He Had a Way with Words

Leader of World Proletariat with Female Gate Attendant Reflected in Security Mirror, SUV, and New Year’s Tree, December 18, 2016. 11 Lomanaya Street, Petersburg

Politics begins where there are millions, not where there are thousands; not where there are thousands, but only where there are millions does serious politics begin.
—Vladimir Lenin, “Speech at Russian Communist Party Congress,” March 7, 1918

We can identify something similar in rhetorical repetitions. They can act to unfold the “plot,” move the presentation along, develop and refine the arguments. In a word, they can serve the progressive or narrative movement of oratorical discourse. They also generate a kind of “dam” by provoking and intensifying expectation, since the “denouement,” explanation or conclusion at which the speaker drives, and with it the fulcrum bearing the main weight of the speech, is propelled forward. Building a phrase or passage can also be achieved by different means, with the same goal of transferring the main weight to the end. These progressive repetitions can be distinguished from others, which, on the contrary, suspend movement, not by building up its pressure, but by turning it inside itself, as it were, forming a kind of motionless whirlpool, whose funnel, figuratively speaking, swallows and absorbs all our attention. Obscuring the horizon, they cut off our sight lines, thus cancelling the aspect of motion. Precisely this type of repetition prevails in Lenin’s discourse and is characteristic of it, as we have seen in the examples cited. As I indicated in my analysis of these examples, Lenin’s preference for this kind of repetition has to do with the very essence of his discourse. He appeals neither to feelings nor imagination, but to will and determination. His discourse does not deploy a panorama for passive contemplation. It does not serve as a guide, leading the indifferent tourist along. It fights the listener, forcing him to make an active decision, and, to this end, it pins him against the wall. “Don’t move! Hands up! Surrender!” That is the nature of Lenin’s discourse. It does not allow for a choice. I would argue this is the specific essence of oratorical discourse, in particular, of the political speech.
—Boris Kazansky, “Lenin’s Discourse: An Attempt at Rhetorical Analysis,” LEF 1 (5), 1924: 124

Tapestry Rug Portrait of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, April 27, 2017. Kuznetsky Market, Petersburg


Photos and translations by the Russian Reader. Texts excerpted from a special 1924 issue of LEF entitled “Lenin’s Language,” featuring essays by Viktor Shklovsky, Boris Eichenbaum, Lev Yakubinsky, Yuri Tynyanov, Boris Kazansky, and Boris Tomashevsky, and edited by Vladimir Mayakovsky. The English translations of the essays and Mayakovsky’s introduction, “Don’t Merchandise Lenin,” which was excised by censors from the original magazine, will be published in a special edition of a print journal later this summer. Watch this space for more details as they become available.

No Poet Is Illegal, No Poem Is Extremist

Poet Alexander Byvshev. Photo courtesy of OVD Info
Poet Alexander Byvshev. Photo courtesy of OVD Info

New Criminal Charges Filed against Ex-Schoolteacher Alexander Byvshev
OVD Info
January 17, 2017

On January 17, 2017, police searched the house of ex-schoolteacher Alexander Byvshev in the village of Kromy, Oryol Region. During the search, law enforcement officers confiscated a computer and other information storage devices. After the search, the suspect was interrogated at the local office of the Russian Investigative Committee.

As Alexander Podrabinek wrote on his Facebook page, Byvshev has again been charged under Criminal Code Article 282 (inciting enmity or hostility, as well as humiliation of human dignity). The charges were filed in connection with Byvshev’s poem “On the Independence of Ukraine,” which was published in February 2015 in several Ukrainian periodicals. As Byvshev himself noted, the poem is a “polemical response” to Joseph Brodsky’s eponymous poem.

On July 13, 2015, the Kromy District Court found Byvshev guilty of inciting ethnic hatred (Criminal Code Article 282.1) and sentenced him to 300 hours of compulsory labor for writing poems supporting Ukraine. He was also forbidden to work as a schoolteacher for two years. In autumn 2014, after one of Byvshev’s poems was declared extremist, Rosfinmonitoring placed Byvshev on its list of terrorists and extremists, and his bank accounts were blocked.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Making War on “War and Peace”

Vladimir Putin and Ludmila Verbitskaya. Photo courtesy of alamy.com

There is no less genuinely patriotic crowd in today’s Russia than Putin and his cronies. They have a wild hatred for everything really good about the country, its history, culture, and language:

Ludmila Verbitskaya, president of the Russian Academy of Education, has suggested removing Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace from the school curriculum and replacing it with “works of spiritual literature.” According to her, children “cannot understand the full depth” of this work, but everyone should read the Bible.

Read the details (in Russian) and weep on RBC.

UPDATE. Comrade VK has drawn my attention to the following statement by Professor Verbitskaya. While it does complicate the picture a bit, it brings home again the thoroughgoing hypocrisy of the current regime, whose alleged conservatism consists only in battering, dispiriting, and tricking their would-be constituents by hook or by crook to keep themselves in power for as long as humanly possible.

“I have almost no free time, and so I am obliged to read what I still poorly understand due to the fact that my generation was deprived of it: the Bible. Since I was educated as a Russianist, I sense how imperfect my English is, and so before going to sleep I make sure to read something interesting, like Agatha Christie, in the original. But my favorite novel is War and Peace. I pick it up quite often and reread parts of it.”

Source: Zampolit.com

Dmitry Kalugin: Commerce

“LUNCH. Three dishes with beverage, 250 rubles. LunchBox Bistro.” Central District, Petersburg, June 29, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

Dmitry Kalugin
July 7, 2016

Yesterday morning, I stopped by a completely new restaurant for breakfast. They had opened just recently, and the place was all polished and shiny.

There were three people in the place: the cook, the girl behind the counter, and, apparently, the manager. They were all very friendly and were glad to see me. They jumped up to greet me, telling me I should have breakfast at their place.

While I was picking out a sandwich, it transpired they did not take cards.

They were upset. Don’t just leave, they said to me. Buy at least something to support us.

I spent my last hundred rubles on a cup of coffee. They were glad and came out of the restaurant to see me off.

As I went home, I remembered coming home from Tartu in the early nineties. When I exited the Primorskaya subway station early in the morning, people were already lined up there selling things.

An old woman approached me.

“Buy some matches, sonny, and support commerce. It’s a good cause!”

There was an amazing feeling of novelty about it back then. Now I am not so sure. New places are no cause for joy, although I honestly support commerce and other good causes. It is probably a sign of old age.

P.S. I hear the rain starting up again. This is my punishment for not having bought a poached egg with pesto for breakfast for 140 rubles.

P.P.S. That box of matches is still in the cupboard in my mother’s kitchen. It is amazing how long they have lasted.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Dmitry Kalugin: Touching

"A happy childhood is more powerful than war." Detail of a mural at 35-37 Borovaya Street, Petersburg. May 28, 2016
“A happy childhood is more powerful than war.” Detail of a mural at 35-37 Borovaya Street, Petersburg. May 28, 2016

Dmitry Kalugin
June 15, 2016


An elderly woman, quite rural in appearance, dressed in a headscarf and long skirt, was standing in the queue to the book return window at the Public Library on Moskovsky Prospect. She was returning books entitled “Fifth Form Mathematics,” “Help for the High School Pupil,” and something else in the same vein.

She caught my gaze.

“Yes,” she said, “my grandson is doing very badly at school. He got a D in maths. His parents could care less: both of them drink. His teacher said he had to pick up the slack or down the line it would only get worse. But who is going to help him? So I sit trying to figure things out. I will come again tomorrow. Basically, he is a kind, clever boy. He is good at drawing.”

Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

Shelf Space


I was wondering. Does our system have an ideology?

[Simon Kordonsky:] No, I spent a few years reading what no one else reads: science fiction and fantasy, mysticism, that sort of thing. You can deduce the real “ideology” by reading these sources.

Simon Kordonsky
Simon Kordonsky

So there is Perkhel [?], a guy from Chelyabinsk who wrote a trilogy about how Russia has lost a war and the European part of the country has been completely occupied. A resistance to the invaders has been organized in Chelyabinsk, and the resistance does everything to destroy them. That is one type of literature.

The second type is science fiction, where you find a certain Russian future. Again, this future has an imperial, estates-based structure, which is fighting against foreign invaders.

This is a huge body of literature, thousands of titles. A worldview is broadcast in these books. People buy them. Walk into any bookstore in the regions and that is the only literature there is.

I have this one practical lesson I teach. Our campus is near the bookstore Biblio-Globus [in downtown Moscow]. My students and I take tape measures and we go measure worldviews. This store is indicative. We take measurements: how many meters of shelf space are taken up by “history.” Some book by [Alexander] Bushkov is on the shelf, and there are no references in it, meaning it is not history, but quasi-history. Mythologized history makes up ninety percent of the historical literature [for sale].

Cover of Alexander Buskhov, The Russia That Wasn’t, 3: Mirages and Ghosts (2004)

Then we measure the medicine section. It’s only one and a half meters long. Medicine per se takes up ten to twenty centimeters. The rest is taken up by books on self-treatment, herbal medicine, and cosmetics.

And we measure politics. On the first floor there is an entire “Miscellaneous” section. Once, [ROSSPEN’s] History of Stalinism took up a whole shelf there. Now that space is filled with works by quasi-politicians and philosophers. It is completely strange kitsch.

And where would you find sociology? In the “Esoterica” section!

Source: platf.info

Simon Kordonsky heads the Laboratory for Local Administration at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.  Images courtesy of platf.info and ozon.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade ES for the heads-up