Vanka Kain.

Richard Pipes was unquestionably a good historian; I’ve got a number of his books and have found them useful. As I wrote here, however, they are a mixture of annoying generalizations and enlightening details, and I dislike his general attitude — I didn’t mind his fervent anticommunism, which I share, but he also seemed to have it in for Russia and its culture in general. That’s understandable, since he was both Jewish and a native of Poland, but it still gets my back up. Anyway, I’m currently reading his The Degaev Affair: Terror and Treason in Tsarist Russia, and I recommend it without reservation — I bought it because it was praised highly by Stephen Kotkin, and it lives up to the praise. It’s short, well written, and tells an astonishing tale of betrayal and reinvention. But because I dislike Pipes, I was uncharitably pleased to come across an idiotic error on p. 115. He quotes a letter by Degaev to a fellow revolutionary in which he complains about being treated as “some kind of Van’ka-Cain” (as Pipes renders it), and there is a footnote that reads: “Van’ka-Cain: a play on the expression van’ka-vstan’ka, a person who always talks himself out of trouble.” Ho ho, no it isn’t!

Vanka Kain was “one of the most infamous criminals in Russian history… Born as the serf Ivan Osipov, he became a thief and gang leader, then worked as a police informer, and finally became a respected member of Moscow high society.” That quote is from Oleg Yegorov’s Russia Beyond article, where you can read all about his career. Furthermore, he was the protagonist of Matvei Komarov’s 1779 Obstoyatel′noe i vernoe opisanie dobrykh i zlykh del rossiiskogo moshennika, vora, razboinika i byvshego moskovskogo syshchika Van′ki Kain [A detailed and true description of the deeds good and evil of the Russian scoundrel, thief, robber, and former Moscow detective Vanka Kain]; known for short as Van′ka Kain, it “reached more readers than almost any other Russian novel, with a publication history spanning close to one hundred years,” according to David Gasperetti’s article on Komarov in the Dictionary of Literary Biography (see this LH post). As you can see at the Национальный корпус русского языка, he’s still being referred to in this century. It betrays an astonishing ignorance of Russian culture not to recognize the name; this is what happens when you specialize in the history of a country you can’t stand. You learn the basics, but you don’t pick up the fun stuff.

Comments

  1. SFReader says:

    Terrorist Degayev who betrayed his comrades to the Tsarist secret police later emigrated to the United States and became famous American mathematician under name of Dr. Alexander Pell.

    He lived in your town, I think – in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

  2. I haven’t gotten to the end yet, but I see from the Wikipedia article that in 1911 “the Pells moved to South Hadley, Massachusetts where Anna taught at Mount Holyoke College. In 1918 they moved again to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania where Anna taught at Bryn Mawr College.” We actually live in Hadley, not South Hadley, but it’s only 20 minutes away by car.

  3. Another surprise: Degaev was the grandson of Nikolai Polevoi, a long-forgotten writer and editor who is one of my heroes (see this post)!

  4. SFReader says:

    Story of Van’ka Cain (18th century professional gangster who got himself hired by the police to catch other criminals in Moscow, predictably used government support to destroy all competition and become supreme boss of Moscow criminal underground, eventually got too greedy and was exiled to Siberia for his crimes) is eerily reminiscent of what gendarme colonel Sudeikin wanted Degayev to do.

    If we believe what Degayev later reported, a high ranking secret police functionary Sudeikin recruited terrorist Degayev to assassinate his own bosses in the secret police and the government in order to advance Sudeikin’s career.

    Similarly, Sudeikin would arrest all of Degayev’s rivals leaving him the unquestioned leader of the terrorist group.

    Eventually, Sudeikin, future chief of Russian secret police, and Degayev future leader of Russian revolutionary terrorists, working in tandem would seize power in Russia and carry out necessary social reforms.

    Fantastic and original conspiracy for 19th century.

  5. I guess, the fact that Pipes transliterates Osipov’s nickname as Cain shows that he understands where it comes from, unless he blindly copied it from some English language source. Another hypo is that there is some semantic contamination with Иван, не помнящий родства (Ivan, not remembering his kin). Originally the name given by sundry criminals to the authorities (or, I guess, by the authorities dealing with uncooperative arrestee), but in more literary interpretation developed first into “low class, ungrateful, should know better” person and then into someone who doesn’t acknowledge and respect their predecessors (anyone as submerged into 19c. Russian literature as our host will immediately recognize the type).

    ADDENDUM: Esteemed LH opinion notwithstanding, I doubt that a prominent American who writes books on Degaev and Itinerant painters is not fascinated by Russia. Have he’d been a Russian himself, it could be just a day job, but for Pipes it surely was a passion project.

  6. AJP Crown says:

    Nikolay Polevoy is the main hero of “Izlomanny Arshin” (“Broken Arshin”) novel by Samuil Lurie.[9]

    From the Wiki it sounds like Degayev – Pell would make a good novel and or movie hero. He shot the secret police inspector, disappeared and became a docker, told a lot of jokes and founded a school of engineering. He could be played by anyone from Javier Bardem to Steve Martin.

  7. I guess, the fact that Pipes transliterates Osipov’s nickname as Cain shows that he understands where it comes from

    No, you’re missing the point. He’s clearly never heard of Osipov/Kain. Read the footnote again.

    Esteemed LH opinion notwithstanding, I doubt that a prominent American who writes books on Degaev and Itinerant painters is not fascinated by Russia. Have he’d been a Russian himself, it could be just a day job, but for Pipes it surely was a passion project.

    I didn’t say he wasn’t fascinated by Russia; of course he was. I said he disliked it. Many people are fascinated by things they loathe.

  8. He’s clearly never heard of Osipov/Kain. Read the footnote again.

    Sure, he is confused. But why does he translated the name Cain?

  9. Because Каин in Russian is Cain in English, if you’re talking about the Biblical/Byronic figure (Venichka’s Манфред и Каин). He thought somehow Cain was being blended with ванька-встанька.

  10. Exactly!

    I never read anything by Pipes, but judging from his wiki bio, he fell into all too usual groove of treating Russian 19c. and prerevolutionary history as a fight between old order and revolutionaries and, on the intellectual level, between Westernizers and Slavophiles. And not only that, but sort of continuing this W vs. S debate. This shows huge blind spot, but many people who undoubtedly loved Russia were thinking about the same lines.

  11. SFReader says:

    “I love Germany so much I’m glad there are two of them” (c) some French politician during the Cold War.

    That’s exactly the kind of love Richard Pipes had towards Russia.

    “Richard Pipes: It seems to me that Russia is too big a country. You have never been able to govern this country. It would be much better if Siberia departed, and you would be only Russia. Of course, this is impossible. But for you it is a big problem. It seems to me that you have never had enough financial resources to manage such a country well… To manage well, to avoid corruption, you need to have money. If there is no money, then you do not need to be such a big country…

    Question: Can we say that Russia’s size plays a negative role?

    Richard Pipes: Probably. Fifteen years ago I gave an interview to one of your newspapers, in which I said that it would be better for Russia to be a small country. Americans need a small Russia. Even without Siberia, Russia would remain large. I think Russia is so big a country that it cannot be governed.” (c) Richard Pipes at the “round table” conference organized by “Liberal Mission” Fund, Moscow, July 27, 2009.

  12. Yup, that’s him all right! Russia delenda est…

  13. The error is bizarre. There’s even a Wikipedia page about Van’ka Kain: https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%92%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%8C%D0%BA%D0%B0-%D0%9A%D0%B0%D0%B8%D0%BD

    Perhaps such didn’t exist when Pipes wrote the book. But even if one misses the reference, how does one confidently leap to asserting something else entirely in a footnote?

  14. Famous scholars have total confidence in themselves.

  15. Yup, that’s him all right! Russia delenda est…

    Aha! But it is just a geopolitical nonsense multiplied by economic nonsense. But I cannot fit interest in Degaev and Itinerant painters. I mean, Degaev can be a parabola on eternally corrupt Russian state (but then he should have seized Vanka Cain’s story!), but painters?

    “I love Germany so much I’m glad there are two of them”

    But there were 3 of them or even 3.5.

  16. Also see Yury Davydov’s short novel, Glukhaya pora listopada, published in 1975. (The title, roughly “The dead season of leaf-fall,” is the first line of a fine Pasternak poem from 1941.) Degayev is one of its central characters.

  17. Yes, Pipes cites it.

  18. Bill W. says:

    It seemed to me that Pipes’ account in his book on the Russian Revolution was permeated by a strange cognitive dissonance. He kept insisting that the far left would not have triumphed had the enlightened bourgeoisie not opposed head-on the incompetent and autocratic Czarist regime but instead had lent its support to moderating and modernizing figures within the regime such as Witte and Stolypin and had pressed for the regime to change itself. In other words, he blamed the liberals for the triumph of Bolshevism.

    But the narrative itself showed how these moderately progressive figures in the government were unsuccessful because any efforts at reform or modernization were undermined at every turn by reactionary forces within the regime . . . and of course Stolypin was assassinated, probably by an agent of the secret police. What avenue was there for the enlightened bourgeoisie to affect policy after the dissolution of the First Duma?

    And by the way, I thought the first volume of Stephen Kotkin’s biography of Stalin was the best account of the Russian Revolution I’ve read so far.

  19. Yes, it’s superb, and so is the second; I’m waiting impatiently for the third!

  20. PlasticPaddy says:

    @sfr 18 July
    François Mauriac is credited by Jacques Chancel in Chancel’s book Le Temps d’un Regard (published after the death of Mauriac) with the quote. But I am unable to find corroboration (if Mauriac said it, my guess is that he did so in a private communication/conversation with the French ambassador in Bonn).

  21. Compare Bismarck’s famous quote which there’s no good evidence that he actually said (Germans don’t seem to know it exists).

  22. John Cowan says:

    As I just pointed out on another page, Daniel Pipes is postfiguring his father’s career by studying what he loathes (Islam in his case).

  23. David Marjanović says:

    But there were 3 of them or even 3.5.

    Not by their own understanding since 1945, or anyone else’s beside the Nazis.

  24. “I love Germany so much I’m glad there are two of them”

    Alan Coren’s “Xenophobe’s Guide to Europe”: “Germany previously consisted of a lot of small countries fighting each other. Then they joined up and started fighting everyone else. Currently [1970s] they are divided again and once more fighting each other.”

    Also the even better: “French history, or ‘gloire’, begins with Charlemagne and ends with Charlemagne. Everything subsequently has been in the hands of bizarre paranoiacs who thought they were God (Louis XIV) or thought they were Charlemagne (Napoleon) or thought they were God and Louis XIV and Charlemagne and Napoleon (de Gaulle).”

  25. Not by their own understanding since 1945, or anyone else’s beside the Nazis.

    Sorry, David. Austrians and Germans firmly believe they live in separate countries. No one else does. Of course, Canadians suffer from a similar problem. And a shocking number of Europeans, and even the occasional English person, believe that the Republic of Ireland is part of the UK.

  26. A surprising number of people believe that the Republic of Texas is part of the US.

  27. AJP Crown says:

    even the occasional English person believes that the Republic of Ireland is part of the UK.

    It’s one of the variables. “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before Brexit.”

  28. OK, that gave me a good laugh.

  29. J.W. Brewer says:

    The Romanov rulers from at least Peter the Great through 1917 had a title that is sometimes Englished as Emperor/Autocrat/Czar/Tsar “of All Russia” and other times as “of All the Russias.” Does it exist in both singular and plural forms in Russian, or is it only one of those but some translators have found the more literal rendering less idiomatic in English? If it’s supposed to be plural is there a traditional count of exactly how many different Russias are being referred to (which I guess could have even varied over time?), or is it more of a poetic conceit and/or strategically vague, so that’s just not a sensible question to ask?

  30. SFReader says:

    According to the concept developed in 17th century, Russian emperor was the tsar of Great Russia (now Russia proper), Little Russia (now the Ukraine) and White Russia (now Belarus).

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    In a count of n.5 Germanies, is the 0.5 added to the total by Luxembourg? Or the South Tyrol? Or some other option I haven’t thought of?

  32. Or New Braunfels? Speaking of the republic of Texas which these Germans plotted to take over, but never quite succeeded

  33. The Romanov rulers from at least Peter the Great through 1917 had a title that is sometimes Englished as Emperor/Autocrat/Czar/Tsar “of All Russia” and other times as “of All the Russias.” Does it exist in both singular and plural forms in Russian, or is it only one of those but some translators have found the more literal rendering less idiomatic in English?

    In Russian it’s Государь всея Руси ‘of all Rus’‘; this is sort of a summary of various longer titles like великого княжения Владимирского и всея Руси ‘of the great princedom of Vladimir and of all Rus’.’

    There are also a bunch of historical “Russias” you’ll see on old maps, like White Rus’/Russia, Red Rus’/Russia, and so on, but that’s a different thing.

  34. SFReader says:

    Soviet Union never recognized annexation of West Berlin by the Federal Republic of Germany and continued to regard it as a separate entity under American, British and French military occupation.

    Federal Republic of Germany also annexed the protectorate of Saarland in 1957 by agreement with France (which occupied Saarland since 1945).

    Finally, from the point of view of the Soviet Union, the Federal Republic of Germany itself was an unrecognized self-proclaimed state until 1955.

  35. J.W. Brewer says:

    So why would singular “of all Rus'” get rendered into English as plural “of all [the] Russias”? I could understand if a Russian plural were represented by an English singular on the grounds that the plural sounded odd or less idiomatic in English. (We even do this for the Lord’s Prayer, where a literal reading of both the Latin and Greek would be “in [the] heavens,” but it comes out as just “in heaven” in English.) But the other way around seems odd.

  36. SFReader says:

    Tsar Alexis since 1654 styled himself “Sovereign, Tsar and Grand Prince and of All the Great and Little and White Russias Autocrat” (Gosudar’, Tsar’ i Velikiy knyaz’ vseya Velikiya i Malyya i Belyya Rossii Samoderzhets).

    That’s why it’s still plural in English.

  37. vseya Velikiya i Malyya i Belyya Rossii
    But it is not plural, is it? It’s like Black, White and Tan love from the song.

    Plural Genitive for Russia is Россий, not России (the latter is Gen. sing.)

    Apropos, there is a 6 Russias project (not many things, understandably, come up in google search for plurals of Russia, but one of the very first ones is right on target)
    https://www.svoboda.org/a/29657219.html

  38. SFReader says:

    I suppose it’s kind of trinitarian thing – there are three Russias, but they are at the same time “single and indivisible”

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    But are they consubstantial?

  40. is the 0.5 added to the total by Luxembourg?

    I assumed the 0.5 refers to German speaking Switzerland. Luxembourg is another 0.1 and Liechtenstein is 0.031.

    South Tyrol, if graffiti in Vienna is to be believed, is simply part of Austria.

  41. L’Austria irredenta!

  42. AJP Crown says:

    there were 3 of them or even 3.5

    Bizonia > 1947ish: Trizonia + W. Berlin?

  43. J.W. Brewer says:

    Maybe Rus’ is best understood, in Russian, as a mass noun rather than a count noun? That could give a translator some discretionary leeway …

  44. SFReader says:

    Yes, in Old Russian, Rus’ sometimes behaved as if it was plural, eg, “pridosha Rus” (the Rus came) which makes clear from the form of the verb used that it is plural.

    The problem is that in Old Russian, same word (Rus’) was used both for the people and the country.

    Obviously the word for the people can be plural (the Russians), but how to distinguish it from the word for the country since they are exactly the same?

  45. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma!

  46. Dmitry Pruss says:

    Wikipedia makes me assume that the plural in Engl. Russias came from a different titular form, the post-1721 adjective Всероссийский (All-Russian), which doesn’t clearly imply plural or singular Russia (unlike the forms … of All Russia/ … of X,Y, and Z Russia which preceded it). Apparently Peter I compressed the multi-word form into a single adjective for better conformity with the titles elsewhere in Europe.

  47. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    There are also the Two Sicilies

  48. Trond Engen says:

    Dmitry: Apropos, there is a 6 Russias project

    I can’t get much out of that radio program, but let me guess: Novogardia, Muscovy, Tartary, Cossackia, Siberia, Amuria (or Baikalia)?

  49. @J. W. Brewer: Unless I have regularly been misreading it, I think that title is more usually rendered with “all the Russians” in English, which is perfectly idiomatic.

    @SFReader: All parties agreed that, technically, Germany was still under four-powers occupation until the 1990s. The Federal Republic was, de facto, a sovereign state, but it had no permanent constitution, a provisional capital, and other technical restrictions. (There was no push to create a true constitution after reunification though.) Some of the restrictions involved Berlin, and, by necessity, there were still some aspects of running the city that had to be carried out cooperatively by the Allied Control Council. The ACC had almost entirely ceased to function by 1948, with the onset of the Cold War, but it still cooperated enough to manage Spandau Prison up until Hess’s death.

  50. J.W. Brewer says:

    I can’t speak for what texts Brett has been reading or misreading, but for example here’s the official purchase agreement for Alaska, in the form of a treaty between the U.S.A. and “his Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias.” There’s no Russian text, but the parallel—column French gives “l’Empereur de toutes les Russies.” https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsl&fileName=015/llsl015.db&recNum=572

  51. SFReader says:

    That’s French thing, not Russian.

    Russian imperial title never referred to the Russian (or any other) people, only to countries and territories.

    Unlike the Empereur des Français

  52. SFReader says:

    Full title:

    By the Grace of God, We Nicholas, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod; Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan, Tsar of Poland, Tsar of Siberia, Tsar of Tauric Chersonesus, Lord of Pskov, and Grand Prince of Smolensk, Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia, and Finland; Prince of Estonia, Livonia, Courland and Semigalia, Samogitia, Bielostok, Karelia, Tver, Yugor, Perm, Vyatka, Bogar and others; Sovereign and Grand Prince of Nizhni Novgorod, Chernigov, Ryazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Jaroslavl, Beloozero, Udoria, Obdoria, Kondia, Vitebsk, Mstislav, and Ruler of all the northern countries; Sovereign and Lord of Iveria, Kartalinia, the Kabardian lands and Armenian province: Sovereign and Possessor of the Circassian and Mountain Princes and of others; Sovereign of Turkestan, Heir of Norway, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, Stormarn, Dithmarschen, and Oldenburg, and so forth, and so forth, and so forth.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    Austrians and Germans firmly believe they live in separate countries. No one else does.

    Not as many as those who confuse Austria with Australia!

    “all the Russians”

    Zar aller Reußen with a really interesting vowel (compare Preußen < *prūsi-). I have not encountered that form outside the title; everywhere else, “Russians” is Russen and has been for a long time.

    Empereur des Français

    That was a major innovation by Napoleon, whose predecessors were rois de France et de Navarre.

    It opened various floodgates, and now we’re saddled with a roi des Belges

  54. John Cowan says:

    But are they consubstantial?

    Entweder transsubstantiality oder consubstantiality but in no case subsubstantiality.”

    There are also the Two Sicilies

    Of which at most one, and sometimes zero, were actually Sicily, depending on the time frame.

    Novogardia, Muscovy, Tartary, Cossackia, Siberia, Amuria

    The English-speaking nations include Rightpondia and Begrudgeria in Europe Leftpondia and Northicia (tetrasyllabic) in America, Bharattia and Qasimia in South Asia, Sarfeffrica and Cecilia in Southern Africa, Scamfundia in West Africa, North and South Safaria in East Africa, and Downundria and Aotearoa in Oceania. Island nations include Lumpia off East Asia, Rafflia off South Asia, and Dreadlockia in the Caribbean. Rightpondia may further be divided into the six sub-nations of Londonia, Eboracia, Stannia, Bagpipia, N’Iron, and Quaint.

    By the Grace of God, We Nicholas

    “King of Spain, King of Castile, King of León, King of Aragon, King of the Two Sicilies, King of Jerusalem…”

    That was a major innovation by Napoleon

    Not so much. By the half-forgotten first (written) constitution of France, 1791-92, Louis XVI bore the title le roi des Français, and it was this that Louis-Philippe was imitating. Of the three current pretenders, the (Spanish) Legitimist is “King of France and Navarre”, the Orleanist is “King of the French”, and the Bonapartist is “Emperor of the French”. Of course the Carolingians were Francorum reges.

  55. Not as many as those who confuse Austria with Australia!

    I always thought this was a myth, used to sell those ubiquitous “no kangaroos here” t-shirts. But a few years ago an American back in NYC actually did tell me that I must love living here, what with the beaches and surfing and all.

  56. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Our kings (and more famously our queen) were ‘of Scots’ rather than ‘of Scotland’.

  57. Rodger C says:

    They’re not three incomprehensibles, but one incomprehensible.

  58. David Marjanović says:

    By the half-forgotten first (written) constitution of France, 1791-92, Louis XVI bore the title le roi des Français, and it was this that Louis-Philippe was imitating.

    Oh! I didn’t know that.

    Of course the Carolingians were Francorum reges.

    Sure, but that was left over from the time when the Franks, king included, were on the move instead of ruling a defined territory.

    I always thought this was a myth

    It’s not as common as we’re taught in Austria. But with Austria being less prominent in the world than Australia, plenty of people who do know both just mishear Austria as Australia – and that I’ve experienced plenty of times.

    T-shirts and such: https://www.google.com/search?q=no+kangaroos+in+austria

  59. SFReader says:

    The funniest and surprisingly common mishearing is to mishear Mongolia as Angola…

  60. David Marjanović says:

    That is just awesome.

  61. SFReader says:

    There is an extremely funny short story by Veller based on this mishearing.

    Briefly, in socialist times, there is a showing of foreign movies for Soviet officials who must make a decision whether to approve it for Soviet audiences or not.

    Due to mishearing, a translator for an Angolan movie is ordered. Being Soviet Russia, no Portuguese translator could be found at the time, so they sent a translator for Spanish, figuring the languages are similar anyway, so it should suffice.

    Spanish translator comes and realizes to his horror that the foreign movie is not Angolan at all, it’s actually Mongolian and he knows not a word in this language.

    He ends up inventing the dialogue outright for the entire movie, making it into a homosexual love story between two Mongolian herders.

  62. Монгольское кино. You can hear it read aloud here.

  63. AJP Crown says:

    Стенокардия называлась режиссерский геморрой.
    Angina pectoris was called uncut hemorrhoids? WTF?

  64. SFReader says:

    “Angina was nicknamed movie director’s hemorrhoids”.

    Meaning heart problems were a kind of professional disease for movie directors – due to unending stress, I assume.

    Anyway, the whole thing is largely untranslatable. Too much sixties/seventies Soviet slang. I sort don’t get all the nuances either, too young probably…

  65. AJP Crown says:

    Aha. That makes more sense. Thanks, SF!

  66. Stu Clayton says:

    The implicit message is: hemorrhoids are at the bottom of human woes. That’s in line with my recent statement that the seat of the self is the rear end. That was laughed off by many, but now they’re laughing out of the other side of their mouths. I should be careful, though, since probably they’ll be itching for revenge.

  67. And the anus is the other side of the mouth, I suppose?

  68. Stu Clayton says:

    Yes ! I refer to Burroughs “The Man Who Taught His Asshole To Speak” in Naked Lunch. It’s a tale for our times. Not high literature, natch.

  69. A remake of Gogol’s The Nose occurred to me, and I dismissed it as too obvious and unsubtle.

  70. John Cowan says:

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