Canada Slim and the Road into the Open

Cadenabbia di Griante, Italia, Monday 7 September 1840

“We leave Cadenabbia in a day or two. 

I go unwillingly.

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

The calm weather invites my stay, by dispelling my fears.

The heat is great in the middle of the day and I read a great deal to beguile the time….

I breathe the air.

I am sheltered by the hills and woods that give its balmy breath, which lend their glorious colouring….”

(Mary Shelly, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Rambles in Germany and Italy was Mary Shelley´s last published work.

The text describes two European trips Shelley took with her son, Percy, and several of his university friends.

After crossing Switzerland by carriage and railway, the group spent two months at Cadenabbia on Lago Como, where Shelley relaxed and reminisced about the years she had lived in Italy with her husband.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 September 2017

Below is how the local tourism board of Cadenabbia tries to seduce the traveller to stop for a while….

Cadenabbia is the ashore cluster of Griante. The origins of its name are bound to different etymological traditions, one of which says that it comes from the contraction of Ca’ dei Nauli (boatmen’s house). As a matter of facts, in old times, on that very spot there was an inn to which all boatmen coming from Como or Lecco to deliver their goods to the along shore villages used to stop and taste the excellent local wine: the Griantino. At the beginning of the 19th century, Gianella turned it into the very first hotel for tourists and visitors on this area, which immediately became well known among travellers all over the world. For a long time Cadenabbia has been one of the favoured places for the British and a large community lived here. For that reason it was built the Anglican Church, the very first one on Italian soil, which was consecrated in 1891.

 

Griante The village lies on a wide plateau overlooking the lake, at about 50 mt. above lake level. It faces the promontory of Bellagio with the dolomite massifs of the Grigna and Grignetta in the background, which gives the opportunity to enjoy unique landscape views both for beauty and charm.

For many centuries Griante gave hospitality to a number of great visitors. It would be enough to quote Giuseppe Verdi, who in the quietness of Villa Margherita wrote the most beautiful airs of his La Traviata. Stendhal, who dedicated many pages of his masterpiece La Chartreuse de Parme to describe the village and its environment. The enchanting beauty of the place enraptured Longfellow, the American poet, who wrote many poems about this place.

Here came the British Queen Victoria, the German Kaiser William II, Nicolas II of Russia, the Prince of Piedmont (the last Italian King), Pius XI, until he was elected Pope, and the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who used to call Griante: my second hometown.

Many pages of modern history have been written in the peaceful atmosphere of Griante, the village the Celts called Griant – Tir, that is to say: The land of the sun.

Ah, to be in Cadenabbia right now instead of here!

Here where rain is more frequent than paycheques and fine weather is invisible and ignored by the demands of work.

Cadenabbia´s great beauty of scenery and vegetation, at its utmost with the blossoms of spring or the changing of the leaves of autumn, beckons my spirit, yet the demands of the flesh maintain my tiresome sojourn here.

Cadenabbia di Griante, Tuesday, 14 July 1840

“The steamer, however, did not stop (in Bellaggio), but on the opposite shore, Cadenabbia, which looked southward and commanded a view of Bellaggio and the mountains beyond surmounting Varenna….

Strange to say, there is discontent among us.

The weather is dreary, the Lake tempest-tossed.

And, stranger still, we are tired of mountains.

I, who thinks a flat country insupportable, yet wish for lower hills and a view of a wider expanse of sky.

The eye longs for space.”

(Mary Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Cadenabbia di Griante, Monday 31 July 2017

The heat is intense, our mood is dreary and our conversation tempest-tossed.

And, in so short a space of time from the northern tip of Lake Como to this town of Cadenabbia, 15 miles north of the city of Como, we – the wife and I – have grown tired of one another´s personality quirks shown in the car journey southwards.

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The car ride is insupportable.

The mind longs for solitude and space.

But we are on vacation, chained to one another by obligation and prearranged travel details.

She has exhausted her patience trying to locate for me Mussolini`s execution spot while negotiating rush hour traffic.

(See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence of this blog.)

Her impatience has exhausted my tolerance.

Yet, stranger still, we persevere.

Cadenabbia, Friday 17 July 1840

“Descriptions with difficulty convey definite impressions, and any picture or print of our part of the Lake will better than my words describe the scenery around me….

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High mountains rise behind, their lower terraces bearing olives, vines and Indian corn – midway clothed by chestnut woods; bare, rugged, sublime at their summits….

These Alps are in shape more abrupt and fantastic than any I ever saw.

I wish I could, by my imperfect words, bring before you not only the grander features, but every minute peculiarity, every varying hue, of this matchless scene.

The progress of each day brings with it its appropriate change.

When I rise in the morning and look out, our own side is bathed in sunshine, and we see the opposite mountains raising their black masses in sharp relief against the eastern sky, while dark shadows are flung by the abrupt precipices on the fair Lake beneath.

This very scene glows in sunshine later in the day, till at evening the shadows climb up, first darkening the banks, and slowly ascending till they leave exposed the naked summits alone, which are long gladdened by the golden radiance of the sinking sun, till the bright rays disappear, and, cold and gray, the granite peaks stand pointing to the stars, which one by one gather above.

Here then we are in peace, with a feeling of being settled in….”

(Mary Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Cadenabbia, Monday 31 July 2017

As we struggle, crawling and cursing ever southwards to a city called Como that seems forever out of reach, I am reminded that Cadenabbia is known for more than Mary Shelley.

CADENABBIA
E. W. Longfellow- Summer 1872

No sound of wheels or hoof beat breaks
The silence of the summer day.
As by the loveliest of all lakes
I while the idle hours away.

I pace the leafy colonnade.
Where level branches of the plane
Above me waves a roof of shade
Impervious to the sun or rain.

At times a sudden rush of air
Flutters, the lazy leaves o’ erhead
And gleams of sunshine toss and flare
Like torches down the path I tread.

By Sommariva’s garden gate
I make the marble stairs my seat,
and hear the water as I wait
lapping the steps beneath my feet.

The undulation sinks and swell
Along the stony parapets,
and far away the floating bells
tinkle upon the fisher’s nets.

Silent and slow by tower and town
The freightened barges come and go,
their pendent shadows gliding down
by town and tower submerged below

The hills sweep upward from the shore
With villas scattered one by one,
upon their wooded spurs, and lower
Bellagio blazing in the sun.

And dimly seen a tangled mass
Of walls and woods of light and shade,
stands beckoning up the Stelvio Pass
Varenna with its white cascade.

I ask myself is this a dream?
Will it all vanish into air?
Is there a land of such supreme
And perfect beauty anywhere?


Sweet vision! Do not fade away;
linger until my heart shall take
into itself the summer day,
and all the beauty of the lake.

Linger until upon my brain
Is stamped an image of the scene;
then fade into the air again,
and be as if thou hadst not been.

GRIANTE
STENDHAL: “LA CHARTREUSE DE PARMA” description di GRIANTE

Everything is noble and delicate. Everything speaks of love. Nothing reminds the ugliness of civilisation. The villages placed halfway up the hills are sheltered by trees, and above the tops of the trees rises the fine architecture of their slender bell towers. If, from time to time, some small fields, fifty yard wide, interrupt the “bouquets” of chestnut and cherry wild trees, the satisfied eye sees the plants growing happier and more vigorous then anywhere else. Beyond these hills, which host some hermitages where everyone would like to live, the enchanted eyes discover the picks of the Alps, always covered with snow, and their majestic austerity reminds the strife of life, and this increases the voluptuousness of the present hour.
The imagination is moved by the far away twinkling of a bell, coming from some small village hidden under the trees; and the sounds brought by the water that sweeten them, assume the colour of soft melancholy and meekness that seems to tell men: “Life passes by quickly. Do not be reluctant towards the happiness that comes to you. Reach out and enjoy it.” The language of these enchanting places, that have no equal in the world, gave back to the Countess’ heart the feelings of when she was sixteen.

Above are descriptions of Cadenabbia by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle).

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

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Above: Stendhal (1783 – 1851)

In 1853, Giulio Ricordi built a mansion here, the Villa Margherita Ricordi where Giuseppe Verdi visited and is said to have composed some parts of La Traviata here.

Above: Giulio Ricordi (1840 – 1912)

Above: Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)

Lake Como - between Cadenabbia and Menaggio

Above: The Villa Margherita Ricordi

Visits by Giuseppe Verdi to this mansion may have been related to the successful strategy of luring the aging composer out of his retirement with the composition of his two final works, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).

But Ricordi had the good sense to promote younger composers of merit, including Giacomo Puccini, said to be the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi.

Above: Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924)

Ricardo was something of a father figure to Puccini, feared (and often needed to be censorious over Puccini´s dilatory work habits) but deeply trusted.

Arthur Schnitzler wrote movingly about Cadenabbia´s cemetery in his 1908 novel The Road into the Open.

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Above: Arthur Schnitzler, M.D. (1862 – 1931)

My research of the places on our itinerary bring to mind the works and life of Schnitzler beyond his account of Cadenabbia’s final resting place for its dead.

Schnitzler was the son of a Viennese doctor and the grandson, through his mother, of another Viennese doctor.

Schnitzler himself was a doctor until he abandoned the practice of medicine in favour of writing.

(I could never imagine my wife, also a doctor, abandoning her long years of study and practice to try another profession.

I am sceptical of her allowing me to pursue a writing career without working fulltime at some other profession, whether respectable as teaching or steady as in the hospitality service.)

At age 40, Schnitzler married Olga Gussmann, a 21-year-old aspiring actress and singer, with whom he had already produced a son the year previously.

In their 6th year of marriage, they also had a daughter, who committed suicide at the tender age of 19.

The Schnitzlers separated shortly thereafter.

Schnitzler´s works were, to say the least, even today, controversial, for their frank description of sexuality.

In a letter to Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud confessed:

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Above: Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis (1856 – 1939)

“I have gained the impression that you have learned through intuition – although actually as a result of sensitive introspection – everything that I have had to unearth by labourious work on other persons.”

Schnitzler was branded as a pornographer after the release of his play Reigen, in which ten pairs of characters are shown before and after the sexual act, leading and ending with a prostitute.

Reigen was made into a French language film in 1950 as La Ronde, (starring Simone Signoret) achieving considerable success in the English-speaking world, with the result that Schnitzler´s play is better known there under its French title.

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(Whether the designers of Montréal´s La Ronde amusement park had the film in their mind when they made the park remains a mystery.)

Roger Vadim´s film Circle of Love (1964)(starring Jane Fonda) and Otto Schenk´s Der Reigen (1973) and Fernando Meirelles´ film 360° (starring Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz) are all based on the play.

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Schnitzler´s novella Fräulein Else is a first-person stream of consciousness narrative by a young aristocratic woman in the throes of a moral dilemma that ends tragically.

This novella has been adapted a number of times, including the German silent film Fräulein Else (1929)(starring Elisabeth Bergner) and the Argentine film The Naked Angel (1946)(starring Olga Zubarry).

The Naked Angel is the story of a sculptor who agrees to lend a bankrupt man money provided that his beautiful daughter pose nude for his latest work of art.

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In response to an interviewer who asked Schnitzler what he thought about the critical view that his works all seemed to treat the same subjects, he replied:

“I write of love and death.

What other subjects are there?”

Indeed.

(As I sneakily look into the passenger mirror above the car´s dashboard, my balding pate and silver hair remind me that there are probably fewer years ahead of me than I have left behind.

As I watch my wife struggle with the frustrations of Italian traffic and think that we have been a couple for two decades having known few others before our union, I am reminded that regardless of the moments that she may annoy me I remain passionately in love with this tumultous woman.

Love and death are much on my mind today.

How much must I love this woman even to tolerate her at her worst?

How much must she love me to tolerate me at my worst?

How dangerous these streets are!

How easy to be struck or to strike others!)

The bedroom is often the focus of many of Schnitzler´s works and he himself had an affair with one of his actresses, Adele Sandrock.

An exception to his farcicial attitude towards the bedroom and the games adults play within it, Professor Bernhardi, a play about a Jewish doctor who turns away a Catholic priest in order to spare a patient the realisation that she is on the point of death, is his only major dramatic work without a sexual theme.

(These modern times simply demand a modernised adaptation of this play.)

(I ask myself: “Would I want to know when I am dying?”

My honest answer is “No”.

I prefer the deception, the illusion, that the closing of my eyes is a mere prelude to temporary rest rather than the final curtain over a permanent slumber.)

Schnitzler toyed with formal as well as social convention.

With his short story Lieutenant Gustl, he was the first to write German fiction in stream-of-consciousness narration in a story of a soldier and the army´s obsessive code of formal honour.

This story caused Schnitzler to be stripped of his commission as a reserve officer in the medical corps.

(It is a curious thing how man disguises the murder of other men in cloaks of honour wrapped in flags, thinking that this somehow justifies the barbarity of the act and the senselessness of the sacrifice.)

Schnitzler wrote two full-length novels: the above-mentioned The Road into the Open (the story of an aristocratic young composer Georg von Wergenthin-Recco, who has talent but lacks the drive to get down to work and spends most of his time socialising with others like himself, and his ultimately unhappy affair with a Catholic lower middle class girl named Anna Rosner) and Therese (the story of a woman, who gives birth to an illegitimate child during the final decades of the First World War, and who, having to live in poverty herself, is unable to secure an education for her son, so she has a succession of lovers all of whom act irresponsibly towards her until she meets a wealthy Jewish entrepreneur who proposes to her, but dies before they can get married thwarting all her hopes of the good life, and, in the end, she is killed by her ungrateful and estranged son Franz).

(Did Schnitzler have Puccini in mind when he wrote The Road into the Open?)

In addition to his plays and fiction, Schnitzler meticulously kept a diary from the age of 17 until two days before his death.

Running to almost 8,000 pages, the diary is most notable for Schnitzler`s casual descriptions of sexual conquests – he was often in relationships with several women at once, and for a period of several years he kept a record of every orgasm he experienced (!).

(Who does this sort of thing?)

Schnitzler´s works were called “Jewish filth” by Adolf Hitler and were banned by the Nazis in Austria and Germany.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

In 1933, when Joseph Goebbels organised book burnings in Berlin and other cities, Schnitzler´s works were thrown into the flames along with those of other Jews, including Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud and Stefan Zweig.

I am reminded of Schnitzler`s Dream Story, which was later adapted into the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut (starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kiddmann).

A framed image of a nude couple kissing – she with her eye open – against a purple background. Below the picture frame are the film's credits.

Though the film remains one of my least favourite films, and Nicole Kiddmann one of my least favourite actresses, this story of a doctor who is shocked when his wife had contemplated having an affair a year earlier, so he is thus inspired to embark on an adventure during which he infiltrates a massive masked orgy of an unnamed secret society, still stirs something inside me when I consider one particular scene where Dr. Harford claims to know his wife completely.

Alice finds his confidence in his ability to understand women extremely amusing.

The idea of openness intrigues me as our car seems stuck in perpetual gridlock.

Do I really want to tell my wife of moments when she has disappointed me, or of moments when the mind has thoughts of an impure nature for those who are not her?

And if my thoughts are those of occasional displeasure with her and pleasure with others, wouldn´t it be hypocritical of me to imagine that there are not similar moments, similar thoughts for her?

In the novella and the film the participants in the private orgy have their faces covered by Venetian masks.

Historians, travel guide authors, novelists and, of course, merchants of Venetian masks have all noted that these have a long history of being worn during promiscous activities.

Tim Kreider and Thomas Nelson have linked the film’s usage of these masks to Venice´s reputation as a centre of both eroticism and mercantilism.

Carolin Ruwe argues that the mask is the prime symbol of the film, reflecting the masks that we all wear in society.

And the line between our private lives and our public personas seems often deliberately complicated and blurred on so many issues of sexuality: breastfeeding, the rights of a woman to be as covered or uncovered as she chooses, the rights of an undeveloped fetus versus a woman´s body burdened with an unplanned pregnancy, the choice of what one wears and what is deemed feminine or masculine and what is not, the choice of with whom we choose or don´t choose to intimate with, the morality of self abuse, the acceptance or rejection of the gender nature assigned us, the question of fidelity versus being true to one´s sexual instincts even to exploration outside of monogamy….

Many questions that dominate our thinking….

Perhaps Italy is responsible for these thoughts?

“What then is this fatal spell of Italy?

Sometimes it seems almost possible to measure it exactly….by comparing the difference between a traveller´s enraptured recollection of his personal experiences and more sober and objective accounts of the same events.

What then is this fatal spell of Italy?

….that gives middle-aged and resigned people the sensation of being, if not young again, at least daring and pleasant to others, and the illusion that they could still bite the fruits of life with their false teeth?

….that makes unwanted people feel wanted, unimportant people feel important, and purposeless people believe that the real way to live intelligently is to have no earnest purpose in life?

Italy….is one of the last countries in the Western world where the great god Pan is not dead, where life is still gloriously pagan, where Christianity has not deeply disturbed the happy traditions and customs of the ancients, where the Renaissance has not spent itself.

Religion is but a thin veneer over older customs.

Foreigners come to taste la dolce vita, to play on solitary beaches, to sit in secluded caves and woods, to eat simple food with their hands, consort with vendors and workmen, living close to nature and in harmony with the vagaries and caprices of human instinct.

Italy is the world´s earthly paradise, where sin is unkown, man is still a divine animal and all loves are pure.

Italy is the right milieu for legal and illegal, natural, seminatural or unnatural honeymoons, affairs, liasons and escapades.

We long for things that have kept their natural flavour, those simple flavours threatened by industrial civilisation.

We like the guileless wines, the local cheeses which are unknown a few miles away, freshly-picked fruit warmed by the sun, fish still dripping sea water and eaten with lemon juice, home-baked bread….all combined with the simple and genuine emotions of the Italian people themselves.”

(Luigi Barzini, The Italians)

“In this beautiful country one must only make love.

Other pleasures of the soul are cramped here.

Love here is delicious.

Anywhere else is only a bad copy.” (Stendhal)

Is this why German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer regularly took his holiday in Cadenabbia?

Villa La Collina - Pool

Above: The Villa la Collina, built in 1899, where Adenauer used to stay, and since 1977, used as a conference centre by the Konrad Adenauer Institute

Konrad Adenauer was a German statesman who served as the first post-WW2 Chancellor of West Germany, leading his country from ruin to a productive and prosperous nation.

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Above: Konrad Adenauer (1876 – 1967), Chancellor (1949 – 1963)

During his years in power West Germany achieved democracy, stability, international respect and economic prosperity.

He was the first leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) political party that under his leadership became, and remains, one of the most influential parties in Germany.

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Adenauer, who was Chancellor until age 87, was dubbed “the old man”, as he was the oldest statesman ever to function in elected office, masking his age by his intense work habits and his uncanny political instinct.

He found relaxation and great enjoyment in the Italian game of bocce and spent a great deal of his post political career playing this game.

His favourite place to do this was in Cadenabbia.

His rented Villa has since been acquired as a conference centre by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), associated with the CDU, as the think tank of the European People´s Party (EPP).

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(The KAS´s aim is the “promotion of freedom and liberty, peace and justice through furthering European unification, improving transatlantic relations and deepening development cooperation” through the research and analysis of current political trends.

The KAS offers more than 2,500 conferences and events each year worldwide, and actively supports the political involvement and education of universally gifted youth through a prestigious scholarship program as well as an ongoing comprehensive seminar program.)

Perhaps this old man who believed so strongly in openness between nations was attracted to Italy by the simple and genuine emotions of the Italian people.

Italians have emotions and are unashamed of them and seldom try to hide them.

This tense, dramatic quality, this shameless directness about the Italians, is refreshing to foreigners accustomed to nordic self-control and frigidity of feeling.

Italians seek that combination of love, sensuality and sincerity to define their lives.

Music lives only in Italy.

Is this what continually draws the wife and me to Italy?

This trip is our 6th visit.

Perhaps we as nordic dwellers unconsciously follow the advice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

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Above: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)

“For strange effects and extraordinary combinations, we must go to Life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”

Cadenabbia, Saturday 1 August 1840

“The snow is gone from the mountain tops.

Warm, really warm, weather has commenced, and we begin to enjoy one of the most delicious pleasures of Life, in its way.

The repose necessitated by heat during the day, the revival in the evening, the enjoyment of the cooler hours, the enchantment of the nights – to stroll beside or linger upon the divine lake, to see the sun´s declining rays gild the mountain peaks, to watch the stars gather bright over the craggy summits, to view the vast shadows darken the waters, and hear the soft tinkling bells, put by the fishermen to mark the spot where the nets are set, come with softened sound across the water….

This has been our lot each evening.”

Cadenabbia, Monday 31 July 2017

Life is both moonlit strolls and traffic troubles.

I long for the former and tire of the latter.

I pray we reach the city of Como soon and escape from the heat and the noise and the stress.

In Como, we will park our car and refuse to move it for the next few days.

We will stroll along the lake in the cool of the evening and lounge on the shore in the heat of the afternoon, and drink from the joyful cup of Life in days happy and ethereal.

And who knows?

Maybe we will learn to play bocce.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy / Luigi Barzini, The Italians / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Red-Headed League”, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes / http://www.cadenabbia.it / http://www.kas.de

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Canada Slim and the Dawn of a Revolution

20 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

Let´s be blunt.

Things are truly horrible in many countries on the planet these days.

Especially in America.

Flag of the United States

And there are some folks who suggest that a second US Civil War is coming.

Which raises two important questions….

Could it happen?

Should it happen?

In political philosophy, the right of revolution is the duty of the people of a nation to overthrow a government that acts against their common interests and/or threatens the safety of the people without probable cause.

Above: A replica of the Magna Carta on Display in the rotunda of the United States Capitol.  The Magna Carta, the first constitutional charter of England, marks one of the earliest attempts to limit a sovereign´s authority.

Stated throughout history in one form or another, the belief in this right has been used to justify various revolutions, including the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

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Above: The storming of the Bastille prison, 14 July 1789, has come to symbolise the French Revolution, where a people rose up to exercise their right of Revolution.

By definition, a revolution is a fundamental change in political power or organisational structures that takes place in a relatively short time when the population rises up in revolt against the current authorities.

Could Americans become so dissatisfied that they would choose to take up arms against Washington DC and the Trump Administration?

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Above: Donald John Trump (born 1947), 45th President of the United States (2017 – )

If it became clear that Trump and his posse was acting against Americans´ common interests (denial of universal health care, unequal taxation favouring the rich, etc) or was threatening the safety of the people without probable cause (threats to North Korea, denying conservation efforts, denying climate change, etc) then it could be argued that Trump and his gang of misfits should be removed from power.

But for a revolution to be effective, disgruntled Democrats and liberals cannot possibly win without greater support.

Without the overall consent of Congress against Trump -presently dominated by the Republicans…..

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Above: The United States Capitol building, Washington DC

Without the support of the military willing to refrain from answering their call of duty to the government and instead standing up to be counted as supporters of a different way than that being practiced today….

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Without the wealthy financially supporting the removal of the President….

Without the huge population of average workers that dominate the country statistically convinced that a change in the status quo will lead to a brighter and better tomorrow….

A revolution in America could not possibly succeed as things stand today.

Founding Fathers listen to the draft of the Declaration of Independence

Above: The presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

As much as private individuals feel like taking force against their rulers because of malice or because they have been injured by the rulers, they cannot succeed without support from the body of the people – a broad consensus involving all ranks of society.

Private individuals are socially forbidden to take force against their rulers until the body of the people feels concerned about the necessity of revolution.

Impeachment of President Trump may be desirable by many people, but only possible if both houses of the American government – the elected officials in Washington – decide that they can no longer tolerate Trump as the helm.

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For now, the Republicans, of whom Trump leads, are more concerned with keeping their privileged positions rather than actually serving their country´s best interests.

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Above: The logo of the US Republican Party

The Democrats, at present, lack cohesion.

Above: The donkey, a recognised symbol of the US Democratic Party, though not an official logo

Despite the popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democrats continue to marginalise anyone too progressive or too anti-Establishment among their ranks.

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Above: US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont

In this year 2017, a year where great change is desired but denied by circumstances, this year that marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, I think it might be interesting for those dissatisfied with the status quo to observe how within the span of a single week how a nation went from being an autocracy to becoming a republic.

The February Revolution was the first of two Russian revolutions in 1917.

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Above: Attacking the Tsar´s police during the first days of the February Revolution (23 February to 3 March 1917)

The Revolution centred on Petrograd (now known as St. Petersburg), then the Russian capital, where longstanding discontent with the monarchy erupted spontaneously into mass protests against food rationing, and armed clashes with police and military.

Above: Modern St. Petersburg.

(Clockwise from top left: Peter and Paul Fortress, Smolny Cathedral, Senate Square, the Winter Palace, Trinity Cathedral, and the General Staff Building)

Change should have begun within the Duma, the Russian Parliament.

Above: Tauride Palace, meeting place of the Duma and later the Russian Provisional Government

On 14 February 1917, after an extended Christmas break, the Duma assembled for another year.

At a time of mounting popular disturbance, and with several of its members engaged in covert plots to oust the Tsar, the session should have been a lively one.

Instead the deputies seemed to be wandering about “like emaciated flies.

No one believes anything.

All feel and know their powerlessness.

The silence is hopeless.” (A. I. Savenko)

The mood was sluggish and the speeches dull.

Outside the pompous meeting hall, the mood was no more positive among the leaders of the revolutionary underground.

“Not one party was preparing for the great upheaval.

Everyone was dreaming, ruminating, full of foreboding, feeling his way.” (Nikolai Sukhanov)

Across the water where the workers lived, the atmosphere was different.

The food crisis was now acute.

The wealthy could still have their fresh white bread in any restaurant, but families in the factory districts had begun to starve.

It was not just a question of inflation, although the price of everything from kerosene to eggs had multiplied beyond the reach of the hard-pressed.

The real problem in Petrograd, exacerbated by an overstretched railroad network in the provinces, was a shortage of grain.

The city´s wheat and flour stocks, already depleted, had fallen by more than 30% in January, leaving many without bread at all.

“Resentment is worse in large families, where children are starving and no words are heard except: peace, immediate peace, peace at any cost.” (Okhrana – Tsarist secret police – agent report, February 1917)

Even in 1917, Russia still produced enough food to feed itself.

The difficulty was to distribute it to the swollen population of the towns in Russia´s northern industrial regions and to the huge army concentrated in the Empire´s western borderlands.

The railway network had been geared in peacetime to moving grain surpluses from southern Ukraine and Russia´s southern steppe region not northward but to southern export outlets on the Black Sea.

As well there were problems with conflicts between the army, a number of civilian agencies and the local government bodies over how best to price and procure grain.

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The big estates, which marketed all their grain, were hardhit by labour shortages, with 15 million men called up into the armed forces.

Meanwhile, industry could notsimultaneously supply the army and produce consumer goods at a price and quantity that would persuade peasants to sell their grain.

Part of the problem as regards food supply was that the Russian government had a weak presence in the villages where food was grown and most Russians lived.

The First World War required the unprecedented mobilisation of society behind the war effort.

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Above: Scenes from World War I

This depended on a civil society with tentacles stretching down to every family and on a state closely allied to this society and capable of coordinating and co-opting its efforts.

To do this effectively, the state needed a high degree of legitimacy and the many groups and classes in society needed to have common values, confidence and commitments.

The Russian Empire entered the War deficient in all these respects.

The railways were a major problem with very serious consequences for military movements, food supply and  industrial production.

Neither the railway network nor the rolling stock were adequate for the colossal demands of war.

In addition industry was diverted overwhelmingly to military production, with repairs to locomotives, rolling stock and railway lines suffering as a consequence.

Inflation took its toll on morale and discipline among railway men, as it did across the entire workforce.

The war – World War I (1914 – 1918) – was not going well for Russia.

Nearly six million casualities – dead, wounded and missing – had accumulated by January 1917.

Mutinies sprang up often, morale was low and the officers and commanders were very incompetent.

Like all major armies, Russia´s armed forces had inadequate supply.

The desertion rate ran at around 34,000 a month.

In the summer of 1915, in an attempt to boost morale and repair his reputation as a leader, Tsar Nicholas II announced that he would take personal command of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary.

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Above: Nicholas II of Russia (1868 – 1918), Tsar (1894 – 1917)

The result was disastrous.

The monarchy became associated with the unpopular war.

The monarchy´s legitimacy sank with every difficulty or failure in the war effort.

Nicholas proved to be a poor leader of men on the front, often irritating his own commanders with his intereference.

Being at the front meant he was not available to govern in Petrograd.

If Nicholas had departed for the front leaving behind a competent and authoritative Prime Minister to whom he had delegated full powers, this risk would have been worth taking.

He left the reins of power to his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, who proved to be an ineffective ruler, announcing a rapid succession of different Prime Ministers and angering the Duma.

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Above: Alexandra Feodorovna (1872 – 1918), Tsarina (1894 – 1917)

“In the 17 months of the Tsarina´s rule, from September 1915 to February 1917, Russia had 4 Prime Ministers, 5 Ministers of the Interior, 3 Foreign Ministers, 3 War Ministers, 3 Ministers of Transport and 4 Ministers of Agriculture.

This ministerial leapfrog not only removed competent men from power, but also disorganised the work of government since no one remained long enough in office to master their responsibilites.” (Orlando Figes, A People´s Tragedy)

The Duma President Mikhail Rodzianko, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and British Ambassador Sir George Buchanan joined calls for Alexandra to be removed from influence, but Nicholas refused.

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Above: Mikhail Rodzianko (1859 – 1924), Duma Chairman (1911 – 1917)

The Duma warned the Tsar of the impeding danger and advised him to form a new constitutional government.

Nicholas ignored their advice.

Nicholas saw concessions to pressure as both a confession of weakness and a surrender of power to parliamentary government, which in his opinion was certain to lead to the disintegration of authority and lead to social and national revolution.

By stubbornly refusing to reach any working agreement with the Duma, Nicholas undermined the loyalty of even those closest to the throne and opened up an unbridgeable gap between himself and public opinion.

The Tsar no longer had the support of the military, the nobility, the Duma or the Russian people.

By 1917, the majority of Russians had lost faith in the Tsarist regime.

Government corruption was unrestrained.

The inevitable result was revolution.

Meanwhile, refugees from German-occupied Russia came in their millions.

The Russian economy was blocked from the Continent´s markets by the War.

Though industry did not collapse, it was considerably strained and when inflation soared, wages could not keep up.

To help conserve scarce flour stocks, the Commissioner of Food Supply prohibited the baking and sale of cake, buns, pies and biscuits.

There were also new restrictions on the provision of flour to factory kitchens and workers´ canteens.

The move had little impact on the bread supply, but working people greeted it with rage.

Because few people even had a vote, the only thing they could do was join a protest or a strike.

There was comfort in the thought that the most obvious discontent was economic.

“Such strikes as might occur would be primarily on account of the shortage of food supplies, but it is not considered likely that any serious disorders would take place.” (Sir George Buchanan)

Above: Sir George Buchanan (1854 – 1924), British Ambassador to Russia (1910 – 1918)

But what Buchanan failed to understand was that bread itself was political.

In factories and engine sheds, in shipyards and workers´ barracks, socialist activists were using hunger as a means to start a conversation with the people.

Leaflets, speeches and slogans connected the food shortage to the War and the autocracy.

Bread might have been their immediate grievance, but once the people joined a protest they were swept on by rousing songs and revolutionary catchphrases.

On 9 January 1917, the 12th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1905, the protests were explicitly political.

Above: “Bloody” Sunday 22 January 1905 protest, led by Father Gapon, near Narva Gate, St. Petersburg

(See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead for more details about the Revolt of 1905.)

When the Duma convened on 14 February, the Mezhraionka (the Socialist Inter-District Committee) and its allies called the workers out again, this time with slogans about peace, democracy and even a republic.

There had been large scale protests before, but these were new, and called for more from government than cake and buns.

Even an outsider could pick up the change of mood.

“I was struck by the sinister expression on the faces of the poor folk who had lined up in a queue, most of whom had spent the whole night there.” (French Ambassador Maurice Paléologue, Diary entry of 21 February 1917)

Above: Maurice Paléologue (1859 – 1944), French Ambassador to Russia (1914 – 1917)

The peace of Petrograd was depended on its civil governor, Major General A. P. Balk, on the police (a force of 3,500 in a city of two and a half million) and on the governor of the military district, Major General S. S. Khabalov.

In charge of the coordination of them all was Interior Minister Alexander Protopopov, whose team was divided by mistrust.

Alexander Protopopov

Above: Alexander Protopopov (1866 – 1918), Russian Minister of the Interior (1916 – 1917)

Balk declared Khabalov to be “incapable of leading his own subordinates”.

No one trusted the police chief, A. T. Vasilev, whose promotion was entirely due to his friendship with Protopopov, and the best that anyone could say for Balk was that he was good at his paperwork.

Incompetents were nothing new in Russian government.

None of this might have mattered if the troops Khabalov commanded had been the right men for their job.

There were about 200,000 garrison soldiers in Petrograd, quartered in barracks all around the city centre.

Most lived in terrible conditions.

“The only troops in the capital were the depot battalions of the Guard and some depot Units of the line, most of whom had never been to the front.

They were officered by men who had been wounded at the front and who regarded their duty as a sort of convalescent leave from the trenches, or by youths fresh from the military schools.” (British military attaché Colonel Alfred Knox)

“In my opinion, this man (a disaffected Russian general) had confided in November 1916, the troops guarding the capital ought to have been weeded out long ago.

If God does not spare us a revolution, it will be started not by the people but by the army.”

The General was wrong.

The army played a crucial role, but only when the people had already kindled a revolt.

The February Revolution started with a celebration.

The festival of International Women´s Day had been created just before the War by German socialist Clara Zetkin.

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Above: Clara Zetkin, German Marxist Feminist (1857 – 1933)

The event was planned in Petrograd for 23 February, but the comrades in the Russian empire were reluctant to make a special effort over Zetkin´s festival, disputing its propaganda value.

A march was planned, but it risked being small as well as mostly female.

“We need to teach the working class to take to the streets, but we have not had time.” (Alexander Shlyapnikov, letter to Lenin)

Back in December 1916, the Bolsheviks of Petrograd, the Petersburg Committee (they refused to adopt the Tsarist, more anti-German name of Petrograd) were raided by the Tsar´s secret police, the Okhrana, who not only arrested some of the Committee´s members but had captured its precious, costly and strategically vital printing press.

Without their precious printing press, the Bolsheviks could lead no one without a manifesto and a pile of pamphlets.

But other factions viewed the festival as a propaganda opportunity.

A leaflet from the Mezhraionka was crystal clear:

“The government is guilty.

It started the War and it cannot end it.

It is destroying the country and your starving is its fault.

Enough!

Down with the criminal government and the gang of thieves and murders!

Long live peace!”

Thursday 23 February 1916, Petrograd, Russia

If the weather had remained inhibitingly cold….

If Petrograd had received an adequate supply of flour….

If the workplace toilets had been heated to unfreeze the pipes….

The protests might have not been so large.

It was International Women´s Day and the embattled working women of Petrograd intended that their voices should be heard.

Hundreds of them – peasants, factory workers, students, nurses, teachers, wives whose husbands were at the front, and even a few upper class ladies – came out into the streets.

Although some carried banners with traditional suffrage slogans, most bore improvished placards referring to the food crisis.

“There is no bread.  Our husbands have no work.”, they shouted.

As columns of women converged on Nevsky and Litieiny Prospekts, more militant women in the Vyborg (the industrial section of Petrograd) cotton mills were in no mood for compromise.

Since mid-January hunger had been worse by the continuing subzero temperatures affecting the supply of fuel into the city by rail.

Rowing boats on the Neva River were chopped up for firewood and, in the dead of night, people slunk into cemeteries “to fill whole sacks with the wooden crosses from the graves of poor folks and take them home for their fires”.

Throughout Petrograd strikes and protests had become so commonplace that the Okhrana were taking no chances.

On Protopopov´s orders, machine guns had been secretly mounted on the roofs of all the city´s major buildings, particularly around Petrograd´s main square, the Nevsky.

“The Cossacks are again patrolling the city on account of threatened strikes – for the women are beginning to rebel at standing in bread lines from 5 am for shops that open at 10 am in weather 25° below zero.”

(J. Butler Wright, Witness to Revolution: The Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J. Butler Wright)

Their Women´s Day meetings resulted in a mass walk-out.

As they headed for the Neva, the ladies called on other workers to march with them, including the men of the New Lessner and Erikson factories, the major metalworks and munitions factories.

A large gathering of people outside, some holding banners

By noon, about 50,000 people had joined the protest on Vyborg´s main street, Sampsonievsky Prospect.

“I was extremely indignant at the behaviour of the strikers.

They were blatantly ignoring the instructions of the party district committees.

Yet suddenly here was a strike.

There seemed to be no purpose in it and no reason for it.”

(Bolshevik party representative  and Erikson plant employee Kayurov)

They marched to the Liteiny Bridge to cross over to Nevsky Prospekt only to encounter police cordons on the Bridge barring their way.

The trams “stuffed full of workers” were surrounded by police when they reached the Liteiny Bridge.

Barging aboard, they checked every passenger to weed out those whose hands and clothes looked work-worn.

The idea was keep the poor where they belonged and make sure that their wretched protest could not interfere with decent life. (Alexander Shlyapnikov)

The more determined among them scrambled down onto the frozen river and made their way across the ice instead.

Others managed to get through the police block at the Troitsky Bridge only to be forced back by the police when they crossed the Neva.

On the Field of Mars, men and women were raised on the shoulders of others, shouting: “Let´s stop talking and act.”

A few women began singing the Marseillaise.

As the crowd moved off, heading for Nevsky Prospekt, a tram came swinging around the corner.

The marchers forced it to stop, took the control handle and threw it away into a snowbank.

The same happened to a second, third and fourth tram until the blocked cars extended all the way along the Sadovya to the Nevsky Prospekt.

Florence Harper – the first American female journalist in Petrograd – and her companion, photographer Donald Thompson from Topeka, Kansas, found themselves carried along with the tide of protesters.

Every policeman they passed tried to stop the marchers, but the women just kept on forging ahead, shouting, laughing and singing.

Walking at the head of the column, Thompson saw a man next to him tie a red flag onto a cane and start waving it in the air.

He decided that such a conspicuous position at the head of the marchers was “no place for an innocent boy from Kansas.”

“Bullets had a way of hitting innocent bystanders,” he told Harper, “so let´s beat it, while the going is good.”

That day, in response to increasing tension in the city, Khabalov had posters pasted on walls at every street corner, reassuring the public that “There should be no shortage in bread for sale.”

If stocks were low in some bakeries, this was because people were buying more than they needed and hoarding it.

“There is sufficient rye flour in Petrograd,” the proclamation insisted.

“The delivery of this flour continues without interruption.”

It was clear that the government had run out of excuses for the bread crisis – lack of fuel, heavy snow, rollling stock commandeered for military purposes, shortage of labour….

The people would not be fobbed off any longer.

Hunger was rife, fierce and unrelenting in half a million empty bellies across the working class factory districts.

“Here was a patent confession of laxity.

Whom was it expected to satisfy?

The Socialists who had already made up their minds for revolution, or the dissatisfied man in the street who did not want revolution, but pined for relief from an incapable government?” (Times correspondent Robert Wilton)

As the day went on, the rank of women marchers in and around the Nevsky swelled to around 90,000.

“The singing by this time had become a deep roar, terrifying, but at the same time fascinating….fearful excitement everywhere.” (Donald Thompson)

Once more the Cossacks appeared as if by magic, their long lances gleaming in the sunshine.

Time and again they attempted to scatter the columns of marching women by charging them at a gallop, brandishing their short whips, but the women merely regrouped, cheering the Cossacks wildly each time they charged.

When one woman stumbled and fell in front of them, they jumped their horses right over her.

People were surprised.

These Cossacks weren´t the fierce guardsmen of Tsardom whom the crowds had seen at work in 1905, when hundreds of protesters had been killed in the Bloody Sunday protest.

This time they were quite amiable, playful even.

They seemed eager to capitulate to the mood of the people, and took their hats off and waved them close to the crowd as they moved them on.

So long as they only asked for bread, the Cossacks told the marchers, they would not be on the receiving end of gunfire.

And so it went on, until six in the evening.

As the mob surged to the constant drumbeat calls for bread, the Cossacks charged and scattered people in all directions, but there was no real trouble.

Police rounded up anyone who attempted to stop and give speeches, but protestors otherwise walked the streets with their red flags all day long and had not been fired upon.

It was left to the tsarist police to finally disperse the crowds, who had largely gone home by 7 pm as the cold of the evening drew in.

Across the river, in the industrial quarters, acts of sporadic violence had erupted throughout the day.

Bakeries were broken into and raided.

Grocery stores had their windows smashed.

Later that evening, Major-General Alfred Knox met with the Duma industrialist Alexander Guchkov who described the food shortage as the worst catastrophe his government had faced to date, more crippling and more dangerous than any battlefield defeat.

Alexander Guchkov

Above: Alexander Guchkov (1862 – 1936), 4th Duma Chairman (1910 – 1911), Russian War Minister (1917)

Guchkov could already sense that trouble lay ahead.

“Questioned regarding the attitude of workmen in the towns towards the War, Guchkov conceeded that from 10% to 20% would welcome defeat as likely to strengthen their hands to overthrow the government.” (Alfred Knox)

Throughout the night strike committees in Petrograd and Vyborg were plotting to seize the moment.

A great many troops patrolled the city, for that day a disorganised and elemental force had finally been let loose on Petrograd.

The flame of Revolution had been lit among the hungry marchers on the Nevsky and the strikers across the river.

Revolution – so long talked of, dreaded, fought against, planned for, longed for, died for – had come at last, like a thief in the night, none expecting it, none recognizing it.

One week later Tsar Nicholas II would abdicate, ending the Romanov Dynasty, ending the Russian Empire, ending the chaos that had ensued in the days that followed the Women`s Day march.

Above: Nicholas II (seated) abdicating the Russian throne on 2 March 1917

A dynasty that had ruled for 300 years would depart within a week, with a whimper rather than a bang, because few Russians were willing to defend it.

Eight months later, the second Revolution in Russia in 1917, the October or Bolshevik Revolution would occur when the Bolsheviks led by Lenin – returned from exile in Switzerland – would seize control of the government established after Nicholas´ abdication and transform the liberated-from-autocracy democratic republic into a totalitarian regime.

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1936)

But Russia had, for the briefest of moments, a chance for democracy.

Creating a peasant-based democracy almost from scratch in a country as enormous as Russia was a daunting task.

A democracy begun spontaneously by a group of women tired of long bread lines, tired of hunger, tired of frozen toilets, tired of their men away on the front, tired of casualities.

Brave enough to face certain death by men armed to the teeth.

Maybe that is how change might come to America.

Spontaneously.

When enough Americans become tired of the way things are and brave enough to stand up to the powers that have abused them for far too long.

Perhaps things have to get even worse before spontaneous and united dissatisfaction can occur.

Perhaps darkness must fall before dawn can arise.

Before a true unity – undivided by religion, race, income or partisan politics, but united by a desire for equality of opportunity and respect – can arise.

All things change.

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Above: Cover of “Power to the People” single (1971), John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band

Sources: Wikipedia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train / Dominic Lieven, Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia

Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 September 2017

“History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

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Above: Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794)

“I believe that are monsters born in the world to human parents.

Some you can see.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born?

The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree.

As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience.” (John Steinbeck, East of Eden)

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Above: John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968)

History is a chronicle of the most evil characters and wicked crimes: six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, the murdered millions of the Congo, Rwanda, the Armenians, the Hereros of Namibia, the East Timorese, and many many others.

In naming and chronicling their murderers, we defy the wishes of the killers who hoped that posterity would forget their crimes.

“Who now remembers the Armenians?”, mused Hitler, ordering the Final Solution.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

His comment shows why history matters, because Hitler found encouragement and solace in the forgotten Armenian massacres.

Past and present are closely linked.

“No one remembers the boyars killed by Ivan the Terrible”, said Stalin, ordering the Great Terror.

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Above: Joseph Vissariorovich Stalin (1878 – 1953)

In the colassally audacious, incredible scale of these crimes, these monsters found a diabolical sanctuary from comprehension and judgement.

“One death is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic.”, said Stalin.

The most disgusting of these crimes were committed in the 20th century when the corrosive all-embracing utopianism of insane ideologies dovetailed with modern technology and pervasive state power to make killing easier, quicker and possible on a gargantuan scale.

(Simon Sebag Montefiore, Monsters: History´s Most Evil Men and Women)

On my summer vacation with my wife, on our very first day of the vacation, we encountered the memory of such a monster.

Lake Como / Lago Como, Italy / Italia, 31 July 2017

Perhaps the problems of contemporary Italy are too disturbing and too difficult to understand.

Flag of Italy

Local political events have always seemed mysterious and negligible to the foreign visitor or resident expatriate.

Tourists don´t want to be reminded of a place´s dark heart or imperfect history.

The Italy for foreigners is mainly an imaginary country, for we often don´t really pay attention to or see clearly the Italy that Italians see.

We know too few natives and those we see are seen through a sunny haze too bright to understand Italians and their problems.

We meet hotel concierges, waiters, shopkeepers,  and tourist information providers, but we may never know the great mass of the Italians for we are as ignorant as children in these matters.

But no matter where you go, where humans are, one can find the desperate struggles for money and power if one takes the time and looks beyond the surface impressions.

This universal struggle demands its daily sacrifices, its regular victims.

Even when violent death is not lurking in the shadows, when things look pleasant and peaceful and life seems secure, prosperous and easy, competition at every level and in every field is intense, ruthless and without pause.

Fortune is notoriously fickle and history restless.

The day had begun well.

We drove across the Swiss border into Italy and were immediately charmed by the Italian province of Lombardy, for though Italy is about as large as California the inhabitants are incredibly numerous – over 50 million of them – one does not get the feeling of crowdedness in the Italian town first encountered over the Passo Spluga: Montespluga.

Part of Montespluga´s isolation is of course related to the Splügen Pass being closed in winter months and generally avoided throughout the year by those craving speed who take the San Bernardino road tunnel, opened since 1967, to the west.

There is not much about Montespluga to warrant the praises of most guidebooks.

After all the village consists of only three main streets (Via Dogana, Via Ferre, Via Val Longa), some small shops, a couple of hotels and restaurants.

But the plus side of this isolation lends both a warm welcome to the traveller determined to visit and an amazingly beautiful and tranquil landscape.

Here wild ponies graze in the fields, just outside the pizzaria windows, calm but vigilant when humans venture the paths that bisect their  territory.

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Through here the fit and adventureous hiker can follow the 65-kilometre Via Spluga from Thusis, Switzerland to Chiavenna, Italy, totally immersed in the splendour of nature, with some of the path the remnants of old Roman roads.

After a hardy lunch and a stroll in the pasture of ponies, we drove along the Reservoir, the Lago di Montespluga, through the town of Campodolcino (home to the poet Giosue Carducci and writer/journalist Don Abramo Levi, and a centre for winter skiing) and the village of San Giacomo e Filippo to the town of Chivenna.

Chiavenna, picturesquely on the right bank of the river Mera, 16 km north of Lago Como, formerly the Roman town Clavenna, is crowned by a ruined castle.

Townscape on the Mera

It was in this castle in October 1154 that the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1122 – 1190) met with his cousin Henry “the Lion” (1129 – 1195) and fell on his knees begging Henry´s aid against the cities of the Lombard League.

After all Frederick only wanted to impress the Pope and the Italians with his power, to plunder and raze city-states, to reward friends and allies and destroy enemies.

Isn´t that what rulers are supposed to do?

In the town is a statue of Peter de Salis (1738 – 1807), an Anglo-Swiss who resisted Napoleon, and was an extremely popular governor of the commune (1771 – 1773 / 1781 – 1783).

We did not linger in Chiavenna for my wife´s guidebook recommended a side trip to the Cascata dell´ Acquafraggia waterfalls, first recorded by Leonardo da Vinci in 1495 in his Codex Atlanticus.

Acquafraggia

This stream which flows from the Pizzo del Lago near the Swiss border then joins the Mera River at Borgonuovo, 5 km east of Chiavenna, imposingly descends into a series of waterfalls 170 metres high.

But the Cascata don´t feel like a tourist attraction as much as the local family picnic area and playground.

Somehow the waterfalls reminded me of the kind of setting that the original series of Star Trek might have used to film an alien paradise world.

Russian Poet Apollon Nicolayevich Maykov once wrote enthusiatically:  “Under that fiery sun, in the roar of a waterfall, inebriated you said to me: Here we can die together, the two of us.”

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Above: Apollon Nicolayevich Maykov (1821 – 1897)

We lingered bathing our feet in the stream that collected below the cascade.

We lingered too long.

Beautiful scenery, the stage setting for a peaceful dream, is suddenly cluttered by thousands upon thousands of men, women and children, Vespas and noxious automobiles, bright lights and intense noise, construction, constriction and complication.

For the western shore of Lago Como from Sorico all the way down to Como was crowded, traffic insane, a rush hour when commuters were unable to rush, bumper to bumper with no relief.

And it was in this spirit of impatience and annoyance that we discovered a monster.

Between the towns of Gravedona and Musso, 40 km/25 miles northeast of the city of Como, one can find the Comune Dongo, with its two main sights: the Palazzo del Vescovo (Bishop´s Palace) – home to the International Piano Academy where seven pianists, chosen annually from a worldwide field of over 1,000 applicants, including many prizewinners, have the opportunity of studying for a week with piano virtusos – and the Palazzo Manzi – the town administrative centre and the Museo della Fine della Guerra (Museum of the End of the War) with displays of partisan activity in Dongo and the north Lake Como area from the time of the Italian armistice in September 1943 up to the end of the Second World War in 1945.

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Above: The Palazzo Manzi

Why is this museum in this town?

Because it was in Dongo, on 27 April 1945, that Il Duce, Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945), Prime Minister of Italy (1922 – 1925), Dictator of Italy (1925 – 1943), Dictator of the Italian Social Republic (1943 – 1945) and the founder of fascism, was, along with other fascists, fleeing from Milano towards the Swiss border, captured by Urbano Lazzaro and other partisans and held prisoner within the walls of the Palazzo Manzi for most of the night before  his last day alive.

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Ruthlessly suppressing any form of dissent in Italy, Mussolini, a greedy colonialist with delusions of creating a post-modern new Roman Empire, was directly responsible for the deaths of over 30,000 Ethiopians in his infamous Abyssinian campaign, as well as being complicit, through his alliance with Adolf Hitler, in the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Mussolini was born on 29 July 1883 in Dovia di Predappio, as the son of a blacksmith and a schoolteacher, a profession he tried in 1901 but swiftly abandoned.

vernacular stone building, birthplace of Benito Mussolini, now a museum

Above: Birthplace of Mussolini, now a museum

In 1902 Mussolini fled to Switzerland to avoid conscription.

Flag of Switzerland

In Lausanne, Mussolini tried, once or twice, actually to become a member of the working class by getting a job as a labourer but discovered he didn´t like hard work.

He much preferred revolutionary literature and talking.

Mussolini preached indiscriminate violence to his Italian countrymen who were so impressed they elected him secretary of the bricklayers trade union.

Mussolini sought the company of other revolutionaries who were at the time mostly Russians who called him Benitushka.

Mussolini called himself an “apostle of violence”.

He never washed, seldom shaved and lived where he could.

The Swiss police watched him and arrested him several times for vagrancy.

Mussolini watched himself playing the great role he was inventing as he went along, hammering at it with gusto.

No earnest revolutionary in Switzerland at the time was as visibly frightening as he was.

Certainly not Lenin who resembled a little professor.

Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

In his twenties, following in the footsteps of his father, Mussolini became a committed socialist, editing a newspaper called La Lotta di Classe (the class struggle), before, in 1910, becoming secretary of the local socialist Party in Forli, where he edited the paper Avanti! (forward!).

Mussolini also wrote an unsuccessful novel called The Cardinal´s Mistress.

Increasingly known to the authorities for inciting disorder, Mussolini was imprisoned in 1911 for producing pacifist propaganda after Italy declared war on Turkey.

Mussolini initially opposed Italy´s entry in the First World War, but, believing a major conflict would overthrow capitalism, he changed his mind, which saw him expelled from the Socialist Party.

Mussolini became fascinated with militarism, founding a new paper, Il Popolo d’Italia, as well as the pro-war group Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria (the Revolutionary Fascist Party).

His own military service was cut short in 1917 following injuries sustained in a grenade explosion in training.

Mussolini was now a confirmed anti-socialist, convinced that only authoritarian government could overcome the economic and social problems endemic in postwar Italy, as violent street gangs (including his own Fascisti) battled for supremacy.

In March 1919, the first Fascist movement in Europe cristallised under his leadership.

His black-shirted supporters, in stark contrast to the flailing liberal governments of the time, successfully broke up industrial strikes and dispersed socialists from the streets.

Though Mussolini was defeated in the 1919 elections, he was elected to Parliament in 1921, along with 34 other fascists.

In October 1922, after hostility between left wing and right wing Groups had escalated into near anarchy, Mussolini – with thousands of his Blackshirts – staged the March on Rome, presenting himself as the only man who could restore order.

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Above: The March on Rome, 28 October 1922

In desperation, King Vittorio Emanuele III asked Mussolini to form a government.

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Above: Vittorio Emanuele III (1869 – 1947), King of Italy

Mussolini’s regime was built on fear.

By 1926, Mussolini had dismantled parliamentary democracy and stamped his personal authority on every aspect of government.

By 1928, Italy had become a one-party police state.

In 1935, seeking to make his dreams of Mediterranean domination and a North African empire, Mussolini ordered the invasion of Ethiopia.

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Above: Italian artillery, Tembien, Ethiopia, 1936

His use of mustard gas there (300 to 500 tonnes), followed by the vicious suppression of a rebellion against Italian rule, lead the League of Nations (the precursor to today´s United Nations) to impose sanctions on Italy.

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Above: Flag of the League of Nations, HQ in Geneva (1920 – 1945)

Increasingly isolated, Mussolini left the League and allied himself with Hitler in 1937, emulating the Führer in pushing through a series of anti-Semitic laws.

It soon became clear, however, that Mussolini was the minor partner in the relationship, Hitler failing to consult him on almost all military decisions.

After Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Mussolini ordered the Invasion (7 – 12 April 1939) of neighbouring Albania, his troops easily brushing aside the tiny army of King Zog.

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Above: Italian troops in Albania

In May 1939, Hitler and Mussolini declared a Pact of Steel, pledging to support the other in the event of war.

Italy did not enter the Second World War until the fall of France in June 1940, when it looked like Germany was on course for a quick victory, but the Italian war was a total disaster.

For all the puffed-up militarism of his regime, Mussolini´s army was disastrously unprepared for war on this scale.

Following the Allied arrival on the shores of Sicily in June 1943, Mussolini´s fascist followers abandoned him and had him arrested, only for German commandos to rescue him from imprisonment and place him at the head of a puppet protectorate, the Italian Social Republic based at the town of Salo near Lago Garda in the north of Italy.

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Above: Flag of the Italian Social Republic (1943 – 1945)

By 1944, the Salo Republic was threatened not only by the Allies advancing from the south bit also internally by Italian anti-fascist partisans in a brutal conflict that was to become known as the Italian Civil War.

Slowly fighting their way up the Italian peninsula, the Allies took Roma and Firenze in the summer of 1944 and later that year began advancing into northern Italy.

With the final collapse of the German army´s Gothic Line in April 1945, total defeat for the Salo Republic was imminent.

From mid-April 1945, Mussolini based himself in Milano, taking up residence in the city´s Prefecture.

At the end of the month, the partisan leadership, the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (CLNAI) declared a general uprising in the main northern cities as the German forces retreated.

With the CLNAI´s assumption of control in Milano and the German army about to surrender, Mussolini fled the city on 25 April and attempted to escape north to Switzerland.

Above: Mussolini abandoning the Prefecture in Milan, 25 April 1945. This photo is believed the last photo of Mussolini alive.

On the same day as Mussolini left Milano, the CNLAI declared:

“The members of the fascist government and those fascist leaders who are guilty of having suppressed constitutional guarantee, destroyed the people´s freedoms, created the fascist regime, compromised and betrayed the country, bringing it to the current catastrophe are to be punished with the penalty of death.”

(CLNAI Decree, 25 April 1945)

On 27 April 1945, Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacci, together with other fascist leaders, were travelling in a German convoy near the village of Dongo.

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Above: Claretta Petacci (1912 – 1945)

A group of local communist Partisans led by Pier Luigi Bellini delle Stelle and Urbano Lazzaro attacked the convoy and forced it to halt.

The Partisans recognised one Italian fascist leader in the convoy, but not Mussolini at this stage, and made the Germans hand over all the Italians in Exchange for allowing the Germans to proceed.

Eventually Mussolini was discovered slumped in one of the convoy vehicles.

Lazzaro later said:

“His face was like wax and his stare glassy, but somehow blind.

I read utter exhaustion, but not fear.

Mussolini seemed completely lacking in will, spiritually dead.”

The partisans arrested Mussolini and took him to Dongo, where he spent part of the night in the local barracks in the Palazzo Manzi.

In all, over 50 Fascist leaders and their families were found in the convoy and arrested by the partisans.

Aside from Mussolini and Petacci, 16 of the most prominent of them would be summarily shot in Dongo the following day and a further 10 would be killed over two successive nights.

Fighting was still going on in the area around Dongo.

Fearing that Mussolini and Petacci would be rescued by fascist supporters, the partisans drove them, in the middle of the night, to a nearby farm of a peasant family named De Maria.

They believed this would be a safe place to hold them.

Mussolini and Petacci spent the rest of the night and most of the following day there.

On the evening of Mussolini´s capture, Sandro Pertini, the socialist partisan leader in northern Italy, announced on Radio Milano:

“The head of this association of delinquents, Mussolini, while yellow with rancour and fear and trying to cross the Swiss frontier, has been arrested.

He must be handed over to a tribunal of the people so it can judge him quickly.

We want this, even though we think an executive platoon is too much of an honour for this man.

He would deserve to be killed like a mangy dog.”

“Everyone dies the death that corresponds to his character.”

(Benito Mussolini, 1932)

Luigi Longo, a senior communist in Milano, instructed a communist partisan of the General Command, Walter Audisio, to go immediately to Dongo…

Above: Walter Audisio (1909 – 1973)

Go and shoot him (Mussolini)”.

Longo asked another partisan, Aldo Lampredi, to go as well because Longo thought Audisio was “impudent, too inflexible and rash”.

Audisio and Lampredi left Milano for Dongo early on the morning of 28 April to carry out Longo´s orders.

On arrival in Dongo, they met Bellini delle Stelle, the local partisan commander, to arrange for Mussolini to be handed over to them.

In the afternoon, Audisio, with other partisans, drove to the De Maria farmhouse to collect Mussolini and Petacci.

After they were picked up, they drove a short distance to the village of Giulino de Mezzegra.

So did we 72 years and 64 days later.

At the entrance of the Villa Belmonte on the narrow road XXIV maggio, Mussolini and Petacci were told to get out and stand by the Villa´s wall.

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Audisio then shot them at 1610 hours, with a submachine gun.

Above: The French-made MAS-38 submachine gun, used by Walter Audisio to shoot Benito Mussolini, National Historical Museum, Tirane, Albania

My wife was tired and impatiently wanting to get to Como and our B & B.

I took photos of the execution site.

We drove on.

In the evening of 28 April 1945, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci and the other executed fascists were loaded onto a van and trucked south to Milano.

On arriving in the city in the early hours of 29 April, the bodies were dumped on the ground in the Piazzale Loreto, a suburban square near the main railway station.

The choice of location was deliberate.

Fifteen partisans had been shot there in August 1944 in retaliation for partisan attacks and Allied bombing raids.

Their bodies had then been left for public display.

The fascist bodies were left in a heap and by 2100 hours a considerable crowd had gathered.

The corpses were pelted with vegetables, spat at, urinated on, shot at and kicked.

Mussolini´s face was disfigured by beatings.

An American eyewitness described the crowd as “sinister, depraved, out of control.”

After a while, the bodies were hoisted up onto the metal girder framework of a half-built Standard Oil service station, and hung upside down on meat hooks to protect the bodies from the mob.

Above: Piazza Loreto, Milano, 29 April 1945. Mussolini (second from left), Petacci (middle)

At about 1400 hours, the American Military authorities, who had arrived in Milano, ordered the bodies be taken down and delivered to the city morgue for autopsies to be carried out.

On 30 April, an autopsy was carried out on Mussolini at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Milano.

Mussolini had been shot with nine bullets.

His body now rests at his place of birth in Dovia di Predappio.

A monster long dead, an apostle of violence long removed, the undignified deaths of Mussolini (age 62) and Petacci (age 33) linger in bad memory.

We hoped Como would find our smiles for us again….

Sources: Wikipedia / Luigi Barzini, The Italians / Simon Sebag Montefiore, Monsters: History´s Most Evil Men and Women

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Forces of Darkness

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 September 2017

Sometimes you have to borrow from the best, to raise yourself up from the shoulders of the great.

Being the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, with much focus paid on this event and Swiss connections to it, I have found too much too interesting to ignore.

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What follows is a paraphrasing, meant in the spirit of plagirism as a form of flattery, of a part of Catherine Merridale`s great history, Lenin on the Train.

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As this blog does not generate money and as I only wish to whet people´s appetites for Merridale´s amazing writing I hope I can be forgiven for borrowing heavily from this book, often in her own words.

There is almost as much instability across the planet today as there once was in Lenin´s day.

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The great powers are still working hard to ensure they stay on top.

One technique still being used, since direct military engagement is often too expensive, is to help and finance local rebels, some of whom are on the ground, some of them who must be dropped in like Lenin in April 1917.

Think of South America in the 1980s.

Think of the dirty wars in Central Asia.

Think of the current conflicts in the Islamic world.

The history of the intrigue of getting Lenin to Russia to lead a revolution is not unique.

Great powers always plan and scheme and manipulate.

Great powers are often wrong.

As said in previous posts (See Canada Slim and the Bloodthirsty Redhead and Canada Slim and the Zimmerwald Movement of this blog.), I spoke of how Lenin ended up in exile in Switzerland and how he began to grab attention and notoriety amongst both socialists and non-socialists.

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Above: Lenin (1870 – 1924)

Finally, now let us look at how Germany plotted to destroy the Tzar.

World War One, then called The Great War, or The War to End All Wars, was a global conflict that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918, and involved over 70 million military personnel, including 60 million European soldiers.

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By war´s end, over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians would be killed, including mass executions of entire groups of people (Armenians: 1.5 million, Assyrians:750,000, Greeks: 900,000, and Maronite Christians: 200,000).

What marked this war significantly different from previous wars was the increased sophistication in industrial and military technology and the use of bloody trench warfare.

Map of Europe focusing on Austria-Hungary and marking central location of ethnic groups in it including Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Romanians, Ukrainians, Poles.

The War began with a conflict between two trios of states: the Triple Alliance of the German Empire and Austria – Hungary versus the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and Russia.

By war´s end, the Alliance would include the Ottoman Empire and other satellite states, while the Entente would expand to include Commonwealth nations (like Canada, Australia and New Zealand), Italy, Japan and the United States, along with Slavic allies of Russia.

When war first broke out, both sides were convinced it would be a short, decisive battle.

No one had anticipated a war of attrition.

By the start of 1917, the relative equality of the armies meant that neither side could score a decisive victory.

No one dreamed it would become a war that would draw in all the major powers of the world and cause death on an unimaginable scale.

All countries suffered in the War, of course, but Russia seemed to suffer most.

By the end of 1916, the Russian army had sustained more than 5 million casualities – killed, missing or wounded.

Long queues outside food shops were common.

Everyone had to make do.

Nothing was working as it should, from transport to the army General Staff, from the Russian police to the delivery of coal supplies.

The political machinery had completely stalled.

There was no directing will, no plan, no system, and there could not be any.

Russia was heading for disaster like a car speeding towards a cliff.

Since he had taken personal command of the Russian army in August 1915, spending more and more time at his headquarters near the front, Tsar Nicholas II had lost whatever knack he ever had for leadership.

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Above: Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

He ignored the Duma (Russia´s Parliament) while stuffing his council of ministers with people so talentless that they were almost comical.

The capital, Petrograd, was gripped by the fear of what were called “dark forces”.

It was whispered that the Germans had a foothold at Court, their goal to persuade Russia to withdraw from the War.

Germany had to fight the War on two fronts: on the Western Front against France and the UK; on the Eastern Front against Russia.

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Above: Flag of the German Empire (1871 – 1918)

If Russia withdrew, Berlin could focus all its troops along a single front, crushing the French and the British like gnats.

Withdrawing from the War was enticing….

“The conditions of life have become so intolerable, the Russian casualities so heavy, the ages and classes subject to military service so widely extended, the disorganisation and untrustworthiness of the government so notorious that it is not a matter of surprise if the majority of ordinary people reach at any peace straw.

Personally, I am convinced that Russia will never fight through another winter.” (British Secret Intelligence Service´s Sir Samuel Hoare, cable to London, 26 December 1916)

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Above: Samuel Hoare (1880 – 1959)

The mass of the Russian population was struggling.

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Above: Flag of the Russian Empire (1721 – 1917)

Russia was critically short of the commodities that people need in times of war, especially pharmaceutical products and dressings, thermometers and contraceptives.

The winter of 1916 – 17 was hungrier than any since the War began.

Factory workers, forced to queue for basic goods and work in bitter cold, grew anxious and angry.

The bitter cold, at 38 degrees below, seemed to paralyse all life.

At this time of inflation, workers found their wages dwindling as the labour force was augmented with unskilled women from the villages, who had no concept of collective bargaining.

Although a striker could face deportation to the front or years of hard labour in penal camps, the number of strikes increased as prices rose.

243 strikes had been recorded in Russian cities in 1916, but the number exceeded a thousand in the first two months of 1917 alone.

The atmosphere was so poisonous that many officers, reluctant to shoot their own people, began asking to be sent to the front to avoid a posting in the Petrograd garrison.

“The outstanding feature, unique in the history of Russia, is that all sections of society are united against the small group – half Court, half bureaucracy – that is attempting to keep the complete control of government in its hands.” (Sir Samuel Hoare)

“A palace coup was openly spoken of, and at dinner at the (British) Embassy a Russian friend of mine declared that it was a mere question whether both the Emperor and Empress or only the latter would be killed.” (British Ambassador to Russia Sir George Buchanan)

Above: George Buchanan (1854 – 1924)

When the Duma´s new session opened on 1 November 1916, reformer Paul Miliukov listed the many misdeeds of the prior few months, pausing to ask, with theatrical repetition, whether the House considered it to be a case of “stupidity or treason”.

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Above: Paul Miliukov (1859 – 1943)

Miliukov´s answer was damning:

“The consequences are the same.”

Even the imperial secret police, the Okhrana, grudgingly reported that “the hero of the hour is Miliukov.”

Many Russians believed that the Empress Alexandra, born in Germany as Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, was a German agent, but Buchanan dismissed the idea:

“She is not a German working in Germany´s interests, but a reactionary who wishes to hand down the autocracy intact to her son.”

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Above: Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna (1872 – 1918)

Her interference in ministerial appointments, however, had turned her into “the unconscious tool of others, who really are German agents.” (Buchanan)

The Germans, indeed, had their own plans for Russia, but with the outbreak of the War when their diplomats had been expelled and their businessmen and engineers deported and their list of Russian contacts shrunk, they had almost no real friends at Court.

There had been moves to exploit the family loyalities of the Empress Alexandra by having her be reminded of the overwhelming force of German arms and of the needless suffering that Russian soldiers might so easily be spared.

But the Germans underestimated the extent of her loyalty to Russia.

Alexandra was genuinely sad about the bloodshed, but she made no move to stop the War.

And her patronage and admiration of the monk Rasputin, with his murder, on 30 December 1916, dealt a further blow to German interests, the doors to the Court were even more firmly closed against them.

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Above: Grigori Rasputin (1869 – 1916)

The chances of a German-inspired palace coup had never been particularly strong, however, and as they weighed the options for disrupting Russia`s military campaign, the experts in Berlin considered another alternative: fomenting social discontent.

Nationalist movements had been simmering on the fringes of the Russian Empire for decades.

There were plenty of secret clubs and underground societies from which to choose.

The problem was to avoid wasting scarce resources on romantic fools.

The uprising of 1905 had shown what havoc Russia´s working class could wreak.

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Strikes and rioting had forced the Tsar to end the Russo-Japanese War.

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Above: Scenes from the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905)

Although fomenting revolution was a dangerous idea – Germany had socialists of its own. – the prospect of a bit of inconclusive civil chaos in Russia appealed.

Russia had a network of home-grown revolutionaries, known troublemakers who could do the job.

With the aid of local sympathisers and strategic double agents, officials in Berlin began to assemble a picture of the Russian revolutionary movement, and especially of its emigré wing, the exiles who had fled the tsarist Empire in the pre-War years.

The most promising was based in Switzerland.

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Above: The flag of Switzerland

Gisbert von Romberg, Berlin`s minister in Bern, had a long-standing interest in Russia and knew far more about the Russian revolutionary underground than his British or French counterparts.

Romberg knew most exiled socialists would be content to sit in Switzerland indefinitely, continuing their arguments about the character of bourgeois government and the moral value of religion.

He needed a hardline group that was more than just a gang of posturing thugs.

The Russians he needed were all marooned in western Europe.

If the idea was to exploit their hostility to tsarism, they could not be allowed to guess how much the Germans might be helping them.

An open acceptance of help from a government whose armies were slaughtering Russians was political suicide.

The first ray of hope came in January 1915….

The German Foreign Ministry in Berlin received a telegram from Ambassador Hans von Wangenheim in Constantinople (present day Istanbul).

Above: Baron Hans von Wangenheim (1859 – 1915)

A Belarussian businessman, Alexander Helphand, aka Parvus, had a plan for the destruction of the Tsar.

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Above: Alexander Parvus (1867 – 1924)

“The interests of the German government are identical with those of the Russian revolutionaries.” (Parvus)

Parvus believed that they should contaminate Russian troops with anti-tsarist propaganda before they were sent to the front and he proposed a congress of the Russian revolutionaries in exile to get them acting as a unified group.

“Parvus was unquestionably one of the most important of the Marxists at the turn of the century….fearless thinking….wide vision….and a virile muscular style.” (Leon Trotsky)

In March 1915, Parvus was summoned from Constantinople to Berlin to meet Kurt Riezler, the German Foreign Minister.

Parvus drafted a report, “Preparations for a political mass strike in Russia”, the blueprint for revolution.

It was magnificent, promising everything from separatist uprisings in Ukraine and Finland to a strike wave among Russian sailors to be launched from Constantinople.

The Russian mass strike, an epic undertaking that would paralyse the war effort, would be organised under the slogan “Freedom and Peace”.

The goal was nothing less than to “shatter the colossal political centralisation which is the embodiment of the tsarist empire and which will be a danger to world peace for as long as it is allowed to survive.” (Parvus)

Just days after war had been declared in 1914, Estonian Alexander Kesküla turned up at the German Legation in Bern.

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Above: Poster of the 1997 Estonian/Russian film where Alexander Kesküla is the main character

Like Parvus, Kesküla loathed the Russian Empire.

As a nationalist, Kesküla dreamed of putting Estonia on the European map.

Kesküla also had credentials as a revolutionary socialist, having joined the Bolsheviks in 1905.

Kesküla quickly built up a set of contacts in the underground and met Lenin for the first time in September 1914.

In the guise of a Marxist comrade, Kesküla hung around the fringes of the Russian exile colony.

Of its divisions, only one group, Kesküla reported back to Romberg in September 1915, was willing, ready and able to bring down Russian imperial rule.

“In Kesküla´s opinion, it is essential that we should spring to the help of Lenin´s movement in Russia at once. 

He will report on this matter in person in Berlin. 

According to his informants, the present moment should be favourable for overthrowing the government, but we should have to act quickly….” (Romberg to the Chancellor, 30 September 1915)

Pacifism had become a common response to the War among young people on the left, but Lenin was different.

Above: Bolshevik political cartoon poster, showing Lenin sweeping away monarchs, clergy and capitalists (1920)

“An oppressed class which does not strive to learn the use of weapons, to practice the use of weapons, to own weapons, deserves to be mistreated….

The demand for disarmament in the present day world is nothing but an expression of despair.

He is not a socialist who does not, in times of imperialist war, desire the defeat of his own country.” (Lenin)

Lenin predicted a revolution throughout the world, a series of coordinated, pitiless and violent campaigns that would annihilate both capitalism and imperialism forever.

The bourgeoise would have to die, the big country estates would burn, and everywhere the slave owners would face enslavement themselves.

“Lenin did not plan invasions from the outside, but from the inside.

Every revolutionist must work for the defeat of his own country.

The chief task was to coordinate all the moral, physical, geographical and tactical elements of the universal insurrection, to join together all the hatreds aroused by imperialism across the five continents.

Lenin wrote as though thousands awaited his command, as though a typesetter was standing outside the door.

This man would not content himself with peace talks or a plan for social ownership of factories.

His aim was to destroy the very system that created war.” (Valeriu Marcu)

Above: Valeriu Marcu, Romanian poet / Lenin´s first biographer (1899 – 1942)

“Lenin is the only man of whom revolution is the preoccupation 24 hours a day, who has no thoughts but of revolution, and who in his sleep dreams of nothing but revolution.” (Pavel Axelrod)

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Above: Pavel Axelrod, Russian Menshevik (1850 – 1942)

Valeriu Marcu wrote that, by 1916, “the whole Bolshevik Party consisted of a few friends who corresponded with Lenin from Stockholm, London, New York and Paris”.

But the Bolshevik picture inside Russia was not as bad as either Lenin or Marcu imagined.

Although the tsarist police, the Okrana, had battered at the Russian underground for years, most commentators on the spot believed the Bolsheviks to be the best organised and most determined of the surviving socialist factions, with a predominantly young and relatively educated membership that continued to recruit new members despite the ever-darkening political atmosphere.

But soon dramatic changes in Russia would propel the Germans to find a leader who could control and dominate these changes….

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In the historical comedy film All My Lenins, Kesküla sees his great historical chance and intends to use Lenin´s leftist radicals in forwarding the Russian Revolution.

He elaborates manic grandiose plans to exterminate Russia forever and build upon it the Empire of Great Estonia.

At first, Kesküla acts between Lenin and the German government to use German money to ignite revolutionary flames in Russia

Kesküla and the German Foreign Ministry make a deal to support Lenin financially: to pay for the brochures, leaflets and books of the Bolsheviks.

Lenin accepts German help.

The Germans place their superspy Müller as the coordinator of the project.

Kesküla and Müller educate five Russian men as Lenin´s doppelgängers.

They want to be sure they can replace the real Lenin any moment something happens to him.

Doppelgängers are funny but dangerous.

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They could replace you any moment that anyone notices you seem to be inconvenient.

Perhaps Russian interference isn´t limited to the 2016 US elections.

Perhaps they too have doppelgängers or clones of the Donald that could replace him when Trump becomes inconvenient to Russia.

I think I speak for many millions of people around the world when I say to Russia….

Send in the clones.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train

 

Canada Slim and the Evil Road

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

I am determined to not write myself into too predictable a rut.

There have been a number of themes running through the posts of this blog since I started it back on 18 May 2015.

I have written of many things: my travels in Switzerland and abroad, topics currently relevant at the time of writing, and occasional glimpses into the comedy that is everyday life.

I have started themes that have yet to be completed, like the Brontes and Brussels, my own solo travels prior to this blog, the crucial importance of Turkish politics and history, and, of course, the current political malaise that is the US Trump Administration.

After a long break from blog writing over the summer I have found two themes that interest me greatly: travelling in Italy, and the Russian Revolution and how it was shaped from Switzerland.

To keep both the reader´s attention and my creative juices flowing I have decided to alternate between these themes.

This is not to say that current events are not worthy of my attention….

They have it.

The monsoons in Bangladesh, the destructiveness of hurricanes in America, the reversal of DACA resulting in over 800,000 people forced to leave their homes in America and return to birthplaces they have never really known, the tragedy of Standing Rock and international indigenous peoples, the ongoing farce that is Brexit, the abyss of race relations in the US, world poverty, immigration and refugees, the relevance of the media in modern times, terrorism….

The list and the complexity of world events seems endless and daunting for a simple blogger such as myself to tackle.

But be patient, gentle readers, over time I shall try to weave these events and more into the ongoing saga that is the Chronicles of Canada Slim.

At present, I want to talk about a place that at first glance seems easy to ignore.

The Splügen Pass (Italian: Passo dello Spluga) is a 2,115-metre high mountain pass which marks the boundary between the Lepontine and Rhaetian Alps, respectively dividing the Western Alps from the Eastern.

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The pass road connects the Swiss Hinterrhein valley and the hamlet of Splügen in Graubünden Canton with the Valle Spluga and the town of Chiavenna in the Italian province of Sondrio, the road continuing on to Lago Como.

The Pass is the water divide between the drainage basins of the Rhine, which flows into the North Sea, and the Po, which flows into the Adriatic.

On the Italian side of the Pass is the small three-street village of Montespluga, which is cut off from both Italy and Switzerland during the winter.

Above: Montespluga in summer

So the best time of year to travel this quiet pass is June to October.

The Pass was already in use in the Roman era.

The route follows historic mule trails and was recorded in the Roman Empire´s list of arterial roads as it followed an almost dead-straight link between southern Germany and Lombardy.

Path and road construction, transport services and trading traffic, spiritual exchange and creative artistic power have influenced the landscape and settlements as well as improving living standards and broadening horizons for local farmers.

The name Splügen/Spluga is possibly derived from the Latin specula (lookout).

From 1818 to 1823 the modern road was built at the request of Austrian authorities then ruling the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in the south.

In 1840, English author Mary Shelley (best known for her gothic novel Frankenstein) travelled through the Pass on the way to Lake Como with her son Percy Florence.

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

This was not her first trip to Italy and one might wonder why she would return to a country that had seen her suffer great sorrow.

The threat of debtor´s prison, combined with their ill health and fears of losing custody of their two children, her husband Percy Bysshe and Mary left England for Italy in 1818.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

They had no intention of returning to England.

The Shelleys then embarked on a roving existence, never settling in any one place for long.

They devoted their time to writing, reading, learning, sightseeing and socialising.

Their Italian adventure was blighted by the deaths of both their children:  Clara, in September 1818 in Venice; and William, in June 1819 in Rome.

These losses left Mary in a deep depression that isolated her from her husband.

For a time, Mary found comfort only in her writing.

The birth of her son Percy Florence, on 12 November 1819, lifted her spirits, though she nursed the memory of her lost children till the end of her life.

On 8 July 1822, her husband and Edward Williams set out on a return sailing journey from Livorno to Lerici with their 18-year-old boatsman Charles Vivian.

They never reached their destination.

Ten days after the storm that arose after they sailed from Livorno, their three bodies washed up on the coast near Viareggio, midway between Livorno and Lerici.

Mary eventually returned to England to raise her son.

In 1840, mother Mary (age 43) and son Percy (21), along with three of his friends, travelled together on the Continent.

This journey and a subsequent journey together in 1842 would result in the travel narrative Rambles in Germany and Italy.

Map showing routes of Shelley's European trips. 1840 trip begins in Brighton, proceeds to Dover, crosses the Channel to Calais, proceeds south to Paris, east Metz, north to Coblenz, east to Frankfurt, south to Freiburg, south to Milan, west to Lyons, and north to Paris and Calais. 1842–43 trip begins in Southampton, proceeds to London, crosses the Channel to Antwerp, proceeds southeast to Frankfurt, northeast to Berlin, south to Prague, Salzburg, Padua, Rome, and Naples.

Although her husband and her two children had died there, Italy had become for Mary “a country which memory painted as Paradise”.

From their home in north London, they travelled to Paris and Metz.

From Metz, they went down the Moselle by boat to Koblenz and then up the Rhine to Mainz, Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Baden Baden.

Feeling ill, Mary rested at a spa in Baden Baden.

Above: Baden-Baden

She had wracking pains in her head and convulsive shudders, symptoms of the meningioma that would eventually kill her.

(Meningioma is a tumor that attacks the brain and spinal cord.)

This forced stop dismayed Percy and his friends as it provided no entertainment for them, but because none of them spoke any German they were forced to remain together.

The group eventually travelled on to Freiburg im Breisgau, Schaffhausen, Zürich to arrive at the Splügen Pass.

She describes the Pass in her travel narrative, Rambles in Germany and Italy, published in 1844:

Chiavenna, Italy, Monday 13 July 1840

“At five in the morning we were in the yard of the diligence (stagecoach) office (at Chur).

We were in high spirits – for that night we should sleep in Italy.

The diligence was a very comfortable one.

There were few other passengers and those were of a respectable class.

We still continued along the valley of the Rhine, and at length entered the pass of the Via Mala (the evil road), where we alighted to walk.

Via Mala.jpg

It is here that the giant wall of the Alps shuts out the Swiss from Italy.

Before the Alp itself (the Splügen) is reached, another huge mountain rises to divide the countries.

A few years ago, there was no path except across this mountain, which being very exposed , and difficult even to danger, the Splügen was only traversed by shepherds and travellers of the country on mules or on foot.

But now, a new and most marvellous road has been constructed.

The mountain in question is, to the extent of several miles, cleft from the summit to the base, and a sheer precipice of 4,000 feet rises on either side.

The Rhine, swift and strong, but in width a span, flows in the narrow depth below.

The road has been constructed on the face of the precipice, now cut into the side, now perforated through the living rock into galleries.

It passes, at intervals, from one side of the ravine to the other, and bridges of a single arch span the chasm.

The precipices, indeed, approach so near, in parts, that a fallen tree could not reach the river below, but lay wedged in midway.

It may be imagined how singular and sublime this pass is, in its naked simplicity.

After proceeding about a mile, you look back and see the country you had left, through the narrow opening of the gigantic crags, set like a painting in this cloud-reaching frame.

It is giddy work to look down over the parapet that protects the road, and mark the arrowy rushing of the imprisoned river.

Midway in the pass, the precipices approach so near that you might fancy a strong man could leap across.

This was the region visited by storm, flood and desolation in 1834.

The Rhine had risen several hundred feet, and, aided by torrents from the mountains, had torn up the road, swept away a bridge, and laid waste the whole region.

An English traveller, a Mr. Hayward, then on his road to Chiavenna, relates that he traversed the chasm on a rotten uneven plank, and found but a few inches remaining of the road overhanging the river.

It was an awful invasion of one element on another.

The whole road to Chiavenna was broken up, and the face of the mountain so changed that, when reconstructed, the direction of the route was in many places entirely altered.

The region of these changes was pointed out to us, but no discernible traces remained of where the road had been.

All here was devastation – the giant ruins of a primaeval world; and the puny remnants of Man´s handiwork were utterly obiliterated.

Puny, however, as our operations are, when Nature decrees by one effort that they should cease to exist, while She reposes they may be regarded proudly and commodiously traversed by the antlike insects that make it their path.

We dined at the village of Splügen.

Splügen01.JPG

Above: Splügen in summer

It was cold and we had a fire.

Here we dropped all our fellow travellers – some were going over the San Bernandino – and proceeded very comfortably alone.

It was a dreary-looking mountain that we had to cross, by zigzags, at first long, and diminishing as we ascended.

The day, too, was drear, and we were immersed in a snowstorm towards the summit.

Naked and sublime the mountain stretched out around, and dim mists, chilling blasts and driving snow added to its grandeur.

We reached the dogana (Italian customs) at the top and here our things were examined.

Image may contain: mountain, outdoor and nature

Above: Spluga Pass, present day

The customs house officer was very civil – complained of his station, where it always rained – at that moment it was raining – and, having caused the lids of one or two trunks to be lifted, they were closed again and the ceremony was over.

More time, however, was consumed in signing passports and papers.

We then set off downhill, swiftly and merrily, with two horses – the leaders being unharnessed and trotting down gravely after us, without anyone to lead or drive them.

All Italian travellers know what it is, after toiling up the bleak, bare, northern, Swiss side of an Alp, to descend into ever vernal Italy.

The rhododendron, in thick bushes, in full bloom, first adorned the mountain sides, then pine forests, then chestnut groves.

Alpenroos.jpg

The mountain was cleft into woody ravines.

The waterfalls scattered their spray and their gracious melody.

Flowery and green, and clothed in radiance and gifted with plenty, Italy opened upon us.

Thus – and be not shocked by the illustration, for it is all God´s creation – after dreary old age and the sickening pass of death, does the saint open his eyes on Paradise.” (Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

After Chiavenna, Mary and her travelling companions would spend two months at Lake Como and then go on to Milan.

In Milan, the young men left Mary to go back to their studies in England, while Mary slwoly made her way back home via Geneva and Paris.

Upon her return, she became depressed.

“In Italy I might live as once I lived: hoping, loving, aspiring, enjoying.

I am placid now and the days go by….and darkness creeps over my intellect.”

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

In 1843 the road was further expanded with a 312-metre/1,024-foot long avalanche gallery designed by Swiss engineer Richard La Nicca which today is out of use but largely preserved.

Above: Richard La Nicca (1794 – 1883)

Plans to build a railroad line across Splügen Pass were abandoned in favour of the Gotthard Railway opened in 1882.

The author Sir Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle as well as his beloved creation Sherlock Holmes, a creation that Doyle himself was not particularly fond of, are inextricably linked to Switzerland.

Arthur Conany Doyle by Walter Benington, 1914.png

Above: Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, M.D. (1859 – 1930)

Doyle, who spent most of his childhood and youth in boarding schools, spent some time at Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria.

On his journey back home to Edinburgh in 1876, Doyle had his first contact with Switzerland.

Many years later, 34-year-old Dr. Doyle came to Switzerland in August 1893 to give a series of talks in Lucerne.

Doyle was a sporty doctor.

He had seen skiing in Norway and imported one of the first pair of Norwegian skis to Davos.

Along with the Branger brothers, Doyle scaled the saddle of the Jacobshorn in the Albula range, now served by cable car and renowned for snowboarding.

They then tackled the 2,253-metre pass between Davos and Arosa, rising at 4 am, heading to Frauenkirch, crossing the Maienfelder Furka Pass and sliding down to Arosa.

Since 2008 this area has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, traversed by the Rhaetian Railway and by “lads leaping about on planks tied to their feet”. (Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain)

Doyle predicted that “the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season”. (Conan Doyle, “An Alpine Pass on Ski”, The Strand, August 1894)

Time has proved him right.

Doyle would then travel on to Maloja and Caux with his wife.

On 6 November 1895, the Doyles left Caux for Italy.

Did he enter Italy through the Splügen Pass?

I have no information so far about his exact route.

After a few days in Rome, the family left Brindisi by ship to Egypt, where they would spend the winter in Cairo.

It remains a question of debate whether Doyle ever came back to Switzerland after his journey to Egypt and his subsequent return to his home in England.

Besides skiing, Doyle left his mark on Switzerland by setting the Holmes Story “The Final Problem” at Reichenbach Falls.

(See Canada Slim and the Final Problem of this blog.)

Splügen Pass is mentioned in Doyle`s “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, a Holmes story published in 1924.

“Both Holmes and I (Dr. Watson, the narrator) had a weakness for the Turkish bath….

On the upper floor of the Northumberland Avenue establishment, there is an isolated corner where two couches lie side by side, and it was on these that we lay upon 3 September 1902, the day when the narrative begins.

I had asked him whether anything was stirring, and for answer he had shot his long, thin, nervous arm out of the sheets which enveloped him and had drawn an envelope from the inside pocket of the coat which hung beside him….

…This is what I read:

“Sir James Damery presents his compliments to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and will call upon him at 4:30 tomorrow….”

Sir James comes to see Holmes and Watson about his illustrious client´s problem.

(The client´s identity is never revealed to the reader, although Watson finds out at the end of the story, it is heavily implied to be King Edward VII.)

Edward VII in coronation robes.jpg

Above: Edward VII, King of Great Britain (1901 – 1910), (1841 – 1910)

General de Merville`s young daughter Violet has fallen in love with the roguish and sadistic Austrian Baron Adelbert Gruner….

Damery: “…for we are dealing on this occasion, Mr. Holmes, with a man to whom violence is familiar and who will, literally, stick at nothing.”

I should say that there is no more dangerous man in Europe.”

Holmes: “….May I ask his name?”

Damery: “Have you ever heard of Baron Gruner?”

Holmes: “You mean the Austrian murderer?”

Damery: “There is no getting past you, Mr. Holmes! Wonderful! So you have already sized him up as a murderer?”

Holmes: “It is my business to follow the details of Continental crime.  Who could possibly have read what happened at Prague and have any doubts as to the man´s guilt?  It was a purely technical legal point and the suspicious death of a witness that saved him!  I am as sure that he killed his wife when the so-called “accident” happened in the Splügen Pass as if I had seen him do it….”

The Granada TV series (1984 – 1994), with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, is faithful to the original story as penned by Doyle, though it takes some artistic licence regarding the Bruner wife murder.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.jpg

“The Illustrious Client” shows the fallen Baroness, to whom Gruner rushes to her side, accusing him with her dying breath of pushing her off the mountainside.

The viewer sees the scene is witnessed by a young boy, whom we are told by Holmes in his interview with Sir James that he suspected that Gruner had seduced his mother to poison the shepherd boy.

In “The View from Olympus”, the 18th episode of the 3rd season of the US modernised adaptation Elementary, with Holmes as a recovering drug addict who aids the New York City police accompanied by a female Dr. Joan Watson, Holmes mentions a previous case about a man who killed his wife on the Splügen Pass and tried to make her murder look like an accident.

Elementary intertitle.png

In this blog`s Canada Slim and the Lure of Italian Journeys, I wrote of how my wife (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed) and I travelled from our home by the Lake of Constance in Landschlacht to Chur.

“We leave the Autobahn and enter a wild land – a land of deep, narrow valleys, ancient forests, mountain torrents and villages that have seen little excitement or change since Roman times.

Past Rhäzüns and its isolated chapel of Sogn Gieri/St. George to the town of Thusis loomed over by threatening mountains and mysterious forests, the road, the Evil Road / Via Mala plunges into a narrow ravine, with sheer rock walls rising over 500 metres from the bed of the foaming Hinterrhein River.”

Above: The Chapel of Sogn Gieri, Rhäzüns

Via Mala, that ancient and notorious section of an abomination of a path along the Hinterrhein River between Zillis and Thusis in Graubünden Canton….

Via Mala, that narrow gorge that blocks the approach to two mountain sorties that defiantly declares that the traveller shall not pass….

Via Mala, so beautifully maleviolent and enchanting that the German director Werner Herzog filmed his 1976 psychological drama Heart of Glass there….

Heart of Glass DVD.jpg

(Heart of Glass is the story of an 18th-century Bavarian town with a glassblowing factory that produces a brilliant red ruby glass.

When the master glass blower dies, the secret to producing the ruby glass is lost.

The local Baron and factory owner is obsessed with the ruby glass and believes it to have magical properties.

With the loss of the secret, he soon descends into madness along with the rest of the townspeople.

The main character is Hias, a seer from the hills, who predicts the destruction of the factory in a fire.

During shooting, almost all of the actors performed while under hypnosis.

Every actor in every scene was hypnotized, with the exception of the character Hias and the professional glassblowers who appear in the film.

The hypnotized actors give very strange performances, which Herzog intended to suggest the trance-like state of the townspeople in the story.

Herzog provided the actors with most of their dialogue, memorised during hypnosis.

However, many of the hypnotised actors’ gestures and movements occurred spontaneously during filming.)

As I look into the gorge of the Via Mala, my heart grips tightly in fear….

As we navigate the climbing hairpin curves leading to the Paradise of Italy, my heart grips tightly in fear….

For my wife is driving.

She is mostly a fine driver but give her a challenging, cliff-hanging, narrow road and suddenly she becomes a Grand Prix Formula race car driver, a Maria Andretti or a Michaela Schumacher.

Of all the duties that are split between man and spouse, my wife has assumed the role of driver.

This has never bothered me, for I had never the urge to learn to drive and as a result I believe I am a great passenger.

Perhaps because ignorance is bliss, she could drive down a one-way pedestrian street knocking over a half dozen old ladies in the process and I would not react because I foolishly assume she knows what she is doing.

Now I have read statistics that say when partners are in a car together, the man is four times likely more to drive.

And perhaps I should feel more emasculated when she is driving, but she loves to drive and I make an excellent navigator (despite what the wife says).

But cliff hanging races and breakneck curves make me reassess my masculinity and I once again, especially on this trip, wonder if I will somehow survive my marriage (unlike Baron Gruner`s wife) or make it through the Evil Road of the shadow of Death to Italian Paradise (like Mary Shelley).

Sharing a car ride with my wife is a lot like being an unwilling participant in a hostage situation – you don´t know what´s going to happen and you hope you will survive the experience.

I am reminded once again of Canadian comedian Lorne Elliott´s comments on driving through the mountains:

Bildergebnis

“Not only can you fall down these mountain things, these mountain things can fall down on you!”

The climb up to Splügen reminds me of the lacing of a corset thrusting the hills into prominence.

Corsets?

How fear emasculates!

After 20 years together there are very few off-putting things we don´t know about one another, but I have learned, the hard way, that a little paranoia is a good thing in marriage.

Normally she does not want to kill her husband….

But my wife is driving.

I am not certain whether we will arrive in an Italy that resembles Paradise or in a Paradise that resembles Italy.

I will keep you posted….

Sources: Wikipedia / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes / Nicole Glücklich (Editor), The Adventures of Two British Gentlemen in Switzerland: In the Footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes / Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy

 

 

Canada Slim and the Zimmerwald Movement

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 September 2017

“I have come not to praise Caesar but to bury him.” (William Shakespeare)

“One hundred years after the Revolution took Russia by storm, it might be the right time to re-examine why it happened, how it developed and why its lessons can still shape our vision and understanding of the world we live in now.

Such fundamental questions as relations between the masses and the elites, the vulnerability of democratic procedures faced with organised violence, or of humanitarian values confronted by a large scale refugee crisis, as well as contradictions between the fairness in society and the practical impossibility of achieving it, are still among those being discussed with the experiences of the Russian Revolution in mind.”

(Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths)

In my last post (Canada Slim and the Bloodythirsty Redhead) I wrote about Vladimir Lenin and his visits to Switzerland prior to the First World War and described how he ended up being exiled here during the global conflict.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-71043-0003, Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin.jpg

Now what follows are a few words about this period of exile and how Lenin used those years to be able to return to Russia triumphantly leading a Communist Revolution.

I have written about Bern before (Canada Slim in the Capital / Capital Be) and despite the uniqueness of Lenin`s character I am almost certain that he enjoyed Bern during his time there (1914 – 1916).

Much of what he would have seen still stands today: streets lined with cozy, covered arcades; people gathered in the lively market square conversing for bargains in Swiss German or French; gray-green sandstone Holy Ghost Church/Heiliggeistkirche looming above; the delightful bendy Aare River flowing below, its waters pumped into Bern`s eleven historic fountains….

Did Bern`s Prison Tower/Käfigturm strike fear and unpleasant recollection of Lenin´s yearlong imprisonment in St. Petersburg or how he had been held in a cell in the Austrian town of Novy Targ wondering if he might be shot for being a Russian spy on Austrian controlled soil?

Bern Kaefigturm.jpg

Was smoking within Bern`s walls still forbidden in Lenin´s day or did Swiss soldiers still use the Dutch Tower/Holländerturm to sneak their smokes?

Holländerturm.jpg

Lenin probably never noticed, for though he was a baldheaded, stocky and sturdy person, he exercised regularly, enjoying cycling, swimming and hunting.

Would he have walked past the Parliament/Bundeshaus and dreamt of the day when the Tsar´s Palace would finally be stormed by the Russian people?

Did he gaze up, like thousands have before and since, at the Zytglogge Turm (Swiss German: time bell tower) and watch the clock perform its machinations every :56 of each hour: the happy jester coming to life, Father Time turning his hourglass, the rooster crowing, the golden man on top hammering the bell?

Zytglogge 01.jpg

Had he heard of Albert Einstein who had lived in Bern from 1901 to 1909?

Einstein 1921 by F Schmutzer - restoration.jpg

Would Lenin have cared about anything that did not directly lead to the overthrow of Russia´s Tsarist Regime?

Would he have deliberately spurned the Berner Münster/Bern Cathedral as Lenin was an atheist and a critic of religion, believing that socialism was by its very nature atheistic?

A grey stone Gothic spire rises above the Old City of Bern

An amoral man, Lenin´s view was that the end always justified the means.

His criterion of morality was simple:

Does a certain action advance or hinder the cause of the Revolution?

Being fond of animals, would Lenin have visited Bärenpark/Bear Park or would the sight of the bears in their two big, barren concrete pits have depressed him?

Tending to reject unnecessary luxury, Lenin lived a spartan Lifestyle, exceedingly modest in his personal wants, an austere asceticism that despised untidiness.

Lenin always kept his work desk tidy and his pencils sharpened and insisted on total silence when he worked.

Above: The residence of the Lenins in Bern (1914 – 1916)

When Lenin arrived in Switzerland from Austria with his wife Nadja in 1914, he assured the authorities that he was a political exile and not an army deserter.

During his years in Bern, Lenin tried unsuccessfully to convince his Swiss comrades of the need for international revolution, but perhaps their hesitation had something to do with the contradictory character that was Lenin.

“The Lenin who seemed externally so gentle and good-natured, who enjoyed a laugh, who loved animals and was prone to sentimental reminisciences, was transformed when class or political questions arose.

He at once became savagely sharp, uncompromising, remorseless and vengeful.

Even in such a state he was capable of black humour.”

(Lenin biographer Dmitri Volkogonov)

As the chairman of Russia´s Bolsheviks Lenin attended several clandestine socialist conferences where he suggested that the First World War was being fought by the workers on behalf of the elite and that the War should be used as a catalyst for an armed uprising against capitalism.

“The war is being waged for the division of the colonies and the robbery of foreign territory. 

Thieves have fallen out, and to refer to the defeats, at a given moment, of one of the thieves in order to identify the interests of all thieves with the interests of the nation or the Fatherland is an unconscionable bourgeois lie.”

(Vladimir Lenin)

5 September 1915 was a crisp autumn day as 38 ornithologists gathered, organized by Robert Grimm, outside Bern´s Volkshaus.

Only, they were not actually bird watchers – that was just a cover.

These were socialists from all over Europe, meeting to discuss ways to bring peace to a continent ravaged by World War One.

Their peace campaign made secrecy necessary:

Opposing the War was viewed as treason in many countries.

The War had driven division amongst Europe`s socialists, with the International organisation split by national lines.

On 4 August 1914, the German Social Democratic Party voted in the German Parliament for war, citing “defence of the Fatherland”.

This was felt by other European socialists as a betrayal of socialist internationalism, prompting discussion for a new International.

On 15 May 1915, the Executive Committee of the Italian Socialist Party decided to call a conference of all socialist parties and workers´ groups who adhered to the class struggle and were willing to work against the War.

Swiss Socialist Robert Grimm knew the Volkshaus was full of spies, so his guests had barely tasted their first mouthful of Swiss beer before they were handed their tickets for a horse-drawn carriage to take them to the mountains of the Bernese Oberland.

Above: Robert Grimm (1881 – 1958)

So few vehicles were needed – only four – that the occasion was seen as a tragicomic commentary on the feebleness of international socialism.

The group was bound for Zimmerwald, then only a settlement of 21 squat mountain houses in a sea of fading autumn grass.

Two of the most famous participants were Russian: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin, and Leon Trotsky, both political refugees living in neutral Switzerland – Trotsky in Geneva and Lenin in Bern – quietly planning the overthrow of Tsarist Russia.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R15068, Leo Dawidowitsch Trotzki.jpg

Above: Leon Trotsky (1879 – 1940)

Trotsky and Lenin were already good friends having met in London in 1902, where Lenin had fled to escape Bavarian police, seeking to arrest him for printing revolutionary pamphlets in Munich.

Today, Zimmerwald has not much changed from that day in 1915.

It is a sleepy little place, with a population of just over 1,100, with a few farms, a church and the Alps soaring majestically across the valley.

And for 100 years there had been no sign that the founders of the Bolshevik Revolution had ever set foot in the village.

But thousands of kilometers to the east, Zimmerwald was famous.

In classrooms across the Soviet Union, the village was being celebrated as “the Birthplace of the Revolution”, “the founding mythos of the Soviet Union”.

“In the Soviet Union, Zimmerwald was such a famous place. 

Every Soviet school child knew about Zimmerwald, but you can ask any Swiss school child and they would never know what Zimmerwald was about.”

(Historian Julia Richers, Bern University)

Richers describes Switzerland´s attitude to its history as a kind of “forceful forgetting”, especially in Zimmerwald itself, where, in the 1960s, plans to have a small plaque marking Lenin´s presence was formally banned by the village council.

Switzerland`s neutrality lies at the root of that reluctance to acknowledge the past.

During the Cold War, the Swiss were extremely nervous about showing overt friendliness to either East or West, and spent billions on a vast army and on bunkers for every family, in the hope of sitting – neutrally – out of any future conflict.

But in Zimmerwald, reminders of Lenin´s presence dropped through the letter box every day.

Postcards, drawings and notes, from hundreds of Soviet schoolchildren, many of them addressed to the “President of Zimmerwald”, all begged for information about their national hero Lenin.

They asked for photographs, for booklets and some even sent their letters to the Lenin Museum in Zimmerwald.

But there was no Lenin Museum, there were no photographs, there were no booklets.

Most of their letters went unanswered.

In 1945, a Zimmerwald official, made anxious by the excessive amount of mail with Soviet stamps landing on his desk, tried to stem the flow by sending a firm reply:

“Sir, I have not been briefed on your political sympathies.

However, I am not inclined to provide material to a political extremist, which could then beof use to enemies of the state.”

The Zimmerwald Conference was held in the Hotel and Pension Beausejour from 5 to 8 September 1915 and was attended by 38 socialist delegates from across Europe including 2 from the Balkans, 2 from France, 5 from Italy, 3 from Britain, 7 from Russia, 1 from Latvia, 4 from Poland and Lithuania, and 10 from Germany.

Throughout their stay, the delegates kept close to their Hotel, their entertainment limited to yodelling by Grimm.

The Conference began by reading communications from people and organisations who could not be present.

Then the various delegations gave reports of the situations in their respective countries.

“Irrespective of the truth as to the direct responsibility for the outbreak of the War, one thing is certain.

The War which has produced this chaos is the outcome of imperialism, of the attempt on the part of the capitalist classes of each nation, to foster their greed for profit by the exploitation of human labour and of the natural treasures of the entire globe.” (Zimmerwald Manifesto)

It was the first of three conferences, subsequently held in Kienthal and Stockholm, jointly known as “the Zimmerwald Movement”.

For the next three years any socialist who opposed the War or pressed his government for swift peace talks was identified as a “Zimmerwaldist”.

Even in the centenary year of the Conference, Zimmerwald wrestled with the agonising decision whether to commemorate it.

“Zimmerwald was actually a peace conference.

There were young leftists from the whole of Europe, discussing peace, discussing their strategy against war.

A hundred years after Zimmerwald, we are in a similar situation, if we compare the wars that are going on, with 60 million people fleeing.

We have a refugee crisis.

It reminds us how violent the world is, and so it´s important to remember that there was once a conference of people uniting for peace.”

(Fabian Molina, President of Switzerland´s Young Socialists)

Richers agrees, pointing out that the Conference was the only gathering in Europe against the War, and that the final Manifesto from Zimmerwald contained some fundamental principles.

“The Zimmerwald Manifesto stated three important things:

  • There should be a peace without annexations.
  • There should be a peace without war contributions.
  • There should a peace leading to the self-determination of people.

If you look at the peace treaties of World War One, those three things were hardly considered, and we know that World War One led partially to World War Two, and so I think the Manifesto did state some very important points for a peaceful Europe.”

(Historian Julia Richers, Bern University)

But the Manifesto was not revolutionary enough for Lenin and Trotsky, who wanted it to contain references with replacing war between nations with an armed class struggle.

The delegates adopted one last document….

It unanimously passed a Resolution of Sympathy for the victims of the War and of persecution by belligerent governments.

Specifically it mentioned the fate of the Poles, the Belgians, the Armenians and Jewish peoples, the exiled Duma (Russian Parliament) Bolshevik members (arrested in December 1914), Karl Liebknecht (German) (1871 – 1919)(arrested and sent to the Eastern Front for anti-war protest), Klara Zetkin (German)(1857 – 1933)(arrested for anti-war protest), Rosa Luxembourg (German)(1871 – 1919)(arrested for anti-war protest) and Pierre Monatte (French)(1881 – 1960)(arrested for advocating trade unions).

The Resolution also honoured the memory of Jean Jaures (“the first victim of the War”)(French)(1859 – 1914)(assassinated for his pacifism) and socialists who had died in the War.

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Above: Jean Jaures

At the end of the conference an international socialist commission, called the International Socialist Committee was founded with a mandate to establish “a temporary secretariat” in Bern that would act as an intermediary of affliated socialist groups and to begin to publish a Bulletin containing the Manifesto and proceedings of the Conference.

This Committee is said to be the foundation of the Soviet Union.

For Lenin, the Zimmerwald Conference was an opportunity to stake his claim as the leader of the real European left.

Lenin remained apart, refusing to join anything as bloodless as a peace movement.

“At the present time the propaganda of peace unaccompanied by revolutionary mass action can only sow illusions….for it makes the proleteriat believe that the bourgeoise is humane and turns it into a plaything in the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent countries.

In particular, the idea of a so-called democratic peace being possible without a series of revolutions is profoundly erroneous.”

Swiss socialist Fritz Platten remembered Lenin as the most attentive listener at Zimmerwald, but when Lenin spoke his words had the impact of an acid shower.

Above: Fritz Platten (1883 – 1942)

Again and again Lenin pressed the case for common action to bring down the entire structure of imperialism.

While bourgeois governments might weigh their chance at wartime victory or defeat, the European working class could win only when it smashed the systems that oppressed it.

Lenin`s faction was a small minority at every stage – sometimes Lenin was its sole member – but he managed to set the tone of most discussions.

Lenin had transformed himself into a leader on the international stage, the inspiration for a distinct political tendency, the European movement of radical socialists that would be known as “the Zimmerwald Left”. – Lenin, Grigory Zinoviev (Russian Bolshevik), Karl Radek (Polish), Jan Berzin (Latvia), Zeth Höglund (Swedish), Ture Nerman (Swedish), Fritz Platten (Swiss) and Julian Borchardt (German).

Lenin and the Zimmerwald Left found their fellow socialists and social democrats outvoted them, but Lenin continued to harbour hopes that Switzerland might be a fertile ground for staging a revolution.

In the months to come, Lenin and his Zimmerwald Left would work to persuade more socialists to join their cause.

“Lenin once stated that the Swiss could have been the most revolutionary of all, because almost everybody had a gun at home.

But he said that in the end the society was too bourgeois, so he gave up on the Swiss.”

(Historian Julia Richers, Bern University)

“I think Lenin recognised after a few years that it was not a good idea to start a revolution in Switzerland.

Switzerland has always been a quite right-wing country, it never had a left majority, and I think Lenin saw that the revolutionary potential here in Switzerland was quite small.”

(Fabian Molina, President of Switzerland´s Young Socialists)

On the spot where the hotel Lenin and the other Conference members lodged is now only a bus stop.

Zimmerwald, Switzerland, 5 September 2017

I am off on another small adventure today but not at all feeling 100% good about it.

The wife is still at home with a bad cold and bad drama.

Her body says, “Stay home.”.

Her mind and conscience say, “Go to work.”

My remaining home would mean being an unwilling participant in this tragicomedy.

So, off I go to Zimmerwald.

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It takes 4 hours, 3 trains and 2 buses from home, but I finally reach Zimmerwald via Romanshorn, Zürich, Bern, Köniz and Niedermuhlern.

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Finally I see with my own eyes, albeit 102 years later, the town where 38 socialists from across Europe gathered together to ask the world´s nations to end World War One (37 participants´ idea) and plan violent revolution (Lenin`s idea).

The Hotel Beausejour where they met is no more.

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As neutral and conservative, right-leaning Switzerland is not enthusiastic about celebrating Communism there are only three small signs across from the town hall that mention the 1915 Conference at all.

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The number 11 seems to be the theme of my short visit.

I arrive at 11 am, the only store in the village and the town hall close at 11 and the road sign indicates that Zimmerwald is 11 km from Bern.

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Outside the store is a free library.

The only English language book is Philip Kerr´s Berlin Noir.

Zimmerwald is taking its afternoon siesta.

There is nowhere to even buy a cup of coffee.

After walking a bit I flag down a postbus.

 

24 – 30 April 1916, Kienthal, Switzerland

The Kienthal Conference, also known as the Second Zimmerwald Conference, was, like its predecessor, an international conference of socialists who opposed the First World War.

Of the nearly 50 participants at Kienthal, 18 of them had attended the Zimmerwald Conference.

Of the Zimmerwald Left, Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek and Platten were in attendance in Kienthal.

The delegates met in this small Swiss village at the foot of the Blüemlisalp.

Edmondo Peluso of the Portuguese Socialist Party gave a very detailed account:

“The spacious dining room of the Hotel Bären was transformed into a conference chamber.

The President`s (Robert Grimm) chair was in the centre and, as behooved an international conference, the Presidium consisted of a German (Adolph Hoffmann), a Frenchman (Pierre Brizon), an Italian (Oddino Morgari) and a Serb (Tricia Kaclerovic).

Two tables for the delegates were placed on either side and perpendicular to the President´s table, on the right and the left, exactly as in parliaments.

The Italian delegation, being very numerous, took their seats at another table in front of the President.”

The Conference began with a speech by Robert Grimm on the work of the ISC, followed by a report from Hoffmann representing Germany.

French parliamentarian Pierre Brizon then began his speech….

“Comrades, though I am an Internationalist, I am still a Frenchman….

I will not utter one word, nor will I make any gesture, that might injure France, the land of the Revolution.”

Brizon turned to Hoffmann and told him to inform Kaiser Wilhelm that France would gladly exchange Madagascar for the return of Alsace-Lorraine.

Brizon´s speech lasted several hours, was interrupted by him drinking coffee and eating and included at least two attempts to physically assault him.

Finally Brizon declared that he would vote against all war loans – which brought forth a great applause – and then added “but only once hostile troops leave France”, which resulted in the second of the aforementioned assault attempts.

Unlike the first Zimmerwald Conference, the Kienthal Manifesto did not create much controversy.

The Manifesto stated that the War was caused by imperialism and militarism and would only end when all countries abolished their own militarism, it also criticised the social patriots (those who ruled out any opposition to their government while it was still fighting a war) and bourgeois pacifists and stated categorically that the only way wars would end was if the working class took power and abolished private property.

The Zimmerwald Left felt that the revolutionary struggle would arise out of the misery of the masses and the unification of a number of struggles into a single struggle for political power, socialism and the “unification of socialist peoples”.

The Kienthal atmosphere was more tense than Zimmerwald.

It was clear that the pro-peace centre had become more vulnerable and the Zimmerwald Left duly attacked it.

The Left was growing confident.

Lenin took the whole proceedings as a harbinger of future victory.

The peace program of social democracy was, for the Zimmerwald Left, the proletariat turning their weapons on their common enemy – the capitalist governments.

While the delegates were in broad agreement on the causes of the War, there was disagreement on exactly what measures the working class should take to end the War.

They agreed that the War would not end the capitalist economy or imperialism, therefore the War would not do away with the causes of future wars.

There were no schemes that could end wars as long as the capitalist system existed.

“The struggle for lasting peace can, therefore, be only a struggle for the realisation of socialism.” (The Kienthal Manifesto)

The Kienthal delegates declared that it was vital to raise a call for an immediate truce and peace negotiations.

Workers would succeed in hastening the end of the War and influencing the nature of the peace only to the extent that this call found a response within the international proleteriat and led them to “forceful action directed towards overthrowing the capitalist class”.

“Socialism strives to eliminate all national oppression by means of an economic and political unification of the peoples on a democratic basis, something which cannot be realised within the limits of capitalist states.” (The Kienthal Manifesto)

As at Zimmerwald, the Kienthal Conference passed a Resolution of Sympathy for its “persecuted” comrades, repressed in Russia, Germany, France, England and even neutral Switzerland.

 

 

5 September 2017, Kienthal, Switzerland

Restless after quiet Zimmerwald, I decide to visit this town, the site of the Second Zimmerwald Conference.

Blick auf das Dorf Kiental

So after a bus and a tram to Bern Hauptbahnhof, then an hour`s train ride to Reichenbach im Kanderthal (the same river as that forms the Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen)(See Canada Slim and the Final Problem) then a Postbus up Griesalp, I arrive in Kiental.

(Population just over 210, not including cattle and sheep!)

I enjoy a late lunch of Bratwurst (sausages) and Rösti (a potato dish shapped like a pancake) at the Hotel Bären (Bear Hotel).which advertises itself as “well-suited for families, hikers and nature lovers”.

Kienthal is a wonderful place….great scenery, hiking trails galore, gondola chairs up the mountain…Food and accommodation at the historic Hotel Bären as well as other places.

As I eat my lunch I wonder….

Am I sitting where Lenin sat?

By the dining room window staring out at the mountains?

It is said Lenin could speak four languages (English, French, German and Russian).

Which language(s) did he use in Zimmerwald and Kienthal?

Were his thoughts as bloodthirsty as I imagine or was he forced by his peers over time, like Stalin, to commit any atrocities as “the end result always justifies the means”?

The important thing I take away from my visits to Zimmerwald and Kienthal is that at these Conferences in 1915 and 1916 is that honest, albeit disturbing, discussion was made that acknowledged that there is great inequality in the world, that the nobility and the wealthy create and profit from this inequality and that great struggle may be necessary to affect any real change.

Mahatma Gandhi´s ideas of passive resistance had not arrived yet in mainstream political thinking and discussion.

Zimmerwald and Kienthal would bring Lenin to international attention from socialists and those who feared or sought to use socialists.

Within a year of the Kienthal Conference the Germans would finance and arrange for Lenin to take a train ride across Germany and onwards to Petrograd (the renamed St. Petersburg, as the capital`s name sounded too German during a war against Germany), to start a Revolution that would halt the Russian/tsarist war effort against the Germans.

As Lenin gazed out the Bären`s windows at breakfast, did he anticipate that within 24 months of the Kienthal Conference that he would become Russia´s most powerful person?

The mountains remain silent.

Sources: Wikipedia / Catherine Merridale, Lenin on the Train / Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia (Editor), Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths / Dominic Lieven, Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917 / Tony Brenton (Editor), Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Imogen Foulkes, “Links to Lenin: The past Swiss villagers tried to forget”, BBC News, 29 November 2015

 

Canada Slim and the Lure of Italian Journeys

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 September 2017

It´s not that Switzerland isn´t inspirational.

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It is.

It has inspired Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac and Albert Cohen’s Her Lover.

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Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein here and Lord Byron The Prisoner of Chillon.

From Julius Caesar to Jean Jacques Rousseau, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Le Carré, Hermann Hesse and Patricia Highsmith – writers have scratched their names on the Swiss literary landscape.

Sherlock Holmes “died” and was “resurrected” here.

H.G. Wells thought he died and Switzerland was Heaven.

Thomas Mann wrote The Magic Mountain here.

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Here were Jorge Borges, James Joyce, Erich Maria Remarque, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Vladimir Nabokov writing their classic works.

Switzerland has seen anarchists, spies and detectives: Sherlock Holmes, Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, Ian Fleming`s Bond, Le Carré´s spies and double agents.

James Bond, holding a gun and standing next to Dr. Swann in front of a masked man, with the film's title and credits

Friedrich Glauser (“the Swiss Simenon”) and Friedrich Dürrenmatt invented Swiss noir – dark detective fiction.

But much like Switzerland´s travel writers – Ella Maillart, Isabelle Eberhardt, Annemarie Schwarzenbach and Nicholas Bouvier – I often can´t wait to make my escape out of Switzerland to loftier air and warmer climate.

Over the past two decades I have found myself drawn, much like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from 1786 – 1788, to “slip away” and say that “even I managed to get to Paradise”, that “we are all pilgrims who seek Italy”.

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Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

For, like Goethe, I find that Italy is the warm passionate South as opposed to the dark cautious North, a place where the past is still alive, a kaleidoscope of landscapes, colours, manners and monuments seen only in dreams.

Goethe described himself as “the mortal enemy of empty words”.

He needed to fill the names with meaning, “to discover myself in the objects I see”, “to learn to know myself by and through the objects”.

“Some journeys  – Goethe´s was one – really are quests.”

(W. H. Auden, Epigraph on Goethe`s Italian Journey)

In the past two decades my wife and I have journeyed to six distinct regions of Italy: Campania, Roma, Alto Adige/Sud Tirol, Sardinia, Toskana, and Lombardia (including Lago Maggiore, Lago di Como, Lago d´Iseo and Lago di Garda).

Six distinct regions, six distinct experiences.

I have had this blog for only two years now and have faithfully recorded my observations on 2015´s visit to Sardinia here (See: Great expectations?; Travelling with the enemy; Jerusalem lost between Europe and Africa; VIPs of Cagliari; The timelessness of Su Casteddu; Criminals or heroes?; The Devil`s Saddle and the Alligator; Why we walk backwards; Under the Skin; Eleonor of Arborea; The Last Castle; The Emperor`s new culture of this blog).

We have recently returned from Lombardia and the Lakes and this journey like the five journeys before (We went to Toskana/Tuscany last year.) has filled with me with inspiration for many blogs to come.

(Tuscany overloaded the senses and the mind but I intend to write about this as well as Campania, Roma, and Alto Adige in future blogs as appropriate, God willing.)

As wonderful an adventure as Sardinia was, what was lacking was a part of the travel experience that flying can´t really provide….the sensory transition from leaving the familiar to get to the unknown.

With an airplane there is no subtlety, no awakening to the new culture, but rather one is ripped from one land and dropped into another.

Italian differences are best cultivated at a natural pace, ideally on foot, but failing this by ground-level horsepower.

So we set out.

Nothing can stop us.

Nothing daunts foreigners.

Nothing frightens them.

Nothing stops them.

We arrive in a steady stream, by all forms of transport and even on foot, by day or night, from the sea or over the Alps.

What is but a small trickle in the winter months grows in the spring to the size of a stream and in summer turns into a monsoon flood, breaking all dykes, covering everything in sight like mindless locusts, only retreating and receding in September, but the flow never completely dries up.

We are part of the swarm of summer, dusty and perspiring.

We are part of the flow of the famous, following consciously or unconsciously in the footsteps of Queen Victoria, Mark Twain and Aldous Huxley, Lord Byron, Richard Wagner and Cole Porter, Percy Shelley and Henry James.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

It is a peaceful invasion, an eternal pilgrimage, a quest for something beyond our personal borders.

We are fatally drawn to Italy, like flies trapped in amber.

“Simply letting yourself live is beautiful in Italy….

It is sweeter to daydream following the shapes of Italian clouds than under the ash grey dome of a German sky, a workday sky in which even clouds take on the solemn and sulky expression of little burghers and yawn with boredom.

What is, after all, pleasure if not an extraordinarily sweet pain?”

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Above: Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856), German poet

“The charm of Italy is akin to that of being in love.”

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Above: Marie-Henri Beyle, aka Stendhal (1783 – 1842), French writer

Henry James suspected that the pleasure of Italy was inseparably tied to the human element, the people who had created the landscape almost with their own hands in the course of many centuries.

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916), US author

Italy was for him, “the incomparable wrought fusion of human history and moral passion with the elements of earth and air, of colour, composition and form, that constitute her appeal and give it supreme heroic grace.”

William Dean Howells loved “the delightfully natural human beings one could always be sure of in this land of human nature unabashed.”

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Above: William Dean Howells (1837 – 1920), US novelist

Italy has mastered the great art of being happy, the only art worth learning but which can never be really mastered, the art of living.

31 July 2017: Landschlacht, Switzerland to Como, Italy (Day 1 of 14)

We drove from our apartment building by the Lake of Constance non-stop to the Splügen Pass on the Swiss-Italian border, via Romanshorn, Chur, Thusis, the Via Mala (the Evil Road) and Zillis.

(All these previously visited places will feature, God willing, in future blog posts.)

The Lake of Constance/Bodensee, that huge East-swimming fish bulge in the course of the Rhine River, 67 km from fish nose to fish fins, does not have the benefit or curse of shoreline mountains, so we get wind in our hair and breezes pushing our boats and often rough and tumble weather.

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We are the first to experience the seasons´ changes in Switzerland….the promise of spring, the humidity of summer, the briskness of autumn, the harsh bite of winter.

Landschlacht is part of the community of Münsterlingen with its 16th century Baroque church which watches the Bodensee each winter with keen interest.

Since the 16th century, the Bodensee has frozen solid only half a dozen times.

One winter a church official from Hagnau, on the German bank opposite, walked across the frozen Bodensee to Münsterlingen, saved a statuette of John the Baptist from being destroyed by Protestant Reformers and took it back to Hagnau for safekeeping.

When the Bodensee froze again some years later, he brought it back.

Since then, a freezing of the Bodensee has precipitated a solemn procession to carry the statuette to the opposite shore.

In 1830, villagers delivered it to Hagnau, where it remained until the harsh winter of 1963, when the ice was solid enough to return it to Münsterlingen church.

There it sits still, awaiting the next icy spell.

Ever southward from Romanshorn, where ferries cross to Friedrichshafen, Germany, the road leaves the Lake of Constance near Egnach (See Sunshine Sketches of the Wild, Wild East of this blog.) and takes up the genesis of a southbound autoroute/freeway.

Graubünden, Switzerland´s largest canton, is a folded landscape of deep, isolated valleys, sheer rocky summits and thick pine forests.

Map of Switzerland, location of Grisons highlighted

It is the wildest and loneliest part of Switzerland, with some of the finest scenery in the Alps.

Here is the birthplace of rivers – the Rhine to the North Sea, the Inn to the Black Sea, and other rivers flowing south to the Po River and the Adriatic Ocean.

This is a trilingual land known as Graubünden in Swiss German, Grigioni in Italian and Grischun in Romansh – Latin´s last gasp as a spoken dialect.

The Autobahn traverses the gentle foothills of Heidiland to bypass the lovely cantonal capital of Chur with its medieval cobblestone alleys and secret courtyards and sensible stocky townhouses all dominated by a huge cathedral.

Chur, looking upstream, to the west

We leave the Autobahn and enter a wild land – a land of deep, narrow valleys, ancient forests, mountain torrents and villages that have seen little excitement or change since Roman times.

Past Rhäzüns and its isolated chapel of Sogn Gieri/St. George to the town of Thusis loomed over by threatening mountains and mysterious forests, the road, the Evil Road / Via Mala plunges into a narrow ravine, with sheer rock walls rising over 500 metres from the bed of the foaming Hinterrhein River.

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Then twisting up and around, up and around, the road climbs and climbs to the 2,113-metre high Splügen Pass.

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The Italian border is close now…soon cautious North is abandoned and risky South attempted.

But the Splügen Pass had a lesson to teach…

(To be continued…)

Sources: The Italians, Luigi Barzini / The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland, Padraig Rooney

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