I continue watching Timothy Snyder’s lectures on Ukrainian history. These lectures illustrate a general truth, namely, relativity. Everything in the world exists in relation to other things, nothing exists by itself. So a class in Ukrainian history deals with all the powers that shaped Ukraine: the Mongol Empire, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, etc. A class in Ukrainian history rarely focuses on Ukraine. Like everything else in the universe, Ukraine has no independent existence, it only exists in relation to other things.
Of course, one could argue that it’s Ukraine’s misfortune to be buffeted by empires; one could argue that other nations, especially the U.S., have had the good fortune to shape their own history. Snyder argues, however, that the U.S. didn’t develop in “splendid isolation,” it emerged from the conflict between the British Empire and the French Empire.
I suspect that the old Buddhist philosophers were right when they said that, if we look at any particular thing, we find that it’s nothing, it only exists in relation to other things. Consider, for example, a philosopher. A philosopher is the product of earlier philosophers, of his society, of his parents/upbringing. In himself, the philosopher is nothing, or almost nothing.
Or consider a tree. The tree only exists in relation to the soil, the sun, the air, the previous generation of trees, the next generation, etc. The tree has no independent existence, its existence is only relative. We could call this the principle of relativity, but the word “relativity” has already been taken by Einstein’s theory, so perhaps a new term is needed.
When we dissolve the boundaries of the individual thing, it merges with everything. So don’t be depressed if Zen says you’re nothing. You’re also everything. The Eastern sage says, “Nothing has any inherent existence of its own when you really look at it, and this absence of independent existence is what we call ‘emptiness.’”
According to Eastern sages, everything is empty, everything is nothing. But they see no reason to despair; in this nothing, they find their all. And modern physics has confirmed this ancient insight; modern physics says, “The properties of a particle can only be understood in terms of its activity — of its interaction with the surrounding environment... the particle, therefore, cannot be seen as an isolated entity, but has to be understood as an integrated part of the whole.”
Snyder’s most fascinating comment is a brief aside. He’s discussing the famous Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, the so-called Holodomor. He says that 4 million Ukrainians died in this famine. The famine resulted from taking land from peasants, and establishing collective farms. It also resulted from requisitioning grain from private farms and collective farms. Soviet officials were doubtless rewarded for taking as much grain as possible, even next year’s seed. As Ukrainians were dying en masse, grain was being exported from Ukrainian ports.
The final blow was taking farm-animals. A cow could provide milk, or could be slaughtered if times were hard. When the cow was taken, you had no milk and no insurance-policy against famine.
Collectivizing the land was a key project for Soviet leaders. They must have known it would generate discontent, perhaps rebellion; even foreign invasion was possible. Therefore, Soviet leaders must have been somewhat hesitant about starting the project, somewhat hesitant about taking personal responsibility for it. By 1932, fifteen years had elapsed since the 1917 revolution, so it’s clear that Soviet leaders didn’t jump into the project ASAP.
Stalin had a clever scheme for turning collectivization to his own advantage. He argued that some of his colleagues on the Central Committee were delaying collectivization, others were rushing into it, he alone understood the “sweet spot” between the two extremes of procrastination and haste, he alone understood the proper pace of historical change, the proper pace for reaching the Marxist utopia.
One can see why Stalin’s argument would appeal to other members of the Central Committee. Stalin’s position appeared to be moderate, a “golden mean” between the two extremes. And since Stalin was taking the lead on the issue, he would be responsible; all you had to do was agree with him.
This brings me to Snyder’s fascinating aside: “Stalin shows the intimate relationship between bureaucratic politics and theories of everything.... We don’t have this anymore, we just have bureaucratic politics. We don’t have theories of everything, right? That’s why everything seems so blah.”1 This implies that if a philosopher can develop a theory of everything, then everything won’t seem blah; a theory of everything can make the world interesting, exciting, attractive.
In the 1920s, conditions in Ukraine had been tolerable, perhaps better than tolerable. Snyder speaks of a “renaissance” of Ukrainian culture in the 1920s. The Soviets were fostering Ukrainian self-expression, and bringing Ukrainians into the governing class; this policy was called “Ukrainization.” During the Holodomor, however, Stalin decided that Ukrainization had been mis-managed, and he reversed course. Local Party officials were purged, Ukrainian writers were sent to the Gulag or executed. Snyder calls it “the executed renaissance.”2
After World War II, there was a crackdown on nationalities within the Soviet Union. Tatars, Poles, Armenians — many different nationalities were deported to Siberia or sent to the Gulag. If a few members of a national group had collaborated with the Germans, or been suspected of collaboration, the whole group was considered disloyal. Often a soldier returning from World War II was sent directly to the Gulag, on the grounds that he was a member of a suspect group.
The principle of Soviet justice was, “Better to kill 1,000 innocents than to let 1 guilty person get away. After all, an innocent person might become guilty in the future.” Soviet justice was based on the principles of Collective Guilt and Preemptive Punishment.
After World War II, the Soviets began emphasizing ethnicity and culture. On May 24, 1945, two weeks after the end of the war, Stalin made a toast to the Russian people:
|I drink in the first place to the health of the Russian people because it is the most outstanding nation of all the nations forming the Soviet Union. I propose a toast to the health of the Russian people because it has won in this war universal recognition as the leading force of the Soviet Union among all the peoples of our country.3|
Perhaps Stalin emphasized ethnicity because he needed to give some sort of direction to ideology and policy; he couldn’t rail against kulaks and Nazis because they had been defeated. Soviet rhetoric started to emphasize Russian culture, Russian cultural innocence; they say that Russian culture is good if it’s not contaminated by outside influences. Soviet ideology was becoming backward-looking, nostalgic; they were nostalgic about the 1917 revolution and about World War II. Soviet ideology was no longer focused on creating a classless paradise in the future.
Emphasis on Russian culture became criticism of cosmopolitanism, which became anti-Semitism, which spread from Russia to other EasternBloc countries. In 1952, Czech communists executed several Jews after the “Slansky Trial.” Shortly before Stalin’s death in 1953, anti-Semitism became criticism of Jewish doctors; there was talk of a “Doctors’ Plot.” Timothy Snyder says that in 1968, Polish communists “try to deport the Jews,” and in the 1970s, Polish communists equate ethnic homogeneity with the triumph of communism.
I’m now reading the second volume of Arthur Koestler’s autobiography, Invisible Writing (the first volume is called Arrow in the Blue). Invisible Writing is a top-notch autobiography, as good as Arrow in the Blue. Koestler is in Kharkiv, Ukraine, during the Holodomor. He’s trying to write a book about his trip through the Soviet Union, but his Kharkiv hotel has neither electricity nor heat.
|My main worry [was] how to go on working in an unheated room in the grim Ukrainian winter. For, as one of the minor disasters in that disastrous year of famine and general dislocation, the electricity supply of the Ukrainian capital had broken down.... Inside my room, the water was permanently frozen in the tap, and the temperature rarely rose over freezing point. At first I tried to work in bed, but found this too uncomfortable; so I hammered away at the typewriter, wearing mittens, and a kind of quilt-jacket.|
In the city, food is rationed; people aren’t starving, as they are in the countryside. Snyder says, “Peasants were fleeing to cities to beg for food.” But in early January 1933, peasants were banned from going to cities; the noose was tightening. In late January, Ukrainians were banned from leaving Ukraine. Koestler writes,
|The bread ration was at the time 800 grams per day for industrial workers, 600 grams for other manual workers, 400 grams for office employees... Bread, plus a few tea-leaves and an occasional cabbage or salted herring, was the only food to be had on the ration. In the country the people were dying of hunger; in the towns, they vegetated on the minimum survival level. Life seemed to have come to a standstill, the whole machinery on the verge of collapse.|
When Koestler first arrived in the Soviet Union, he traveled south from Moscow to the Caucasus Mountains, then crossed the mountains and visited Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. He was fond of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, which he calls “Tiflis.”
|I loved Tiflis more than any other town in the Soviet Union. Perhaps because it was still so untouched by the drabness and monotony of Soviet life. The town has an irresistible charm of its own, neither European nor Asiatic, but a happy blend of the two. It has a carefree and leisurely rhythm of life which is bohemian rather than Oriental; but its fastidious architecture and the courteous poise of its citizens, make one constantly aware that it is the product of one of the oldest Christian civilizations. In the distance the Caucasus provides the town with a background of austere grandeur; but its immediate surroundings are gently undulating hills with the amiable profile of the vineyards of Tuscany; and the Kura River, daughter of glaciers, displays a Danubian mellowness under the handsome old bridges.4|
The map below shows the area of Koestler’s travels.
Below is the same map, with a blue line marking the Caucasus Mountains, a D on the Don River, a V on the Volga River, a red line on the Amu Darya River, and a green line on the Syr Darya River. Both the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya empty into the Aral Sea.
The Amu Darya was known to the Greeks and Romans as the Oxus, hence the region is called Oxiana (Trans-Oxiana for the area between the Oxus and the Syr Darya). Robert Byron wrote an acclaimed travel book called The Road to Oxiana. The Syr Darya was called “Jaxartes.” The map below shows how both the Oxus and the Jaxartes originate in the giant mountains that separate Trans-Oxiana from China to the east.4B
Koestler says that Georgians long for independence from Russia:
|The Georgians have never become reconciled to Russian rule (which dates from 1783), and have always maintained the silent hope that one day it would come to an end as the Armenian, Persian and Turkish occupations had come to an end. They were the only national minority in the Soviet Union which rose in open revolt after the consolidation of the Soviet regime. In none of the National Republics through which I travelled have I sensed such an intense and generalized anti-Russian feeling.|
In Armenia, on the other hand, people were well-disposed to the Soviet Union. Armenians were still reeling from the massacres carried out by the Turks. Koestler found that Armenians were “full of hope, and as grateful to the Soviet regime which had provided them with an Autonomous Republic as the Jews had been to England in the days when Balfour promised them a National Home.”5 But the crackdown was just around the corner:
|I could not foresee how short-lived the reprieve of the Armenians would be. The Great Purge swept through the neighborhood of Ararat like a new Flood. Its destructions in Armenia were, perhaps, even worse than in the other minority republics, for the proximity of the Turkish and Persian frontiers made the whole border-district an unreliable and suspect area. As for the Armenians scattered over other parts of the Soviet Union, they were, as usual in the history of that unhappy nation, among the first to be singled out for special persecution. In Kharkov, for instance, there existed a small colony of about six hundred Armenians, most of them illiterate boot-blacks and cobblers. In the autumn of 1937 they were arrested and imprisoned to the last man.|
Koestler’s last stop in the Caucasus region is Baku, Azerbaijan. After an unhappy love affair in Baku, he takes a ferry over the Caspian Sea to Central Asia, where his first stop is Turkmenistan. He’s in a deep funk: “I lay down on the iron bed and felt forsaken by God in a godforsaken country.” But then he hears music,
|the sound of a gramophone in the next room.... I got up to find out who my neighbor was. I knocked at his door and found a young American Negro squatting in front of a portable gramophone in a bare room similar to mine, and in a state of gloom similar to mine. He turned out to be the poet Langston Hughes, whose “Shoeshine Boy” I had read in Berlin and greatly admired. It was difficult not to say “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”6|
Koestler and Hughes got on well, and traveled together through Central Asia.
The photo above shows Koestler and Hughes with a native of the region. Hughes seems more reserved than Koestler. Koestler writes,
|Hughes was then around thirty. He was slim, of medium height, and moved with the graceful ease of his race; but behind the warm smile of his dark eyes there was a grave dignity, and a polite reserve which communicated itself at once. He was very likeable and easy to get on with, but at the same time one felt an impenetrable, elusive remoteness which warded off all undue familiarity.7|
In the above photo, is Koestler’s expression a little too confident, unnaturally confident? Koestler writes,
|It often happens to me in writing these pages that I am unable to visualize my past self. Then I take a photograph from a drawer and say — well, here he is. But even that isn’t quite reassuring for I know that that face, with the plastered-down hair and the fatuous smirk is phony, the product of growing a false personality.|
Koestler and Hughes visited the fabled cities of Samarkand and Bukhara.
|These two towns were the hidden jewels of Central Asia during the Middle Ages. Samarkand was the residence of Tamerlane and his successors; Bukhara, Islam’s most famous center of learning.... All that remains in my memory are some fragments of beauty inextricably mixed with squalor and decay, and a mood of infinite sadness. The Russians have trampled over these two fabulous towns as mercilessly as the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan.|
But Koestler isn’t sorry to see Bukhara trampled:
|For the past three centuries Bukhara had been a nightmare town where the fanatic side of Islam had degenerated into a kind of collective insanity.... Every deviation from religious orthodoxy, sexual misdemeanor, or criticism of the absolute ruler was punished by summary execution. Vambery describes how the Raiz (Guardian of Religion) “with a cat-o-nine-tails in his hand, traverses the streets and public places, examines each passer-by in the principles of Islamism and sends the ignorant, even if they be grey-bearded men of three-score years, to the boys’ school.”|
We think of today’s Islamic radicalism as something new, but perhaps it’s a recurring feature of Islam. Koestler is critical of Islam’s tendency toward fanaticism, and its tendency to view a woman as a “domestic animal.”8 Koestler describes the peoples of Central Asia thus: “Hidden under a jovial, or polite, or non-committal surface, one felt the surly fanaticism of Islam — that harsh faith, born in the desert, which has never been reformed and liberalized, which became petrified at the stage of development that Christianity had left behind in the days of the Inquisition.”9
When Koestler leaves the Soviet Union after a one-year stay, he’s “blissfully happy to be back in Europe.”10 Though he’s still a member of the Communist Party, and still believes in Marxism, Koestler admits that life is grim in the Soviet Union; people are so intent on survival that they aren’t really living.
|The moment we passed the frontier a magic change of atmosphere had taken place. The station buffets were piled with foodstuffs I had not seen for a year — sandwiches with cheese, eggs, sausages and ham; coffee and buns and pastry. There were foreign newspapers, books and magazines on the stalls; the platforms and ticket-windows were no longer battlefields; and, what struck me most, the people in the train all had different personalities instead of being molecules in a grey, amorphous mass. They were mysteriously alive, they were individuals, and some of them, oh wonder, even had dogs. Nobody in Russia kept a dog — but I only noticed that now.|
Despite the drawbacks of the Soviet system, Koestler kept his faith in Communism for several more years. He felt that the drawbacks were temporary, a transitional stage, and would disappear over time. He also felt that the drawbacks were characteristic of Russia, and if Communism were tried in western Europe, it would be different, better. And finally, when he heard about Turkish atrocities against the Armenians, and Nazi atrocities, he felt that the Soviet system was the lesser evil. The three years after he left Russia were
|years of single-minded dedication, filled with purpose, relatively free from doubt, and thus, paradoxically, happy years as well as tormented years. During some weeks of extreme penury I was forced to sleep in a hayloft in a Paris suburb and to walk every day several miles on an empty stomach to the Party office where I worked without pay. I was lightheaded with hunger and my shoes were falling to pieces, but I was engaged in a useful activity, anonymously and wholeheartedly, and this knowledge gave me a feeling of spiritual cleanliness, of innocence regained.11|
While in Paris, Koestler worked for the Communist propagandist Willi Münzenberg. Koestler writes,
|When I met [Münzenberg] he was forty-four — a shortish, square, squat, heavy-boned man with powerful shoulders, who gave the impression that bumping against him would be like colliding with a steam-roller. His face had the forceful simplicity of a wood-cut, but there was a basic friendliness about it. His broad, cozy Thuringian dialect, and his simple, direct manner further softened the powerful impact of his personality. He was a fiery, demagogical, and irresistible public speaker, and a born leader of men. Though without a trace of pompousness or arrogance, his person emanated such authority that I have seen Socialist Cabinet Ministers, hard-boiled bankers, and Austrian dukes behave like schoolboys in his presence. His only mannerism was to underline a point in conversation by a sudden flashing of his steel-grey eyes under raised eyebrows; and though this was usually followed by a smile, the effect on the interlocutor was rather like lightning.|
Koestler says that, during World War I, “while in Zurich, [Willi Münzenberg] had been drawn into the circle of Lenin, Trotsky and the other Bolsheviks in exile.”12 In the 1920s, Münzenberg set up numerous newspapers, magazines, publishers, and film studios, all of which promoted a Communist perspective, but weren’t directly operated by the Party. Instead, they were operated by “front organizations,” such as “Workers International Relief,” and “World Committee for the Relief of the Victims of German Fascism.” Münzenberg even had operations in Australia and Japan. Münzenberg’s organization is often called The Münzenberg Trust. Koestler writes,
|By 1926, Willi owned two daily papers in Germany with mass circulations... a weekly with a circulation of one million... a series of other publications, including technical magazines for photographers, radio amateurs, etc., all with an indirect Communist slant. In Japan, to quote a remote country as an example, the Trust directly or indirectly controlled nineteen magazines and newspapers. It also financed Communist avant-garde plays which were in great vogue at the time. Finally the Trust was also the producer of some of the best films by Eisenstein and Pudovkin that came out of Russia.|
In 1934, Münzenberg toured the U.S., spoke at Madison Square Garden and other venues, and raised money for his organizations. The CIA doubtless understood how successful Münzenberg’s operations were, and they may have decided to follow his example. The CIA established the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which was “active in 35 countries [and] aimed to enlist intellectuals and opinion-makers in a war of ideas against communism.” Koestler attended the founding conference of the Congress for Cultural Freedom in 1950.
Münzenberg managed to draw all sorts of people into the Communist cause. Koestler writes,
|Münzenberg had hit on a new technique in mass propaganda, based on a simple observation: if a person gives money to a cause, he becomes emotionally involved in that cause. The greater the sacrifice, the stronger the bond; provided, of course, that the cause for which you are asked to make the sacrifice is brought to life in a vivid and imaginative manner — and that was Willy’s specialty. He did not, for instance, ask the workers for charitable alms; he asked them to donate one day’s wages “as an act of solidarity with the Russian people.” “Solidarity” instead of “charity” became the keyword of his campaign.13|
While working with Münzenberg in Paris, Koestler met Greta Thuring, who was active in the Communist cause. Thuring survived imprisonment by both the Soviets and the Nazis, wrote a highly-regarded memoir called Under Two Dictators, and lived until 1989. Thuring argued that, though Fascism and Communism are often viewed as polar opposites, they’re actually quite similar:
|Between the misdeeds of Hitler and those of Stalin, in my opinion, there exists only a quantitative difference.... I don’t know if the Communist idea, if its theory, already contained a basic fault or if only the Soviet practice under Stalin betrayed the original idea and established in the Soviet Union a kind of Fascism.14|
The argument that Fascism and Communism are similar becomes stronger when we see how Communist countries discriminated against Jews and other ethnic minorities.
Currently, Germany isn’t building monuments to Hitler, but Russia is building monuments to Stalin. A few days ago, I saw a tweet: “A new monument to Stalin was unveiled in the Russian city of Volgograd on Wednesday to mark the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the battle of Stalingrad — as Volgograd was known until 1961.”15
One of the striking things about the Communist movement is that Communists were continually quarreling with each other, and killing each other. Though Münzenberg was very successful at spreading the Communist gospel, attracting new people to the cause, and raising money, he was continually being criticized by fellow Communists, and eventually was marked for death. Koestler writes,
|Willi’s spectacular successes... earned him the heartfelt hostility of the Party bureaucracy. The German bosses in particular... who now rule the Eastern Zone of Germany, were permanently plotting his downfall. They finally succeeded in 1937, during the Great Purge.16|
Koestler wanted only to serve the Party, he wasn’t skilled at bureaucratic maneuvering, so he couldn’t maneuver within The Münzenberg Trust, and he couldn’t help Münzenberg to maneuver within the Party. Koestler was so naive that, when he was in Baku and wanted to write about foreign espionage, he went to the Baku headquarters of the Soviet secret police (known at that time as the GPU), knocked on the door, and asked for information. Koestler writes, “I regarded [the GPU] with a child-like trust. In this respect I was probably more naive than the majority of my Party comrades — a consequence of the infantile streak of which I have made repeated mention before.”17
So Koestler wasn’t very useful to Münzenberg, though Koestler was an experienced journalist and knew several languages. Koestler didn’t last long in The Münzenberg Trust. He writes,
|Engaged in a constant struggle against the bureaucracy, Willi could not afford to have puritans and innocents in his entourage.... A psychological freak of my kind was obviously unfit for the high-powered, streamlined Münzenberg Trust.|
When the Show Trials started in Moscow in 1936, Münzenberg was troubled by the execution of old Bolsheviks, and he knew that he himself might be killed, so he refused to go to the Soviet Union. He became a “persona non grata in the Communist movement,” and his media empire was taken away from him. He was expelled from the Party, and he criticized Stalin openly. Wikipedia says, “Münzenberg was an outspoken critic of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, accusing Stalin of being a ‘traitor’ to the working-class and the cause of peace.”18
Though he was probably marked for death by Stalin and the GPU, Münzenberg continued working in Paris, publishing a weekly for exiled Germans called The Future (Die Zukunft); Wikipedia describes this weekly as anti-Fascist and anti-Stalinist. As the Nazis approached Paris in 1940, Münzenberg and other Germans were interned south of Paris, then released as the Nazis approached their camp. Two young men, who had become friends with Münzenberg in the camp, accompanied him as he left the camp.
Soon Münzenberg was found dead. Apparently the two men had been sent by the GPU to kill Münzenberg. Koestler writes,
|It seems surprising that a man of Willi’s experience should have walked into the trap.... The reason is simply that no man can live without a minimum of trust in his friends. Old-fashioned assassins used women as decoys. The GPU’s modern dialectic of assassination is based on the psychological insight that a lonely man can resist all temptations, except one: his craving for friendship and loyalty.19|
The Soviets were adept at assassinating defectors and dissenters. Click here for a 50-minute film about the assassination of a dissenter named Ignace Reiss. The film, made by Daniel Kunzi, draws on the memoirs of Reiss’ wife, Elisabeth Poretsky. The film shows how the GPU used an old friend of Reiss’, a person he trusted, to lure him into a trap. By using one’s oldest friends to trap one, the Soviets poisoned human relationships, and made one distrust everybody.
The American Communist Whittaker Chambers spied for the Soviets from 1932 to 1938. When he decided to defect from the Communist cause, he learned from the example of Reiss, avoided assassination, and became a writer for Time and National Review.
Ottoman Retreat, Russian Advance
Republics and Revolutions
Between the World Wars:
Interwar Poland’s “Ukrainian Question”
|1.||Lecture 15, 22:30. Some people would say, “I’m glad we don’t have a theory of everything, such as Marxism; a theory of everything can do a lot of harm.” I would say that if you don’t have a theory of everything, a bona fide philosophy, then society is vulnerable to a false, shallow, unhealthy theory, such as Marxism or Islamic radicalism.
Koestler might agree with Snyder’s view that modern life has become “blah.” Koestler wrote, “In 1931 we lived under the fascist threat, but we saw an inspiring alternative in Russia. In 1951 we live under the Russian threat, but there is no inspiring alternative in sight; we are forced to fall back on the threadbare values of the past. In the ’thirties, there existed a specious hope; in the ’fifties, only an uneasy resignation. Not I alone — the whole century has grown middle-aged.”(Arrow in the Blue, Ch. 31) back
|2.||I’m reminded of the relaxing of censorship in China in 1956-57, a relaxing that was called, Let 100 Flowers Bloom. This was followed by a crackdown. back|
|3.||Snyder, Lecture 17 back|
|4.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 7 back|
|4B.||Matthew Arnold wrote about the Oxus River in his narrative poem Sohrab and Rustum:|
|5.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 8 back|
|6.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 10. I haven’t been able to find any information about “Shoeshine Boy.” back|
|7.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 10 back|
|8.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 12. Islam isn’t the only religion that Koestler criticizes. I discussed his criticisms of Judaism in an earlier issue. Koestler also criticizes Zen/Yoga, at least in their contemporary forms. He wrote two articles in Encounter in 1960, criticizing Zen/Yoga; these articles sparked a lively discussion (they were later published in Koestler’s The Lotus and the Robot). Jung joined the discussion with a letter to Encounter; Koestler was happy to say that Jung had endorsed his view. Gershom Scholem, the renowned Kabbalah scholar, also joined the discussion on Koestler’s side; in a letter to Encounter, Scholem criticized the Zen writer Eugen Herrigel, saying that Herrigel had joined the Nazi party after the outbreak of World War II.
Koestler criticizes the Zen writer D. T. Suzuki, and tells Suzuki to “shut up.” Koestler felt that Suzuki should oppose Fascism and Communism, oppose tyranny and genocide, but instead Suzuki had said that Zen is “extremely flexible in adapting itself” to any moral or political doctrine, “it may be found wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy.” Koestler excoriated Suzuki for this position.
In my view, one can’t understand Zen/Yoga unless one practices them, and Koestler probably didn’t practice them. On the other hand, Koestler deserves credit for his deep understanding of Fascism and Communism. Suzuki grew up in Japan around 1900, and didn’t have the first-hand knowledge of Fascism and Communism that Koestler had. back
|9.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 10 back|
|10.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 15 back|
|11.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 16 back|
|12.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 18 back|
|13.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 18. Is this the origin of the name of the famous Polish union, Solidarity? I saw a Polish movie called Man of Iron (1981). Three men try to persuade a woman to accept an envelope of cash (her husband is in prison). One of them says, “It’s not charity, it’s our show of solidarity.” This is a point that Münzenberg often made, and it strengthens my opinion that the Polish union “Solidarity” gets its name from Münzenberg. back|
|14.||Greta Thuring is sometimes referred to as “Margarete Buber-Neumann.” While imprisoned by the Nazis, she became friends with Milena Jesenska, who had a close relationship with Kafka. Wikipedia says, “In 1920, Kafka began an intense relationship with Milena Jesenska, a Czech journalist and writer. His letters to her were later published as Briefe an Milena [Letters to Milena].” A Gentile herself, Jesenska helped Jews escape from Czechoslovakia. Greta Thuring wrote a biography of Jesenska.
According to Koestler, one similarity between Fascism and Communism is the staging of crimes, in order to use the crimes as pretexts for striking their foes. Speaking of Stalin’s Great Terror, Koestler says it began with the assassination of Kirov, which was arranged by Stalin: “[The Great Terror] had begun with a revolver shot, as if at a prearranged signal — as the Terror in Germany had begun with the Reichstag Fire. The man who fired them, Nicolaiev, was a young neurotic, a hapless tool as van der Lubbe had been; and the whole bloody sequence of events followed the pattern set by the Nazis — as it was so often to be the case in years to come.” back
|15.||Tweet by Mikhail Khodorkovsky from February 1, 2023. back|
|16.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 18. During the purges, anyone with a strong personality, anyone who attracted attention, was at risk of being killed. The secret of survival, Koestler says, “lies in colorlessness and self-effacement.”(Invisible Writing, Ch. 17)
Was the Purge driven by Stalin’s paranoia? Or was there really a plot to kill Stalin? As the old saying goes, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.” According to Wikipedia,
|17.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 9 back|
|18.||Around 1937, some anti-Stalin communists believed that the Spanish communists might win, revivify the communist movement, take control of the Comintern, and sweep Stalin from power. It has even been argued that Stalin was aware of this danger, and opposed the Spanish communists.(See Daniel Kunzi’s film about Ignace Reiss.)
During the first year of the Spanish Civil War, Stalin tried to befriend the Allies, and join the anti-Fascist coalition; Stalin supported the “Popular Front,” a league of anti-Fascist parties. Koestler says, “All revolutionary slogans and references to the class-struggle were relegated to the lumber-room. Even the word ‘Communist’ was, as far as possible, avoided by Communists, who instead referred to themselves as anti-Fascists and defenders of peace.”
Later in the war, Stalin was maneuvering to make a pact with Hitler. “Russia prolonged the agony of Spain by sending just enough supplies to keep the war going until agreement with Nazi Germany was in sight.” Stalin was willing to sacrifice Spanish communists in order to advance the interests of his country and himself.
Koestler says that, when the Spanish Civil War ended, Stalin refused “to grant asylum to the survivors of the International Brigades,” and executed “every Russian and Spaniard who took a leading part in the civil war and knew too much of what had happened behind the scenes.”(Invisible Writing, Ch. 31) Stalin wasn’t a whole-hearted supporter of Spanish communists; his attitude toward Spanish communists was complicated and ambivalent.
Despite Stalin’s ambivalence, the Spanish communists grew into a major force. Koestler says, “When the war started, the Communists were an insignificant little party, with less than two hundred members in the whole of Catalonia; yet, as the war progressed, they succeeded in gradually transforming the country, through blackmail, intrigue and terror, into an obedient satellite of the Kremlin.”
Of course, ultimately the Communists lost to Franco and the Fascists. In other words, the Communist/Anarchist/Socialist/Republican/Loyalist side lost to the Fascist/Nationalist/Catholic/Monarchist side. But the Communists were victorious (according to Koestler) in the jockeying for power among the various factions on the Republican side. The Anarchist faction was especially strong.
Something similar happened in France. Several French groups opposed the Fascists (i.e., opposed the Nazis and the Vichy regime). The Communists may have been the strongest of these groups. Koestler writes, “The Communists... emerged from the Resistance movement as the best-organized force. [In] 1946, the Communists were still the strongest party in France; they sat in the Government, had direct control over the trade unions, and indirectly, through blackmail and intimidation, imposed their will to a considerable degree on the Courts, on publishing and editorial offices, the film industry and literary cliques.”(Invisible Writing, Ch. 37) The Communists, in Spain and in France, often killed members of other factions on the pretext that they were collaborators. back
|19.||Invisible Writing, Ch. 38 back|
|21.||There are about fifteen separate churches within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Wikipedia speaks of, “fifteen autocephalous Orthodox churches forming the main body of Orthodox Christianity, all of which are titled equal to each other, but the Ecumenical Patriarchate is titled the first among equals.” Wikipedia also says that the Eastern Orthodox Church “has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the head of the Catholic Church — the pope — but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognized by them as primus inter pares (‘first among equals’).” back|
|22.||Wikipedia: “Alone among the church leaders in Nazi-occupied Europe, Sheptytsky openly spoke in defense of the persecuted Jews. He sent an official letter, as the First Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, to Hitler and Himmler protesting about the destruction of the Jews. In a special Pastoral Letter addressed to his Ukrainian faithful, he strongly forbade them (under the pain of excommunication) from participating or helping in the destruction of Jews. In addition, he issued secret instructions to his secular and monastic clergy, ordering them to help the Jews by hiding them on church property, feeding them and smuggling them out of the country.” back|
|23.||Snyder says that the French Revolution spilled over the borders of France; the French revolutionaries thought that the principles of their revolution should apply broadly. back|
|24.||The treaty insisted that Ukraine give lots of food to Germany/Austria. German negotiators were very tough on Eastern Front. Later, when Germans complained about Versailles treaty, the Allies could say that it was mild compared to Germany’s treaty with Russia. back|
|25.||If the Allies had supported Ukrainian independence, would the Soviets have accepted that, or resisted by force? This is the problem that the Allies faced after World War II: How do you prevent the Soviets from dominating their neighbors? back|
|26.||The Ukrainians even asked the Germans to invade Ukraine, to free them from Soviets, and from the debacle of collectivization (50:40). back|