Jaroslav Hašek
(1883-1923)

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, and thus left his family in even worse condition than before, and so when he was expelled his mother sent him to work for the pharmacist Kokoška. He 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 Ha
šek'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, whose principal he developed a fierce hatred of, which despite the name was basically a general secondary school. In 1901 his first story was published in a Prague newspaper, and from then on Hašek would continue publishing stories in various newspapers, and these stories or satirical sketches form a large part of his literary work. After his 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 he 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 (he had gone on several around the Czech lands as well as to Slovakia 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. However,  unlike many "bohemians" Jaroslav never, throughout his life, engaged in womanizing or the like. 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 unsurmountable: 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 themself. He 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, and had earlier, before the war, participated in anti-militarist campaigns with other anarchists. Thus once he got in the army he his disdain for officers and the army in general led him into trouble and he was goaled repeatedly.  Many of his own experiences and those of others he knew in the army served as a basis for his most famous work, The Good Soldier Svejk, 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 surely 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 began writing 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 present there and set up a recruiting office for the Czechoslovak Red Army, and from where (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 killing 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). Soon getting Our Path into print, Hašek was assisted by Alexandra Lvova (or Shura), a former printing-press worker, whom he married (secularly) later on 5 May 1920, and stayed with 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. He 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 Svejk 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, and is 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.

Books
The Good Soldier Svejk: 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" Svejk, 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 Svejk in 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 generally being ridiculous.

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

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 very committed and dedicated to the Russia Revolution till his death.

The Party of Moderate Progress within the Bounds of the Law: 63 pages, 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
A Conversation with Little Mila

A House Search by Jarmila Haskova

An idyll from the almshouse in Zizkov

An Incident that occurred during Minister Tranka' s Tour of Inspection

An Investigative Expedition

A Psychiatric Puzzle

A Sporting Sketch

A Very Involved Story

Brief Outline of a Blood-and-Thunder Romance

Election Day Young Czech Party

Father Ondrej's Sin

Hasek's Effort to Improve the Finances of the Monarchy

Here Today Gone Tomorrow

How I Met the Author of My Obituary

Human Vanity

Infantryman Trunec's Cap

Justice and the lesser bodily needs

Man and Woman in Marriage

Mr. Kauble's Donation

Mr Caboun, the Making of a Hooligan

Mr Florentin vs. Chocholka

Mr Tevlin's thievish adventure

My Career as Editor of an Animal Magazine

Robbery and Murder in Court

Sad Fate of the Station Mission

Sejba the Burglar Goes on a Job

The Austrian Customs

The Bachura Scandal

The Baron's Bloodhound

The Battle for Souls

The Betyar's Tale

The Coffin-Dealer

The Criminals' Strike

The Cynological Institute

The Demon Barber of Prague

The Emperor's Portrait

The Immoral Calendars

The Judicial Reform of Mr Zakon

The Moansernspitze Expedition

The Official Zeal of Mr Stepan Brych

The Purple Thunderbolt

The Tourist Guide

The Unfortunate Affair of the Tom-Cat