Tag Archives: Soviet Union

Diary Blog, 28 February 2021, including a few thoughts about trees and forests

I happened to see a report in the Independent about trees: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/prison-green-space-trees-mental-health-b1808251.html.

As Chekhov said, either (I forget) in one of his famous works or perhaps to Gorky, and later recounted in Gorky’s memoirs called Literary Portraits, “there are men to whom a tree is sacred“.

[RUSSIA – JANUARY 01: Russian writers Anton Pavlovich CHEKHOV and Maxim GORKY at Yalta in 1900. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)]

[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxim_Gorky; https://www.gutenberg.org/files/37129/37129-h/37129-h.htm]

It is hard to imagine anywhere, or any architecture, that cannot be improved by the proximity of a few trees, or which will not be impoverished if existing trees are cut down.

Trees have several enemies in modern Britain, not least local councils who often resent the cost of sweeping leaves etc. The “health and safety” aspect is sometimes brought into play, often unecessarily. Yes, occasionally, tree branches do fall on people or, more usually, parked cars, during storms or other periods of high wind. That is not a good reason to cut down trees wholesale.

Britain has relatively low tree cover, comparing the UK to other European countries by proportion. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_countries_by_forest_area. Britain’s tree cover, though greater than it was in the recent past, is still only 13%. Germany has 33%, and Finland 73%.

There have been attempts, still continuing, to create new forests in the UK: the Heart of England Forest is one, created by the one-time Oz magazine defendant, Felix Dennis [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Dennis; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_of_England_Forest; https://www.heartofenglandforest.com/].

Another is the National Forest: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_National_Forest_(England); https://www.nationalforest.org/

[the National Forest, northeast of Birmingham]

Britain needs more forests, more woods, more tree cover generally, eg in urban and suburban areas. The Woodland Trust, which has planted over 43 million trees over the past four decades, can help and even gives away saplings in some cases: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodland_Trust

Tweets seen today

I can understand why Hitchens has acceded to the softly-spoken insistence that he have the Covid-19 vaccine injection. He wants to travel, and that is being made all but impossible without vaccination. Many, the vast majority in fact, in the old Soviet Union, made the same sort of compromise: unenthusiastic compliance with the regime, in order to live a quiet life, avoid penalties, and receive modest benefits such as flats, or (for the few) travel outside Soviet borders.

What if Beria Had Succeeded Stalin?

Background

I recently re-read Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness– A Soviet Spymaster, the autobiography of General Pavel Sudoplatov, who was, inter alia, the brains behind such complex secret operations as the acquisition, in the 1940s, of atomic and nuclear technology from the USA and UK; he also oversaw such sanguinary plots as –and most notoriously– the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico in 1940.

I last read Sudoplatov’s book in 1994, the year of its first hardback publication. On first reading, I did not, perhaps, pay enough attention to the part of the book near the end, dealing with Beria and the Politburo in general after the death of Stalin in 1953.

It might be said that to examine the beliefs and intent of Beria is otiose now that 65 years have passed since his death by summary execution. Also, unsurprisingly, few tears have been shed for him since his death. He was in many ways monstrous: this article is of course limited in scope by reason of, inter alia, lack of space. Beria’s crimes of a political nature were on a vast scale. His more personal crimes were also many and included the regular abduction and rape of women and girls, including some young schoolgirls. Having said that, his swift “trial” (in secret and without defence representation) and the immediately-following execution was a purely political action ordered by those with political records in many ways as bad (Khrushchev, for one).

I start from the following premises:

  • that Western and/or Westernizing conspirators funded and oversaw the Bolshevik coup d’etat in October 1917 (old calendar);
  • that the same cabals set up the Soviet system in the 1920s as a quasi-religious movement (in style) which was atheist (in content);
  • that the quasi-religious character of Bolshevism slowly started to dissipate after the death of Lenin in January 1924, replaced at first by a pseudo-intellectual Marxism-Leninism (incorporating a personality-cult), then by a revival of “Holy Russia” and nationalistic propaganda (mixed with the foregoing) during the war of 1941-45. Finally, there came a late efflorescence of the Stalin personality cult mixed with pan-Slavism between 1945 and Stalin’s death in 1953;
  • that in the (significant number) 33 years from 1956 (the year of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech denouncing Stalinism as a personality cult etc) to 1989, Sovietism continued to decay ideologically, until it finally collapsed into a pile of dust.

Beria, ideologically

Beria was born in Merkheuli, near Sukhumi, which latter was a prosperous resort in late-Tsarist times. His family was not poor. It may be important that (in contradistinction to Russia), the Black Sea littoral was part of the Alexandrine Greek polity and, later, the Eastern Roman Empire. A more cosmopolitan milieu than that of Russia and one which existed for more than a thousand years prior to the first foundation of Kievan Rus.

That area, Abkhazia (geographically a part of Georgia, though historically distinct), was the location of the legendary Golden Fleece and is said to have been the birthplace of wine.

In the Soviet era, peasants were able to (in effect) own their own agricultural or horticultural plots of up to 0.5 hectare (about an acre or so). This was put into law in the mid-1930s. “Special districts” (particularly in Georgia) could have plots as large as 1 hectare (2.2 acres) officially and slightly more unofficially. By 1939, these small plots (only a few percent of the land area of the Soviet Union) produced at least 21% of all Soviet agricultural produce (and a far greater percentage of fruits etc). Some estimates from later times (the 1970s) put the real figure as high as 40%.

The “garden plots” or “household plots” had become important in Georgia/Abkhazia since the end of serfdom in 1865 (serfdom in some parts of the Russian Empire lasted for some years after the formal abolition of 1861).

Beria (b.1899) thus grew up in a milieu quite different from his later Russian and Ukrainian colleagues.

Beria was, as a youth, involved, when a student in Baku (again, a very “capitalist” and cosmopolitan city which, after a long history, had boomed pre-1914 by reason of the oil finds), with both the Bolsheviks and the Azeri anti-Bolshevik Musavat movement, which had Muslim, Turkic and general reformist roots and ideology.

It has been alleged against Beria that he had been involved with British Intelligence in Baku in or around 1919. Not impossible. Baku was of huge strategic importance during the First World War.

Likewise, at his drumhead trial in 1953, it was alleged that Beria favoured soft relations with National Socialist Germany or was even a “traitor” who helped Germany militarily and diplomatically (see the Wikipedia article, below).

Anthroposophy and other Germanic cultural connections

Beria was friendly toward the writer Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, who was educated partly at Berlin University (graduating in 1918) and spent the war years 1914-1918 in Germany and Switzerland as well as France. Gamsakhurdia may well have met Rudolf Steiner (d.1925) at that time, when Steiner was constructing the First Goetheanum (at Dornach, near Basel, Switzerland).

In the 1920s, Konstantine Gamsakhurdia was for 3-4 years a political prisoner in the Solovki concentration camp on the Solovetsky Islands. He would almost certainly not have survived the purges of the 1930s without Beria’s protection.

The son of Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, became President of Georgia in the first democratic elections following Soviet rule. He is generally considered to have been an Anthroposophist, and wrote, among other works, Goethe’s Weltanschauung from the Anthroposophic Point of View [pub. Tbilisi 1985].

Beria’s Preferred Policies

Beria was not an idealist, but a practitioner of Realpolitik, par excellence. This enabled him not only to implement Stalin’s repressions without conscience, but also to see the aspects of Soviet life that were not working.

Had Beria succeeded Stalin,

  • he would have brought back a large measure of private ownership, or at least operational ownership, into agriculture. That would have hugely improved Soviet agriculture, whereas Khrushchev’s Virgin Lands scheme was mainly an expensive and ecologically-negative failure;
  • because Beria was not an ideologue, he would have had no qualms in ending the Cold War early. He would have been, to cite Mrs Thatcher’s view of Gorbachev, someone “with whom the West could do business.” That might have meant no Vietnam War, no Soviet support for so-called “Liberation” movements in Africa, no Cuban Missile Crisis, no Berlin Wall;
  • while Beria would certainly have ruthlessly stamped down on domestic political opposition, he would not have repeated Stalin’s mistaken policy (implemented partly by Beria himself) of arresting millions of people for effectively no reason;
  • Beria would have (as Sudoplatov notes) allowed the non-Russian republics a greater degree of independence, thus creating an earlier and more feasible “Commonwealth of Independent States” [CIS], albeit that they would not be “states” but autonomous or semi-autonomous republics.
  • Beria would have concentrated the KGB (its later name) and GRU on useful intelligence gathering and not on playing spy games and fomenting pseudo-Marxist revolts in Africa, Latin America etc.

Conclusion

While it might stick in the craw of many to conclude that Beria would have made a far better ruler of Russia than uneducated Khrushchev with his half-baked huge projects and his bang-shoe-on-table style of diplomacy, the facts speak for themselves.

Notes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukhumi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abkhazia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_plot#History

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musavat

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baku

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goetheanum

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Steiner

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solovki_prison_camp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solovetsky_Islands

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konstantine_Gamsakhurdia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Lands_Campaign

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavrentiy_Beria

Literary Note

A British scribbler, one Alex Marshall (formerly of The Guardian, now at time of writing apparently “Europe Culture Editor” for The New York Times) wrote a book called The Caucasus Under Soviet Rule, in which he wrote that “Personally propagating a bizarre Rudolph Steiner-inspired cult of anthroposophy, [Zviad] Gamsakhurdia…[etc]”.

Poorly written, for a start: “Anthroposophy” requires upper-case “A”, just like, say, “Roman Catholicism”. Marshall spells Rudolf Steiner, “Rudolph”, just as those who make fun of Hitler often write his name “Adolph” in petty denigration; also, “a bizarre” should be (if written at all) “the bizarre”.

Marshall’s words sound like a polemic against Anthroposophy, that movement which has achieved so much (though that fact is still not well-known to the masses in the Anglophone countries). To write off Anthroposophy as “a bizarre cult” is itself bizarre: think biodynamic agriculture, Waldorf [Rudolf Steiner] education etc.

I note that Marshall’s book, at least according to some reviewers, contains a number of other factual errors.

In fact, Shevardnadze, who overthrew Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was a ruthless “ex”-Soviet apparatchik who reintroduced large-scale repression into already-chaotic Georgian political life. He was the preferred candidate of the New World Order, completely under the “Western” thumb. I myself was slightly acquainted at one time (c.1995) with one of Shevardnadze’s advisers, who –like me– was on the Committee of the Central Asia and Transcaucasia Law Association [CATLA], a body active in the 1990s and which was supported by the British Government and large London-based law firms with interests in those regions.

http://poli.vub.ac.be/publi/ContBorders/eng/ch0201.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduard_Shevardnadze

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zviad_Gamsakhurdia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Steiner

Update, 24 November 2018

I have located my copy of the book Beria, by Sergio Beria (Lavrenty Beria’s son), so may add to this blog post when I have reread the book.

Taking the Whole Package

This evening, I watched a show called something like “The Real Marigold Hotel”, in which four elderly once-“celebrities” went to a country (in this case, Cuba) in order to see what facilities might be available for retired people. As such, as a “documentary”, it was very superficial and lacking depth, though entertaining. What interested me was the society in general.

The Cuba –actually just Havana– shown (and I have never been there, though I am quite well acquainted with its history of the past century and, in the manner of Sarah Palin, have glimpsed it from the air and from the sea) was in fact largely the stereotype: old American cars in pastel pink and blue, decrepit but charming colonial mansions, palm trees etc.

The old people went to cultural classes and talked to Cubans in parks. It struck me anew that any society is a package: Cuba has some culture (both European and its own mixture incorporating the Caribbean and African, as well as that of the USA.

The Havana shown was one where the parks were (on the face of it) safe to visit, the people well-educated (one or two Cubans carefully making the point that their good education had been free, as were the classes available to the elderly).

Most people know that the Cuban healthcare system is also very good, both in relative and absolute terms. On the other hand, and as the TV programme noted, the Internet is tightly controlled, requires a card (no doubt traceable..) and is mostly only available in “wi-fi” areas such as certain parks; not so many have home Internet connection.

It is perhaps pointless to reiterate what most of us know in terms of the Cuban police state (which –in all the documentary films I have ever seen– is so pervasive that it is invisible: you never see the hand of the State in plain sight, though it is there all right).

So there you have the Cuban package: low crime rate (supposedly), no obvious disorder, at least some rather polite, cultured citizens, good education and healthcare etc (one Cuban did say that it was better before the supportive Soviet Union collapsed), as well as a certain charm.

As against that, a socialist state which controls the news and Internet tightly, imprisons dissidents for years (not to mention the large number who, in the late 1950s and 1960s, were just shot); a socialized economy which (leaving aside the effect of American embargo) was and largely is hopelessly inefficient at providing consumer goods. Travel restrictions, too.

Let us take a different case. The German Reich in the 1930s was intolerant of dissidents too, though it was far more tolerant than was the Soviet Union under Stalin or, indeed, Cuba under Fidel.

The National Socialist state imprisoned some dissidents or placed them in concentration camps such as Dachau (though few now know that many served short sentences, such as 3 months, there, and were not there indefinitely). Others were encouraged or more or less forced out of the country. There was a generally militarized ethos. How could a state both German and quasi-socialist be anything else?

In the Reich, there was state interference in culture (though, again, far less than, say, in the Soviet Union). Consumer production was given a lower priority than rearmament (“Guns Before Butter”), though large projects for the benefit of the people were also pushed into the foreground: the Autobahnen; the VW “people’s car”; the 1936 Olympics; a huge programme of educational and cultural events; the Kraft durch Freude [“Strength through Joy”] programme of Canary Islands cruises and Baltic beach holidays for the people (at a time when, in the UK, most people who had a holiday at all were corralled into poky Blackpool guest houses…); better nutrition for young people, too.

The National Socialist Reich was hugely beneficial for most Germans, certainly compared to what existed in the Weimar period. The Reich solved the inflation problem, the unemployment problem, the decadence problem and, yes, what it termed “the Jewish question”.

In the UK at the same time, there was greater ostensible “freedom”: elections every 5 years, the freedom to eat daily at the Ritz or at the Savoy Grill (if one had the funds..), no obvious book censorship (though, behind the scenes, there was much, not least via the Jewish element, even then). There was official theatre and cinema censorship (via the Lord Chamberlain’s office) and there was also, of course, grinding poverty (especially outside the South East), and a very repressive justice and prison system; not to mention the pervasive class system and its inequities.

No state, no political system is “perfect”. All have flaws, and all (most, at least) have benefits (though what might be the benefits of living in, say, North Korea or the Congo might be disputed). The aim can only be to do the best with what is available at the material time. We take everything as a package, as a whole.