Friday, January 20, 2012

On the shoulders of the Kurnatovsky's the revolution marches forward

Someone once asked me where I got the name Kurnatovsky.  I misspelled it with a U but no matter.  I know that everything I have, every freedom, every advantage in the rotten system we live in was won for me by someone I don't know, most of them probably couldn't read or write.  I know this: Merrill Lynch didn't build America.   More accurately, the freedoms I have were won by the collective efforts of many people. But while social advancement is made through collective struggle this doesn't mean that there is no such thing as individual effort, that certain individuals don't sacrifice more or contribute more to the social well being of all of us.  

One of these people was Mother Jones of course, the great American fighter for workers' rights. Or Eugene Debs, an American who is among the greatest of heroic American political figures.  Lenin called him a true revolutionary. Big Mary Septak is another. I first learned of Big Mary Septak in Mother Jones' Biography.  She ran a boarding house there in Pennsylvania.  I would have to return to the book to tell you more.

But Kurnatovsky, or the description of his life by Leon Trotsky in his biography of Stalin epitomizes for me the sacrifice that millions of people have made for the collective good. Here is how I first heard of Kurnatovsky from Trotsky's biography of Stalin, Kurnatovsky's demise is described to him by Lenin's wife Krupskaya:

It is pertinent here, and only fair, to complete the story of the engineer Kurnatovsky, who really inspired the revolutionary movement at Tiflis at the beginning of the century. After two years in the military prison, he was banished to the Yakut Region, from which escapes were immeasurably more difficult than from the Irkutsk Government. At Yakutsk, on the road, Kurnatovsky participated in the armed resistance of the exiles against the outrages of the authorities, and was sentenced by the court to twelve years at hard labor. Amnestied in the fall of 1905, he reached Chita, which was then deluged with combatants of the Russo-Japanese War. There he became chairman of the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Cossaks’ Deputies—the head of the so-called “Chita Republic”.

At the beginning of 1906 Kurnatovsky was again arrested and sentenced to death. General Rennenkampt, the pacifier of Siberia, carried the condemned man in his train so that he might witness with his own eyes the executions of workers at every railway station. Because of the new liberal tendency in connection with elections to the First Duma, his death sentence was commuted to life-long banishment to Siberia. Kurnatovsky managed to escape from Nerchinsk to Japan. From there he went to Australia, where he was in great need, worked as a lumberjack and strained himself.

Ill, with inflammation in his ears, he somehow managed to make his way to Paris. “An exceptionally difficult lot,” relates Krupskaya, “finally undermined him. In the autumn of 1910, after his arrival, Ilyitch and I called on him at the hospital.” Two years later, when Lenin and Krupskaya were already living at Cracow, Kurnatovsky died. On the shoulders of the Kurnatovskies and over their corpses the revolution marched forward.

I cried when I first read this. History is full of Kurnatovsky's and we thank them all.  We owe it to them to fight on.

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