Canada's Russian Revolution
May 13, 2008 11:25 PM   Subscribe

It stands as one of the more unusual turning points of the Cold War, thanks mostly to the surprise appearance of several naked middle-aged women. Taking The Cure: How a group of British Columbian anarchists inspired democracy in Russia.

More information on the Doukhobors at the Doukhobor Discovery Centre and the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.

Alexander Yakovlev died in 2005. Here's his obituary as presented by the BBC. For more information about his place in history, see Alexander Yakovlev and the Roots of Soviet Reforms, a collection of documents housed at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. And for those who can read Russian, The Alexander Yakovlev Foundation.
posted by amyms (7 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting story. Thanks amyms.
posted by tellurian at 1:03 AM on May 14, 2008

Hmm, the article is very interesting, but it's missing a crucial point: it was not the democrats that brought down the USSR. Towards the early-mid eighties, when reforms were just beginning, people like Yakovlev had a lot of credibility. But, believe it or not, their innovations--multiparty elections, private enterprise, and so on--ended up being wildly unpopular. By 1990-'91 the economy was utterly in the toilet, and the democrats' reforms were being blamed for it.

What brought down the USSR was nationalism. It's easy for Westerners to conflate Russia and the Soviet Union. But in fact the Russians had long felt resentment at being part of a transnational state. (Obviously, the other Soviet republics felt the same way.) So when Yeltsin, the leader of the Russian republic (RSFSR) within the Soviet Union, emerged as a credible and effective leader, more able to get things done than Gorbachev himself, the nationalists flocked to him as someone who would, and did, defend the rights and interests of Russia proper against the claims of the Soviet central government.

Don't romanticize the '90s when it comes to Russia. It's dangerous. They were no more democratic in effect than the '00s were; if Yeltsin had had the mental resources (and the ability to resist his more troublesome oligarch supporters), he would have become as strong as Putin.
posted by nasreddin at 3:13 AM on May 14, 2008

As a Russophile anarchist, I'm definitely the target audience for this article, and I loved it. Thanks, amyms!

nasreddin, old pal, do I detect a knee jerking under the table? While everything you say is true, it is irrelevant to the article, which says nothing about the '90s or the fall of the USSR except this:
...the heady perestroika period, which began with Mikhail Gorbachev’s assumption of power in 1985 and concluded with the evaporation of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. Given current events in Russia — increasing Kremlin control of the economy, constriction of press freedoms and other civil liberties — perestroika seems today like a charming anachronism, an episode of misguided idealism.
The fact that Gorbachev was a failure and Russia descended into economic and political chaos does not affect the nobility of Yakovlev's efforts to smuggle in as many freedoms as he could. It was probably a doomed effort, but it's what the article is about. Save your rancor for the next FPP about some starry-eyed Westerner who helped Yeltsin fuck the country over after 1991.
posted by languagehat at 5:13 AM on May 14, 2008

This is just Bakunin's revenge for being expelled in 1872 from the Hague Congress.
posted by ornate insect at 5:59 AM on May 14, 2008

Douk Douk Douk Doukhobors
Douk Douk Doukhobors
Douk Douk Doukhobors
Douk Douk. . .

As I walk nude through this world
Nothing can stop the Doukhobors
And you, you are my girl
And no one can hurt you, oh no

Yes-a-I, I'm gonna love you, oh! oh!
Come on let's do some arson
Cuz I'm a Doukhobor
So hey yea yea yeah. . .
posted by Herodios at 6:37 AM on May 14, 2008

nasreddin, old pal, do I detect a knee jerking under the table?

You're right, my reaction was rather knee-jerk. But the way I read the article, it seemed to be framed with a dose of nostalgia for the bygone days of enlightened Russian democrats bringing down the Soviet Union, with some kind of implied moral lesson for the democrats of today. I just wanted to make sure that fable didn't go unchallenged.

I do of course find the Dukhobors inspiring in many ways. Still, I wish the article had focused on them for their own sake.

It's a minor quibble, in any case.
posted by nasreddin at 11:11 AM on May 14, 2008

I live in the West Kootenay of BC (maybe herodios has roots there, too, because something very like his song was chanted by schoolchildren getting out early because of Doukhobor terror -- and "terror" was the word used then). Anyway, the article gives a confused picture of the Doukhobors who were far more factionated then simply USCC vs. Freedomites and who would never, I think, have described themselves as either anarchist or socialist, those being the labels of Tolstoyans or Communists or hippies who projected their own aims onto these people. They do call themselves pacifists and that is what drew both Tolstoy and his Quaker secretary, Aylmer Maude, to their defense. A Doukhobor woman once pointed to the Canadian flag and said to me, "That flag, that is violence!" That is a defensible position that maybe leads to anarchism, I don't know, but traditional Doukhobor society was very authoritarian. Peter "the Lordly" Verigin ruled the communal Doukhobors of BC until he was murdered, probably by other Doukhobors. Then followed a parade of other leaders -- Micheal the Archangel, Lebedoff, Stephen Sorokin. This last was a con man who set up shop in Uruguay ostensibly to find land there for people to settle. In fact, he bled the Doukhobors financially and either incited or condoned the violent activities of the Freeedomites in the 1960s. There were arson attempts -- the Nelson Court House, homes of people both allied with and opposed to the Freedomites -- and bombings -- the Nelson bus station, and finally the bomb that took down the power lines to the Bluebell Mine on Kootenay Lake. Most of the mine lies beneath the water level of the lake and it was kept dry by electric pumps. When the lines went down, many men underground waited in the dark, as the lake water crept up their legs, for the time that it took for the emergency power generators to kick in. They came up out of the mine and marched on the Doukhobor community in the Slocan Valley, home to the Freedomites. They were stopped by the RCMP, but were promised that the Freedomite terror would be stopped. The provincial government measures were harsh: determined that the Doukhobors would assimilate into Canadian society, the government demanded that all children go to Canadian public schools, rather than the Russian-language schools that they had been attending. Parents who refused had their children taken by force. These kids were interned in New Denver in buildings that had been used twenty years before to intern Japanese Canadians. Parents could visit their children but only with a wire fence separating the families. That did end the period of bombings, or most of them anway. It also destroyed Slocan Doukhobor society. Children grew up estranged from parents, feeling abandoned and unloved. Only one person was killed during the bombings, a young Doukhobor transporting a bomb in his car that went off prematurely. The Sons of Freedom never attracted any young members and dwindled in size. By the mid-90s, there were only four active Freedomite arsonists -- all women. Arrested over and over again, they were released into the care of people who tried very hard to make them keep the terms of their parole -- specifically, that they not be allowed matches. But Mary Braun got hold of some anyway and, in the summer of 2001, burned down a college building. It was a portable classroom. Years previously, it had been used in New Denver to house Doukhobor children taken from their families. Mary Braun was 81 when she came up for sentencing. This was in October, 2001 and the judge specifically referred to the terrorist attacks in New York when he sentenced her to six years in prison. She's out now, after fifteen convictions and more than 25 years in jail.
posted by CCBC at 8:30 PM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

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