Monday, November 16, 2009

© Eso Antons Benjamins

55 The Ides of Marx (III)

“November 11, 1918, Germany was compelled to sign the Compiègne armistice  with the allies and this gave the opportunity for declaration of an independent Republic of Latvia. Initially, LNDP [Provisional* Latvian National Board, i.e., Latviešu pagaidu nacionālā padome] and the Democratic Bloc [anti-socialist or so-called “citizens” circles] could not agree on the political system to be chosen for the new country - the Social democrats insisted on forming a socialist regime, which was not acceptable to other parties. However, after long debate, on November 17, 1918, LNDP and the Democratic Bloc agreed to jointly form a provisional parliament, the Latvian People's Council (LPC), which resolved to establish an independent and democratic republic. On the following day, on November 18, 1918, based on the previous day's resolutions, the independent Republic of Latvia was proclaimed.” **

However, this is not the whole story. Indeed, it passes over much that is relevant. For one, it completely bypasses the populist point of view—“populism” meaning “the people”***—which is not taken into consideration (in spite of the word “people” being so prominent a part of the council’s name), and by numerous legalistic oversights is excluded from having a say in the Latvian Constitution (Satversme). Note from the quote above: “…Social democrats insisted on forming a socialist regime, which was not acceptable to other parties. However, after long debate, on November 17, 1918, LNDP and the Democratic Bloc agreed to jointly form a provisional parliament….” What happened to the Social Democrats? Did they disappear, capitulate, or accept the point of view of “other parties”?

The Social Democrats refused to join the LNDP when it was founded on 1st of October, 1917. Only ten months after the Latvian troops (strēlnieki) had lost 8000-9000 men during the “Christmas battles” of 1916, the feelings against the tsar’s regime ran high. The loss occurred because Russian troops failed to come to the aid of the Latvian troops, when on December 23rd, 1916, they created a breach in the German lines. The Russian troops (possibly due to demoralization in the ranks and fear among officers to order an attack under such circumstances) failed to take advantage and enter the breach. The Latvian troops then had to retreat and stabilize the lines to prevent the Germans from seizing Riga during a counterattack. Because of the huge losses during these battles, the mood of the troops and most Latvians in the territories unoccupied by the Germans was against the tsar, indeed, many spoke of overthrowing him.

The “Christmas battles” ended in the middle of January, 1917. The situation in tsar’s Russia continued to deteriorate. Due to the failure of the Russian government to assure adequate supplies for civilians and the military in the capital city of Petrograd (St. Petersburg), the city’s population revolted. On the 27th of February the revolt was joined by Russian soldiers. The tsar abdicated his throne on March 2nd. On the 12th of March, the Latvians of Vidzeme held a meeting in Valmiera (with the regions of Riga, Cesis, and Valka participating) and demanded the new Provisional Government of Russia to dismiss the German Landrat, which heretofore had acted as the local government for the Russians. The Social Democrats played a leading role at these meetings. By the 17th of May the party’s resolution expressing lack of confidence in the Provisional Russian government was seconded by the 2nd Strelski Congress.

By the end of March, 1917, four more Latvian political parties, defining themselves as “un-socialist” (anti-socialist) and “citizen led” (in this instance ‘citizen’ defined as a member of the bourgeois) were formed, but had difficulties defining their working principles and attracting membership. The Farmer’s party was founded in late April, and under the leadership of Kārlis Ulmanis, attracted a membership of 20,000, thus, becoming one of the largest political parties in Latvia.

It must be noted at this point that in Latvia today (2009), the word “socialist” is often perceived—as the following quote shows—as a word wholly negative. “…A person who has not lived through the socialist order and seen its consequences cannot understand it.”***.—Ilga Kreituse, Associate Professor at Riga Stradinu University.  (My translation). One must remember, however, that in 1916-1917 socialism was perceived by most people not only in terms of a force willing to overthrow a shopworn tsarist regime, but as hope for the future. Of the terror of violence—which was later coupled with deliberate under education (especially of the Latvian people) under Lenin and Stalin—no one had any inkling.

The answer, biased toward the interests of the bourgeois parties, may be found at this link . To quote: “...the efforts of the LPNP [Provisional Latvian National Board--Latviešu pagaidu nacionālā padome] to keep [the big powers] from forgetting Latvian interests had gained recognition [through England’s de facto recognition of Latvia], but at this very moment there appeared disagreements between the LPNP and the Democratic block over the principles of unity. Refusing to participate in any further discussions, the representatives of the Democratic block called a meeting for the 16th of November and on the following day proclaimed itself as the Sovereign Council of the People.... On the 18th of Novermber, 1918, the Sovereign Council of the People proclaimed itself to be a sovereign authority and founded the Latvian nation. (My translation. The test in Latvian at ****)

What the quote still does refuses to spell out (a little of the history here  and )  is that the bourgeois parties dismissed the Social Democrats, and ignored the interests of the people in favor of the liberal circles. Under the cover of a renewed German attack and Russian retreat, “The liberal circles among Latvians hurriedly began looking for permanent solutions with regard to the political future [of Latvia], which meant that it was necessary to review all earlier political goals….” (My translation; see quote in Latvian at *****).

One should read the Latvian text (from which the above quote) of Dr. hist. Uldis Krēsliņš with care. The historian’s text is as carefully worded as it is misleading. It should be especially noted that the large vote (67%) received by the Social Democrats and their allies is counterbalanced by by the historian with the world “plašāko” (broadest). How does “largest vote” for one square with “broadest representation” for the other? Quite clearly, the history of Latvia or what passes as Latvia’s history has been smudged by the politics of a government where partidocracy has become a tradition. This is how a legalistic dance of words rather accurate presentation is able to replace a recorded majority with opinionated “breadth”. The practice of disinformation in 1918 is still a practice in 2009. (To be continued in blog 56)

Asterisk & Notes of Interest:

* I am translating “provisional” as “pagaidu”, literal meaning “temporary”. The word could also be translated as “ad hoc”, Latin for “for this purpose”.
** “LPNP centieni lielvaru cīņās neļaut aizmirst latviešu intereses bija guvuši atzīšanu, bet šajā brīdī Rīgā pēkšņi atklājās pretrunas starp LPNP un Demokrātiskā bloka aprindām par apvienošanās principiem. Atsakoties no tālākām sarunām, Demokrātiskajā blokā apvienojušos partiju pārstāvji 16.novembrī sanāca uz sēdi un nākamajā dienā konstituējās par Tautas padomi.”
***Populism and “the people”. “Populism is the discussion of the political which constructs and gives meaning to ‘the people’.” –Oscar Rayes, Skinhead Conservativism: A Failed Populist Project.  
**** Atsakoties no tālākām sarunām, Demokrātiskajā blokā apvienojušos partiju pārstāvji 16.novembrī sanāca uz sēdi un nākamajā dienā konstituējās par Tautas padomi.... 1918.gada 18.novembrī pilsētas 2. teātrī Latvijas Tautas padome, pasludinot sevi par suverenās varas nesēju, proklamēja Latvijas valsti.
***** “…liberālajām latviešu aprindām lika steigšus ķerties pie Latvijas politiskās nākotnes jautājuma patstāvīgas risināšanas, kas, savukārt, nozīmēja nepieciešamību pārskatīt līdzšinējo nacionāli politisko centienu mērķus… ”
On the theme of “more-equal-than-others”  ;
An eyeball view of Latvia (and its forests)  The two maps match, but you should look at both to get a realistic sense of the meaning of the “47%” forest cover. The Latvian news media provides little coverage of the rapid pace of deforestation. At this moment, only “lousy” weather and water filled swamps keep the chainsaws at bay. Anecdotal evidence of deforestation in progress from a neighbor: “This fall there were far less mushrooms than last year, because the forests we used to go to are gone.”
These blogs tend to be a continuum of an idea or thought, which is why—if you are interested in what you have read—you are encouraged to consider reading the previous blog and the blog hereafter.
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