AN ADDRESS BY COUNT PAUL N. IGNATIEFF.
12th March, 1931
PRESIDENT STAPELLS introduced Count Ignatieff, who said: I thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking to people of such prominent standing in this hospitable land of Canada. I appreciate your willingness to listen to a strange dialect Russian-English. Earthquakes move mountains and seas, revolutions destroy and seemingly create, but the Universe and Life pulsate. We do not understand the forces that are operative we call them "the laws of Nature," or "the Will of the Almighty." We must study to understand the trend of the underlying forces which have created the Russian Nation. Therefore to comprehend Russia of today, let us review her past history.
What is Russia?-part of a colossal plain, the vastest on earth, comprising two different continents-Europe and Asia-the West and the East. On that plain live more than 150 million human beings, about 80% Slavs, with many small nations intermingled. A recent census has shown about 165 denominated nations and tribes, and over 100 spoken dialects. This Slavonic race is of the same stock as the white race that has populated the rest of Europe, spread over America, and brought its culture all round the world. The Slavonic element of the race came to Russia during its migratory period, in the rear of all the tribes that formed the white race, and its destiny was somewhat different. Drifting West, like its brethren, it found the land West of the Carpathian mountains already occupied, and changed is direction towards the North. Their first cultural contact was with Byzantium, whose Greco-Roman culture was imbued with the influence of the East through the Iran culture of Assyria, Babylon and Egypt. These wandering tribes, which later formed the Russian Nation, received their Greek-Orthodox Christianity with its orientalism" symbolism, metaphorism--that so many are apt to call superstition-from Byzantium. With this touch of culture the Nation was forced to expand East-the only direction that was unpopulated. The small Mongolian and Finnish tribes that encountered the Russian Nation could not stop the movement. There were no natural barriers-no seas, no mountains. This migration was mostly a peaceful expansion.
In the XII Century the Mongols, the yellow race of Asia, started their migration period and flooded the East of Europe; Mongols, under the Generals of Genghis Khan, washed the hoofs of their horses in the blue waters of the Adriatic. The Slavonic races ultimately repulsed the Mongols, who fell back. But for more than two hundred years the Russians were in continual contact with the Tartars, and for over a hundred years the Russian Princes paid tribute to the Khans to protect their country from new invasions of those fearless warriors. The contact with the Far East was well established. In the XIV Century the Mongol upheaval gradually declined and the Slavonic race spread East through the northern part of Asia. The mountains of Mongolia and North China divided this part of the Continent; on the north, the Russians, on the South, Mongols and Chinese, each with their particular culture. Could it be that the culture of China had no influence on its northern neighbour-Russia? Has the migration period ended for the whole of the people who are scattered on this vast continent? Yes, and no. Yes-for the few town dwellers and perhaps for the south-western part of Russia, which came under the influence of Western European culture. No for the larger part of the population, 80% tillers of the soil. The intensification of labour and culture comes only when there is no urge to shift to better land. To illustrate the migratory urge, may I quote my experience
After graduating from the University, I settled on a farm; for ten years I had a coachman who was married, had two children, and seemed happy. One Spring there was a rumour that far away in the northern part of Turkestan good land was available. He became gloomy, restless, and with a few neighbours left for Turkestan with his wife and children. The work proved too hard, so, following the course of least resistance, he moved further east close to the shores of the Pacific and may still be migrating. According to the official figures, many hundred. thousand people move East and scores of thousands return to their old homes only to move again within a few years. This constant urge to migrate East in response to the appeal of the vast plains is very common,
As early as the XVI Century we find forces trying to stop this migration by the attachment of the peasant to the ground where he worked. This brought into existence the bondage of the peasant to the earth" which prevailed in Russia through the XVI, XVII, and XVIII Centuries, until 1861, when the peasants were liberated and land taken from the landowners, was given to the peasants by the government. This occurred without any disturbance, as the land owners had always possessed the land under the Title of Service to the Commonwealth of the State. The landowner himself was liberated from his bondage to service in 1785 by Catherine II" who was influenced by Western thoughts. 7"his principle of service to the commonwealth is one of the leading forces throughout the history of Russia. Not Force and Conquest-but Service. The peasant is bound to the soil so that the land owner may serve the government. The old name of this class was Service Class. It was only under Western influence, in the Imperial period, that this class bore some resemblance to the nobility of the West, and even under Peter I, it was not a closed class. Any service to the State might bring a man from the lowest strata to the highest ranks in the Service-Class.
In the middle of the XIX Century, Homiakoff, a prominent leader and poet of the Slavophiles" prophesied that, as the Sun starts its journey from the East and as the light of Christianity came to mankind from the East, so the predestination of Russia is to blend the mysticism of the East with the progressive materialism of the West. "Russia cannot be understood-you can only believe in Russia."
This brief outline of Russian history has perhaps given you some idea of the difficulties confronting our school education. Russians have the reputation of being dreamers more than being concerned with reality. Till the reign of Peter I, at the beginning of the XVIII Century, school education was almost entirely under the control of the Greek Orthodox church. Although there was some contact with Poland, the wall between the culture of the West and Russia was very high, until Emperor Peter I cut a window through to the West. From this time Western influence grew, touching mostly the town dwellers and those who served the Central Government. The rest of the nation took only the external forms of civilization. This explains the wide range between Russia's great cultural contributions, her long list of outstanding names in the fields of science, literature and music, and the primitiveness of the overwhelming majority of her population.
Peter I instituted the lay schools to supply the needs of the State, and this trend advanced in intensity and quality as the influence of Western thought increased. Later in the XVIII Century, in the reign of Catherine II, school education received a strong impetus. The Academy of Science at St. Petersburg and the first University of Moscow (1755) were instituted, and boarding schools for girls were also introduced. Although Germany was a close neighbour, the prevailing influence was French. Voltaire, a correspondent of Catherine II, the immigrants from the French Revolution, and the prisoners of the War of 1813, made important contributions to Russia's culture.
Under the influence of the Revolution of 1848, dissatisfaction with the schools' inadequate teaching created a school of thought called Nihilism, whose goal was the liberation of the individual from all bonds; this was opposed to the idea of the Bolsheviks today, who sacrifice the individual for the sake of the community. About 1863, the Minister of Education, Count Andre Tolstoy, under German influence, advanced the theory that Russia's failure was due to her neglect of the classical, sophistical studies. His slogan was "away from the realities of life and progressive ideas, and back to the past-the Golden Age." The study of classical languages, with all their glorious history, resolved itself into a brain-cramming process regulated by the preconceived patterns of the few. This movement was not popular with the Czar, nor with the majority of the Nation, but received an impetus through the attempted assassination of the Czar by the Nihilists. This school, instead of healing past defects, gave Russia generations of intellectual people not prepared to cope with reality. Ideas, mostly of German philosophical origin, which were not tested by the laws of Nature, were taken literally with no sense of their real values. Dostoevsky, in, the '70's, especially in his work "The Possessed" prophesied a type of Superman (as Nietzche did) with his goal-the complete destruction of the social structure and standards of civilization, and the crushing of the individual for the benefit of a community, understood and led by the few.
The reforms of Tolstoy could not stem the tide of pedagogical progress. A strong current of thought would not acquiesce in the idea of a school torn away from life. But it was only in 1908 that it was possible for the Duma to achieve great improvements in the schools, both quantitatively and qualitatively. An extensive network of primary schools was started all over Russia; with the reforms of 1915-16 a school was introduced that made possible the co-ordination of general education with vocational preparation. Those reforms answered so well the needs of the time that even the outburst of the revolution has not changed their trend, although it changed some of the fundamentals of the curricula. Time alone will reveal the relative values of the courses.
Turning to the ruling class of Russia, we find that people of all nations have held office. Taking the list of officials during the Imperial period, we find descendants of Genghis Khan, an Armenian Prime Minister, a Frenchman, many Tartars and Georgians, Germans of the Baltic Provinces, and Poles.
Is the Russian essentially a family man or a religious man? The yardstick of Western thought is useless for understanding the position. If you will bear in mind that over 80% of the population is rural, that the vastness of the land does not tend to intensification of personal effort, and that their only aims are to bring more land under culture, you will quite understand that a man's desire is to have more and more laborers under his orders. This is the patriarchial idea of the East, the economic reason for his being a family man. Religious and moral influences were always in favor of family life. Certainly, through the revolutionary upheaval, the ties between the old and the young were strained, often destroyed, but we find from reports of eye witnesses that the efforts of the present leaders to destroy the family have not met with great success. The love of children and the principle of duty towards the family prevail. Take the case of a man I know in Paris who works in a factory, and although touched with tuberculosis, refuses to quit his job saying, "I have my wife, my mother-in-law and my child to support." A Russian will send his children to day nurseries, but will refuse to let them go to boarding school away from their parents, unless in dire need. It is an established habit among Russians who have gone away to work, either elsewhere in Russia, Canada or the United States" to send their surplus earnings back to their family, to be used to reconstruct or enlarge their holdings. Do you know how much they sent from the States in 1929? Approximately $400,000.
Illustrative of the abiding religious feeling among the peasants, are many daily customs and expressions. It was very unusual to see a land tiller, or a workman, start his work or break his first crust of bread without saying a short prayer and making the sign of the Cross. In the south of Russia the greeting words between people on the street were: "Glory to God". The veneration of ikons in Russia is often explained by Western students as a superstition, and even as a form of idolatry. But they forget the Oriental influence in the Greek Orthodox Church; this symbolism is a way of representing abstract ideas by images. Their prayers are to alleviate suffering, appease the wrath and implore the blessings of God. The Oriental fatalism takes the form of obedience to the Will of the Almighty. A pamphlet of the the Anti-God Society which I saw some time ago bemoaned the fact that the anti-religious campaign was not producing expected results-they figured that there were act least ten million people in Russia who could not be converted, and were ready to die for their religion, and about fifty million more who were supporters of the Church. Compare even these doubtful Communist figures with the membership of the Communist party which is under two millions.
"Russia, the land of boundless possibilities", has been the slogan for many generations in my country. Perhaps now, with more knowledge of the natural resources of Russia" such an assertion will not meet with protest in Western countries. It is well known that Russia has an abundance of all raw materials, oil, timber, ores, all minerals except nickel. Only since the beginning of this century have the natural resources been duly surveyed for commercial purposes. Previous to fourteen years ago, all explorations were guided by sound economic laws. I do not think that any unprejudiced observer will find that these laws obtain at present. Many enterprises are operating today that were planned before the war and abandoned when found to be commercially impracticable. For example, the Hydro-Electric plant on the River Dnieper, or the Turkestan Railroad. The rivers of Russia present boundless possibilities for producing white coal, but lack of free capital, an undeveloped market, and the small impetus for intensification of labour demand a gradual development of this water power. The industrialisation movement began to make Russia more independent at the end of the XIX Century. A big impetus was given to this movement after the Russo-Japanese war but it was done gradually without breaking away from general economic laws, and with regard to the welfare of the whole nation. For instance, the cutting of the timber was restricted by laws in order to preserve future growth.
After the liberation of the peasants in 1861, when more than half the arable land was given to then, the policy of the Russian Government was to democratize the ownership of the land, taking from big land owners and giving to the peasants. Two State Land Banks were instituted-one for land owners for mortgage purposes, and one for the peasants-to buy land and resell to the peasant on a liberal installment plan. By 1914 only 25°0 of land was in possession of the land owners, the rest being in the hands of the peasants, the small holders. The parcels of land were adjusted among the peasants through the land organization started in 1908. A vast program of help to the farmers was worked out. Russia was covered with a net of nearly six thousand agronoms (agriculturists), and co-operative use of machinery gradually spread over the productive areas; credits on cooperative principles were fostered and helped by the State Banks, but the tiller of the soil retained ownership of his land and the benefits of his toil. Naturally, he wished to make his farm self-supporting for himself and family. The type of farming was mostly mixed. Few cereals were marketed from the peasants, and the export capacity was based on the produce from large estates. After the revolution of 1917 the big estates were divided among the peasants. The figures for cereal exports fell very low. How could it be otherwise when, at the time of the revolution, wheat had been put under the plough? There were vast reserves of land far away in Siberia, but it was too far East to be put under wheat, as economical transportation by railway was prohibitive. There are also reserves of good land in southeast European Russia, but they are mostly in the region of heavy droughts, and without irrigation cannot be economically used for cereals. This land is mostly a plateau high above the water line of the rivers. Russia renewed its export of cereals when the land was taken away from about 40% -of the peasants, and the cereals for export were cultivated in State farms and so-called collective farms, virtually depriving the nation of wheat bread.
In 1910, when we were preparing a revision of our trade treaties, an extensive survey was made of the whole wheat situation, proving that Russian wheat exports were on the decline, and had no future economical possibilities, to compete with Canada, Argentine and Australia. It stated that the capacity of these countries to export economically ever increasing quantities of cereals, was growing, and that the turn of the tide for Russia would come only when the reserves of good wheat land in the three first countries were exhausted, and prices would warrant irrigation and extended transportation. Three years ago a friend coming from Russia corroborated this statement" adding that the increasing population required an half million more tons of wheat yearly for Russian consumption.
The problem of vital interest to Canada is whether Russia will continue to be a competitor in future world wheat markets. From what I have outlined, it follows that, under conditions of natural development, the exportable surplus of cereals in Russia must inevitably decline. With the lands now available for economic cultivation, the individual peasant farmer can only attain a higher standard of living by consuming more of what he produces, and by diversifying his methods of farming, and therefore cutting down the exportable surplus. In Canada, where the proportion of untouched land available for cultivation is very much greater than in Russia, the problem of growth is entirely different. A farmer, to raise his standard of living, can acquire more land and raise more crops to sell for export. In Russia, only under abnormally forced development can an exportable surplus be produced in large quantities. I hope that I have not over-taxed your patience in trying to cover such an enormous question as Russia. May I thank you for your indulgence, and may I remind you again that in considering Russia's historical significance and her destiny we must remember that the task of this Nation is to blend two cultural forces, the West and the East. (Applause).
The Chairman tendered to the speaker the thanks of the Club.