problems. But all this was in the midst of the Cold War and, only after a long negotiation did the “interpreters” leave, and in this way, the USSR also kept its presence in UNTSO, after the end of UNEF II, in 1979. Until 1991, members of UNTSO were the only Soviet-Russian “blue helmets.” After the liberation of Kuwait and to monitor the truce in Western Sahara, other military observers were sent, respectively, UNIKOM and MINURSO (the latter, even if in reduced strength, is still present).

Since then, there are few UN missions that have not seen a presence of military observers, police personnel, support helicopters and other specialists sent from Moscow, in accordance with the choice of opening to the world of the new Kremlin leadership. This choice sees only some small variations, given the stiff resistance by Moscow of sending formed units abroad, synthesized in a battalion of paratroopers, dispatched to the former Yugoslavia, in the framework of UNPROFOR, between 1992 and 1996; and this only after several requests and with many difficulties.

Leaving aside the presence of the two Russian battalions included in the NATO-led peacekeeping missions to Bosnia and Kosovo (I-FOR/S-FOR and K-FOR), it is useful to summarize, and as far as possible, analyze the role and function of those operating in the peripherical area of the former USSR (or “near abroad” for the new Russia). While the most recent, tasked to monitor the ceasefire line between the forces of Nagorno/Karabach and Armenia on the one side and Azerbaijan on the other is ongoing, most of those missions completed their mandate, and others are presumed to be closed soon.

According to the universally accepted doctrine of stability operations, these operations lack the fundamental principles of stability operations, such as, impartiality between opposing factions, and being a presence mutually accepted by them, with limited use of force and that only for the purpose of self-defense and within the limits of the implementation of the mandate. However, this statement, which comes from Western experts and scholars of stability operations, is partial.

As mentioned, all these operations for Moscow, since the uncertain days of the end of USSR and the more uncertain days of the beginning of the CIS (Community of Independent States, a substitute body for the immediate post-USSR), represented a very critical political value and, as such, were carefully designed and managed; all had the pivotal objective of protecting the interests of the Kremlin, starting with the protection of the Russian and/or Russian-speaking populations, and securing strategic assets and corridors. This pragmatic approach has gradually established a series of mission options, which have a solid political plan and a realistic time-line.

Where the criticism is, however, pertinent is the lack of legitimacy of the emanating body, due to the uncertain and ambiguous role and juridical status of the CIS, perceived as a mere long-arm of Moscow’s interests and objectives.

For example, the agreement which followed the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, covers a period of five years. It may seem long, but it allowed for an exist, from the various weary rituals of renewal issued, often after tedious negotiations, like the annual (or even half-yearly) meetings at the UN Security Council, a phase which put the operations under regular stress, and thus creating or exacerbating tensions on the ground, while raising expectations of the former warring parties.

Also, from observed experiences of stabilization operations carried out by the UN, the Russian forces appeared to be more heavily armed and thus had a deterrent capacity that reduced the potential threats from those who would want to break the truce and confront forces with mobility, self-protection, and hostile fire suppression capabilities far superior to those of “blue helmets.”

This deterrence discouraged the former warring parties to undertake dangerous escalations, making these operations much more effective, as is often the case for UN missions, which facilitate the political dialogue framework, by reducing the space of maneuver and blackmailing of the former warring parties.

Many of these forces (former Soviet and/or initially CIS-led) were already garrisoning in the area from the time of the existence of the USSR and often reacted to the exploding problems, applying Moscow’s guidelines in an average effective manner, given the circumstances.

The disintegration of the USSR, and the formation of 12 independent republics, had great consequences on the stability of the former federation and impacted the new born states, which inherited the distortions of Soviet times.

In fact, in areas where Soviet intervention was particularly heavy with border and population displacements, violent conflicts erupted (like in the Caucasus), as the process of political and economic restructuring of the USSR, begun in the second half of the 1980s by Gorbachov, weakened the repressive apparatus that had oppressed those regions since the mid-1920s.

After the official end of the Soviet Union, which materialized in December 1991, the need to maintain an integrated economic system favored the establishment of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), an interstate body with a vague nature, characteristic and structure.

This community, directly hegemonized by Moscow, was established on 21 December 1991 in Alma Ata/Almaty in Kazakhstan. Despite serious economic and social internal turmoil and institutional re-foundation, already in the summer of 1992, Moscow first re-started a minimum interstate dialogue, trying to circumscribe the various crisis hotspots (Transcaucasia, Central Asia and Moldova), initially using the ex-Soviet forces still in those territories. Second, Moscow established and supported these multilateral interposition contingents, including (and also integrating) military units of the warring parties; thus, creating a conceptual novelty for this type of operation (however entirely ignored in the West). This format was adopted to include and to make accountable the former warring parties and defuse the restart of conflicts.

This choice however was badly perceived by one side, especially when the other side include separatist movements/fractions, as an attempt to legitimize those elements. This was bluntly rejected by countries like Georgia, which saw these forces as a move led by Moscow to undermine the newly reached independence of Batumi.

The CIS-led forces cooperated, to a rather limited extent, with OSCE and UN observer missions. Several of them completed their respective mandates as well, thanks to the massive diplomatic and institutional action conducted by Moscow, which tended to reabsorb these new/old nations (internationally recognized or not) in its political, economic, and strategic orbit.

Although indirectly, the Chechen question, and the brutal (and inconclusive) Russian attempts to overcome the many military crisis, constituted by the tensions within the non-Russian states of the Community which refused to participate to those operation.

This situation resulted in frequent problems between Moscow and the newly formed post-Soviet republics, which were unwilling to accept supinely the exclusive direction by the Russian side of military structures of the CIS (both of the central bodies of the organization and of the stabilization forces that were progressively formed); and the growing perplexity of some states to act as a purely rear area for the Russian and CIS forces, operating especially in Central Asia and consequently, return sic et simpliciter to the orbit of Moscow.

The establishment of these multilateral forces does not in many cases mean the automatic withdrawal from those territories of the Russian (and former USSR) contingents, often supported by large and heavily armed units of the newly constituted CIS Border Guard (the former Soviet frontier guard, a uniformed wing of the KGB).

With gradual stabilization underway in Moscow, and what emanates from it, these formations were progressively transformed into a more stable military presence, thus carrying out a function of protection of the Russian populations residing in those republics through a series of agreements that Russia progressively stipulated with these states which also granted the use of various military bases, freedom of movement and use of airspace.

In addition to military presence, Moscow’s action was accompanied by a process of institutional reorganization, characterized by a relevant ability to mediate between the conflicting needs of the parties and using the lever of the promise of economic aid to mitigate the conflicts (though limited, given the condition of the Russian financial situation).

Moscow’s determination lies in the need to have its peripherical areas as stable as possible, to maintain control over very delicate geographical and strategic junctions (Central-Western Asia, the Caucasus, Black Sea, oil pipelines, etc.), and to protect the Russian populations.

This situation created a droit de regard from Russia out towards the former Soviet republics, despite many protests in international fora and sates, such as, by the US, EU, NATO, UN and the OSCE, which saw their ability to act seriously become limited. In fact, Moscow only agreed to the presence of observation missions and good offices, and placed a very firm veto on the deployment of international military forces.

In January 1996, in the face of continuous requests for clarification by the UN, the CIS, through the Russian delegation to the UN, presented a document that clearly defined the status, nature, tasks and missions of the peacekeeping forces of this body, which until then was rather confused.

The document takes up, with some differences (especially relating to the use of force), the basic concepts of UN peacekeeping operations. It also clarifies the presence and duties of military forces, police personnel, and military observers in these missions. Guidelines were also established for relations between CIS forces and the personnel of other international bodies, such as the UN, OSCE and non-governmental, humanitarian assistance, civil and human rights monitoring bodies.

Even Moscow, in the context of the more general restructuring of its armed forces, initially faced a deficit of predesigned units for this type of operation; but it coped as best as it could by using resources already available, to then build ad hoc units for this kind of operation; and these units were precisely those sent to guard the truce line between the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, after the conflict in 2020.

Even if CIS was a structure considered by Moscow as a temporary solution (it still exists), it managed all the stabilization operations. But its architecture was also gradually supported by the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) which, established since 1993 and through a long process, lasted more than ten years. CSTO became the long-arm of Moscow in the “near abroad,” even if the participation of some states was fluctuating.

CSTO, among the numerous sub-architectures established (and largely different from CIS, which remained almost exclusively a heads-of-state council secretariat), had a more solid political and military mechanism, dedicated to stabilization (with a force of 3,000 military and police personnel), and which was ready to intervene, according to the decisions of the Council of Heads of State of the organization; or, upon request, to intervene in support of UN-led operations, though thus far it has never intervened in such a capacity (namely, a robust, mechanized infantry formation, able to impose and supervise a ceasefire, monitor road access and protect civilian populations from the actions of irregular elements, by borrowing aforementioned principles).

Tajikistan

Between 1992 and 1997, in Tajikistan, during a violent inter-ethnic conflict between non-Russian population components, there were a recorded 100,000 dead and half a million refugees. Since 1992, Russian forces basically present from the Soviet era (the 201st Motorized Rifle Division) had been formally acting as an interposition mandated by CIS, even though the behavior of its personnel was often the subject of criticism. But that was in the darkest days of the post-Soviet era and often salaries and supplies never arrived, and the personnel sold weapons and equipment to the parties.

Beyond these considerations, Russian troops were mandated by CIS to keep order. Since 1993, this decision was translated into an increased and open support of pro-Moscow leadership in the country. In August 1993, CIS gave its full mandate to Russian and some Central Asian republic forces, present in Tajikistan (at that time 25,000 soldiers), to resume forcible disarmament operations of the insurgent formations. In September of that year Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan asked (unsuccessfully) that these forces obtain UN mandate under Chapter VII of its Charter, (and thus also removing the embarrassment of CIS in allowing a one-side operation).

In allowing the UN Security Council to mandate CIS forces, it was decided to expedite the operation of disarmament and solve the issue as soon as possible. The civil war ended in 1997, with an agreement, promoted by the UN, which saw the prevalence of a line in favor of Moscow, and CIS troops gradually withdrew (the operation ended in 2000). In 1997, the Collective Peacekeeping Forces (CPF) numbered more than 12,000 soldiers (the 201st Motorized Rifle Division and three army battalions from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan), as well as 17,000 border guards (mostly Russian, with small contingents of similar Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan forces).

Abkhazia

In Abkhazia, the local independence forces, formed immediately after the independence of Georgia, clashed with the army of Tbilisi, newly formed in 1992, and defeated it. Moscow followed its policy of establishing multilateral forces and a mechanism of dialogue and coordination, but with partial success.

On May 14, 1994, after difficult negotiations, held under the aegis of the UN, the parties signed an agreement in Moscow to a ceasefire and separation of forces. The collective peacekeeping forces of the CIS, established by decision of the Council of Heads of State of the Community, included only Russian units, after the failure of the constitution of a joint force that would have included Abkhazian and Georgian elements because of the animosity between the two parties.

The JPKF (Joint Peacekeeping Force), deployed in June 1994, controlled a 24km wide security zone, along the line of contact between opposing forces. The only multilateral forum established was the JCC (Joint Consultation Committee), a consultation body and good offices, chaired by the Russian military.

On 10 October 2008, in accordance with the decision taken at the meeting of the CIS Council of Heads of State, held in Bishkek, the mandate of the JPKF, after 14 years of stay, ended; and a week later the Russian peacekeepers withdrew. Between October and early December, Russian troops replaced the JPKF and established new fortified positions on the side of the Abkhaz-controlled ceasefire line. The last Russian unit left the area in November of that year (after the short conflict between Georgia and Ossetia ended) and Abkhazian forces were deployed directly on the border with Georgia.

South Ossetia

Another autonomous region of Georgia—South Ossetia—aspired to political independence in the late 1980s. After the collapse of the USSR, that aspiration turned into an armed confrontation between self-formed local militias against the Georgian army, which was heavily defeated and Ossetia became de facto independent, but closely linked to Moscow (regardless that another conflict opposed South and North Ossetian forces).

After the ceasefire, also reached in 1994, Russian peacekeeping forces, under the auspices of the CIS, were deployed in the conflict zones. This only happened, after a previous unsuccessful attempt, because of the tough intransigence of Georgia to deploy a multilateral force formed by a Russian battalion (700) together with a Georgian battalion (320) and one of South Ossetia (470), also in this case called JPKF.

Afterwards, the situation was substantially stable, despite the permanent hostility of Georgian governments. In August 2008, the Georgian army attacked South Ossetia by surprise, killing 15 JPKF soldiers. Moscow reacted quickly, resulting in the so-called “Five Day War” between Georgia and Russia, with Abkhazia joining South Ossetia. As a result of the operation, South Ossetia and the small parts of Abkhazia that came under Georgian control on that occasion were liberated from the Tbilisi troops.

At the end of August, the two self-proclaimed republics asked Russia to recognize their independence, which was done by Moscow. In October of the same year, the JPKF withdrew and was initially replaced by Russian border guards and army units, which were gradually joined, and later replaced, by elements of the South Ossetian self-defense forces.

Armenia/Azerbaijan

The recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan followed an even more violent previous one. Like the most recent, the reason for the dispute was the control of the Armenian populated Nagorno-Karabach enclave within Azerbaijan. This dispute began, in political terms, as early as 1987; and as the authority of the USSR loosened over the whole of Transcaucasia, the conflict became more and more violent, until it led to an open war, in 1990, and caused 15,000 deaths and a million refugees, until the spring of 1992, and which saw a heavy Azerbaijani defeat.

By the summer of 1992, after an agreement between the parties, a Russian regiment was deployed as an interposition force of CIS that separated the regular forces of Yerevan and the Armenian separatists of Nagorno-Karabach from the Azerbaijani ones. However, the mutual mistrust between Armenians and Azerbaijanis did not allow for the deployment of a multilateral force with Russian, Armenian, Azerbaijani and Nagorno-Karabach separatists, as originally envisaged by the JCC (Joint Consultation Committee), a multilateral body, in charge of direction and management of the operation, which was the only one where both sides sat together. So, JPKLEF (Joint Peacekeeping and Law Enforcement Force), in charge of controlling the ceasefire, was formed, but only made up of Russian troops. This force was then withdrawn not only for the stability of the ceasefire, but also due to the decisive rapprochement between Armenia and Russia, which led to the signing of a bilateral agreement in 1997, which also provided for the establishment of a consistent Russian military presence in that country.

Moldova

On 27 August 1991, Moldova declared independence from the USSR and a few weeks later clashes broke out between the forces of the newborn republic and the self-defense formations of the Russian and Ukrainian populations residing in the Transdniestr region, which declared itself an independent republic on 2 September and called for annexation to Russia.

The clashes continued increasingly violent, and on 6 July, JPKF (Joint Peacekeeping Force) was sent by CIS decision; and in mid-July was deployed to Transnistria. The force (whose composition was the result of intense negotiations promoted by Moscow), under Russian command, comprised 2 Moldovan battalions, 2 Transnistrian battalions and 5 Russian battalions (other sources report instead 3, 3 and 6 battalions respectively) for a total of 2000 units.

Again, the JPKF depended on the JCC (Joint Consultation Committee), which brought together high-level Russian and party political and military representatives, and worked to manage the operation. The presence of the CIS force replaced the very brief presence of a multilateral observation mission made up, following a diplomatic agreement, of military observers, for the control of the truce, from Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Transnistria, and decided upon in June 1992, but which obtained no results whatsoever.

By August, the JPKF, after stabilizing the situation, allowed the return of 50,000 refugees, the reopening of the roads between the two territories and substantial normalization. In November 1994, Moscow unilaterally withdrew half of its contingent from the JPKF for budgetary reasons (despite protests from both sides), while the JCC, which cooperated with a similar OSCE mission, remained on site from the beginning of 1993. 

In the context of the Transnistrian affair, we must mention the presence in that territory of the Soviet (later Russian) XIV Army, which, despite the task of cooperating with the JPKF, carried out a clear partisan action in favor of the Russian-speaking militias, by supplying weapons and instructors to the local National Guard. By the spring of 1997, following agreements dating back to 1994, between the Moldovan government and the autonomists of Transnistria, the XIV army (in the meantime reduced from 12,000 soldiers to 7,000, while today it only numbers 1,500) began a partial withdrawal. The Russian troops, though reduced by number, continued to be stationed in Transnistria.

The Russian presence in Transnistria was however at the center of constant tensions between Chisnau (which repeatedly asked for their withdrawal), Tiraspol and Moscow. The progressive distancing of Moldova from Russian area of influence made Chisnau’s request for the withdrawal of Russian troops (including the remaining JPKF forces, now reduced to less than 400 soldiers) and the dissolution of the JCC, more vocal. Moscow tried to resist as much as it could, but the gradual rapprochement of Moldova and Ukraine to the EU and NATO made the situation of Russian troops (JPKF and the remnant of the XIV army) in Transnistria increasingly problematic.

The foreseeable solution, sponsored by the OSCE, of the end of secession of Transnistria and its return into Moldova institutional framework in exchange for a vast administrative, cultural, and linguistic autonomy, makes this presence a dossier to be resolved in the near future.

Comment

A proper analysis of the stability operations carried out by Moscow must be seen through the lens of politics. Those operations were part of a broader action of Russia to stabilize as much as possible the “near abroad: and not to lose the control of the new republics, and to maintain access to their natural resources, while keeping a strategic depth/buffer zone. Last, but not least, these operations guaranteed the safety of the Russian-speaking population (with the perspective of using them as a tool of influence in better times, while keeping a solid grip on the internal policy-making of these countries).

All these objectives were met, by various ways and means, and in time. But the evolution of the political landscape, with the progressive emergence of leadership in these countries less and less keen to cooperate with Moscow (especially Georgia, as the first example, and progressively followed by Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan)—weakened the Russian-led project which sought to save as much as possible of the gains of the then USSR.

This situation co-existed with the tireless efforts of the EU and NATO to increase their influence there, with specific programmes, like the ENP (European Neighborhood Policy) and EAPC/PfP (Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council/Partnership for Peace).

If these political considerations are not taken into account, the stability operations carried out by Moscow reached a good level of success, allowing Russia to achieve, at least for a period, its political targets.

But, given that the stability operations can be more politically profiled as any other military activity, they also cannot be considered as a fully separated entity or fact.

No doubt, that despite the failure of establishing “collective” (as termed also by Moscow) peacekeeping forces, the presence of Russian troops under the aegis of CIS, those missions did lead to the defusing, at least for a period, of tensions on the ground and blocked a further worsening.

The reliability of the Russia forces involved in the CIS-led operation was widely demonstrated by their reaction against the aggression of Georgian forces in 2008, a reaction which slowed the progression of the Batumi forces, and which gave time to Moscow to deploy more larger forces in the area, which defeated the aggression.

Like all the peacekeeping/stability missions established by other organizations, every operation is a specific case, with its own historical and political background, bilateral/multilateral; and, generally, the ones in the Caucasus went well enough, as well as the one in Tajikistan. The former was a “lesson-learned” mission for other operations for Moscow leadership (political and military).

The main lesson learned was to collocate any operation to the most proper political context (always with the perspective of reaching its own strategic objectives), and having dedicated forces, which could ensure the reach of the stability on the ground, and in parallel protect Moscow’s interests.


Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations.


The featured images shows, “A Letter to the Foes of Russia,” by Vasily Nesterenko, painted ca. 2017-2018.

A Few Words About Andrzej Walicki

Every philosopher thinks one thought throughout his life. This thought usually comes in the form of separate words. Therefore, from the rich thought of Andrzej Walicki, I will choose a few words which gather together, I believe, his thinking and his life, together with an attempt to prove that there are no pure concepts, that each of them is “bogged down” by life.

Russia

Nineteenth-century Russian thought, as expressed in politics and literature, as well as Polish-Russian relations, is the central theme in the life of Walicki. Before becoming a world-renowned historian of ideas, he studied Russian philology at the University of Łódź, where he found himself, entirely by accident. In 1949, for political reasons, he did not get admittance into philosophy or Polish studies. A year earlier, they had imprisoned his father, Professor Michał Walicki, an eminent art historian, and the children of those convicted, after the war, had most avenues closed to them, in many areas of social life.

Andrzej Walicki.

In the Walicki house, despite the Bolshevik threat, Russia itself was not hated, for Russia was carefully separated from Bolshevism. More than that, for the young Walicki, Russian literature and thought were an effective antidote to Stalinism. “I felt threatened not by ‘Russification,’ but by ‘Sovietization,’” he recalled in later years. He admired Russia and felt at ease with it. We owe him wonderful works on Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and so many others. I think that in his creative intent, he sought to teach Russia about Russia. Since the Crow tribe could relearn their own long-forgotten “Sun Dance” from the Sioux, their opponents, so too the Russians can learn something about themselves from the Poles. “I am writing more for Russians than for Poles,” we read in a letter by Walicki to Czesław Miłosz, from December 1960, “although, I know that they will not be reading me. I would be happy if I could help the Russians regain their most valuable tradition, the lost and battered tradition of moral anxiety.” (These letters are known as, “Encounters with Miłosz,” but they have not been translated into English).

I myself have traveled to Russia many times with the same intention. From the Russians, I absorbed things that would take me two lives to assimilate in a book, not to mention that someone would first have to point them out to me. Then I learned to place them within the Russian worldview, which was only possible in Russia. At the same time, I tried to stop them from thinking about their own cultural backwardness within Europe, warning them against the bane of “xero-modernization.”

My friend Yana Brazhnikova—I remember it very clearly—gave a lecture, at a conference organized at the Russian State University for the Humanities, in Moscow, about the national affiliation of philosophers. It was very interesting, but at the same time it detracted me from the great intuitions the lecture contained by frequent mention of the name, “Jacques Derrida,” a name that protruded from every second sentence. When I asked my friends about their concern with this whole postmodern business, I found out that when Derrida visited their university, he seduced them with the confession that it was only in Russia and thanks to the Russians that he understood that the words drug (friend) and durgoi (other) could actually be derived from the same root.

I argued that no postmodernism, or any other “ism,” is needed by the Russians to understand who they are. So sometimes the wonderful culture of Russia must be discovered even in opposition to it, especially against those who prefer others to their own. Such a perception of Russian affairs was familiar to Walicki, who believed that “the Russian intellectual elite cannot directly “jump” from Stalinism to Europeanism; that its heritage is too great and its historical experience too terrible and too important for humanity that it can ignored even for a moment; that Russians should think about fully assimilating their cultural achievements and experiences only when they return to their own roots, and reacquaint themselves with their own culture, only when they ‘peel back’ their tragic history.”

Andrzej Walicki has written many books about Russia. The most original of which are The Slavophile controversy. History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought, and the most important is the synthetic The Flow of Ideas: Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to the Religious-Philosophical Renaissance. The latter work was a real challenge for experts in Russian social and religious thought. An outstanding Russian scholar, Grzegorz Przebinda, did a lot to outbid Walicki’s masterful argument (“A dispute on God and Man in Russian philosophy”). Whether Przebinda managed to succeed is a topic for a separate discussion.

“’Allow me,’ Yevgeny Pavlovitch was protesting warmly. ‘I say nothing against Liberalism. Liberalism is not a sin; it is an essential part of the whole, which without it would drop to pieces or perish; Liberalism has just as much right to exist as the most judicious Conservatism. But I am attacking Russian Liberalism, and I repeat again I attack it just for the reason that the Russian Liberal is not a Russian Liberal, but an un-Russian Liberal.” I think this passage from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot makes the point. There is no such thing as Russian liberalism. And, if there is, it has proved its utter irrelevance in the person of the “non-Russian liberal, Professor Gradovsky, a polemicist when it comes to Dostoyevsky, whom he commemorated in the Writer’s Diary. So, if it weren’t for Dostoyevsky, not a soul would have noticed his presence. Walicki’s textbook is also silent about Gradovsky.

A separate thing is the matter of the law in force in the Russian Empire. It certainly seems to be something different from the legislative regulations adopted in Western Europe. Distrust of the excessive formalism of codes, spontaneity inherent in community behavior of the Gemeinschaft type, chronic disappearance of all forms, which is characteristic of the Russian feeling of reality; and, thus, the lack of any logical discipline.

All these factors have contributed to the formation of a direct bond between Russians, in which only the warmth and beat of the heart is important, and sometimes the antipodes of these states of mind. No wonder that in such conditions, there is no difference between a situation in which someone lends money to someone, and a situation in which it is just given to him. It was precisely this kind of difficulty that a certain Keller, a shady figure, a bit of a boxer, a bit of a drunk, was put before this kind of difficulty by Prince Myshkin. In a word, an adventurer who demanded a loan from the prince on unclear, quite fantastic terms.

Years ago, I read Quentin Skinner’s instructive book Forensic Shakespeare, in which the author analyzes the statements of Shakespeare’s characters in terms of judicial rhetoric. It turned out that many such statements could be applied in court practically unchanged. I think that with no less fascination, I would read the book, Judicial Dostoevsky, if it were written. But what do Lebedev’s passionate court speeches have in common—with the idea of such a book—with the positivist legal system, which was slowly adopted in Russia, in a crippled form? Could the hysterical, “apocalyptic” philippics with which he appeared before the courts have anything to do with the liberal understanding of law as understood by the heroes of Walicki’s book?

There is, however, another good reason why the book With Dostoyevsky at Court could be written. It was indirectly pointed out by Józef Mackiewicz in one of his letters to the editors of Kultura, when he wrote that “Emperor Alexander II, implementing his famous reform of the judiciary in 1864, issued at the same time a ‘publication’ which allowed for the publication of whatever was happening, or spoken in court proceedings, without any deletions. And in the non-parliamentary, deprived of political freedom, autochthonous Russia, there appeared in print such speeches by lawyers, for which, not only in Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of Poland that they would all be put up against the wall or be sent to prison; and even in Piłsudski’s Poland, inevitably to Bereza Kartuska. Naturally, individual freedoms that existed in the nineteenth century, and under the tsarist autocracy, today, in the age of collectivized thought, it is difficult even to dream of. But it’s not about dreams; it’s about saving the remaining margin.”

And this is probably the essence of Walicki’s book on the Legal Philosophies of Russian Liberalism: saving the remaining margin.

Patriotism

Reading Andrzej Walicki’s study on the particulars of Polish patriotism, which he published in 1985, left a permanent mark on my own awareness. I know that the author worked on his thesis at the beginning of the political transformation; but for me his views were perfectly clear already in the 1980s, when I read them, thanks to a brochure printed on a dplicator, the publisher of which was the Solidarity Social Movement, “KRET.”

The old Poles—says Walicki—had the best political system in Europe. It was so perfect that people were afraid to change anything in it. “A nobleman in the farmstead equal to the voivode”—it was repeated—equal before God, but more importantly—equal before the law and against others like him. After all, evil does not sleep, and if there is something as perfect as a system of noble democracy that combines the features of direct democracy with a system of political representation, there will be something or someone that will disturb the smooth functioning of the whole organism. And it was precisely for fear of the inevitable political change that the institution of the veto was introduced in the Republic of Poland. It did not open the way to the madness, as we were persuaded in the People’s Republic of Poland in history lessons. The veto was a means of defense of ancient republican values, taken by Poles straight from the Romans. “The requirement of unanimity prevented this danger, although it also limited the freedom of reformatory actions of the Sejm. But that was also the point. The right of veto was not supposed to guarantee the independence of the court from an individual. On the contrary, it was a guarantee of the inviolability of the system, treated as a perfect expression of the collective wisdom of the nation.”

As many as 10 percent of Poles, mostly identified with the nobility, took part in the political life of the time. Considering that in England it was only in 1832 that the number of those entitled to vote was 3.2 percent, and under the last King Louis Philippe I it was only 1.5 percent of the politically active French, Poland’s position in Europe, measured by the degree of active participation in public affairs was very high. In other words, in the 17th and 18th centuries, Poland was the freest country on the whole continent. And it was freedom “in the state,” which was different from negative freedom, freedom “from the state.” This negative freedom, organizing the space in which capitalism could be born, was incomparably smaller in Poland (only in Russia it was not there at all). In countries such as England and France, ordinary people had more freedom to move from place to place than people in Poland; they also had greater freedom in disposing of their property, and even—due to the media market emerging in Europe, in which the modern citizen was raised—greater freedom in using words.

Rigid adherence to conservative republican values made Poland mediocre, secondary, more primitive, uncompetitive and non-modern. Does that make it worse? It depends on who is looking at what and how they evaluate it. If the correct direction of human activity is to conform to the “emerging,” mercantile values, Poland, through its love of republican freedom, got on the wrong horse and history very quickly condemned it. Walicki writes about it as follows: “There was, however, also the other side of the coin. The republican-democratic tradition existed in Poland without capitalism and without individualist-liberal values favoring capitalist modernization. Poland has not passed through the school of the Puritan work ethos; its nation-building elite (the nobility and then the intelligentsia) did not develop ‘bourgeois’ virtues, such as thrift, frugality, did not learn to treat individual economic activity as a higher calling and to respect the successes achieved in it.”

After all, Walicki forgets to add that the same capitalism, obviously linked to Amalthea’s horn, spat out miasmas that became the source of all modern plagues, with communism and anti-Semitism at the forefront. A state which ignores civic values in its act of self-determination must refer to values alien to the republican spirit—money and ethnos. “Whether we like it or not—we read in the traditions of Polish patriotism—in the 20th century, and especially in its decline, there can no longer be any doubt that all over Central and Eastern Europe, modern nations were formed on a linguistic and ethnic basis—cultural, and not on a historical and political basis, and that Poles are also no exception in this respect.”

With Poland regaining its independence in 1918, everything began to fall apart: the republican love of freedom was transformed into fanfaronade and national megalomania; and 19th-century Polish messianism became an instrument of spiritual and political control over the newly emerging nations with whom Poland used to make the Commonwealth. “Thus, the combination of the heritage of noble democracy with the heritage of Romanticism,” writes Walicki, “strengthened the psychological maladjustment of the Polish national elite to the necessary process of economic modernization.”

My Russian colleague, Taras Szijan, also pointed to the meanderings of Polish patriotism. We had a conversation on this subject while taking the Moscow metro. I told him with nostalgia about the old, strong Poland, which gave the “Russkis” small comfort. A colleague, undaunted by the typically Polish megalomania, replied that there was no Poland back then—there was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and it was probably not the same. I had to admit he was right. Then, lowering his voice, he began to tell how proud he was to be a Russian and that the USSR was still Russia, maybe a little lame, but still Russia. Then I said something like this: “If you are so proud of it (our conversation in Russian was heard by a few outsiders), why are you whispering it to me?”


Piotr Nowak is Professor of Philosophy at the Bialystok University in Poland, and deputy editor‐in‐chief of the annual Kronos. Philosophical Journal. He is also the author of many books, including, The Ancients and Shakespeare on Time: Some Remarks on the War of Generations, and more recently, Violence and Words. Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt.


The featured image shows “Prayer before the Battle of Racławice,” by Józef Chełmoński, painted in 1906.

“Society of Labor Clergy:” Soviet Terror Against Christians

In this important and ground-breaking interview, Maria Igorevna Degtyareva, doctoral candidate, discusses her research into the so-called, “Society of Labor Clergy” (1937), which proves how the NKVD (the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) falsified interrogation protocols, then condemned and sent to death innocent people, in many cases. At the same time, the fabricated case of the “Society of Labor Clergy” was used by the NKVD investigators as an exemplary one, and on its basis subsequent cases against believers were fashioned. Maria Igorevna here speaks with Inna Yurievna Fedotova, Head of the Research Department, of the Perm State Archive of Social and Political History.

Researching History

Inna Fedotova (IF): Maria Igorevna, what was it that appealed to you about this topic?

Maria Degtyareva (MD): It was just by coincidence. The area of my research interests was the history of French conservative thought. I did not imagine that I would have to engage in the study of repression. The topic came to me “as an inheritance” from my mother.

Inna Fedotova and Maria Degtyareva.

IF: Of course, we knew your mother Natalya Evgenievna. She was a long-time researcher in the collections of our archive.

MD: One of her church obedience was work in the diocesan Department of History and Canonization, connected with the collection of sources. She was a regular visitor at the Perm Archive. A person of exceptional efficiency, dedicated and reliable, her working day often ended at 10-11 pm. After returning from the archive, she would organize and put the prepared copies of documents into folders.

Mom didn’t write anything, but when selecting persons for consideration by the Commission on Canonization, she herself went through the fate of each person, every sentence, and she always regretted that so much would just sit in the repositories. It was she who drew my attention to the fact that repressions against the clergy and believers is a topic that has not been adequately studied, and yet the situation is conducive to that.

IF: What situation are you referring to?

MD: In the 1990s, a whole complex of sources was transferred from the departmental funds of law enforcement agencies for state storage at Perm Archive, including those of value to the Church – the cases of the victim priests.

All conditions for the work of historians were created in the archive, and we are grateful to the previous director of the Archive, Mikhail Gennadievich Nechaev, the current director, Sergei Vasilyevich Neganov – and all the specialists of Perm Archive for the fact that the documents were processed, put in order and placed in the electronic database. Fortunately, the archival collections are open, and restrictive measures function within the framework of Russian legislation.

IF: Was it difficult to change direction?

MD: I understood that addressing a new topic, in addition to studying the historical context of the Church, would also require some real physical effort. I was frightened by the volume of the material. I was sure that it was “not a woman’s job,” and I certainly could never do it.

IF: What made you change your attitude towards this topic?

MD: I was imperceptibly brought to it; there were no external “instructions” and “special blessings.” The well-known confessor, the elder of the Pskov-Pechersk MonasteryArchimandrite John (Krestyankin) – blessed me in due time to finish work on my doctoral dissertation.

It’s just that the course of life began to change significantly in Moscow in the early 2000s. It took time to figure it out, to understand something myself and, finally, to discover the new martyrs. A person close to me – a nun of the Novodevichy Convent – brought me to Butovo and introduced me to the history of the shooting range. After a few years, what used to be terra incognita for me became really important.

With the accession to the cathedra of Vladyka Methodius, systematic work began in our diocese to compile its history, the biographies of the confessors and new martyrs of Perm, and specialized publications for a wider audience began to appear. And, at some point, I felt that I was ready to take part in this as a historian. One of the cases requiring professional application was the Perm-Sverdlovsk case of 1937 of the so-called “Society of Labor Clergy.”

IF: How did you envision professional engagement in such work?

MD: Hagiography and source studies have somewhat different tasks. The compiler of biographies is focused on reproducing the spiritual image of the saint, the essence of his Christian service and exploit. And this is important. It is necessary to see and convey characterological traits, the “core” of the personality. However, the source text is often left behind the scenes as it were. The task of the historian is to analyze documents, correlate them with known facts and try to distinguish between the “desirable” and the real, genuine and counterfeit in the case materials.

IF: In other words, the methods of historical science allow you to reveal falsifications in the case materials?

MD: Yes, and this direction is promising.

Significance Of The Case Of “The Society Of Labor Clergy”

MD: Unfortunately, in our society, where are so opposite to what really happened, there is still the opinion that “there were no unjust sentences in the just Soviet state,” and “if they were arrested, it was not without reason.” Even in the context of the Church, I had to hear excuses from supporters of a repressive policy: “They were cutting the forest – chips fly….”

When arguments are not accepted because it is difficult to part with an idealized, familiar image of the past, documents are the only basis for dialogue. When working with them, the methods familiar to professional historians are used: comparative analysis, “cross-examination of sources,” philological analysis, paleography. When we were students, much attention was paid to the methodological aspects of work and auxiliary historical disciplines at the university.

Of course, one can confine oneself to a general statement: “The convicts were rehabilitated posthumously; numerous violations were found in the case materials by the commissions of the following years.” But places with traces of falsifications are the most impartial “witnesses.” I think this is one of the possible ways to change the attitude towards what happened in the 1920s and 1930s in our country. It is important that the rehabilitation of Christians who suffered during the years of repression should not seem to be just a consequence of the “swing of the political pendulum.”

IF: Please tell us about the features and significance of this case?

MD: The case of the Society of Labor Clergy is one of the central ones for our region, in the drama of the investigative processes of 1937–1938 – and one of the first planned “mass” cases of the period of the “great terror” in the country. Its “orbit” involved not only believers – representatives of the clergy, clergymen, children of priests – but also those who were completely outside the Church.

The “scenario framework,” developed by the Sverdlovsk and Perm investigators, put in the position of the accused people of various views, tastes and positions: believers and atheists, apolitical and partisan, “White” and “Red.”

Order No. 00447, Dated July 30, 1937

IF: How was that made possible?

MD: The case was connected with the bringing into force of the notorious operational order 00447 (of July 30, 1937) of the USSR People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs N.I. Yezhov, “On the operation to repress former kulaks, criminals and other anti-Soviet elements,” which was approved by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, that is, it turned out to be “built-into” an operation of concerted effort to combat all those that were “suspicious” in the country (or against the so-called “crusade front against Soviet power”), and implemented on the eve of the elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, scheduled for December of that year. The purpose of the “operation” was to ensure “the smooth running of the elections.”

First of all, the fears of the leadership were caused by the results of the January population census, which showed that the authority of the clergy in society was still high, and the efforts of widespread atheistic propaganda were not bringing the expected results.

Despite the fact that in the Soviet Union there was officially an organization that was given the task of destroying the Church in several “five years” spans, like the “five-year plans” in the economy – the “League of Militant Atheists” led by Yemelyan Yaroslavsky. More than half of the country’s population noted in the census forms that they were believers.

The socio-political background was also unstable. The 1930s in the USSR were marked by famine, against the background of forced collectivization and numerous peasant protests against the coercion to join collective farms and the conditions created in them.

The reaction to the ruthlessness of the strategy of economic development, chosen by the Central Committee, and built on “pumping funds” from one sector of the economy to another, from agriculture to industry, through a deliberate disproportion in price policy – was criticism of the unbalanced policy by major economists and representatives of the party elite (A.V. Chayanov, N.I. Bukharin, A.I. Rykov, M.P. Tomskii).

In addition, the style of Stalin’s leadership caused a split in the highest party echelons. This is how several opposition groups replacing one another came about. An immediate consequence of this was the planned trials of the participants in the “opposition.”

Thus, the general situation filled the top management with doubts about the victorious outcome of the planned voting. In any case, in the case under consideration and similar cases in 1937, the justification for extending the investigation period, and, consequently, expanding the circle of those arrested, was the wording: “In view of the upcoming elections to the Supreme Soviet.”

Already in March 1937, in the Main Directorate of the NKVD of the USSR, a draft order was developed: “On the tasks of the third departments of state security directorates to combat sabotage in the national economy.” It listed the categories of the population that were suspicious of the Stalinist leadership, as it was said, as… possible “agents of foreign intelligence.” Among them – those who studied abroad, former prisoners of war, immigrants, former members of the CPSU, members of opposition parties, former “Whites” and kulaks.

And finally, on July 30, 1937, order 00447 was issued. The document indicated the categories to which the application of “special measures” was applied: former kulaks, “continuing to conduct active anti-Soviet subversive activities,” “escaping from camps and labor settlements,” “hiding from dispossession,” as well as “members of insurgent, fascist, terrorist and bandit formations who have served their sentences,” or escaped repression and “active anti-Soviet elements from the former kulaks.” The same list included “members of anti-Soviet parties”, former “Whites,” officials, “bandits and robbers,” sectarian activists, “churchmen,” and… criminals at large and held in camps.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church found themselves in such company (and with an indication of the place allotted to them in the sequence of “subversives”). This was the formal, “legal basis” for the renewal and toughening of the repressive policy towards the clergy and believers.

The listed groups were previously subdivided into “the most hostile” and “less active.” The first were subject to execution, the second – to camp imprisonment for a period of 8 to 10 years. In all regions of the country, special “quotas” or “limits” were introduced for the application of the order. From that moment, the investigation could be carried out in an expedited manner, and the determination of the fate of the accused, including in absentia, became the prerogative of the regional, republican and regional “troikas” of the NKVD.

Throughout 1937, social “purges” were carried out everywhere, but the chronological “framework” of the Perm process and its course indicate that representatives of the Sverdlovsk Directorate and the Perm department of the NKVD were among the “leaders of the great terror.”

“In The Bureau Of Partisans, In Secret”

IF: Please tell us about when and how the investigation began?

MD: Formally, several reasons were used to initiate the “investigation.” Firstly, the trial a little earlier, in January 1937, in Sverdlovsk. in the case of the underground “Trotskyist center,” was conducted as if it had a connection with Moscow. According to investigators, the members of the “Trotskyite-Zinovievist” organization were then people who held high party and administrative posts.

Since they managed to get confessions (how that was done is another matter) from the main accused – the chairman of the Sverdlovsk city executive committee, V.F. Golovin – the investigator Dmitriev was convinced that the new administrative center of the Urals was the place where the “underground anti-government rebel headquarters” was located, allegedly having its “branches” in different cities.

Thus, the old administrative center of the Urals – once the provincial one of Perm – was included in the “list of suspects” of the UNKVD of cities.
The fact is that during the Civil War, the old part of our city, unlike the working-class district – Motovilikha, rather actively supported the “Whites.” In Stalin’s own interpretation, in 1935, these events were called the “Perm catastrophe.”

And so. until the Great Patriotic War, when Perm became important as the center of the evacuation of the Union, and carried that service with dignity, Stalin could not “forgive” the city, and its status was “downgraded” to the value of a regional center, that is, Perm was in a “special category.”

And secondly, after Dmitriev gave a general directive to “intensify searches in the indicated direction,” at an operational meeting in Sverdlovsk, officers of the Perm NKVD put into circulation two “signals” [methods] that perfectly met the “job at hand.” Both signals, chronologically, diverged quite a lot from the release of order 0044, and it is obvious that at the beginning of 1937, having taken these signals out of “storage,” it was decided to use them “for reporting.”

The first method is obvious in the set of documents prepared by the sergeant of the Perm NKVD, Alikin. This was the surveillance case opened at the end of 1936 on a group of young believers, mainly from the clergy and children of priests who served in the Red Army, in the 9th battalion of the “rear guard” (in modern terms, in the “construction battalion”).

This group consisted of ten people and was portrayed as pretty ominous. Desperate “dissidents” in conscript service, as evidenced by the characteristics attached to them, not only “refused to read Soviet newspapers,” and “learned political studies only mediocrely,” but also “did not change their opinion on the religious issue:” they read the Gospel, “arranged collective readings of prayers,” observed fasts, “did not interrupt correspondence with the priest-fathers,” and during leave, without bothering to hide, visited Perm churches, and confessed and received communion. And all this – not only right in front of the rather apathetic bosses, but also while they were among their “consciously [politically] aware comrades.”

So, in 1937, after a “request” came from Sverdlovsk to take action on the report of investigator Dmitriev, an episode was recalled which led to the observation of this group. Sergeant Alikin reported that somehow in November 1935 (!), three “rear soldiers” entered the office of housing construction, of the plant named after Stalin, and one of them made an inspired speech, denouncing the mistakes of the leadership’s policy towards the peasantry and the difficult conditions of service in the Red Army for believers.

IF: And the second “signal” [method]?

MD: The second was the “classic” denunciation from a certain citizen named Borisova, who entered the NKVD also in 1935 (!). This was the denunciation at the workplace, by a neighbor in the apartment – of a watchmaker named Nechayev, who, as would be established by a KGB check in 1956, at that time was “listed as a Stakhanovite.”

The denunciation informed the NKVD that the Nechayevs were active parishioners and benefactors of Perm churches, maintained acquaintance with the clergy and bishops. The denunciation expressed “concern” about the political preferences of the watchmaker, who, according to the denouncer, was a “monarchist,” who had fled during the Civil War with the “Whites,” and after returning “sat for gold” [practiced parasitism, likely, “currency hoarding”].

The text of the statement was written with multiple errors, had a peculiar address (“In the partisan bureau, in secret”), and ended with an equally colorful stroke: “What I have signed, Borisova.” Apparently, the curiosity of the “style” of the informant was the reason that at the time of receipt the written denunciation was not taken seriously. However, in 1937, this absurdity was in demand as a “request from below,” to work out the hypothesis of action in Perm, allegedly “well-rooted since the Civil War, an underground anti-government network”.

The inability to establish the identity of the “applicant” and to question her on the merits of her charges did not interfere with the case, and on May 14, 58-year-old foreman Nechayev was arrested. Indeed, he had been on “trail” before – in 1924. he was arrested for a short period on suspicion of keeping currency.

NKVD: Alignment With Perm And Sverdlovsk

IF: Did I understand correctly that this case received some special status?

MD: You see, the investigation in Perm was opened in the spring of 1937, that is, it preceded the issuance of the July order 00447 (and it is possible that it was used to justify the “need” for such an issuance).

In any case, from the very beginning, the Nechayev case was really given the status of being “exemplary.” Perm and Sverdlovsk were then included in the number of “experimental sites,” where methods of building large-scale collective indictments were being worked out.

The falsified protocols of interrogations of those arrested in this case were sent to the Main Directorate of the NKVD, in Moscow, where they were replicated and sent to peripheral organizations as a methodological guide, a kind of “tracing paper.” That is, dozens, and perhaps hundreds of NKVD divisions throughout the country checked their work against them.

As documents of internal investigations of the NKVD in 1939 show, at operational meetings of the special department in Perm and Sverdlovsk in 1937, these protocols, already sent back from the cental headquarters with the very encouraging responses, were presented to the entire officer corps with instructions to “follow them,” and “the methods practiced in the investigation should be widely applied in practice.”

IF: Did the Perm investigators develop any special methodological processes for such work in 1937?

MD: Their “method” was distinguished not only by the abundance and variety of violations, but by a wide range of manipulations. Some of the mistakes, apparently, were caused by the usual “slovenliness,” unprofessionalism. But for the most part, these are quite deliberate falsifications. Before the algorithm, they worked out the so-called “pyramidal scheme” of building collective indictments, with the possibility of replacing “variables” according to the what was required and needed.

IF: Could you give a few examples of false information in the case materials?

MD: Yes of course. The surviving documents of the observation file of Sergeant Alikin indicate that his “informant” – a certain rationer O-v – did not in fact name the Red Army soldier who in 1935 (if you trust Alikin’s report) very carelessly “got into a conversation” in the office of the Stalin plant. On the margins of the sergeant’s report there was an inscription made in red pencil by the hand of one of the leaders: “Who? Gulyaev?”

So, the method and time of verification of this “fact” was not reflected in the case materials; that is, no additional testimony appeared regarding this crucial question of Georgy Gulyaev and his comrades, no confrontations were held. But just below, on the same page, was attached a typescript comment: “The materials available in the Perm NKVD established that in the office of Housing Construction Head, Stalin plant, on November, 1935, there came G.N. GULYAEV. with two of his comrades and carried out agitation in the presence of the rationing manager of the Stalin plant – O. Va. and others.”

Thus, the sanction of the Military Prosecutor Ural region, dated March 17, 1937, for the arrest of Georgy Gulyaev was given without any documented grounds for identifying him with the “author” of the speech which was pretty “cold” by that time.

Soon Sergeant Alikin and his handler – the head of the Perm NKVD civil defense department, captain of state security, Losos – received a very informative answer on the letterhead of the military prosecutor’s office, which contained not a “hint,” but a direct statement: “We forward the certificate and the decision with the sanction of the Prosecutor of URALVO for the arrest of GN GULYAEV. In the materials sent, the criminal crime figure was completely insufficiently identified with the activities of LEBEDEV, KOZHEVNIKOV, YUFEROV and CHUKHLOV. Therefore their arrest by the Prosecutor of the Ural region has not yet been authorized. The investigation in the case of GULYAEV needs to uncover the organized activities of both GULYAEV and LEBEDEV, KOZHEVNIKOV, YUFEROV and CHUKHLOV, and then again raise the question of their arrest. Inform about the progress of the investigation.”

In other words, there was no question of any presumption of innocence in the accompanying document. The question was not whether the “rear militia” believers were really guilty, but that their conversations and “old habits” (that is, religious views) should receive convincing political “framing.” Thus, the newly opened “case of Georgy Gulyaev” became the “cornerstone” in the foundation of the future collective indictments.

The Target Was Christians

IF: That is, it was “criminal” in the eyes of the investigators that these young people were believers?

MD: Yes exactly. The anti-Christian motive was the “core” of the Permian part of the process. And this is not new, the reason for delivering Christ into the hands of the Romans was also once the motive for “political security:” “He who calls himself King is not a friend of Caesar” (John 19:12). Christ was handed over to the pagans as a “political criminal.” From the point of view of the officers of the Perm NKVD, the group of believers in the Red Army was influenced by the “class-alien element” – the clergy, which meant it was “potentially dangerous.”

An important circumstance was the fact that the arrested “rear soldiers” attended services in Perm churches, and this opened up a new wide field of activity for the operatives – the possibility of a “total cleanup” of those who remained at large (after a large “wave” of arrests in the early 1930s under the pretext of a struggle against “opponents of continuous collectivization”) – namely, representatives of the Perm and Sverdlovsk clergy.

And one more example of the “groundlessness” of preparing the accusation, this time – in relation to the clergy. A striking argument in favor of the version of the existence of an “underground anti-government organization” in Perm under the leadership of the clergy was that when the priest of the Zaborsk Church, Father Mikhail Korovin, was arrested, an impressive list of Tikhonov-oriented believers compiled by his hand was seized. The title of the sheet indicated that members of the local parish community were included. The list included several hundred people. So, during the investigation, this document was presented as “material evidence of recruitment into an underground organization.”

Meanwhile, the investigation stubbornly did not notice either that compiling a list of such appointments in the form of a chart, indicating the personal data and actual addresses of parishioners and their relatives, would be complete absurdity from the point of view of “political conspiracy,” nor that the list included mainly elderly and very elderly people. Most were over 50 years old, the oldest of them were 80–85 years old.

At the same time, the investigation did not have any other “material evidence,” such as, leaflets, letters of a political nature, agent instructions prepared for transferring data to “foreign intelligence,” ammunition depots. Nothing but this list.

IF: Why did the investigators choose Georgy Gulyaev?

MD: It is impossible to answer this question unequivocally. In those conditions, one careless word, bravado of dissent, someone’s personal hostility was enough.

But a more serious circumstance cannot be ruled out. Before being drafted into the Red Army, Georgy Gulyaev served as subdeacon to Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov), and who at that time was in the Renovationist schism. During the service, Georgy kept up a correspondence with his bishop. The rupture of Vladyka Dositheus with the “Renovationists” and his return to the bosom of the canonical church structure could be the factor that put him and the people in his circle under attack from the NKVD, which was closely patronizing the Renovationist organizations.

IF: Please explain what the “pyramid scheme” of building a case means?

MD: This is a scheme in which, with the maximum expansion of the “connections” of the accused, the alleged “general leadership” is trying to “reduce to a cone,” closing it on “unwanted” figures – as a rule, very significant.

The arrest of Georgy Gulyaev seemed “promising,” since he led a group of investigators not only to the “rear militia” and Perm priests, but also to the episcopate … And in case of “success” – to the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The investigation was extended several times. The first order to extend it was issued on May 17, 1937, the next two on July 19, 1937. But even when the main part of the case was completed, many people were involved in the process of “additional investigation,” like a “funnel”- several bishops of the canonical subordination and dozens of priests and clergy from “schisms.” In the course of an internal inspection of the KGB in 1956, it is established that in this case and “in conjunction with it” in 1937-1938. more than 50 clergymen were repressed.

At the same time, in Perm and in the Urals, an “inquiry” was carried out against people not connected with the Church – from the leaders of large enterprises and Soviet organizations to ordinary employees, workers and collective farmers. Many of them were charged with having links with the “Society of Labor Clergy,” the “Ural Rebel Headquarters,” or the “Religious and Political Center” (by the way, Muslims from the village of Koyanovo were also be taken up in the general “stream,” and charged with… “connection with Japanese intelligence”).

IF: What, in your opinion, were the motives of the investigators?

MD: First of all, they acted in pursuance of the March and July 1937 orders, that is, they carried out a “purge” according to a social and ideological principle, using denunciations of “political unreliability.” In some cases (this concerns the arrests of officers) personal motives are not excluded, for example, settling scores.

The question whether the investigators themselves considered their version to be really plausible remains open to me. Judging by the recollections of the participants in the events about the “installations” at the internal meetings of the NKVD in 1937, the initiators of this case were very much “part of the makeup.”

Having at their disposal some fragmentary data, they enthusiastically “completed” the picture, inventing not only “missing links,” but also entire “blocks.” The main motive was the desire to satisfy the expectation, to “prove oneself,” that is, career considerations. So, some investigators, for example, Radygin and Zyryanov, according to an internal inspection of the NKVD in 1939, “freely handed” 10 to 15 “confession” protocols per day!

And yet there was further responsibility – to those who drew up and signed orders for large-scale “cleansing,” giving scope to the imagination of local performers.

IF: What were those arrested accused of? What was the version of the investigation, and who developed it?

MD: In the spring of 1937, the “rear soldiers” were suspected of intending to create an organization modeled on the Petrograd Orthodox brotherhoods. Indeed, such a “network” had long operated under the guise of communal apartments. Its participants worked, like all citizens of the USSR, but at the same time lived a liturgical life, that is, they confessed, received communion, and, in addition, read the Gospel and Orthodox literature, provided assistance to those who were subjected to repression or those who had lost loved ones.

It was difficult to identify such communities. In Leningrad, they were only partially disclosed by the OGPU-NKVD. The fact that it was the example of the “Petrograd brotherhoods” that inspired these young people to imitate is indicated by the protocol of the interrogation of the Red Army soldier, Ivan Kozhevnikov.

According to the texts of the first protocols of interrogations of Georgy Gulyaev and his friend Nikolai Lebedev, the young people came up with the name “Society of Labor Clergy” for their future organization. But during internal investigation by the NKVD in 1939, some of the investigators began to falsify the protocols immediately – and so we cannot rely on their texts, from the first protocol onwards.

It is possible that someone in the “center” was worried about the possibility of repeating the “Petrograd” experience in the provinces, and this whole story from beginning to end, and the very name of the “organization” were a figment of the imagination of the “specialists.” In any case, the documents of several internal investigations of the NKVD-KGB contain direct indications that the leaders of the Perm NKVD brigade themselves invented the name for the fictional organization.

From the moment of their arrest, this case did not bode well for the accused, since the confession of “religiosity” immediately received an unambiguous interpretation – it was equated with “anti-Soviet activity.” This was the substantial part of the “confessions” of Georgy Gulyaev, Nikolai Lebedev, Ivan Kozhevnikov and their comrades.

The situation was aggravated when investigators added to this a “note of relevance” in accordance with the upcoming elections to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. According to their version, the Perm priests, Savva Beklemyshev, Mikhail Korovin and others, arrested after the “rear militia,” were supposedly giving “instructions” to their parishioners, including those from the 9th battalion, to use completely legal (!) Conditions in accordance the Constitution of 1936 and “promoting believers in government.” And this was regarded as a “political action.”

At other times, the coming together of young believers (and even their possible discussion of the creation of a Christian community, which cannot be ruled out) could entail administrative measures, but if the case had gone to court, the terms of imprisonment would not have exceeded 5 to 7 years. In 1937, Yezhov’s “instructions” were decisive for the process.

This case acquired greater scope thanks to the leadership of the Sverdlovsk investigator, Dmitriev, and the reciprocal “creative impulse” of the representative of the Perm department of the NKVD – investigator Mozzherin. They can equally claim “authorship” in the development of a general “scenario” and are most directly related to falsifications.

Mozzherin and Dmitriev tried to give the case “conceptual completeness;” and thus the investigation simultaneously had two versions about the serious “ideological leadership of the identified organization.” The first was associated with the name of the Gomel Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov), who left the “Renovationists,” and the second – with the name of the “Metropolitan of Sverdlovsk,” Mikhail Trubin, who remained one of them.

If the investigation presented Archbishop Dositheus in the role of a “resident of Polish intelligence,” then Mikhail Trubin – as “the main ideologist of the anti-Soviet crusade front” in the Urals, allegedly uniting around himself during his visits to Perm, a whole group of bishops of completely different subordination. In this group, there were two canonical ordinations: Metropolitan Peter of Sverdlovsk (Savelyev) and Archbishop of Perm Gleb (Pokrovsky), as well as Metropolitan Peter Kholmogortsev, who was in the schism.

In addition, the Renovationist “Metropolitan” Mikhail Trubin was “identified” by the officers of the Perm NKVD as being “responsible for communication” between the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and the “Renovationists” and “Grigorievites” who did not recognize it… with the representatives of the AUCPB – the leaders of the “Trotskyist center.” He allegedly provided a “connection” with the former “White Guards,” the leaders of the Osoaviakhim and officers in the ranks of the Red Army, who were “charged with the duty” to provide the “terrorist insurgent organization” with weapons and ammunition.

“Terrorism”, “Espionage”, “Propaganda Of The Fascist Idea”

IF Even for a person who is not very dedicated to the history of the Church, it all looks strange. What were these assumptions based on?

MD: These are not just assumptions. In 1937, they was brought against many people as an official charge: “anti-Soviet and sabotage activities,” “propaganda of the fascist idea,” “terrorism,” “preparation of an armed uprising,” and “espionage” – “transfer of secret information about the products of Perm defense enterprises to the residents of foreign intelligence services” (Polish and Japanese).

I have already noted that the information received by Mozzherin’s group (about the periodic visits to Perm of the Renovationist “Metropolitan” Mikhail Trubin and about his meetings with the participants in the schism, as well as about the private correspondence of the “rear militia,” Georgy Gulyaev, with the Archbishop of the now Moscow Patriarchate Dosithei (Stepanov) were completely inadequate for this kind of construction.

Investigators from the Mozzherin Brigade were in a rush, and Dmitriev’s patronage seemed to ensure their privacy. And they easily attributed to Christians violation of the commandments of the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, which forbid murder (Ex. 20, 13), violence (Matt. 7, 12; Rom. 12, 21), as well as – the covenants of Christ and the apostles about obedience to the authorities (Rom. 13, 1). Nor did they look back at the fact that in the history of the Orthodox Russian Church there was no case of “espionage” of canonical hierarchs of national origin in favor of foreign (moreover, Catholic) states.

Specifics Of The “Basis Of Evidence”

As for the “basis of evidence” of the charge, traces of rough work are visible in the case file, literally at every step. For example, as “evidence of the connection between Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov) and representatives of foreign intelligence services,” it was indicated that in Gomel he allegedly “maintained contact through agents” with the priest of the local church, Konstantin Andrekus, and also “was familiar with a certain archimandrite, who left for Palestine.” This, according to the interrogation protocols, was “testified” by Georgy Gulyaev. It was as if the bishop himself had “confirmed” all this information under pressure from the investigation.

However, the identity of the mysterious archimandrite was not established. As for the Gomel acquaintances of Archbishop Dositheus, who were indicated as “intermediaries” in his relations with Priest Konstantin Andrekus, some of these people, according to internal NKVD and KGB investigations in 1939 and 1956, were not identified and were not interrogated, and some, though indeed arrested in Gomel, did not testify against him.

The part about “active interaction” of the canonical church structure with representatives of the Renovationist and Gregorian schisms looks no more convincing either. If the “renovationists” who were losing their authority in the pre-war period sometimes sought communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, its position remained unchanged: unification according to the principle of political parties is impossible, it is only possible to unite through repentance to the canonical Church by the participants of schismatic movements who voluntarily severed ties with it.

It should be noted that the materials of the 1956 KGB inspection in this case contain testimonies of several witnesses that in Perm “…the renovationists had no relation to the Old Churchmen, they had no service separately;” and “all church issues were resolved separately by the Renovationists and Old Churchmen.”

And the accusation against the priest of the Zaborsk Church, Mikhail Korovin, who not only allegedly “organized a terrorist and sabotage group in his parish,” but also “became a member of the resident network,” digging up and transmitting information about defense products of Perm factories to Poland. In the “testimony” against Father Mikhail, one can find both the numbers of important sectors and the production rates at one of the closed Perm enterprises. But only an internal investigation of the NKVD in 1939 made it possible to establish that all this information was entered into the protocols of interrogation of “witnesses” personally by one of Mozzherin’s subordinates – the operative Ponosov.

Little by little, Mozzherin and Dmitriev got so into the “game” that they themselves could not bring everything to make sense. The “identified organization” turned out to be “about nine heads” (that is, 9 people were officially held in this case the status of “leader”), and this is not counting the priest Konstantin Andrekus, the “nameless” archimandrite who left for Palestine, and a group of convict Sverdlovsk party members.

At the same time, the two main versions about the “general management of the organization” were never brought to any logical agreement. That is why in 1956, during the next internal check of the case materials, KGB investigators literally knocked themselves off their feet in vain attempts to understand the system of “subordination” and establish which of the arrested, when and by whom was “recruited?”

Philological “Test”

IF: At the beginning of the conversation, you mentioned that it is possible to reveal falsifications in case materials using the methods of philological analysis…

MD: Indeed, lexemes – typical stylistic turns, peculiar speech “markers” – allow us to see in the interrogation protocols traces of the active participation of the “clerks” of the NKVD, unfamiliar with church vocabulary. These include ideological expressions, cliché phrases from the official press and propaganda, samples of the clerical style of those years. Obviously, a priest and a layman in the Church (and the “rear soldiers” were mostly children of priests and clergymen) could not speak such a language. If the protocols were not drawn up on record, but in the absence of the accused, the “creative gymnastics” of the sergeants and lieutenants of the NKVD, who pored over the documents, are especially noticeable. I will give a few examples as an illustration.

So, Georgy Gulyaev in one case allegedly showed that his comrade – Nikolai Lebedev (a pupil of the Makaryevsky monastery) – was going to “develop religious activities after being fired from the battalion.” In another – that “Stepanov (his bishop), on holidays often, visited the former Tsar Romanov, Nicholas,” and often conducted “politival conversations with his subdeacon,” and the priest Savva Beklemyshev “gave them instructions” to promote their delegates to the authorities in order to “pursue their counter-revolutionary agenda through these delegates.” At the same time, the “rear militia” themselves allegedly planned to contact “the leaders of the religious world in Moscow.”

Ivan Kozhevnikov, according to the text of the interrogation protocol, simply called the Perm priests, whom he knew well, “ministers of a religious cult.”

Then, there is “the praise of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other Trotskyists and Zinovievites, as real representatives of the people, fearless people and revolutionaries,” in the minutes drawn up on behalf of Christians, which were given the meaning of an independent streak in the activities of the “Society of Labor Clergy.” The work of “praising the revolutionaries” was to be carried out by the Red Army and “local priests among the civilian population.”

And there are a lot of such “markers” in the materials of this case. For greater effect, imagine someone from the current official speakers of the Patriarchate using such an expressive speech “palette.”

Results Of The “Investigation:” 37 Sentenced To Death

IF: Nevertheless, those convicted in this case received sentences of “capital punishment.” How would you comment on the discrepancy between the number of sentences and the extracts from the acts of execution [records of executions carried out]?

MD: Indeed, on August 25, 1937, by the decision of the Troika at the NKVD of the Sverdlovsk Region, orders were issued to shoot 37 people.

At the end of the 5th volume of this case, extracts from the acts on the enforcement of sentences are kept in a separate envelope. They indicate the date of the execution – August 31, 1937 – and the time – 24.00. Extracts 35. Among them there is no extract from the act of execution of Archbishop Dositheus (Stepanov). There is also no extract from execution of Deacon Mikhail Bannov, who belonged to the canonical Church structure.

If documents clearly testify about Father Mikhail – he was tortured and admitted to the Perm psychiatric hospital with traces of numerous traumas, from which he died on September 5, 1937, then in the same documents the situation is somewhat more complicated for Archbishop Dositheus (in the case file he goes under his own worldly name, as Stepanov Gabriel Grigorievich).

The official response to the request of his relatives indicates that he, while serving his sentence, “died of angina on December 15, 1941.” In fact, on March 31, 1956, according to the investigation of the Military Prosecutor’s Office of the Ural region, the fact of the absence of an extract from the act of execution was entered into the “register” of 12 issues requiring clarification in the 1937 investigation.

Unfortunately, checking did not resolve the issues. In the 6th volume of the case, among the documents on the investigation of abuses during the 1937 trial, there is a document under the heading:

“Heard: Stepanov Gavriil Grigorievich, born in 1883, from Khodyasheva former Laishevsky district.
Resolved: to shoot. The verdict was executed on 27. VIII. 1937-“

And the signature:

“Correct – ‟23. VI. 1956, Sverdlovsk.”

According to this document, Archbishop Dosifei (Stepanov), for some reason, “was shot” 4 days before the rest of the participants in the case. The date indicated at the end of the document – June 23, 1956 – indicates that this is, indeed, not the original extract from the act. This text combines the content of two documents – the verdict of the “Troika” of the NKVD in 1937 and the missing extract from the act of execution. Thus, the question of why the original extract from the act of execution is missing in the case remains unresolved.

When the KGB of the Sverdlovsk region received a request to verify the data on Stepanov Gavriil Grigorievich for the operational accounting of the First Special Department of the Police Commission of Leningrad (dated June 21, 1957) at the request of his relatives, a tiny form of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Sverdlovsk region appeared in the documents, in the Volume, “Correspondence,” handwritten:

“25 / VIII – 37 convicted tr. UNKVD of the Sverdlovsk region. <…> VMN. There is no information about the execution. Def. VTR Ural VO from 30 / X – 56 solution tr. from 25 / VIII – 37 canceled for lack of corpus delicti. Arch s / d no. c / d in Moscow. sod. in the Perm prison. 12 / VII 57.”

And in the “Conclusion of this issue of August 6, 1957,” it says:

“… was arrested on August 25, 1937 under Art. — of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR by the Troika of the NKVD of the Sverdlovsk region, sentenced to a military service. ‘On August 26, 1937, the sentence was executed October 30, 1956 by ruling No. 1475 of the Military Tribunal Ural region.’”

Taking into account the discrepancy in the dates indicated and the general inconsistency of the information, it is premature to give any comments in this case.

The featured image shows, “Russian priests conveyed to judgment” by Ivan Alekseevich Vladimirov, painted in 1922.