Friday, June 30, 2023

Irreversibly into the abyss

’The Germans play their game cleverly: treason on all sides. Why is it that in no other people drawn into the war is there so much treason as among the Russians? [. . .] The Germans have been able to take good advantage of this characteristic of the “Russian swine.’’ Revolutionary Russia faces the task of either changing its ways or flying irreversibly into the abyss!’ This is from a ‘remarkable’ diary left by Iurii Vladimirovich Got’e, a Russian intellectual and historian, born 150 years ago today.’ 

Got’e was born in Moscow on 30 June 1873 (new style). His father was an upmarket bookseller whose grandfather had founded the family bookshop in 1799, and Got’e was the first eldest son not to take over the business. Instead, he chose to go to Moscow University and pursue a scholarly career in history and philology. Following graduation, he undertook a year of military service, then he taught in schools and from 1903 at the university. In parallel, he worked first for the Archive of the Ministry of Justice before being employed in the library at Rumiantsev Museum, eventually becoming head librarian.

In 1913, Got’e published his doctoral dissertation on the history of local administration. Two years later, he was appointed professor at Moscow University. Over time, he also spent several years teaching at the Geodesic Institute and at the municipal Shaniavski University. From 1919, he switched to teach archaeology, and he participated in numerous excavations in Eastern Europe. His lectures on the region’s pre-history were published in 1925 and 1930. Between 1934 and 1941, he was associated with the Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature, and History. Between 1898 and 1930 he was first academic secretary and then assistant director of the Lenin All-Union Library. He died in 1943. There is very little further information about his life freely available online, but see The Free Encylclopedia.

However Got’e did leave behind a set of diaries kept through five years (1917-1922) of revolution, civil war, family tragedy, hunger, and progressively deteriorating living conditions. These were translated and edited by Terence Emmons for publication by Princetown University Press in 1988 as Time of Troubles: The Diary of Iurii Vladimirovich Got’e - see Amazon or Googlebooks to preview a few pages. According to Emmons, Got’e wrote the diary entries on a stool in the doorway of the room in communal quarters where he and his family took refuge after their own apartment had been sequestered in 1919.’ Toward the end, Emmons continues, ‘the entries become noticeably less frequent, mainly because by this time Got’e was afraid to keep the diary at home, but also because of his exhaustion, which was no doubt mingled with awareness that the new regime, having survived the Civil War, the Polish war, and the internal rebellions of 1921, was there to stay: the great uncertainty about the immediate future of the country that had sustained the chronicle for nearly five years had begun to fade.’ 

According to the publisher: ‘Among the few diaries available from inside early Soviet Russia none approaches Iurii V. Got’e’s in sustained length of coverage and depth of vivid detail. Got’e was a member of the Moscow intellectual elite - a complex and unusually observant man, who was a professor at Moscow University and one of the most prominent historians of Russia at the time the revolution broke out. Beginning his first entry with the words Finis Russiae, he describes his life in revolution-torn Moscow from July 8, 1917 through July 23, 1922 - nearly the entire period of the Russian Revolution and Civil War up to the advent of the New Economic Policy. 

This remarkable chronicle, published here for the first time, describes the hardships undergone by Got’e’s family and friends and the gradual takeover of the academic and professional sectors of Russia by the new regime. Got’e was in his mid-forties when he wrote the diary. At first he felt that Bolshevism meant complete doom for Russia, but eventually his ardent patriotism led him to accept the Bolsheviks’ role in preserving the integrity of the Russian state. The diary was discovered in 1982 in the Hoover Institution Archives, in the papers of Frank Golder, to whom Got’e himself had entrusted it in 1922.’

Here are several extracts.

17 July 1917
‘The newspapers are a little better. The hope has been kindled since July 15 that at the cost of yielding all of Galicia and complication of the already disgusting Ukrainian question (since, after all, the whole of the Ukraine lying beyond our borders is again in the power of the Germans), at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, the idiots will get smarter. Kerenskii’s efforts to create a genuine coalition government, with the exception of the adventurist Chernov and similar adventurists, ideologue-fools, and maybe charlatans, deserves every sympathy, but isn’t it already too late? Haven’t they been screaming and yelling and confusing the unfortunate Russian - stupid, ignorant, and unprepared for any kind of Rospublic (as Ivan Pavlov from Pochep says) - for too long? The Germans play their game cleverly: treason on all sides. Why is it that in no other people drawn into the war is there so much treason as among the Russians? (1) From ignorance; (2) from the complete absence of a feeling of solidarity and fatherland; (3) from the fact that the leftist ideologues have been courting the minority nationalities for a good hundred years now; (4) from the benighted and anticultural deceitfulness that was remarked already by the foreigners’ narratives of the seventeenth century. The Germans have been able to take good advantage of this characteristic of the “Russian swine.’’ Revolutionary Russia faces the task of either changing its ways or flying irreversibly into the abyss!’

18 July 1917
‘[My] mind turns always to the same (subject). A quiet day without mail. A feeling of complete indifference on the one hand; (on the other] a feeling of regret that a people that could have made something of itself is committing suicide. What will we be - Muscovy, China, or Turkey? Will we have the energy to get on our feet? Although Kerenskii evoked the heavy hammer in the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, we may be only the glass that splinters. In any case, of all the combatant peoples, we have turned out to be the weakest in nerve, and thus Hindenburg’s thought is true - those with strong nerves will win. So everybody but us will win and logically should make peace at our expense: we will answer for all, and especially for our own stupidity, ignorance, and dishonesty. How often we all think: it’s good to no longer be tied to mama’s apron strings! In any case we are not a match for the Germans: they are unquestionably higher than we are in every respect, and most of all in personal endurance and courage; one can hate them, but it is impossible not to respect them.’

15 January 1918
‘A day without newspapers and with a small quantity of rumors; an extremely oppressive frame of mind, all the same. I saw V. F. Kokoshkin; that ebullient man is completely downtrodden and dispirited, and, in truth, he has cause to be. I His impressions from Petrograd: there everyone is even more dispirited than here. The blacks, led by A. A. Vyrubova, are playing some kind of role, but what kind is not clear to him. I have received information in the last few days from other sources as well that these forces are doing something. But to what degree are all these forces, those and others, organized? Isn’t it simpler to think that everything is happening spontaneously, without plan and with a complete absence of any kind of organization, like everything in Russia?’

20 July 1918
‘At the post office I read one of the bolshevik Pravdas - it seems that all is well in the West; if the Kadets are not adopting a German orientation, they are at least gravitating toward an understanding with them; the Czechoslovaks are squeezing the bolsheviks in various places. Everything else remains unchanged. A letter from Malfi - it seems they are leaving for France today. The good and gentle ideologue - but we will still do something. Work in the meadow all day; we all get dog-tired.’

8 April 1919
‘They have taken Odessa, probably because no one wanted to defend it. All the same, the policy of the Allies seems to me completely incomprehensible; now they start something, now they give it up. In regard to the Russian south, however, I do not see things as hopeless. Yesterday I had to undertake a journey to Iaroslavl’ station and to Mashkov Pereulok, whence I brought home twenty-three pounds of bread, four and one-half pounds of salt, and eighteen and one-half pounds of rye; I had an Alpine sack on my back, and two other sacks in my hands; thus the professor strolls around Moscow. The university question is progressively turning into a big mush. The bolsheviks, that is, Pokrovski! and co., have eliminated both of our history departments and replaced them with some kind of fantastic ones; some kind of further meeting is being proposed, but it all comes down to the fact that whatever straightforward appointment they may think up is better than the fiction of cooperation that was offered earlier. Something completely unimaginable is occurring on the streets of Moscow - one great puddle, which is traversed only by those who absolutely must go out.’

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