Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Want a Smoke?

What is essential to sarcasm is that it is overt irony intentionally used by the speaker as a form of verbal aggression.
-        John Haiman

The essence of sarcasm is the intention of giving pain by (ironical or other) bitter words.
-        Henry Watson Fowler


The White Sea–Baltic Canal, often abbreviated to White Sea Canal (Belomorkanal) is a ship canal in Russia opened on 2 August 1933. It connects the White Sea, in the Arctic Ocean, with Lake Onega, which is further connected to the Baltic Sea.

From Mikhail Morukov (PDF):

The notion of a canal that would connect the Baltic and White Seas through the eastern territories of Karelia dates back to Peter the Great, who three hundred years ago made the first transfer of sea crafts from the White Sea to the Baltic Sea.

The equipment required to build the canal was too expensive – this could not be accommodated within the budget; no currency was to be allotted for the purchase of equipment from abroad.  There was a solution:

It is worthy of note that at the first discussion of the canal project, Stalin had concluded that the canal should be built by the OGPU – that is, by prison labor.

And the cost objectives were to be met, or else:

A letter from Stalin to Molotov dated September 7, 1930, stated that, “I heard Rykov and Kviring want to halt the progress of the Northern canal despite the decision of the Politburo. Therefore it is necessary to attack and punish them. It is also necessary to reduce the finance plan to a minimum.”

From Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago:

The engineers say” We will make the structure of concrete.”  The Chekists reply: “There is not enough time.”  The engineers say: “We need large quantities of iron.”  The Chekists reply: “Replace it with wood!”  The engineers say: “We need tractors, cranes, construction machinery!”  The Chekists reply: “There will be none of that, not one kopeck of foreign exchange: do it all by hand.”

Estimates of the number of deaths realized during construction range from 12,000 to 24,000; I have even seen an estimate as high as 240,000 – but this seems quite the outlier.

Continuing with Solzhenitsyn:

We were in such a rush that we brought in people from Tashkent for this northern project, hydrotechnologists and irrigation experts (arrested, as it happened, at the most opportune time).  With them a Special (once again, special, a favorite word!) Design Bureau was set up on Furkasovsky Lane…

The construction of the canal by Gulag labor was deemed a success.  Returning to Morukov:

Large infrastructure projects scheduled for construction by civilian ministries were turned over to the Gulag. By the mid-1930s, the Gulag was the Soviet Union’s largest construction organization.

So, what about the smoke?  And the sarcasm?

Belomorkanal is a cigarette brand originally made by the Uritsky Tobacco Factory in Leningrad, Soviet Union, since 1932. The brand was introduced to commemorate the construction of the White Sea–Baltic Canal, also known as the Belomorkanal.

The brand became popular in most of the Soviet Bloc countries due to their low price. They are famed as one of the strongest cigarettes available in Eastern Europe (if not the strongest in the world).


Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, The Gulag Archipelago has been officially published and since 2009, it has been included in the high school curriculum in Russia as mandatory reading.


  1. Would highly recommend that anyone who hasn't read any of the Gulag Archipelago to give it a shot. You can search it up at Archive.org and listen to it on the phone on your journey in to work. At three 700 page volumes it's hard to summarize or boil down. Suffice to say it could be the single most devastating indictment of communism/socialism and it's real-life effects. It might be even better to read or listen to it if you think you're oppressed in any way, that's oppression.

    1. I agree on all points. I would only add - this oppression started on day 1 - with Lenin. It wasn't Stalin that somehow spoiled the perfection of communism.

    2. Also read his deliberately ignored work 200 Years Together where the context of the atrocities is put into focus.


  2. Agreed, Solzhenitsyn has a horrifying chapter on the beginning of the Gulag at Solovetsky Island and doesn't let Lenin off the hook.

    "After the October Revolution, the islands attained notoriety as the site of the first Soviet prison camp (gulag).[5] The camp was inaugurated in 1921, while Vladimir Lenin was still at the helm of Soviet Russia."

    Just the thought of those events can ruin your day. Definitely a societal arrangement to be avoided at all costs.

  3. "I'd walk a mile for a Belomorkanal."

    Hmmmm, doesn't quite work, does it?

    1. a mile...at 50 below zero, in ten feet of snow, with a burlap sack for clothes.

    2. Lol, I wouldn't make it in the Russian advert business.

  4. That evil guy Putin forcing those students to read that book. No wonder they get all jazzed up to effect our elections ...