November 26th, 2011

Serfs v slaves

I’ve been slowly reading Paul Johnson’s The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830. Don’t let the dry dull title or its length put you off; it’s wide-ranging and has something of interest (and something I didn’t previously know) on every page, perhaps in every paragraph.

Here’s a little sample, involving the Russian institution of serfdom. Think you know about it? Think again—and while you’re thinking, contemplate how important this history was for the rise of communism in Russia:

In the early 19th century the systems of slavery in the Americas and of serfdom in Russia were often compared because both were growing rapidly. In west and central Europe, serfdom had declined rapidly from the 15th century onwards, and was extinct in any recognizable form by 1800. But in Russia it had actually expanded…

…[T]he [Russian] state disliked slaves, whom it could not tax, and helped to stamp them out, while promoting serfdom, which brought in revenue. In practice however it farmed out the serfs to their landlords, who made themselves responsible for their taxes. This practice increased the landlords’ power over the serfs and was convenient to the state, which collected its taxes more easily…

It is at this point that the difference between unfree labor in Russia and in the Americas becomes of overwhelming importance. In the United States, for instance, the slave was an unfree being living in the midst of citizens with full rights, rather like in ancient Athens. In Russia, by contrast, the serfs simply formed one category of people in a servile system which allowed no one whatever to dispose freely of his time or his belongings. Neither freehold land nor personal rights, in the Western sense, had any meaning in Russia. It was what Thomas Hobbes called a “Patrimonial Monarchy,”…in which the autocrat, or the state he personally embodied, disposed of all resources, human or material. Such concepts as individual rights and liberties, the rule of law, the limitations on the exercise of authority simply did not exit. Peasant serfdom was therefore merely the most visible and widespread form of bondage…

Everyone had to yield the state either services or money, or both, at a certain place, where it was due…If you moved to evade it, you were manhunted, whether you were a city dweller or a peasant. Not only was it your duty to pay; it was also your duty to denounce those who did not pay. Denunciation was, in practice, the only way a peasant could effectively act against a landlord. Failure to denounce, whether for nonpayment or any other crime against the state, such as conspiracy, was itself ranked as “treason,” and the entire family was implicated in the traitor’s guilt. In practice however, all did denounce because neighbors had to make good the losses suffered by the state when one of them absconded. Thus shopkeepers, merchants and dealers watched each other carefully…

The serfs were merely the least free members of a servile society in which no one except the Tsar himself was truly free. The frontiers were always sealed. To go abroad, you had to obtain, by petition to the Tsar, a proezzhaia gramota. If a merchant traveled without one, his property was confiscated and his relatives were liable to be tortured to find out why he did it and sent to Siberia…Foreigners, too, required an entry visa and were not generally welcome. If they looked at things too closely, they were treated as spies—one reason why there are so few drawings of Russia in this period. Russians were forbidden to make unauthorized contact with foreign visitors. Only in 1703 did foreign or domestic news cease to be a state secret in Russia, and thereafter both remained in meager supply.

When slaves in the US were freed, it was a long and shaky process to full participation in society. But at least there was a society that valued liberty into which they could ultimately be assimilated.

No such thing was available to the serfs. Is it any wonder that Communism took hold in Russia, with a people so unused to having any rights, and so accustomed to policing and informing on each other?

53 Responses to “Serfs v slaves”

  1. Sergey Says:

    This description misses important issues that almost half of Russian territory in European part and most parts of Siberia never experienced servitude: all Russian North, southern parts at Don river, all territories at Crimea and Caucasus and so on. Those who prefer freedom simply fled to the wilderness of Northern taiga, on Don or into Siberia. This still matters, since in these territories the whole set of cultural attitudes is very different from those fund in central provinces where servitude was a rule.

  2. Polliwog Says:

    I hadn’t realized it was possible to have an institution _worse_ than slavery.
    It goes a long way to explain why a Russian pastor told our church that the Russians worshipped power. It sounds like power was the only way to have even a small amount of self-determination.

  3. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    In the context of talking about slavery, I find it amazing that Islam’s role in over a thousand years of slave-taking, and in expanding and perpetuating slavery world-wide (the Muslim slavery operation which, by one estimate from the Center for the Study of Political Islam processed 17,000,000 slaves–an estimated 1,500,000 of them Europeans, so many of them Slavs from Eastern Europe that the word “slave” is supposedly derived from them–was the pattern for the much smaller three hundred yearlong Atlantic slave trade which processed an estimated 10,000,000 slaves and used some of their routes, techniques, and sales locations) is practically never acknowledged or discussed (see, for instance,

  4. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Thanks for recommending the book. I’ll definitely get it as I gained so much from his “Modern Times”.

  5. Occam's Beard Says:

    Also check out his book “Intellectuals,” which chronicles what swine the progenitors of modern leftism really were.

  6. rickl Says:

    As it happens, I’m also reading this book. I saw it mentioned here recently, and bought it last week along with a few others (see here). I got a used hardcover copy in excellent condition for under $10 including shipping.

    I read the first 100 pages or so on Thanksgiving Day, but I haven’t read any since then. You’ll probably finish it before I will.

  7. Artfldgr Says:

    Ya’ll gonna love this system. I cant even begin to get someone who is in the west with no connection to it, to believe it can be so different than anything they ever thought things could be.

    still think that women no longer having house, home, and husband is liberation, or is it moving women into industry and preventing their own families from benefiting from them?

  8. Artfldgr Says:

    Also note that the system described could work without money as each would be beholden to the structure above them.

    a piss layer cake where only the guy on top doesnt get pissed on

  9. kolnai Says:

    Re: Polliwog –

    Along those lines I recall a somewhat famous remark – I think it’s a proverb, but I could be wrong – that “Russians love to suffer.”

    There is an excellent series from the History Channel, available on DVD, called “Russia: Land of the Tsars,” that draws some other parallels between Tsarist and Communist Russia. Most notably, a lot of the stuff Ivan the Terrible did, including his style of rule, was an eerie foreshadow of Stalin. The notorious “oprichniki” were basically a medieval version of the NKVD.

    Even further back, we can’t forget that the Mongol era was (unfortunately) a central event in the definition of the shape of Russian society. Our school of politics and society was the British Empire; the Russians’ school was Genghis Khan’s.

    Poor Stolypin – the forces he was up against, historical and otherwise, were just inconceivable. Maybe Sergey has an opinion on whether or not it was really possible for him to have succeeded. I don’t know enough to say; but I do know that whenever I read about the brief Stolypin era, I feel an overwhelming sadness for Russia and what might have been.

  10. Polliwog Says:

    Poor Stolypin

    Who? I swear, the older I get the more I find out I never learned in school. Can you give me a first name to go with the Stolypin? That way I can at least get a start with learning more.

  11. kolnai Says:

    Ah, apologies Polliwog.

    Pyotr Stolypin was the leader of the Russian Duma for about five years (1906-1911, if I recall correctly). Without going into detail – I’m sure his Wickipedia page is alright – he was the moderate liberal (in the general sense) stalwart who tried to introduce market reforms into the agrarian population while suppressing revolutionary groups agitating for communism.

    In effect, he instituted a kind of “war on terror” court system to get a grip on the violent radicals and their organizations (so effective that gallows were referred to as “Stolypin’s necktie”); he learned the lesson of the disaster of absolutizing the Third Estate in France and made sure, through much chicanery, that lower class rabble-rousers and revolutionaries were shut out of the Duma; and he tried to create a peasantry grounded in private freeholds and free exchange of goods with the cities.

    In 1911, like Lincoln, he was assassinated in a theater. The guy who killed him embodied perfectly the strange similitude of communism and Tsarism: he was a radical leftist and an agent of the Okhrana. The Tsarist absolutists had as much to fear from Stolypin as the commies did. To this day, unless new information has come to light, no one knows who was behind the assassination. Probably a mixture of both sides.

    His great slogan was that he was “wagering on the strong” among the citizenry.

    A great man.

  12. Bob From Virginia Says:

    Occam wrote “Also check out his book “Intellectuals,” which chronicles what swine the progenitors of modern leftism really were.”

    My favorite guru, Eric Hoffer, also discovered that intellectuals are the enemy of the people. This was/is especially true in the US, according to Hoffer, where they are not a respected or distinguished class within the society.

    Hoffer also noted that Russia is the only country that never seemed to change, all the old institutions seem to have been given different names from the pre-revolution and held in place. One can read the Journey for Our Time: The Russian Journals of the Marquis De Custine and see the big difference between Tsarist Russia and Soviet Russia besides the name change was the size of the prison camps. (Note: Custine went to Russia to get support for his pro-autocratic theories, he left a confirmed liberal.)

    I read that Stolypin was virtually the only man who could have prevented the revolution and that both sides were glad when he was killed. Factoid: the Russians described their constitution as autocracy tempered by assassination.

  13. Bob From Virginia Says:

    Wolla Dalbo, reference Islam and slavery, I read descriptions of Khartoum, Sudan indicating that some form of black slavery is still practiced there. Frankly, I find that easier to believe than that it is not practiced there.

  14. Bob From Virginia Says:

    More Eric Hoffer on the intellectuals:
    To the intellectual the struggle for freedom is more vital than the actuality of a free society. He would rather “work, fight, talk, for liberty than have it.” The fact is that up to now the free society has not been good for the intellectual. It has neither accorded him a superior status to sustain his confidence nor made it easy for him to acquire an unquestioned sense of social usefulness. For he derives his sense of usefulness mainly from directing, instructing, and planning — from minding other people’s business — and is bound to feel superfluous and neglected where people believe themselves competent to manage individual and communal affairs, and are impatient of supervision and regulation. A free society is as much a threat to the intellectual’s sense of worth as an automated economy is to the workingman’s sense of worth. Any social order that can function with a minimum of leadership will be anathema to the intellectual.
    The intellectual craves a social order in which uncommon people perform uncommon tasks every day. He wants a society throbbing with dedication, reverence, and worship. He sees it as scandalous that the discoveries of science and the feats of heroes should have as their denouement the comfort and affluence of common folk. A social order run by and for the people is to him a mindless organism motivated by sheer physiologism.

  15. Sergey Says:

    The only thing that prevented Stolypin success was inept rule by Nakolas II and his small clique of half-wit courtier, including all-powerfull charlatan Grigiriy Rasputin. They discredited the Tzarist regime in the eyes of all educated society and liberal reformers. The Great War was the mortal blow to legitimity of regime and resulted in complete moral collapse of the society. It worth to mention here that serfdom was abolished 50 years before Stolypin reforms, in 1861. What Stolypin was fighting against was not the serfdom itself, but lack of land property rights of Russian peasants: local village communities were the sole owners of orable lands and re-distributed land patches to families every year by equality principle, so that each family have amount of land in their disposal in proportion to the family size. Unlike lands owned by nobility or wealthy urban dwellers, this communities-owned land could not be sold or bought. There was widespread prejustice among peasantry against land trade and private ownership of the land. The goal of Stolypin reform was to create private ownership of the land and market for it. This could allow more effective land allocation, migration of peasants to government-owned free lands in Siberia and eastern steppes to the east of Volga. In a sense, this reform was the most close analog to the American law about homestand, which made the backbone of US middle class. He wanted to make farmers from peasants.

  16. Sergey Says:

    homestead, of course, not homestand. The name of Rusputin was Grigoriy.

  17. kolnai Says:

    Sergey –

    Well said.

    I’m a bit rusty so I had to go back and check up on my old “The Russian Revolution” by Richard Pipes. I completely forgot that serfdom had been formally abolished in 1861 – so it’s more accurate to say that Stolypin was trying to change the “ethos” of serfdom that still remained among the peasantry, which even in 1906 remained strongly influenced by old notions of quasi-collectivism in land (albeit justified more on religious than communistic grounds). I seem to remember a big chunk of Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward” being taken up by discussions of this ethos, via Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”

    Interesting factoid – I checked out Stolypin’s Wickipedia page after I posted, and at the end it mentions that in a 2008 survey, the top three most esteemed Russians among the people were, in order: Nevsky, Stolypin, and… Stalin.

    Wow. I had read before about Stalin’s popularity, so that wasn’t a surprise. What is really surprising is that Stolypin and Stalin stand side-by-side as esteemed leaders. How the heck does that circle square?

    A riddle inside a puzzle inside of an enigma, indeed.

  18. Polliwog Says:

    Thanks for the education everyone. This was an entire aspect, Stolypin and his reforms, of Russian history that I didn’t even know existed.

  19. david foster Says:

    Bob from Virginia…intellectuals, according to Hoffer, “are not a respected or distinguished class within the society”

    When Peter Drucker came to the US from Europe (Austria & Germany) in the 1930s, he observed that *every single social group*…small businesspeople, big businesspeople, farmers, academics, labor…felt that it was not sufficiently respected or appreciated. And he thought this was excellent, because it demonstrated that no single group had achieved total dominance.

    For some reason, the phenomenon that Drucker described seems to have bothered academics more than it bothered members of the other groups.

  20. david foster Says:

    Bob from Virginia/more Hoffer…”The intellectual craves a social order in which uncommon people perform uncommon tasks every day. He wants a society throbbing with dedication, reverence, and worship.”

    Arthur Koestler wrote about what he called “the tragic and the trivial planes of life,” the tragic being concerned with ultimate things and the trivial dealing with everydayness. It has often struck me that many academics are strongly attracted to life on the tragic plane but lack the courage to actually live there..indeed, many are in fact government employees, with the level of risk-taking in their lives that that status normally implies. I feel sure that a certain amount of academic radicalism is an attempt to live vicariously on the tragic plane.

  21. Jewel Says:

    I thought I’d studied Russian history, but this I didn’t know. Communism: Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss. Only you have to pretend that it isn’t.

  22. Occam's Beard Says:

    but I do know that whenever I read about the brief Stolypin era, I feel an overwhelming sadness for Russia and what might have been.

    And before him, Alexander II, the Czar who emancipated the serfs, whose various reforms might have deflected Russia from its disastrous trajectory had he not been assassinated.

  23. kolnai Says:

    david foster –

    As an academic, intellectual(ish)-type myself, I found your analysis rather plausible. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had some of the same tendencies. I’m just not a liberal.

    To further what you said, based solely on my own introspection and observation, I might add that the intellectual attitude toward the tragic plane is somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand, they are fascinated by it because, frankly, they (we, I guess) are the sort of people who, for whatever reason, find that sort of stuff to be what gets our juices flowing – less prosaically, it seems to promise meaning (since most intellectuals are atheists, they have an unusually intense craving for persistently felt meaning).

    On the other hand, the tragic plane is terrifying – which is why, as you noted, we would lack the courage to actually go and live there, as it were.

    These two hands together make for one hell of a mess. We’re devoted to what we fear above all else; we promote what we run from like the plague; we “sell” to others, in effect, what we lack the resolve to “purchase” ourselves.

    One might even go deeper and trace this attitude back, as Richard Weaver and (today) Michael Allen Gillespie do, to the nominalist revolution in the 14th Century and its vision of a terrifyingly omnipotent God who could literally do anything. The traditional surcease from life’s agonies that the Christian God had once provided, along with the ontological certitudes granted with the great chain of being and the hierarchy of laws, began to erode. The mortal terror of the absolute – that most worthy of love – went mainstream.

    So we flash forward 700 years and we see intellectuals still in love with some version of the absolute – whatever it is in the tragic plane that illumines life with significance – and still living in sheer horror of its power.

    The first test of an intellectual’s mettle these days is to see if he or she can be forthright and clear-eyed in copping to this professional debility. Mostly, we just see hundreds of ingeniously devised ways of evading it – the economists pretend like the tragic plane doesn’t exist; the biologists try to explain it away as a kind of ancillary adaptation that allowed us to survive in the Pleistocene; the political scientists just block out human nature entirely and wouldn’t know a profound thought even if it showed up in a multiple regression; the humanities folks lionize the tragic plane from comfy sinecures; and on and on goes the dance of dense.

    I can’t exempt myself from this indictment; but that’s no reason to mince words. Another area where contemporary intellectuals fail to measure up to the standards of common decency and honesty is this bizarre compulsion they have to think that, whatever they are, they are somehow models for the good life. Being an intellectual has its pleasures, not the least of which is self-deception thoroughly rationalized.

  24. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Bob From Virginia—others here have commented on ”a whole new world” that—from the information, formerly unknown to them, that we are discussing here—they were never taught about. This is the way I felt when, after 9/11, I first started to really, seriously research Islam and its history of interaction with us “unbelievers.”

    In the course of the intensive research I was doing on East Asia in undergraduate and then graduate school, I had read bits and pieces of, to me, tangential, academic level information about Islam and its history to add to the “common knowledge” I had picked up here and there from novels, movies, and TV—let’s call it the ““Lawrence of Arabia,” “the Tuareg, Blue Men of the Desert,”” Hagia Sophia,” pretty Arab calligraphy, the “Taj Mahal” and ”Alhambra” view of Islam,” and from all these various sources I had formed a very hazy and superficial, a mostly benign image in
    my mind about Islam and Muslims and their history; they were a colorful, minor part of history but had no real, no major impact on ti or on us.

    But, what I found when I actually drilled down below that surface image—deliberately created by a host of sources. mostly created—I now believe—by “Islamophiles,” lovers of and apologists for Islam—was of an Islam infinitely more consequential, more influential and wide-spread, and much more menacing that what I had been lead to believe, and with a history—encompassing all the known world—of Jihad—of attempted, and often successful invasion, intimidation, subversion, conquest, occupation, oppression, domination, extortion, looting, rape, destruction, and slave-taking–prosecuted against all unbelievers—Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists, Animists, Pagans and all others–and determinative of a lot of our history, and their enormous system of slave taking was just one key part of their violent and extractive enterprise. All this actual history “prettified” sanitized, covered up, minimized, “re-imagined,” and largely forgotten as no longer useful or relevant by us in the ”modern” 20th and 21st centuries.

    Since we are recommending books here, if I had to recommend one book on the history of Islam and its interactions with us “unbelievers” it would be the compilation from almost entirely Muslim sources edited by Dr. (he’s an MD) Andrew G. Bostom titled, “The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims” ( , whose information, whose take on history, is confirmed by many other sources that have mostly been ignored and forgotten; shoved down the “memory hole.”l.

    Read” Legacy” and you will discover the eight hundred year campaign of attacks i.e. Jihad by Islam and Muslims that ultimately conquered and destroyed the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, conquered its capitol Alexandria with great slaughter (and renamed it Istanbul) , slaughtered its priests and worshipers, defiled its alters, defaced and covered up its artwork and images, and transformed the largest and oldest Christian church in Christendom and in the ancient world, the Hagia Sophia, into the Islamic Mosque and museum we see today, Muslim conquerors who later also burned the great Library at Alexandria; a massive war and conquest that some historians now argue, destroyed commerce and travel in the Mediterranean and helped precipitate the Dark Ages.

    Read” Legacy” and you will read of the destruction of what had been a vibrant Christian civilization that had existed all across the Middle East and North Africa—how about all those missionary journeys and letters by the Apostles in the new Testament to congregations in places like Syria, Alexandria, Anatolia (Turkey) and Greece?–until it was extinguished and replaced by Islam in a matter of the hundred years in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D.

    Read “Legacy” and you will discover why there are the ruins of towers all along the shore looking out to sea—there to warn of the approach of Muslim raiders —that still dot the Italian Riviera and Amalfi coast.

    Read “Legacy” and you will learn the real history of Muslim’s conquest and occupation of Spain, of Greece, of Malta, of Sicily and many places in the Mediterranean, of a large part of Eastern Europe, of their razzia up the Tiber and their sacking of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome, forcing the Pope to pay these Muslim raiders” Jizya” i.e. protection money for a time.

    Read “Legacy” and you will read of more than a thousand years of raids (the razzias recommended by Muhammad) by Muslims spreading terror along the coasts and throughout the landmass of Europe, of Muslim base camps for raiding the European countryside established in places like Arles in France, Muslim raiding parties/armies probing ever westward and spreading terror and destruction, periodically marauding throughout the European landmass—Muslim raiders probing into Poland and Hungary, on the borders of Russia, of Germany, of Switzerland, and France–and of the four major attempts by large Muslim armies/armadas to invade Europe—at Tours outside Paris in 732 A.D, and in middle Europe at the Gates of Vienna and the Siege of Vienna, and at the sea Battle of Lepanto off the coast of Greece—these last three attempts during the 16th and 17th centuries. A.D. Read of people on the coasts of England, Ireland, Italy, and Iceland captured and sold as slaves by Muslims raiders—terror so persistent and widespread throughout Christendom that there was a prayer in every Christian service pleading with God to protect people against the ”terror of the Saracens.”

    All this, of course, is not even to mention/delve into the enormous number of deaths among unbelievers attributed to Muslim’s 1,400 years of Jihad against them, deaths estimated by the Center for the Study of Political Islam (CSPI), based on Muslim sources, of 280,000,000 unbelievers killed over those 1,400 years. Nor to delve into the enormous toll to unbelievers taken by the CSPI estimated 17,000,000 slaves—mostly Africans and Hindus but some estimated 1,500,000 of them Europeans –captured and sold by the world-spanning Muslim slave trade.

    Profits from the slave trade which—along with the profits from loot gained by conquests and raiding, from the work of slaves retained by Muslims–not only field workers but especially educated, cultured, skilled, and literate unbelievers, along with the work of oppressed “dhimmis,” unbelievers who were “second class citizens” and often virtual slaves conquered and ruled by Muslim overlords, and the annual “Jizya,” the protection money dhimmis paid to suspend their exposure as “unbelievers” to sdespoliation, rape, violence, and death at the hand of Muslims in the lands conquered and ruled by them—that together comprised Muslim’s main sources of income, which propped up the various extractive Muslims regimes.

    Had we all known and been familiar with this ”hidden history,” I think that our attitude and approach towards Islam and Muslims would be very radically and fundamentally different, and much more realistic and hard-nosed than it is today.

  25. br549 Says:

    kolnai – 11/27/2011 12:01 P.M. post

    Quite a post, sir. If we ever chance meet, I’d be proud to buy you an adult beverage of your choice.

  26. Occam's Beard Says:

    intellectuals, according to Hoffer, “are not a respected or distinguished class within the society

    Couple points.

    Intellectuals are not respected or distinguished simply because they pontificate, which is what they want. Any respect or distinction must be earned on the merit of their ideas, and since the vast majority of their ideas are self-evidently rubbish, such recognition is not forthcoming. That’s what annoys them.

    Second, while “intellectual” in principle refers to those who contribute to society through mental rather than physical labor (and hence would include inter alia physicians, scientists, and engineers), the term is now effectively used to refer to congenitally useless hard-left whackjobs who compete with each other to come up with the most obviously flawed prescription for society. The irony of assorted ne’er-do-wells and cranks telling others how to live is lost on them. Think Lindsay Lohan offering advice on how to lead a grounded life.

  27. Mel Williams Says:

    Having lived in a relatively isolated university town (Davis, Ca) for many years, I agree with much of the above.

    Here’s what I think the intellectual basically thinks:

    “If only everybody would think (and therefore act) like we do, this world would be on the right path.”

    They are convinced of their own righteousness. They are proud of their porous minds. They think everything should, and can, be solved with talk and negotiation.

    My take is that they don’t really understand human beings very well, and so are drawn to the ideal in human affairs.

  28. Occam's Beard Says:

    “If only everybody would think (and therefore act) like we do, this world would be on the right path.”

    Mel, I think you’re right, but a more risible view can hardly be imagined. So if everyone aspired to sit in a cafe on the Rive Gauche, puffing on a Gauloise, and holding forth pretentiously, the world would be on the right path? Good one.

    I too spent most of my working life in academia, and a more hopelessly dysfunctional (and hierarchical) environment would be hard to find. Prepending “Professor” to Lindsay Lohan’s name doesn’t improve her judgment one scintilla.

  29. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Bob from Virginia—re: modern day slavery in the Muslim world.

    According to the Department of State’s 2010 “Trafficking in Persons Report” (here at , slavery is still practiced in a number of the countries of the Umma—it is at its worst in Iran, in the Sudan, in Mauritania, in Saudi Arabia, in Syria, Kuwait, Chad, Niger and Eritrea, with somewhat lesser problems with slavery in Afghanistan, Algeria, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, and Qatar, etc. etc. (see also, and and and )

  30. david foster Says:

    Koestler’s theory of the tragic and trivial planes was explained by his friend Richard Hillary, a writer and fighter pilot:

    “K has a theory for this. He believes there are two planes of existence which he calls vie tragique and vie triviale. Usually we move on the trivial plane, but occasionally in moments of elation or danger, we find ourselves transferred to the plane of the vie tragique, with its non-commonsense, cosmic perspective. When we are on the trivial plane, the realities of the other appear as nonsense–as overstrung nerves and so on. When we live on the tragic plane, the realities of the other are shallow, frivolous, frivolous, trifling. But in exceptional circumstances, for instance if someone has to live through a long stretch of time in physical danger, one is placed, as it were, on the intersection line of the two planes; a curious situation which is a kind of tightrope-walking on one’s nerves…I think he is right.”

  31. Beverly Says:

    As an Ethiopian Christian limo driver warned me, “They have said, ‘In the end, there will be only Us.’

  32. Beverly Says:

    That limo driver, long resident in the US, said he sometimes tried to warn Americans about the peril the Moslems represent, but that we are too naive and unwilling to see that other men can be evil. Judging others by our own standards of fair play, which, he said, don’t obtain among Moslems: they just use these standards against us, because they feel that all is fair in jihad.

    He was adamant that the Moslems are extremely dangerous, and Not Compatible with the American way of life. “If they like you, they will try to convert you. If they don’t, they will kill you. Period.”

    He used to live in the Sudan for a couple of years, but said that at that time (the 1980s), things between Christians and Moslems were relatively quiet. But as soon as the Wahhabists infiltrated, everything turned to shite.

  33. kolnai Says:

    br549 –

    And I’d be proud to reciprocate.


  34. Gary Rosen Says:

    Was Stolypin perhaps like today’s small-d democrats in Egypt – noble ideals, but the society and culture are simpliy not ready for them?

  35. kolnai Says:

    Gary Rosen –

    That’s the question. My sense from my autodidactic readings in Russian history is that the answer is basically “yes.” I deferred the question to Sergey and he seemed to agree somewhat, but I’ll let him speak for himself if he wants to chime in.

    To oversimplify somewhat: How can a Stolypin succeed in a country whose soul is one-third Nevsky, one-third Stolypin, and one-third Stalin? Likely he’d get at most one-third success (unfortunately, because of the Bolsheviks he didn’t even get that).

    The only disanalogy, perhaps, is that I’m not sure Egypt’s soul is even one-third “small-d democratic,” a situation which renders reformers’ efforts there even more hopeless than Stolypin’s were in Russia.

    And here we are, a most blessed people with so much to be thankful for, nearing the end of our first (and hopefully last) attempt to soil and shred everything we’ve achieved and been bequeathed.

    History is an unendingly sad tale for some peoples, but God help us all.

  36. Sergey Says:

    Stolypin was a wise statesman, not a liberal dreamer. He fully understood enormity of the task, as well as its urgent necessity. So he devised a plan with all necessary provisions to make it acceptable to population in general as well to political class. It was authoritarian modernisation which combined extension of economical freedom for peasantry with strengthening of law enforcement to quell any possible riots and suppression of revolutionary and anarchist forces. If you want find analogues in contemporary politics, it is not Egypt, but China agrarian reformers who unleashed market enterpreneurship while enhancing police state to keep the transition safe to existing political elites.

  37. Sergey Says:

    The Old Russia in which Stolypin lived was not alike the current Russia, so its “soul” was very different. It was 80% peasant country, but old community-based mentality was rapidly unraveling. There was a lot of young people with more individualistic attitudes who seek freedom from paternalistic collectivist oppression. This differentiation among peasants was already under way, this youth needed only some organized legal protection and financial help from the state. And Stolypin gave them this help and protection. He allowed all who want it to demand that their share in community land was made their private property and move from the village into separate alottment, to live here as free farmer. Where there was shortage of free land, he proposed an option to move far away and gave a money subsidy to settle on new place, free railroad tickets to Siberia, rights to fell forest to build new houses and barnes. In many cases, local administration in Siberia and other places of settlement was ordered to build housing for settlers, with funds allocated for this. In case envy of villagers to these rich “new Russians” would lead to arsons or pogroms, punitive expedition were ready to defend the farmers.

  38. Sergey Says:

    Historically figures comparable with Stolypin include Thatcher and Pinochet. They both seek modernization, creation and expansion of middle class and were ready to use police force to suppress thouse who riot against this privatisation. All these leaders met a lot of virulent opposition, but succeded in their main goals.

  39. Richard Saunders Says:


    Exactly why intellectuals loved the Soviet Union. They had actual, offical status: Academedician So-and-So, Member of the Writer’s Union So-and-So. We slobs in the West never awarded them any status at all. Naturally they’re commies.


    I’ve tried explaining any number of times that English slave traders did not go running off into the bush with chains to capture unwary Africans, they just sailed up to long-existing slave ports and bpught the slaves they needed from the Arabs.

    Most people’s response: “Oh, no, that can’t be right, I saw it on Roots!””

  40. kolnai Says:

    Sergey –

    I think your comparisons to Thatcher and Pinochet are spot-on, and on all the other questions I have no bone to pick. I fully agree that Stolypin both was a great statesman and is one of the most sadly neglected figures of the 20th Century.

    Now, if I’m not mistaken, you’re saying that Russia was more poised at a crossroads at the time – that uneasy place on the threshold of full-blown modernity – and Stolypin’s reforms really could have succeeded in taking the nation down a different path?

    There is no way I can claim to know otherwise. I can just go off of what I’ve read, and there are definitely two schools of thought among Russian historians on the matter. People like Adam Ulam and particularly Richard Pipes seem to take the Polish view – that Russian history is more or less totalitarian to its core, so communism or something like it was bound to swamp a guy like Stolypin (I’m oversimplifying, but that’s the gist of it).

    On the other hand, Robert Conquest, Martin Malia, and Francois Furet seem to view the Stolypin period as a genuine “missed opportunity,” not one that was bound to fail because of (what I tendentiously called) the “Russian soul.” That is, Conquest, Malia, and Furet think communism in Russia was not just another logical unpacking of the traditional Russian ethos, but an import from Europe that exacerbated the bad in that ethos and destroyed the good. Solzhenitsyn seemed to have that view as well. (And wouldn’t you know it? – Pipes and Solzhenitsyn despised each other).

    Anyway, like I said, I can’t pretend to adjudicate this debate, much less claim to know who’s right. I may have jumped the gun a bit in throwing in with the Pipes interpretation. I certainly would like this big blue world more if it were true that Stolypin could have succeeded. I just think the forces he was up against were many times more ferocious, determined and powerful than those that, say, Pinochet was facing.

  41. Sergey Says:

    Those who use such words as “Russian soul” should be reminded that Russian culture is very diverse and includes lots of opposing tendencies. Ethos of Old Believers, for example, is radically different from those who embraced official, government approoved church. It is very easy to derive conclusions by cherry-picking some tendencies and completely ignoring the opposite ones. Even government in Russia not always was totalitarian or even autoritarian: there was a long epoch of very liberal reforms initiated by Tzar Alexander II. For example, serfdom in Russia was abolished before slavery was abolished in USA, and without civil war afterward. Libertarian tendencies are obvious in Russian culture, they even dominate in it. The very fact that Communist regime was overthrown without bloodshed proves that idea of liberty had almost overwhelming popular support at that moment and this support last long enough for major and painful reforms been accomplished. There are many “souls” in Russia, it is never known which will prevail.

  42. Sergey Says:

    So-called “Polish view” of Russian history was mostly promoted by Zbignew Brzezinsky, who always held very Russophobic perspective and aquired too prominent position in Slavic studies. This is unfortunate, since this monopoly reflects very narrow and biased approach of a nation with a pathologic prosecution complex and for a lot of historical reasons can not be an objective arbiter in a very complex problem of Russian cultural heritage.

  43. armchair pessimist Says:

    I have heard that Putin has so to speak taken Stolypin’s plans down off the shelf, blown the dust off and is studying them closely.

  44. Sergey Says:

    Alas, Stolypin plans can not be applied today, after the very demographic Stolypin sought to use perished in Gulag. Russia is not anymore agrarian country, and current middle class are not wealthy farmers but urban dwellers. Putin invokes Stolypin to enhance his popularity, but Putin personality is so mediocre and his plans are so short-sighted and selfish that no comparison is possible.

  45. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    Richard Saunders—Over the last few years we have found out that a number of very celebrated “historians” had fabricated their research, and that their works were tissues of lies.

    While the reality of and the facts about the millennia old, immense, violent, destructive, and very consequential Muslim slave trade get little attention, “Roots” did indeed make a huge and lasting impression but, like many other things that we “know” today, it was not real history but rather a tissue of lies and misrepresentations; yet another means to push a far Left agenda, further denigrate America, increase white guilt, and the concomitant call for reparations and redistribution of wealth.

    It only slowly leaked out in the years following” Roots” monumental and almost universal success as “Gospel” on the subject of slavery, and it got only infinitesimal play in the MSM but, as the few researchers unwilling to uncritically accept the “Roots” “narrative” in toto as Gospel, but more interested in the actual truth really examined the Roots story in detail, it became clear that much, in essence all of ”Roots” was fiction (see, for instance, and and and and

    It didn’t get anywhere near the press that Roots did and the subsequent idolization of Alex Hayley but it also turns out that a good portion of “Roots” had been plagiarized from an earlier book written by a white author. A fact Haley acknowledged when he paid $650,000 to the author as compensation after Haley’s trial for plagiarism.

  46. Sergey Says:

    From the short extraction from Paul Jhonson book I can conclude that the author’s perpective is also quite biased and one-sided. It is not clear to which period of Russia history it refers. If it is early 19 century, this simply is not true. Russian nobility had no less freedom in this period than Southern gentry. According Catarine II rescript, members of gentry class needed not to serve, if they did not want. Their sole obligation was to pay taxes, 1% of the whole amount of their wealth annually. And they travelled abroad quite freely. Ogarev and Herzen established free typography in London, many Russian students were educated in German universities. Hero of “Evgeniy Onegin”, Lensky, was studying in Gettingen. And this was during Nicolas I rule, one of the most despotic epoch in Russian history. Another literary hero, Chazki, of the poem “Sorrow from wisdom”, just returned from long trip abroad and was astounded by backward Moscow culture. Gogol lived years in Rome and London. So this picture of tzarist Russia as Asian despoty hermetically sealed from Europe simply run against facts known to everybody who have even superficial knowledge of Russian classic literature studied at grade school.

  47. Sergey Says:

    What Johnson wrote about “podorozhnaya gramota” is also complete gibberish. Such papers were given to government officials send to trips into remote destinations so they can have free accomodation, horses and food for their horses at postal stations. These stations were the only transport for long distance before railroads were built. On his own horses everybody can travel at his own expenses everywhere within boungaries of empire. Not tzar, but every administrator could issue such papers for his subordinates. And to travel abroad one needed passport, but this was not internal requirement, but requirement of the countries where applicant want to travel. To get it, one needed to pay 1 ruble in local police office which could issue the required papers. No permits was necessary.

  48. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    P.S. Of course, while Haley paid the white author that he plagiarized from $650K as compensation, I think it is safe to say that Haley likely made tens of millions of dollars and gained world-wide fame and adulation–that he played to the hilt–from “Roots.”

    It is vary telling though that, as one of the articles linked to above notes, far Left “historian,” Harvard’s Louis Gates, touted as one of America’s per-eminent African-American scholars, as editor of the widely used, standard, Norton Anthology of American Literature, refused to include an excerpt from “Roots” in that volume.

  49. Occam's Beard Says:

    I’ve tried explaining any number of times that English slave traders did not go running off into the bush with chains to capture unwary Africans, they just sailed up to long-existing slave ports and bpught the slaves they needed from the Arabs.

    And from African chieftains. As Hugh Thomas describes in The Slave Trade, such chieftains were the major obstacle Britain faced in eradicating the slave trade. One chieftain Thomas describes made 20 times as much annually as the wealthiest landownder in Britain. It was money for old rope as far as he was concerned.

    Anyone who bought the premise that white slave traders went into the bush is a complete idiot. Never mind the legendarily pestilential nature of the jungle – especially for whites, unaccustomed to it – but consider the logistics. Why transport all the way to Africa the substantial muscle necessary to subdue victims when you can rent it dirt cheap when you get there? This was a business venture, after all. So the idea of whites wrasslin’ in the grass with the brothers is obvious nonsense.

    Some people just don’t think.

  50. Sergey Says:

    The more I read citation from Paul Johnson, the less I believe him. He simply projects into early 19 century what he knows about Stalin’s empire. His assertions are unbelievable. There were no income taxes or any other taxes in Russia in this period, except estate tax for wealthy. So nobody could denounce their neigbours about avoiding payment to state: there were no such payments in existence. He simply confuse this with issue of “krugovaya poruka”, that is, payments which peasants were obliged to pay to their landowners – “obrok”. The whole village community was accounted for these payments, but no police action or torture was possible. And no denounces were needed, too. Such issues were subject of civil law, not criminal law. This book seems to belong to pulp history, a journalist bla-bla-bla from secondary sources and simply urban legends. I could not find in Paul Johnson bio in wiki any mention about his knowledge of Russian language or Russian literature. But I found that he wrote about 50 books about very different countries about which he can not possibly have any primary knowledge. Also, he is a Roman Catholic, which makes understandable his “Polish” view on Russian history. Russian-Polish relations can not be described other way as mutial hatred, and I will never trust a word a Pole wrote about Russia.

  51. neo-neocon Says:

    Sergey: I don’t have the book in my possession any more at the moment. But Johnson is a historian and the book, of course, gives footnotes and sources. If you can get a copy of the book and look up the sources, I assume it will be easier to evaluate their veracity and whether Johnson is quoting them properly.

  52. Artfldgr Says:

    the Kiev… that night, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan was performed…

    and was the 100 year celebration to mark the end of serfdom…

    Dmitri Bogrov was let in by police with a revolver

    Born Mordekhai Gershkovich Bogrov (Мордехай Гершкович Богров) into a family of Jewish merchants in Kiev (Russian Empire), Bogrov, while simultaneously acting as an anarchist revolutionary, had been an agent of the Okhrana secret police since 1906, informing on the activities of Socialist Revolutionaries, Social Democrats and anarchists.


    This act was ostensibly accomplished in order to decapitate a successful and popular conservative reform movement and thus hasten violent revolution. Bogrov was also attempting to stop the anti-Jewish pogroms that Stolypin was inciting. However, it has been alleged that Bogrov was permitted to act at the behest of extreme right-wing elements in the Tsarist secret police who detested Stolypin because of his agrarian reforms and his flair for parliamentary government. (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn extensively investigates and gives full credit to this conjecture in his famous historical novel August 1914.)


    Other controversial activities included fabrication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax [historians not named] maintain that Matvei Golovinski, a writer and Okhrana agent, compiled the first edition on the instructions of Pyotr Rachkovsky) and fabrication of the antisemitic Beilis trial.

    The Protocols of the Elders of Zion [hoax]

    The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a fraudulent, antisemitic text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for achieving global domination. It was first published in Russia in 1903, translated into multiple languages, and disseminated internationally in the early part of the twentieth century. Henry Ford funded printing of 500,000 copies which were distributed throughout the United States in the 1920s.

    Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were major proponents of the text: It was studied, as if factual, in German classrooms after the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, despite having been exposed as fraudulent years before. In the opinion of historian Norman Cohn, the Protocols was Hitler’s primary justification for initiating the Holocaust — his “warrant for genocide.”[1]

    The Protocols purports to document the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting of Jewish leaders discussing their goal of global Jewish hegemony by subverting the morals of Gentiles, and by controlling the press and the world’s economies. It is still widely available today, still presented, typically, as a genuine document, on the Internet and in print, in numerous languages.

    more fun than picking up books is to just start somewhere, and read through all the connecting links within the references… you can wander all around historical things you never heard of that lead to more and more…

    The forgery contains numerous elements typical of what is known in literature as a “false document”: a document that is deliberately written to fool the reader into believing that what is written is truthful and accurate even though, in actuality, it is not.[6] It is also one of the best-known and most-discussed examples of literary forgery, with analysis and proof of its fraudulent origin going as far back as 1921

    yet you would be surprised how many believe that, and not other things!!!!

    Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu

    How are loans made? By the issue of bonds entailing on the Government the obligation to pay interest proportionate to the capital it has been paid. Thus, if a loan is at 5%, the State, after 20 years, has paid out a sum equal to the borrowed capital. When 40 years have expired it has paid double, after 60 years triple: yet it remains debtor for the entire capital sum.
    — Montesquieu, Dialogues, p. 209

    The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

    A loan is an issue of Government paper which entails an obligation to pay interest amounting to a percentage of the total sum of the borrowed money. If a loan is at 5%, then in 20 years the Government would have unnecessarily paid out a sum equal to that of the loan in order to cover the percentage. In 40 years it will have paid twice; and in 60 thrice that amount, but the loan will still remain as an unpaid debt.
    — Protocols, p. 77

    and if women knew who invented the feminism they follow, they would be very surprised… but they dont want to

    just like those who believe the protocols, they WANT what is said to be real more than they want reality itself.

    (kind of dissonant to want to be married and to support the destruction of marriage as a foundational cornerstone, no?)

    do a search for protocols ows and you get over 700,000 hits

    go to their website…

    Forum Post: The Protocols of Zion Are True

    and of course to add to it, its got a link to something you assume is biblical christian

    comments are interesting…

  53. Artfldgr Says:

    occam I too spent most of my working life in academia, and a more hopelessly dysfunctional (and hierarchical) environment would be hard to find. Prepending “Professor” to Lindsay Lohan’s name doesn’t improve her judgment one scintilla.


    well, dummy me ENDED up there after fortune 10, Insurance rating agencies (they compile the data that sets insurance rates), Wallstreet, startups… and now hell in a research hospital.

    My ceiling collapsed while i was on vacation…
    i am worried about it falling again with me under it.

    they promoted someone over me for affirmative action, and of course its incompetence meeting incompetence.

    all the BASIC things an experienced person doing what she is doing would do, she doesnt. and so, she never locked down how data would be delivered for this key system. so EVERY extract was different in how it was completed… dates for pregancy go back to the year 1010… some dates are ’23’…

    and of course the code is written very erratically and poorly with very odd updates

    it was an oracle to mssql conversion with a new part added. each of these parts have rom 36y0 to over 480 fields each

    and she cant understand why my guesses as to when it will work are not all that valid. even worse is that i cant meet with the client, but have to sit in a tiny room and just handle what comes.

    i cant use my experience. it makes her yell about how i try to make her incompetent… but then she retaliates and there is no future for me…

    it BOGGLES the mind how hospitals today are run… no wonder they leak like a ship made out of a colander

    meanwhile the young guy who they are using to show how a tanned skin does better… gets his stuff working by not writing programs correctly.. ie, everything is a variable text field, and so he feels smart that all his stuff is easy to write and handle…

    ah… ok… hows that date search coming?

    and in violation of the eeoc laws they have completely segregated me from co-workers, and everyone… and so i have no future, no raises for years, and no choice or i lose my pension

    did i mention that my 47″x57″ office, with a 28 inch doorway is often over 80 degrees in there… and the chair is broken… and i cant stretch…

    i could design avons modern distribution system, and help implement the first SQL package with informatics in the80s… did expert systems and managed and project led..

    but there i am a handicapped idiot who should be grateful he isnt in an institution making baskets

    so not much to do in this wacked out crazy world but remain isolated and watch my health decline till i am too sick

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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