Esperanto; in the Ups and Downs of Moscow Linguistics and Politics

2-a kongreso de SEU, Moskvo, julio 1925
2-a kongreso de SEU, Moskvo, julio 1925

A series of articles from the journal Amerika Esperantisto, concerning the history of Esperanto and linguistics in the Soviet Union. Written in 1957

Submitted by Reddebrek on March 15, 2020

(Beginning an analysis of the Soviet’s ’new look’ concerning Esperanto.)

From Moscow comes an amazing publication: Number 4 (July-August 1956) of the magazine Voprosy Yazykoznaniya (Problems of Linguistics) begins with an article attacking Stalin and ends with a report praising Esperanto. This strange phenomenon is worth a closer look. The opening article gives one well-aimed kick to Joseph Stalin, especially his pamphlet on "Marxism and the Problems of Linguistics.” A second kick is aimed at the "vulgar Marxism” of the man against whom Stalin’s linguistic ire was mainly directed: the late Nikolai Yakovlevich Marr and his "Japhetic” theory. The editors break into orgies of selfaccusation, confessing their own "serious deficiencies” and admitting the fact that "the prevailing cult of personality” had misled them and caused them to take Stalin’s nonsensical ideas seriously. The last article in the same issue of Voprosy Yazykoznaniya reports on a discussion of a paper read by one of the fourteen members of the magazine’s editorial board, Dr. E. A. Bokarev, on the subject of Esperanto and “The Present State of the Problem of an International Auxiliary Language”. The report, very favorable to Esperanto, and in general quite objective, is signed by the "acting editorial secretary” of Voprosy,

V. P. Grigoryev, and seems to contradict everything written and done on the subject in the Soviet Union during the past twenty years. Is there any relationship between the first and the last article in V o p r o s y Y a z y koznaniya? This must remain a matter of speculation, but it is obvious that both the ideas and terminology of Bokarev’s paper and Grigoryev’s report contradict the Marxist-Leninist dogmas as expressed by those infallible ex-prophets of.Soviet linguistics, Marr and Stalin.

"De - Stalinization" in Linguistics

In the opening article, the editors of the Moscow magazine deplore the "sterile discussions” of the past years, the "almost complete lack of thoughtful and concrete historical research”, the "abstract theoretizing”, the fact that “the cult of personality has limited and, in many cases, suppressed and paralyzed independent theoretical work in the field of general linguistics” because "every statement made by J.V.Stalin became an untouchable dogma, which' did not require further justification and concrete historical evidence.” The editors admit that "not only in textbooks, but also in specialized articles, the study of the complex problem of the relationship between language and other social phenomena was frequently replaced by simple quotation or paraphrase of the description given by J. V. Stalin...” The editors promise to mend their ways, to "eliminate decisively the serious shortcomings”, and to "improve in a radical manner the work of our linguistic institutions and of the journal Voprosy Yazykoznaniya . "

They promise to "change even the style of linguistic papers” and to "direct linguistic research towards a bold and creative study of carefully gathered and newly discovered facts.” "We should not believe, however”, the article says, “that a turn to really scientific and fruitful work in the field of linguistics can be limited merely to criticism of statements in Stalin’s Marxism and the Problems of Linguistics..." It would be equally wrong, they explain, to return to the "vulgar Marxist concepts” of Marr, which "were not based on historical analysis” and in which “the facts of language were frequently subordinated to ready-made schemes, so that usually only those phenomena were mentioned which fit easily into those schemes and do not contradict them...” This would seem to take care of the linguistic nonsense produced by that monster, Stalin, who just a few years ago was "the wise leader and teacher of the working class” and whose pamphlet on language was then described in the Soviet Union’s official Philosophical Dictionary as "a genial work of creative Marxism” — and also of the nonsensical ideas of Marr, who once was so powerful that several linguists who dared to criticize him were accused of "Trotzky-ism” and disappeared.

The opening article in Voprosy Yazykoznaniya goes even further. It acknowledges that Soviet accusations against leading foreign linguists, for instance, Edward Sapir, of Yale University (who died in 1939) were unfounded: "Articles published in our press during the past years show that work in our country has proceeded in many cases along the wrong lines. Thus, for instance, the great American linguist Edward Sapir was accused, without any proof, of having promoted racism. It is, on the contrary, well known that E. Sapir led an obstinate fight against anti-Semitism...” Soviet linguists have a lot to learn from their foreign colleagues, the article declares.

The Communist Party Congress

To many of our readers, all this may sound too good to be true. Has freedom of research and discussion really made its entry into the Soviet Union? The article in Voprosy Yazykoznaniya makes it clear that this would be an exaggerated conclusion. The very first sentence shows that the radical changes promised in Soviet linguistics are not the result of a sudden upsurge of wisdom and liberty, but are due to something entirely different: "The Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has placed before all Soviet scholars responsible and honorable tasks. The sharp criticism on major points of principle, expressed at the Twentieth Congress regarding attitudes in various fields of the different social sciences, applies also to linguistics. It requires a decisive elimination of serious shortcomings...”

Here we have it: The changes were not initiated by the Soviet linguists themselves; they were ordered by the Communist Party. It is repeatedly stated in the article that all research must be carried out "on the basis of the Marxist-Leninist methodology” and that "the unchangeable basic linguistic theory of every Soviet linguist must be Marxist- Leninist philosophy.” We shall have to come back to this important point.

At the Soviet Academy of Sciences

Now let us turn to the Voprosy Yazykoznaniya article on Esperanto. Since it is relatively short, we give you a complete translation of the Grigoryev report as it appeared under the heading, "At the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union:” "On January 24 of the current year, at a meeting of the Section of General and Comparative Historical Linguistics of the Scientific Council of the Institute, on the recommendation of the Bureau of the Department of Literature and Language, a report of the doctor of philological sciences E.A.Bokarev on the subject, 'The Present State of the Question of an International Auxiliary Language’, was heard and discussed.

"Any scientific worker who carries on research in some branch of knowledge must not and cannot limit himself at the present time to literature in his native language alone. He is inevitably obliged to turn to specialized literature in the most diverse languages — Russian, English, French, German, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, and many others. In connection with this, there emerges the problem of organizing systematic translations from one language into tens of others (and vice versa) of a huge quantity of scientific literature. This does not liberate the scholar, however, of the necessity of mastering at least several foreign languages. Naturally people have searched for a long time for ways and means, and have undertaken efforts, to overcome the various inconveniences of real multilingual operations.

Bokarev's Points on International Language

"The speaker pointed out that this problem concerns not only scientific intercourse, but appears also on the wider plane of the development of international relations, acquiring thus not merely scientific, cultural, and economic significance, but also definitely political significance. Thus have appeared proposals to adopt one of the existing languages for the role of a basic language for international relations. A considerable literature is devoted, for instance, to the promotion of English as a world language, in particular in the form of a special system of 'an English made easy’, the so-called Basic English. On the other hand, propaganda is being conducted for the theory of so-called English-French 'bilingualism’, etc. There can be no doubt that attempts to impose by force one of the leading national languages upon all the nations of the world are perfectly hopeless. They have nothing in common with the Marxist-Leninist concept of national development and must be rejected as doomed to failure.

"Repeatedly efforts have also been undertaken to revive Latin as an international auxiliary language, possibly in a form reformed for this purpose. In the past ten years, the propaganda of such projects (e.g. Latino sine flexione) has become considerably weaker than it had been before World War II.

"Another way of solving the problem presents the greatest interest:, the method of constructing a special artificial language as an auxiliary instrument of international communication. The best known of the artificial languages is Esperanto, the only language of this type to have obtained a sufficiently significant diffusion. In a short survey of the 70-year-old history of Esperanto, the speaker pointed out that already A.Meillet had justly remarked that it is pointless to dispute the possibility of a constructed language, because such a language, Esperanto, is already in existence and serves as a means of communication. E.A. Bokarev mentioned concrete data about the present uses of Esperanto, about various Esperanto publications, and showed samples of periodicals and monographs, translations of political, scientific, and artistic works, as well as original literature in Esperanto. "In reply to a large number of questions, the speaker discussed the reasons why Esperanto was victorious over other international auxiliary language projects (Ido, Novial, Occidental, etc.). He told of the use of Esperanto in the movement of the Peace Partisans, and mentioned some data concerning the circulation figures of Esperanto publications. "Those who participated in the discussion of the paper included the Director of the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, doctor of philological sciences V. I. Borkovsky, the senior scientific collaborators of the Institute, K.E.Maytinskaya, L.I.Zhirkov, B.V.Gornung, A.A.Reformatsky, M.M.Gukhman, and the instructor at the Leningrad State University, N.D.Andreev. Those taking part in the discussion adopted a positive attitude towards the report of E.A.Bokarev, emphasizing the practical value of Esperanto and the necessity of giving full attention to the question of making it a subject of research. In the discussion comments, the ease with which Esperanto can be learned was emphasized as well as the expressive capacity of this language. At the same time, doubts were expressed about the appropriateness of developing original works of fiction and art in Esperanto. In one of the discussion speeches, the thought was expressed that it is necessary to separate the question of the unconditional usefulness of Esperanto in our time from the general question of an international auxiliary language of the future, when Esperanto — as a product of the Indo-European language medium — will have to yield its place to another auxiliary language, which also takes into account the rootwords of the Asian languages. The necessity of a theoretical study of Esperanto and its importance as a collective linguistic experiment were especially mentioned. "As a result of the discussion of the report, the Section decided to hear at one of its meetings in the near future a second paper by E.A. Bokarev, devoted to Esperanto as a subject of linguistic research.”

A Footnote

The report was followed by an editor’s footnote reading as follows: "In one of the following issues, the editors of the journal Voprosy Yazykoznaniya will publish an article devoted to the international auxiliary language problem. Being aware of the fact that they do not have enough current periodical literature and monographs connected with this problem, and especially with the problem of the extent to which Esperanto is being used and taught, the editors address themselves to all interested organizations, the authors of individual publications, and the editors of Esperanto newspapers and other periodicals with the request to send suitable literature to them.”

As to the persons mentioned in the article on Esperanto, it might be pointed out that Dr. Bokarev was until 1955 the editorial secretary of Voprosy Yazykoznaniya. According to Dr. A. Baur, a Swiss journalist who visited Moscow in the fall of 1956, both Bokarev and Grigoryev speak excellent Esperanto. The L.I.Zhirkov mentioned above is probably Lev Ivanovich Zhirkov, an expert on Caucasian and Iranian languages, who was active in the Esperanto movement as far back as 1902 and published in 1931 a booklet, Kial Venkis Esperanto?, under the auspices of the Leningrad Institute of Historical Linguistics and the Language Commission of the Esperanto Association of the Soviet Union. This was before Stalin brought all organized Esperanto activities in the country to an end. The article on Esperanto in Voprosy Yazykoznaniya stands in marked contrast to what the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, in Volumes 9 and 19 of the Second Edition, says about Esperanto. Volume 18, published in January 1953, said: “The most wide-spread artificial language, Esperanto, is a peculiar surrogate of the Romance languages... Such projects have a cosmopolitan character and are, therefore, vicious in principle (poro- chi v printsipe)... The utopian character of artificial languages has been especially clear since the publication of J.V.Stalin’s works, 'The National Problem and Leninism’ (1949), and 'Marxism and the Problems of Linguistics’ (1950), in which the real perspectives of the development of the national languages and of the formation of a future unified language of mankind are indicated...” In Volume 9 of the Soviet Encyclopaedia, published in December 1951, it was explained that "J.V.Stalin, in his writings..., gives a profound scientific prognosis of the ways in which a universal language will develop... only after the victory of Socialism on a worldwide scale!”

It is quite obvious, of course, that the measures taken by the Soviet authorities against the Esperanto movement, beginning in 1934 or 1935, had little to do with Stalin’s or anyone else’s theoretical views, but a great deal with the fact that too much factual information and too many un-Stalinist ideas entered the Soviet Union via Esperanto. It is difficult to understand present developments without having a look at the past.

Esperanto in the Russian Revolution

In the Czarist Empire, Esperanto was studied by many men and women who saw in the Interlanguage a means of establishing and maintaining contact with other countries, for purely sentimental and cultural, or for practical, scientific, religious, or political reasons. The fact that Stalin had once studied Esperanto is known from a variety of sources, the most important being Leon Trotzky’s book "Stalin” (New York, 1941), which, in discussing Stalin’s imprisonment in Baku, in 1909-1910, quotes one of his fellow prisoners, Semyon Vereshchak, as saying: "Koba (i.e.Stalin) slept soundly, or calmly studied Esperanto. He was convinced that Esperanto was the international language of the future.” (p.118). Nothing is known, however, about whether and to what extent Stalin made use of his knowledge of the language. According to Trotzky, whose judgement may not have been completely unprejudiced, of course, Stalin never learned enough Esperanto to use it for any worthwhile purpose. He writes on pages 118-119 of his book on Stalin: "During his confinement in the prisons of Batum and Kutais, as we remember, Koba (Stalin) attempted to probe the mysteries of the German language. At the time the influence of the German Social Democracy on the Russian one was exceedingly great. Yet Koba was even less successful in learning Marx’s language than his doctrine. In the Baku prison he began to study Esperanto as 'the language of the future’. That touch most instructively exposes the quality of Koba’s intellectual equipment, which in the sphere of learning always sought the line of least resistance. Although he spent eight years in prison and exile, he never managed to learn a single foreign language, not excluding his ill-starred Esperanto.”

Lenin’s opinion of Esperanto seems to have been at times highly favorable, at times unfavorable. He did not mention Esperanto in his writings and probably was not well informed about it. There were, however, a number of men on the higher levels of the Soviet leadership who were genuine and consistent supporters of Esperanto: Leonid Krassin, the old-line industrialist who after the Revolution became a Soviet diplomat and People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs; Maxim Gorky, the novelist; Anatol Lunacharsky, the philosopher and dramatist who served as Soviet Commissar of Education from 1918 to 1929; and a few others.


(Part II of an analysis of the Soviet's 'new look' concerning Esperanto,)

Much is known, and much remains a mystery, about the reasons why the Soviet attitude towards Esperanto has vacillated between indifference and suspicion, between strong support and bloody persecution. Let us try to piece together the significant facts, with special emphasis on those which have become known recently.

Before the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, in 1917, the country had a flourishing and vigorous, although not a very coherent, Esperanto movement. There had been difficulties with the Czarist censorship and the police, and there was a great deal of mutual distrust and animosity among the users and sympathizers of the Interlanguage. A very high percentage of them belonged to the liberal urban intelligentsia. Doctors, lawyers, and artists were especially numerous. Esperanto had a strong following among the non-Russian nationalities, especially the Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Jews, but also among Armenians, Georgians, and Tatars. Since Leo Tolstoy had been an advocate of Esperanto, the language had numerous supporters among the Tolstoyans.

There were Esperantists among the various Socialist groups, including the Bolsheviks, but not very many. When the Communists seized power, they were a tiny minority of the population. They were an even smaller minority in the Esperanto movement. They tried, of course, to take over the leadership, and as early as 1917 a Latvian Communist, Ernest Drezen, became President of the famous Esperanto Society "Espero” in Petrograd, one of the oldest and most respected in the world. But Esperanto clubs elsewhere in Russia paid little attention to what "Espero” was doing. According to the Enciklopedio de Esperanto, there were more than a hundred Esperanto societies on Soviet territory in 1918-1919, all of them operating independently. There were almost as many Esperanto bulletins and periodicals in Russia, most of them mimeographed or hectographed. There were not enough capable Communist Esperantists around to take charge of all this. In addition, the Civil War, the famine, the lack of newsprint, and the uncertainty of the future made any large scale activity almost impossible.

The Esperanto Section of the Comintern

In 1919, when the Communist International (Comintern) was founded in Moscow, an Esperanto Section of the Communist International (ESKI) was launched at Samara-on-the-Volga (now Kuibyshev) by a man named Okhitovich (Ort Sunnam), aided by E. Drezen and S. Haidovsky. It published a statement on the world language problem from the Communist point of view, a constitution, and several other pieces of printed matter. A periodical, "ESKIANO - Organ of the Central Committee of the Esperanto Section of the Communist International”, was launched at Kronstadt, and information bulletins of ESKI committees appeared at Kazan and Nizhny-Novgorod. Small ESKI Conferences were held at Nizhny-Novgorod and Petrograd.

Early in 1921, however, the ESKI leaders were told by the Communist Party that the Communist International could admit only national sections, not an Esperanto Section. They transformed ESKI into a new organization called the Communist Esperanto International (Esperantista Komunista Intemacio). But before the year was over, this organization was instructed by the Kremlin to disband. The party leaders wanted Communists to stop organizing specialized groups "isolated from the non- party masses” and ordered them to become active in "mass organizations” where "non-party” people needed party guidance and supervision.

Such a "mass organization” was the Esperanto Union of the Soviet Republics (Sovetrespublikara Esperantista Unio), founded in Moscow in 1921. E.Drezen became Chaifman of its Central Committee. The leadership of SEU was solidly Communist, but the membership was not. Many prewar Esperantists stayed at first away from the SEU. The organization was strictly authoritarian. Drezen and his fellow Communists decided what was to be done. In its first years, the Soviet Esperanto organization led an unspectacular life, but from 1925 to 1930 it made amazing progress. Drezen himself writes about this (in Analiza Historio de la Esperanto-Movado, pp. 86-87): "In that year (1925) the institutions in authority proclaimed the need for organizing carefully planned and guided educational activities among the masses of the workers. This educational work could not be carried on without international correspondence. A language was needed for such international correspondence. The Esperantists offered their services to the public at large. The work which they had been doing up to then for themselves had now become a public necessity. A large part of the correspondence, which was then exchanged, was in Esperanto. This attracted the attention of the authorities to the fact that Esperanto was a remarkable cultural factor.”

“Control and Guidance"

When, in 1928, with the further growth of those international cultural and educational activities, all workers were urged to study foreign languages, in order to be able to get into closer contact with foreigners, the Soviet Esperantists again drew the attention of the authorities and the public to Esperanto. The Esperantists did not propose that the workers should study Esperanto instead of foreign languages, but they pointed out that Esperanto was many times easier to learn than foreign national languages, and emphasized also that the study of Esperanto was a worthwhile bridge to the learning of other European languages at a later time, making such learning easier. These tactics were most effective. In many places different authorities — government, labor unions, and party — began to support the Esperanto movement and to help in guiding and organizing it. This means that the movement was taken under the control and guidance, not any more of just some individual persons in authority, but of certain public institutions in charge of the great masses.,,"

"Esperanto ceased to be the property of the Esperantists. It became a cultural value respected by the public... The whole movement was centralized. This made possible the concentration of all real forces in the movement, the systematic planning of activities, and the economizing of resources. SEU was joined by many cultural and intellectual forces from the ranks of the old-time Russian Esperantists. Thanks to those forces, the Esperanto Union of the Soviet Republics, accepting the principle of the revolutionary class struggle, became intellectually the strongest among the other workers’ associations. SEU, in comparison with them, contained the better experts on the international language problem...”

“Beginning in 1926, the Central Committee of SEU started the large scale and systematic publication of effective promotional and study materials prepared on a scientific basis. From the point <5f view of quantity, more books on Esperanto were published in five years (1926-1931) than had appeared in the entire previous period since Esperanto came into existance... SEU established an absolutely authoritarian center for the direction of propaganda and organization...”

This was written in 1931. A few years later, nothing of all this was left; it had been destroyed and razed to the ground on Stalin’s orders. Drezen himself disappeared and died under mysterious circumstances. According to Erik Ekstrom, a Swedish member of the Esperanto movement who visited the Soviet Union as a tourist in the summer of 1956, “E. Drezen was arrested by the Beria bandits, I was told, and died in prison.” (Beria, as most of our readers will recall, was the Chief of the GPU, Stalin’s dreaded security police, and became one of the three-man leadership of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death — until Malenkov had him arrested, tried for treason, and executed in December 1953- Since then it has been a popular sport in the Soviet leadership to blame all the crimes of the regime on him.)

Breaking Through the "Iron Curtain"

Later, in 1950, the Czechoslovak Communist, Adolf Malik, President of the Esperanto Association of the Czechoslovak Republic (which was dissolved two years later) wrote in the Prague magazine Esperantista:. “It is well known that the Soviet Union favored Esperanto until reactionary influences appeared in the ranks of the Russian Esperantists. Esperantists helped to carry on espionage against their country. Who then is responsible for the weakening and the death of the Esperanto movement in the Soviet Union? Those who plotted against the regime are guilty. Shortsighted people in the Esperanto movement itself have done great harm to the cause of Esperanto in the Soviet Union.”

Whether and to what extent Esperanto was actually used for espionage against the Soviet Union, we have no way of knowing. But we do know that any free flow of information, that reveals the true situation in the Soviet Union to the outside world and provides Soviet citizens with reliable facts about other countries, is considered dangerous by many leaders of the Soviet empire. The ability to keep the Russian people in isolation is one of the pillars of their strength. Large scale correspondence by means of Esperanto gives an opportunity for the direct exchange of ideas and information.

The enormous popularity of Esperanto correspondence described by Drezen was not due exclusively to the urge of Soviet citizens to tell the rest of the world about the workers’ paradise, the glories of Communism, and the heroic deeds of Stalin, Beria, and Vishinsky. On the contrary, it was caused to a considerable extent by a profound desire of many Russians to learn the truth about foreign countries, to tell the truth about their own country, to break through the isolation of the Soviet dictatorship, to exchange ideas and experiences from man to man, rather than from Communist to Communist. No wonder that pre-war Esperantists "returned to the ranks” of the Esperanto movement and that many young people learned Esperanto to take part in that exciting experience.

Of course, the Soviets took their precautions. There was censorship. Moreover, in the early twenties, the Communist authorities forbade membership in "bourgeois" Esperanto organizations over which they had no control, including the Universal Esperanto Association at that time. The importation of Esperanto books and newspapers was strictly controlled and regulated. But there were sometimes ways and means of getting around those controls.

Publishers of free world Esperanto magazines, for instance, devised ingenious methods of reaching Soviet readers. In the twenties, one such publisher found that his magazines disappeared when he sent them by ordinary mail, but that they arrived when they went by registered mail. When the recipients informed him that registered mail had begun to disappear, too, he adopted another system. He sent the magazines as printed matter, but boldly wrote on the envelopes in Russian: "Approved by the Sovnarkom” (the Council of People’s Commissars). It sounds incredible, but the trick worked: The magazines got through.


(Part III of an analysis of the Soviet's 'new look' concerning Esperanto.)

In the Soviet Encyclopedia In 1934, less than two years before Stalin suppressed all Esperanto activities in the Soviet Union, Volume 64 of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia contained an article on Esperanto by E. Drezen. After some general information about the language, its origin, history, and practical uses, it stated:

“In the USSR there exists since 1921 the Esperanto Association of the Soviet Republics, which publishes journals in Esperanto — Bulteno de CKSEU (Bulletin of the Soviet Union Esperanto Association) and In- ternaciisto (The Internationalist), and in Russian, Mezhdunarodnyi Yazyk (International Language) — and also literature such as textbooks, books originally written in Esperanto, and translations. Organizations affiliated with the Association exist in all large cities of the USSR. In 1921 an International Workers’ Esperanto Association was established under the name of Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (SAT). In 1929 a split occurred in SAT between its revolutionary part, standing on the positions of the Communist International, and the opportunists. Revolutionary organizations are functioning at present in 13 countries, including Japan and America. Eleven revolutionary labor journals are published in Esperanto. In 1930 a Center of International Workers’ Liaison through Esperanto was founded in Berlin under the name of PEK (Proletarian Esperanto Correspondence). Prior to its dissolution by the Hitler Government, it numbered as many as 600 branch offices (80 in the Soviet Union).”

The encyclopedia mentions two organizations which deserve some attention in connection with the fate of Esperanto in the Soviet Union: SAT and PEK. In his interesting publication, "Early Soviet Theories in Communication” (Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., 1956), George P. Springer, of the Human Relations Area Files, Inc., writes (pp. 11-12): "Drezen’s account... differs from that recently given by William Solzbacher (Esperanto and the Iron Curtain, American Esperanto Magazine, 1951)... Drezen states that a Leftist Universal Non-National Association (SAT) was formed in 1920-1921 with headquarters in Paris and branches in Leipzig and Moscow, that this organization henceforth helds its own congresses and published a weekly.. . which, incidentally, on occasion served as a replacement for the prohibited Communist press in the early days of the German Weimar Republic. From this it would appear that SAT as well as its weekly were sponsored by the Comintern...”

SAT and Communism

There is no contradiction between the two versions. Springer used as his principal source of information Drezen’s Osnovy Y azykoznaniya, Teoriya i Istoriya Mezhdunarodnogo Yazyka (Moscow, 1929), a book in Russian, which was aimed at impressing the leading circles of the Soviet Union and would, naturally, refrain from mentioning organizations which had been dissolved on orders from the Kremlin.

The relationship between SAT and Communism was much more complicated than it appears from Springer’s monograph. SAT’s founder, Lanti (his real name was Eugene Adam), was an Anarchist who learned Esperanto during World War I, joined the French Communist Party after the war, became thoroughly disillusioned with the Communist regime on a visit to the Soviet Union, and quit the Communist Party in 1928. During the 7 or 8 years which he spent in the Communist Party, he rendered valuable services to Moscow, but also created great trouble for the Kremlin. Before World War I, there had been a radical Esperanto organization, completely outside the neutral Esperanto movement, under the name of Paco-Libereco (Peace-Liberty), and later Liberiga Stelo(Star of Liberation). Its members, not very numerous, called themselves ruĝuloj (Reds) and consisted of various brands of Socialists, Social Democrats, Anarchists, Syndicalists, currency reformers, and labor union promoters. Its leaders used strange pen names such as Fi-Blan-Go (Fernand Blan- garin), Verama (Paul Berthelot), Tagulo (H.Hyams), and published translations of the writings of Lassalle, Kropotkin, Liebknecht, and also Jack London and Victor Hugo.

Not "International”, but “Non-national"

At the end of World War I, Lanti, a man of considerable ability and intelligence, became editor of the French labor periodical Le Travailleur Esperantiste and made it the starting point for a worldwide organization which pulled the threads of the pre-war movement together again, and grew into SAT. Lanti launched a series of articles under the title For la neu- tralismon, appealing to workers to have nothing to do with the neutral Esperanto movement, but to use the language in the service of the class struggle. Anyone accepting the principle of the class struggle was supposed to be welcome. The organization of SAT was not “international”, i.e. based on the cooperation of the labor Esperanto organizations in the different countries, but sennacieca (non-national), disregarding nationalities and boundaries altogether. At first, this was greatly to the advantage of the Communists, because Lanti, a member of the French Communist Party, was running the show. Most of the articles in the SAT publications, though not all of them, followed the Communist line, and Lanti tolerated no criticism of the Soviet Union. If the organization had been based on the national workers’ Esperanto organizations, most of which were controlled by Social Democrats, the situation would have been different.

As far as the Soviet Union itself was concerned, Lanti’s "non-national” principles of organization were never applied strictly. Since Soviet members of SAT could not pay their dues, magazine subscriptions and book orders directly to Paris or Leipzig, where SAT had its main offices, and since any activities which they might wish to undertake had to be approved by Moscow, the Soviet Union Esperanto Association (SEU), run by Drezen and supervised by the Soviet Communist Party, served as an intermediary. Payments made to Moscow could not be transferred to Paris or Leipzig regularly, but transfers had to be approved from case to case. Permissions were granted infrequently and for limited amounts only, with the result that funds belonging to SAT accumulated rapidly in Moscow. It is easy to see how, by granting or refusing permission for the transfer of such funds, and by alternating generosity and niggardliness as to the amounts authorized, the Soviet authorities were in a position to exercise considerable pressure on SAT.

In 1923, at the SAT Congress in Kassel, Germany, the Soviet members of SAT, led by Drezen, Jodko, Incertov, and by Pal Robicsek, who had been People’s Commissar of Post, Telegraph and Telephone in the shortlived Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 and was living as an exile in Moscow, proposed that SAT should apply for affiliation with the Communist International. Lanti opposed the proposal, and the Soviet members withdrew it. It was a rather unusual experience to see a member of the French Communist Party defeat a proposal originating in Moscow; but at that time the Communist Parties had not yet become as monolithic as they were later, in the Stalin era.

Congress in Leningrad

The climax of Soviet friendliness to SAT was reached in the summer of 1926, when the Sixth Congress of SAT was held in Leningrad, with about 400 delegates from 14 countries in attendance. The Soviet People’s Commissar of Education, Anatol Lunacharsky,long a friend of Esperanto, was its Honorary President. The Soviet postal administration issued two commemorative stamps in honor of the Esperanto Congress, with text in Esperanto: Poŝto USSR - SAT - VI Intemacia Proletaria Esperanto-Kongreso -1926. One was a 7-kopeck, the other a 14-kopeck stamp.

These were not, however, the first postage stamps with Esperanto text issued in the Soviet Union. A set of two stamps honoring the alleged Russian "inventor of radio”, Popov, had been published in 1925, calling Popov in Esperanto the inventisto de radio. Another Soviet commemorative stamp was issued on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Esperanto, in 1927. This 14-kopeck stamp featured the portrait of Dr. L. L. Zamenhof, author of Esperanto, the Green Star (symbol of the Interlanguage), and the word ESPERANTO in huge letters. The Soviet postal administration also issued official postal cards and envelopes with text in Russian and Esperanto: Pochtovaya Kartochka s oplachennymotvetom Poŝta Karto kun afrankita respondo (postal card with prepaid reply) and Zakrytoe Pismo — Fermita Letero (sealed letter). The Soviet government used Esperanto for some time in technological standardization studies. The Soviet Association for Cultural Relations with Other Countries (VOKS) and several educational and scientific institutions issued publications in Esperanto. For more than five years, beginning in 1926, a Soviet Ukrainian educational journal published every month a four-page or six-page summary of its articles in Esperanto under the title La Vo jo de Klerigo. The Esperanto edition was not only distributed throughout the world, but also served as a basis for translations into French and German. It appeared in Kharkov. For several years, a similar Esperanto publication appeared in Moscow under the title Soveta Pedagogia Revuo and, later, Soveta Pedagogia Biblioteko.

Atheist Propaganda via Esperanto

The government-sponsored atheist organization in the Soviet Union issued a magazine in Esperanto entitled Antireligiulo (The Antireligious One) as well as a large number of pamphlets such as Lenin’s "On Religion", Bukharin’s "The Finance Capital under the Pope’s Cloak”, Lu- kachevsky’s "Marx and Engels on Religion”, Shineman’s "War and Religion”, Jaroslavsky’s "Answers to Atheists outside the Soviet Union”. Various other organizations in the Soviet Union, for instance, the Proletarian Stamp Collectors, also used Esperanto. A philatelic journal in Esperanto, Radio de Filintern, was published in Moscow.

Crisis in SAT

In the meantime, SAT was passing through a number of crises. In 1924-1925 the Anarchists quit the organization, complaining that Lanti did not permit any criticism of the Soviet Union and of Communism in the SAT publications. They established their own organization with a newspaper called Libera Laboristo (The Free Worker). The number of those who quit SAT at that time was not large, but their criticism was very vocal and expressed, at least in part, a discontent shared by many of the Socialists and Social Democrats of various brands who constituted a majority of the rank and file membership. In 1926 the Austrian Labor Esperanto League, one of the best organized groups of its kind and an affiliate of the Austrian Social Democratic Party, launched an Esperanto newspaper La Socialisto, which attracted support and subscriptions abroad and was highly critical of the pro-Communist SAT leadership. At about the same time, the Soviet authorities stopped the transfer of SAT funds from Moscow to Paris and Leipzig, causing a financial crisis at SAT headquarters. By that time, Lanti’s disillusionment with the Soviet Union and with Communism was well under way. In 1927, at the SAT Congress at Goteborg, Sweden, he accepted an agreement with the national labor Esperanto organizations, many of which were controlled by Social Democrats. In 1928 he published a pamphlet, La Laborista Esperantismo, in which he propounded ideas which were bound to provoke violent protest in Communist circles (and less violent protest in Social Democratic circles).

In the same year he resigned from the French Communist Party. SAT, which had been a "non-partisan” organization led by a Communist, was now a "non-partisan” organization led by an ex-Communist. It was inevitable, therefore, that the Communists would try to get rid of Lanti and to capture SAT. They organized a "revolutionary SAT opposition”, took over those national labor Esperanto organizations which they were able to control, sponsored "unity committees” in others, established a Liaison Office of the Revolutionary SAT Opposition in Berlin, and finally, when they failed to seize control of SAT at the SAT Congresses of Leipzig (1929), London (1930), and Amsterdam (1931), founded a new organization called IPE (Intemacio de Proleta Esperantistaro, Proletarian Esperanto International) in 1932. It claimed to have 14,000 members: 8,000 in the Soviet Union, 2,000 in Germany, 800 in France, 500 in Bulgaria, 400 in China, 300 in Britain, 200 in the Netherlands, 150 in Japan, 100 in the United States, the rest in other countries.

In 1933, there was another split in SAT: A number of Social Democrats, led by the national labor Esperanto organizations in Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Finland, established the Socialist Esperanto International (ISE, Intemacio de Socialistaj Esperantistoj), with headquarters at Vienna (later Amsterdam). Some of the largest national labor Esperanto organizations under Social Democratic leadership, however, remained loyal to SAT, among them the Dutch association (with over 3,000 members) and the Swedish federation (with over 1,400 members). There was a three-way split in France, where the majority remained in SAT, while substantial minorities joined IPE and ISE.

The first headquarters of IPE in Berlin became a victim of the Nazis. New temporary headquarters were set up at Amsterdam, and a newspaper Sur Posteno (On Guard) appeared in Moscow, later in Amsterdam, and, finally, in London. In August 1934 an IPE Conference at Lille, France, decided to establish an IPE Office at Leningrad and to call upon all members of labor Esperanto organizations, regardless of membership in IPE, SAT, or ISE, to cooperate in the Moscow-sponsored PEK (Proletarian Esperanto Correspondence) project.

The Great Purge

It is not certain whether the Leningrad IPE Office ever existed, except on paper. Strange things happened in the Soviet Union in 1935, 1936, and 1937. The Soviet Union Esperanto Association (SEU) became increasingly isolated from the outside world, even from the Communist- controlled IPE organization. At one time two editions of Sur Posteno were published simultaneously: one in Moscow for the Soviet Union, one in Amsterdam for the rest of the world. Drezen and other leaders disappeared mysteriously in the Great Purge of 1936-1938. Soon all Esperanto activities in the Soviet Union were at a standstill. SEU was never formally dissolved: It disintegrated into thin air. Outside the Soviet Union, IPE died more slowly. Some remnants were still left when World War II broke out. But already in 1938 the Year Book of the Universal Esperanto Association listed IPE with the remark "address unknown”. This does not mean that there were no Communists left in the Esperanto movement. After Lanti had withdrawn from active leadership in SAT in 1933, some Communists began to trickle back into the organization, joining a small number of others who had never left.

The Proletarian Esperanto Correspondence (PEK) was a flop almost from the beginning. Its "600 branch offices, including 80 in the Soviet Union”, about which Drezen boasted in the Soviet Encyclopedia, were undoubtedly started by people interested in direct person-to-person correspondence providing an opportunity to break through the wall of isolation. When they found out that the new system of "collective” correspondence meant severe Communist Party scrutiny and control, their enthusiasm cooled off rapidly. When under the growing Stalin-Beria-Vishinsky terror any contacts with foreign countries became suspect, and when the hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens who became victims of firing squads and slave labor camps included not only real opponents of the Communist dictatorship, but many others, even persons who considered themselves good Communists, the silence of the cemetery settled over what had once been the vigorous and powerful Esperanto movement of the Soviet Union. The old game of beating the censor had become both impossible — because of the impenetrable wall surrounding the Stalin empire, and undesirable — because Soviet citizens were now risking not just trouble, but their necks, by even the most harmless contacts with the West.

(To be continued.)



4 years 2 months ago

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Submitted by Reddebrek on March 15, 2020

Unfortunately the archive I found this in cut off at the third issue, and the only other issue of Amerika Esperantisto for 1957 was the year's end volume which didn't have a continuation, so I don't have the final parts.