Canada Slim and the Birth of a Nation

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 October 2017

I was 24 and living in Ottawa, Canada, in 1989, when I read the news about the fall of the Berlin Wall that had separated West Germany from East Germany for a generation.

Parliament sits in the Centre Block in Ottawa

Above: Centre Block, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Canada

I would see remnants of this wall in subsequent visits to Berlin with my wife and my cousin in 2007 and 2008.

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In 1999, I visited the De-militarised Zone (the DMZ) that still separates North Korea from South Korea.

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In 2000, I saw the Green Line that separates North Cyprus from Cyprus.

I am a little over a half century old and in the past 50 or so years I have witnessed the independence of 18 African nations, 10 Caribbean nations, 14 Middle East or Asian nations, 11 European nations and 11 South Pacific nations.

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I have watched dictatorships change into democracies and I have sadly seen some democracies devolve into dictatorships.

So I guess it feels quite normal to watch with growing fascination the growing movements of the Kurdish people of Turkey, Iran and Iraq and the Catalonian people of Spain.

As a man who has seen his fair share of historical events, though like most men of my socio-economic class living in the West mostly indirectly, I find it compelling to watch how nations develop from ideas to actual sovereign states.

And having grown up as an Anglophone in Francophone Québec, a province that has itself toyed with the idea of independence from Canada, I can´t say that I am unemotional in regards to this topic of sovereign states and what it is exactly that constitutes a nation.

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I have always felt that it is more to the advantage of both Canada and Québec to remain together, as Canada, for all its faults has acknowledged that Québec is a distinct society whose language and culture must be respected within the framework that is Canada.

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Québec, both economically and culturally, would be weakened should it attempt total self-reliance surrounded as they are by an Anglo North America, especially when considering the economic and military clout of the United States.

In regards to the desire of the Kurdish people to determine their own destiny, I cannot deny that I am partially sympathetic to their cause, for as reprehensible as the violence that has been used by some Kurdish factions has been (and it has been reprehensible indeed), the determination by the dominant powers that rule them to eliminate their culture and deny them their language and, in some dark chapters of the past, attempt their extermination, leaves me hopeful that through wiser leadership and true diplomacy the Kurds may one day create their free Kurdistan.

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Above: One of the symbols used to represent Kurdish nationalism

(See The Sick Man of Europe 1: The Sons of Karbala and The Sick Man of Europe 2: The Sorrow of Batman of this blog for greater explanation and background of the Kurdish situation.)

But in regards to Catalonian independence I am on more insecure footing…

The Principality of Catalonia was a territory of the Crown of Aragon at the time of the Union of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile in the late 15th century, which led to what would become the Kingdom of Spain.

Above: L´Estelada Brava, the pro-independence flag of Catalonia

Initially, Catalonia kept their own fueros (laws and customs) and political institutions.

Catalans revolted against the Spanish monarchy in the Reaper´s War of 1640 – 1652, which ended in Catalan defeat.

The end of the War of Spanish Succession was followed by the loss of the fueros and the imposition of the Nueva Planta decrees which centralised Spanish rule.

The beginnings of separatism in Catalonia can be traced back to the mid-19th century.

The Renaixenca (cultural renaissance), which aimed at the revival of the Catalan language and traditions, led to the development of Catalan nationalism and a desire for independence.

Between the 1850s and the 1910s, some individuals, organisations and political parties started demanding full independence of Catalonia from Spain.

The first pro-independence political party in Catalonia was Estat Catala, founded in 1922 by Colonel Francesc Macia.

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Above: Francesc Macía (1859 – 1933), 122nd President of Catalonia

Estat Catala went into exile in France during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923 – 1930).

Following the overthrow of Rivera, Estat Catala joined the Parti Republica Catala and the political group L´Opinió to form Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, with Macia as its first leader.

Macia proclaimed a Catalan Republic in 1931, but after negotiations with the provisional government he was obliged to settle for autonomy, which lasted until the Spanish Civil War.

Following Franco´s death in 1975, Spain moved to restore democracy.

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Above: The flag of Spain

A new constitution was adopted in 1978, which asserted the “indivisible unity of the Spanish nation”, but acknowledged “the right to autonomy of the nationalities and  regions which form it”.

Independence parties objected to the constitution on the basis that it was incompatible with Catalan self-determination and formed the Comité Catala Contra la Constitució Espanyola to oppose it.

The constitution was nevertheless approved both in Spain and in Catalonia.

In 1981, a manifesto issued by intellectuals in Catalonia claiming discrimination against the Castilian language drew a response in the form of a published letter, Crida a la Solidarität en Defensa de la Llengua, la Cultura i la Nació Catalones, which called for a mass meeting at the University of Barcelona, out of which a popular movement arose.

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Beginning as a cultural organisation, the Crida soon began to demand independence.

In 1982, at a time of political uncertainty in Spain, the Ley Orgánica de Armonización del Proceso Autonómico was introduced in the Spanish parliament, supposedly to “harmonise” the autonomy process, but in reality to curb the powers of Catalonia and the Basque region of northwest Spain and southwest France.

There was a surge of popular support against LOAPA.

During the 1980s, the Crida was involved in nonviolent direct action, among other things campaigning for labelling in Catalan only and targeting big companies.

Following elections in 2003, the Spanish government produced a draft for a new Statute of Autonomy.

The Spanish parliament made changes to the Statute, by removing clauses on finance and language and the article stating that Catalonia was a nation.

The Partido Popular, which had opposed the Statute in the Spanish parliament, challenged its constitutionality in the Spanish High Court of Justice.

The case lasted four years.

In 2014 the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the declaration of sovereignty was unconstitutional.

In 2015 the Catalan parliament passed a resolution declaring the start of the independence process.

In response Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy said the state might “use any available judicial and political mechanism contained in the constitution and in the laws to defend the sovereignty of the Spanish people and of the general interest of Spain.”, hinting that he would not stop at military intervention.

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Above: Mariano Rajoy, Prime Minister of Spain since 2011

In 2016, Carles Puigdemont, on taking the oath of office of President of Catalonia, omitted the oath of loyalty to the King and the Spanish constitution, the first Catalan President to do so.

Carles Puigdemont Casamajó

Above: Carles Puigdemont i Casamojó, President of Catalonia since 2016

In late September 2016, Puigdemont told the Spanish parliament that a binding referendum on Catalan Independence would be held in 2017.

The question on 1 October 2017 was:

“Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

The Spanish government said that the referendum could not take place because it was illegal.

The Spanish government seized ballot papers and cell phones, threatened to fine voters up to €300,000, shut down websites and demanded that Google remove a voting location finder from the Android app store.

Police were sent from the rest of Spain to suppress the vote and close polling locations, but parents scheduled events at schools (where polling places are located) over the weekend and vowed to keep them open during the vote.

Some election organisers were arrested, including Catalan cabinet officials, while demonstrations by local institutions and street protests grew larger.

The referendum was approved by the Catalan parliament along with a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority, without requiring a minimum turnout.

The Yes side won, with over 2 million people / 91% voting for independence.

The government of Spain opposes any Catalan self-determination referendum, because the Spanish constitution does not allow for a vote on the independence of any Spanish region.

The Catalan parliament passed a law declaring it would only follow Catalan law.

The Spanish constitutional court moved quickly to prevent a declaration of independence.

On 3 October 2017 Carles Puigdemont said that his government intends to act on the result of the referendum “at the end of this week or the beginning of next” and declare independence from Spain.

Puigdemont went before the Catalan Parliament to address them on Monday 9 October 2017, pending agreement of other political parties.

On 4 October 2017, Mireia Boya, a lawmaker of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), announced that a declaration of independence would likely come after the parliamentary session on 9 October.

Felipe VI, the King of Spain, called the Catalan referendum “illegal” and appealed to the union of Spain and called the situation in Catalonia “extremely serious.”

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Above: Felipe de Borbón, aka Felipe VI, King of Spain since 2014

According to Swiss national radio, the Foreign Ministry of Switzerland has offered to mediate between the two sides in the crisis.

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So, here are the questions that remain….

Could Catalonia survive without Spain?

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Above: Map of Spain, with Catalonia in red

What damage would the loss of Catalonia do to Spain?

Will a declaration of independence, which seems likely, lead to bloodshed?

It can be argued that a justifiable reason for a region to declare itself independent of a dominant government over it, is if the dominant force threatens the region´s domestic affairs in regards to how it determines its identity through race, religion, language or cultural traditions, and especially if the region´s economic or humanitarian needs are not being met.

I have insufficient information to decide whether or not the Spanish government has tried to suppress Catalan language, culture or traditions.

I do believe that Catalonia is strong economically as it stands now, but whether it is in Catalonia´s best interests economically to break free of Spanish rule…..

I am not so certain.

The irony of a people wishing to be free of a monarchy (although Spain is a constitutional monarchy much like Canada) on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and on the 150th anniversary of Canada´s own sovereignity as a confederation, is not lost on me.

 

Petrograd, (present day St. Petersburg) Russia, Monday, 27 February 1917

(Please read Canada Slim and….the Bloodthristy Redhead, the Zimmerwald Movement, the Forces of Darkness, the Dawn of a Revolution, the Bloodstained Ground, and the High Road to Anarchy of this blog for the background to the events below….)

With so much rampant anarchy unleashed on the streets of Petrograd, Duma (Russia´s parliament) President Mikhail Rodzinko and the other Duma members were at a loss as to how to deal with events that had taken them totally by surprise.

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Above: Mikhail Rodzinko (1859 – 1924)

With Russia plunged into political uncertainty, the Duma at the Tauride Palace was a magnet for Petrograders all day.

Above: The Tauride Palace, St. Petersburg

By 1300 hours a crowd of thousands massing around the doors to the Duma was thick with “green uniformed and green capped students, many waving red flags and red bunting and listening to revolutionary speeches”, all anxious to offer their support to the formation of a new government and seeking instructions on what they should do.

What once was a graceful Palladian building of white colonnades, grand reception rooms and columned galleries, the Tauride Palace was now a rackety military camp of political hustling, where urgent meetings were held to establish a provisional government to take charge of the extremely volatile situation.

The Palace was full of troops.

“Everybody seemed to be hungry.

Bread, dried herrings and tea were being endlessly handed around.”

The mental confusion within the Palace was more bewildering than the Revolution outside.

The Palace seethed with tension and excitement, as regiment after regiment arrived and was “drawn up in ranks, four deep, down the length of Catherine Hall” (the main lobby and promenade of the Duma) to swear its allegiance to the new government.

Rodzianko addressed each of them in turn, urging them to “remain a disciplined force”, to stay faithful to their officers and return quietly to barracks and be ready when called.

 

1430 hours

In the semicircular main hall an enormous, mixed assembly of moderate and liberal members of the Duma met to organise themselves, under Rodzianko´s leadership, in the hopes that a reformed, constitutional government could yet be salvaged from the wreckage.

A twelve-man Provisional Executive Committee was eventually elected that evening to take control.

One of its first acts was to order the arrest of the members of the Council of Ministers – the Upper House of the Duma, the Tsar´s men – who met at Mariinsky Palace.

Above: The Mariinsky Palace

Some had already tendered their resignations, including Prime Minister Nikolay Golitsyn.

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Above: Nikolai Golitsyn (1850 – 1925), 8th Prime Minister of Russia (1917)

Others had gone into hiding, and revolutionary patrols were now searching for them.

Even as the Duma members were establishing their own committee, elsewhere in Tauride Palace, a large group of soldiers and workers intent on nothing else than the declaration of a socialist republic and Russia´s withdrawl from the War (WW1) were meeting with the moderate Mensheviks and socialist revolutionaries, with the objective of electing their own Petrograd Soviet of Workers´ and Soldiers´ Deputies.

Their most immediate call was an appeal to citizens to help feed the hungry soldiers who had taken their side, until their supplies could be properly organised.

Petrograders responded quickly, welcoming men into their homes to warm themselves and be fed.

Restaurants offered free meals.

Old men were seen in the street “with large boxes of cigarettes, which they handed out to the soldiers.”

 

2100 hours

An unknown American encountered a very well dressed intelligent man, running breathlessly up Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, “stopping a few moments every block to tell the great news….

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Above: Present day Kamennoostrovky Prospekt, St. Petersburg

“The Duma had formed a temporary government.”

It was astonishing, colossal, not to be grasped at once or even half understood.

 

Tuesday 28 February 1917

Midnight

A “tremendous mass of people in the square surrounding a truck packed with soldiers from which a Second Lieutenant was telling the crowd the news:

“Now it´s all right.

There´ll be a new government.

Do you understand?

A new government, and there´ll be bread for everybody.”

“I don´t think any man´s mind that night, except the very leaders in the Duma, could stretch fast enough and far enough to do more than struggle with the realisation of the simplest and most elementary fact of the Revolution – with the plain fact that there actually was a Revolution.”

“On the whole, it may be truthfully said that, so far as Petrograd was concerned, by Tuesday evening the Revolution was over.”

 

0200 hours

The train carrying the Tsar back to Tsarskoe Selo left Mogilev, its windows darkened, its passengers asleep.

On the train, Nicholas was virtually incommunicado.

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Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Russia no longer had a government, and over the next crucial 27 hours or more, for all practical purposes, be without an emperor.

Nevertheless, when Nicholas reached Tsarskoe Selo the next morning he expected that General Nikolai Ivanov and his 6,000 front line troops were in place to crush the rebellion.

He could sleep easily.

His train was on schedule.

In consequence, with no government and a nomadic Tsar lost in a train, power in Petrograd passed to the Revolution, with the Tauride Palace home of a Duma that was no more.

The tsarist government was finished.

The Arsenal – the last rallying point of the old regime – had finally surrendered by 1600 hours when the rebels threatened to turn the guns of the Peter and Paul Fortress onto it.

The whole of the army in Petrograd had now thrown in its lot with the revolutionaries.

The Tauride Palace now housed a noisy mass of workers, soldiers and students, joined together in a Soviet.

The few hundred respectable deputies who backed the Duma Committee now jostled for places in rooms and hallways packed with excited street orators, mutineers and strike leaders.

It was chaos and would remain so for days to come.

Grave anxiety remained as to the future, with the struggle between the new Soviet and the Executive Committee of the Duma intensifying.

It was already abundantly clear that any power-sharing between the Duma and the Soviet would be extremely fraught.

In the midst of all this chaos, the young man beginning to stand out as the dominant figure was Alexander Kerensky, a member of the Duma Committee but also vice-chairman of the Soviet.

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Above: Alexander Kerensky (1881 – 1970)

Bestriding both camps, Kerensky´s power was enormous.

The Committee had the better claim to government, but the members knew that in this Revolution they could only lead where Kerensky was willing to follow.

For the members of the Soviet, the Executive Committee represented the enemy: the old order of capitalists, the bourgeoise and the aristocracy.

At the same time, the Soviet had the sense to know that they were in no position to form a “people´s government” as their authority did not extend beyond the capital.

They had few if any among them the experience to act as Ministers.

There had to be a deal.

For the Duma men that meant securing the Tsar´s abdication while preserving the monarchy itself.

Nicholas would be replaced by his lawful successor, his son Alexis, with Nicholas´ younger brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich as regent.

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Above: Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878 – 1918)

Michael was a war hero, a cavalry commander holding Russia´s two highest battlefield awards, and he was known to be sympathetic to constitutional monarchy on the British lines.

The army held him in high regard and he would also be a popular choice in the Duma where he was widely trusted and respected.

But Nicholas had first to be compelled to give up the throne.

Trundling across Russia in his train, Nicholas had, as yet, no idea what would be demanded of him.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 October 2017

When I view recent events regarding the Kurds and the Catalonians, I realise that here too, a century after the Russian Revolution…..

There has to be a deal.

But much like Nicholas on the train….

I have, as yet, no idea what will be demanded.

Above: Gathering in Zarautz, Basque Country, in support of Catalonian independence

Sources: Wikipedia / Steve Bloomfield (editor), How to Make a Nation / Tony Brenton, Historically Inevitable?: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the High Road to Anarchy

Landschalacht, Switzerland, 7 September 2017

Six nights ago the world was shocked and saddened when a lone gunman in a hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Resort and Casino on Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada, shot into a crowd of more than 20,000 people, killing 60 and injuring hundreds.

The world has learned that the suspect, Stephen Paddock, was armed with at least 23 firearms, including long distance rifles used by the American military for the last half-century.

What we know – and I don´t want to give this monster more attention than he deserves – about Paddock was that he was a professional gambler, a real estate investor, a pilot and plane owner, a former employee of Lockheed Martin (a military contractor), a retired accountant and twice divorced.

Invading his home, police have discovered Paddock had a cache of over 63 weapons.

In plain and simple language, a civilian was armed with military grade firearms.

Those bearing arms in the US armed forces are analysed and supervised.

Civilian gun-owners in the US….

Not so much.

Thus there is a real danger that civilians will – unsupervised – acquire a stockpile of weaponry and that the unbalanced among them will use them.

And as events in Vegas and many other locations prior to Sunday night´s massacre have proven….

It is almost impossible to determine what will trigger these civilians to become unbalanced and unleash the unthinkable upon the unknowing.

Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually.

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In an average year in America there are over 10,000 homicides, 20,000 suicides and 500 accidental deaths caused by civilian-owned firearms.

Over 1.5 million people in the US have been killed using firearms since 1968, equivalent to the population of a large American city.

Globally, it is estimated that there are over 875 million small arms in the hands of civilians, law enforcement agencies and armed forces.

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Of these, 75% are held by civilians.

US civilians account for over 270 million of this total.

The United States and Yemen are distinct from many other countries in that they consider civilian gun ownership as a right.

In most countries, civilian firearm ownership is considered a privilege because the legislation governing possession of firearms is more restrictive.

Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Eritrea, Somalia, the Solomon Islands and Taiwan prohibit civilian ownership of firearms in almost all instances.

In America it has been shown that the states with the strictest gun laws have lower homicide and suicide rates than those with the least restrictive gun laws.

States without universal background checks or waiting period laws have steeper homicide and suicide rates than do states with these laws.

But, of course, for every study proving that gun control does work, somehow studies emerge that gun control doesn´t work.

And the mindset in America is so pro-gun ownership that an American philosophy Professor Michael Huemer argues that gun control is morally wrong, because individuals have a right to own a gun for self defence and recreation!

In my homeland of Canada, rifles and shotguns are relatively easy to obtain, while handguns and semi-automatic weapons are not.

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So, though our gun laws may not have significantly reduced gun violence or firearm suicide rates, the ability and the frequency to murder masses of people at one time is significantly lower than our counterparts south of the border.

Gun control laws enacted in Australia, following mass shootings, have shown a dramatic decline in overall firearm-related deaths, especially suicides.

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Gun control laws passed in Austria, Brazil, New Zealand, Israel, Switzerland, Norway, South Africa and Colombia have all shown a resulting reduction in homicide and suicide rates.

The effectiveness and safety of guns used for personal defence is usually the argument given by gun ownership advocates.

Yet it seems in the US, out of 1,000 criminal incidents, guns are used for self defence in less than 1% of the time.

In most cases, the potential victim never fired a shot.

What is certain is that the likelihood that a death will result is significantly increased when either the victim or the attacker has a firearm.

Every year in America there are over 19,000 firearm-related suicides.

It has been shown that individuals living in a home where firearms are present are more likely to commit suicide than those who do not own firearms, because firearms are the most lethal method of suicide.

Every year on average there are over 10,000 firearm-related homicides in America, 75% of them using handguns.

The US has one of the highest incidence rates of homicides committed with a firearm in the world.

Of the victims of gun homicide in America, 55% of them are African Americans.

Of the white homicide victims, 84% are killed by white offenders.

Of the black homicide victims, 93% are killed by black offenders.

In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings and over 30,000 deaths due to firearms in the US, while, by comparison there were only 50 deaths due to firearms in the UK.

(A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot dead in a public place.)

The rate of deadly mass shootings in the US keeps increasing every year.

Sadly, unbalanced individuals can become infected by the attention given other disturbed people who have become mass killers, resulting in more mass killing.

More people are typically killed with guns in the US in a day (on average, 85) than are killed in the UK in a year.

In the US, areas with higher levels of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun assault and gun robbery.

At least 11 assassination attempts with firearms have been made on US Presidents: four were successful (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy).

Above: The assassination of President William McKinley, 1901

And throughout history, gun violence has played a major role in civil disorder.

But, let me be fair….

Most gun owners are not criminals and purchase guns to prevent violence, rather than for recreational use.

Debate over gun control remains a heated and controversial issue in America.

Firearms regulations are sets of laws or policies that regulate the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, modification and use of firearms by civilians.

Much, albeit necessary, focus has been on the possession, modification and use of firearms.

Personally, I think there needs to be more focus and more restrictions on the manufacture, sale and transfer of firearms as well.

The fewer guns produced, the fewer guns can be purchased, legally or illegally.

If manufacturers are restricted to selling arms only to the military and the law enforcement community and private selling of arms to the public are reduced while the private purchase of arms is made prohibitively expensive throughout heavy taxation, then might the production and availability of new armament to the general public be reduced.

As for existing guns, limit ownership to one weapon, buy back or seize (should the gun owner refuse to sell) the remaining weapons and destroy them.

My argument is if the purpose of purchasing a firearm is recreation or self-protection, only one firearm is necessary.

If the purpose of owning a firearm is recreation or self-protection, then, like Canada, let that ownership be restricted to rifles and shotguns, banning the future purchase of handguns and semi-automatics.

As for the illegal purchase and sale of firearms, let the penalties be so harsh as to actively discourage the practice.

Those who read these words may accuse me of being a “gun grabber”.

They are right.

With great power comes great responsibilty.

Owning a gun is a great power – the power to end another person´s life.

Quite frankly, there are far too many civilians who don´t act responsibly, and though there are indeed many who do, it only takes a few to cause carnage as was witnessed on Sunday night in Paradise, Nevada.

And….

Enough with “thoughts and prayers”.

Offering condolences after a public tragedy, manmade or natural, is a poor substitute for preventing or preparing for these tragedies.

There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?

Can that faith save him?

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them:

“Go in peace, be warmed and filled.”,

….without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2: 14 – 16, The Holy Bible)

(Donald Trump, regarding Puerto Rico, take note.)

As well, we need to learn from history that shows just how irresponsible civilians can be once they get their hands on a firearm.

 

Petrograd (today´s St. Petersburg), Russia, Monday 27 February 1917

Events took a decisive turn in the early hours of the day, when the army, as many had predicted, began mutinying.

At 3 am, following the previous day´s example of the Pavlovsky rebels, the soldiers of the Volynsky Regiment´s barracks near the junction of the Moika River and the Ekaterininsky Canal, some of whom had been ordered to fire on the crowds on Sunday, decided to mutiny.

When the soldiers lined up for duty, some of them turned on their commanding officer and shot him dead.

They were unable, however, to persuade the rest of the Regiment to join them, so they headed off to incite other regiments, picking up a rabble of civilian supporters along the way.

They gathered at the Liteiny Bridge and headed to the depot battalion of the Preobrazhensky and Lithuanian Regiments as well as the 6th Engineer Battalion.

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Above: Liteiny Bridge, today

Most of them soon joined the Volynsky rebels – with the Engineer Battalion even bringing their marching band – and, by the end of the day, would kill the commanders of a battalion of the Preobrazhensky and a battalion of the Volynsky as well as numerous other officers.

In those first few hours most of the rebellious soldiers were disorientated and numbed by the spontaneous decision they had made.

They had no sense of where to go or what to do, other than get other regiments to join them.

Such was the euphoria among the rebellious troops that many simply walked around shouting, cheering and arguing amongst themselves “like schoolboys broken out of school”.

Leadership of this motley mob of soldiers and civilians devolved into acts of sudden bravado or rabble-rousing on street corners, but they quickly realised that they needed to arm themselves.

It was a huge shock to Meriel Buchanan, daughter of the British Ambassador, arriving back in Petrograd at 8 o´clock that morning from a visit with friends in the country, to find there were no trams or carriages to transport her and her luggage back to the Embassy.

She was forcibly struck by how Petrograd had changed in her absence:

“In the bleak, gray light of the early morning the town looked inexpressibly desolate and deserted, the bare, ugly street leading up from the station, with the dirty white stucco houses on either side, seemed, after the snow-white peace of the country, somehow the very acme of dreariness.”

At 10 am, with Meriel Buchanan shut up and forbidden to leave the Embassy, the rebel group descended on the Old Arsenal at the top of the Liteiny, which housed both the Artillery Department and a small arms factory.

Above: Liteiny Prospekt, today

In a mad frenzy, they smashed in the Arsenal´s ground floor door and windows and looted rifles, revolvers, swords, daggers, ammunition and machine guns.

Around 11 am, they turned their attention to the hated symbols of tsarism – the nearby District Court and the Palace of Justice, together with an adjoining remand prison.

The prison was burst open, the inmates set free and handed weapons, and the prison set on fire.

The District Court was torched, thus destroying all the criminal records of all the freed convicts as well as valuable historical archives dating back to the reign of Catherine the Great (1762 – 1796).

American photographer Donald Thompson watched the violence on the Liteiny when suddenly he himself was arrested and hauled off to the police station.

He showed the police his American press pass, but he was locked in a suffocating small cell with 20 other people.

The mob broke into the police station, smashed the lock to his cell and suddenly people threw their arms around him and kissed him, telling him he was free.

In the front office, as Thompson made his way out, he “found a sight beyond description”: “women were down on their knees hacking the bodies of the police to pieces”.

He saw one woman “trying to tear somebody´s face off with her bare fingers”.

The Liteiny quarter was now a scene of “indescribable confusion”, ablaze from the fires at the District Court and the Palace of Justice, the air thick with the crackle of random shooting. (French diplomat Louis de Robien)

An abandoned, overturned tram was being used as a platform from which a succession of speakers attempted to harangue the mob, but “it was impossible to make heads or tails of the disorderly ebb and flow of all these panic-stricken people running in every direction.” (Louis de Robien)

When a group of still-loyal Senonovsky Regiment soldiers arrived, there was a pitched battle between them and a company of Volynsky mutineers – watched by groups of civilians huddled into side passages and doorways, many of them women and children tempted out by “the spirit of curiosity”, and who took enormous risks, “walking out calmly under a lively fire to drag back the wounded”. (Louis de Robien)

The wounded were carried off as fast as they fell, leaving behind “long trails of fresh blood” in the snow. (US Special Attaché James Houghteling)

In between bouts of fighting, civilians scuttled back and forth across the Liteiny, intent on carrying on shopping as normal, even lining up outisde the bakeries and dispersing only when they heard machine gunfire.

To many of the bewildered civilian population, the events swirling around them were unreal, “as though they were watching some melodrama in one of the cinemas.” (James Houghteling)

Such was the abandon with which weapons looted from army barracks, the arsenal, prisons and police stations were handed out to everyone.

Crowds of civilians, workers and soldiers were soon parading round gleefully, brandishing their weapons and firing them off at random.

“Here….a hooligan with an officer´s sword fastened over his overcoat, a rifle in one hand and revolver in the other.

There….a small boy with a large butcher´s knife on his shoulder.

Close by, a workman….holding an officer´s sword with one hand and a tramline cleaner in the other.

A student with two rifles and a belt of machine gun bullets around his waist was walking beside another with a bayonet tied to the end of a stick.

A drunken soldier had only the barrel of a rifle remaining, the stock having been broken off in forcing an entry into some shop.” (British engineer James Jones)

There was no safe haven for any officers seen walking the streets that day who did not immediately surrender their weapons when challenged.

By midday the rabble of weapon-toting civilians in and around the Liteiny had been joined by 25,000 soldiers from the Volynsky, Preobrazhensky, Litovsky, Keksgolmsky and Sapper Regiments.

The dense crowd jammed the street for a quarter of a mile, “carried on by its own faith in itself”. (Arno Dosch-Fleurot, New York World)

Everywhere, amidst the mighty roar of revolutionary excitement, the singing and cheering and shouting, the fighting colour of scarlet was in evidence – in crude revolutionary banners, in rosettes and armbands and in red ribbons tied to the barrels of rifles.

Throughout that terrifying day in Petrograd many observers became alarmed by the anarchy and violence of the mob.

This was no benign revolution, but rather “like watching some savage beast that had broken out of its cage”. (US entrepreneur Negley Farson)

Hardened criminals, bestialised by brutal prison conditions, yet released by the mob from prisons across Petrograd, proceeded to incite the crowds to violence, arson and mass looting.

It was dangerous for any foreign national to venture into the streets without wearing some token of sympathy with the Revolution – a red ribbon or an armband of some kind.

“It was a very easy time in which to be killed.” (Isaac Marcosson, Everybody´s Magazine)

Foreigners were constantly being stopped and challenged on the streets for being policemen or spies.

Some were killed if they could not produce proof of identity quickly enough.

That day “anybody could have a gun for the asking”. (James Jones)

With so many untrained and inexperienced people now in possession of them and not “having a care as to which way the gun was pointing when they tried it out for the first time“, indiscriminate firing led to many innocent bystanders being killed and wounded. (James Stinton Jones)

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All day long, people – mixed casualities of soldiers and civilians – flocked into hospitals from the streets, trying to escape the shooting.

A long overdue day of reckoning had arrived, as popular hatred was visited, with a savage vengeance, on the police.

During this February Revolution of 1917, there were far too many incidental acts of murder of policemen for any reliable record ever to have been taken of the numbers killed.

Nobody was immune to the experience of such savagery.

By late evening 66,700 men of the Imperial Army in Petrograd had mutinied.

Revolutionaries were now in charge of the whole city, except the Winter Palace, the Admirality and the General Staff – still guarded by loyal troops, as were the telephone exchange and the telegraph office.

Above: The Winter Palace, today

The whole day had been “a Revolution carried on by chance – no Organisation, no particular leader, just a city full of hungry people who had stood enough and were ready to die if necessary before they would put up with any more tsarism”. (US aviator Bert Hall)

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Above: The storming of the Bastille Prison, Paris, 14 July 1789

These events bring to mind the French Revolution of 1789 and Charles Dickens´ A Tale of Two Cities.

“Petrograd was flaring like the set piece of a colossal firework display.” (Canadian William J. Gibson)

“The prisons were opened, the workmen were armed, the soldiers were without officers, a Soviet (worker´s council) was being set up in opposition to the Temporary Committee (formed by the Duma´s moderate and liberal members) chosen from the elected representatives of the people.”

Petrograd “was already on the high road to anarchy”.

(UK Military Attaché Major-General Alfred Knox)

Above: A scene of anarchy, Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648)

As I have previously written, revolution or civil war is highly unlikely in America as there is great lack of cohesion amongst its citizens.

But should American citizens ever get it into their heads to revolt, their 270 million guns could create one hell of a state of anarchy and destruction.

I hope that day never comes, but a failure to address the problem of an overproliferation of guns is perhaps tempting fate one time too many.

Is it only a century that separates Paradise from Petrograd?

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Above: Edvard Munch´s The Scream

Sources: Wikipedia / Helen Rappaport, Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917

 

Canada Slim and Our Lady of St. Petersburg

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 September 2017

It has been a hard year for my heart in my dual roles of teacher and barista.

In the former role, I have been disappointed that my preferred profession of choice, teaching, has sadly not been as busy lately as I might have hoped.

In the latter, I have been saddened by the grim reality that the gastronomy industry has always had lots of personnel turnover.

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Above: The Starbucks logo

In plainer language, I keep having to say good bye to colleagues whom I love.

I have had to say good bye to Anna, a lovely multilingual young lady, and Ricarda, so sensitive and shy, for reasons of health.

Some have left for love, like Katja, Vanessa and Alanna bringing new life into this old world.

Some have left for better work opportunities, like Bryan, Kasia, Ricardo, Natalie, Valentina, Anne Catherine and Coco.

Some have returned to their homelands, like the aforementioned Bryan of Newcastle, Julia of Poland and Natan of Italy.

And though I have warmly welcomed into the fold new Partners, like Sukako of Japan and Michaela of Sweden, and I am truly happy that partners like Volkan, Roger, Jackie, Pedro, Eden, Dino, David, Alicia, Nesha, Christa and Rosio still remain, my poor old heart still has trouble letting go of those partners who leave us behind.

(And apologies to those whose names have been forgotten at this time of writing.)

Tonight we say good bye to yet another partner whose departure affects me in ways complicated to express, for Lyudmila of St. Petersburg, Russia, a place that is prominent in my latest blog posts, will move next week to Canada, my homeland, to live in Annapolis Royal, Canada´s oldest town and where my walking adventures across Canada ended.

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Above: Seaward view from Annapolis Royal

(My tale of Annapolis Royal and the end of my walking adventures in Canada will be told, God willing, at another time.)

Lyudmila is a very open and caring woman.

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Her husband is clearly a very fortunate man, for Lyudmila´s outer beauty is only diminished by her amazing inner beauty of imagination, passion and compassion.

Her spirit is as bright as summer midnight in Siberia, her tenderness towards others makes her as huggable as a soft teddy bear and her red hair, as crimson as the old Soviet flag, blazes and brands a memory in every man´s mind.

Sadly I did not work that often with Lyudmila as she was mostly at Starbuck´s Arena store and I remained mostly at the other two St. Gallen locations, the Bahnhof and Marktgasse.

Yet despite this, we were always delighted to see one another and the warmth between us was real and open.

I will miss her.

How ironic it is that her new home will be in my homeland.

How ironic that she is beginning a new life where I left an old one behind.

How far she has travelled from her old home in St. Petersburg.

I have an odd hobby.

When I meet a partner whose homeland I have never visited I buy a guidebook to their countries and plan a visit there.

My home library, for example, contains guidebooks of places never visited, yet because of the warm feeling that the partners from these countries give me I know that one day I will visit Valentina and Nesha´s Serbia, Vanessa´s Macedonia, Julia and Kashia´s Poland, Pedro and Natalie´s Brazil, Alicia´s Nepal, Eden´s Ethiopia and now Lyudmila´s Russia.

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Landschlacht, 24 September 2017

There were a combination of factors that diminished the bittersweet good bye party I had unconsciously wished for last night:

A head cold (Nothing worse than a man´s cold, ladies!),

Fatigue (I have been doing A LOT of extra hours at Starbucks because of a shortage of personnel at present, including a double shift earlier today.),

Location (We all met inside the basement restaurant Tres Amigos, which was hot, crowded and noisy.),

Numbers (Too many people had been invited, making conversations, at a level more than superficial, impossible.) and…

Age (I truly felt like an old man last night since so many of those invited were either significantly younger than me or were much better at faking a youthful spirit than I was.).

I have over the past few months stopped colouring my hair and have let nature show my age with silver hair and balding pate, and last night my age showed.

I felt shy and awkward and three pina coladas didn´t help.

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But the party wasn´t about me nor should it have been.

It was a farewell party for a beloved and lovely colleague.

And it was nice to see colleagues I don´t see that often.

And seeing the ladies all fancied up, wearing make-up and colourful clothing, made my eyes delighted with the images they presented.

And I lost in the comparison amongst the men, for I had unwisely changed into a shirt that exposed a middle-aged belly and the zipper on my pants chose yesterday of all days to break.

Plus it must be said that youthful bearded men, full of vim and vigour like Volkan and Dino, always have a distinct advantage over me in the attractiveness factor.

Had I been trying to attract one of the ladies last night, I was a drooping daisy that could not compete with all the bright sunflowers around me!

But enough about me and my self pity.

Lyudmila looked lovely and excited about the new life she will begin next week.

Since I have known of her impending departure, I have often thought of how far a road she has travelled from St. Petersburg to Annapolis Royal via St. Gallen.

I wish I had had the opportunity to have spoken to her about her life and the journey that her life had taken her, but, despite our mutual liking of one another, ours was never a relationship that was as close as one she shared with the girl friends she worked with at Starbucks.

I have lived in both Canada and Switzerland, but I have never had the opportunity to visit Russia.

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And my only exposure to Russians I have had has been with Lyudmila in St. Gallen and the Russian women I met during my days in South Korea.

My knowledge of Russia has been limited to what I have read and the biased media coverage that the Western media provides us.

I am surprised to discover how few books I own in regards to Russia and the media leaves me with the notion, without direct experience or proof, that all Russian leaders in my lifetime have been men of questionable morality, that Russia is a bleak and cold desolate land, and that Russians are humourless bullies obsessed with the notion of the Russian soul.

It is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and its connection to Switzerland has compelled me into trying to discover the truth, as best as I can, about Russia past and present.

What must it have been like to grow up in St. Petersburg?

Above: Pictures of St. Petersburg: St. Isaac´s Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress, Senate Square horseman, Trinity Cathedral, Peterhof Palace, the Winter Palace.

Originally founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as “Russia´s Window to Europe”, St. Petersburg was constructed on swampland by thousands of serfs, many of whom perished, their bones laying the city´s foundations.

St. Petersburg became the capital of Russia in 1712 and remained so until 1918.

The city´s name was changed to the more Russian-sounding Petrograd in 1914, then to Leningrad in 1924., after the death of Vladimir Lenin.

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

Its original name was restored following the collapse of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991.

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Above: Flag of the Soviet Union / USSR (1922 – 1991)

St. Petersburg is a name suggesting great literature.

Alexander Pushkin was the first writer to explore the rich potential of the Russian language as spoken by the common people.

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Above: Russian poet/playwright/novelist Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)

His masterpiece is Evgeniy Onegin, a novel set in verse form.

Nikolai Gogol, although a Ukranian by birth, a huge amount of his striking original work is set in St. Petersburg, including The Nose and The Overcoat.

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Above: Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the author of some of the world´s most profound literature, such as Crime and Punishment, spent much of his life in St. Petersburg, where in 1849 he was subjected to a mock execution for “revolutionary activities” – a trauma which affected him the rest of his days.

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Above: Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

Osip Mandelstam, the author of symbolic taut poetry, in 1933, composed a poem about Stalin in which he wrote that the dictator´s “fingers were as fat as grubs” and that he possessed “cockroach whiskers”.

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Above: Russian Poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)

This poem ultimately led to Mandelstam´s death and became known as the “16-line death sentence.”

Daniil Kharms wrote some of the strangest and most original Russian literature, which was suppressed by Stalin due to its downright oddness rather than any overt political message.

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Above: Russian writer Daniil Kharms (1905-1942)

Kharms starved to death in the WW2 siege of the city.

Andrey Bely, although Moscow-born, reached the pinnacle of his career with his symbolist masterpiece Petersburg, a choatic, prophetic novel that has been favourably compared to the works of Irish writer James Joyce.

Above: Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev, aka Andrey Bely (1880-1934)

Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg and grew up trilingual speaking Russian, English and French.

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Above: Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)

His family moved to Europe in 1918 and Nabokov wrote many of his novels in English, including his best known work, Lolita.

Joseph Brodsky won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, after leaving the Soviet Union in 1972 after his works were attacked by the authorities.

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Above. Russian writer Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

The poetess Anna Akhmatova, branded a “half-harlot, half-nun” by Soviet authorities, wrote Requiem, her tragic masterpiece about the terrifying Stalin years, which was banned in the USSR until 1989.

Akhmatova in 1922 (Portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin)

Above: Anna Andreyevna Govenko, aka Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

Alexander Blok developed complex poetic symbols, especially in his most controversial work The Twelve, which likens Bolshevik soldiers to Christ´s Apostles.

Above: Russian poet Alexander Blok (1880-1921)

Many films have been set in St. Petersburg, with the most familiar to the West probably being Golden Eye, wherein James Bond (007)(played by actor Pierce Brosnan) carries out a daring raid involving the Russian Mafia.

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Above: Poster for 1995 film Golden Eye

The 1990s in which Golden Eye was filmed and set, a criminal class had sprung up, willing and able to do anything to build up fortunes, earning St. Petersburg the reputation as “the Crime Capital of Russia”.

Clearly St. Petersburg is quite inspirational.

 

Landschlacht, 25 September 2017

To get from the platform where I disembark in St. Gallen to the Starbucks where I usually work in the city centre on Marktgasse, I normally stop on Platform 1 and chat with the Starbucks Bahnhof personnel who happen to be working at the time.

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Yesterday I had the late shift (1500 – closing).

On duty at the Bahnhof were Lyudmila and Sukako.

How typical of Starbucks to work a Partner right up to her departure day!

(Lyudmila flies to Canada on Thursday.)

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How interesting to see a Russian and a Japanese working harmoniously together when only a little over a century ago their countries were mortal enemies.

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

I call Sukako privately “Suzi Q” (reminiscient of the old Creedance Clearwater Revival (CCR) song) and publicly “Tampopo”(“Butterfly”)(from the only Japanese movie I never forgot).

I showed Lyudmila my old second hand copy of a St. Petersburg guide book I had brought with me and she nostalgically pointed out where in downtown St. Petersburg she once lived.

She smiled and said she tries to visit St. Petersburg at least twice a year if she can and told me she still has many friends and family members there.

Knowing someone like Lyudmila makes me wonder just how wrong the images I have of Russia and Russians might be.

Perhaps I make the same mistake about Russia as many people do about America: judging the country by the leadership.

An ancient habit carried over from the days when kings and queens were their countries as theirs was the only authority, yet this is a habit that just won´t fade away quietly.

We shouldn´t judge Russia by the only Russian most people have heard of: Vladimir Putin.

Nor should we judge America by the American most people wish they had never heard of: Donald Trump.

I am reminded of the old song “Russians” by Sting where the listener is reminded that “the Russians love their children too”.

Lyudmila warmly encouraged me to visit St. Petersburg one day and my reading about it does make the city seem attractive.

From the pre-revolutionary grandeur of the Hermitage (the former residence of the tsars and now home to art collected from around the world) and the Mariinskiy Theatre (Russia is famous for its ballet and opera.) to the unavoidable reminders of the Soviet period, St. Petersburg promises to be a city where eras and architectural styles collide.

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Above: The Hermitage Museum, formerly the Winter Palace

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Above: The Mariinskiy Theatre

Blessed with some of the world´s most magnificent skylines and known throughout Russia as “the Venice of the North”, Russia´s second city is a place of wonder and enigma, of white summer nights and long. freezing winters.

And it seems one could easily spend a week, or a lifetime, discovering the city.

Nevskiy Prospekt, the cultural heart of the city, is home to many of St. Petersburg´s top sights, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.

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Above: Winter on Nevskiy Prospekt

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Above: Kazan Cathedral

A stroll along Nevskiy Prospekt is a journey through time, from tsarist-era splendours to the cafés and chic boutiques of modern day St. Petersburg.

Immortalised in literature, this 4.5 km/3-mile stretch has been the hub of the city´s social life since the 18th century.

If in Europe all roads lead to Rome, then in St. Petersburg all roads converge on Nevskiy Prospekt.

Just off Nevskiy Prospekt, the Church on Spilled Blood, built as a memorial to Tsar Alexander II in 1881 on the site of his execution, is a kaleidoscope of wondrous colourful mosaics and icons.

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Above: The Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Ground

The Russian Museum is an exclusively Russian affair, collecting only works made by Russians.

Above: The Russian Museum in the former Mikhailovsky Palace

The history of St. Petersburg dates from the founding of the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1703, originally intended to defend the city against Swedish invaders, it contains a magnificent cathedral, dark and damp cells, a popular beach(!) and fine examples of Baroque architecture and much like the city itself, much like Russia herself, the Fortress is a contradictory wonder that simultaneously exhilarates the spirit and chills the bones.

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Above: The Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island on the Neva River

And these abovementioned half-dozen sites are just the tiniest sample of all there is to see and do in St. Petersburg.

(I have never been to Russia´s second city, but I have been to its Floridan namesake, which is another adventure that I will share with you, my gentle readers, at a later time.)

Much of what is Russian history happened in St. Petersburg.

To understand the Russia of today, I believe one needs to understand how Russia got to where she is now.

I have previously spoken of the founding of St. Petersburg, “Bloody Sunday” 9 January 1905, the dawn of the February Revolution of 1917, the 900-day WW2 siege of the city when author Daniil Kharms perished from starvation, and the criminal 1990s.

But St. Petersburg is more than these events…

It has seen its share of powerful political figures….

Peter the Great, the driving force behind the city, ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725.

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Above: Russian Tsar Peter the Great (1672 – 1725)

Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, was killed by the Bolsheviks following the October Revolution of 1917.

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Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Gregori Rasputin was a peasant mystic whose scandalous lifestyle helped discredit Tsar Nicholas II´s rule.

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Above: Gregori Rasputin (1869 – 1918)

St. Petersburg was home to Mikhail Bakunin, a revolutionary involved in insurrections all over Europe and is generally considered to be “the father of modern anarchism”.

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Above: Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814 – 1876)

Lenin returned to Russia and St. Petersburg to become the leader of the October/Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union´s first head.

Soviet revolutionary Sergey Kirov´s assassination would mark the beginning of a series of bloody purges in the 1930s.

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Above: Bolshevik politician Sergey Kirov (1886 – 1934)

Anatoly Sobchak would become St. Petersburg´s first democratically elected Mayor in 1991.

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Above: Anatoly Sobchak (1937 – 2000), St. Petersburg Mayor (1991-1996)

Galina Starovoitova (1946 – 1998), a politician known for her democratic principles and assassinated in 1998, would have a funeral attended by thousands of Russian mourners.

Above: Burial site of Galina Starovoitova, Nikolskoye Cemetery, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St. Petersburg

Valentina Matvienko, the Governor of St. Petersburg,  remains a rare female figure in male-dominated Russian politics.

St. Petersburg native and former KGB head Vladimir Putin, who rose to power as Acting President on New Year´s Eve 1999, remains Russia´s dominant leader who has overseen the country´s economic growth while simultaneously cracking down on press freedom and repressing dissent to his rule wherever it may arise.

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Above: Vladimir Putin (born 1952), President of Russia since 2012

But once again we need to remind ourselves that the leadership of a place does not mean that all of its people resemble those leaders.

I would like to think that Lyudmila is perhaps a truer representative, a better ambassador, to the wonder of St. Petersburg and the potential of Russia than Putin or his ilk could ever be.

Sadly, like many things in life, it has taken her departure for me to truly appreciate who Lyudmila is and what she represents to me.

Though it was the commemoration of the Russian Revolution in Swiss museums this year that has evoked curiosity within me about Russia and its relationship with Switzerland, my present country of residence, I am now inspired by Lyudmila to research, and hopefully one day visit, Russia.

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Above: Flag of Switzerland

And maybe, one day, Lyudmila and her husband along with my wife and I will share coffee together on Nevskiy Prospekt, with Lyudmila having an understanding of my homeland and I with a greater understanding of hers.

I still have hope.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Marc Bennetts, Top Ten St. Petersburg, Dorling & Kindersley Eyewitness Travel, 2008

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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