Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Russian Empire

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Famous Russian sideshow performer Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy sitting with his father; ca. 1875

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The 140-kiloton Chagan nuclear test, Soviet Union; January 15, 1965

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The 1965 Chagan nuclear explosion was part of Russia’s Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy program. The idea was to use nuclear explosions for peaceful civil engineering projects. The 140 kiloton explosion created a 100 metes (328 ft) deep lake and dammed a nearby river.


Prokudin-Gorsky photography

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Signal tower in the village of Burkovo

These are actually not colorized photographs, they’re color photographs by a man named Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. He’s a Russian who really pioneered in, and made the field of color photography something worth funding. He was given funding by Tsar Nicholas II to take 2 trips through Russia photographing everything that came to mind. He went on 2 trips, one in 1909, and one a bit later in 1915.

Gorsky was one of the later photographers in this medium, but he certainly wasn’t someone who fades in comparison. The earlier individuals are people who were experimenting with different methods, cameras, exposures, and emulsions (The light-sensitive coating that was smeared on the glass plate to permanently imprint the image after the exposure). Individuals like Adolf Miethe (who was active in 1902 onwards), and Edward Raymond Turner (The Englishman who filmed the first color photographs in 1902) have one thing in common –They all used the same three-color process of photographing three individual glass plates in red, green, and blue, and then combining them in one channel.

The three-color process was first theorized by James Clerk Maxwell in 1855, and put in to practice by a man named Thomas Sutton in a photograph captured in 1861, a very famous one nonetheless! It was a simple tartan ribbon, but it reproduced permanent color. There’s been earlier examples of possible color photographs, like the Hillotypes (Named for the inventor, a minister by the name of Levi Hill), but this is an entirely different story altogether, and one with which I’m not familiar enough to comfortably answer.

All in all, after Maxwell’s successful ‘experiment’ conducted by Sutton, a man named Louis Ducos du Hauron caught an interest in the medium. Before 1877, he had patented several processes related to color photography, and finally in ’77, he took the first confirmed color photograph. There’s been rumors of this photograph being from 1869, but others put it at 1879. It’s currently disputed enough to really not make the running, I’m afraid. Nonetheless, Hauron is my favorite person of this era.

Moving along to the late 19th century, the Lumière brothers come in to play. Louis Lumière and Auguste Lumière (Lumière meaning Light in French!) held a little get together in 1895, screening early motion pictures. The 2 brothers also invented the dry-plate, which was necessary for commercially viable color photography, but that’s for later! They theorized that a plate, with a single exposure, could produce viable color photographs, instead of the previously tiring 3 exposures for a single photograph. So, they set about trying for the different ways of achieving this. They didn’t actually receive any success until 1903, when they filed the following patent for an Autochrome Lumière (A small excerpt):

  • The colored particles are grains of starch, ferments, leavens, bacilli, pulverized enamels, or other pulberulent and transparent materials. They are colored by means of colors also transparent in orange, green, and violet, or else in red, yellow, and blue, or even in any number of colors, such that the grains of these different colors being mixed as intimately as possible in the state of dry powder and in suitable proportions and then applied to the glass they do not communicate to the surface of the plate any appreciate coloration.

So essentially, in 1907, they launched the Autochrome Lumière to great success. It was affordable (Not compared to B/W photography though!), it was simple, and it was user friendly. Pop in a plate, expose, color photography! Quite simple, really. However, Gorsky, used the three-color method to great success. He achieved unprecedented results and a stunning quality compared to his colleagues, mostly due to something called ‘digichromatography’. Gorsky’s camera is also unknown as he likely designed it himself, but a fun fact is he might’ve drawn inspiration from Adolf Miethe who he met while traveling through Germany, Miethe having had his camera designed by a cabinet maker while in Berlin.

In the later years, more pioneers entered the field. People with inventions that were brilliant, but not commercially viable, and inventions that were quite funky, but, well, ingenious. All in all, a quick wrap is easy.

Here’s a video covering this subject quite nicely, from the annals of the craft to the modern 20th century:

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The “Robo-Lenin” statue in Magnitogorsk Russia; ca. 1930 (destroyed ca. 1932)

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Another angle:

"Robo Lenin Smash! Instigate NEP! Make concessions to party ideals in the face of adversity! Raaaaah!"


Human chess, St. Petersburg, Russia; ca. 1924

“Humans are so weird.” – horses, probably

 


Why Stalin allowed Finland to remain independent after WWII:

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Stalin overestimated the efficacy of the Finnish Communist Party and underestimated the canniness of Finnish politicians. Starting in leverage high grade military equipment from the Germans which allowed the Finnish forces to stage a fighting retreat from Karelia in 1944. Thus in mid-1944, the Finns and the Soviets were fighting in the same ground as the Winter War. Both the Kremlin and the Red Army’s leadership were much more interested in maintaining the drive into Eastern Europe than refighting what had been a dark chapter in Soviet military history.

Urho Kekkonen, a Finnish parliamentarian and later Prime Minister, said in a 1944 radio broadcast “the Soviet Union must stand to gain a bigger advantage from an independent Finland clinging to life than from a broken Finland doomed to a dependent existence.” The cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish relations was the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed with the USSR in April 1948. The Treaty guaranteed that Finland would aid the Soviets against “Germany or its allies” and fostered a series of networks and political connections between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviets initially expected the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) to make electoral gains, but the existing Finnish political establishment adroitly managed to sideline them. The Treaty and the Finnish compliance with it did not give the SKP any major issues with which to attack the existing governments. Successive Soviet governments wanted the Treaty to be expanded and pull the Finns closer into the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but the Finns were able to strategically drag their feet. For example, the language “Germany or its allies” meant that Finns were able to justify not wanting to take defense steps against NATO Norway and Denmark. At the same time, the Finns also mastered the art of not appearing to be undermining the larger issue of Soviet security; they would give way over key debates like radar stations its early warning network.

The success of the Finns looks quite intelligent and unexpected from the vantage point of 2014, it’s important to keep in mind that during the Cold War the West was quite apprehensive the Finnish policies of accommodation. “Finlandization” became a pejorative term within Western Cold War discourse and a shorthand for making concessions to gain at best temporary freedoms from the USSR.

Sources

Jakobson, Max. Finnish Neutrality; A Study of Finnish Foreign Policy Since the Second World War. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Jussila, Osmo, Seppo Hentilä, and Jukka Nevakivi. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809. London: Hurst & Company, 1999.

Luostarinen, Heikki. “Finnish Russophobia: The story of an enemy image.” Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 2 (1989): 123-137.

Rentola, Kimmo. “From half-adversary to half-ally: Finland in Soviet policy, 1953-58.” Cold War History 1, no. 1 (2000): 75-102.


Soviet tank crewmen washing up with snow; ca. 1943.

 In the west, Russians are often stereotyped as being dour and pessimistic, but I disagree. Anyone who can sunbathe during springtime in Siberia or wash using snow and still have a smile on their face is a true optimist.

In the west, Russians are often stereotyped as being dour and pessimistic, but I disagree. Anyone who can sunbathe during springtime in Siberia or wash using snow and still have a smile on their face is a true optimist.


Viktor Bulla’s Pioneers in Defense Drill; ca. 1937

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“Viktor Bulla’s photograph of hundreds of children wearing gas masks was not meant to be ghoulish, a commentary on war or lost innocence, but rather exemplified a reason for pride—the country was blessed with well-trained, well-equipped and obviously courageous young fighters.”

(From “Propaganda and Dreams: Photographing the 1930s in the USSR and the US” by Leah Bendavid-Val)


Collapse of the Soviet Union:

While the USSR itself ceased to exist, many communist politicians either remained in power or continued to play an active role in their country’s politics. The revolutions were made possible not because of external forces (the US didn’t defeat communism, as it is often claimed) but because the communist party began to lose faith in itself.

Anti-communist and anti-party movements were not entirely uncommon in the USSR, but engaging in public demonstrations carried with it severe risks. In 1956, Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to crush the opposition movement when it became clear that Imre Nagy, a communist himself, could no longer be trusted to rule the communist party. When he declared Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union mercilessly crushed the Hungarian dissidents. Mass bloodshed was avoided at Nagy’s insistence that the Hungarian people not fight their invaders, knowing perfectly well that there was little chance of victory. Similar events were to be repeated in Prague in 1968 when Alexander Dubček sought to relax party control over public life through democratic reforms including freedom of press. While more successful than the Hungarian revolution, the Prague Spring, ultimately met the same fate as the Warsaw Pact invaded in August. Similarly, bloodshed was spared only through the insistence by Dubček that Czechoslovaks not resist their invaders.

Although the revolutions in each country of Eastern Europe took on a different quality, there was one characteristic that defined them all: they were all non-violent. Beginning with the Polish workers’ union Solidarity and later emulated by Civic Forum (Czech) and Public Against Violence (Slovak) all communist opposition from then on took a strictly non-violent approach believing that, and with good reason, any violence committed by the opposition movements would only play into the communists’ party’s hands. On the other hand, any violent response to the democratic movements now sweeping Eastern Europe would only serve to discredit the communist parties further. Had the Soviets wanted to crush these democratic movements, there is little doubt as to whether they would be successful or not. The violent repression of the Prague Spring was still vivid in the minds of many.

There are two significant differences in the political climate within which the democratic movements of the 1980s were taking place and between those that took place before them and both had to do with the communist parties themselves. Faced with unprecedented protests and a call for democracy, communist officials simply did not understand how to address the protestors. That the revolutions were successful at all, ironically, can be attributed to a series of political and strategic blunders made by communist party officials. In Poland, for example, to address a series of devastating labour strikes, the Polish communist party, for the first time in the history of the USSR, formally recognized Solidarity (the Polish workers’ union mentioned earlier). In the span of just one year, Solidarity membership had reached 9.5 million members. Witnessing its popularity and fearing for its hold on power, the polish communist party attempted to outlaw Solidarity in the 1980s through the declaration of martial law. This would be characteristic of all revolutions in Eastern Europe: the communist party would relax their control over public life only to try and regain that same control later on through greater oppression which only served to discredit further still the communist regimes.

By the late 1980s it was clear in Poland and elsewhere that the communist party had no real sense of how to address their countries’ increasingly unsustainable economic situation or the growing public unrest. In 1989, the communist party having lost all credibility agreed to sit down with Solidarity to discuss the problems now facing Poland.

Among the agreements reached at the negotiations between the communist party and Solidarity was the creation of a new elected assembly. Elections were held just two months after the round-table talks between Solidarity and the party. Although the elections to the Parliamentary Assembly were rigged to retain a communist majority, the Senate elections were to untouched. Surprisingly, though in retrospect not unexpected, Solidarity won 99 of the 100 seats in the senate and all the seats it was allowed to the Parliamentary Assembly. The communist party itself was left in an impossible situation with the only options being to accept the vote and lose power, or to ignore the vote and resign. They chose the latter, at Gorbachev’s insistence, and communist rule in Poland officially ended.

That Gorbachev himself made clear that the Polish communist party had to accept the vote is significant. It was clear that Gorbachev had no intention of upholding the USSR’s official doctrine of quelling opposition through military intervention. Indeed, stating that the growing democratic movements in Eastern Europe were “a matter for the people themselves” signified to the protestors that Russia would not intervene. This minor and seemingly innocuous remark gave the democratic movements the confidence they needed to effectively bring communist rule to an end.

Sources:

Judt, T. (2005). Postwar: A history of europe since 1945. London, England: Penguin Group.

Goldgeiger, J., & McFaul, M. (2003). Power and purpose: U.S. policy toward Russia after the cold war. Washington, D.C. : The Brookings Institution.


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Dirigible Over St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow; ca. 1921

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