Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2014

History 101

Ukraine is a Nation with Farmland so Fertile it earned the Moniker the ‘Breadbasket of Europe’

All roads may have led to Rome.  But all rivers led to Byzantium.  The city Constantine the Great of the Roman Empire turned into Constantinople.  Modern day Istanbul.  The great city on the Bosporus.  One-time trade crossroads of the world.  Where East met West.  And Europe met Asia.  Where goods from the Far East traveling on the Silk Road passed through on their way to Europe.  And where grain grown in the fertile river valleys of Eastern Europe passed through to feed the great empires.

Rivers created civilizations.  For they provided fertile farmland in their valleys.  And the rivers provided avenues for trade.  Which is why our great cities first appeared on rivers.  Like Kiev.  The Ukrainian capital.  On the Dnieper River.  Which flows from Smolensk through Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.  Emptying into the Black Sea.  Along with the Danube.  The Don.  And via a short portage from the Don, trade flowed to the Black Sea on the Volga, too.  (But the waters flowed into the Caspian Sea.)  And across the Black Sea lay Constantinople.  One-time trade crossroads of the world.

Ukraine is a nation with a lot of fertile farmland.  It is so fertile that it earned the moniker the ‘breadbasket of Europe’.  Making Ukraine some very valuable real estate.  Because of their grain production.  And the access the Dnieper River provided.  Opening trade between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople.  Providing Ukraine with a lot of north-south movement via the Dnieper.  As well as a lot of east-west movement via land between the Germanic tribes to the west.  And the Turkic people to the east.

To improve Relations with the Rus’ the Byzantine Patriarch converted the Rus’ and the Slavs to Christianity

Kiev was a crossroads.  Varangians (i.e., Vikings) moved south from Scandinavia.  The Greeks from Byzantine moved north.  As they did they bumped into the indigenous Slavs.  And the Khazars (one of those Turkic people).  Kiev was geographically in the Khazar Empire.  But the Varangians ruled Kiev.  As it was on their trade route with the Greeks in Constantinople.  It was the Varangians who ruled Kiev during the Golden Age (11th to early 12th centuries).  Which saw the rise of Kievan Rus’.  Which in time and much change gave us modern day Russia.

As the Rus’ expanded south they encroached on Khazar territory.  The Khazars allied with the Byzantine Empire and fought against the Persians and Arabs.  Who wanted that rich crossroads.  Constantinople.  As did the Rus’.  So there were all kinds of war with all kinds of people.  Which wasn’t good for trade.  So the Byzantines established a division of their empire on the Crimean peninsula on the northern shore of the Black Sea.  Near the mouth of the Dnieper.  The Theme of Cherson.  To ward off those raids by the Rus’.  And to protect the grain coming to Constantinople from the breadbasket of Europe.  The Theme of Cherson became the center of Black Sea commerce.

But to improve relations with the Rus’ the Byzantine Patriarch Photius sent emissaries to convert the Rus’ and the Slavs to Christianity.  In 863 brothers Cyril and Methodius headed north.  They could speak the Slavonic language.  Which was then only a spoken language.  They created an alphabet for them.  The Glagolitic alphabet.  Which became the Cyrillic alphabet.  And gave them a written language.  Translated scripture so they could read it.  And extended the Greek culture of the Byzantine Empire to these lands.  As well as Orthodox Christianity.  Which is why today many of the lands radiating out from the rivers flowing to the Black Sea are Orthodox Christian (Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, etc.).

Russian Migration into Ukraine helped make her less Ukrainian and more Russian

Kiev was one of the largest cities in the world.  Then came the invasions.  First from the Asian steppes to the east.  The Pechenegs in 968.  And then the Mongols in 1240.  Who completely destroyed Kiev.  Then the Lithuanians from the north (1320s).  Then the Crimean Tatars sacked and burned Kiev (1482).  Then Kiev passed to Poland (1569).  Then the Russians took it over.  In the 18th and 19th centuries the city was full of Russian soldiers.  And ecclesiastical authorities.  From the Russian Orthodox Church.  Making the Ukrainian people more Russian.  Some Ukrainians tried to change that in the 1840s but Russia put a stop to that.

The Russian Empire kept pushing south.  For they wanted a warm-water port.  Which they could have on the Black Sea.  All they had to do was fight through the Ukrainians.  Which they did.  By this time the Muslim Ottoman Turks had long conquered the Christian Byzantine Empire.  Which left the Ottomans open to Russian aggression once the Russians took Ukraine.  Of course, if the Russians conquered the Ottoman Empire that would give Russia open access to the Mediterranean Sea.  Where they could threaten the British Empire holdings.  Also, the Russians could free their fellow Orthodox Christians from Muslim rule.

This aggression exploded into one of the bloodiest wars in history.  The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856).  Much like the American Civil War the technology was well ahead of the tactics.  The Russian Empire took on the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia.  Russia lost.  And she lost what she most coveted.  That warm-water port.  But that didn’t last for long.  Changes elsewhere allowed Russia to reject portions of the peace treaty that ended that war.  And built a navy she operated out of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol (first founded in 1783 by Rear Admiral Thomas Mackenzie then fortified by Catherine the Great in 1784).  On the Crimea peninsula.  And the Russians have been there ever since.

But the beating the Russians took led Tsar Alexander II to free the serfs.  And try to advance the backward Russia to be more like the advanced nations that had beaten her.  But it was too late.  For this marked the beginning of the end for Tsarist Russia.  The war left her in great debt.  So much debt that Russia sold Alaska to the United States.  While creating social unrest that would eventually lead to the October Revolution.  And the Soviet Union.  All the while Russian migration into Ukraine continued.  Making Ukraine less Ukrainian and more Russian.  With the Russian language taking over in Kiev and other large Ukrainian cities.  Pushing the Ukrainian language and culture to the country.  Leading to a divided Ukraine.  Under the boot of the Soviet regime.  Until the collapse of the Soviet Union.  When Ukraine finally got her independence.  Which Russian president and former KGB officer of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin, is now currently taking away.


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Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and the Soviet Union

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 18th, 2014

History 101

Marx called for a Dictatorship of the Proletariat where the Workers controlled the Means of Production

Karl Marx did not like capitalism.  Or middle class people that used money to make money.  The bourgeoisie.  Who exploit the working man.  The proletariat.  The bourgeoisie used their capital to exploit the labor of the working man (i.e., taking a risk and investing in land, factories, machinery, labor, etc.) to make money.  While the working man slaved away at slave wages creating all the great things we have in the world.  Of course, the proletariat could not do any of this unless others took risks and invested in land, factories, machinery, labor, etc.

This was just not fair to Karl Marx.  Because the industrial bourgeoisie had all the power.  And their exploitation of the proletariat was nothing more than a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.  So Marx created a socio-economic philosophy to address this dictatorship.  Marxism.  And called for a social transformation.  For working men everywhere to unite.  And break the chains that bound them in the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.  Calling for a dictatorship of the proletariat.  For the workers to control the means of production.  In a new system that replaced capitalism.  Socialism.  Until they could usher in the true ideal.  Communism.

In capitalism the bourgeoisie get rich creating neat things people discover and want to buy.  In communism there would be no bourgeoisie using the means of production to make a buck.  Instead, wise and selfless people would determine what was best for the people.  Instead of free markets allocating scarce resources economic planners would.  And they’d do it better.  Because they are selfless.  Creating large surpluses that would go not into some rich capitalist’s bank account.  But they would fairly distribute this surplus among the working class.  So society as a whole would be better off.  Sounds great.  But if the market didn’t make the decisions of what to produce who did?  As it turned out for Marxism that was a very difficult question to answer.

Leon Trotsky was a Like-Minded Marxist and the number two Communist behind Lenin

The Russian people were growing tired of World War I.  And Tsar Nicholas.  In fact they had it with the Russian Empire.  Even before World War I.  Although serfdom was abolished in 1861 the lives of peasants didn’t improve much.  There was still famine.  And the serfs had to pay a lot to their former landlords for their freedom.  So there was revolutionary fervor in the air.  And a few peasant uprisings.  As well as a few revolutionaries.  Such as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.  Who was a Marxist.  His anti-Tsarist political activity got him arrested and exiled a few times.  In fact, during World War I he was living in exile in Switzerland.  Hoping that the Germans would weaken Tsarist Russia enough to kick off a socialist revolution in Russia.

When revolution did break out Lenin was anxious to return to Russia.  But being in Switzerland posed a problem.  It was surrounded by warring countries.  Lucky for him, though, the Germans were anxious to close the eastern front of the war.  And a little revolution in Russia could do just that.  So they transported Lenin through Germany and helped him return to Russia.  They travelled north.  Took a ferry to Sweden.  Then by train to Petrograd.  Formally Saint Petersburg (Peter the Great’s new capital on the Baltic Sea).  Which was later renamed Leningrad.  And then later renamed Saint Petersburg.  Where he would lead the Bolshevik Party.  And the world-wide socialist revolution against capitalism.

Leon Trotsky was a like-minded Marxist.  And an anti-militarist.  He had a falling out with Lenin but eventually reunited.  With Trotsky becoming the number two communist behind Lenin.  Trotsky addressed a problem with Marxism for Russia.  Socialism was to be the final step AFTER capitalism.  Once there was a strong industrial proletariat.  Russia didn’t have that.  For it was one of the least advanced countries in the world.  An agrarian nation barely out of the Middle Ages.  So Russia had to industrialize WHILE the proletariat took over the means of production.  Which brought up a big problem.  How could a backward nation industrialize while having a revolution?  How could they do this without other advanced capitalistic countries coming to the aid of the bourgeoisie?  Which Trotsky answered with his Permanent Revolution.  For the Russian socialist revolution to be successful there had to be socialist revolutions in other countries, too.  Thinking more in terms of a worldwide revolution of industrialized states.  And not just in Russia.  Something another Marxist disagreed with.  Joseph Stalin

Communist States have Guards on their Borders to prevent People from Escaping their Socialist Utopia

During these revolutionary times workers’ councils were appearing throughout the country.  Soviets.  Which helped stir up the revolutionary fervor.  In 1917 the imperial government fell.  The Bolsheviks killed the Tsar and his family.  And Russia fell into civil war.  Which the Bolsheviks won in 1922.  And formed the Soviet Union.  Or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).  That stretched from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean.  Under the rule of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.  Until he died in 1924.  Then Joseph Stalin took over after a brutal power struggle.  Even exiled Leon Trotsky.  And established totalitarian rule.  Stalin created a planned economy.  Rapid industrialization.  And collectivization.  As well as famines, forced labor, deportation and great purges of his political enemies.  To strengthen his one-party rule.  To protect the socialist revolution from a return of capitalism.

The Russian Revolution was the only successful socialist revolution in Europe.  The dictatorship of the proletariat did not happen as Lenin and Trotsky had envisioned.  So Stalin abandoned the idea of Permanent Revolution.  And adopted Socialism in One Country instead.  To strengthen the Soviet Union.  And not support a world-wide socialist revolution against capitalism.  In direct opposition of Trotsky.  To aid in the USSR’s industrialization Stalin made a pact with the devil.  Adolf Hitler.  And entered an economic agreement that would allow Hitler to build and test his war machine on Soviet soil that he would use in World War II.  Then came the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  And the secret protocol.  Where Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to conquer and divvy up the countries located between them.

Trotsky did not like what the Soviet Union became under Stalin.  An oppressive dictatorship of Joseph Stalin.  Not the dictatorship of the proletariat envisioned by Karl Marx.  And he didn’t like that pact with a militarist Nazi Germany.  He predicted that Stalin’s USSR would not last.  Either suffering a political revolution like Tsar Nicholas suffered.  Or it would collapse into a capitalist state.  Stalin disagreed.  And killed him and his family.  Getting rid of the last of the old Bolsheviks.  Leaving him to rule uncontested until his death in 1953.  Exporting communism wherever he could.  Where it killed more people than any other ideology.  Until the great and brutal socialism experiment collapsed in 1991.  For Trotsky was right.  It could not survive when a better life was just across a border.  Which is why all of the communist states have guards on their borders.  To keep their people from escaping their socialist utopia.


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The Russian Empire

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 11th, 2014

History 101

The Europeans built Larger Ships and used Advanced Navigational Skills to sail from Europe to the Far East

The Anatolian peninsula (roughly the area of modern day Turkey) has long been a trade crossroads.  It’s where the Black Sea (and the rivers into Europe and Russia) met the Mediterranean Sea.  It’s where Europe met Asia.  Where East met West.  All important long-distant trade traveled through the Anatolian peninsula.  Right through the Bosporus.  The straits between East and West.

The Greeks, the Persians, the Romans and the Ottoman Turks all coveted this region.  When the Western Roman Empire fell the great Italian city-states rose.  They dominated the Mediterranean.  And the trade through the Bosporus.  Where the Silk Road for centuries brought riches from the Far East into Europe.  The Italian merchant banks controlled that trade.  Until the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) fell to the Ottoman Turks.  Which, lucky for the Europeans, happened at the time of the Renaissance.  Bringing an end to the Middle Ages.  And ushering in the modern era.

It started in Italy.  And then spread into Europe.  A rebirth (hence Renaissance) of all that Greek learning.  Which shifted the trading center from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.  Where the Europeans built larger ships and used advanced navigational skills to sail from Europe to the Far East.  Bypassing the Silk Road.  And the Ottoman Turks in the Anatolian peninsula.  Making the Europeans the new rich traders.  Knowledge and wealth created more ships for trade.  And advanced armies and navies.  Making the Europeans the masters of the world.

Peter the Great pulled Russia out of the Middle Ages by making it more European

While the Mediterranean and European nations were ushering in the modern world not all of Asia followed them.  Russia in particular remained in the Middle Ages.  A vast land full of disparate peoples.  Not a unique and singular Russian people.  Until Ivan the Terrible came along.  The Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547.  Then Tsar of All the Russians.  Ivan the Terrible united Russia by conquering it.  But at a cost.  Continuous wars killed a lot of Russian people.  Which left a lot of farmland fallow.  Giving Russia a chronic problem they would have for centuries.  The struggle to feed themselves.

Tsar Peter the Great (1682 – 1725) modernized Russia.  To be a more modern country like those in Europe.  He even went to Europe incognito to learn as much as he could about advanced European ways.  And had Europeans help him pull Russia out of the Middle Ages.  He made his army to be like European armies.  Learned about shipbuilding.  And built a Russian navy.  Which was a problem as the only access to the sea Russia had was the Arctic Ocean via the White Sea.  Which meant, of course, war and conquest.  He fought the Swedes for access to the Baltic Sea.  And he fought the Ottoman Turks for access to the Black Sea.

The disparate people of Russia were not all that happy with his ideas or the money he spent.  So he brutally suppressed any discontent.  Peter built his navy.  And a new capital on the Baltic Sea.  Saint Petersburg.  A European cultural center.  And the Imperial capital of Russia.  He also attacked the Ottoman Empire.  And lost.  Losing his Black Sea ports.  But Russia would return to fight the Ottoman Turks.  Under Catherine the Great.

The Bolsheviks killed Tsar Nicholas and his Family and ushered in the Oppressive Soviet Union

Catherine the Great ruled during Russia’s Golden Age.  Continuing the work started by Peter the Great to modernize Russia.  Making Russia a great European power.  Through military conquest.  And diplomacy.  She was even an international mediator.  And established the League of Armed Neutrality to protect neutral shipping from British attacks during the American Revolutionary War.

Catherine pushed Russia’s borders out largely at the expense of the Ottoman Empire.  And the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.  These conquests cost, though.  And she turned to the nobility to pay for them.  In return she supported the nobility.  But the wealth she got form the nobility came from the serfs (basically slave laborers) working their land.  Which took a lot of work to pay for her conquests.  Leading to a peasant uprising or two.  But serfdom would continue in Russia.  Tsar Alexander I advanced the status of Russia with his defeat of Napoleon.  They even called him the Savior of Europe.  But serfdom remained as the Industrial Revolution took off in Europe.  Halting the modernization of Russia.

Tsar Alexander II emancipated the serfs in 1861.  Ending the landed aristocracy’s monopoly of power.  Serfs left their lands.  And moved into the cities.  Selling their labor.  Industrializing Russia.  Still, their freedom favored the landed aristocracy.  Who were compensated for their serfs’ freedom with a tax paid by the freed serfs.  Which little improved the life of the freed serfs.  And did little to ease the revolutionary fervor long simmering in the Russian people.  Especially those outside the nobility.

When Tsar Nicholas II entered Russia into World War I things did not go well for Russia.  Military losses, food shortages, fuel shortages, inflation and striking factory workers made the nation ripe for revolution.  Tsar Nicholas went off to command the Russian Army personally.  Leaving his wife Alexandra to run the country in his absence.  Who turned to Grigori Rasputin for help.  Which didn’t help quell the revolutionary fervor simmering in the Russian people.  They didn’t like Rasputin.  Or the Tsar.  And made Tsar Nicholas the last emperor of the Russian Empire.  Which the Bolsheviks made permanent.  By killing Nicholas and his entire family.  Which ultimately ushered in the Soviet Union.  One of the most oppressive regimes of all time.


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