Saturday, September 23, 2006

BOOK: J.-K. Huysmans, "Parisian Sketches"

J.-K. Huysmans: Parisian Sketches. Translated by Brendan King. Sawtry: Dedalus, 2004. 1903517249. xi + 190 pp.

Huysmans is nowadays chiefly remembered as a novelist (see e.g. my post about his last novel, The Oblate, which I read last year); but he also wrote other things, such as sketches and art criticism. This present book is a collection of sketches, first published in 1880 and later in an expanded edition in 1886. The translation is based on this expanded edition, and the translator has provided an interesting introduction and lots of explanatory notes, so from this point of view there is nothing to complain about.

Nevertheless I didn't really enjoy this book. My complaint is with the contents as such; I simply don't see the point of such sketches. They may be interesting from the point of view of literary history; as the translator's introduction points out, they illustrate Huysmans' transition from realism or naturalism to the symbolism and decadence of the fin-de-siècle. (Note that the novel which most clearly marked Huysmans' break with naturalism, À Rebours, was also published in the same period — 1884.) But apart from that, I simply didn't enjoy reading them for their own sake.

Huysmans here continues the tradition of the flâneur, the aimless perambulator, walking through the city, observing its seedier sides, never actually doing anything or getting involved himself, and then writing about his observations as if this was somehow something relevant and interesting and worth reading about! This always exasperates me. The flaneur phenomenon and attitude already annoyed me last year when I encountered it in some of Baudelaire's poems (Baudelaire was practically the founder of flaneurism in literature), it annoyed me in one or two pieces by Arthur Symons which I read in various anthologies, and it annoyed me again now when I read this book by Huysmans. For me, any big city as such, and doubly so its seedier sides, the ones on which the flaneur thrives, is something to be regretted and tolerated as an inevitable necessity, not something to be enjoyed and savoured and endlessly described the way a flaneur does.

Why on earth would any sane person care about theatres, dance-halls, cafes, and bus conductors in some run-down part of 1870s Paris? It's sad enough that some people had to live in that sordid environment, it's doubly sad if this is made as the background of some literary work, but it's an irreparable tragedy when they are made the centre and the raison d'etre of some literary work, as is the case with these sketches: they are nothing but impressions of the environment; they have no story to speak of.

Maybe the problem here is again my lack of comfort with the modern world. I remember reading somewhere that Baudelaire, with his flaneur attitude, was one of the first to try to find some kind of beauty in the non-glamorous aspects of a modern city; one of the first who tried to regard this environment as something more than merely sordid and soulless; one who tried to see in it, despite all appearances to the contrary, some kind of beauty, something that made it worth walking through such parts of a city, observing them, perhaps even revelling in them. This is all well and good, I suppose, but I personally am probably hopelessly stuck in a pre-modern attitude whereby the only things that can be beautiful about a modern city are its parks, palaces, and cathedrals; but not its ordinary districts inhabited by ordinary people. These are too everyday and sordid for me to be able to appreciate them. Perhaps they could be interesting to look at in the case of a medieval or ancient city, merely for their picturesqueness and exoticism; but even then they wouldn't do for a visit or a walk, because by then you couldn't avoid having to smell the excrement in the gutters. Anyway, in a modern town, the ordinary districts don't even have the excuse of picturesqueness and exoticism; they are merely humdrum and pointless. They may be necessary, because without them people wouldn't have any place to live, but that by itself doesn't make them worth reading about or celebrating them in literature.

What this means for a book like Parisian Sketches, I guess, is that it isn't a bad book, nor irrelevant for our day and age, but merely that I am not in its target audience. I am sure that most people nowadays don't share my opinion that cities are merely regrettable and sordid; most of them aren't hampered by my lack of social skills, and can therefore appreciate and enjoy the vibrant, diverse and colourful social life that only a city can offer. In this the 19th-century Parisian flaneur was their forerunner, and they may therefore well enjoy Parisian Sketches and other similar works much better than I did.

A few interesting passages from the translator's introduction: “Huysmans was a flâneur parisien, a habitual walker of the city's back streets and byways, a prose poet of its forgotten corners and neglected alleyways.” (P. 20.) “Unlike Zola, who often sought to make political capital out of social injustice or economic distress in his novels, Huysmans' prose poems aestheticise his subjects rather than politicise them.” (P. 21.)

On the topic of aestheticising his subjects, here's an example: “[. . .] this theatre, with its auditorium whose faded reds and tarnished golds clash with the brand-new luxury of the faux jardin, is the only place in Paris that stinks so deliciously of the make-up of bought caresses and the desperation of depravities that fail to excite.” (The Folies-Bergère in 1879, p. 44.)

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of Huysmans' work (and especially of À Rebours) is how it illustrates the transition from naturalism to the fin-de-siècle. Here is a nice example from this book: “To one side, Ninie was pinning up a gaping hole in her drawers and large patches of sweat were spreading under her armpits almost as far as her breasts. To the pungent smell of horse-dung and rancid grease emanating from the agitated uniforms of the cavalrymen, was now added the pestilential aroma of warm riding-boots and hot hob-nailed shoes, the fetid perfume of unwashed armpits and cheap make-up.” (Dance Night at the Brasserie Européenne in Grenelle, p. 58–9.) This is, on the one hand, a typically naturalist passage, taking pleasure in wallowing in the dung as only the naturalists knew how to. But, on the other hand, is it not only a small step away from decadence, with its obsession with unwholesome things and its fondness for extremes?

Another passage that presages the decadence: “Nature is interesting only when sickly and distressed. I don't deny her prestige and her glory when, with a fulsome laugh, she cracks open her bodice of sombre rocks and flaunts her green-nippled breasts in the sun, but I confess I don't experience before these sap-induced debaucheries that pitiful charm that a run-down corner of a great city, a ravaged hillside or a ditch of water trickling between two lank trees inspires in me./ Fundamentally, the beauty of a landscape consists in its melancholy.” (The Bièvre, p. 93.)

There's even a whole sketch titled The Armpit: “I want simply to speak of the exquisite and divine scent prepared by the women of our cities, wherever they get overheated” (p. 127). “As diverse as hair colour and as undulating as the curls that conceal it, the odour of the armpit could be analysed ad infinitum” (p. 128). How disappointed he would be in these days of clean-shaven bodies soaked in deodorants!

Another curious sketch is Low Tide, about the various types of breasts seen on the female torso mannequins in a boutique. He contrasts them with the idealized shapes as seen e.g. on ancient statues: “How superior to those mournful statues of Venus are these lifelike dressmakers' mannequins; how much more insinuating are these upholstered busts [. . .] because they bring to mind the sufferings of those unfortunate women who despairingly watch their bodies dry up or swell out”, etc., etc. (p. 131), to which I say: bullshit! Why in the name of all that is decent should something be superior merely because it is taken from real life and is therefore more imperfect? I guess this is as good a summary as any of the difference between these flaneurs and me, who am annoyed with them and with the sordid environments they inhabit. I'd take the perfect and unreal over the real but imperfect any time. Ah well. I guess this is just another sign of my emotional immaturity, but I have my doubts if I shall ever be cured of it.

“The enigmatic figure of the Pierrot recurs throughout Huysmans' work.” (Translator's note, p. 168.) “[The actor Jean Gaspard Deburau] made his name with the introduction of the figure of Pierrot, the ever-hopeful but always disappointed lover.” (Translator's note, p. 167.) Apparently Pierrot was quite a major fin-de-siècle obsession — he appears often in the art of Aubrey Beardsley; Dowson wrote a ‘dramatic phantasy in one act’ titled The Pierrot of the Minute; and now I also find him in Huysmans. I hope somebody has written a book about this curious phenomenon, and that I'll eventually find it and read it.

Many of these sketches and poems in prose are dedicated to various Huysmans' friends, most of whom were themselves writers or artists, but usually not so well known (to me at least) as Huysmans. Fortunately the translator's notes introduce each of them in a few words. What struck me as interesting is how many of them worked as civil servants in various government ministries (just like Huysmans). Nowadays we think of civil servants as mere soulless bureaucratic pen-pushers whom we expect to hardly ever mention in the same sentence as art; it's nice to see that this perhaps wasn't always the case.

What to say at the end? I cannot unreservedly recommend this book. As the old saying goes, those who like this sort of thing will find this to be the sort of thing they like. As for me, I wouldn't have been much worse off if I hadn't read this book.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

BOOK: John Wheeler-Bennett, "Brest-Litovsk" (cont.)

John W. Wheeler-Bennett: Brest-Litovsk: The Forgotten Peace, March 1918. London: Macmillan, 1938; 5th printing, 1963. xx + 478 pp.

[Continued from part 1 and part 2.]

Some German military activities continued after the ratification of the treaty, not just in the Ukraine but also in Russia (p. 330). The Russians for their part tried to do as little towards implementing the treaty as possible. By the summer, relations deteriorated to the point where Germans were considering a swift advance upon Petrograd, to be followed by the capture of Moscow and “the overthrow of the Soviet régime and the re-establishment of the Russian monarchy” (p. 335). But by then, Germany was losing the war in the west and had to withdraw more and more soldiers from the eastern front to make up for its losses in the west (p. 336). “From the month of August there was a perceptible stiffening in the Bolshevik attitude and a corresponding tendency of the Germans to assume the defensive.” (P. 343.)

One of the consequences of the Brest-Litovsk treaty was the exchange of ambassadors. Joffe was sent to Germany as the Soviet ambassador; he and his staff took the fullest advantage of their diplomatic privileges to spread communist propaganda (pp. 349–50, 355), e.g. transporting propaganda materials in diplomatic mail, which the host country (in this case Germany) was not supposed to be allowed to inspect. (This led the Germans to consider some rather desperate ideas: “that an official burglary of the [Soviet] Embassy should be ‘arranged’ and the incriminating documents stolen; [or] that one of the Embassy mail-cases should be accidentaly ‘made to go to pieces’ on the station platform.” (P. 359.) “[E]ven at that early date the Bolshevik diplomats had established a reputation for the excellent quality of their champagne” (p. 358).

Communist ideas were also being introduced to Germany by German soldiers who were now returning home after having been prisoners of war in Russia (p. 351–2). Later people such as Ludendorff made use of this fact to bolster their ‘stab-in-the-back legend’, i.e. that Germany lost not because it was defeated on the battlefield but because of the loss of morale on the home front, chiefly caused by foreign propaganda.

The final collapse of the German army was sudden and came to many Germans as a surprise. The whole German nation, the military and the civilian population alike, was completely exhausted, both physically and psychologically, but the full toll of their exhaustion was not realized, even by themselves, until Ludendorff's defeat was made obvious to all. The nation was so certain that the promises of ultimate victory would be fulfilled, and the army so steeped in the traditions of its history, that it was only when the sudden realization of defeat was borne in upon them that their confidence wavered.” (P. 353.)

In November, the Germans finally expelled Joffe, the Soviet ambassador, for his propaganda activities (pp. 359–60). The Central Powers were in a sufficiently bad condition by then that the Soviets made use of this opportunity to repudiate the Brest-Litovsk treaty (pp. 361–2).

The Brest-Litovsk treaty also had consequences for Germany's relations with the Western powers; Wilson in particular, until that time, “preferred to distinguish between the German people and their rulers” (p. 363). But seeing “the barefaced brutality of the peace terms of Brest-Litovsk, their acceptance dictated at the bayonet's point and the whole affair condoned and ratified by the Reichstag almost without protest, Wilson awoke to the fact that for practical purposes there was but one Germany to be conquered, and this was the Germany of the High Command” (p. 365). “Unanimity between the United States and the nations of the Entente had at last been achieved” and their victory was then only a matter of months (p. 366).

Amazingly, even as late as mid-September 1918, the Germans were putting out peace feelers to the western powers and insisting that the terms of Brest-Litovsk are not to be modified (p. 367–8). But by then, the Entente was refusing “ ‘any kind of bargain or compromise with the Governments of the Central Powers’ ” (Wilson, quoted on p. 368), and its demands towards Germany had moved beyond the idealism of Wilson's fourteen points (p. 370). Ludendorff finally realized that the situation was hopeless: “In a wild frenzy of despair he demanded an instant request for an armistice on the basis of the Fourteen Points and the immediate democratization of the Constitution. No Paul on the road to any Damascus was more suddenly converted than was Ludendorff to the cause of peace and democracy. [. . .] ‘The parliamentarization of Germany was not fought for by the Reichstag; it was ordered by Ludendorff.’ ” (P. 369.) Both the armistice agreement that Germany signed on November 11 (p. 371), and the Versailles peace treaty it signed in the following year, contained a provision that annulled the treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The book has several appendices, containing the text of the treaties, including the treaty with the Ukraine and the supplementary treaties signed in the summer of 1918, but most of that is fairly boring.

Some miscellaneous interesting passages:

Lenin spent much of the war in exile in Zürich, where he lived near a sausage factory and, to avoid the stench, spent most of his time in public libraries. “[T]he library authorities exacted a respectable appearance from their readers. Some of Lenin's fellow Bolsheviks had been refused admittance [. . .] but he still owned a decent coat and a pair of sound shoes”. (P. 15.)

When the revolution started in March 1917, he was eager to get to Russia as quickly as possible. Eventually an agreement was reached with the Germans: they would let him travel to Russia through Germany, hoping that once he gets there, he will help the revolution succeed and therefore Russia will soon step out of the war. “As a result, on April 4 a most remarkable ‘treaty’ was drawn up between the Empire of the Hohenzollerns and the editorial staff of a Swiss revolutionary paper. [. . .] [I]n addition, no one could leave the train during the journey, nor enter it, without Platten's permission. (From this last provision grew the legend of the ‘sealed train’.) [. . .] A further regulation, which proved of considerable irksomeness to the returning Bolsheviks, was that smoking in the compartments was forbidden. The German railway officials stricly enforced the rule” and the Russians therefore had to resort to smoking in the toilets :-) (Pp. 38–9.) Because of this agreement, some accused Lenin of being a German agent, but this is ridiculous: “No two parties ever entered into an agreement with more brutal cynicism than Ludendorff and Lenin. [. . .] If any pact existed between Ludendorff and Lenin it was one of mutual mistrust and deception.” (P. 40.)

On pp. 120–1, there is an interesting description of the influence of Hindenburg and Ludendorff in Germany. In 1916, Hindenburg was appointed to the position of Chief of the General Staff, and Ludendorff was his First Quartermaster-General. But their influence extended far beyond these military roles: “Gradually a complete dictatorship was built up on the interpretation of which Ludendorff put upon the word ‘responsibility’. For example, when any policy was mooted of which Ludendorff disapproved, [. . .] he declared that the Supreme Command could not assume ‘responsibility’ for such action, and asked leave to resign. By exercise of this method of ‘persuasion’, the First Quartermaster-General forced everyone to give way to him, from the Emperor downwards.” (P. 121.) As seen from this, Ludendorff was the more active part of this partnership, although Hindenburg was nominally the one in charge; Hindenburg wasn't interested in political matters and mostly just went along with Ludendorff's proposals.

On p. 9 he mentions the word ‘Germanophil’. I still find this spelling strange — why not ‘Germanophile’? This is the second book where I encountered the -phil version; the first was Sven Hedin's German Diary. Apparently then this version was not so rare as I might have thought.

A splendid phrase from p. 13: “spiritual pachydermy”. Bennett uses this to decribe the Tsar's attitude of great apathy in the last months of his reign. I can't entirely resist the visions of orange-robed elephants chanting ‘aum’... :-)

“Remarkable are the tragic fatalities which overhung many of the delegates assembled at Brest-Litovsk. [. . .] Hoesch and Bülow [a nephew of the former chancellor] died in their early middle age [. . .] Talaat Pasha was destined to die at the hand of an Armenian assassin, the avenger of countless massacred victims, and Radoslavov was to be led in chains through the streets of Sofia. [. . .] Trotsky [. . .] leads in his Mexican retreat a life of dynamic hatred and bitter vituperation. [. . .] Over 1500 Soviet citizens have been ‘liquidated’ as Trotskyists, among them the most prominent of the figures at Brest-Litovsk. [. . .] Joffe died by his own hand, Kamenev and Karakhan by the bullets of the executioner as ‘Fascist’ supporters of Trotsky. Sokolnikov exists in a Soviet prison [. . .] Admiral Altvater and General Samoilo perished in the Red Terror of 1918.” (Pp. 112–3.)

Pp. 175–182 tell the curious story of the dissolution of the constituent assembly. Preparations for the assembly, which was to debate a new constitution, started after the February revolution, but after the Bolsheviks assumed power they came to regard it as a nuissance, a rallying-ground for the opponents of their dictatorship. When the session finally opened, many members of the assembly, expecting “some drastic action by the Bolsheviks, [. . .] brought with them candles and sandwiches lest they should be called upon to withstand a siege. ‘Thus democracy entered upon its struggle with dictatorship heavily armed with sandwiches and candles’, commented Trotsky contemptuously.” (P. 179.) Eventually the Bolsheviks withdrew from the assembly and Lenin wrote a decree to dissolve it after the end of its current session, adding that nobody was to be permitted into the assembly hall from the next day on. The members, however, showed no interest in leaving the current session, until finally, at 4 AM, “[t]he commander of the guard, his patience at last at an end, gave the order to his sailors to turn out the lights. In the growing darkness disorder reigned, and, amid cheers and cat-calls from the galleries, the voice of Chernov could be heard pathetically proclaiming, “The Russian State is declared a Russian Democratic Federative Republic’.” (P. 182.) I always find this sort of events somewhat melancholy; it reminds me of the description of the end of the institutions of the Venetian republic in J. J. Norwich's History of Venice (ch. 45, pp. 627, 630–1).

An interesting observation from pp. 190–1: “The cardinal dilemma which all dictators have to face is to make their post-revolutionary policy square with their pre-revolutionary propaganda.” He discusses the example of Hitler and Mussolini in a footnote: “Mussolini is the outstanding exception to the rule. Having made no pre-revolution promises, he was never hampered by the impossibility of fulfilling them.” (P. 191.)

“He [i.e. Hoffmann] had been particularly annoyed by Radek's habit of leaning across the table with an impish grin and puffing tobacco smoke at him.” (Pp. 218–9.)

One thing that particularly impressed me about Lenin in this book is how, although we often think of him as some kind of dictator, he constantly made great efforts to persuade and argue and debate and get people to accept his views by persuasion rather than by force. “If the capacity to withstand criticism be the criterion of greatness, then upon this score alone Lenin's place among the great ones of the earth would have been assured. From the moment that the terms of the treaty became public, there was no more vilified man in Russia or in Europe.” (P. 275.) Lenin “showed himself great in the sense that, though intolerant of the stupidity and blindness of his opponents, he did not deny them the right to express his views.” (P. 281.) This is in marked contrast to Stalin, who after assuming power “replied to his critics with the executioner's bullet and the penal settlement.” (Ibid.) [Incidentally, this reminds me of the old joke where Brezhnev asks Bush: “Do you collect political jokes about yourself?” Bush: “Oh yes, I've got two books. And you?” Brezhnev: “I've got two prison camps.” :-). I wonder, though, where these two are supposed to have met. Brezhnev died in 1982, and Bush became Reagan's vice president only in 1981 — maybe they met at some point in 1981–2; before that, I don't think Bush's offices important enough that he would get to feature in a joke like this, even if he might have met Brezhnev in some of them, e.g. as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1971–3.]


  • Books about the Nazi efforts to gain influence in the East: E. Elwyn Jones, Hitler's Drive to the East (1937); Gerhard Schacher, Germany Pushes South-East (1937); Henry C. Wolfe, The German Octopus (1938). Cited on p. xvii.
  • Maurice Paléologue: An Ambassador's Memoirs (1923–5). He was the French ambassador in Russia. Cited on p. 6.
  • George Buchanan: My Mission to Russia (1923). He was the British ambassador in Russia. Cited on p. 9.
  • Ottokar Czernin: In the World War (1919). He was the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister during much of the WW1. Cited on p. 80.
  • Bruce Lockhart: Memoirs of a British Agent (1932). The Entente had not yet recognized the Bolshevik state and therefore had no embassies there, but they did have ‘agents’, of which Lockhart was one. Cited on p. 251.
  • Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

BOOK: John Wheeler-Bennett, "Brest-Litovsk" (cont.)

John W. Wheeler-Bennett: Brest-Litovsk: The Forgotten Peace, March 1918. London: Macmillan, 1938; 5th printing, 1963. xx + 478 pp.

[Continued from last week.]

Negotiations continued for a while longer but without much progress. The Central Powers concluded a peace treaty with representatives of the Ukrainian People's Republic (pp. 154–5, 166–8, 171–3, 211–14, 212–20), which despite its name was not really quite a Bolshevik state but aspired to normal bourgeous/democratic politics, and which the Russians therefore refused to recognize (pp. 203, 209–10). This Ukrainian state is commonly referred to as the Rada throughout the book, a term which apparently means ‘council’ but is here mostly used a synonym for the state itself, not e.g. its government or parliament (p. 154 mentions “the Government of the Ukrainian Rada”). Anyway, there were some amusing exchanges between the Ukrainians and the Russians: “the second Rada spokesman, Liubynski, retorted with an hour-long speech which for pure vitriolic opprobirum far exceeded anything that had been heard at this strangest of peace conferences. He reviled the Bolsheviks without restraint, recounting a catalogue of their sins only surpassed by Gibbon's famous list of charges preferred against Pope John XXIII, ‘the more serious of which had been suppressed’.” (P. 210. This is a slight misquotation from Gibbon's ch. 70.) Anyway, these discussions were by then largely academic, as most of the Ukrainian territory was no longer under the Rada's control by late January, having been taken over by the Bolsheviks (pp. 203, 219). The main content of the Ukrainian peace treaty was that the Central Powers recognized the Ukraine and guaranteed more rights for the Ukrainians and Ruthenians living in Austria-Hungary, in exchange for which the Ukraine promised to supply grain surpluses, ores, and various other materials to the Central Powers (p. 220).

In negotiations with the Central Powers, Trotsky said he “fully realized that the Central Powers were perfectly capable of annexing the Eastern Provinces” but that “Russia could bow to force but not to sophistry. He would never [. . .] admit German possession of the occupied territories under the cloak of self-determination, but let the Germans come out brazenly with their demands, [. . .] and he would yield.” (P. 217.) A cynical solution was found, whereby the treaty would simply state the territorial changes without saying whether they were annexations or a matter of self-determination. However, negotiations again reached a dead end after Trotsky refused to recognize the separate treaty between the Central Powers and the Ukraine (pp. 217–8).

Finally, on February 10, Trotsky announced his ‘no war — no peace’ policy to the amazed diplomats of the Central Powers. Russia was leaving the war, its army would begin demobilizing at once, but it wasn't signing a peace treaty (pp. 226–7). “The whole conference sat speechless, dumbfounded before the audacity of this coup de théâtre. The amazed silence was shattered by an ejaculation from Hoffmann: ‘Unerhört!’ (‘Unheard of!”), he exclaimed, scandalized.” (Pp. 227–8.) The diplomats were somewhat at a loss as to what exactly the formal consequences of such a step are supposed to be. “The situation appeared to be without parallel until the indefatigable Ministerial-Director Kriege, the German legal expert, after exhaustive researches, reported that a similar case of a unilateral declaration of peace had occurred several thousand years before, after a war between the Greeks and the Scythians.” (P. 228.)

Most of the German and Austrian diplomats were in favour of interpreting the situation as peace, but the German Supreme Command insisted that war must now be resumed, to round off their territorial gains in the east and also to gain control of the Ukraine, which the Rada had by then lost to the Bolsheviks and was thus unable to send any food surpluses to the Central Powers as the peace treaty had stipulated (pp. 229–30). Additionally, to the international public opinion, the Germans tried to present their efforts as a defense of civilization against bolshevism (p. 244).

Approximately a week after Trotsky walked out on the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, Germany started a new offensive against Russia (p. 239) and was soon making excellent progress (p. 245). Lenin immediately sent a telegram accepting the terms put forth by the Germans before Trotsky had abandoned the negotiations, but the Germans were in no hurry to reply, seeing how well they were doing on the battlefield. When they finally did reply, their terms were much harsher than before (pp. 246, 255–6). It's amazing how stubborn many Bolsheviks were in the face of all that — it took Lenin a lot of effort to persuade them that they are in no position to defend themselves, and any delays in accepting the German demands would only make matters worse (pp. 247–50, 258–62, 275–81). Meanwhile, the German advances on the front threw Petrograd into disarray: “It was now accepted that the inexorable German advance would not be halted until it had taken Petrograd. The bourgeoisie were enchanted at the prospect and openly declared themselves for the Hohenzollerns. The Allied Embassies hastily prepared for a hurried evacuation.” (P. 250.)

Finally, on March 1 delegations from both sides met again at Brest-Litovsk. The Germans, of course, did not want to negotiate, but merely to get the Russians to accept their terms; but at the same time they wanted to make it seem like there was a normal process of negotiations. But this the Russians denied them; their chief representative, Sokolnikov, said that “[t]here was in effect nothing to discuss. The Central Powers had presented an ultimatum and Russia had accepted the terms which Germany had dictated. He was here to sign a treaty, not to discuss it.” To the Germans “this attitude of the Russians was highly distasteful. It made what they had to do appear even more barefaced than before.” (P. 266.) The treaty was signed on March 3 (p. 269).

Among other things, the treaty provided for the exchange of prisoners of war. This drew protests from the Junker landlords, who had become used to making good profits from employing these prisoners on their farms at very low wages. Some claimed that “without their assistance, German agriculture would suffer an inevitable catastrophe. Some writers suggested the postponement of exchange till September, when the harvesting should be over; others proposed that the entire male population of the occupied territories ceded by Russia should be transported to Germany in order to furnish cheap agricultural labour.” (P. 273.)

As a last step in trying to avoid having to ratify and implement the peace treaty, the Bolsheviks established contacts with the Entente, offering to refuse ratification in return for the Entente's support of Russia against German and Japanese imperialism. (The Japanese were at the time proposing to intervene in Siberia, excusing this partly as a measure against bolshevism and partly to prevent those areas from coming under German control in case that Germany should continue its advance into Russia; pp. 286–7, 292–5.) However, the Entente wasn't particularly supportive; pp. 284–5, 296, 298, 303), so the All-Russian Congress of Soviets eventually ratified the Brest-Litovsk treaty (p. 304). As for the congress itself, “There was an odd amalgam of independence and vanity and simplicity, which was exploited to the full, for the mass of the delegates was entirely without qualification to reason deeply, and its ignorance was grossly imposed upon by the leaders of all sections of opinion. ‘Never was there a congress’, wrote an eyewitness, ‘in which the many were so patently the tools of the few.’ It was a proletarian assembly at its best and worst.” (P. 300.)

On the German side, there was much less opposition to ratification (mostly by some socialists). “Yet, even in this moment of ephemeral tirumph, there could almost be heard the voice of Nemesis crying through the Chamber [of the Reichstag] the gibe that Radek had hurled into the indignant face of Hoffmann, ‘It is your day now, but in the end the Allies will put a Brest-Litovsk treaty upon you’.” (P. 308.) This is a fine anecdote — too bad that Bennett doesn't cite the source. Perhaps he heard it in some interview (apart from reading various memoirs and documentary collections, he also interviewed many of the participants in the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, as many of them were still alive at the time he was writing this book, 20 years after the events). It's a fairly prescient observation, although ultimately I don't think that the Versailles treaty was quite so harsh to Germany as Brest-Litovsk had been to Russia.

By the time of ratification, Germany, with the reluctant help of Austria-Hungary, managed to occupy most of the Ukraine and reinstall the Rada government in it (pp. 311–5); but in fact the leading person in the Ukraine was the German commander, marshal von Eichhorn. The Rada was able to exist only because of German support: “The separatist movement had no roots in the country, and the people as a whole were completely indifferent to national self-determination; this had been thrust upon them by a group of political dreamers derived from the presence of German bayonets.” (P. 316.) The Germans soon found that extracting grain from the Ukrainian peasants was proving more difficult and yielded less grain than had been anticipated (pp. 315–9). (“It was common gossip in Berlin at this time that, in order to camouflage the failure of the Ukrainian expedition, workmen in Poland were ordered to paint the word ‘Ukraine’ on every bag of Polish flour sent to Berlin.” P. 318.) This led to conflicts between the Rada and the Germans, who eventually dissolved it and installed a General Skoropadsky as the Hetman (and chief German puppet) (p. 321–2). Deliveries of goods to the Central Powers increased, there was a brief economic revival as “the Ukraine became for a short time a bourgeois Mecca, and thither flocked thousands of refugees from Soviet Russia, eager to join in the riot of speculation which was sweeping Kiev.” (P. 323.) The peasants, on the other hand, resented the new regime and its restoration of land to the large landowners (ibid.); the German policies were driving them straight into the hands of Bolshevism and of Russia (p. 324). “Rarely, save in the attempts of the French to separate the Rhineland fom the German Reich in 1923, has there been a more flagrant example of how not to woo a conquered people.” (Ibid. And yet, the Germans apparently learnt nothing from that, as they repeated the very same mistake in the Ukraine during the WW2.) In the late summer, the Germans started withdrawing soldiers from the Ukraine as they needed them for the Western Front, and the Skoropadsky regime collapsed a few months afterwards. (P. 325.)

During the last part of the war, Ludendorff's ambitions in the east reached truly megalomaniac proportions, foreshadowing in many ways the Nazi ambitions during the WW2. Ludendorff sent expeditionary forces to Finland, Baku, and the Crimean ports; “An army of occupation was maintained in Rumania; grand-ducal governments were in the process of creation in Courland, Lithuania, Livonia, and Estonia; and the German colonies in the Crimea were urged to appeal to the Kaiser for annexation. Ludendorff's conception of Deutschtum had become all-embracing (a conception later to be revived by Hitler). ‘German prestige demands that we should hold a strong protecting hand, not only over German citizens, but over all Germans’, he was writing at this moment. [. . .] Wilhelm II, in a message to the Hetman of the Don Cossacks, outlined plans for the ultimate partitioning of Russia into four independent states—the Ukraine, the Union of the South East, Central Russia, and Siberia—thereby eliminating the Russian state as a political threat to Germany.”

[To be continued in a few days.]