Bourgeois propaganda diligently imposes on the layman the image of the beautiful pre-war Latvian Republic, which was “ahead of the rest of the planet” and whose life was cut short so suddenly without any internal reasons. State propaganda is always carried out in the interests of the ruling class, and therefore it is not difficult to guess that this image is unlikely to stand up to a truly scientific test.
The purpose of the propaganda of the capitalist state cannot be the dissemination of truth; this would be of no use to the capitalists. Its goal is different, and it is clear: to isolate the Latvian people from the historical experience of the class struggle of the proletariat and, using bourgeois-nationalist demagogy, deprive them of the opportunity to fight for their fundamental interests and turn them into obedient slaves of the Western imperialists and their henchmen.
Ignoring the presence of class contradictions on the body of Latvian society, the ruling clique is trying to inspire the inviolability and non-alternativeness of the bourgeois order, assures that bourgeois Latvia is the only possible free Latvia and that there have never been and cannot be alternatives to the bourgeois regime. And whoever doesn’t like it is an agent of Moscow/Beijing/Pyongyang/Havana (underline as appropriate). Moreover, replacing the concept of loyalty to the Motherland with loyalty to the bourgeois order, parasitizing on the search for an external enemy, distorting and vulgarizing the great ideals of independence, freedom and democracy, the ruling clique inspires that there are no irreconcilable contradictions between the exploited and the exploiter, that the farm laborer and the kulak, the worker and the capitalist, Ultimately, the wolf and the sheep are one, because together we are Latvians, and therefore we must stand together against the mythical “Russian invaders”.
Moreover, the Russian occupiers are not called soldiers of the Red Army, but people who were born and lived all their lives in Latvia. This is done not only on the pages of newspapers, but also from the parliamentary platform. It comes to the fact that even children are occupiers.
Propaganda is trying to completely erase from the memory of the people another Latvia, the Soviet republic of workers and peasants, which has its own heroic history. In this Latvia there was no place for national enmity, for people living at someone else’s expense, or for imperialist influence. Latvia, for which they fought with a warm heart, sacrificing their lives. Soviet Latvia, one of the first countries in the world to start building socialism, gained worldwide fame thanks to the legendary red Latvian arrows and became a radiant beacon of freedom for the working people. It is this Latvia that is being hidden by state-owned agitators who are mortally afraid of it.
In this article, we will talk about one of the brightest, now unfairly forgotten representatives of labor Latvia – the Latgalian revolutionary Jon Zvidra.
Jons Zvidra (1895-1920) was born in the Makashensky volost of the Rezhitsky district in a poor peasant family. He graduated from the parish and city schools in 1908, and then from the Catholic gymnasium with a silver (according to other sources: with a gold) medal in 1917. After graduating from the gymnasium, Zvidra began to study at the Petrograd Polytechnic Institute, but in August 1918 he also entered the Faculty of Law (according to other sources: philological) of Petrograd University, but never finished it.
Living in St. Petersburg, he met several well-known figures of the Latgalian awakening (Latgalian petty-bourgeois nationalism) of that time: Francis Kemp (1876-1952), Kazimir Skrinda (1875-1919) and others. During the same period, he also did editorial work for the Drywa newspaper. During his studies, Zwidra developed tense relations with some members of the clergy, especially with the former teacher Peteris Apshinek (1887-1942).
In the spring of 1917, Zvidra returned to Rezekne for a while and, together with Dominik Esta (1890-1938), a communist and later the head of the revolutionary committee of the Drican Volost, organized a group of Bolshevik agitators who traveled around the surrounding villages.
Latgale is an original cultural and historical region in the east of Latvia. It is unique in that the Latgalian language, one of the progenitors of the Latvian language, was preserved and became the literary language on its territory, which was not subject to German influence and the influence of the artificial Newspeak of Young Latvians. In the Latgale region, its own identical culture was also formed with a noticeable influence of the cultures of the Slavic peoples (Polish and Belarusian). The Baltics have been and remain the arena of battles between the great powers. After the collapse of Livonia in 1561 and after the Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629), the territory of Latgale came under the control of the Commonwealth, which caused its alienation from other Latvian lands and inhibition of its development. Latgale joined the Russian Empire in 1772 after the first division of the Commonwealth, administratively became part of the first Pskov province, and later the Vitebsk province. From 1865, the publication of books in Latin script was prohibited. This ban also affected the Latgalian language and remained in force until 1904. During the period of prohibition, only Catholic texts and handwritten editions were available, which became fertile ground for clericalism. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, in addition to the oppression of the autocracy, feudal remnants, national oppression and already developed capitalist contradictions, contradictions also formed between the industrially developed part of Latvia and the backward peasant petty-bourgeois Latgale. Only a revolution could resolve these contradictions.
The result of the bourgeois-democratic revolution of February-March 1917 in Latgale was the April Congress of the Latgale Congress of Representatives. Who were its delegates and what were their goals? One of them is Franz Trasun, a representative of the clergy and the big rural bourgeoisie. His political ideal was the unification of Latvia and Latgale without the latter’s right to broad autonomy, an ideal apparently fueled by the hope of successfully integrating into the new national-bourgeois Latvian ruling circles (this hope was partially justified in the future, and Trasun became a deputy of the Seimas of the 1st and 2nd convocations ). In contrast to him was the petty-bourgeois position of the Latgalian nationalist Francis Kemp. He believed that the inclusion of Latgale into Latvia would not change the situation of the backward Latgale, that it would become a servant of the rest of Latvia, and the Latgalians would be assimilated. Therefore, Latgale, in his opinion, needed broad autonomy.
Of all 283 congress delegates, only 39 people were representatives of the working people, so the congress was the spokesman for the interests of the bourgeoisie. The Latgale Congress was a body that did not decide anything, because it did not have any powers. It was an empty bourgeois talking shop. The congress adopted a resolution on striving for the unification of Latgale with Latvia, but in reality no one took responsibility for how this unification would be implemented. Moreover, the organization of such political bodies along national and not class lines immediately led to the adoption of conflicting resolutions. Already on July 15, 1917, as a response to the Latgale Congress, the Latgale Russians’ gathering announced their desire to remain part of the Vitebsk province. Only the Soviet congress of the Latgalian districts of the Vitebsk province, convened by the Bolsheviks on a class basis with the representation of the working people, was able to finally resolve the Latgalian issue. The Latgalian language became one of the state languages of the Latvian SSR.
Zvidra was a participant in the April Latgale Congress, and was also elected to the Latgale Provisional Land Council (LVZS), but defiantly left it, protesting against the lack of representation of workers.
In subsequent years, this aspect was also covered by the Soviet press, for example, in October 1968, the magazine Karogs wrote in its publication about Zvidra: “On May 1, 1917, a large meeting of workers was organized in Rezekne. Jons Zwidra delivered an impassioned and eloquent speech at a workers’ rally. He sharply and harshly criticized the reactionaries, exposed the treacherous policy of the Provisional Government, resolutely opposed the church and the landowners as traitors and thieves.
The attitude of the future revolutionary towards the LVZS is described in his brochure “Oktobra rewolucejas swātki”: “Latgales kongress dzemdējis mirušu bērnu – Latgales Zemes padomi.” In subsequent years, he also opposed other leaders of the Latgalian awakening – Stanislav Kambala (1893-1941), Boleslav Grishan (1894-1983), Kazimir Skrinda (1875-1919) and others.
Comparisons of Jon Zvidra LVZS with a dead child were quickly justified, because attempts in a conciliatory way to ask the bourgeois Provisional Government of Russia to transfer the powers of zemstvos to LVZS and create a separate electoral list for elections to the constituent assembly, completely failed. In addition, members of the LVZS later stained themselves with cooperation with the German occupiers.
In 1918, Zvidra returned to the city of Rezekne, occupied by the Germans, to organize illegal work.
At the end of November 1918, the Workers ’and Peasants’ Red Army entered Latvia and by the end of January of the following year had already liberated most of the territory of Latvia from German occupation. Soviet power was also established in Rezekne. Zvidra actively participated in the work of the Rezekne district branch of the Communist Party of Latvia (KPL), as well as in the administrative department of the Rezekne Executive Committee, was engaged in agitation and propaganda work of Bolshevik ideas. Together with his colleagues Adolf Zarkevich (1897-1963) and Janis Opintsan (1899-1973), he actively participated in the work of the editorial office of the Latgale district newspaper “Taisneiba” (Pravda) of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania, as well as the newspaper “Power of the Poor”. His comrade-in-arms and colleague in journalism, later a social democrat and a deputy of the Seimas of the Republic of Latvia, Janis Opincans, described Zvidra in his memoirs as follows: “A person with a pleasant appearance, simple, with prudent speech, a train of thought, looks older than his years.”
In 1918, Zvidra translated into Latgalian the work “Communist (Bolshevik) Program” by the famous Soviet politician Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938). He also translated various articles by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924).
In his writings, Zwidra touched on many historical, political and economic issues and at the same time propagated the communist view of the class struggle, agrarian issues, etc. In one of his publications in May 1919, speaking of the class struggle and “the efforts of the communists to enlightenment of the people”, Zvidra concluded:
“Nawajag aizmērst, ka kas na ar mums, tys pret myusim, widejo celia naw.” (“We must not forget that whoever is not with us is against us, there is no middle way”) In Soviet literature, he is often called the founder of the Latgalian Bolshevik press.
In parallel with his work in periodicals, Zvidra also took part in political activities and in 1919 became a member of the Central Committee of the Latvian Communist Youth League in Riga. Zwidra’s own belief in communist ideals is confirmed by his thoughts:
“Ar Padūmju Krīvijas un Latvijas strōdnīku šķiru uz socialismu – taids un tikai taids ir Latgolas ceļš.”
“With the working class of Soviet Russia and Latvia to socialism – such and only such is the Latgale path.”
Jons Zvidra, as a consistent proletarian internationalist, well understood the combat missions of the revolutionary proletariat of Latgale, educated the youth in the spirit of proletarian internationalism, and clearly showed that the Latvian people can win their freedom only if they go along with the great Russian people.
Zvidra headed the Latgale Komsomol organization, and also began to publish its magazine Jaunatnes cīņa (Youth Struggle).
Jons Zvidra gave lectures to teachers and students of party courses, participated in organizing the economic and social life of Soviet Latvia.
Under Soviet rule (1918-1920), the land and enterprises were nationalized, and an 8-hour working day was established. The construction commissariat worked vigorously, organizing the restoration of structures destroyed by the war and creating small industrial enterprises. A kindergarten, an orphanage, a boarding house began to work. Pedagogical courses were held to train personnel for the speedy elimination of illiteracy. For the first time, education was free, children were taught in their own language, and school was separated from the church. A teacher’s choir, a working club “Culture” functioned in the city, the activity of the Latgale theater became more active, many cultural events were held. Reading rooms were organized in all volosts, and the People’s Library was opened in the city. The first Soviet books in Latgalian were published. Hospitals and pharmacies were nationalized, free treatment was introduced.
In 1919-1920, during fierce battles with the Entente interventionists, Latvian, Estonian and Russian White Guards, as well as with the German Landeswehr; due to economic difficulties, hunger, the redirection of significant forces of the personnel of the Latvian riflemen to the South of Russia to fight Denikin, the Soviet government lost control over most of the territory of Latvia, and the city of Rezekne became the temporary capital. All political, cultural and economic life in Soviet Latvia was now concentrated there.
In January 1920, the forces of the bourgeois Republic of Latvia and intervention took the town of Rezekne. Soviet power fell, the government of the LSSR dissolved itself, but the struggle was not over…
After the fall of Soviet power, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania entrusted Jon Zvidra to lead the Latgalian Komsomol underground and organize an illegal printing house. Zvidra created it in the house of his brother Stanislav in the village of Shkerbinieku (now it is the territory of the village of Makasheni), where they printed calls to continue the struggle for Soviet power. On March 25, 1920 Zvidra was arrested. He was tortured for three days, but the revolutionary did not betray any of his comrades. On March 28, at night, shackled Jon Zvidra was taken out of the city and shot on the banks of the Rezekne River.
In 1940-1941, a lot of work was done to organize the protection of historical monuments. At the same time, the graves of revolutionary figures were put in order, articles were published about young fighters and Komsomol members of Latvia, including Jon Zvidre.
Zvidra became a symbol of resistance to the bourgeois regime and the formation of Soviet power in Latgale, a symbol of the struggle of Latvians, Latgalians and Russians for true freedom – freedom from the exploitation of man by man.
In 1971, in Rezekne, at the corner of Brivibas and Vilanu streets, a monument was opened – a bust of Jon Zvidra, and next to it was a square. After the restoration of capitalism in 1991, proper care for the monument was not provided, there was not even a sign to whom it was dedicated. In 2020, the monument was demolished, which caused indignation among the revolutionary and patriotic circles of the population. A member of the Latgale primary organization of the Labor Front of Latvia also sent a corresponding letter to the Rezekne City Duma. Thanks to the efforts of patriotic politicians, the monument was restored.
In 1979, a poem by Jerome Stulpans about Jon Zvidra was published.
There is information about Jon’s brother Stanislav Zvidra-Yashuli, in whose house in the Makasha volost in the 1920s and 30s there was a communist printing house. He was arrested in 1931 and sentenced to several years of hard labor.
It is interesting and necessary to study the experience of the struggle of Latvian revolutionaries. Having accepted and systematized this great historical experience, we will be able to get rid of clichés and myths, and then the study of the past will become an effective method of finding solutions to the pressing problems of the present and future.
The fact that in Latgale, squeezed in the grip of clericalism and darkness, there were revolutionaries who were ready to fight to the end for the idea of the highest good for all mankind and were able to have a great influence on history, once again shows that it is possible to sow the seeds of progress in any society.
Courage and vigilance to the young successors of the work of Jon Zvidra – Latgalian Che Guevara. The student must surpass the teacher. Be realistic – demand and do the impossible!