Jaroslav Hašek


Czech communist and satirist, he was born in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. His father was an alcoholic teacher, without the necessary education to attain a well-paying position, and thus Hašek's family lived poorly. Hating Austrian imperialism and it's control over his country, as well as it's ridiculous and reactionary monarchy, Hašek participated regularly in nationalist riots when he was still a young school boy, throwing rocks at the police and tearing down proclamations. As a result of his participation in these nationalist riots, as well as his general rowdiness, he was expelled from his school in 1898. Shortly before, in 1896, his father died, leaving his family in even worse condition than before, and so when Hašek was expelled his mother sent him to work for the pharmacist Kokoška. Hašek did not stay long with Kokoška (whom he had little regard for), because, as the story goes, when young Hašek heard a group of striking workers march past, he quickly took the red skirt of Kokoška's maid and hung it on the roof in solidarity.

Soon after he was placed with a new pharmacist, who recognized Hašek's intelligence and literary talent and convinced his mother that he should continue his education. From 1899 to 1902, Hašek studied at the Commercial Academy (
despite the name basically a general secondary school), whose principal he developed a fierce hatred of. In 1901 his first story was published in a Prague newspaper and from then on Hašek would continue publishing stories in various newspapers: these stories or satirical sketches form a large part of his literary work. After Hašek's graduation he was persuaded (he later described the head of his section as a maddening cow) to work as a bank clerk in October 1902, but only lasted until May 1903 when he was fired for taking his second spontaneous leave.

In 1904 Hašek became an anarchist, which fit well with his hatred of authority figures and the Austrian monarchy. In the summer of 1904 he stayed in Lom (a village in a mining area) and wrote for the anarchist publication Progressive Youth as well as helping to distribute newspapers and leaflets to the miners in the region and attending and speaking at anarchist meetings. Leaving Lom after a month or so, he went on another of his "wandering" trips (
Hašek had gone on several around Czechoslovakia and further east during his student/bank worker days), this time to Germany and Switzerland.

Back in Prague by the end of 1904, he continued to write satirical sketches as well as live his "bohemian" style life. This "bohemian" lifestyle mainly entailed excessive drinking at night with fellow anarchist/leftist writers and artists, as well as playing the hilarious pranks he was famous for. In 1906, he met his future wife, Jarmila Mayer, the daughter of a wealthy and conservative father. They fell in love, despite their obvious differences, Jarmila being a quite average bourgeoisie youth, who "prided herself on being emancipated, [when] she was in fact reserved, timid, conventional in some matters and rather puritanical in most." Jarmila shared neither his "bohemianism" nor his political views nor his hate of bourgeois life, and this, combined with the never ending opposition of Jarmila's father doomed their romance from the start. In 1910 they finally married, and after a short time of harassment from her parents and dissatisfaction with Jaroslav (for reasons above), she left him and returned to her parents in 1911, effectively ending their marriage (although they kept in contact). Jaroslav had truly and passionately loved Jarmila, but her narrow-mindness was insurmountable: he had early on tried to convert her to anarchism, but she remained politically reactionary, fearful of "scandals," etc.

During the years before WWI, Jaroslav continued his involvement in the anarchist movement and was often arrested for that reason as well as for various pranks and trouble he got up to at night with his drinking companions. One of his most famous pranks of the time was the 1911 formation of "The Party of Moderate Progress within the Bounds of the Law" and his running for a seat in parliament for the "party." He and his friends of course never registered anything and used their "election" meetings to mock the other parties and the elections. 
Hašek continued his close association with the leftist press as well as continuing to publish short satirical pieces in a wide range of papers.

In January 1915 he was called up and drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army. Repeatedly imprisoned for his disdain for authority and war-mongering, Jaroslav had no interest in fighting for the empire which was occupying his country. Further, he had no love for the military and had earlier, before the war, participated in anti-militarist campaigns with other anarchists. Thus once 
Hašek got in the army his disdain for officers and the army in general led him into trouble and he was repeatedly jailed.  Many of Hašek's own experiences and those of others he knew in the army served as a basis for his most famous work, The Good Soldier Švejk, although the idea behind this book had occurred to him before the war. In September 1915 he was happily "captured" by the Russians like many other Czechs unwilling to fight for the Austro-Hungarian empire, although in his case anti-militarist and internationalist sentiments played a part. After spending a short time in the czarist POW camps, and wanting to escape the horrible conditions of these camps, as well as motivated by his old hatred of Austrian control over his country, he joined the Czechoslovak Legions (formed by bourgeois nationalists from Czech and Slovak POWs in Russia to fight with the allies, with the aim of creating an independent Czechoslovakia). Hašek was mainly occupied with office duties, recruiting propaganda, as well as writing for an emigre-Czech paper in the time before the October Revolution. After the Revolution, his brief participation in a bourgeois movement almost behind him, a communist companion at the Czech paper he wrote for introduced him to Marxism, and he came to the conclusion that the only force capable of creating a truly independent Czechoslovakia was the working class, and not an armed group of Czechoslovaks abroad.

Joining a small Bolshevik group within and against the reactionary Czechoslovak Legions (which had supported the whites is some areas and wanted a continuance of the war, and later attacked the Red Army while trying to leave the country with its arms) at the very beginning of 1918, he joined the Czechoslovak Communist Party in Moscow in March. In April he was sent to Samara, where he agitated among the soldiers of the Legion and set up a recruiting office for the Czechoslovak Red Army. From Samare (in the same month) he finally broke completely with the Legion. Taking an active part in the defense of Samara from the advancing and now openly anti-Bolshevik Czech Legion in late May and early June, he just managed to escape on June 8 when Samara fell. Hated and considered a "traitor" by Czech bourgeois nationalists, who had a habit of executing any Czechoslovak communists they captured, the Legion searched unsuccessfully for him with the aim of executing him.

After "living two months between the lines," Hašek was able to, in the middle of September 1918, make it to newly Soviet-controlled Simbirsk. A month later he was sent to Bulguma, a small town 90km east of Simbirsk, and later wrote a humorous account of his time working in the town. In December, thanks to his good work in Bulguma, he was recruited by the Fifth Siberian Red Army, becoming an official of it's Political Department. In January 1919 he was sent to Ufa with the task of organizing a partially destroyed printing works and putting out a newspaper for Red Army soldiers called Our Path (also appointed Secretary of the Party of Foreign Communists in Ufa, he edited their newspaper Red Europe). While getting Our Path into print, Hašek was assisted by Alexandra Lvova (or Shura), a former printing-press worker, whom he married (secularly) on 5 May 1920, staying with her till his death. One of the last to leave Ufa during the Soviet evacuation in March (whites were putting heavy pressure on the town), Hašek was back in Ufa in June to continue his printing work. Soon he began to take on more serious positions (Commissar for education in the Fifth Red Army, head of the international section of the Political department of the Fifth Red Army) thanks to his seriousness, hard work and dedication. 
Hašek also spent a good amount of time agitating among various foreign nationalities then present in Russia. Transformed personally during this time, he became a serious and committed revolutionary who felt both the importance and usefulness of his work, as well as the justice and righteousness of the cause he was fighting for. Hašek was even able to overcome the alcoholism which plagued him almost his whole life, and during his time with the Bolsheviks refused to consume a drop of alcohol.

In August Hašek and his printing staff moved to Chelyabinsk, from where he continued his printing work as well as organizing a secret counter-espionage section of the Fifth Red Army directed against the spies of the Czechoslovak Legions, and Red Army detachments of non-Russian nationalities. Moving to Krasnoyarsk in April 1920 and Irtusk in June, he continued his conscientious printing and propaganda work with the Fifth Red Army, and decided to settle permanently in the Soviet Union. However against his desire it was decided he should return to Czechoslovakia to help the newly-formed Czechoslovak Communist Party, and he left for Prague with Shura at the end of November 1920.

On 19 December 1920 he and Shura arrived in Prague. A communist uprising failing just "four days before his return" and with many of the communists Hašek could have got in contact with imprisoned and the remaining communists on their guard, Hašek was left without a means to get into contact or work with the Czech communists. Although he remained committed to the Russian Revolution and it's ideals till his death, he didn't become actively involved in politics during the short period between his return and his death. Also, the force of his familiar surroundings and the disappointment of the failed uprising led him to return to drinking, to a somewhat reduced extent. He spent his remaining two years working on The Good Soldier Švejk and other works. He died of heart failure on the 3 January 1923 in the village of Lipnice.

The Bad Bohemian - Cecil Parrott: 280 pages. The only biography of Hašek published in English, it is quite extensive and covers his life from his early days in Prague to his final days in Lipnice and all the important events in between. A word of warning however: the author was the British ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, and was an inveterate bourgeois and reactionary. Although in general he does maintain a somewhat surprising degree of "neutrality," due most likely to his love of this great satirist (a somewhat bizarre love: Hašek's main target was the bourgeoisie), in many things his rigid bourgeois mindset gets the upper hand and then his pedantry gets quite annoying. For instance he is a fierce partisan of Hašek's first wife, since like him she was a staid bourgeois who "loved" Hašek and yet wanted him to give up his radicalism and work in a stable, well paying job, and when he didn't she left him. Also in regards to Hašek's political involvement, Parrott sometimes tries to "excuse" Hašek for his radicalism and his participation in the anarchist movement in the Czech part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as well as his participation in the Russian revolution. However, if one realizes the inevitable faults that will occur with such an author (and they really are not that extensive), and given the lack of literature in English on this subject, it is a very useful and interesting book.

A House Search by Jarmila Haskova: Short story written by Hašek's first wife about an Austrian police raid of their apartment and how Hašek dealt with the police. An interesting story that shows Hašek's character and spirit very clearly: he was an amazing human being with an unrivaled sense of humor and understood the true meaning of satire and it's correct "application. "

The Good Soldier Švejk

The Good Soldier Švejk: 751 pages. Hašek's most famous work by far, he spent a long time writing the different parts of this epic satire and he continued writing until he died, leaving the book unfinished. The book starts with the commencement of WWI, and focuses on a middle-aged "idiot" Švejk, who both continually manages to confirm everyone's opinion of him as an idiot and yet at the same time shows evidence of real cleverness and wittiness. Soon Švejk is drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army and the rest of the book documents his mis-adventures in this army. A strong anti-militarist book, it is also against Austro-Hungarian imperialism and it's control over much of Eastern Europe. A hilarious book, many of the events, antidotes, etc, in the book are based on Hašek's time in the army as well as the various people he met while a soldier. More generally the book mocks the "discipline" and hierarchy in bourgeois armies as well as all their ridiculous rules and regulations, and also targets bourgeois governments which try to entrap people through the use of the security apparatus as well as for being generally ridiculous.

The Good Soldier Švejk, the first sketches:
29 pages. The first few sketches Hašek wrote about "the good soldier Švejk" after he came up with the idea for this character before WWI.

Bertolt Brecht wrote a play titled: "Schweyk in the Second World War," to read please navigate to Brecht's page.

Collections of Satirical Sketches
From an Old Pharmacy: 46 pages. A satirical account of Hašek's work in Kokoška's pharmacy when he was a young boy.

Stories from the Water Bailiff's Watch-Tower in Razice: 32 pages. Hašek's reinvention of the humorous stories he heard from his grandfather (on his mother's side) when he was young. This grandfather had been a water bailiff (basically a guard and worker on a man-made lake, used to 'farm' fish) and lived with Hašek's family for a time before he died.

The Bugulma Stories: 51 pages. Based on Hašek's experience in the Red Army, it takes a humorous look at some of the difficulties he and other committed revolutionaries faced while fighting the whites. It also mocks the whites and the less committed or outright opportunists which somehow made their way to positions in the Red Army. While they are humorous sketches, this does not mean Hašek mocks the revolution (he doesn't) and he remained committed and dedicated to the Russian Revolution till his death.

The Party of Moderate Progress within the Bounds of the Law: 63 pages. A short collection of material details one of the best satires and practical jokes Hašek ever engaged in. Along with a group of his anarchist friends, he formed a party to participate in the 1911 Austro-Hungarian elections for a district in Prague called Vinohrady. Hašek of course never meant it to be a serious party, it's purpose was to mock and satirize elections and the politicians who run in them. Thus he even gave the party a satirical name, mocking the cowardice and hypocrisy of the popular parties: The Party of Moderate Progress within the bounds of the Law. This collection includes an excerpt which talks about the formation of the party and its public meetings from a book written by one of Hašek's friends, several “electoral speeches” by Hašek, and several humorous sketches of party members and their imaginary “adventures” written by Hašek after the fact.

Short Sketches
For more short sketches than are available below, please visit Tales from Jaroslav, where a comrade has done an excellent job translating sketches not otherwise present in English.

A Conversation with Little Mila: Humorous story about the mischievousness of little children.

An idyll from the almshouse in Žižkov: While mocking priests and religion, this sketch points out how sad and lonely a life many old people live, especially if they are poor, and how little improvements would make a great, positive effect on their lives.

An Incident that occurred during Minister Tranka' s Tour of Inspection: Pokes fun at the exaggerated pomp and ceremony of official visits by important politicians, and also at the people who naively or otherwise allow themselves to be used in such ceremonies.

An Investigative Expedition: Satirizes the police and their provocations, especially their "preventative" searches for potential criminals, or what is known as entrapment. Also shows how to cleverly get around this, in typical Hašek style: exaggerated praise for the government which when recounted sounds ridiculous but against which nothing can be done.

A Psychiatric Puzzle: Pokes fun at hypocritical bourgeois "philanthropists" who constantly interfere in other people's lives and imagine themselves the saviors of humanity.

A Sporting Sketch: Satire of the popular obsession with sports and the promotion of athletes, i.e. well-paid entertainers to the status of stars and national heroes. Also mocks the mixing of sports with bourgeois nationalism, as if kicking a ball were somehow similar to struggling against a foreign oppressor!

A Very Involved Story: Short humorous sketch satirizing the "mystery" genre.

Brief Outline of a Blood-and-Thunder Romance: Satirizes cheap romance and crime novels, with their cliched story lines and hyper-violent, unrealistic content.

Election Day Young Czech Party: Humorous story mocking election politics and the pomp and bullshit that bourgeois parties engage in because they have no enthusiastic popular support and because they are well funded by the rich to serve their interests. In this sketch the Young Czech party (a liberal, petty-bourgeois nationalist party) is running against the Social Democratic Party.

Father Ondrej's Sin: Biting satire of religious hypocrisy and the ridiculousness of the "teachings" of many "saints." Hašek also satirizes how different religions take institutions from our current world and project them onto a theoretical "heaven": courts like on earth, etc. Also generally mocks the idea of "purgatory," an invention that would theoretically condemn all newborns who died before baptism to a long punishment.

Hašek's Effort to Improve the Finances of the Monarchy: Biting satire of the ridiculous laws and bureaucracy that to a large degree run our lives under capitalism. If you have ever looked up a law yourself in a time of trouble and uncertainty, you will surely recognize the ridiculous style of Hašek's proposed "law." Constant references to other paragraphs, unclear language, seemingly intentional lack of humanity, all which seem designed to drive the poor citizen crazy.

Here Today Gone Tomorrow: Short sketch about a certain drunk and the ridiculous marketing slogans, or advertising businesses use to attract customers.

How I Met the Author of My Obituary: During Hašek's time serving in the Soviet Red Army, reactionaries in Czechoslovakia routinely defamed him in the newspapers, even resorting to claiming (multiple times), with no proof, that he had been killed in Russia. This is Hašek's humorous rebuttal to these reactionary slanderers.

Human Vanity Attack on the cheap sensationalism of the media, especially local newspapers, and how they violate people's privacy and bad-mouth them publicly by name, often without a clear idea of the facts at all.

Infantryman Trunec's Cap: Satire of the military and its ridiculous bureaucracy, and of how it treats soldiers poorly. Written during Hašek's time of active anti-militarist agitation.

Justice and the lesser bodily needs: Humorous story mocking the police and petty laws ("broken window" laws), as well as the bureauocracy of oppression, it's slowness and disregard for people.

Man and Woman in Marriage: Satirical sketch that makes an intelligent case for sexual education, first of all most children are not only in need of the information, but avidly seek it, with the minority resorting to proper sources. Also, there is surely more use in their future lives for sexual education than for advanced geometry. Hašek also mocks the tendency of teachers to turn everything into an exam, and how they often relish confusing students and "proving" their own superiority over them.

Mr. Kauble's Donation: A suitably brutal satire of the bourgeois do-gooder "philanthropists" and their craven obsession with publicity and recognition although their "philanthropy" always consists of meager contributions (compared to their wealth) and exaggerated praise and publicity for said contributions. Hašek also mocks the idea of charities, and how their real intention is to enrich the founders/managers and provide them free publicity. Hašek also points out how charities whose avowed aim is eliminating poverty, are themselves vehicles of anti-poor, classist fanaticism sometimes defying belief.

Mr Čaboun, the Making of a Hooligan: Hilarious story that deals first with the alienation so common it big cities and more explicitly the tendency for it to lead to casual insults between strangers. Hašek also satirizes the ridiculousness of certain staid bourgeois conservatives who feel that they have never wronged an ant and are in constant, obsessive worry over their perceived "respectability" and "honor."

Mr Florentin vs. Chocholka: Humorous sketch which attacks formal education and it's repressive, soul-crushing nature. Hašek does an excellent job of showing the ridiculousness of a system of education that terrorizes children and gives them serious anxiety all in the interests of memorizing often very trivial information of little practical use.

Mr Tevlin's thievish adventure: Satire of the well-off "busy-bodies" who like to poke their noses into everyone else's business, passing judgement on strangers and becoming upset that the world does not go according to their archaic ideas of "order" and "propriety."

My Career as Editor of an Animal Magazine: Humorous story about specialized magazines, and how journalists sometimes deal with finding new things to say about the same topic, issue after issue.

Robbery and Murder in Court: Satirizes the justice system and how crimes are covered by newspapers: petty criminals are portrayed as monsters with no motives because the social causes of crime are intentionally ignored by both the courts and the media. It also satirizes the exaggerated pomposity of courts, used to cover up the tyranny and injustice they carry out.

Sad Fate of the Station Mission: Hilarious satire of religious moralizers and their "crusades" against what they view as the biggest problems facing society. Also satirizes how disconnected from reality the bourgeoisie is, and how moralizing and sheltering people from the realities of life only causes harm.

Sejba the Burglar Goes on a Job: Satire of the upside-down "morals" of bourgeois society, and how the poor are erroneously slandered as immoral and lazy. The rich and "respectable," however actually practice the immorality and laziness that they claim is the sole domain of the poor. For the rich stealing is easy, respectable, and superfluous, while for the poor it is often necessary and always a lot of work and stress.

The Austrian Customs: Humorous story mocking bureaucracy and overzealous civil servants, in specific it satirizes customs. Also satirizes the common occurrence of people voting directly against their interests.

The Bachura Scandal: Satirizes bureaucracy, in specific that of a city government, and the delays and arrogance many bureaucrats cling to and use against the public. As if the uselessness of their jobs is all too clear to them, the exaggerated and corrupt hierarchy in the office too unjust for them not to understand, and they take this out on the public at large. Also an attack on the common occurrence of "small fish" being punished publicly for "corruption," while those stealing like madmen are continuously promoted.

The Baron's Bloodhound: Biting satire of aristocrats and their "morals": i.e. disdain of everyone who isn't an aristocrat, and unwavering commitment to their backward ideas of "honor," among these being that work is below them. Also satires in general the "fallen" rich who cling to past "glory" and still feel they are better than everyone else.

The Battle for Souls: Satire of organized religion, especially the concept that people are going to change their lives because of the sermon of some cleric. Also mocks the practice of "confession" and how it is used: people go, confess, and then go right on with doing the same things. It also criticizes the classist nature of religious "morals": stealing food, etc. is labelled a serious sin, whereas accumulating obscene amounts of money is not.

The Betyar's Tale: Humorous story about a Hungarian herder, a vow of revenge, and the dangers of insulting people behind their backs.

The Coffin-Dealer: Humorous sketch about the bad luck of a certain trader.

The Criminals' Strike: A satire of the capitalist propaganda that all are equal under the law, when in fact the rich and powerful are always treated differently. Also mocks the justice system itself, with it's lawyers, judges and corrupt policemen: in the end they all have jobs solely because of crime, and in a just society with no crime, they would have no work and no power.

The Cynological Institute: Humorous sketch about the "dog-trade" and two unadept con-artists.

The Demon Barber of Prague: Satire of those reactionary, long-winded idiots who go on and on in public about current event and politics, even getting bizarly excited, all while knowing little to nothing on the topic at hand.

The Emperor's Portrait: Satire of the practice of hanging pictures of government officials and heads of state. Also attacks the repressive state machinery that hunts those who criticize or satirize the corrupt and blood-thirsty heads of state.

The Immoral Calendars: Satire of moralistic censorship and the hypocrites that carry it out. Also satirizes those moralizing hypocrites who rage against "immorality" while continuously displaying an unnatural interest in the subject, when they don't practice this "immorality" themselves.

The Judicial Reform of Mr Zakon: Hašek mocks the bourgeois obsession with eliminating crime, and makes the point that crime exists because of the system (capitalism) that they cherish. In fact, the solution to crime is quite simple and would please all "criminals": provide those without means to support themselves with a dignified life free of constant economic worries.

The Moansernspitze Expedition: Satire of the businessman who profit from tragedy, and who are more than willing to help fate along by engineering their own tragedies to further enrich themselves.

The Official Zeal of Mr Stepan Brych: Mocks the overzealous policemen, toll-collectors, etc who pollute our cities and make life miserable for normal people, all in exchange for meager salaries and the hate of the population.

The Purple Thunderbolt: Hilarious satire of religion, especially of "divine" punishment and the evilness of the clergy.

The Tourist Guide: Humorous sketch which mocks the scam artists who try to take advantage of tourists, and pokes fun at certain aspects of German life.

The Unfortunate Affair of the Tomcat: Satirizes the pettiness some people will resort to because of minor, insignificant "electoral" differences. Also mocks the police and the repressive bureaucracy with life or death responsibility over our lives.