Category Archives: Russia

Not a page too long

Dalrymple writes that Joseph Frank’s five-volume, 2,400-page biography of Fyodor Dostoyevsky

is not a page too long: not merely because Dostoyevsky was a great writer (there are many great writers about whom one would not wish to read a five-volume biography), but because an understanding of 19th-century Russia, with whose problems Dostoyevsky wrestled so perceptively and prophetically, as well as wrongheadedly and idiosyncratically, is vital to an understanding of the modern world. Indeed, once you have grasped the role of the intelligentsia in late Tsarist Russia, much of what seems at first sight opaque in the modern world becomes a great deal clearer.

The cards Putin holds

One form of hubris, says Dalrymple,

is the belief that the need for vigilance has been abolished because everyone now has the same worldview as ourselves, that the end of history has come, and we are it.

Vladimir Putin, Dalrymple notes, has these things on his side:

  • military power
  • his increasing control of the media and over public opinion in Russia
  • the appeal of his policy to nationalist passion (which, apart from ethnic hatred, is probably the strongest political passion)
  • the weakness of his European opponents

Malodorous revolutionary

Dalrymple explains that Slavoj Žižek, the celebrity philosopher,

claims to believe in the necessity of terror and mass murder for the future happiness of the world.

Žižek dresses, Dalrymple notes,

like an incompletely washed slob.

As a Marxist

of the mass-murder-of-the-bourgeoisie persuasion,

Žižek no doubt wishes to appear, says Dalrymple,

as if he is relaxing after a hard day’s work down at the iron foundry wrestling with pig iron (the kind whose production was on an ever-upward curve in Stalin’s Russia).

Theodore is priceless

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New York: Horace Liveright, 1928

Faithful friend of the Soviet Union

Strolling in Amsterdam, Dalrymple finds that

there are some excellent second-hand bookshops.

At one of them he picks up

an irresistible book entitled Dreiser Looks At Russia. It ends with the unintentionally hilarious words:

Sleep well, Ilitch, father of a new and possibly — how shall we say? — world-altering force. How fortunate, you, its chosen if martyred instrument. How fortunate indeed.

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Theodore Dreiser: ‘a friend of the Soviet Union because he is a friend of Man, a champion of the democratic masses everywhere’

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Our Ilitch: ‘only the humanity of his spirit, enveloping aura-wise, could have evoked in those underprivileged millions the necessary faith in, if not an understanding of, his immense wisdom and human charity’

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Sleep well, Ilitch

Sleep of the righteous: Ilitch in his mausoleum

Charitable and wise

Ilitch the charitable and wise

'Chosen if martyred instrument of the world-altering force. How fortunate are the Russian masses!'

Ilitch the chosen one, the martyr

'Father of a new and possibly — how shall we say? — world-altering force'

Radiant Ilitch: ‘father of a new and possibly — how shall we say? — world-altering force’

‘Lenin, his Russia, the humanithy and justice which at last, and fully, he introduced into its government and statecraft, will succeed. The social illustration which he provided and which his associates and followers have since carried to its present great power and beauty will never be lost on future generations'

Power and beauty: ‘his Russia, the humanity and justice which at last, and fully, he introduced into its government and statecraft, will succeed. The social illustration which he provided and which his associates and followers have since carried to its present great power and beauty will never be lost on future generations’

The Russian masses, Dreiser wrote, ‘are determined never again to be enslaved. I do not doubt the outcome. Lenin, his Soviet empire, will triumph’

Ilitch triumphant: ‘the Russian masses are determined never again to be enslaved. I do not doubt the outcome. His Soviet empire will triumph’

When he was in Russia in 1927-28 in Russia Dreiser saw 'peasants and mechanics, women and men, kneeling here and there in worship, if not prayer, before Ilitch's candle-lighted bust, or standing uncovered with bowed heads before it, feeling him to be, as I assumed (and truly enough in my judgment), their saviour'

Ilitch the saviour: ‘I saw peasants and mechanics, women and men, kneeling here and there in worship, if not prayer, before his candle-lighted bust, or standing uncovered with bowed heads before it, feeling him to be, as I assumed (and truly enough in my judgment), their saviour’

The joy of spite

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 15.37.08The outrage that greeted the Mossack Fonseca revelations partakes, writes Dalrymple,

more of joyous spite and hatred of the rich than of any real desire to improve the world, the latter being a much weaker emotion than the former. If the rich could be deprived of their wealth, even if no one else benefited thereby, I think many people would want it.

Even if the money hidden offshore were paid in taxation,

it does not follow that public services such as schools would improve proportionately. After all, it cannot be for lack of expenditure that a significant proportion of British children are semi-literate after 11 years of compulsory attendance at school. Every country has its bottomless pits.

As for Vladimir Putin’s illicit fortune,

anyone who supposes that, were the Russian state to recover it, the Russian people would benefit…well, they are not very well versed in Russian history.

People ground to dust

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.59.25Dalrymple writes that in the broad, almost deserted boulevards of today’s Pyongyang as much as in the St Petersburg of 1839, a crowd, in the words of Astolphe de Custine,

would be a revolution.

Tyrannies

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.53.44demand immense efforts to bring forth trifles, one of the differences between the tsarist autocracy and the totalitarian dictatorship being the absence of aesthetic judgment and taste of the latter.

Dalrymple points out that the purpose of North Korean ceremonies

is to humiliate, to force people to acknowledge their enslavement with simulated joy. Spontaneity is not the only thing abolished; sincerity follows into the dustbin of history.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 15.52.21There was a time when Dalrymple regarded North Korea as

the ne plus ultra of contemporary political deformity. In those days, Islamism was hardly a speck on the horizon.

He should have known better, for as he says,

when it comes to the forms of self-evident stupidity and self-destruction, man’s inventiveness is infinite.

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Soviet communism’s abyssal evil

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 09.02.27In the scale, writes Dalrymple,

even Nazism could not compete.

Everyone involved in the Great Terror

knew that the arrest, trial and sentence were based upon lies from beginning to end.

No revolution

was more avid for the flesh of its originators than the Russian.

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The man who has studied is blinded by learning

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 00.22.30Dalrymple discusses Hugh Stewart’s Provincial Russia (1913):

There is no sense of impending doom or catastrophe…no intimation that a regime is soon to be established in the country that will regularly kill more people in a day than its predecessor in a century. On the contrary, if anything the march of progress, of ever-increasing wealth, education and enlightenment is taken for granted, as being more or less inevitable and unstoppable. Little did the author guess that it would take many years for Russia once again to reach the level of production of the year of publication of his book.

He singles out a passage which he says is one of the least prescient prognostications he have ever seen in print. It reads as follows:

Since the emancipation the peasants have made immense progress. And now the rate of improvement can only accelerate with the influence of education, the breaking up of the commune, which was a heavy drag on rural enterprise, the political franchise, and the increased facilities offered by the spread of railways for disposing of surplus crops and developing the internal resources of the country. A great future assuredly lies before this remarkable people, with its physical and mental powers, it vigour, elasticity and youth. This may be a question of time, but it can scarcely be a matter for doubt.

It is needless, he says, to point out the inaccuracy of this prediction,

unless being the victim of one of the greatest and most vicious political experiments in history be counted ‘a great future’ for a people.

The prescient man, Dalrymple concludes,

is not the man who knows most. He is like the chess-player who takes in the situation on a board at once, the result of much study and the possession of instinct. The man who has not studied is blinded by prejudice; the man who has studied, but has no instinct, is blinded by learning.

Les communisants

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 02.22.54Dalrymple very often finds it hard to conceal — in truth, he makes little effort to suppress — his utter disgust over the  decadence of Western Europe, its unbridled nature, the general antinomianism. At the same time he draws attention to the fact that it was the USSR, deadly but prim, that seemed to offer Western decadents the realisation of their fondest hopes. Moscow was akin to a sexual fantasy for these people.

The Soviet Union, the decadent intellectuals felt, could be their saviour. Why? Fundamentally because it appeared to be

the best hope for the destruction of the civilisation they so hated.Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 02.24.46

They visited communist Russia and the ‘people’s democracies’ of Eastern Europe often, though the vast majority regretfully declined to take up the opportunity to emigrate there.

Dalrymple also points to

Raymond Aron’s observation that faith [in communist Russia] was at its most…fervent when the country was at its worst, at its most…murderous; faith began to waver when mass murder declined into everyday pervasive oppression.

Follies of French intellectuals

A goldsmith and soldier of fortune