Act & Punishment: The Pussy Riot Trials

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Arthur Koestler
by Wikipedia
Accessed: 10/2/18



Arthur Koestler
Arthur Koestler (1969)
Born Artúr Kösztler
5 September 1905
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died 1 March 1983 (aged 77)
London, England
Occupation Novelist, essayist, journalist
Nationality Hungarian, British
Citizenship Naturalized British subject
Period 1934–1983
Subject Fiction, non-fiction, history, autobiography, politics, philosophy, psychology, parapsychology, science
Notable works Darkness at Noon
The Thirteenth Tribe
Notable awards Sonning Prize (1968)
CBE (1972)
Spouse Dorothy Ascher (1935–50)
Mamaine Paget (1950–52)
Cynthia Jefferies[1] (1965–83)

Arthur Koestler, CBE (UK: /ˈkɜːrstlər/, US: /ˈkɛst-/; German: [ˈkœstlɐ]; Hungarian: Kösztler Artúr; 5 September 1905 – 1 March 1983) was a Hungarian-British author and journalist. Koestler was born in Budapest and, apart from his early school years, was educated in Austria. In 1931 Koestler joined the Communist Party of Germany until, disillusioned by Stalinism, he resigned in 1938. In 1940 he published his novel Darkness at Noon, an anti-totalitarian work that gained him international fame. Over the next 43 years, from his residence in Britain, Koestler espoused many political causes, and wrote novels, memoirs, biographies and numerous essays. In 1968 he was awarded the Sonning Prize "for [his] outstanding contribution to European culture" and in 1972 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1976 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and in 1979 with terminal leukaemia.[2] In 1983 he and his wife committed suicide at their home in London.


[Koestler] began his education in the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at an experimental kindergarten in Budapest. His mother was briefly a patient of Sigmund Freud's. In interwar Vienna he wound up as the personal secretary of Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of the early leaders of the Zionist movement. Travelling in Soviet Turkmenistan as a young and ardent Communist, he ran into Langston Hughes. Fighting in the Spanish Civil War, he met W. H. Auden at a "crazy party" in Valencia before winding up in one of Franco's prisons. In Weimar Berlin he fell into the circle of the Comintern agent Willi Münzenberg, through whom he met the leading German Communists [and fellow-travellers] of the era, including Johannes Becher, Hanns Eisler and Bertolt Brecht. Afraid of being caught by the Gestapo while fleeing France, he borrowed suicide pills from Walter Benjamin. He took them several weeks later when it seemed he would be unable to get out of Lisbon, but he did not die. Along the way he had lunch with Thomas Mann, got drunk with Dylan Thomas, made friends with George Orwell, flirted with Mary McCarthy and lived in Cyril Connolly's London flat. In 1940 Koestler was released from a French detention camp, partly thanks to the intervention of Harold Nicolson and Noël Coward. In the 1950s he helped to found the Congress for Cultural Freedom, together with Melvin Lasky and Sidney Hook. In the 1960s he took LSD with Timothy Leary. In the 1970s he was still giving lectures that impressed, among others, the young Salman Rushdie.

-- Anne Applebaum, reviewing Michael Scammell: Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic[3]

Origins and early life

Koestler was born in Budapest to Henrik and Adele Koestler (née Jeiteles). He was an only child. His father Henrik Koestler had been born on 18 August 1869 in the town of Miskolc in northeastern Hungary. His paternal grandfather Lipót Koestler, was a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army.[4] In 1861 he married Karolina Schon, the daughter of a prosperous timber merchant. Henrik left school at age 16 and took a job as an errand boy with a firm of drapers. He taught himself English, German and French, and eventually became a partner in the firm. He then set up his own business importing textiles into Hungary.[5]

Arthur's mother, Adele Koestler (née Jeiteles), was born on 25 June 1871 into a prominent Jewish family in Prague. Among her ancestors was Jonas Mischel Loeb Jeitteles, a prominent 18th-century physician and essayist, whose son Juda Jeitteles became a well-known poet. Beethoven set some of his poems to music. Adele's father, Jacob Jeiteles, moved the family to Vienna, where she grew up in relative prosperity until about 1890. Faced with financial difficulties, her father abandoned his wife and daughter, and emigrated to the United States. Adele and her mother moved from Vienna to Budapest to stay with Adele's married sister.

Henrik Koestler met Adele in 1898 and married her in 1900. Arthur, their only child, was born on 5 September 1905. The Koestlers lived in spacious, well-furnished, rented apartments in various predominantly Jewish districts of Budapest. During Arthur's early years they employed a cook/housekeeper as well as a foreign governess. His primary school education started at an experimental private kindergarten founded by Laura Striker (née Polányi). Her daughter Eva Striker later became Koestler's lover, and they remained friends all his life.[6]

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 deprived Koestler's father of foreign suppliers and his business collapsed. Facing destitution, the family moved temporarily to a boarding house in Vienna. When the war ended the family returned to Budapest.

As noted in Koestler's autobiography, he and his family were sympathetic to the short-lived Hungarian Bolshevik Revolution of 1919. Though the small soap factory owned at the time by Koestler's father was nationalized, the elder Koestler was appointed its director by the revolutionary government and was well-paid. Even though the autobiography was published in 1953, when Koestler had become an outspoken anti-Communist, he wrote favorably of the Hungarian Communists and their leader Béla Kun, and recalled fondly the hopes for a better future he had felt as a teenager in revolutionary Budapest.

Later the Koestlers witnessed the temporary occupation of Budapest by the Romanian Army and then the White Terror under the right-wing regime of Admiral Horthy. In 1920 the family returned to Vienna, where Henrik set up a successful new import business.

In September 1922 Arthur enrolled in the Vienna Polytechnic University to study engineering, joining a Zionist duelling student fraternity.[7] When Henrik's latest business failed Koestler stopped attending lectures, and was expelled for non-payment of fees. In March 1926 he wrote a letter to his parents telling them that he was going to Palestine for a year to work as an assistant engineer in a factory, for the purpose of gaining experience that would help him find a job in Austria. On 1 April 1926 he left Vienna for Palestine.[8]

1926–1931 Palestine, Paris, Berlin and Polar flight

For a few weeks Koestler lived in a kibbutz, but his application to join the collective (Kvutzat Heftziba) was rejected by its members.[9] For the next twelve months he supported himself with menial jobs in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Frequently penniless and starving, he often depended on friends and acquaintances for survival.[10] He occasionally wrote or edited broadsheets and other publications, mostly in German. In the spring of 1927 he left Palestine briefly, to run the Secretariat of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Revisionist Party in Berlin.

Later that same year, through a friend, Koestler obtained the position of Middle East correspondent for the prestigious Berlin-based Ullstein-Verlag group of newspapers. He returned to Jerusalem, where for the next two years he produced detailed political essays, as well as some lighter reportage, for his principal employer and for other newspapers. He travelled extensively, interviewed heads of state, kings, presidents and prime ministers,[11] and greatly enhanced his reputation as a journalist. As noted in his autobiography, he came to realize that he would never really fit in Palestine's Zionist Jewish community, the Yishuv, and particularly that he would not be able to have a journalistic career in Hebrew.

In June 1929, while on leave in Berlin, Koestler successfully lobbied at Ullstein for a transfer away from Palestine.[12] In September he was sent to Paris to fill a vacancy in the bureau of the Ullstein News Service. A year later, in 1931, he was called to Berlin and appointed science editor of the Vossische Zeitung and science adviser to the Ullstein newspaper empire.[13] The same year he was Ullstein's choice to represent the paper on board the Graf Zeppelin's Polar flight, which carried a team of scientists and the Polar aviator Lincoln Ellsworth to 82 degrees North (thus not to the North Pole) and back. Koestler was the only journalist on board: his live wireless broadcasts, and subsequent articles and lecture tours throughout Europe, brought him further kudos. Soon afterwards he was appointed foreign editor and assistant editor-in-chief of the mass-circulation Berliner Zeitung am Mittag.[14][15]

In 1931 Koestler, encouraged by Eva Striker, and impressed by what he believed to be the achievements of the Soviet Union, became a supporter of Marxism-Leninism, and on 31 December 1931, he applied for membership of the Communist Party of Germany.[16] As noted in his biography, he was disappointed in the conduct of the Vossische Zeitung, "The Flagship of German Liberalism", which adapted to changing times by firing Jewish journalists, hiring writers with marked German Nationalist views, and dropping its longstanding campaign against capital punishment. This led Koestler to the conclusion that Liberals and moderate Democrats could not stand against the rising Nazi tide and that the Communists were the only real counter-force.

The 1930s

Koestler wrote a book on the Soviet Five-Year Plan, but it did not meet with the approval of the Soviet authorities and was never published in Russian. Only the German version, heavily censored, was published in an edition for German-speaking Soviet citizens.

In 1932 Koestler travelled in Turkmenistan and Central Asia. In September 1933 he returned to Paris and for the next two years was active in anti-Fascist movements, writing propaganda under the direction of Willi Münzenberg, the Comintern's chief propaganda director in the West.

In 1935 Koestler married Dorothy Ascher, a fellow Communist activist (they separated amicably in 1937).[17]

In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, he undertook a visit to General Francisco Franco's headquarters in Seville on behalf of the Comintern, pretending to be a Franco sympathizer and using credentials from the London daily News Chronicle as cover. He collected evidence of the direct involvement of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany on Franco's side, which at that time the Nationalist rebels were still trying to conceal.[18] He had to escape after he was recognized and denounced as a Communist by a German former colleague. Back in France he wrote L'Espagne Ensanglantée, which was later incorporated into his book Spanish Testament.

In 1937 he returned to Loyalist Spain as a war correspondent for the News Chronicle, but was in Málaga when it fell to the Nationalists and was captured. From February until June he was imprisoned in Seville under sentence of death. He was eventually exchanged for a "high value" Nationalist prisoner held by the Loyalists, the wife of one of Franco's ace fighter pilots. Koestler thus became one of the few authors to have been sentenced to death, an experience he wrote about in Dialogue with Death. As he noted in his autobiography, his separated wife Dorothy Ascher had greatly contributed to saving his life by very intensive months-long lobbying in Britain. When he arrived in Britain after his release, they tried to resume their marriage, but Koestler's gratitude to her proved an insufficient foundation for a daily life together.

Koestler then returned to France, where he agreed to write a sex encyclopaedia to support himself. It was published to great success under the title The Encyclopœdia of Sexual Knowledge under the pseudonyms of "Drs A. Costler, A. Willy, and Others".[19]

In July 1938 Koestler finished work on his novel The Gladiators. Later that year he resigned from the Communist Party and started work on a new novel that in 1941 was published in London under the title Darkness at Noon. It was also in 1938 that he became editor of Die Zukunft (The Future), a German-language weekly published in Paris.[20]

In 1939 Koestler met and formed an attachment to the British sculptor Daphne Hardy. They lived together in Paris, and she translated the manuscript of Darkness at Noon from German into English in early 1940. She smuggled it out of France when they left ahead of the German occupation and arranged for its publication after reaching London that year.

The war years, 1939–45

After the outbreak of World War II Koestler returned from the South of France to Paris. He attempted to turn himself in to the authorities as a foreign national several times and was finally arrested on 2 October 1939. The French government first detained Koestler at Stade Roland Garros until he was moved to Le Vernet Internment Camp among other "undesirable aliens", most of them refugees.[21] He was released in early 1940 in response to strong British pressure. Milicent Bagot, an intelligence officer at MI5, recommended his release from Camp Vernet, but said that he should not be granted a British visa. (She was later the model for Connie Sachs in the George Smiley spy novels of John Le Carre and was the first to warn that Kim Philby of MI6 was probably spying for the USSR.)[22] Koestler describes the period 1939 to 1940 and his incarceration in Le Vernet in his memoir Scum of the Earth.

Shortly before the German invasion of France Koestler joined the French Foreign Legion in order to get out of the country. He deserted in North Africa and tried to get back to England.[23] While waiting to gain passage on a ship out of Lisbon, he heard a false report that the ship on which Hardy was travelling had sunk, and that she and his manuscript were lost. He attempted suicide, but survived.

Arriving in the UK without an entry permit, Koestler was imprisoned pending examination of his case. He was still in prison when Daphne Hardy's English translation of his book Darkness at Noon was published in early 1941.

Immediately after Koestler was released he volunteered for Army service. While awaiting his call-up papers, between January and March 1941, he wrote Scum of the Earth, the first book he wrote in English. For the next twelve months he served in the Pioneer Corps.[24]

January 1945, Kibbutz Ein HaShofet, Koestler is 5th from the right

In March 1942 Koestler was assigned to the Ministry of Information, where he worked as a scriptwriter for propaganda broadcasts and films.[25] In his spare time he wrote Arrival and Departure, the third in his trilogy of novels that included Darkness at Noon. He also wrote several essays, which were subsequently collected and published in The Yogi and the Commissar. One of the essays, titled "On Disbelieving Atrocities" (originally published in The New York Times),[26] was about Nazi atrocities against the Jews.

Daphne Hardy, who had been doing war work in Oxford, joined Koestler in London in 1943, but they parted company a few months later. They remained good friends until Koestler's death.[27]

In December 1944 Koestler travelled to Palestine with accreditation from The Times. There he had a clandestine meeting with Menachem Begin, the head of the Irgun paramilitary organisation, who was wanted by the British and had a 500-pound bounty on his head. Koestler tried to persuade him to abandon militant attacks and accept a two-state solution for Palestine, but failed. Many years later Koestler wrote in his memoirs: "When the meeting was over, I realised how naïve I had been to imagine that my arguments would have even the slightest influence."[28]

Staying in Palestine until August 1945, Koestler collected material for his next novel, Thieves in the Night. When he returned to England Mamaine Paget, whom he had started to see before going out to Palestine, was waiting for him.[29][30] In 1945 August the couple moved to the cottage of Bwlch Ocyn, a secluded farmhouse that belonged to Clough Williams-Ellis, in the Vale of Ffestiniog. Over the next three years Koestler would become a close friend of George Orwell. The region had its own intellectual circle, which would have been sympathetic to Koestler: Williams-Ellis' wife, Amabel, a niece of Lytton Strachey was also a former communist; other associates included Rupert Crawshay-Williams, Michael Polanyi, Storm Jameson and, most significantly, Bertrand Russell, who lived just a few miles from the Koestler cottage.[31]

The post-war years

In 1948, when war broke out between the newly declared State of Israel and the neighbouring Arab states, Koestler was accredited by several newspapers, American, British and French, and travelled to Israel.[32] Mamaine Paget went with him. They arrived in Israel on 4 June and stayed there until October.[33] Later that year they decided to leave the UK for a while and move to France. News that his long-pending application for British nationality had been granted reached him in France in late December and early in the 1949 he returned to London to swear the oath of allegiance to the British Crown.[34]

In January 1949 Koestler and Mamaine moved to a house he had bought in France, where he wrote a contribution to The God That Failed and finished work on Promise and Fulfilment. The latter book received poor reviews in both the U.S. and the UK. His other book published in 1949 was Insight and Outlook. This too received lukewarm reviews.

In July Koestler began work on Arrow in the Blue, the first volume of his autobiography, and hired a new part-time secretary, Cynthia Jefferies, who eventually became his third wife. In the autumn he started work on The Age of Longing, on which he continued to work until mid-1950.

Koestler had reached agreement with his first wife, Dorothy, on an amicable divorce, and their marriage was dissolved on 15 December 1949.[35] This cleared the way for his marriage to Mamaine Paget,[36] which took place on 15 April 1950 at the British Consulate in Paris.[37]

In June Koestler delivered a major anti-Communist speech in Berlin under the auspices of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an organisation funded (though he did not know this) by the Central Intelligence Agency. In the autumn he went to the United States on a lecture tour, during which he lobbied for permanent resident status in the U.S. At the end of October, on impulse, he bought Island Farm being a small island with a house on it on the Delaware River near New Hope, Pennsylvania, with the intention of living there at least for part of each year.[38]

In January 1951 a dramatised version of Darkness at Noon, by Sidney Kingsley, opened in New York. It won the New York Drama Critics Award. Koestler donated all his royalties from the play to a fund he had set up to help struggling authors, the Fund for Intellectual Freedom (FIF).[39] In June a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate to grant Koestler permanent residence in the U.S.[40] Koestler sent tickets for the play to his House sponsor Richard Nixon and his Senate sponsor Owen Brewster, a close confidant of Joseph McCarthy.[41] The bill became law on 23 August 1951 as Private Law 221 Chapter 343 "AN ACT For the relief of Arthur Koestler".[42]

In 1951 the last of Koestler's political works, The Age of Longing, was published. In it he examined the political landscape of post-war Europe and the problems facing the continent.

In August 1952 his marriage to Mamaine collapsed. They separated, but remained close until her sudden and unexpected death in June 1954.[43][44] The book Living with Koestler: Mamaine Koestler's Letters 1945-51, edited by Mamaine's twin sister Celia Goodman, gives an insight into their lives together.

Koestler now decided to make his permanent home in Britain. In May 1953 he bought a three-storey Georgian town house on Montpelier Square in London, and sold his houses in France and the United States.

The first two volumes of his autobiography, Arrow in the Blue, which covers his life up to December 1931 when he joined the German Communist Party, and The Invisible Writing, which covers the years 1932 to 1940, were published in 1952 and 1954, respectively. A collection of essays, The Trail of the Dinosaur and Other Essays, on the perils he saw facing western civilisation, was published in 1955.

On 13 April 1955 Janine Graetz, with whom Koestler had an on-off relationship over a period of years, gave birth to his daughter Cristina.[45] Despite repeated attempts by Janine to persuade Koestler to show some interest in her, Koestler had almost no contact with Cristina throughout his life. Early in 1956 he arranged for Cynthia to have an illegal abortion.[46]

Koestler's main political activity during 1955 was his campaign for the abolition of capital punishment (which in the UK was by hanging). In July he started work on Reflections on Hanging.


Although Koestler resumed work on a biography of Kepler in 1955, it was not published until 1959, and in the interim it acquired the title The Sleepwalkers. The emphasis of the book had changed and broadened to "A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe", which also became the book's subtitle. Copernicus and Galileo were added to Kepler as the major subjects of the book.

Later in 1956, as a consequence of the Hungarian Uprising, Koestler became busy organising anti-Soviet meetings and protests.

In June 1957 Koestler gave a lecture at a symposium in Alpbach, Austria, and fell in love with the village. He bought land there, had a house built, and for the next twelve years used it as a place for summer vacations and for organising symposia.

In May 1958 he had a hernia operation.[47] In December he left for India and Japan, and was away until early 1959. The resulting book was The Lotus and the Robot.

In early 1960, on his way back from a conference in San Francisco, Koestler interrupted his journey at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where some experimental research was going on with hallucinogens. He tried psilocybin and had a "bad trip". Later, when he arrived at Harvard to see Timothy Leary, he experimented with more drugs, but was not enthusiastic about that experience either.[48]

In November 1960 he was elected to a Fellowship of The Royal Society of Literature.

In 1962, along with his agent, A D Peters and the editor of The Observer, David Astor, Koestler set up a scheme to encourage prison inmates to engage in arts activities and to reward their efforts. The charity exists to this day and holds an exhibition in London each year.

Koestler's book The Act of Creation came out in May 1964. In November he undertook a lecture tour of various universities in California. In 1965 he married Cynthia in New York,[49] and moved to California, where he participated in a series of seminars at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.

Koestler spent most of 1966 and the early months of 1967 working on The Ghost in the Machine. In his article "Return Trip to Nirvana", published in 1967 in the Sunday Telegraph, Koestler wrote about the drug culture and his own experiences with hallucinogens. The article also challenged the defence of drugs in Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception.

In April 1968 Koestler was awarded the Sonning Prize "for [his] outstanding contribution to European culture". The Ghost in the Machine was published in August of same year and in the autumn he received an honorary doctorate from Queen's University, Kingston, Canada. In the later part of November the Koestlers flew to Australia for a number of television appearances and press interviews.

The first half of the 1970s saw the publication of four more books by Koestler: The Case of the Midwife Toad (1971), The Roots of Coincidence and The Call-Girls (both 1972), and The Heel of Achilles: Essays 1968-1973 (1974). In the New Year Honours List for 1972 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Final years, 1976–83

Early in 1976 Koestler was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The trembling of his hand made writing progressively more difficult.[50] He cut back on overseas trips and spent the summer months at a farmhouse in Denston, Suffolk, which he had bought in 1971. That same year saw the publication of The Thirteenth Tribe, which presents his theory about the Khazar origins of European Jewry.

In 1978 Koestler published Janus: A Summing Up. In 1980 he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.[51] His book Bricks to Babel was published that year. His final book, Kaleidoscope, containing essays from Drinkers of Infinity and The Heel of Achilles: Essays 1968–1973, with some later pieces and stories, was published in 1981.

During the final years of his life, Koestler, Brian Inglis and Tony Bloomfield established the KIB Society (named from the initials of their surnames) to sponsor research "outside the scientific orthodoxies". After his death it was renamed The Koestler Foundation.

In his capacity as Vice President of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, later renamed Exit, Koestler wrote a pamphlet on suicide, outlining the case both for and against, with a section dealing specifically with how best to do it.[52] He and Cynthia killed themselves on the evening of 1 March 1983 with overdoses of the barbiturate Tuinal taken with alcohol.[53] Their bodies were discovered on the morning of 3 March, by which time they had been dead for thirty-six hours.[54][55]

Koestler had stated more than once that he was afraid, not of being dead, but of the process of dying.[56] His suicide was not unexpected among his close friends. Shortly before his suicide his doctor had discovered a swelling in the groin which indicated a metastasis of the cancer.[57][58][59]

Koestler's suicide note:[60]

To whom it may concern.

The purpose of this note is to make it unmistakably clear that I intend to commit suicide by taking an overdose of drugs without the knowledge or aid of any other person. The drugs have been legally obtained and hoarded over a considerable period.

Trying to commit suicide is a gamble the outcome of which will be known to the gambler only if the attempt fails, but not if it succeeds. Should this attempt fail and I survive it in a physically or mentally impaired state, in which I can no longer control what is done to me, or communicate my wishes, I hereby request that I be allowed to die in my own home and not be resuscitated or kept alive by artificial means. I further request that my wife, or a physician, or any friend present, should invoke habeas corpus against any attempt to remove me forcibly from my house to hospital.

My reasons for deciding to put an end to my life are simple and compelling: Parkinson's Disease and the slow-killing variety of leukaemia (CCI). I kept the latter a secret even from intimate friends to save them distress. After a more or less steady physical decline over the last years, the process has now reached an acute state with added complications which make it advisable to seek self-deliverance now, before I become incapable of making the necessary arrangements.

I wish my friends to know that I am leaving their company in a peaceful frame of mind, with some timid hopes for a de-personalised after-life beyond due confines of space, time and matter and beyond the limits of our comprehension. This "oceanic feeling" has often sustained me at difficult moments, and does so now, while I am writing this.

What makes it nevertheless hard to take this final step is the reflection of the pain it is bound to inflict on my surviving friends, above all my wife Cynthia. It is to her that I owe the relative peace and happiness that I enjoyed in the last period of my life – and never before.

The note was dated June 1982. Below it appeared the following:

Since the above was written in June 1982, my wife decided that after thirty-four years of working together she could not face life after my death.

Further down the page appeared Cynthia's own farewell note:

I fear both death and the act of dying that lies ahead of us. I should have liked to finish my account of working for Arthur – a story which began when our paths happened to cross in 1949. However, I cannot live without Arthur, despite certain inner resources.

Double suicide has never appealed to me, but now Arthur's incurable diseases have reached a stage where there is nothing else to do.

The funeral was held at the Mortlake Crematorium in South London on 11 March.[54]

Controversy arose over why Koestler allowed, consented to, or (according to some critics) compelled his wife's simultaneous suicide. She was only fifty-five years old and was believed to be in good health. In a typewritten addition to her husband's suicide note Cynthia Koestler wrote that she could not live without her husband. Reportedly, few of their friends were surprised by this admission, apparently perceiving that Cynthia lived her life through her husband and that she had no "life of her own".[61] Her absolute devotion to Koestler can be seen clearly in her partially completed memoirs.[62] Yet according to a profile of Koestler by Peter Kurth:[63]

All their friends were troubled by what Julian Barnes calls "the unmentionable, half-spoken question" of Koestler's responsibility for Cynthia's actions. "Did he bully her into it?" asks Barnes. And "if he didn't bully her into it, why didn't he bully her out of it?" Because, with hindsight, the evidence that Cynthia's life had been ebbing with her husband's was all too apparent.

Another controversy was occasioned by the terms of Koestler's will. With the exception of some minor bequests, Koestler left the residue of his estate, about one million pounds, to the promotion of research into the paranormal through the founding of a chair in parapsychology at a university in Britain. The trustees of the estate had great difficulty finding a university willing to establish such a chair. Oxford, Cambridge, King's College London and University College London were approached, and all refused. Eventually the trustees reached agreement with Edinburgh University to set up a chair in accordance with Koestler's request.[64]

Personal life and allegations

Koestler's relations with women have been a source of controversy. David Cesarani alleged in his biography of Koestler, published in 1998, that Koestler had been a serial rapist, citing the case of the British feminist writer Jill Craigie, who said that she had been one of his victims in 1951. Feminist protesters forced the removal of his bust from Edinburgh University.[65] In his biography, Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual (2009), Michael Scammell countered that Craigie was the only woman to go on record that she had been raped by Koestler, and had done so at a dinner party more than fifty years after the event. Claims that Koestler had been violent were added by Craigie later, although Scammell concedes that Koestler could be rough and sexually aggressive.

Others, including Cesarani, claim that Koestler had misogynistic tendencies. He engaged in numerous sexual affairs and generally treated the women in his life badly.[66][67][68] In his autobiography, The Invisible Writing, Koestler admits to having denounced Nadezhda Smirnova, with whom he was having a relationship, to the Soviet secret police.

Influence and legacy

It is difficult to think of a single important twentieth-century intellectual who did not cross paths with Arthur Koestler, or a single important twentieth-century intellectual movement that Koestler did not either join or oppose. From progressive education and Freudian psychoanalysis through Zionism, communism, and existentialism to psychedelic drugs, parapsychology, and euthanasia, Koestler was fascinated by every philosophical fad, serious and unserious, political and apolitical, of his era.
– Anne Applebaum, The New York Review Of Books[3]
Koestler wrote several major novels, two volumes of autobiographical works, two volumes of reportage, a major work on the history of science, several volumes of essays, and a considerable body of other writing and articles on subjects as varied as genetics, euthanasia, Eastern mysticism, neurology, chess, evolution, psychology, the paranormal and more.[69]

Darkness at Noon was one of the most influential anti-Soviet books ever written.[70] Its influence in Europe on Communists and sympathisers and, indirectly, on the outcomes of elections in Europe, was substantial.[71] Geoffrey Wheatcroft believes that Koestler's most important books were the five completed before he was 40: his first memoirs and the trilogy of anti-totalitarian novels that included Darkness at Noon.[66]

Politics and causes

Koestler embraced a multitude of political as well as non-political issues. Zionism, communism, anti-communism, voluntary euthanasia, abolition of capital punishment, particularly hanging, and the abolition of quarantine for dogs being reimported into the United Kingdom are examples.


In his book The Case of the Midwife Toad (1971) Koestler defended the biologist Paul Kammerer, who claimed to have found experimental support for Lamarckian inheritance. According to Koestler, Kammerer's experiments on the midwife toad may have been tampered with by a Nazi sympathizer at the University of Vienna. Koestler came to the conclusion that a kind of modified "Mini-Lamarckism" may explain some rare evolutionary phenomena.

Koestler criticised neo-Darwinism in a number of his books, but he was not opposed to the theory of evolution in general terms.[72] Biology professor Harry Gershenowitz described Koestler as a "popularizer" of science despite his views not being accepted by the "orthodox academic community".[73] According to an article in the Skeptical Inquirer, Koestler was an "advocate of Lamarckian evolution – and a critic of Darwinian natural selection as well as a believer in psychic phenomena".[74]

In addition to his specific critiques of neo-Darwinism, Koestler was opposed to what he saw as dangerous scientific reductionism more generally, including the behaviourism school of psychology, promoted in particular by B. F. Skinner during the 1930s.[75] Koestler assembled a group of high-profile antireductionist scientists, including C. H. Waddington, W. H. Thorpe and Ludwig von Bertalanffy, for a meeting at his retreat in Alpbach in 1968. This was one of many attempts which Koestler made to gain acceptance within the mainstream of science, a strategy which brought him into conflict with individuals such as Peter Medawar who saw themselves as defending the integrity of science from outsiders.[75] Although he never gained significant credibility as a scientist, Koestler published a number of works at the border between science and philosophy, such as Insight and Outlook, The Act of Creation and The Ghost in the Machine.

The paranormal

Mysticism and a fascination with the paranormal imbued much of Koestler's later work and he became known for endorsing a number of paranormal phenomena, such as extrasensory perception, psychokinesis and telepathy. In his book The Roots of Coincidence (1972)[76] he claims that such phenomena can never be explained by theoretical physics.[77] According to Koestler, distinct types of coincidence could be classified, such as "the library angel", in which information (typically in libraries) becomes accessible through serendipity, chance or coincidence, rather than through the use of a catalogue search.[78][79][80] The book mentions yet another line of unconventional research by Paul Kammerer, the theory of coincidence or seriality. He also presents critically the related concepts of Carl Jung. More controversial were Koestler's studies and experiments on levitation and telepathy.[81]


Koestler was Jewish by birth, but he did not practise the religion. In an interview published in the (London) Jewish Chronicle in 1950 he argued that Jews should either emigrate to Israel or assimilate completely into the majority cultures they lived in.[82][83][84]

In The Thirteenth Tribe (1976) Koestler advanced a theory that Ashkenazi Jews are descended, not from the Israelites of antiquity, but from the Khazars, a Turkic people in the Caucasus that converted to Judaism in the 8th century and was later forced westwards. Koestler argued that a proof that Ashkenazi Jews have no biological connection to biblical Jews would remove the racial basis of European anti-Semitism.

Koestler coined the phrase, "one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third."[85]


Koestler first learned Hungarian, but later his family spoke mostly German at home. From his early years he became fluent in both languages. It is likely that he picked up some Yiddish too, through contact with his grandfather.[86] By his teens he was fluent in Hungarian, German, French and English.[87]

During his years in Palestine Koestler became sufficiently fluent in Hebrew to write stories in that language, as well as to create what is believed to have been the world's first Hebrew crossword puzzle.[88] During his years in the Soviet Union (1932–33), although he arrived with a vocabulary of only 1,000 words of Russian, and no grammar, he picked up enough colloquial Russian to speak the language.[89]

Koestler wrote his books in German up to 1940, but then wrote only in English. (L'Espagne ensanglantée was translated into French from German.[90])

Koestler is said to have coined the word mimophant to describe Bobby Fischer.[91][92]

Published works

Fiction (novels)

• 1934 (2013). Die Erlebnisse des Genossen Piepvogel in der Emigration
• 1939. The Gladiators (about the revolt of Spartacus)
• 1940. Darkness at Noon
• 1943. Arrival and Departure
• 1946. Thieves in the Night
• 1951. The Age of Longing, ISBN 0-09-104520-7.
• 1972. The Call-Girls: A Tragicomedy with a Prologue and Epilogue. A novel about scholars making a living on the international seminar-conference circuit. ISBN 978-0-09-112550-9


• 1945. Twilight Bar.

Autobiographical writings

• 1937. Spanish Testament.
• 1941. Scum of the Earth.
• 1942. Dialogue with Death.
• 1952. Arrow In The Blue: The First Volume Of An Autobiography, 1905–31, 2005 reprint, ISBN 0-09-949067-6
• 1954. The Invisible Writing: The Second Volume Of An Autobiography, 1932–40, 1984 reprint, ISBN 0-8128-6218-X
• 1984. Stranger on the Square co-written with Cynthia Koestler, published posthumously, edited and with an Introduction and Epilogue by Harold Harris, London: Hutchinson, 1984, ISBN 0-09-154330-4.
NB The books The Lotus and the Robot, The God that Failed, and Von weissen Nächten und roten Tagen, as well as his numerous essays, all may contain further autobiographical information.

Other non-fiction

• 1934. Von weissen Nächten und roten Tagen. About Koestler's travels in the USSR. In his The Invisible Writing, Koestler calls the book Red Days and White Nights, or, more usually, Red Days. Of the five foreign language editions − Russian, German, Ukrainian, Georgian, Armenian − planned, only the German version was eventually published in Kharkov, Ukrainian S.S.R.. The edition is very rare.
• 1937. L'Espagne ensanglantée.
• 1942 (summer) Le yogi et le commissaire.
• 1945. The Yogi and the Commissar and other essays.
• 1949. The Challenge of our Time.
• 1949. Promise and Fulfilment: Palestine 1917–1949.
• 1949. Insight and Outlook.
• 1955. The Trail of the Dinosaur and other essays.
• 1955. The Anatomy of Snobbery in The Anchor review No.1
• 1956. Reflections on Hanging.
• 1959. The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe. ISBN 0-14-019246-8 An account of changing scientific paradigms.
• 1960. The Watershed: A Biography of Johannes Kepler. (excerpted from The Sleepwalkers.) ISBN 0-385-09576-7
• 1960. The Lotus and the Robot, ISBN 0-09-059891-1. Koestler's journey to India and Japan, and his assessment of East and West.
• 1961. Control of the Mind.
• 1961. Hanged by the Neck. Reuses some material from Reflections on Hanging.
• 1963. Suicide of a Nation.
• 1964. The Act of Creation.
• 1967. The Ghost in the Machine. Penguin reprint 1990: ISBN 0-14-019192-5.
• 1968. Drinkers of Infinity: Essays 1955–1967.
• 1971. The Case of the Midwife Toad, ISBN 0-394-71823-2. An account of Paul Kammerer's research on Lamarckian evolution and what he called "serial coincidences".
• 1972. The Roots of Coincidence, ISBN 0-394-71934-4. Sequel to The Case of the Midwife Toad.
• 1973. The Lion and the Ostrich.
• 1974. The Heel of Achilles: Essays 1968-1973, ISBN 0-09-119400-8.
• 1976. The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage, ISBN 0-394-40284-7.
• 1976. Astride the Two Cultures: Arthur Koestler at 70, ISBN 0-394-40063-1.
• 1977. Twentieth Century Views: A Collection of Critical Essays, ISBN 0-13-049213-2.
• 1978. Janus: A Summing Up, ISBN 0-394-50052-0. Sequel to The Ghost in the Machine
• 1980. Bricks to Babel. Random House, ISBN 0-394-51897-7. This 1980 anthology of passages from many of his books, described as "A selection from 50 years of his writings, chosen and with new commentary by the author", is a comprehensive introduction to Koestler's writing and thought.
• 1981. Kaleidoscope. Essays from Drinkers of Infinity and The Heel of Achilles, plus later pieces and stories.

Writings as a contributor

• The Encyclopœdia of Sexual Knowledge (1934) (In his autobiography The Invisible Writing, Koestler uses the ligature œ in the spelling of the word "Encyclopaedia".)
• Foreign Correspondent (1940) uncredited contributor to Alfred Hitchcock film produced by Walter Wanger
• The God That Failed (1950) (collection of testimonies by ex-Communists)
• Attila, the Poet (1954) (Encounter; 1954.2 (5)). On loan at the UCL library of the School of Slavonic & Eastern European Studies.
• UCL library online
• Beyond Reductionism: The Alpbach Symposium. New Perspectives in the Life Sciences (co-editor with J. R. Smythies, 1969), ISBN 0-8070-1535-0
• The Challenge of Chance: A Mass Experiment in Telepathy and Its Unexpected Outcome (1973)
• The Concept of Creativity in Science and Art (1976)
• Life After Death, (co-editor, 1976)
• Humour and Wit. I: Encyclopædia Britannica. 15th ed. vol. 9.(1983)
• humour – Encyclopædia Britannica (by Arthur Koestler)

See also

• Herbert A. Simon
• Holism
• Holon (philosophy)
• Janus
• Politics in fiction
• German Writers in French Exile, 1933–1940, by Martin Mauthner (London, 2007), ISBN 9780853035404.


1. There is a discrepancy between the various biographers in the spelling of the surname. David Cesarani uses the spelling Jeffries, Iain Hamilton, Harold Harris; in his Introduction to Living with Koestler: Mamaine Koestler's Letters 1945–51, Celia Goodman in the same book and Mark Levene in Arthur Koestler spell it Jefferies.
2. A. & C. Koestler (ACK) Stranger on the Square, London: Hutchinson 1984, ISBN 978-0-09-154330-3, p. 10.
3. Did the Death of Communism Take Koestler and Other Literary Figures With It? by Anne Applebaum, The Huffington Post, 26 January 2010
4. Scammell, Michael (2009). Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic. New York: Random House. pp. 6–7 (Leopold Koestler), 7 (Zeiteles), 8–9 (parents' marriage), 10 (Koestler's birth). ISBN 978-0-394-57630-5.
5. Arthur Koestler, Arrow in the Blue (AIB), Collins with Hamish Hamilton, 1952, p. 21.
6. Judith Szapor, The Hungarian Pocahontas – The Life and Times of Laura Polányi Stricker, 1882-1959. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, 2005.
7. AIB p. 86.
8. AIB pp. 115–21.
9. AIB pp. 125–32.
10. AIB pp. 137, 165.
11. Cesarani p57
12. AIB pp. 183–86.
13. AIB p. 212.
14. Cesarani pp. 69–70.
15. Hamilton, David. (Hamilton) Koestler, Secker & Warburg, London 1982, ISBN 0-436-19101-6, p. 14.
16. AIB pp. 303–04.
17. ACK p. 24.
18. Koestler, Dialogue with Death, London: Arrow Books, 1961, p. 7 (no ISBN).
19. IW p. 260.
20. IW p. 495.
21. IW p. 509.
22. British Writers and MI5 Surveillance, 1930–1960, James Smith, Cambridge University Press, December 2012.
23. ACK pp. 20–22.
24. Scammell, Michael, 2009. Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic ISBN 978-0-394-57630-5. also published in UK as Koestler. The Indispensable Intellectual, London: Faber, 2010. ISBN 978-0-571-13853-1
25. ACK p. 28.
26. January 1944.
27. Celia Goodman, ed. (CG), Living with Koestler: Mamaine Koestler's Letters 1945–51, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1985, ISBN 0-297-78531-1, p. 7.
28. ACK p. 37.
29. ACK pp. 29–38.
30. CG p .21.
31. "The Untouched Legacy of Arthur Koestler and George Orwell". 24 February 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
32. Hamilton, p. 146.
33. CG pp. 84 & 94.
34. Cesarani p. 325.
35. CG p. 120.
36. CG pp. 120 & 131.
37. CG p. 131.
38. Cesarani pp. 375–76.
39. ACK pp. 103–07.
40., p.191
41. Scammell, Michael, Koestler The Indispensable Intellectual, Faber and Faber, London, 2011, p.383
42. ... gA84-4.pdf
43. ACK pp. 139–40.
44. CG p. 193.
45. Cesarani p. 425.
46. Cesarani, p. 443.
47. Cesarani p. 453.
48. Cesarani pp. 467–68.
49. Cesarani p. 484.
50. Cesarani p. 535.
51. Cesarani p. 542.
52. Cesarani pp. 542–43.
53. GM pp. 75–78.
54. Cesarani p. 547.
55. George Mikes, Arthur Koestler: The Story of a Friendship, London: Andre Deutsch, 1983, p. 76. ISBN 0-233-97612-4
56. GM p. 75.
57. GM p. 76.
58. Cesarani p. 546.
59. ACK p. 11.
60. GM pp. 78–79. (This information is in the public domain.)
61. ACK pp. 10–11.
62. ACK Part Two
63. "Koestler'S Legacy". 3 March 1983. Archived from the original on 1 March 2003. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
64. Cesarani p. 551.
65. "Women Force Removal of Koestler Bust". BBC. 29 December 1998. Retrieved 19 July 2009.
66. Geoffrey Wheatcroft (20 November 1998). "The Darkness at Noon for Arthur Koestler Was in His Heart ..." New Statesman. UK. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
67. Lister, David (23 February 1999). "Storm as Raphael Defends Rapist Koestler – News". The Independent. UK. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
68. "UK | Women Force Removal of Koestler Bust". BBC News. 29 December 1998. Retrieved 8 January2010.
69. Cesarani p. 557.
70. See, for example, John V. Fleming, The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books that Shaped the Cold War. Norton, 2009.
71. Theodore Dalrymple: Drinkers of Infinity
72. Can Genes Learn? Arthur Koestler Thinks So
73. Arthur Koestler's Osculation with Lamarckism and Neo-Lamarckism by Harry GershenowitzArchived 27 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
74. The Skeptical Inquirer. (1985). Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. p. 274
75. Stark, James. "Anti-reductionism at the Confluence of Philosophy and Science: Arthur Koestler and the Biological Periphery". Notes and Records of the Royal Society. 70 (3): 269–286. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2016.0021.
76. The Roots of Coincidence First American Edition, Random House ISBN 0-394-48038-4 LCCN 76-37058
77. Ch 2 The Perversity of Physics § 9 p 81 "... It only means that though we must accept the evidence, we have to renounce any reasonable hope of a physical explanation, even in terms of the most advanced and permissive quantum mechanics"
78. David Cesarani. Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind. Free Press; 1998. ISBN 978-0-684-86720-5.
79. Synchronicity: Through the Eyes of Science, Myth, and the Trickster. Da Capo Press; 28 February 2001. ISBN 978-1-56924-599-6. p. 21–.
80. Allan H. Pasco. Sick Heroes: French Society and Literature in the Romantic Age, 1750-1850. University of Exeter Press; 1997. ISBN 978-0-85989-550-7. p. 181–.
81. Kendrick Frazier. Science Confronts the Paranormal. Prometheus Books, Publishers; ISBN 978-1-61592-619-0. p. 49–.
82. Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin, London: Chatto and Windus, 1998, p. 183.
83. Jewish Chronicle, 5 May 1950.
84. Arthur Koestler, "Judah at the Crossroads," in The Trail of the Dinosaur and Other Essays, London, 1955, pp. 106–142.
85. Koestler, Arthur (1949). Promise and Fulfillment. Ramage Press. ISBN 1443727083.
86. Cesarani pp. 20–21.
87. Hamilton p. 4.
88. AIB p. 153.
89. Cesarani p. 84.
90. IW, pp. 408–09.
91. David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Bobby Fischer Goes To War, p.24
92. ""A mimophant is a hybrid species: a cross between a mimosa and an elephant. A member of this species is sensitive like a mimosa where his own feelings are concerned and thick-skinned like an elephant trampling over the feelings of others.".

Key to abbreviations used for frequently quoted sources

• ACK Stranger on the Square (A & C Koestler)
• AIB Arrow in the Blue (A Koestler)
• CG Living with Koestler: Mamaine Koestler's Letters 1945-51 (Celia Goodman, Ed.)
• GM Arthur Koestler: The Story of a Friendship (George Mikes)
• IW The Invisible Writing (A Koestler)

Further reading

Biographies of Koestler

• Atkins, J., 1956. Arthur Koestler.
• Buckard, Christian G., 2004. Arthur Koestler: Ein extremes Leben 1905–1983. ISBN 3-406-52177-0.
• Cesarani, David, 1998. Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind. ISBN 0-684-86720-6.
• Hamilton, Iain, 1982. Koestler: A Biography. ISBN 0-02-547660-2.
• Koestler, Mamaine, 1985. Living with Koestler: Mamaine Koestler's Letters 1945-51. ISBN 0-297-78531-1 or ISBN 0-312-49029-1.
• Levene, M., 1984. Arthur Koestler. ISBN 0-8044-6412-X
• Mikes, George, 1983. Arthur Koestler: The Story of a Friendship. ISBN 0-233-97612-4.
• Pearson, S. A., 1978. Arthur Koestler. ISBN 0-8057-6699-5.
• Scammell, Michael, 2009. Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic ISBN 978-0-394-57630-5. also published in UK as Koestler. The Indispensable Intellectual, London: Faber, 2010. ISBN 978-0-571-13853-1

External links

• Media from Wikimedia Commons
• Quotations from Wikiquote
• Data from Wikidata
• Koestler CBC Radio December 14, 2011: Interview with biographer Michael Scammell on the Ideas podcast.
• Road Warrior Article in December 2009 issue of the New Yorker. Differs with the Wikipedia entry on many features of Koestler's biography.
• E., Holuber: Dostoevsky's Grandson
• Remembering Arthur Koestler
• Autobiographical Video-Interview with Arthur Koestler in French with German sub-titles and comments
• 2007 City Journal article on Koestler
• Arthur Koestler Project
• Duncan Fallowell (Summer 1984). "Arthur Koestler, The Art of Fiction No. 80". The Paris Review.
• General Properties of Koestler's Open hierarchical Systems
• Hungarian site on Koestler
• Koestler's Legacy – Fortean Times article on the centenary of Koestler's birth
• Koestler Parapsychology Unit – Koestler and his third spouse left a large sum of money for research into parapsychology: this funded, among other things, the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh University
• Mystical Experiences of Arthur Koestler
• Petri Liukkonen. "Arthur Koestler". Books and Writers
• The Koestler Trust
• Arthur Koestler at Wikiquote
• C-SPAN Q&A interview with Scammell about Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic, 10 January 2010
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Heinrich Brandler
by Wikipedia



Heinrich Brandler

Heinrich Brandler (3 July 1881 – 26 September 1967) was a German communist trade unionist, politician, revolutionary activist, and writer. Brandler is best remembered as the head of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) during the party's ill-fated "March Action" of 1921 and aborted uprising of 1923, for which he was held responsible by the Communist International. Expelled from the Communist Party in December 1928, Brandler went on to become co-founder of the Communist Party of Germany Opposition, the first national section of the so-called International Right Opposition.


Early years

Heinrich Brandler was born July 3, 1881 to an ethnic Austrian working-class family in Varnsdorf, Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.[1] Heinrich's father, Joseph Brandler, was a bricklayer by trade, and he taught his son the craft from an early age.[2] After completing his elementary education, Heinrich traveled Europe for several years as a journeyman tiler and bricklayer.

Brandler was active in the German trade union movement from 1897.[3] Early in his working career, Brandler was injured in a job-related accident which caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.[3]

Rise to political power

Brandler joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 1901, while living in the city of Hamburg and taking an active part in the leadership of the construction workers' union there.[3] In 1904 he moved to Bremen, where he remained through 1908 as an activist both in union and political affairs. Brandler associated with the left wing of the SPD and was sympathetic to the views of Karl Liebknecht, which often brought him into conflict with more cautious and temperate members of the party and union organizations.[4]

From there, Brandler moved to Zurich, Switzerland, remaining there from 1908 to 1914.[3] While in Switzerland, Brandler worked during the summer building season as a stonemason and further supplemented his income as a socialist lecturer and teacher.[2]

Brandler returned to Germany in 1914, just prior to the outbreak of World War I, settling in Chemnitz as secretary of the building workers' union. Brandler was militant in his opposition to the war, joining the International Group of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht — factional activity which ran him afoul of the SPD leadership and ultimately led to his expulsion from the SPD in 1915, along with Fritz Heckert.[3] Brandler was named the delegate of the International Group to the first Zimmerwald Conference but was stopped by the police at the Swiss border and was unable to attend.[4]

On January 1, 1916, Brandler was a founding member of the Spartacist League, the formal organization springing from the already-existing International Group.

In October 1918, Brandler was arrested for illegal political activities and was temporarily deported from Germany, owing to his Austrian citizenship.[3] He subsequently obtained German nationality status through Gerhard Eisner's government in Bavaria, which allowed his return.[3] Brandler was a founding member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in December of that same year. He was elected to the party's National Committee at the organization's 2nd Congress, held in 1919.[4] Brandler thus became one of the few members of the working class itself in the active leadership of the German Communist Party.[5]

Home in Chemnitz, Brandler established a communist newspaper called Der Kämpfer (The Fighter) and helped build a powerful local unit of the KPD.[3] He organized workers' councils in Chemnitz immediately after the failure of the ultra-nationalist Kapp Putsch of 1920.[3] On March 15, 1920, Brandler and other Chemnitz communists joined the local social democrats in proclaiming a Soviet government for common defense against the nationalists. This proved to be an ephemeral institution which faded away after a few days when the generals and their government were ousted from Berlin.[6]

He was elected to the governing executive body of the KPD in 1920 and reported to the party's Unification Congress on organizational matters later that year.[3]

Aided by Comintern pressure, Brandler's faction took over leadership of the KPD in 1921, with Brandler replacing Paul Levi as KPD Chairman in February.[3] Brandler was leader of the party during the KPD's ill-fated "March Action" of 1921, a role which placed him on a collision course with civil authorities following the failure of the uprising. In June 1921, Brandler was convicted in a treason trial and sentenced to five years' imprisonment in a fortress. The term was ended abruptly in November of that same year, after which Brandler left for Moscow, where he sat on the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) on behalf of the German party.[3] Brandler was elected to the ECCI Presidium at its First Enlarged Plenum in February 1922.[4] Brandler was also active in the affairs of the Red International of Labor Unions (Profintern) during this interval.[2]

Role in the failed 1923 revolution

Brandler returned to Germany in the August 1922, assuming once again the role of top leader of the German Communist Party,[4] a position temporarily held by factional ally Ernst Meyer. Brandler, August Thalheimer, and the KPD "Right" were soon at odds with the party's left wing, chiefly over the issues of the united front and the role of the communists in coalition governments. With respect to the united front, Brandler sought common cause not only with the rank and file but also with the leadership of other workers' parties, while the Left sought to implement a so-called "united front from below" by seeking to work with rank and file members in an attempt to turn them against their leaders. With respect to coalition government, Brandler and the Right deemed it permissible for the Communist Party to enter regional coalition governments with the Social Democrats, while the Left declared that any government not dominated by the Communist Party was unworthy of KPD participation.[7]

At the 8th Congress of the KPD, held in Leipzig on January 28, 1923, Brandler and Thalheimer's faction prevailed over the KPD Left, a group led by Ernst Thaelmann, Arkadi Maslow, and Ruth Fischer. Brandler's faction was the beneficiary of key support from Karl Radek, a top leader of the Communist International.[8] Brandler's position as head of the KPD was solidified and his tactical interpretation of the united front and coalition "workers' government" was affirmed.

The left wing of the KPD believed that a revolutionary situation existed in Germany in 1923 and anxiously pushed for the setting of a date for a general uprising on the Russian Bolshevik model. While giving support to this general idea in the party's councils, in private Brandler seems to have felt that Germany was no yet ripe for a revolution and he sought additional time to win a greater percentage of the German working class to the idea. In September 1923, Brandler returned to Moscow for consultations.[4] At a secret meeting of the Politburo of the Russian Communist Party it was decided, at the insistence of Leon Trotsky, to set November 7, 1923 — the sixth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution — as the date for the German uprising.[9] Brandler refused to accept the setting of this artificial future date, however, winning agreement that the final date of the uprising should be left to the German Communists themselves.[10]

Brandler returned to Germany with plans for revolution in the offing. In Saxony the Social Democrats governed thanks to supporting votes by Communist delegates in the Landtag. It was understood that the Communists could claim a share of the ministerial portfolios if they so desired. Following Brandler's return, the Communist Party decided to exercise this option, doing the same in Thuringia, where a similar situation existed. It was hoped that the Communists' place in the government would prove useful in course the forthcoming armed uprising.[10] Negotiations began for entry of the Communists into the government. Brandler remained reluctant to set the final date for the revolution, however, arguing that the time was still not ripe and that the masses remained to be mobilized.[11]

On October 1, 1923, a telegram signed by Comintern President Grigory Zinoviev on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Comintern was dispatched to the national committee of the German Communist Party declaring that by its estimate "the decisive moment will come in four, five, six weeks." The Communists were directed to "carry out at once the arming of 50,000 to 60,000 men."[12] This proved to be a fanciful estimate, however, as the party possessed no more than 11,000 rifles and the bulk of its armed forces were far away from Saxony, where the proposed uprising was to be centered.[13]

Exacerbating their weak numbers in terms of men and material, the Communists faced a substantial contingent of Reichswehr, with superior training and armaments, as well as illegal right wing militias.[14] The number of purported sympathizers among the regular officers corps was greatly exaggerated, as was the degree of support for the Communist project among the working class itself.[15]

In 1923, Brandler was responsible for calling off a planned revolutionary uprising following the defection of left-wing Social Democrats from the revolutionary group. An ill-fated uprising continued in Hamburg, conducted when workers were not properly informed of the cancellation of the revolt. Brandler and his close associate August Thalheimer were largely blamed for this debacle by the Comintern and his career as leader of the German Communist movement was effectively ended. He was recalled to the Soviet Union by the Comintern in January 1924, and he remained that country for the best part of the next four years.[4]

The disgraced Brandler was sent on a party task to Kazakhstan in Soviet Central Asia, where he remained until being partially restored to the Comintern's good graces sometime in 1926.[2] This respite proved to be short-lived. Brandler and his associates were harsh critics of new German Communist Party leader Ernst Thaelmann, an individual stoutly supported by the ever more powerful Russian Communist Party leadership.[16] Brandler again became the object of harsh criticism for factional activity at the 7th Enlarged Plenum of ECCI in the winter of 1926, ending with a specific prohibition of his continuing further work in the German Communist Party.[4]

Cover of Gegen den Strom, official publication of the "Brandlerite" Communist Party of Germany (Opposition).

Expulsion and communist oppositional activities

In the fall of 1928 an event took place in the Communist Party of Germany which ultimately led to the final break of Brandler and Thalheimer and their supporters. The secretary of the Hamburg organization of the KPD was found to have embezzled 2,000 marks from the party treasury for his own use. When accountants from national party headquarters discovered the crime, they had been threatened with expulsion from the party by party leader Thaelmann if they exposed the theft. The Comintern got wind of the scandal which led to a crisis in the German party with the Central Committee acting to remove Thaelmann, with Thaelmann joining in the unanimous vote.[17]

This presented a threat to the faction of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union headed by Joseph Stalin, who saw in Thaelmann a reliable ally during a time of bitter factional warfare. As a result, the Presidium of the Comintern countermanded the German Central Committee's action, restoring Thaelmann as secretary.[17]

In October 1928 Brandler returned to Germany against the KPD's wishes. The corruption of Thaelmann's Hamburg organization and its protection by the Stalin faction in Moscow was used as a pretext for Brandler and Thalheimer to issue a call for a meeting of their followers on November 11, 1928.[18]

The Comintern, predictably, reacted with fury. Brandler, Thalheimer, and their associates were bitterly criticized in an open letter from the Comintern on December 19, 1928. Expulsion soon followed, with both Brandler and Thalheimer removed from the Communist Parties of Germany in December 1928 and from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist International in January 1929.[2]

Brandler and Thalheimer gathered their supporters into a new organization called the Communist Party of Germany (Opposition) (KPO), a group which was founded at the December 30, 1928 meeting which had originally prompted the wave of expulsions. The group also launched a new communist opposition journal, Gegen den Strom (Against the Current).[4]

Throughout 1929 the KPD expelled followers of Brandler and Thalheimer, as well as so-called "conciliators" who sought a factional truce between the party's feuding Left and Right. Perhaps 1,000 members of the Communist Party of Germany were affected.[19] These expulsions paralleled similar efforts to purge the Russian Communist Party of followers of Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, and Mikhail Tomsky.

The KPO initially conceived of itself as a factional influence group, attempting to change the political line of the Communist Party of Germany rather than a new party in competition with it. The organization held a second conference in November 1929 at which it, in the words of M.N. Roy, "declared unequivocally that between Social Democracy and Communism there is no half-way house."[20] Roy claimed that the KPO had 6,000 dues-paying members and was publishing eight weekly and bi-monthly publications by the fall of 1929, with a combined circulation of 25,000.[20] Brandler was named Secretary of the organization at this time.[2] While the group never met with broad influence or electoral success, it nevertheless became the first as well as one of the most prominent parties to be identified with the so-called "International Right Opposition."

On January 1, 1930, the KPO attempted to expand its influence even further with the launch of a daily newspaper, Arbeiterpolitek. Financial problems led it a reduction of frequency, however, and by 1932 the paper was being issued only once a week.[21]

Despite Roy's protestations that the KPO did not constitute an independent political party, it was not long before it had entered the field with its own candidates for office. It ran its own candidates in the December 7, 1929 provincial election in Thuringia, one of the organization's strongholds, although these garnered only 12,000 votes.[21] In other elections, it supported the slate of candidates of the official Communist Party of Germany, including the candidacy of Ernst Thaelmann for President in the election of March 1932.[21]

Brandler and the KPO were strongly in favor of the establishment of a united front against the menace of Nazism and were particularly critical of the Communist Party's conception that "once the Nazis get into power, then will the united front of the proletariat rise and brush them aside."[22] Instead, the KPO called for the immediate formation of a broad anti-fascist alliance including the Social Democratic-controlled trade union federation, the Social Democrats, Communists, and the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany.[23]

Following the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and his ultra-nationalist National Socialist German Workers Party on January 30, 1933 and the wave of anti-radical repression which ensued, Brandler and most of the KPO leadership fled to France. Brandler lived in Paris until the beginning of World War II, where he continued to be involved in communist politics. In 1939 and 1940, Brandler was temporarily interned by the Vichy government and was sent to prison in the south of France. Brandler and Thalheimer fled to Cuba to avoid greater repercussions in 1941.[2]

After Thalheimer's death in 1948, Brandler left Cuba for the United Kingdom, where he attempted to work on writing his memoirs, struggling at the project without success.[24] In 1949 he was able to return to West Germany. Brandler became involved in a new radical opposition organization called the Labor Politics Group and served as its president and editor of its journal, Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik (Labor Policy Group), until 1956.[2]

Brandler also corresponded extensively with Isaac Deutscher and aided Deutscher's research on German communism and the Right Opposition.

Death and legacy

Heinrich Brandler died on September 26, 1967. He was 86 years old at the time of his death. His organisation Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik exists today as one of the few surviving descendants of the Right Opposition current.


1. This region was known in Germany as Sudetenland.
2. Klaus Schöenhoven, "Heinrich Brandler," in A. Thomas Lane (ed.), Biographical Dictionary of European Labor Leaders: A-L. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995; pp. 130-131.
3. Pierre Broué, The German Revolution, 1917-1923. (1971) John Archer, trans. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2006; pp. 960-961.
4. Branko Lazitch and Milorad M. Drachkovitch, Biographical Dictionary of the Comintern: New, Revised, and Expanded Edition. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1986; pp. 42-43.
5. E.H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia: The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, Volume 3. London: Macmillan, 1953; pg. 170.
6. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 3, pg. 173.
7. E.H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia: The Interregnum, 1923-1924. London: Macmillan, 1954; pp. 157-158.
8. Carr, The Interregnum, pg. 157.
9. Carr, The Interregnum, pp. 204-205.
10. Carr, The Interregnum, pg. 206.
11. Carr, The Interregnum, pg. 207.
12. Cited in Carr, The Intrregnum, pp. 207-208.
13. Carr, The Interregnum, pg. 211.
14. Carr, The Interregnum, pg. 212.
15. Carr, The Interregnum, pp. 212-213.
16. Robert J. Alexander, The Right Opposition: The Lovestoneites and the International Communist Opposition of the 1930s. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981; pg. 135.
17. Alexander, The Right Opposition, pg. 136.
18. The gathering was to be held on December 30, 1928.
19. Alexander, The Right Opposition, pg. 140.
20. M.N. Roy in The Revolutionary Age [New York], December 1, 1929, pg. 16; cited in Alexander, The Right Opposition," pg. 140.
21. Alexander, The Right Opposition, pg. 141.
22. Statement in Rote Fahne (Red Flag), official organ of the KPD, October 16, 1931, cited in Alexander, The Right Opposition," pg. 142.
23. Alexander, The Right Opposition," pg. 143.
24. Isaac Deutscher, "Record of a Conversation with Heinrich Brandler, February 15, 1948," New Left Reviewno. 105 (September–October 1977).


• Justiz und Rechtswesen: 2 Berichte aus Rußland. (Justice and Law: Two Reports from Russia.) Chemnitz: Der Kämpfer, n.d. [1919].
• Durch die Räte zur Einheit der Arbeiterklasse und zum Kommunismus. (Through the Councils to the Unity of the Working Class and to Communism.) Chemnitz: Der Kämpfer, n.d. [1919].
• Zur Geschichte und Tätigkeit der Sowjets in Rußland : aus dem Volkskalender der Petrograder Sowjets 1919. (On the History and Activities of the Soviets in Russia: From the People's Calendar of the Petrograd Soviets, 1919.) Berlin: Rote Fahne, 1919.
• Revolutionierung oder Verfall des Deutschen Bauarbeiterverbandes. (Revolutionization or Decline for the German Construction Workers' Union) Chemnitz: Deutscher Bauarbeiterverb., 1920.
• Rede : gehalten auf dem 1. Kongress der Betriebsräte der Gewerkschaften Deutschlands. (Speech: On the First Congress of Factory Councils of the Trade Unions of Germany.) Leipzig : Franke, 1920.
• Wer soll die Kriegsrechnung bezahlen? (Who Should Pay the War Bill?) Leipzig: Franke, 1920.
• Die Lehren des Kapp-Putsches. (The Lessons of the Kapp Putsch.) Leipzig: Franke, 1920.
• Die aktion gegen Kapp-putsch in Westsachsen. (The Action against the Kapp Putsch in West Saxony.) Berlin: Berliner buch- und kunstdruckerei, 1920.
• Betriebsräte und politische Arbeiterräte: nebst Anhang Leitsätze über die Aufgaben der Betriebsräte, Organisation der Betriebsräte und Leitsätze für die politischen Arbeiterräte: Rede des Genossen Brandler auf dem 5. Parteitag der KPD (Spartakusbund) in Berlin, am 2. November 1920.(Factory Council and Political Workers' Council: Together with Supplemental Guidelines on the Tasks of the Factory Council and Guidelines for the Political Workers Council: Speech of Comrade Brandler to the 5th Party Congress of the KPD (Spartacusbund) in Berlin, November 2, 1920.) Berlin: Spartakusbund, 1920.
• Gewerkschaften und Betriebsräte: Referat des Genossen Brandler auf dem Vereinigungsparteitag im Dezember 1920 in Berlin. (Unions and Factory Councils: Report of Comrade Brandler at the Unification Congress of December 1920 in Berlin.) Berlin: Vereinigte Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, 1920.
• Der Hochverrats-Prozeß gegen Heinrich Brandler vor dem außerordentlichen Gericht am 6. Juni 1921 in Berlin. (The Treason Trial of Heinrich Brandler before the Extraordinary Court), June 6, 1921 in Berlin.) Leipzig: Franke, 1921.
• War die Märzaktion ein Bakunisten-Putsch? (Was the March Action a Bakunist Putsch?) Leipzig: Franke, 1921.
• Gewerkschaften und Genossenschaften. (Unions and Cooperatives.) With Otto Schröder. Friedrichshagen: Allgemeiner Genossenschaftsverlag, 1924.
• Der Hessen-Streik und seine Lehren: die Aufgaben der klassenbewussten Gewerkschafter. (The Hesse Strike and Its Lessons: The Role of the Class-Conscious Trade Unionist.) Stuttgart : Bergmann, 1951.
• Zur weltpolitischen Lage : Artikel aus der Arbeiterpolitik, Jahrgänge von 1965 bis 1967. (On the International Situation: Articles from Arbeiterpolitik, from the Years 1965 to 1967.) Bremen: Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik, n.d. [c. 1967?].
• Unabhängige Kommunisten: der Briefwechsel zwischen Heinrich Brandler und Isaac Deutscher, 1949 bis 1967. (Independent Communists: The Correspondence between Heinrich Brandler and Isaac Deutscher, 1949–1967). With Isaac Deutscher. Berlin: Colloquium-Verlag, 1981.
• Die Sowjetunion und die sozialistische Revolution: 1950. (The Soviet Union and the Socialist Revolution: 1950.) Bremen: Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik, 1982.

See also

• Right Opposition
• Communist Party Opposition
• August Thalheimer
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Decembrist revolt
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Decembrist Revolt
Decembrists at Peter's Square
Date 26 December [O.S. 14 December] 1825
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Result Government victory
Decembrists deported to Siberia
Decembrists Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Army officers Russian Empire Nicholas I of Russia
about 3,000 soldiers of the Imperial Russian Army Imperial Russian Army

The Decembrist revolt or the Decembrist uprising (Russian: Восстание декабристов, tr. Vosstanie dekabristov) took place in Imperial Russia on 26 December [O.S. 14 December] 1825. Russian army officers led about 3,000 soldiers in a protest against Tsar Nicholas I's assumption of the throne after his elder brother Constantine removed himself from the line of succession. Because these events occurred in December, the rebels were called the Decembrists (Dekabristy, Russian: Декабристы).

The uprising, which was suppressed by Nicholas I, took place in Peter's Square in Saint Petersburg. In 1925, to mark the centenary of the event, the square was renamed Decembrist Square; but in 2008 the name was changed back to its original name, Senate Square.

Union of Salvation and Union of Prosperity

At first, many officers were encouraged by Tsar Alexander I's early liberal reformation of Russian society and politics. Liberalism was encouraged on an official level, creating high expectations during the period of rapprochement between Napoleon and Alexander. The major person for reform in Alexander's regime was Count Mikhail Mikhailovich Speransky. During his early years in the regime, Speransky helped inspire the organization of the Ministry of the Interior, the reform of ecclesiastic education, and the formulation of the government's role in the country's economic development. Speransky's role increased greatly in 1808. From then until 1812, when they feared him as a liberal similar to Napoleon invading of Russia, Speransky developed plans for the reorganization of Russia's government. Returned from exile in 1819 Count Mikhail Mikhailovich Speransky was appointed as the Governor of Siberia, with the task of reforming local government. Equally, in 1818 the Tsar asked Count Nikolay Nikolayevich Novosiltsev to draw up a constitution.[1] The abolition of serfdom in Baltic provinces was in 1816–1819.[2] However, internal and external unrest, which the Tsar believed stemmed from political liberalisation, led to a series of repressions and a return to a former government of restriction and conservatism.

Meanwhile, spurred by their experiences of the Napoleonic Wars, and realising many of the harsh indignities through which the peasant soldiers were forced,[3] Decembrist officers and sympathisers displayed their contempt for the ancien régime by rejecting court lifestyle, wearing their cavalry swords at balls (indicating their unwillingness to dance), and committing themselves to academic study. This new lifestyle captured the spirit of the times, as a willingness to embrace both the peasant (i.e., the 'Russian way of life') and ongoing reformative movements abroad.

The motivations for the reformist movement are outlined, in part, by Pavel Pestel:

The desirability of granting freedom to the serfs was considered from the very beginning; for that purpose a majority of the nobility was to be invited in order to petition the Emperor about it. This was later thought of on many occasions, but we soon came to realize that the nobility could not be persuaded. And as time went on we became even more convinced, when the Ukrainian nobility absolutely rejected a similar project of their military governor.[4]

Historians have also noted that the United States Declaration of Independence and the American revolution may have influenced Decembrists.[5] The most correct name for Decembrists could be Russian Americanophiles. The Constitution written by Nikita Muravyov was essentially the translation of the US Constitution. But Decembrists were against US slavery. Any slaves and serfs from all countries were to become free in Russia immediately.[6] Pestel and his followers were against the US federation model in peaceful times as threatening by the split of the would-be Russian/United Slavic federation and approved the US revolutionary model only.[7][unreliable source?] But while conceding with Pestel that the American revolutionary model of the federal government could be the best form for Russia, the Polish patriotic society could not agree not only with partaking with this federation establishment, but with the same form of government for unitarian Poland and requested for Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine without any Russian involvement into the affairs of these territories and any Polish federalization.[8]

In 1816, several officers of the Imperial Russian Guard founded a society known as the Union of Salvation, or of the Faithful and True Sons of the Fatherland. The society acquired a more revolutionary cast after it was joined by the idealistic Pavel Pestel, dreaming of the mass repressions against different ethnic and class groups and the total annihilation of the imperial family. The charter was similar to charters of the organizations of carbonari. Pestel was supported by Yakushkin when there were rumours that the emperor had intended to transfer the capital from Saint-Petersburg to Warsaw and to liberate all peasants without the consent of Russian landlords which could not influence the government being in Warsaw. Yakushkin was to kill the emperor even before the revolution thus. When the society consisting of Russian landlords had refused to kill an emperor because only of rumors Yakushkin left the society. More liberal Mikhail Muravyov-Vilensky created a new charter similar to that of Tugendbund and without any revolutionary plans of the society called now the Union of Prosperity though still illegal similar to masonic lodges. (The small Ordain of Russian knights for exception of its active member Alexander von Benckendorff also joined the Union of Prosperity together with the members of the Union of Salvation.[9]) After a mutiny in the Semenovsky Regiment in 1820, the society decided to suspend activity in 1821. Two groups, however, continued to function secretly: a Southern Society, based at Tulchin, a small garrison town in Ukraine, in which Pestel was the outstanding figure, and a Northern Society, based at St Petersburg, led by Guard officers Nikita Muraviev, Prince S. P. Trubetskoy and Prince Eugene Obolensky.[10] The political aims of the more moderate Northern Society were a British-style constitutional monarchy with a limited franchise, though it could be replaced with a republic in the future but only according to the will of the people, assuming the legislative assembly and excluding the execution of the imperial family, the abolition of serfdom according to the interests of Russian landlords, i. e. with land in the ownership of landlords mainly still similar to the abolition of serfdom in Baltic provinces, and equality before the law. The Southern Society, under Pestel's influence, was more radical and wanted to abolish the monarchy, establish a republic, similar to the Union of Salvation, and contrary to the Union of Salvation plans, to redistribute land: taking half into state ownership and dividing the rest among the peasants.[10][11] The Society of United Slavs (also known as the Slavic Union) was established in Novograd-Volynsky in the Ukraine in 1823. Its never written program was similar to that of the Southern Society but the main emphasis was on the equal federation of Russia (including Ukraine), Poland, Moldova (including Bessarabia) with the attachment of Valahia, Transilvania, Hungary (including Slovakia, Slovenia, Voevodina, Kraina), Croatia, Serbia, Dalmatia, Cheske, Moravia i.e., all Slavic countries with the exception of Bulgaria and Macedonia in the future. This society joined the Southern Society and adopted its program in exchange for the recognition of the Slavic federation zeal by the Southern society in September 1825 .[12][13] Б

At Senate Square

Main article: Russian interregnum of 1825

When Tsar Alexander I died on 1 December [O.S. 19 November] 1825, the royal guards swore allegiance to the presumed heir, Alexander's brother Constantine. When Constantine made his renunciation public, and Nicholas stepped forward to assume the throne, the Northern Society acted. With the capital in temporary confusion, and one oath to Constantine having already been sworn, the society scrambled in secret meetings to convince regimental leaders not to swear allegiance to Nicholas. These efforts would culminate in the Decembrist Revolt. The leaders of the society elected Prince Sergei Trubetskoy as interim ruler.

On the morning of 26 December [O.S. 14 December], a group of officers commanding about 3,000 men assembled in Senate Square, where they refused to swear allegiance to the new tsar, Nicholas I, proclaiming instead their loyalty to Constantine and their Decembrist Constitution. They expected to be joined by the rest of the troops stationed in Saint Petersburg but they were disappointed. The revolt was further hampered when it was deserted by its supposed leader Prince Trubetskoy. His second-in-command, Colonel Bulatov, also vanished from the scene. After a hurried consultation the rebels appointed Prince Eugene Obolensky as a replacement leader.[14]

For hours there was a stand-off between the 3,000 rebels and the 9,000 loyal troops stationed outside the Senate building, with some desultory shooting from the rebel side. A vast crowd of civilian on-lookers began fraternizing with the rebels but did not join the action.[15] Eventually, Nicholas (the new Tsar) appeared in person at the square, and sent Count Mikhail Miloradovich to parley with the rebels. Miloradovich was fatally shot by Pyotr Kakhovsky while delivering a public address. At the same time, a rebelling squad of grenadiers, led by Lieutenant Nikolay Panov, entered the Winter Palace but failed to seize it and retreated.

After spending most of the day in fruitless attempts to parley with the rebel force, Nicholas ordered a cavalry charge which slipped on the icy cobbles and retired in disorder. Eventually, at the end of the day, Nicholas ordered three artillery pieces to open fire, with devastating effect. To avoid the slaughter the rebels broke and ran. Some attempted to regroup on the frozen surface of the river Neva, to the north. However, here too they were targeted by the artillery and suffered many casualties. As the ice was broken by the cannon fire, many of the dead and dying were cast into the river. After a nighttime mopping-up operation by loyal army and police units, the revolt in the north came to an end.[16]

Arrests and trial

Further information: Chernigov Regiment revolt

Decembrist Revolt, a painting by Vasily Timm

Monument to the Decembrists at the execution site in Saint Petersburg

Inscription on the monument to the Decembrists at the execution site in Saint Petersburg. The text reads: На этом месте, 13/25 Июля 1826 года, были казнены Декабристы П. Пестель, К. Рылеев, П. Каховский, С. Муравьев-Апостол, М. бестужев-Рюмин. (English: "At this place, 13/25 July 1826, were executed the Decembrists P. Pestel, K. Ryleyev, P. Kakhovsky, S. Muravyov-Apostol and M. Bestuzhev-Ryumin")

While the Northern Society scrambled in the days leading up to the revolt, the Southern Society (based in Tulchin) took a serious blow. The day before (25 December [O.S. 13 December]), acting on reports of treason, the police arrested Pavel Pestel. It took two weeks for the Southern Society to learn of the events in the capital.[17] Meanwhile, other members of the leadership were arrested. The Southern Society, and a nationalistic group called the United Slavs, discussed revolt. When learning of the location of some of the arrested men, the United Slavs freed them by force. One of the freed men, Sergey Muravyov-Apostol, assumed leadership of the revolt. After converting the soldiers of Vasilkov to the cause, Muraviev-Apostol easily captured the city. The rebelling army was soon confronted by superior forces who were heavily armed with artillery and loaded with grapeshot.[18]

On 15 January [O.S. 3 January] 1826, the rebels met defeat and the surviving leaders were sent to Saint Petersburg to stand trial with the northern leaders. The Decembrists were taken to the Winter Palace to be interrogated, tried, and convicted. The shooter Kakhovsky was executed by hanging, together with four other leading Decembrists: Pavel Pestel; the poet Kondraty Ryleyev; Sergey Muravyov-Apostol; and Mikhail Bestuzhev-Ryumin. 31 Decembrists facing the death penalty were instead imprisoned. Other Decembrists were exiled to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and the Far East.

Suspicion also fell on several eminent persons who were on friendly terms with the Decembrist leaders and could have been aware of their clandestine organizations, notably Alexander Pushkin, Aleksander Griboyedov, and Aleksey Yermolov.

Decembrists in Siberia

On 25 July [O.S. 13 July] 1826, the first party of Decembrist convicts began its exodus to Siberia. Among this group, were Prince Trubetskoi, Prince Obolensky, Peter and Andrei Borisov, Prince Volkonsky, and Artamon Muraviev, all of them bound for the mines at Nerchinsk.[19][20] The journey eastward was fraught with hardship; yet for many, it offered refreshing changes in scenery and peoples, following imprisonment. Decembrist Nikolay Vasil’yevich Basargin was unwell when he set out from St. Petersburg, but he recovered his strength on the move; his memoirs depict the journey to Siberia in a cheerful light, full of praise for the "common people" and commanding landscapes.[21]

Not all Decembrists could identify with Basargin’s positive experience. Because of their lower social standing, "soldier-Decembrists" experienced the Emperor’s vengeance in full. Sentenced by court-martial, many of these "commoners" received thousands of lashes. Those that survived journeyed to Siberia on foot, chained alongside common criminals.[22]

Fifteen out of 124 Decembrists were convicted of "state-crimes" by the Supreme Criminal Court, and sentenced to "exile-to-settlement." [23] These men were sent directly to isolated locales, such as Berezov, Narym, Surgut, Pelym, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, and Viliuisk, among others. Few Russians inhabited these places: the populations consisted mainly of Siberian aborigines, Tunguses, Yakuts, Tartars, Ostiaks, Mongols, and Buriats.[24]

Of all those exiled, the largest group of prisoners was sent to Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai, to be transferred three years later to Petrovsky Zavod, near Nerchinsk.[25] This group, sentenced to hard labor, included principal leaders of the Decembrist movement as well as Polish revolutionaries. Siberian Governor-General Lavinsky argued that it would be easiest to control a large, concentrated group of convicts,[24] and Emperor Nicholas I pursued this policy in order to maximize surveillance and to limit revolutionaries’ contact with local populations.[26] Concentration facilitated the guarding of prisoners, but it also allowed the Decembrists to continue to exist as a community.[24] This was especially true at Chita. The move to Petrovsky Zavod, however, forced Decembrists to divide into smaller groups; the new location was compartmentalized, with an oppressive sense of order. Convicts could no longer congregate casually. Although nothing could destroy the Decembrists’ conception of fraternity, Petrovsky Zavod forced them to live more private lives.[27] Owing to a number of imperial sentence reductions, exiles started to complete their labor terms years ahead of schedule. The labor itself was of minimal travail; Stanislav Leparsky, commandant of Petrovsky Zavod, failed to enforce Decembrists’ original labor sentences, and criminal convicts carried out much of the work in place of the revolutionaries. Most Decembrists left Petrovsky Zavod between 1835 and 1837, settling in or near Irkutsk, Minusinsk, Kurgan, Tobol’sk, Turinsk, and Yalutorovsk.[26] Those Decembrists who had already lived in or visited Siberia, such as Dimitri Zavalishin, prospered upon leaving Petrovsky Zavod’s confines, but most found it physically arduous and more psychologically unnerving than prison life.[28]

Decembrists in Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai, 1885

The Siberian population met the Decembrists with great hospitality. Natives played central roles in keeping lines of communication open among Decembrists, friends, and relatives. Most merchants and state employees were also sympathetic. To the masses, the Decembrist exiles were "generals who had refused to take the oath to Nicholas I." They were great figures that had suffered political persecution for their loyalty to the people. On the whole, indigenous Siberian populations greatly respected the Decembrists and were extremely hospitable in their reception of them.[29]

Upon arrival at places of settlement, exiles had to comply with extensive regulations under a strict governmental regime. Local police watched, regulated, and notated every move that Decembrists attempted to make. Dimitri Zavalishin was thrown into prison for failing to remove his hat before a lieutenant. Not only were political and social activities carefully monitored and prevented, there was also interference regarding religious convictions. Local clergy accused Prince Shakhovskoi of "heresy", due to his interest in natural sciences. Authorities investigated and restrained other Decembrists for not attending church.[30] The regime thoroughly censored all correspondences, especially communication with relatives. Messages were scrupulously reviewed by both officials in Siberia and the Third Division of the political intelligence service at St. Petersburg. This screening process necessitated dry, careful wording on the part of Decembrists. In the words of Bestuzhev, correspondence bore a "lifeless...imprint of officiality." [31] Under the settlement regime, allowances were extremely meager. Certain Decembrists, including the Volkonskys, the Murav’yovs, and the Trubetskoys, were rich, but the majority of exiles had no money, and were forced to live off a mere fifteen desyatins (about 16 hectares) of land, the allotment granted to each settler. Decembrists, with little to no knowledge of the land, attempted to eke out a living on wretched soil with next to no equipment. Financial aid from relatives and wealthier comrades saved many; others perished.[32]

Despite extensive restrictions, limitations, and hardships, Decembrists believed that they could improve their situation through personal initiative. A constant stream of petitions came out of Petrovsky Zavod addressed to General Leparskii and Emperor Nicholas I.[33] Most of the petitions were written by Decembrists’ wives who had nobly cast aside social privileges and comfort to follow their husbands into exile.[34] These wives joined under the leadership of Princess Mariia Volkonskaia, and by 1832, through relentless petitions, managed to secure for their men formal cancellation of labor requirements, and several privileges, including the right of husbands to live with their wives in privacy.[33] Decembrists managed to gain transfers and allowances through persuasive petitions as well as through the intervention of family members. This process of petitioning, and the resultant concessions made by the tsar and officials, was and would continue to be a standard practice of political exiles in Siberia. The chain of bureaucratic procedures and orders linking St. Petersburg to Siberian administration was often circumvented or ignored. These breaks in bureaucracy afforded exiles a small capacity for betterment and activism.[35]

Wives of many Decembrists followed their husbands into exile. The expression Decembrist wife is a Russian symbol of the devotion of a wife to her husband. Maria Volkonskaya, the wife of the Decembrist leader Sergei Volkonsky, notably followed her husband to his exile in Irkutsk. Despite the spartan conditions of this banishment, Sergei Volkonsky and his wife, Maria, took opportunities to celebrate the liberalising mode of their exile. Sergei took to wearing an untrimmed beard (rejecting Peter the Great's reforms[36] and salon fashion), wearing peasant dress and socialising with many of his peasant associates with whom he worked the land at his farm in Urik. Maria, equally, established schools, a foundling hospital and a theater for the local population.[37] Sergei returned after thirty years of his exile had elapsed, though his titles and land remained under royal possession. Other exiles preferred to remain in Siberia after their sentences were served, preferring its relative freedom to the stifling intrigues of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and after years of exile there was not much for them to return to. Many Decembrists thrived in exile, in time becoming landowners and farmers. In later years, they would become idols of the populist movement of the 1860s and the 1870s, as the Decembrists' advocacy of reform (including the abolition of serfdom) won them many admirers, the writer Leo Tolstoy among them.

During their time in exile, the Decembrists fundamentally influenced Siberian life. Their presence was most definitely felt culturally and economically, political activity being so far removed from the "pulse of national life" so as to be negligible.[38] While in Petrovsky Zavod, Decembrists taught each other foreign languages, arts and crafts, and musical instruments. They established "academies" made up of libraries, schools, and symposia.[26] In their settlements, Decembrists were fierce advocates of education, and founded many schools for natives, the first of which opened at Nerchinsk. Schools were also founded for women, and soon exceeded capacity. Decembrists contributed greatly to the field of agriculture, introducing previously unknown crops such as vegetables, tobacco, rye, buckwheat, and barley, and advanced agricultural methods such as hothouse cultivation. Trained doctors among the political exiles promoted and organized medical aid. The homes of prominent exiles like Prince Sergei Volkonsky and Prince Sergei Trubetskoi became social centers of their locales. All throughout Siberia, the Decembrists sparked an intellectual awakening: literary writings, propaganda, newspapers, and books from European Russia began to circulate the eastern provinces, the local population developing a capacity for critical political observation.[39] The Decembrists even held a certain influence within Siberian administration; Dimitry Zavalishin played a critical role in developing and advocating Russian Far East policy. Although the Decembrists lived in isolation, their scholarly activities encompassed Siberia at large, including its culture, economy, administration, population, geography, botany, and ecology.[40] Despite restricted circumstances, the Decembrists accomplished an extraordinary amount, and their work was deeply appreciated by Siberians.

On 26 August 1856, with the ascent of Alexander II to the throne, the Decembrists received amnesty, and their rights, privileges, and titles restored. Not all chose to return to the West, however. Some were financially inhibited, others had no family to return to, and many were weak with old age. To many, Siberia had become home. Those that did return to European Russia did so with enthusiasm for the enforcement of the Emancipation Reforms of 1861.[41] The exile of the Decembrists led to the permanent implantation of an intelligentsia in Siberia. For the first time, a cultural, intellectual, and political elite came to Siberian society as permanent residents; they integrated with the country and participated alongside natives in its development.[42]


With the failure of the Decembrists, Russia's autocracy would continue for almost a century, although serfdom would be officially abolished in 1861. Though defeated, the Decembrists did effect some change on the regime. Their dissatisfaction forced Nicholas to turn his attention inward to address the issues of the empire. In 1826, Speransky was appointed by Nicholas I to head the Second Section of His Imperial Majesty's Own Chancellery, a committee formed to codify Russian law. Under his leadership, the committee produced a publication of the complete collection of laws of the Russian Empire, containing 35,993 enactments. This codification called the "Full Collection of Laws" (Polnoye Sobraniye Zakonov) was presented to Nicholas I, and formed the basis for the "Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire" (Svod Zakonov Rossiskoy Imperii), the positive law valid for the Russian Empire. Speransky's liberal ideas were subsequently scrutinized and elaborated by Konstantin Kavelin and Boris Chicherin. Although the revolt was a proscribed topic during Nicholas’ reign, Alexander Herzen placed the profiles of executed Decembrists on the cover of his radical periodical Polar Star. Alexander Pushkin addressed poems to his Decembrist friends, Nikolai Nekrasov wrote a long poem about the Decembrist wives, and Leo Tolstoy started writing a novel on that liberal movement, which would later evolve into War and Peace. In the Soviet era Yuri Shaporin produced an opera entitled Dekabristi (The Decembrists), about the revolt, with the libretto written by Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy. It premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre on 23 June 1953.[43]

To some extent, the Decembrists were in the tradition of a long line of palace revolutionaries who wanted to place their candidate on the throne, but many Decembrists also wanted to implement either classical liberalism or conservatism contrary to the more Bolshevik, and even fascist, program of Pavel Pestel. The majority of Decembrists were not the members of illegal organizations similar to the participants of palace revolutions. Some were the members of the Union of Prosperity only with the official pro-governmental conservative program. But their revolt, not previous palace revolutions, has been considered the beginning of a revolutionary movement. The uprising was the first open breach between the government and reformist elements of the Russian nobility, which would subsequently widen.[44][45]

"Constantine and Constitution" anecdote

There was an anecdote that soldiers in Saint Petersburg were said to chant "Constantine and Constitution", but when questioned, many of them professed to believe that "Constitution" (which is grammatically female in Russian Konstitutsiya) was Constantine's wife.[46]

Pyotr Kakhovsky in a letter to General Levashev, mentioned the anecdote and denied it:

"The story told to Your Excellency that, in the uprising of 14 December the rebels were shouting 'Long live the Constitution!' and that the people were asking 'What is Constitution, the wife of His Highness the Grand Duke?' is not true. It is an amusing invention."[47]


1. Sherman, R and Pearce, R (2002) Pg. 23
2. David Moon. "The Abolition of Serfdom in Russia". Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2001. Page xiv
3. Mirroring the liberal reaction following the Crimean War in 1854, leading to the emancipation of the serfs in 1861
4. Pestel, quoted in A.G. Mazour 1937, p. 8
5. Nikolai N. Bolkhovitinov. The Declaration of Independence: A View from Russia The Journal of American History. Vol. 85, No. 4 (Mar., 1999), pp. 1389–1398
6. A. Etkind. Another freedom.
7. Bolkhovitinov N.N. Russian-American relations, 1815–1832, Etkind A. Interpretation of travel. Constitution of Nikita Muravyev, BBC, Ivanyan E.A. Encyclopedia of Russian-American relations. ‹See Tfd›(in Russian)
8. P. O'Meara. The Decembrist Pavel Pestel: Russia's First Republican. Springer, 2017
9. Дружинин Н. М. Революционное движение в России в XIX веке. М., 1985. С.323. Нечкина М. В. Движение декабристов. Т.1. М., 1955. С.134.
10. Peter Neville (2003) Russia: A Complete History: 120-1
11. Pavel Ivanovich Pestel.
12. United Slavs
13. Горбачевский И. И. Записки. Письма. – М., 1963. Нечкина М. В. Общество соединенных славян. – М.; Л., 1927. Оксман Ю. Г. Из истории агитационно-пропагандистской литературы 20-х гг. XIX в. // Очерки из истории движения декабристов: Сб. ст. – М., 1954.
14. Edward Crankshaw (1978) The Shadow of the Winter Palace. London, Penguin: 14–16
15. Edward Crankshaw (1978) The Shadow of the Winter Palace. London, Penguin: 15–16
16. Edward Crankshaw (1978) The Shadow of the Winter Palace. London, Penguin: 13–18
17. Материалы следственного дела С. И. Муравьёва-Апостола
18. Декабрист Евгений Оболенский о подготовке восстания на Сенатской площади
19. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 221
20. Kennan, George (1891). Siberia and the Exile System. London: James R. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co. p. 280.
21. G. R. V. Barratt, Voices in Exile (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974), 210
22. Andrew A. Gentes, "Other Decembrists: The Chizov Case and Lutskii Affair As Signifiers of The Decembrists in Siberia," Slavonica, Vol. 13, No. 2, (2007): 140
23. Andrew A. Gentes, "Other Decembrists: The Chizov Case and Lutskii Affair As Signifiers of The Decembrists in Siberia," Slavonica, Vol. 13, No. 2, (2007): 135
24. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 227
25. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 213
26. Andrew A. Gentes, "Other Decembrists: The Chizov Case and Lutskii Affair As Signifiers of The Decembrists in Siberia," Slavonica, Vol. 13, No. 2, (2007): 136
27. G. R. V. Barratt, Voices in Exile (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974), 274
28. G. R. V. Barratt, Voices in Exile (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974), 209
29. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 228
30. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 231–232
31. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 233
32. G. R. V. Barratt, Voices in Exile (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974), 303–304
33. Andrew A. Gentes, "Other Decembrists: The Chizov Case and Lutskii Affair As Signifiers of The Decembrists in Siberia," Slavonica, Vol. 13, No. 2, (2007): 137
34. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 243
35. Andrew A. Gentes, "Other Decembrists: The Chizov Case and Lutskii Affair As Signifiers of The Decembrists in Siberia," Slavonica, Vol. 13, No. 2, (2007): 139
36. When Peter introduced a more systematic form of administration in the Russian Empire through the "table of ranks", he also reformed aristocratic culture. Bureaucrats now served the state, wore European dress and had to conform to certain presentational standards (i.e., they must not wear a beard, which was associated with the old aristocracy, or the Boyar)
37. Figes, O (2002) Pg. 97
38. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 244
39. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 243–247
40. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 252–255
41. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 259
42. Anatole G. Mazour, The First Russian Revolution, 1825 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1937), 256–260
43. Arthur Jacobs and Stanley Sadie (1996) The Wordsworth Book of Opera: 555
44. George Vernadsky. Two faces of Decembrism
45. Nicholas Troitzky. Decembrists
46. Lewinski-Corwin, Edward H. (1917). The political history of Poland. New York: Polish Book Importing Co. p. 415.
47. Lualdi, Katherine J. Sources of The Making of the West, Volume II: Since 1500: Peoples and Cultures. Macmillan. p. 143. ISBN 9780312576127.


• Gabayev, G. S. (1932, in Russian). Soldaty – uchastniki zagovora i vosstaniya dekabristov (Солдаты – участники заговора и восстания декабристов), in: Dekabristy i ih vremya (Декабристы и их время), vol. 4. Moscow: VOPSP.
• Mazour, Anatole (1937). The first Russian revolution, 1825: the Decembrist movement, its origins, development, and significance. Stanford University Press. Reissue: ISBN 0-8047-0081-8, ISBN 978-0-8047-0081-8.
• Nechkina, Militsa (1984, in Russian). Dekabristy (Декабристы). Moscow: Nauka.
• Seton-Watson, Hugh (1988). The Russian empire, 1801–1917. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-822152-5, ISBN 978-0-19-822152-4.

Further reading

• Figes, Orlando (2002) Natasha's Dance: a Cultural History of Russia. London. ISBN 0-7139-9517-3
• Mazour, A.G. 1937. The First Russian Revolution, 1825: the Decembrist movement; its origins, development, and significance. Stanford University Press
• Rabow-Edling, Susanna (May 2007). "The Decembrists and the Concept of a Civic Nation". Nationalities Papers. 35 (2): 369–391. doi:10.1080/00905990701254391.
• Sherman, Russell & Pearce, Robert (2002) Russia 1815–81, Hodder & Stoughton
• Eidelman, Natan (1985) Conspiracy against the tsar, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 294 p. (Translation from the Russian by Cynthia Carlile.)
• Crankshaw, E. (1976). The Shadow of the Winter Palace: Russia's Drift to Revolution, 1825–1917. New York: Viking Press.

External links

• Decembrist exile in Irkutsk
• Decembrist exile in Siberia ‹See Tfd›(in Russian)
• Online Museum of the Decembrist movement ‹See Tfd›(in Russian)
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