Saturday, March 22, 2003
Good stuff in today's Guardian
First, Richard Dawkins editorial:
Bin Laden's victory
The population of the US is nearly 300 million, including many of the best educated, most talented, most resourceful, humane people on earth. By almost any measure of civilised attainment, from Nobel prize-counts on down, the US leads the world by miles. You would think that a country with such resources, and such a field of talent, would be able to elect a leader of the highest quality. Yet, what has happened? At the end of all the primaries and party caucuses, the speeches and the televised debates, after a year or more of non-stop electioneering bustle, who, out of that entire population of 300 million, emerges at the top of the heap? George Bush.
I've got my issues with Dawkins, but not on this matter. Go man, go!
And did anybody know that Slovenia was holding a referendum on joining NATO tomorrow?
Slovenia split in run-up to Nato referendum
President Janez Drnovsek pledged this week that Slovenia would have no part in the war in Iraq, assuaging popular anxiety that joining Nato would mean having to follow US orders.
Slovenia is also holding its referendum on EU membership at the same time. The EU part is near certain to pass - it's polling around 80% yes - but what if Slovenia decides to join the EU and blows off NATO? That would be yet another blow to America and the UK, and a win for France and Germany.
Out of Friesia
(Read Part 1, 2.)
I feel that at this point I should provide some background information about Mennonites, and how they came to be in Russia. If I had Grandpa's library on hand, this would be a piece of cake. He had dozens of books on Mennonite history and culture. However, his books are in Canada, in his last house, and I am seven time zones east of them.
I am therefore warning you: I'm working mostly from memory and this is not a complete history. It's probably not fully accurate, it's not very serious, and it should be treated in the same category of historiography as that capsule history of America in the middle of Bowling for Columbine.
It all starts in the Reformation.
Menno Simons was born in 1492 in Friesia and was a religious radical. He went beyond the teachings of other Protestants to claim that baptism and communion did not bestow God's grace on people. He was the major - although not the only - figure in a movement called the "Anabaptists", so named because they rejected baptism as the road to salvation. His followers were primarily in the Low Countries - Friesia, Holland and Limburg especially - and in Switzerland and southern Germany.
They had a number of doctrines that were unique at the time. They rejected the legitimacy of the state and of monarchies. They rejected police and courts, and renounced violence altogether, refusing to go to war or to support executions. They felt that Christians should resolve their disputes in a Christian way, through the community and the church.
They were sort of medieval libertarian-socialists, living in their own communities apart from the rest of the world, handling their affairs internally and using shunning and banning as their only punishments. They did not view themselves as Protestants or Catholics, but as a sort of "third way." This - for obvious reasons - did not endear them to local government during the devastating religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries and Anabaptists spent most of that time trying not to get killed.
To escape this violence, many of the Swiss and Swabian Anabaptists went to America as did so many other German refugees, settling first in the area now known as Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This group included the Anabaptist Brethren, who later became Quakers and other groups; the Amish, who are relatively well known in the US; and the Mennonites who now live across much of Pennsylvania and the midwest.
There, they became involved in various peace movements, the anti-slavery campaigns, and the organisations their biological and ideological descendants founded over the years continue to play a role in American political life. I don't doubt many Anabaptist organisations participated in the recent anti-war marches.
The other group - the Low Country Mennonites - have a somewhat different history. Mennonites, for all their rejection of Calvinist doctrine, were known as an industrious bunch. In the mid-16th century, the various big-wigs of what is now northern Poland encouraged them to move to into the swampy and unproductive land of the Vistula River delta, where it was hoped they would be good little Hollanders and drain the swamps to produce useable farmland. They were only permitted in Catholic Poland under restricted conditions. They could not leave their reserves and convert the local population, although quite a few Poles wandered in over the years, leaving much sperm and a few common Mennonite last names like "Sawatzky."
The Vistula Delta
They were also free of regular taxation and military service, and were for the most part left to their own devices. It is in Poland that the Dutch Mennonite language developed - a sort of creole of Friesian, Limburgish Lower Saxon, north Holland dialects and the German used in church and in interactions with outsiders. Like all good libertarians, freedom from the clutches of the state - in order to sustain their own rather illiberal ways - became a major part of the Mennonite lifestyle.
This arrangement with the Polish nobility lasted until the mid-18th century. The first partition of Poland in 1772 made the Vistula delta Prussian territory. Mennonite doctrine - pacifism, piety, segregation and tax-free living - were not very compatible with the Prussian way of doing things. Things weren't looking good for the Dutch Mennonites.
It is with the accession of Catherine the Great to the Russian throne that things start to change. Catherine II - a German princess who married into the Romanovs and is generally believed to have been complicit in the removal of her unpopular and possibly insane husband - expanded Russia's borders and pressed for the modernisation of the state. To this end, she invited many thousands of Germans to settle Russia's immense and largely empty territory, bringing with them industry, culture and hopefully a tax base. Catherine the Great is credited with many things, but one thing that is often forgotten is that she was the first to try to modernise a country by providing internationals with tax vacations.
Catherine the Great
There is, in fact, an English translation of her offer to foreigners on the web over here.
For the Dutch - now Prussian - Mennonites, this was a dream come true, and over the course of the following century, most of them took her up on her offer, especially after she explicitly exempted them from military service, then and forever. Only a handful remained in Prussia, ending up living in Germany after 1870. There were still a number of Mennonites in the Vistula delta in 1945 when they were expelled after the Oder-Neisse line became the East German border.
In Russia, they thrived in their fertile, tax-free enclaves in Ukraine. They - along with the other Russian Germans - built much of Russia's heavy industry. However, any deal that good could never last, and it didn't. Alexander III - starting in the 1860's - began requiring all schools in Russia to use Russian and began raising taxes on foreigners. For a lot of Mennonites, this interference was the writing on the wall and a search for some new tax-haven began. At this point, yet another remote political event offered the Russian Mennonites a new land to settle.
Our story now shifts 8000km to the east, where we have to briefly talk about Louis Riel. Riel was - until fairly recently - regarded much as Americans regard Benedict Arnold: a traitor against his state, an insurrectionist, and a madman. In recent years, he has been rehabilitated, and made into something of an honorary "Father of Confederation" - the Canadian equivalent of the founding fathers, except we recognise that our country was founded by a bunch of politicians. Except for Louis Riel, a budding Ché Guevara born a century too soon.
In 1869, Riel started a rebellion in the Red River valley - the part of Canada now known as southern Manitoba. At the time, the area wasn't part of Canada, it was the territory of the Hudson Bay Company which enjoyed a semi-exclusive right to exploit and administer most of what is now Canada. The residents - mostly the descendants of French traders and aboriginal women known as Métis - did not appreciate a situation in which they were ruled by a board of directors living London. Louis Riel hoped to remedy this situation by taking control of the valley and negotiating self-rule of some form within the British Empire. He briefly established his independent state of Assiniboia in western Canada. The Canadian army put it down.
Canada in 1870, after the Riel Rebellion
Letting chartered corporations run physical territory was, by then, unfashionable in Great Britain and civil governments for colonies were all the rage. The lands of the Hudson Bay Company were turned over to Canada, giving it, with the exception of Newfoundland which only joined in 1949, its current borders.
But this only solved half the problem. French-Canadian nationalism existed even back then, and between Ontario and the Rockies, the French language and the Catholic church dominated the country. That was unacceptable. The French had rebelled once and inevitably would do so again. In 1885 Riel did just that, in a short lived rebellion in Saskatchewan. The US was expanding west, and looking lustfully at the undefended expanses of western Canada, and the Métis might decide they were better off under Washington than Ottawa.
This problem had arisen before in Canada. In the 1750's the British government had employed ethnic cleansing in Nova Scotia, incidentally founding Louisiana because that was where they sent the refugees. But the Peace of Paris at the end of the French and Indian war ensured the rights of French-Canadians, and ethnic cleansing was now also unfashionable. The only real option was to out-populate them. Fill the land with people loyal to the Queen (Victoria, that is) and turn the French and Métis into a minority in their own land.
The problem was that there was no readily available population to do so. Britain was industrialising. Standards of living were, in fits and spurts, rising. Transporting convicts was becoming passé as the Victorians reformed their prisons, and what transportation and emigration was taking place was mostly bound for Australia. For the British public, having to choose between the warm beaches of New South Wales and the frozen wastelands of Canada was a pretty easy choice.
So, who could they find who was foolish enough, stupid enough, or hard up enough to move to western Canada?
If Jeopardy had been played in Victorian London among the British diplomatic corps, and had Alex Trebek offered the answer "foolish, stupid and hard up" in the category of "International Affairs", the winning question would have been "What is Russia?" The "prison of nations" was teeming with inconvenient masses unloved by the central state.
Through a complex political deal between Russia and the United Kingdom, Russia's unwanted were encouraged to move to Canada, and thousands of Ukrainians, Germans, Poles, Finns, Doukhbours and some Russians themselves took them up on the offer. This emigration included many Mennonites, including my mother's grandfather, who came to Canada in 1876 when he was in his early 20's and is recognised as one of the founders of the small city of Steinbach, Manitoba.
Canada let the Mennonites have a deal not unlike the one they enjoyed in Russia. Two specific areas in Manitoba - in the middle of the pre-existing French communities of the Red River valley - were set aside for Mennonites and divided into quarter square mile sections, one per family. One was on the east side of the Red River, the other one the west. This geographic split resulted in a dialect difference in Mennonite Plautdietsch between the Mennonites who lived on one side and the ones who lived on the other. My mother refers to her dialect (from the east side) as ditzieda - "this-side-ish" - and calls the other dialect jonzieda - "that-side-ish." Unsurprisingly, the people from the west side of the river also call their dialect ditzieda and the other jonzieda.
After the Russian revolution, many of the Mennonites who had chosen to stay in Russia followed suit, coming to the prairies as refugees sponsored by the relatively wealthy Mennonites of Canada. That is where Grandpa re-enters this story, now a seven year old boy, with a family that no longer owns much of anything and wants to get out of the Soviet Union while there's still time.
(Next part by Sunday morning.)
Addendum: I should add that Mennonite migration didn't stop in Canada. In the late 1920's, Manitoba began forcing English-language public education on all its diverse ethnic communities. For many Mennonites, public education was the thin end of the wedge that would destroy their community and values. For them, it was Russia all over again.
So, they found new lands where their isolation could again be preserved, in Chihuahua, Mexico and the Chaco desert in Paraguay. Later, in the 50's and 60's, Mennonite colonisation expanded into Belize and Bolivia.
This unusually international scope to Mennonite demographics was brought home for me in a Mi Pueblo grocery store in Mountain View, California. There is a Russian Mennonite specialty cheese made in Manitoba called New Bothwell Cheddar. It really is an extraordinary cheese, but it's unavailable outside of western Canada.
At Mi Pueblo, I came across queso menonita chihuahua and bought some out of simple curiosity. It tasted a whole lot like New Bothwell.
Friday, March 21, 2003
Shock and Awe
From - I can't believe this - from the Washington Times (via Atrios):
Will Bush be impeached? Will he be called a war criminal? These are not hyperbolic questions. Mr. Bush has permitted a small cadre of neoconservatives to isolate him from world opinion, putting him at odds with the United Nations and America's allies.
Well, I'll be damned. I would never in a million years have believed that the Moonie Times could publish something like this. Have they been hacked? Has hell frozen over? Tabarnac!
Also, in less shocking news, take a look at this post at Electrolite and notice the difference between leadership and jackassery.
Resistance was stiffer than expected in Umm Qasr
U.S. Marines poured over the Kuwaiti border just after dawn heading for Umm Qasr, but were almost immediately pinned down in a two-hour firefight with Iraqi soldiers armed with machineguns and anti-tank rockets.
So much for quick and easy and so much for expecting very little resistance. I'd been wondering why so many of the wonks were pressing this "it may not be over overnight" stuff after so much of "we're so strong they'll just fold up without a fight."
US, Britain Race Into Iraq, See War Over Soon
But at Umm Qasr, [British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon] said Iraq was putting up "stern resistance." "The Iraqis are not simply giving up in the way that some commentators have suggested that they would. And our forces are fighting," he told British television.
No word on Basra. It looks like the Americans haven't made it that far yet. If Umm Qasr put up stiff resistance, I wonder what the bigger centres will look like.
Update: 16:40 CET
Iraqis halt U.S. advance
NEAR NASSIRIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - Resistance from Iraqi troops have halted U.S. forces advancing through southern Iraq near Nassiriya, a main crossing point over the Euphrates river.
And here I figured the Iraqis would just fold up in the south and try to defend the heartland around Baghdad. If this is what's getting through on the wires, I have to wonder what isn't getting through. Is it possible that the invasion is in serious trouble this soon?
There's nothing to do but speculate.
Update: 18:50 CET
France 2 is reporting massive bombing and speculating that the US has moved to this more aggressive strategy in response to difficulties prosecuting the ground war.
I haven't really blogged over the war since it started. Frankly, I haven't much intention to. There are other places you can go, where people spend far more of their time on it, and hash out whetever you want to hash out.
I considered posting a response to this from Rick Bruner's blog found via The 6th International. I got about half-way through when I realised how angry I sounded and stopped. It does little good now.
I'm actually somewhat disappointed in Mrs Tilton for finding this article so compelling. Except for an entirely excusable dalliance with evolutionary psychology - one I certainly would be hard put to condemn considering my own history as a former supporter of it - she usually has her head on fairly straight.
There isn't a single pro-war argument in the posting. The only pro-war case being made is in one sentence: I may be naive, but I do believe Saddam is a serious threat to the stability of that region, to the U.S., to the world and, not least, to his own citizens, who seem most neglected by all those who oppose war. It is naive to think that that makes war a better idea than continuing with containment and inspections or pressing for the expansion of the international presence in Iraq.
Frankly, lines like France can suck my weener are just begging for a fisking. The rest is a mixture of.. well, crap. Positions ostensibly taken by the war's oppenents, many of whom have simply said nothing more complicated than that peace seems to be working and peace is way better than war. Hoary clichés about European attitudes versus American ones. Really.
Bush could have taken the win without firing a shot. It's unlikely that Iraq has meaningful weapons of mass destruction and the new and more intrusive inspections regime made it even less likely to develop them. Keeping those troops there would still have given him the presence in the middle east he so clearly wants. It would also have established the international community in Iraq in such a way that a real alternative to Saddam Hussein - a domestic alternative - would have become much easier to support. Imagine if UN disarmament inspectors had been accompanied by human rights inspectors, and UN staff to distribute food and aid? That was exactly what France and Russia were proposing a month ago, but the US poo-pooed it. This could have been a big win for internationalism. The threat of force could have become a doorway to massive UN involvement in the country without war. It would have paved the way for international institutions to move directly into states to monitor human rights and armament. It would have set a precedent that the international community can actually support local people's aspirations instead merely furthering their own agendas.
However, it would have meant less glory for one George W Bush. I don't think there is any plausible argument the Bush is motivated by humanitarian concern for the people of Iraq. The only even vaguely plausible reason for going to war is the claim that American occupation is better than Saddam. That may be true, although it is by no means certain. America can be a harsh master, as many Latin American countries have found out over the last two centuries, and contemporary American leadership deals with problems by first reaching for their guns. However, letting whoever happens to be in the White House decide alone when war is justified is a greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein could ever be. The gains to the Iraqi public do not outweigh the damage done by allowing American government to make decisions unilaterally about war without immediate provocation, or even credible pretexts.
Going to war when so many other options are available is inexcusable. And claiming that this hasn't been "unilateral" is nonsense. The decisions were made unilaterally, in America. To suggest that any other state in the "coalition of lip-service" had any say in this is to be blind, deaf and stupid.
Now what remains to be seen is who pays for the occupation. I expect America to go to Japan and the UK for money, and probably to hit the UN up for it too. In the Gulf War, the other states involved made large contributions to defray the costs, and US contributions to UN operations are fixed at 22% of the total. The people who made this mess need to pay for it, not the rest of the world.
But it won't work that way. I expect in the end, the UN will run the humanitarian operations, and the US will contribute a minority share. I expect France, Germany and Canada will end up paying plenty to rebuild a nation destroyed at least as much by American leaders as Saddam Hussein. Why will they do that? Because unlike America's leaders and so many of its hawks and counter to Mr Bruner's belief, those other nations' leaders and publics generally have a heart.
On to other topics...
I was at the protest in Leuven last night and I will be at the national protest in Brussels tomorrow. Are any other bloggers in Belgium planning on going? We could - I suppose - go as a group and represent ourselves as "expats for peace" or something.
One of the speakers at the Leuven rally last night - a very emotional Flemish poet reading a recent work on the war - was openly calling for a boycott of US and Israeli products. I doubt any real boycott is possible. The world economy is too interlinked, and too many companies have no real citizenship, for a boycott to do much good. But, not going chez McDo or buying Nikes does have the potential to underline the politcal case. I gather the boycott of American goods in the middle east is beginning to damage American firms.
It may even work here. Next to the location of last night's demonstration is a McDonald's. Somewhere in the ballpark of a thousand people were out in front of it, right at dinner time, and it was nearly empty. The kebap shop next door, however, was packed. I have noticed a disproportionate Kurdish presence among local kebap operators, so eating there could be viewed as an act of solidarity with the people of Iraq.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Tout est chaos, à côté...
Some disturbing bits from the news today. First, this is going to have serious repercussions if it turns out America did it.
Wiretapping Found at French, German EU Offices
I live in Belgium, and I will be very unhappy if I start getting treated with suspicion over this.
Second, I want to point out this article in today's Le Figaro.
Le plan de défense de Saddam Hussein
It would be pretty foolish to put my money on Iraq in this war, but if Le Figaro is accurately portraying Saddam Hussein's strategy, he appears to be aiming for the longest and brutalest conflict he can, forcing the US to kill civilians in quite possibly record numbers, and maybe even - since this article claims his bunker is under the main international hotel - western journalists. Although I don't see any chance of survival for the Iraqi regime, the possibility that we're about to see a blood bath instead of a walk-over remains quite real.
This article made me think of something else I read a while back, and it took me a minute to find it.
War games rigged?
The US has the upper hand in weapons, so I suppose they could always resort to indescriminate bombing, but I think politically that would represent a US defeat. Someone who wants to make this hard on America may well be able to. This is something the war hawks just don't get: Saddam Hussein is not stupid, and now he has nothing to lose. Even if he has no effective weapons of mass destruction - and I suspect he doesn't - he has more than enough options if he really has 30,000 loyal troops and a chance to dig in. That is much of diplomacy seeks to avoid: the situation where one side has nothing left to lose. There is very little more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose.
Van Riper's description of America's untested tactics is all too plausible to me, as is the urban guerilla war proposed by Le Figaro, where every home, every car, and every street corner may well be packed to the brim with explosives and arms. A casualty averse America might well decide to simply wipe Baghdad off the face of the earth rather than get dirty fighting in it. Baghdad has 5 million people, over a fifth of the population of Iraq. Killing them all off will not endear America to anyone, including the ostensibly liberated.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
How to Be Happy
Anybody who's come here from Brad Delong's blog looking for my review of Richard Layard's lecture, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it's almost 11pm and I have to work in the morning. My opinion of it is a little too complicated to just do a quick fisking, and frankly Layard doesn't deserve to be fisked.
I like to see social scientists thinking outside the box, and I agree for the most part with Layard's ultimate policy conclusions. But, I want to underline my problems with his methods and assuptions, and maybe outline a different way to go, one that is more heavily anthropological and less reliant on a quasi-econometric understanding of human emotion.
Tomorrow, I hope.
Unconfirmed report from Xinhua: Saddam has offered to resign
Saddam offered conditional step-down before Bush issued ultimatum: report
Xinhuanet 2003-03-18 14:03:56
(This is about 7am CET or 1am EST)
ABU DHABI, March 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Monday offered a conditional step-down hours before US President George W. Bush gave him a 48-hour ultimatum to leave Iraq to avoid war, an Arabic website reported.
No mention yet in the international press. Xinhua has good Arab world coverage, but even they are quoting an unconfirmed website report. If true, it means that, once again, Bush is a man who can't take yes for an answer. For anyone who can read Arabic, the website is at us.moheet.com, and not as the Xinhua article reports. It looks like a regular news site to me.
Monday, March 17, 2003
Some good news on a Monday
It seems likely that a US invasion of Iraq will start in the next few days, possibly the next few hours. However, there is still some good news today, coming to us via Eschaton:
Brewery Magnate Joseph Coors, Who Helped Create Heritage Foundation, Dies at Age 85
"Without Joe Coors, the Heritage Foundation wouldn't exist - and the conservative movement it nurtures would be immeasurably poorer," the foundation's president, Edwin Feulner, said in a written statement.
Goodbye and good riddance. Now if only Richard Mellon Scaife and Rupert Murdoch would drop dead...
Sunday, March 16, 2003
Das Alter Buch
(Read Part 1)
Among the other documents included in Grandpa's magnum opus is a photocopy of the Alter Buch, or genealogy, started by my great-great grandfather, Peter Kornelius Martens. It is hand-written on unlined paper in German, using the old Fraktur script, also sometimes called "Gothic." Although I feel reasonably at ease reading German, the Alter Buch is completely illegible to me because I have virtually no knowledge of the old script - I can read it with great difficulty in print, but in hand-written cursive it's hopeless. For me, it would have been easier to read in hand-written Russian. The old German script was abolished by the Nazis in 1941 because Hitler believed it to have Jewish roots. Although after 1945 it was no longer illegal to use, it never recovered its pre-WWII popularity and nowadays it is rarely used and virtually never taught in school. It persisted among "diaspora" Germans in Canada for another decade or so after the war, but is by now forgotten most everywhere. Fortunately, Grandpa also transcribed the German into the modern script and translated it to English.
The Fraktur script
Many Mennonites are obsessed with genealogy. It's not about nobility - there is no status associated with discovering that you are descended from some worthy somewhere. I'm not quite sure where it comes from, but it is not a new thing. On the very first page of his record of the family, my ancestor has written Alter Buch! with a clearly visible exclamation mark. I can't understand the enthusiasm for family history that his punctuation indicates. Mennonites lived in very isolated communities centred on family and church, but the Martenses were among the most worldly and experienced of the Russian Mennonites, so this is a poor explanation. Alas, there is no way to ask him.
From the Alter Buch
1894 November 28sten ist unser Sohn Kornelius geboren. Uhr 10 Nachts. Gestorben 10 Jan. 1920.
The Mennonites in Russia, like many other German Russians, adopted the Slavic tradition of patronymic names. Each child's middle name was the name of the child's father. For the Russian-bilingual Germans, they would add the -ovich or -ovna suffixes to their middle names when they spoke Russian, and thus could fit in easily in Russian culture. The Martens line, however, had another interesting tradition. My great-grandfather's name was Kornelius Peter Martens, and his father was Peter Kornelius Martens, his grandfather Kornelius Peter Martens, and so on. It is unclear to me how far back this tradition went, but for a number of generations, one boy in the family had been named "Peter Kornelius" or "Kornelius Peter", alternating each generation. This tradition is clearly documented in my ancestor's Alter Buch, but it predates his record.
My great-grandfather was the last Martens so named. He chose to call his son Teodor Kornelius, retaining the patronymic tradition, but refusing to give his new-born son the name "Peter." Grandpa's name was later anglicised at the hands of British immigration and the Alberta school system to "Theodor Cornelius." He was known for most of his life as "Ted."
The period immediately following WWI was the end of an era in many ways, and the end of a naming tradition in a minor German family is the least of the things that disappeared. I don't know why my great-grandfather chose to put those names to an end. I like to imagine that he was a radical and a firebrand, sick of the oppression of the old Russia that pervaded every part of life and refusing to perpetuate it. But his death in 1920 from typhus means I will never know. It was not always the oldest boy who was so named, so he may simply have intended to father more boys in his life.
Still, small as it is in the greater scheme of things, it is the change with the most immediate effect on me. Had the name persisted, I would be "Peter Kornelius Martens." Who wants to have "Kornelius" as a name, even a middle one?
In this post, I'm going to print some of Grandpa's discussion of our extended family and their lives in Russia, starting with his own father.
M. V. Lomonsov Moscow State University
Moscow University circa 1904 (from Davidson Films)
My father had been a student at the university in Moscow. He had gone to the Kommerz Schule (business school) at Barvenkovo before going to the University of Moscow [now the Moscow State University] for five or six years. No doubt his studies were in anticipation of taking part in the family manufacturing business. The family had had a share in a farm implement factory that was four stories high and employed about 120 men. [The Martenses were kulaks and factory owners, that is to say, they were members of the hated bourgeoisie.]
Update: Added a section that I meant to include before, but forget due to my disorganised notes. Without a scanner, I'm doing this all by hand, so I miss stuff, or go back and find out that Grandpa made a mistake and have to correct it.
Nestor Makhno and me
I'm still reading Hobsbawm, and just finished the chapter on the Cold War. I find Hobsbawm is best read by doing a whole chapter in one sitting, then allowing it some time to sink in before embarking on the next chapter. Usually, it's just enough to time to read another book. Today, it was Dark Light by Ken MacLeod.
First, a very brief book review. For those of you who liked Cosmonaut Keep, you've probably already bought a copy of Dark Light and formed your own opinions. For those of you who haven't read Cosmonaut Keep, you'll need to buy it before making any sense of the sequel. For those of you who do not like any of MacLeod's novels and never have, don't bother, you won't like this book either. If, however, like me, you read but didn't like Cosmonaut Keep, but liked MacLeod's Fall Revolution books, I advise you to run right out and buy a copy of Dark Light. It's a lot better. There's a lot more sense to it and a much more coherent narrative, as well as a good bit of Marxist and semi-Marxist theory along with a nice rousing proletarian revolution. Good stuff. Though, the verb tenses switching back and forth - randomly from chapter to chapter - from the past tense to the present was a little weird.
MacLeod has a good quote attributed to him: History is the trade secret of science fiction. It's an appropriate quote for a socialist, and he demonstrates it in Dark Light.
What sparked this post, however, is a minor bit nearly at the end of the book:
"Bad news. What about the Party branch?"
What do Kronstadt, Makhno and the Barcelona Phone Company have to do with each other? Well, this is perhaps an obscure bit of history. Kronstadt is well known enough as the moment the Bolsheviks took action against leftist anarchists who had taken over Kronstadt island near St-Petersburg. The Barcelona Telephone Company refers to a violent incident in the Spanish Civil War when communists took action against an institution controlled by the anarchists. And Makhno... well, Nestor Makhno was an anarchist with a small army who took over a big chunk of the Ukraine during the Civil War. Later, he was exiled to Paris and still has his fans among the anti- and not-particularly-Marxist varieties of socialist radicals. All, in effect, refer to incidents when more orthodox communists took action against socialist anarchists.
The thing is, for some people, Makhno was a terrorist. I'm one of those people, and one of the reasons is that they terrorised my grandfather's parents, and my granfather used to tell the story regularly. Not that Grandpa could ever have entertained this thought, but getting rid of Makhno was one of the better things the Bolsheviks did. I have little sympathy for that kind of anarchist.
My paternal grandfather died shortly before this last Christmas, and I had to make a quick trip to Canada less than 3 months ago to go to his funeral. His death wasn't terribly tragic, at least for me. He was 84 years old and had been in poor health for some time. For me he hadn't so much died as just faded away over the course of several years. At some point, he ceased to be the Grandpa who spoiled me silly as a child, and became the clan patriarch whose philosophy, religion and outlook on life were utterly incompatible with mine. As I moved further from the family's homelands in Manitoba and took more control of my life as an adult, we saw less and less of each other, and when we did meet, Grandpa was less and less communicative as his health deteriorated.
However, I found myself crying for the first time in years on the flight back. What brought it on was the strangest thought: when I was a child, my father was Mr. Martens. That was what his students called him. My father died when I was 16 and after that, Grandpa was "Mr Martens" and hardly anyone outside the family ever seemed to call him anything else. Grandpa had only one son: my father, and I have only one brother and he's younger than me. That means that from now on I'm "Mr. Martens"
That was the thought that brought me to tears in the middle seat of a packed-full 747 somewhere over Greenland.
Over the years since his retirement, Grandpa had tried to compose a... well, I don't think memoire is the right word. It's more like a compendium of autobiographical correspondence and genealogical research combined with various reminisces and anecdotes. It fills four binders and one copy was made for each of the grandchildren.
Reading Hobsbawm talk about "the short twentieth century" reminds me that his generation - my grandfather's generation as much as Hobsbawm's - actually lived through pretty much all of it. That's a remarkable amount of change to live through.
People are your only real connection to the past, and to neglect my own people would be like claiming that I came out of nothing. So, along with my other reading, I've been moving slowly through this mass of text Grandpa left behind, with a half a mind to edit it down to something more manageable and adding some contextualising historical material, perhaps for my own future children to read, or to pass on to my less pedantically minded cousins.
This is the first bit, and it's the part that mentions Makhno. It's only lightly edited. I removed some material I thought was superfluous, edited spellings and sometimes syntax to more uniform and modern standards, changed the spellings of Russian place names to a the standard transcription, and moved several blocks around to provide better narrative flow. The text between square brackets are my own notes.
A photo taken from Khortitsa Island (from University of Toronto)
My earliest recollection is of a horse being sick. Mother thought I would have been about three years old when her sister Susan's husband Isaak Zacharias had come to visit, and their horse became sick. They lived at Osterwick on an estate known as Zachrisifeld in Russia. [These places are all in the contemporary Republic of Ukraine. My grandparents referred to the old country as Russia without exception, even though these events all take place after the establishment of the Soviet Union and during the Civil War that followed. They had little regard for changing borders or the new nations that replaced the old Romanov empire.]
Please let me know if this is at all interesting material. I'm quite serious about seeking feedback on it, but if it's really boring my readers to death I won't do it here. If it's interesting, I'll put more of it up.
Update: On rereading, I restored a paragraph that I think I shouldn't have cut as well as some maps and photos.