September 29 in Russian history. Trams. Babi Yar


The first tram line was opened in St.Petersburg. By that time trams already worked in more than a dozen of Russian cities: in Kiev, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinoslav, Kursk, Vitebsk, Moscow, Riga, Kazan, etc., but in St.Petersburg the introduction of trams was delayed by the opposition of horsecar owners. Ten first trams were bought in Britain, they were made by Brush Electrical Engineering Company. Interestingly enough, the first electric tram in the world was tested in St.Petersburg, thirty years earlier. On 3 September, 1880, Fyodor Pirotsky used electric engine to move a two-deck horsecar. The test continued for the whole month, but were stopped due to the financial problems. So, Pirotsky lost the title of the inventor of the electric tram to Werner von Siemens, who was the first to organize a commercial tram line in Berlin.

In 1982, the workers of Vasileostrovsky tram depot reconstructed one of these first Brush trams and you can see it running along the streets of St.Pete (on the photo).


On 29 September the German Nazis killed the first party of Jews in Babi Yar in Kiev (I wrote about Babi Yar in April 2007).

One day before, the following was announced in Kiev:

All Jews of the city of Kiev and its environs must appear on Monday, September 29, 1941, by 8:00 AM on the corner of Melnіkov and Dokterivsky streets (near the cemetery). You are to take your documents, money, valuables, warm clothes, linen etc. Whoever of the Jews does not fulfill this order and is found in another place, shall be shot. Any citizen who enters the apartments that have been left and takes ownership of items will be shot

In September-October 1941, about 50,000 Jews were killed there. Altogether, during the WWII Babi Yar became the grave for 70,000 to 120,000 people.

I thought to write more and post some photos, but then I thought I couldn't do it in the way I wish I could. Just look at the photos here.


Yesterday's papers: 26 September 1908

One more selection from 100-year ols newspapers, taken from Starosti.ru.

Russkoe Slovo

Zagreb, 25 September

A deputation of Bosnian christians and muslims leaves to Constantinople to attend the opening of the first Turkish parliament. In Constantinople they will hand in a memorandum demanding to return Bosnia and Herzegovina under the governance of the Ottoman empire.

Berlin, 25 September

The central committee of social-democrats issued a proclamation to the proletariat of Northern and Southern Germany, inviting them to join the protests against the financial reform that would raise the taxes by 43%. As opposed to these protests, the government plans to run a number of public meetings, where the ministers will defend the reform.

Syzran, 25 September

Today, the 7th Revel infantry regiment and 1st reserve cavalry regiment with two choirs met the troop train with the German soldiers returning from China via Russia. The officers and soldiers were offered a breakfast in the barracks of the cavalry regiment, decorated with German and Russian flags.

Tula, 25 September

Peasants of the village Stroyki opposed the sale of their property on the order of the court after they lost the case against their landlady Glaznova. The agitated crowd killed Glaznova and seriously wounded police officer Ostrikov. The public prosecutor and the governor started to Stroyki with the Cossacks.

Golos Moskvy (Voice of Moscow)

Electric clock

Some new wall clocks powered by electricity were installed in the central building of the Moscow telegraph. They are extremely precise and checked every day by telegraph from the Pulkovo observatory. Similar clock will be installed above the main entry, instead of the mechanical one.

Russkoe Slovo

100th anniversary of the Russian veterinarians

100 years ago the proposal of the minister of home affairs to establish a college of "animal medicine" in St.Petersburg received the Highest approval. It was the first Russian law where the word "veterinary" was used. It was on 31 December 1807.

In the next year, 1808, the college was founded. Until then, there were no veterinarians in Russia. In cases of diseases the people referred to sorcerers or just prayed. The tsar Alexey Mikhailovich ordered to separate the ill cattle from the healthy and it was the first step taken by the government to prevent epizooties. Peter I, who waged incessant wars with Swedes, Persians, Turks, understood the necessity of veterinarians for the cavalry. In 1713 he ordered to teach a group of people the art of veterinary. But they only worked for the army, while the other animals were treated by charlatans.

The decrees of the Senate demonstrate the low state of veterinary in the times of empress Elizabeth. The ill animals freely roamed the streets of St.Petersburg and died there. Rotting corpses infested the air and clouds of flies carried the infection all over the city. The infested meat was often sold. So, the Senate ordered that the police dispose of the dead animals by burying them in holes covered with lime outside the city. The job was performed by arrested criminals. Another order of the Senate instituted the permanent control over the quality of meat in slaughterhouses and markets. However, these measures were insufficient. There were no veterinarians.

In 1808, the minister of home affairs prince A. B. Kurakin organized the veterinary school in the St.Petersburg medical academy. In the first year, 720 students entered the college. Because of the large number of students, another college was established in Moscow. Four years later, the first veterinarians graduated.

So, now we celebrate the 100th anniversary of both these veterinary colleges, the first in Russia. Since then, new veterinary institutes were established in Kharkov, Kazan, Warsaw and Yuryev.


Well known Russian inventor Tatarinov signed a contract in London with the company William Holder and sons. The British company bought the right to manufacture in Britain the pistonless hydraulic press invented by Tatarinov. A new company was founded with the capital of one million rubles.


Mandatory registration of radio receivers in USSR

In 1970s and early 1980s, when I was a schoolboy, radio receivers were ubiquitous in the USSR. The short wave band provided an excellent opportunity to listen to foreign radiostations, from the news of Voice of America to music on Radio Luxembourg. And the wonderful music programmes made by Seva Novgorodtsev on BBC, of course :). It was not a crime in itself, but could become a reason for a serious discussion at school or at work. Or even an aggravating circumstance if you made a step further and distributed banned books and magazines.

However, it was not difficult to hide your peculiar interests. But some decades before, the things were not that simple.

When I was in a museum in Kozmodemyansk this summer, I noticed a stack of old shellack gramophone records. The sleeve of one of them attracted my attention. It said nothing about what was recorded on the plate, but informed the reader on his duty to register his radio receiver. The text says:

All radio receivers and tap-offs are subject to mandatory registration.

Radio receivers and tap-offs must be registered in cities in 3 days since purchase and in 10 days since purchase in rural districts.

Radio receivers and tap-offs are registered and the rental fee is payed in all post offices.

The rental fee for radio receivers and tap-offs is payed in advance every quarter.

Later I learned that this registration was introduced by the decree of the Soviet of People's Commissars on 27 March 1934. Besides the short information of the plate, there were also some details. So, the owner of more than one receiver had to register all of them. The punishment for owning an unregistered receiver was either a fine or a penal sanction. When the owner moved to another apartment, he had to notify the authorities. When moving to another town, he had to re-register the device. If the receiver became unserviceable or was transferred to another owner, one had to write an application asking to invalidate the registration.

However, it seems that the goal was not the totalitarian control, but just money. The owners of personal receivers payed 35 rubles per year. The public receivers, located in clubs and "krasny ugolok" ("the red corner", kind of a little club at work or at home used for propaganda), costed 54 rubles per year and those located in shops, cinemas, offices, and so on, costed 75 rubles per year. The collected money was later used for mainenance of radio stations

The mandatory registration was canceled on 1 January 1962.


Disappointed by Richard Pipes

Sorry for this long break. I am still trying to translate a little excerpt from a novel by N. Leskov, but I'm coming to the conclusion that I just can't. I will have to simply retell the story and it'll take some more time.

In the meanwhile, I'd like to post another article I was writing some months ago, when I finished reading Richard Pipes. The article is not finished. I wanted to write a concept of Russian history alternative to the one offered by Pipes, but it seems to be more than I can do. So, here it is. A self-righteous critique of Richard Pipes.

Pipes, Richard. The Russian revolution

Some time ago I promised to some of my readers that I will write on my impressions from the monumental history of Russian revolution written by Richard Pipes. The time has come to do so.

I have to say in the first place that I read the Russian edition of the book, which means that the phrases marked by quotation signs below are not real quotations from Pipes, but from the Russian translation. Also, the Russian three-volume edition includes "The Russian revolution" in two volumes and a separate volume of "Russia under the bolshevik regime". Hence, I will speak of the two books as one.

In the foreword to the first Russian edition, Pipes says: “The book will disappoint two categories of the readers: those who think that the events of 1917 were inevitable and positive, and those who see them as an unnatural deviation from the Russia's true historic way. But it will be accepted by those whose thinking is not constrained by the fetters of the socialist or nationalist orientation. For many years of the work at this book I was convinced that the described events were not inevitable, but the sentiments behind these events could not remain without consequences.”

Least of all I would like to think of myself as of a socialist or, even less, a nationalist, but, paradoxically, I tend to belong to both categories of Pipes' readers who are supposed to disagree with him. I will explain my view on Russia, her history and some patterns behind the history a bit later. Now, I will concentrate on the book.

When Pipes explains the concept of the "patrimonial" state which becomes the basis of his "theory of Russia", he makes some characteristic errors.

In Pipes' opinion, “Muscovy was ruled as a private patrimony: its population, territories and everything upon it were the property of the throne.” This is wrong. S.F.Platonov, whose course in Russian history I translate and post at this blog, describes the state system of the Muscovite Russia and, in particular, the freedoms of the Russian peasants:

“All other people living in the knyaz's appanage, were called simply "Christians" (hence the Russian word "krestyánin", the peasant) and were not knyaz's subjects. In the posads (towns) and in villages they organized communities. The peasants' community was called mir. So, if the knyaz knew that some krestyáne (peasants) live in a certain region of his appanage, say, in a valley of a river, he ordered to count the number of the peasants' houses and obliged them to pay tallage. On a certain day (on Christmas or on St.Peter's day) the pesants had to bring the tallage. People came to this region and left it without the knyaz's permission. The local mir accepted them and let them go, it also defined their part in the mir's tallage. The elected elders gathered the tallage and took it to the knyaz. And so it went on, year after year, till the knyaz noticed that the number of peasants in this region increased or decreased. Then, after the new census the knyaz changed the amount of tallage. The peasants didn't even know their knyaz and the knyaz did not have to worry when some peasants left his lands. The krestyáne had the same freedom also on the boyars' lands. When they came to the new landlord, they signed the contract where their duties and payments were determined. When they wanted to leave, they renounced the land by an established procedure. According to the law and the tradition the usual day for leavin the landlord was the autumn St.Yuri's day (Yuriev day, 26 November). If we say also that the transfer from one social group to another (from peasants to the town's population, or to kholops and back) was easyly available for anyone, we'll understand how weakly delimited the society was.”

Beg your pardon for this long quotation, but it should explain why I think Pipes was wrong here.

A similar error was made when Pipes enumerated the features of the Russian absolutism, mentioning among them "the monopoly on economic resources and wholesale trade". While in some areas of the economy the control of the state was more or less firm (depending on the epoch in history, of course), in most industries the merchants and entrepreneurs were quite free. In the medieval period they were even more free than their European colleagues, whose activity was strictly watched and limited by guilds.

Another group of errors made by Pipes is explained by the false assumption that the shape of the European society was "correct" and that the needs typical for the Europeans were also typical for other societies: “How do we reconcile high level of industry and culture with the political system that deems its own citizen incapable of self-government? Why do Serbs, and Finns, and Turks have both the constitution and the parliament, and Russians don't?”, asks Pipes. The assumed answer is because the absolutism didn't let them. But, probably, because they didn't need it? Exactly because the self-government on the local level was so efficient. “Outside the cities, the central government relied on only 1582 pristavs and 6874 gorodovois for 90 million people of rural population,” writes Pipes. How could the police forces that small manage the country, had it not been for the self-government? “The power of the imperial government affected only 89 cities,” confirms Pipes. "In 1763 in Prussia there were 100 times more officials per sq.km. than in Russia. By 1900 the number of officials per capita in Russia was 3 times less than in France and 2 times less than in Germany." And no self-government? Of course, there was, and Pipes even says: "As a matter of fact, the village was governed autonomously by the rural communities, who carried collective responsibility for the collection of taxes and the draft of recruits, and by volosts, which performed simplest judicial and administrative functions."

When Pipes declares his political position in the foreword, he says that had he lived in 1917 Russia, he would be an "oktyabrist". It seems to me that he goes so far that he even adopts the prejudices typical for this circle of people, especially in his description of Russian intelligentsia, “usually defined as a category of educated urban citizens, mostly from upper and middle classes, who are always in opposition to the monarchy.” And then Pipes blames intelligentsia for the revolution and all the crimes committed in the course of the Civil war. As a matter of fact, he repeats Lenin's erroneous idea that the workers who are not led by a group of intellectuals are unable to revolt. On the other hand, Pipes is too eager to accuse the intelligentsia. Intelligentsia formed also the most active part of the supporters of liberalism. Pipes gives many examples of the university opposition to the bolsheviks, among both students and teachers.

I think Pipes did not really understand what intelligentsia is. He defined it as "a category of educated people, usually from upper and middle classes, in permanent opposition to the tsarism". He was mistaking. A noble, no matter how well educated, like Bakunin or Tolstoy, would never be called "intelligentsia". It was a privilege of middle and lower classes. Which means that the revolution was not led by the forces foreign to the Russian peasants and workers, but by those of them who managed to receive a more or less good education.

Another, and the most annoying, group of errors made by Pipes may be properly called "cheating". They appear when Pipes gives way to his personal feelings, which leads to absolutely anecdotical situations. So, in chapter 10 of the second volume (The Red terror), Pipes colorfully describes Lenin's fears:

“Not a single tsar, even in the periods of the revolutionary terrorism – was not afraid for his life, and didn't possess the guard so strong as Lenin did… Lenin sat behind the brick walls of Kremlin, guarded by the Latvian riflemen day and night. When from time to time he dared to go to the city, it was never announced. Since he moved to Moscow in March 1918 till his death in January 1924 he visited Petrograd, the stage of his revolutionary triumph, only twice, and never made any trips to see the country or to talk to the people. His boldest voyages were rare trips to Gorky near Moscow in his Rolls-Royce.”

And then, only one page later, Pipes writes: “The bolshevist leaders, including Lenin, used to participate in meetings in various places of Moscow in front of workers and party members every Friday afternoon. Lenin's arrival was not usually known in advance. On 30 August, Friday, he intended to visit two meetings (my emphasis, DM)… Worried (by the murder of Uritsky), his kins asked Lenin to cancel the meeting, but, unnaturally for him, he refused.” This controversy is one of the best examples of the Pipes' bias.

Another example where Pipes' antipathy is seen too clearly is in Chapter 4 of "Russia under the bolshevik regime". “The suspicion (that Lenin wanted to establish the hegemony of Moscow over the Western socialist parties) is substantiated by the letter written by Stalin in 1924 to a German communist publisher: ‘The victory of the German proletariat will doubtlessly shift the centre of the world revolution from Moscow to Berlin.’” How does this sentence substantiate the suspicion, may I ask?

In the end of chapter 5 of "Russia under the bolshevik regime", Pipes says: "We have mentioned the high estimations given by Mussolini to Lenin and his praise to Stalin." I paged back through the chapter, but the only words of Mussolini about Lenin I could find are: "I reject all forms of bolshevism, but if I had to choose, I would choose the bolshevism of Moscow and Lenin, for its giant, barbarian, universal scale." Is this what Pipes calls "high estimations"? I would say that this chapter, "Communism, fascism and national-socialism", is one of the worst and least convincing parts of the book, and the third volume in general, "Russia under the bolshevik regime", is the weakest one.

In the same chapter Pipes makes a really outstanding claim, saying that Hitler had plans to make Stalin his deputy after the conquest of the USSR. He even gives the source of this information: an article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. I tried to find this article, but could not. Still, I'm very skeptical about this sensational bit and I'm inclined to think that Pipes made this unsubstantiated claim just because he wanted so much to equal Stalin and Hitler.

Sometimes the choice of words itself demonstrates the intentions of the author. When Pipes tells about the Soviet propaganda art, he says that the enemies of the Soviets were represented as worms and the workers and the Red Army soldiers had "Aryan" facial features. This word, "Aryan", is an awkward attempt to produce an impression of deeper links between bolshevism and nazism.

And the fourth group of errors is simply the repetition of some old myths still popular among the Western specialists. One of them is illustrated by the phrase written by Pipes in the first chapter of "Russia under the bolshevik regime": “A Don cossack who sympathised the Russians…” Clearly, Pipes assumes (or wants his readers to assume) that Cossacks were not Russians. This assumption was refuted by Cossack Gregory Tschebotarioff in a brilliant book of memoirs written especially for the Western audience, "My native land".

The books of Pipes are an amazingly well written and thrilling piece of literature. I enjoyed reading them. But those interested in Russian history definitely need a better reading, not as illogical and incoherent as this monumental


September 5 in Russian history. The Decree on Red Terror.


The Council of the People's Commissars issued the Decree on Red Terror. I couldn't find its full text in English translation and I thought it might be interesting for you to see it.

The Council of the People's Commissars

5 September 1918
On Red Terror

The Council of the People's Commissars, having heard the report of the Chairman of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption on the activity of this commission, finds that in the current situation securing the back areas by terror is an absolute necessity; that to intensify the efforts of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption and to increase the planned element in this activity it is necessary to delegate to this commission as many responsible party comrades as possible; that it is necessary to secure the Soviet Republic from the class enemies by isolating them in concentration camps, that all persons participating in the White Guard organizations, conspiracies and rebellions must be executed by shooting, that the names of the executed and the reasons of the execution must be made public.

The People's Commissar of Justice D. Kursky

The People's Commissar of Home Affairs G. Petrovsky

The Administration Manager of the Council of the People's Commissars V. Bonch-Bruevich