Zhdanov Anniversary and the Leningrad Blockade – Part II

This is a continuation of this historical piece from PolitNavigator. This past February 26 was the 120th anniversary of the birth of Andrei Alexandrovich Zhdanov.

When we left off, Leningrad had survived the full assault of the Nazi military machine, and several months of punitive blockade.

Heroic ice truckers brought in supplies, and evacuated civilians, over the frozen Lake Ladoga.

Communist Party leader and Military Committee member Andrei Zhdanov was the leader of the city’s resistance to German attack and occupation.

Spring Cleaning

When spring came and the snow melted, the full extent of the destruction could be seen.

New enemies arose to torment the population:  cholera, typhus, dysentery.

Undeterred, the people of Leningrad went out onto the streets in the month of March 1942 and engaged in a major clean-up effort.

The people of Leningrad remained unbowed.

The Medical-Sanitary Services of the city showed a high level of professionalism in these efforts, confirming their reputation as one of the best in the nation.

By May, many municipal services were back up and running.  The electricity was turned on.  The trams were running again.

Every effort was made to serve the cultural needs of the people under these difficult conditions:  Concerts were given, the Public Library and the Library of the Academy of Sciences were open to readers.

Alexii I: The Russian Orthodox Church remained loyal during the war.

Even religious needs were taken into account in this officially athestic society:  the Orthodox churches were kept open for those wishing to worship.  Leningrad’s Mitropolitan Alexii remained in the city and continued to service his flock.  (Alexii was to go on, in 1945, to become the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus.)  Mitropolitan Alexii recorded patriotic exhortations, which were played over the radio.  The Soviet government appreciated his loyalty [yalensis:  things could have gone the other way] and awarded him with four Orders of the Red Banner of Labor, and also a medal “For the Defense of Leningrad” and other medals.

Operation “Spark”

German troops at the Volhov Front. They lost.

The second winter under blockade.  On 12 January 1943 was launched Operation Iskra (“Spark”).  On that day the Leningrad 67th Army along with the Second Strike Army of the Volkhov Front, went on the counter-offensive.  Striking jointly from different angles, they broke through the enemy ring and united in the region of Workers Settlements #1 and #5.  Soviet troops were able to fully cleanse the Lake Ladoga shore of all enemy forces, and restore the land bridge.  This enabled the construction of a new railway line coming directly into Leningrad.  Products and freight began to pour into the city.  Leningrad was saved.

yalensis Commentary:

The rest of the PolitNavigator piece is a brief biography of Andrei Zhdanov himself.  Which gives insight into his personality and how he acquired the excellent leadership qualities which he showed during the Leningrad siege.  I will cover that tomorrow in Part III, in order to give Comrade Zhdanov his due.

But first I just wanted to make one brief comment.  The history of the Leningrad battles and blockade, like all matters Soviet (or even just Russian, for that matter) is just another piece of raw meat for Sovietophobes and Russophobes of all stripes.  Instead of seeing a fascinating history of military and political events, many “historians” and other pundits simply see more fodder for anti-Russian and in fact anti-human propaganda.

If you read Western books and articles, you will find many falsifications and myths.  For example, that Stalin “hated” Leningrad (supposedly for its free spirit and/or intelligentsia, or whatever) and thus did little to save it.  The reality is that the Soviet government and Communist Party did everything in their power to save this city and its people.  Why wouldn’t they — it was the second capital!

The cure for Russian suffering: Military Victory.

You will also see a type of hypocritical propaganda purporting to admire Russians, while focusing on their ability to endure suffering.  This type of propaganda (let’s call it “Russian Suffer Porn”) typically sees Russians as “others”, something other than human, and sheds copious crocodile tears over the misfortunes of Russian (and Soviet) people, while pretending to be sympathetic to their woes.  And indeed, the Leningrad siege and blockade provides many horrific stories of unendurable human suffering.  But then, so does any war.  Has everybody read the diary of Jakob Walter, a German foot soldier serving in Napoleon’s army?  I read this book a few years back, and it hard for me to even conceive of the sufferings endured by Walter and his peers.  But somehow Western historians don’t get too cut up by these issues, when they write about Napoleon’s glorious battles.

And these same Western historians might not willingly emphasize that the suffering of the people of Leningrad was finally ended by such factors as industrial production, decisive political leadership, and competent military action, leading to eventual military victory.

When all is said and done, when it comes to war, it’s really all about WINNING.  No?

[to be continued]

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22 Responses to Zhdanov Anniversary and the Leningrad Blockade – Part II

  1. PaulR says:

    Zhdanov as great wartime leader? Sorry, Yalensis, I don’t buy it, especially remembering conversations I have had about the guy with his biographer, Kees Boterbloem. Let’s cite Kees’ book a little bit about Zhdanov in WW2:

    ‘Although he [Zhdanov] reaped the benefits of the successful defence of Leningrad, it came at a ghastly price, much higher than necessary, for which cost Zhdanov carried considerable responsibility. … In addition to the sheer military incompetence and insubordination of which Stalin accused Zhdanov several times in July, August, and September, Zhdanov was a poor leader of the civilian front in the early days of the war. He had failed Stalin, but, more importantly, had failed the Leningraders. His responsibility was great for the appalling suffering that awaited them. First of all, the organization of the evacuation of civilians had been completely bungled through his irresponsible complacency about the grave military developments. … Second, he had failed to organize the fortification of the city in timely fashion. Third, it was at least partially his fault that inadequate supplies had been stored in the city.’ … Kees concludes, ‘As it was in the Civil War, Zhdanov’s record during the Second World War was unimpressive even shameful,’ especially because ‘he clung for far too long to the fantasy that the Germans and Finns would never be able to surround the city and was grossly negligent in checking the supply situation.’

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Dear Paul:

      This is an interesting counter-point to Zhdanov’s positive portrayal in the Vladimir Siryachenko piece which I have been summarizing.
      I myself do not have the historian background or training to judge which of these two opposite assessments is correct.
      Nor have I read Boterbloem’s book.
      Nor do I have a dog in the fight, so to speak. It’s not as if Zhdanov were my long-lost uncle, or anything like that. If he was just some incompetent Stalinoid pencil-pusher, then so be it. Let the truth be known to the world.
      Although I would humbly ask: If Zhdanov was incompetent AND insubordinate, then why didn’t Stalin fire him?

      The only other question I would ask is:
      Does this Dutch man, Boterbloem have a dog in the fight? What exactly IS he, ideologically speaking?

      And whose ox is being gored here?
      (And does my native cynicism for all “Westy” historians writing about Russia shine through, loud and clear?)
      🙂

      Like

      • Jen says:

        Kees Boterbloem is a history professor at the University of South Florida who has published books on Russian and Soviet history.
        http://history.usf.edu/faculty/data/boterbloemcv.pdf

        Like

        • yalensis says:

          Thanks, Jen. Boterbloem’s C.V. looks impressive.

          From the dates looks like he started studying Russian and Soviet Studies in the 1980’s, height of the Cold War, when there was a lot of money to support graduate students with grants. By the time he got his PhD at McGill (1994), the Soviet Union had already collapsed. Round 1 for the Westies. But by then Boterbloem had already invested all those years studying Russian History, so I suppose he had to soldier on and still try to find a Professor job somewhere. Which jobs became scarcer as funding dried up.

          I get the impression that most remaining “Russian Departments” in Western countries converted their original purpose (=Cold War propaganda) to the new purpose (=anti-Russian propaganda).

          I haven’t read Boterbloem, so I’m probably being unfair to him. Mostly I am just ranting about American Academia in general, not about a specific person.
          But again, I challenge everybody to a thought experiment:
          Imagine that Boterbloem were a strong fan of Zhdanov and the Communist Party, and that he had written a very positive biography of the man. Would he be able to keep his job and continue publishing?

          (The counter-example is Professor Grover Furr, who teaches at Montclair State and is a Stalin-fanboy to end all fan-boys. However, Grover doesn’t teach Russian History, that’s just his hobby. He actually teaches Chaucer!

          It seems like the only way for American dissidents to get a teaching job, is to teach something else, and just be a dissident on the side. Like Noam Chomsky, as well.

          Like

  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    The closer Russia approaches the centennial anniversary of 1917 the more frequent (and more loud) will become discussions about Russia’s Soviet past. Which is in itself rather amazing after nearly quarter of century of the curb-stomp attack of various anti-Sovietists who were previously dominant in the general historical narrative.

    Not having Boterbloem’s book on hand I can’t comment on it. But I rather feel already apprehensive of a person who has such “masterpieces” under his belt like “Life and Death under Stalin: The Kalinin Province, 1945-1953” and “From the Romanovs to Putin and Beyond: A Concise History of Modern Russia” or “Einige Aspekte der stalinistischen “Säuberungen” in der russischen Provinz.”. True, this man devoted a lot of his time and effort studying Zhdanov. But after reading his “descriptive” quote I already sense a lot of “armchair-marshalism” inherent in him and others sitting on “in spite of, not thanks to” bandwagon.

    This is good that Russians themselves are discussing their own past, their history. That we are finally having debates about it, that we are using newly opened archives and studying new evidence. What is not good, IMO, is trying to reduce the discussion of Russian history to just passing out the judgment to this or that historical figure which (o, horror!) does not fit into One and True Liberal-Democratic mold.

    Was the Leningrad siege a tragedy? Yes, yes it was. Was it a catastrophe? No – in part thanks to the leadership of the defenders. Hindsight is always 20/20, but at the time had to play with the cards they were dealt with – and achieved their main goal, i.e. Leningrad didn’t fell. Instead of masochistic “what ifs…” and passing the judgment on true victors and heroes, some people should concentrate on real achievements and victories of the Soviet people, not ignoring rather obvious fact that said achievements became only possible because leadership (whatever your ideological attitude towards it) provided an effective channel for people’s energy and will to achieve them.

    P.S.

    In other news – anti-sovietists suffered yet another “cold shower” tragedy this week.

    When indominatable Zhirinovskiy suddenly remembers that he is a leader of LIBERAL-DEMOCRATIC party of Russia, when he, Zhirinovsky, equally suddenly paints himself as Monarchist and starts attacking Stalin – and when his opponent is (take note, Paul) is Nikolai Starikov, this promises something much more interesting than usual “The Duel” whacking of liberasts.

    P.P.S.

    Something tells me, that Zhirik and all those who will adopt Anti-Soviet/Anti-Stalin rhetoric won’t fare well in this year’s elections.

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      ‘Although he [Zhdanov] reaped the benefits of the successful defence of Leningrad, it came at a ghastly price, much higher than necessary, for which cost Zhdanov carried considerable responsibility. … In addition to the sheer military incompetence and insubordination of which Stalin accused Zhdanov several times in July, August, and September, Zhdanov was a poor leader of the civilian front in the early days of the war. He had failed Stalin, but, more importantly, had failed the Leningraders. His responsibility was great for the appalling suffering that awaited them. First of all, the organization of the evacuation of civilians had been completely bungled through his irresponsible complacency about the grave military developments. … Second, he had failed to organize the fortification of the city in timely fashion. Third, it was at least partially his fault that inadequate supplies had been stored in the city.’ … Kees concludes, ‘As it was in the Civil War, Zhdanov’s record during the Second World War was unimpressive even shameful,’ especially because ‘he clung for far too long to the fantasy that the Germans and Finns would never be able to surround the city and was grossly negligent in checking the supply situation.’

      (1) The “Much higher than necessary” quote always rubs me the wrong way, because it smacks of the Western trope that the Russians basically brought this whole disaster on themselves, and the German army was just sort of a sideshow. Traditionally this is an attempt to minimize Western European responsibility for a genocidal war that killed millions of innocent people.
      Basically I would challenge the historian who uses this trope, to come up with a reasonable estimate of how many losses were “necessary” if everybody had done their job properly without making any mistakes.

      (2) “Military incompetence and insubordination” – does anyone know what this alludes to? I don’t actually know all that much about Zhdanov’s life, which is one of the reasons I decided to do this post. To help educate myself, in other words.

      (3) “He had failed Stalin, but, more importantly, had failed the Leningraders.” If this is a sincere assessment, then it sounds like Boterbloem actually does care about the Leningraders and thinks that Zhdanov should have obeyed Stalin. Okay, that’s …. different …. from what we are used to, in Western historians. Makes me start to like Boterbloem more. Assuming that he is sincere, and not just crying crocodile tears about the sufferings of the Russian people. (Of which I am always suspicious, only because I know how perfidious academics can be.)

      The rest of the charges that Boterbloem makes against Zhdanov (incompetence, not being pro-active, etc.) all sound plausible. Every time there is any catastrophe in human affairs, one always finds afterwards that people in leadership roles behaved like negligent idiots. One wonders how we even survived up to this point as a species, given that our leaders are such a bunch of idiots. And I am not joking at all when I say that.

      Like

      • Northern Star says:

        https://www.rt.com/news/granin-nazi-siege-survivor-360/

        …Those who are fluent in Russian should find this of interest…..

        Like

        • yalensis says:

          “Former Minister of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture Renate Künast said that Germans know about the millions who died, but are unaware of the grief that the civilians experienced.”

          Uh huh.

          I am sure that the German people are very sincere in their remorse…. ish….
          But some of them probably read Western historians and tell each other:
          “Well, it was mostly the Russans’ own fault. For being so totalitarianey, and also not planning well enough for the war. They should have been stockpiling tons of food much earlier. Meanwhile, our boys were just innocently touring Russia while putting on ‘The Student Prince’.”

          Like

  3. Cortes says:

    If memory serves me, Uncle Joe’s best buddy, the affable but hopelessly incompetent Kliment Voroshilov, was in initial charge of the defence of Leningrad and it was a combination of the disastrous situation unfolding as well as at Zhdanov’s insistence that Stalin relieved Voroshilov and Zhukov took over command of the defence of the city by late August early September 1941. Memory based on reading of Richard Overy’s “Ivan’s War” which claimed access to previously unavailable Stavka material.

    Like

  4. Northern Star says:

    Yalensis;

    Absolutely stunning…the scene where the aboriginal elder woman visits the etchings and paintings of her ancestors..their animals…their deities…on the stone edifice that predated Stonehenge by 10,000 years…..

    BTW…where is Jen?….I got the inmpression that she lives down under…..with the kangaroos
    :O)

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Wow – this is very cool. Like they say, Australian aborigines are awesome and probably have the oldest continuous culture. I read somewhere, but this is a few years back — and the DNA science is always evolving — that the aborigines had left Africa and travelled along the coastline; and then some groups split off and became Indians. (Like the Tamil type Indians, not the Aryan Indians.) It’s so fascinating! Thanks for the clip.

      P.S. – I think Jen lives in Sydney, Australia. Rumor has it, she has 3 pet kangaroos – and they carry her around in their pouches!

      Like

      • Cortes says:

        Canguro, Spanish for kangaroo, is used for babysitter in Peninsular Spanish.

        Like

          • Cortes says:

            Terminology

            A male red kangaroo
            The word “kangaroo” derives from the Guugu Yimithirr word gangurru, referring to grey kangaroos.[10][11] The name was first recorded as “kanguru” on 12 July 1770 in an entry in the diary of Sir Joseph Banks; this occurred at the site of modern Cooktown, on the banks of the Endeavour River, where HMS Endeavour under the command of Lieutenant James Cook was beached for almost seven weeks to repair damage sustained on the Great Barrier Reef.[12] Cook first referred to kangaroos in his diary entry of 4 August. Guugu Yimithirr is the language of the people of the area.

            A common myth about the kangaroo’s English name is that “kangaroo” was a Guugu Yimithirr phrase for “I don’t understand you.”[13] According to this legend, Cook and Banks were exploring the area when they happened upon the animal. They asked a nearby local what the creatures were called. The local responded “Kangaroo”, meaning “I don’t understand you”, which Cook took to be the name of the creature. This myth was debunked in the 1970s by linguist John B. Haviland in his research with the Guugu Yimithirr people

            Like

            • yalensis says:

              Fascinating! I did a quick wiki on the language.
              Looks to be the philosophical opposite of, say, Basque. Due to its excessive simplicity. In the catalogue of phonemes, there are only 3 vowels: i, u, a.
              By all the laws of phonology, a paucity of vowels should entail a wealth of consonants. If you think about it: For example, in binary code, there are only 2 symbols: a 0 and a 1.
              Therefore, in order to write even a small number such as, say 21, you need to use the same symbols over several times: 10101

              Similarly, in phonology, to build all the words you need for a language, if you have only a few vowels, then you need a multiplicity of consonants. Just so there something to space out the sparse vowels and build some halfway-decent words.
              And yet in the wiki entry, it says there are only 17 consonants!
              Therefore, I am guessing that the language uses a very compact form of grammar which doesn’t require a lot of extra words or morphemes.

              Grammar[edit]

              Like many Australian languages, Guugu Yimithirr pronouns have accusative morphology while nouns have ergative morphology. That is, the subject of an intransitive verb has the same form as the subject of a transitive verb if the subject is a pronoun, but the same form as the object of a transitive verb otherwise.

              Regardless of whether nouns or pronouns are used, the usual sentence order is subject–object–verb, although other word orders are possible.

              The language is notable for its use of pure geographic directions (north, south, east, west) rather than egocentric directions (left, right, forward, backward),[5] though such “purity” is disputed.[6]

              And by the way, that “kangaroo” story is typical of the “white man meets native” trope.
              Probably every “native” language has a similar story, or joke, to the effect of white man asking, “What is this thing?” and the native replying, “Your fat ass,” or something to that effect, and then that becomes the word that is used.

              Like

            • Jen says:

              The parallel trope that developed in North America is that groups of First Nations people were originally known to Europeans via their enemies, and so European names for these groups were unintentionally insulting. One classic example is the Dakota people who were originally called Sioux. French and other Europeans passing through Ojibwa territory asked the Ojibwa who their neighbours on the next block were called and the Ojibwa said the neighbours were the Nadouessioux, which the Europeans shortened to Sioux. The Ojibwa name supposedly means snakes or rattlesnakes or simply people who speak a foreign language, depending on who you read. The second classic example is the Cheyenne who acquired their epithet (“people who speak a foreign language”) because their neighbours the Dakotas were asked by the Europeans about the folks who lived on the next block, so to speak.

              Oh yes, the Australian Aboriginal peoples have very deep cultures and knowledge; their knowledge of astronomy and their calendars are quite amazing, considering they would have had to memorise it all and be able to read the skies and changes in the weather or landscape and know exactly what it all meant.

              Like

      • Jen says:

        No unfortunately no kangaroos where I live but quite a few ring-tailed possums, feral rabbits and sulphur-crested cockatoos in my area.

        Photo of sulphur-crested cockatoos doing what they do best: socialise, make lots of noise, demand food and ruin people’s balconies!

        Like

        • yalensis says:

          They’re so cute — they’re like little people with yellow crests!

          Like

          • Jen says:

            They’re smart birds with their own personalities and they’re always fun to watch. They are bossy as well and tend to drive out other shyer birds like galahs (smaller cockatoos with white heads, pink breasts and grey wings) and some of the other parrots that used to live in my area. In some ways though having cockatoos as part of the natural wildlife is not such a good thing because they quickly figure out where food is and that means they hang around rubbish bins and throw food scraps around. They screech an awful lot too.

            Like

            • yalensis says:

              You can practice your slingshot technique on the little bastards.
              Or do you use a boomerang? – heh heh!

              Like

            • Jen says:

              You can’t be too cross with such cheeky birds and they quickly learn to dodge slingshots, especially Bandera guns. They’re not small birds either!

              Like

            • yalensis says:

              OMG – that is SO funny!
              Thanks, Jennifer, I needed a good laugh today.
              I had a really rough day, SUPER-ROUGH day, and that silly bird just made me laugh my ass off!
              And kudos to the cat, for being so stoic and dignified.

              Like

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